An enticing memoir of a young Western artist in 1970s Japan.
Now a veteran author and editor of the New York Review of Books, Buruma (Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War, 2016, etc.) was a restless youth anxious to escape his middle-class life. He was a devotee of the local art theater, especially a bizarre performance by a Japanese theater group (“like squinting through the keyhole of a grotesque peep show full of extraordinary goings on….It brought back old memories of magic boxes, lit from the inside, full of strange objects I had concocted with a child’s morbid imagination”). Following college (major: Chinese), the author obtained a scholarship to a Japanese film school and set off, arriving in 1975. Film school proved a disappointment, but Buruma had come to experience Japan and perhaps explore his own budding sexuality. Readers familiar with the tea ceremony, martial arts, and ancient temples will receive a jolt as the author immerses himself in the art scene of a nation with a tolerance for grotesquery, including depictions of violence and sex, that puts America’s to shame. “I had never lived in a country where the culture of advertising, popular media, and entertainment was as drenched in erotic fantasies as Japan,” writes the author. “The pornographic imagination was not furtive and marginal, as in many countries, but entirely upfront.” While some autobiographies pay close attention to the facts, this isn’t necessarily the case here, but most readers will accept that what Buruma chooses to remember takes priority over what actually happened. He vividly describes a naïve youth plunging into a fantastical foreign culture, taking readers along on an entertaining journey of self- and cultural discovery.
A wild ride through the late-20th-century Japanese avant-garde scene through the eyes of an innocent from across the sea.