Japan: Pre-trip reading and viewing suggestions

Textile and Handcraft Books

Beyond the Tanabata Bridge:  Traditional Japanese Textiles – William Jay Rathbun

Boro – David Sorgato

Cotton and Indigo from Japan – Teresa Duryea Wong

Country Textiles of Japan – Reiko Mochinaga Brandon

Craftland Japan – Uwe Rottgen and Katharina Zetti

Japanese Country Textiles – Anna Jackson

Kimono Vanishing Traditions: Japanese Textiles of the 20th Century – Cheryl Imperatore and Paul MacLardy

Made in Japan – Shinya Maezaki and Masako Yamamoto

Riches from Rags – Saki-Ori & Other Recycling Traditions in Japanese Rural Clothing – San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum

Structure and Surface: Contemporary Japanese Textiles – Cara McCarty and Matilda McQuaid

Textiles of Japan: The Thomas Murray Collection – Thomas Murray

The Beauty of Everyday Things – Soetsu Yanagi

Utsuwa: Japanese objects for everyday use – Kylie Johnson and Tiffany Johnson

Wabi Sabi: Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life – Beth Kempton

Dance Reading and Viewing

Butoh: Cradling Empty SpaceVangeline  Approaching the avant-garde Japanese performance art form of butoh from a cross-cultural, gender studies, and scientific perspective, award-winning artist and teacher Vangeline brings a fresh look at this postmodern dance form.  With origins in modern dance, French mime, and the surrealist movement, this fascinating postmodern dance genre is often thought of as mysterious and is frequently misunderstood.

Butoh: Metamorphic Dance and Global Alchemy – Sondra Fraleigh. Both a refraction of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a protest against Western values, butoh is a form of Japanese dance theatre that emerged in the aftermath of World War II.  Through highly descriptive, thoughtful, and emotional prose, Fraleigh traces the transformative alchemy of this metaphoric dance form by studying the international movement inspired by its aesthetic mixtures. Employing intellectual and aesthetic perspectives to reveal the origins, major figures, and international development of the dance, Fraleigh documents the range and variety of butoh artists around the world with first-hand knowledge of butoh performances from 1973 to 2008. With a blend of scholarly research and direct experience, she also signifies the unfinished nature of butoh and emphasizes its capacity to effect spiritual transformation and bridge cultural differences.

Butoh:  Transcript of an interview with Mr Morishita, a  Butoh researcher https://performingarts.jpf.go.jp/E/art_interview/1008/1.html

Geisha performance – video

Kabuki – history and overview – video

Kamaitachi – Masahiko Taniguchi. This legendary photo book was produced in collaboration with Tatsumi Hijikata, dancer/choreographer and the founder of the dance performance art called Butoh.

Noh as Living Art:  Inside japan’s Oldest Theatrical Tradition – Yasuda Noboru.  For centuries noh has served as a window into the Japanese classics and as a means of spiritual and physical cultivation, not only for the samurai class in past centuries, but also for commoners. Noh as Living Art provides a quick, standard history of this form and the singular contributions that Zeami and his father Kan’ami made to lifting it out of a popular, but low-class, entertainment into a high art patronized by Japan’s elites. Along the way, Yasuda suggests that noh served as a civilizing influence particularly for Japan’s warrior class, noting how it was a successful “attempt to redirect the energies of the samurai from warfare to dance”. Japan, after all, enjoyed 250 years of peace under the Tokugawa rule.

Odori performance – video

Sensational Knowledge:  Embodying Culture through Japanese Dance – Tomie Hahn (Wesleyan University Press, 2007) ‘An ethnography offering a peek into some of the everyday life at the Tachibana school of Nihon Buyo in order to convey the sensitivities of the culturally constructed process of teaching’

Taiko performance – video

The Secrets Of Noh Masks – Michishige Udaka, Shuichi Yamagata, Ruth Ozeki.     Noh master, Michishige Udaka (the only living actor to continue to make masks while still performing and teaching) presents 32 of the 200+ masks he has created, accompanied by revelatory text about the masks and the simple yet nuanced ancient dramatic art of Noh.

General Reading

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – this classic has also been made into a movie

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Meshi by Katherine Tamiko Arguile

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (and anything by Murakami)

Lists of books to read before travelling to Japan are here and here

Lists of recommended books set in Japan are here and here

Books by Japanese authors are here

General Viewing

Movies set in Japan

Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, Season 2/Episode 7 – Tokyo

Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, Season 8/Episode 6 – Back to Tokyo

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Lost in Translation (2003): set in Tokyo with a brief stint in Kyoto

The Last Samurai – (don’t  laugh) We agree that Tom Cruise doesn’t belong in Japan, but seriously, the film is shot in beautiful locations and will give you a delicious taste of the rural countryside and villages with thatched roofs the like of which we’ll see as we head to the mountains to the Little Indigo Museum

Memoirs of a Geisha – based on the book by Arthur Golden

Midnight Diner – a Japanese anthology TV series on Netflix, focusing on a late night diner in Shinjuku, Tokyo, its mysterious chef known only as ‘Master’, and the lives of his customers.

Shall we dance (1996) – be sure to watch the Japanese original, not the remake


When the Last Sword is Drawn (2003): This award-winning, action packed film is set in Kyoto. Kanichiro Yoshimura is a Samurai and family man who can no longer support his wife and children on the the low pay he receives from his small town clan. He is forced by the love for his family to leave for the city in search of better financial opportunities. He joins a notorious clan, known as the Shinsengumi samurai (an elite group of swordsmen sworn to defend the shogunate) and is torn apart by conflicting loyalties to family, clan and country. It is a deeply moving tale set during the dramatic period which resulted in the rise of the Emperor and the fall of the Shogun.

Note: The above list is by no means exhaustive.  If you’d like to recommend a book or movie that you’ve enjoyed or found informative and inspiring, please email us at retreatrecreate@gmail.com