Japanese Curriculum in Review

216.jpgAt the end of November, I designed my self a curriculum for the fall centered around Japanese culture. I’ve been fascinated by the country of Japan for most of my adult life. Where this fascination springs from is a mystery, though it likely began with playing numerous Japanese video games as a young person. That my interest in, and frankly love of, this culture has only deepened says to me that it is a personally meaningful, and that I will continue to broaden my understanding of the ‘land of the rising sun’ for the rest of my life.

I set out in November to read seven books, watch four films, one series of manga, and to finish one lengthy video game, all originating from Japan. I allotted myself around two months to complete this task, beginning in November and finishing by the end of the year. I didn’t quite accomplish this, and in fact only just finished here in the middle of January. However, I did read every book, watched every movie, finished that video game, and wrote about every single experience in this blog. Here’s a rundown and links to my reviews for anyone interested.

Fiction – Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura , Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino, The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata, The Counterfeiter and Other Stories by Yasushi Inoue, The Ark Sakura by Kobo Abe

Non-Fiction – Premodern Japan by Misiko Hane, Precarious Japan by Anne Allison

Films – Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano), Tokyo Story (Yasujirô Ozu), The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata), A Letter to Momo (Hiroyuki Okiura)

Manga: Mushishi by Yuki Urushibara

Video Games – Persona Q, from Atlus Software

There were a few more things that were recommended to me that I didn’t quite have time for, and I watched a few things that I didn’t really write about, but that’s the core of what I made my way through over the past two and a half months. The highlights of this experience were:

  • Premodern Japan – This is the book I should have read before anything else because it sets such a foundation for the rest of this curriculum. The lesson here is to plan my future curricula better. Aside from that, this book was excellent and really opened my eyes to Japan’s history.
  • Persona Q – I knew I’d love this game when I bought it, but my initial foray into the Labyrinth left me lukewarm. Thankfully, I came back to it with a vengeance and it stands out for me as one of my best experiences this year.
  • The Master of Go – Kawabata is the real master, and his account of a months long game of Go continually left me amazed at the skill with which he is able to portray what might be boring in any other writer’s hands.
  • Mushishi – I don’t think this is a springboard into me reading any more manga, but I really enjoyed Urushibara’s art style and storytelling. This is maybe the biggest surprise of all on the list.
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – Perfection.

I was worried about losing momentum over the course of this effort. I have a habit of not finishing projects, and part of me assumed I wouldn’t finish this one because there was really never any reward aside from the satisfaction of absorbing these cultural touchstones. I was also distracted quite often, by the holidays, and certainly by other endeavors (The Witcher in particular took my time in various ways), and these things largely account for my extension. Having finished, I can honestly say that I don’t want this to be over. I feel like I’ve only scratched a fingernail along the shell of Japan, and that there is en entire egg to be cracked open and devoured (pardon my non-vegan metaphors). I am unsatisfied, and so I will continue to read and watch and learn about Japan. I’ve decided to set myself another curriculum, this one smaller in the hopes that I can create a separate course in tandem to one based around Japan and have two “classes” going simultaneously. What that second curriculum will be I have yet to decide, but I will certainly write about it and will continue to review every book, film, and game that I devour. Hopefully someone has enjoyed my efforts, but even if no one else has, I’ve loved doing it. Arigatou gozaimasu, Nihon!

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