JAPAN OLD AND NEW by Edna Mason Kaula


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One can gain from this a close acquaintance with some traditional aspects of Japanese life, but read straight through it obscures as much as it reveals. Each topic is fitted into the roughly historical framework, interrupting the chronology--which is discontinuous anyhow insofar as causality is seldom indicated. Less immediately apparent is the fragmented discussion of religion: ""Worship"" treats of Shintoism and Buddhism; Zen Buddhism appears under ""Living"" (in connection with tatami mats) and elsewhere; Christianity comes in with ""The First Europeans"" and goes out--apparently forever. This topic is also the most seriously open to question: Buddhism is misleadingly identified as ""an offshoot of Hinduism"" and undefined except for belated references to ""austere principles"" and ""complex and esoteric"" teachings. Neither does the one-sentence characterization of Zen as ""emphasizing restraint in all things"" come near to conveying its nature or import. In losing their meaning, the author loses their significance in Japanese life, however often she refers to them. Otherwise the book is best assessed chapter by chapter: ""Living"" describes habits and habitations but not the web of relationships or pervasiveness of rank; ""Writing"" ranges interestingly from characters to tanka and haiku to calligraphy; ""Sculpture and Painting"" consists mostly of word-pictures; ""Art of the People"" is more adequately illustrated and genuinely instructive (e.g. the method of preparing wood-blocks); ""Entertainment"" lights up the several forms of theater and two ""sports,"" sumo or Japanese wrestling, and the game go; ""Art in Textiles"" combines a breadth of information with paucity of pictorialization; ""Nature Watching"" is discerning, and includes bonsai and the unique plantless Zen gardens. With ""Modernization"" the book might better have stopped: the twenty pages dealing with post-Perry developments are both superficial and sanguine (no problems). Where overlapping occurs, Steinberg's Japan is superior for history and the socio-economic fabric of life, Newman's The Japanese for patterns of thought and their roots--but neither will tell you how silk is dyed or cotton was introduced.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1970
Publisher: World