‘The best books on Japanese postwar creative arts in their wider context

Adam Broinowski Author Of Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan
By Adam Broinowski

The Books I Picked & Why

War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War

By John W. Dower

Book cover of War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War

Why this book?

War Without Mercy is a seminal work in the cultural and military history of the Pacific War. In his aim to understand the formation of public consciousness in the United States and Japan during World War II, which is a consistent theme throughout his many works, Dower uses cultural and empirical sources to provide nuance and greater depth in the historiography on the Japanese modern era.


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Kazuo Ohno's World: From Without & Within

By Kazuo Ohno, Yoshito Ohno, John Barrett

Book cover of Kazuo Ohno's World: From Without & Within

Why this book?

This book provides an accessible introduction to butoh. Centered on the perspectives of its co-founder Kazuo Ohno and his son Yoshito Ohno, the first half of the book by Yoshito offers a useful outline of Kazuo’s life in dance. The second half provides insightful personal reflections, evocative photographs, detailed processes, and some of the relationships deriving from Kazuo’s workshops in his studio in Yokohama. The book reflects on Ohno’s distinctly ‘modern’ sensibility and worldview, as compared with the experimental-traditional fusion of butoh’s co-founder, Hijikata Tatsumi. Their mutual interest in the non-human and non-living generated a unique dance form that continues in the present.


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Peasants, Rebels, Women, and Outcastes: The Underside of Modern Japan

By Mikiso Hane

Book cover of Peasants, Rebels, Women, and Outcastes: The Underside of Modern Japan

Why this book?

In Peasants, Rebels, Women, and Outcastes: The Underside of Modern Japan, the social historian Mikiso Hane offers neglected insights on Japanese society from the margins. Hane’s people's history of modern Japan uses diaries, memoirs, fiction, trial testimony, personal recollections, and eyewitness accounts of peasants, factory and industrial workers, and outsiders to detail lived experiences of ordinary people. The perspective from the underclasses resonates with Hijikata’s butoh and his life experiences.


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Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture, and Community in Interwar Japan

By Harry D. Harootunian

Book cover of Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture, and Community in Interwar Japan

Why this book?

Readers interested in intellectual history in modern Japan could begin with Harry Harootunian’s Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture, and Community in Interwar Japan. Harootunian’s examination of a generation of Japanese intellectuals in the period between the two world wars explores how they sought to ‘overcome’ materialism and consumerism associated with the West. As Japanese industrial and urban development gave rise to mass culture, Harootunian shows how traditional values and mores were uprooted and replaced with those which embraced desire, fantasy, and spectacle in parallel with a wider process marked by both modernism and fascism.


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A History of Japanese Theatre

By Jonah Salz

Book cover of A History of Japanese Theatre

Why this book?

For a general overview of Japanese theatre, and more broadly Japanese culture, readers are encouraged to have a look through A History of Japanese Theatre edited by Jonah Salz. This encyclopaedic collection of essays by scholars on Japanese theatre history offers a rich and thorough survey of Japanese theatre for a wide readership. From ancient Noh theatre to Kabuki and Bunraku to modern literary theatre to critical theatre and performance, readers can glean how the performing arts have developed throughout Japanese history. As the book weaves together some of the intellectual concerns and artistic reflections of prominent artists in their forms, we can grasp interwoven historical patterns which continue from antiquity to the present.


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