Japanese Lantern by Wim Swaan

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I love browsing through book shops and second hand stores for something to read and it was great to stumble upon a long out of print classic on Japan, Japanese Lantern by Wim Swaan, published in 1965.

It is amazing to read an account of the author's long stay in Japan nearly fifty years ago and marvel at how much has changed (vivid descriptions of emotional family send-offs for night trains to Nara, for example, now more prosaically undertaken in total silence by night bus, photographs of disabled ex-World War II soldiers begging for alms) and how much is still the same (the absurd Japlish of many hotel brochures and advertising pamphlets, popular tourist sights overrun with hordes of school children on excursions).

Japanese Lantern, Wim Swaan

However, it is the quality and insight of much of the author's prose that makes the book so charming. I particularly enjoyed this musing on the Oriental foot on the night train from Tokyo to Nara: "Opposite, a man lay reading the Ridazu Daijetsu (Readers Digest), his bare feet projecting over the edge of the bunk. I could not take my eyes off his toes. They were never still for a moment: they curled and uncurled, spread and contracted, or waved around like the probing tentacles of a sea-anemone."

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