Japan References, During my many stays in Japan, I collected a few Japanese references. This is a very interesting country – enjoy their rich culture!
The tea ceremony is nothing more than boiling water, steeping tea, and drinking it.
Sen-no-Rikyu, 16th Century Tea Master
You must try some matcha during a tea ceremony – it is a bright green powdered form which is whipped before serving – enjoy!
If you can, find one of the best Japanese bookstores in the world; Kinokuniya. It is my favorite and has a great selection; don’t overlook the special collection of pens, stationary and misc items – very unique offerings. There is a Kinokuniya in NY, LA and San Fran if you need to get material before leaving the US. I used to spend a half day in this bookstore in Tokyo.
Tokyo Rail & Road Atlas by Atsushi Umeda
This is a must to assist in traveling around the greater Tokyo area on trains and subways. It includes both Kanji and English titles which really helps when you need assistance from a Japanese with limited English skills. Unfortunately, many booksellers still are carrying the older book(1993); I ran into some station name changes on the tiny Tamagawa line (only five stops). Seems like the locals didn’t like a name that said ‘in front of a cemetery’. This is worth it for the train maps alone – I have researched everywhere for another train map and have not found a better one – be sure and get the book published in 2002.
Eyewitness Travel Guide to Japan by John Benson, DK Travel Writers
The DK Guides are great travel helps with the best pictures and local maps to get you around. Not the best if you are traveling on a budget (suggest Lonely Planet Guides).
World Food Japan by (Lonely Planet World Food Guides) by John Ashburne, Yoshi Abe
Spending anytime in Japan requires some assistance on the various culinary delights of this wonderful country – the best part about Japan in my mind – and travel guides cannot do justice with this country because of the many different foods/drinks. I took this guide with me often to study the various foods/drinks. Also contains some useful phrases to use in restaurants.
Talking About Japan by Kodansha International Ltd
A bilingual book (Japanese and English) that answers hundreds of interesting questions about Japan – a quick read and sorted by categories so it would make a good reference book. What is the average size of Japanese Homes? (1356sq.Ft. or 126 sq. m). How much does it cost to rent an apartment in a convenient location in Tokyo? (Studio or one-bedroom rents for 60,000Yen or $509US per month. I believe that you can order the book from www.amazon.co.jp (which I believe ships internationally from Japan). Go to http://www.amazon.co.jp/exec/obidos/ASIN/4770025688 and click on “Display in English” in the upper right-hand corner. Then click on “Add to Shopping Cart,” and you should be able to then order the book using an English order form. This was a prized gift from a friend of mine; Sato-san (Noburo).
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur S. Golden
This is a must read if you plan on visiting Kyoto (should be top on your list of places to visit in Japan). It is the story of a young girl with stunning gray eyes who is sold into a house where Geisha girls are ‘developed’. It is written in such a style and insight that many are real surprised that it was written by an American man. It was great going down the side alleys of Kyoto (the Gion or teahouse district) and imagining what the interiors of the exclusive tearooms must be like hidden behind a non-descript old building. I would love to get invited to one … what an experience that would be!
Japan: A Modern History by James L. McClain
Current book – published in 2001. The only readable book on Japanese History that has a significant part dedicated to modern Japan – must read for doing business in Japan. A gift from my brother-in-law, James – beats the purple socks he used to get me for Christmas!
On Parole Author: Akira Yoshimura
Famous Japanese author writes about a prisoner who is released from prison after 16 years. It is interesting as Kikituni tries to find freedom in everyday life (in Japan). A dark story but maybe you will have compassion for any released prisoner after reading this. The surprise ending may end that though!
Shipwrecks Author: Akira Yoshimura
Japanese author writes about a village who lights fires during storms to attract lost ships who then wreck upon their rocky shore leaving great gifts. Another dark story with a surprising ending by this author. Needless to say, everything you get in a wreck is not good.
You must try Tsukemono (Japanese pickles) while in Japan, it has great flavor and is really unique. The Japanese told me that most Americans do not like it but this one really did! Pickling in Japan uses a variety of bases, the primary ones being salt, rice bran, miso (fermented bean paste), sake lees, malt and mustard. Of course, all kinds of vegetables are used, so the variety is practically endless. Almost all pickling, however, begins by placing a vegetable in salt, removing some of its water, then promoting a slow process of fermentation that uses lactic bacteria to bring out a flavor unique to that vegetable. A friend of mine, Hashimoto-san, gave me a bottle of solution to marinate vegetables in to achieve a close imitation of Japanese Pickles – you usually can find these at a Japanese Market in larger cities in the states.
