Simanaitis Says

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JAPAN—IN 1950

MY COLLECTION of guidebooks on Japan goes back to the turn of the century (that earlier turn, not our recent one). Two of my favorite books, however, are rather more recent, dating from 1950.

Their commentaries and photos show post-World-War II Japan in the midst of Occupation and Reconstruction. Both books contain insights into Japanese culture that are still relevant. Yet I suspect some aspects would seem as foreign to Japanese people today as they must have seemed to Westerners 64 years ago.

Also, the books have bibliophilic interest. Each one is stitch-bound in the traditional Japanese four-hole fashion.

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Japan Today, by Dr. Shodo Taki, M.A., Ph.D., Society for Japanese Cultural Information, 1950. This and We Japanese are listed at www.abebooks.com and www.amazon.com.

Judging by its ready availability in the secondhand market, I suspect Japan Today was popular with U.S. servicemen in the Occupation Force. And for good reason.

The book’s 371 pages have lots of photos and informative text detailing Japan’s post-war cultural life. It’s arranged in eight chapters, Transportation, Customs, Souvenirs, Sightseeing, Hotels and Inns, Sports, Amusements and Peculiarities of the Japanese Language.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel. Image from Japan Today.

For example, in Hotels and Inns, Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was cited as “the most famous hotel in Japan.” See http://wp.me/p2ETap-11v for history of a trio of Imperial Hotels; see http://wp.me/p2ETap-1r8 for Wright’s building existing today as part of an open-air museum.

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The Ernie Pyle Theater. Image from Japan Today.

Between 1945 and 1955, Tokyo’s Takarazuka Theater was renamed the Ernie Pyle Theater in honor of the American journalist beloved by G.I.s. The original building, across the street from the Imperial Hotel, was demolished in 1998. Today’s Takarazuka Theater opened in 2001 in the same location.

Country touring is well represented in Japan Today. For instance, Hakone, about 55 miles southwest of Tokyo, “offers first-class accommodations to visitors.”

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The Fujiya Hotel, in Miyanoshita, Hakone. Image from Japan Today.

Miyanoshita’s Fujiya Hotel was built in 1891 during the Meiji era, when Western influences were blending with those of traditional Japan. Such was (and is) its popularity that the hotel published a series of three books in English on Japanese culture.

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We Japanese: Being Descriptions of Many of the Customs, Manners, Ceremonies, Festivals, Arts and Crafts of the Japanese, Besides Numerous Other Subjects, three volumes combined in one, Fujiya Hotel, Ltd., 1950.

The trilogy We Japanese consists of Book I, first published in 1934; Book II, 1937; and Book III, 1949. Each article is a page or two in length.

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The Will Adams Shrine in Tokyo. Image from We Japanese.]

Receiving a page of history is Will Adams, Miura Anjin, known as Anjin-Sama in James Clavell’s book Shogun. See http://wp.me/p2ETap-1ln.

Two pages of the book share folklore of the cat (“neko” in Japanese).

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The cat plays a prominent role in Japanese folklore. Image from We Japanese.

According to the book, “If a towel is found missing in a Japanese home, suspicion is often thrown upon the cat.” This is because the pet likes to dance while wearing the errant towel tied around its head and calling out Neko-ja! Neko-ja!”

I believe I’ve known such cats.

Despite their relatively recent publication date of 1950, both Japan Today and We Japanese are examples of traditional stitched-bound books. Also known as stab-binding or four-hole binding, the technique starts with a stack of sheets, possibly printed on both sides, possibly on one side only, then folded.

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A folded-sheet example of We Japanese.

An awl is used to make four holes through the entire stack. These holes are placed in Japanese fashion near the right-hand margin; in Western fashion, on the left.

Then linen or other fine thread is stitched (“stabbed”) through the holes in an interlocking fashion.

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The spine of We Japanese.

See http://goo.gl/zELAf for Grace Bonney’s fine tutorial on this wonderful example of the bookbinder’s art. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014

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