THE HOUSE OF YAMAZAKI by Laurence Caillet


The Life of a Daughter of Japan
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 An account, based on interviews conducted by ethnographer Caillet, of the life of a Japanese businesswoman who overcame severe cultural barriers to become a great ``master of beauty.'' Yamazaki Inkue was born into a rich family in the rural town of Asaka, where every stream, rock, and cave was said to be inhabited by some spirit or demon. Her story is steeped in the traditions, superstitions, and ritual beliefs of the countryside- -even as she climbs to the top of the Tokyo hairdressing world, she continues to consult mediums in the cult of the dead. The tranquillity of her youth is shattered by the realization that when she marries, she must leave her father's house and go to live in the home of a stranger. A strong desire to escape this fate, combined with the encouraging words of a local prophet, instill in her the courage to move to the capital to study to be a hairdresser, or master of beauty. Life as an apprentice is a brutal affair, but she perseveres and eventually rises to the top of her profession. After being pressured into an arranged marriage with her employer's nephew, she suffers a breakdown; but she eventually returns to her husband and accepts him. The need to mesh her own desires with the cultural expectations of women is Yamazaki's greatest challenge and the main theme of the book. Caillet writes a first-person narrative from Yamazaki's point of view, a style that is essentially effective, except that translations first from Japanese into French and then from French into English severely hamper the narrative flow. For academics interested in Japan, women's studies, or alternative styles of ethnography. Even without the footnotes, the narration is probably too dense to sustain the interest of the general reader.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
ISBN: 1-56836-007-X
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Kodansha
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1994