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Wally Wood

Reviewer Wally Wood: Wally is a a professional writer and a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He holds a master's degree in creative writing from the City University of New York as well as a bachelor's degree from Columbia University where he majored in philosophy. As a volunteer, he has taught writing in men's state prisons and to middle-school students in his local library.

His first novel, Getting Oriented: A Novel About Japan received positive reviews even from people who do not know him. As a ghost-writer, he has written 19 business books, all published by commercial publishers. He has recently published The Girl in the Photo which is currently available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a trade paperback or Kindle download.


 
By Wally Wood
Published on November 23, 2015
 



Author: Michael Hoffman

Publisher: Virtualbookworm.com Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-62137-765-8





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Author: Michael Hoffman

Publisher: Virtualbookworm.com Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-62137-765-8

Michael Hoffman's new book, In the Land of the Kami: A Journey into the Hearts of Japan, is a fascinating and well-written collection of (mainly) essays. Hoffman has lived in Japan since 1982 and all but three of these stories appeared in the Sunday Time Out section of The Japan Times.

First, to translate the title. My dictionary defines "kami" () as "a god, a goddess a deity, a divinity, a divine being." And of course it may be plural, so in Japan we're in the land of the gods. 

As Hoffman says in his Author's Note, the topics are somewhat whimsical. They came not from what he knew about the country and the culture but what he didn't know and wanted to understand. What is Zen? Who was Confucius? How did death come to seem, as it did for many centuries, as much more important to the Japanese than life? What was Japan's Jazz Age?

Hoffman admits up front that he is no scholar, and he relies on literary translators and scholars for his sources. (This means, of course, that a reader who wants to know more about a topic can hunt up Hoffman's citations for a deeper and fuller discussion.) Because he is writing for a non-specialist audience that lives, I assume, mainly in Japan, what the nineteen non-fiction stories may lack in scholarly depth they more than make up for in accessibility and charm. (He includes a brief play and a fable, neither of which I found as engaging as the essays.)

As an example of the kinds of provocative questions he attempts to answer, consider this: "Do the Oriental hermit-sage-poets of old, lonely and rootless, innocent and childish, wise with a wisdom they themselves call foolish, neither listening to reason nor, with any consistency, speaking, have anything to say to us of the wired world?" He thinks they do and suggests why.

The pages are studded with interesting insights sharply expressed: "In place of the Judeo-Christian notion—violated often enough but never lost from sight—that life is a gift, the Japanese have another notion, no less deeply embedded: that of impermanence. Flowers fade, cherry blossoms fall... Blossoms are not beautiful in spite of their transience. They are beautiful because they are transient."

Another example: "Empty space is an acquired taste. Americans aren't bred on it, and some, probably most, see nothing in it. One, writing in an expatriate Yokohama newspaper in 1881, observed, 'The Japanese are a happy race, and being content with little, are unlikely to achieve much.'" In the Land of the Kami has interesting things to say about Japan and Japanese culture and history. i.e., "Shinto defies a direct approach. It is easier to say what it is not than what it is, easier to say what it lacks than what it has." 

A large literature of books by Westerners explaining Japan and the Japanese exists. Many of these are written by people who neither speak the language nor lived in the country for a couple years. Hoffman, through long residence and extensive reading, brings a depth and nuance to his essays. A book for anyone who would like to know more about Japan.