You must try also try TONKATSU (PORK CUTLET) while in Japan. One of Japan’s most popular, and least expensive, foods is–oddly–pork. The pork, always fresh, always loin or sirloin, is cut into fillets and salted and peppered. It is then dredgepork cutleted into beaten egg yolk, and pressed into bread crumbs. A minimum of three inches of fresh oil is used, and the meat is immersed for from five to eight minutes or until the covering is precisely the right shade of golden brown. It is then removed from the oil, drained, and cut up into chopstick-sized pieces. It often comes as a set. Included is a soup, either tonjiru, a miso (bean paste) soup with pork bits and vegetables, or Japanese miso shiru; Japanese pickles; white rice; and sometimes fruit. It is served atop a generous helping of cut-up cabbage which my friend Hashimoto-san teased me for not eating – uck! And, of course, the sauce. Even if the chef will willingly show you how he prepares the meat, he will never tell you what goes into the sauce. This is because it is a secret, and every tonkatsu house of any standing has its own recipe. Generally, it is made of soy sauce, sake, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and sometimes ketchup, but the proportions are never divulged. This results in two styles: a heavy sauce which is rather sweet and a lighter sauce which is rather piquant. The Best Restaurant in Tokyo for tonkatsu is Maisen in Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. You will need help in finding this restaurant! It is the location of a former bath house.
This is a beverage made not from tea leaves but from soaking konbu (seaweed kelp) in hot water. Often konbucha is brewed and reconstituted into a powder which can be mixed with hot water. Sometimes it is flavored with shiso leaves. It has a rather salty taste and is considered to be healthful. Another gift from Hashimoto-san – I enjoy it at night – probably the strangest tea that an American would ever taste.
Blue Requiem and Golden Best Very Beautiful music by a very popular Japanese musician, Yuichi Inoue . I received the Golden Best CD as a gift from two great people I got to work with; Katsuura-san and Kondo-san – domo for expanding my appreciation of Japanese music.
Keiko Matsui, a great Japanese jazz piano player who has lived in the US for a number of years. I have the album titled, ‘The Piano’, still available on Amazon. I also have a live NY concert album that is very good but cannot find online anymore.
A Ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese Inn with a tatami floor and traditional futons to sleep on. The best are onsen, which use spring fed hot water baths. Go to my Portfolio for pictures inside one of the nicest Ryokan’s in Japan.
Frommers: Great walking tours of Kyoto – these are superb and very easy to follow with really detailed directions. Here is an extract; Past Kodai-ji Temple and just before the street ends at a pagoda with a crane on top, keep your eyes peeled for a teahouse on your right with a garden, which you can glimpse from the street through a gate. The Kodaiji Rakusho Tea Room, 516 Washiochiyo (tel. 075/561-6892), is a lovely place and one of my favorite tearooms in Kyoto. It has a 100-year-old miniature garden with a pond that’s home to some of the largest and most colorful carp I’ve ever seen, some of which are 20 years old and winners of the many medals displayed in the back room. In summer, stop for somen (finely spun cold noodles), tea, or traditional desserts, and refresh yourself with views of the small but beautiful garden from one of the tables or from the back tatami room.
The Japan Times: Great English printed newspaper to keep up on Japanese news. Has a very interesting section called ‘Life in Japan’ that is a must read to really understand the nuances of Japanese culture – also a great source of everything an English speaking expatriate might need while living abroad (translate; advertisements). I would suggest you get this delivered daily at your apartment/hotel.
Oakwood Residence Aoyama: The Apartment where I stayed while in Japan – they also have a few other scattered around Japan. Very nice rooms with a very helpful staff that can assist you in finding everything while in Japan. Bill Murray and his family stayed here while filming Lost in Translation – a really poor movie on Japan but Mary and I enjoyed watching it to see familiar sites in and around Tokyo.
Japanese Calendar Great place to get any countries calendar and prints out on 8X11 paper with the holidays clearly marked. Did you know in Japan that they have a holiday for the aged? – 15 Sep: Keirou no hi (Respect for the Aged Day).