THE SECRETS OF MARIKO: A Year in the Life of a Japanese Woman and Her Family by Elisabeth Bumiller

THE SECRETS OF MARIKO: A Year in the Life of a Japanese Woman and Her Family

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A levelheaded look at a ""typical"" Japanese life, narrated with grace and savvy. Washington Post feature writer Bumiller (May You Be the Mother of One Hundred Sons, 1990) moved to Japan with her journalist-husband in 1989. From February 1991 through March 1992, with the help of an interpreter, she interviewed Mariko Tanaka (not her real name), a 44-year-old Tokyo housewife, along with her neighbors, friends, husband, three children, parents, et al., in order to gain a sustained glimpse of life for women in contemporary Japan. This well-balanced portrait is the result. Internal national contradictions and the historical conflicts dividing Americans and Japanese mean that she was treading on dangerous ground. But Bumiller carefully and honestly navigates Japanese culture, and though the author offers her perceptions freely, it is always in a neutral and diplomatic tone, and with a certain deference to the Japanese that lends her voice authority. Some of the book's most vivid moments involve digressions from Mariko into the leftist idealism of Kojima, a high school teacher; the diamond-cufflink lifestyle of the yakuza, or Japanese Mafia; and Bumiller's encounters with Mariko's enigmatic, demanding husband. This classic Tokyo workaholic, hard-drinking salariman seems to care little for his wife and family yet ultimately comes off as perceptive, loyal, pragmatic, and sensitive. The ""secrets"" of the title refer ultimately to Mariko's extramarital love affair; but ""secrets"" also seems intended ironically, since Bumiller concludes that most cultures and their peoples share a commonality, secrets or no. Weaknesses of the book include a lack of novelistic detail: It is hard to visualize the people and the places Bumiller observes, because her chosen style is deliberately nondescript. But her journalism is straightforward, sympathetic, ethical, and ambitious, allowing us a very useful view of the Japanese as neighbors, not exotics.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
Page count: 356pp
Publisher: Times