Japanese Prayer Wall

Japanese Prayer Wall

Friday, April 8, 2011

Flashbacks to Reading Rainbow

I've been in Japan for a little over 6 months now, but that makes three years total when adding it together with my last experience in Japan.  Wow, I still feel like I'm living in a dream sometimes.  I definitely think that my Japanese should be better than it is by this point, but that's something I am still working on.

Anyway, I just came across something that I wrote when I was in Japan in 2006 and felt like it was worth reposting...

As part of my Japanese experience, I try to read books related to Japan and watch some Japanese movies.  I thought I would pass along some of these recommendations in case you would also like to learn a little about Japan or the Japanese culture.  These are in no particular order, and I highly recommend all of them.


Kira Kira—by Cynthia Kadohata (Great choice for children or the young at heart)
This book recently earned the Newbery Honor award for children’s literature, and I can understand why.  It is about a Japanese family that lives in America and the challenges that they encounter.  The main character is Katie, a kindergarten girl, who has many interesting adventures and experiences with her sister (Lynn).  Kira Kira means sparkling or glittering in Japanese, and that emphasizes Lynn’s optimistic outlook on life.  It’s great but definitely a fast read.  I recommend checking this one out from the library.

The Golden Country—by Shusaku Endo
This was written by a famous Japanese Christian.  It is set in 1633 when Christians were being persecuted and killed for their outlawed beliefs.  It gives a very honest and powerful glimpse into the hardships that early Christians faced in Japan.  This book is a bit deeper and has a more serious tone but is worth reading.  This story is written in the format of a play, which some people find a little distracting.  Another option is to read the novel Silence by the same author.  Silence is an extended form of a similar story about Christian martyrdom in Japan.  I have not read Silence but hope to do that some day.

Memoirs of a Geisha—by Arthur Golden
This novel gives an amazing glimpse into a somewhat secretive part of the Japanese culture.  Geisha are girls who are highly trained in entertaining guests using the traditional Japanese arts.  The novel explores one young woman’s experiences are she grows into womanhood and how the world of geisha effects every part of her life.  The movie was mostly faithful to the book, but the book was of course better.  It was one of those books that I didn’t want to put down.

Lonely Planet: Japan
If you are ever planning on traveling in Japan, I strongly recommend purchasing this travel book.  It provides detailed information about how to get to sightseeing locations, has helpful maps, and even includes a little history about places. 

I used to have some prejudices against anime because I thought they were all violent, graphic, and showed a bit too much skin.  I was wrong, and I will be the first to admit that.  I have actually taken quite a liking to films that were directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  Have an open mind, and give them a chance.  Miyazaki really seems to use amazing creativity as well as capturing human emotions.  Sometimes I forget that I am even watching a cartoon.  If you feel adventurous, try watching these films in Japanese with English subtitles.  That is what I do to study Japanese.

Spirited Away  (PG)
Chihiro is a 10-year-old girl who finds herself trapped in a world of fantasy where anything could happen.  She is forced to work in a bath house in the hopes of discovering a way to free her parents, who were turned into pigs.  Anything can happen in this new world of magic, and the only way out is for Chihiro to remember her true identity.

I have watched several Miyazaki films now, and this is my personal ranking of them, including the Japanese title.
  1. Spirited Away/ Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi
  2. My Neighbor Totoro/ Tonari No Totoro
  3. Kiki’s Delivery Service/ Majo  No Takkyubin
  4. Howl’s Moving Castle/ Hauru No Ugoku Shiro
  5. Castle in the Sky/ Tenku No Shiro Rapyuta
  6. Whispers of the Heart/ Mimi Wo Sumaseba
  7. Nausicca of the Valley of the Winds/ Kaze No Tani No Naushika
  8. Porco Roso/  Kurenai No Buta
  9. Princess Mononoke/ Mononoke-hime

Shall We Dance? (PG)(not anime)
This was a Japanese comedy before it was redone in America.  The remake was pretty good, but I prefer the Japanese version.  It captures some interesting aspects of the Japanese culture and shows some exquisite dancing.  This movie shows how one man transforms from being a tired office worker to an energetic and talented ballroom dancer.  This movie is in Japanese with English subtitles.

I really enjoyed all of these books and films.  I hope that you visit your local library or video rental store, but you don’t have to take my word for it….

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