Want something to read? Well look no further than this essential reading list. Image courtesy: Amazon
I typically read many more non-fiction books by and about Japan and Japanese Americans.
One book I’m in the middle of reading is Standing Tall: The Extra/Ordinary Life of Mizuko Takahashi Nomura, by Sansei artist, filmmaker and film professor Art Nomura.
It’s a biography of Nomura’s grandmother, who immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s, made as an interactive iBook for iPads, iPhones and Macs. The family history is well written but what makes it special is the extra information, side stories, games, clickable images and links to other resources that Nomura includes. The book will be available in August.
I find myself reading more and more on my tablets or even smartphone. Reading is evolving in the digitally-connected society, but these four are all dead-tree books, though. Graphic novels just don’t translate to digital page:
Jet Black and the Ninja Wind
This award-winning action novel by Tokyo-based couple of Leza Lowitz and Shogo Oketani, Jet Black and the Ninja Wind is aimed at Young Adult readers, but I found it perfectly entertaining.
It’s about a young Hapa high school student in the United States who finds herself embroiled in a mysterious search for her family’s ninja history when her mother is killed.
The authors get the teenage angst just right on this side of the Pacific, and the cultural points and details of life in Japan are spot on.
The story is exciting in a 007-meets-the ninja-movies-of-our-childhoods way, and builds to a climax back in the US that would play well as a Hollywood action blockbuster.
J-Boys: Kazuo’s World
I was drawn to this short title by Shogo Oketani because I was born in 1957 in Tokyo, and moved to the US in 1966 when I was 8. Kazuo is a 9-year-old boy in 1965 Tokyo the book is based on the author’s own childhood.
Oketani was born in Shinagaawa Tokyo in 1958 and in J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, he follows his prosaic but fondly remembered year in school, being influenced by American rock and roll, and hanging out with friends. He captures the feel of Japan as it flexed its industrial muscles a year after its coming-out party of the Tokyo Olympics, becoming an international player.
The book is like a snapshot of its time and place. It’s a realistic depiction of what it was like to be in Japan in those times.
Secrets of the Ninja
Sean Michael Wilson is a Scottish writer writing manga in Japan; Akiko Shimojima is a Tokyo based artist, and the two have teamed up to create a manga about the roots of shinobi, the ninja arts in Secrets of the Ninja.
The story is about a young man’s coming-of-age as he trains to become a ninja.
The training he undergoes is based on the writing of Hattori Hanzo, a famous real-life ninja. The writing is terse and dynamic, and the artwork is well-drawn and engaging.
Hanzo’s character has also appeared in films like Kill Bill, but in this case there’s a supplement at the end by Antony Cummins that includes historical context and entries on many of the tools of the ninja trade.
Showa: A History of Japan 1926-1939
Showa is a gargantuan four-volume history of modern Japan presented as a manga by legendary artist Shigeru Mizuki. The series are broken down by eras of Japan’s Showa Emperor, Hirohito. The volumes cover 1926-1939, 1939-1944, 1944-1953 and 1953-1989 when Hirohito died. Originally published in Japan, it’s been translated and published over the past couple of years. Mizuki follows the country’s epic journey from an emerging nation to a war-mongering world power to the humbling postwar Occupation years and its resurrection as a world power.
Some Japanese objected to Mizuki’s anti-war perspective but it’s a clear-eyed view of life during those tumultuous decades from a man who lived through it.