Very few people (other than Anthony Janson in his monumental History of Art, published in 1968) would attempt to write a history of an entire country’s art, and even fewer could do it in one volume and cover a period from 15,000 BCE right up to the present day. Professor Tsuji does this for Japanese art with ease, elegance, humor and consummate erudition in an attractive volume printed on first-class paper and packed with quality color and black-and-white illustrations. What’s more, it isn’t a large format coffee-table book like Janson’s, which means a reader can actually curl up on a chair and read it quite comfortably. As Tsuji says, though, “to survey the vast sweep of Japanese art history was a great challenge and a daunting task;” but we are lucky that he also tells us “not only did no such book exist, but I needed one myself!”

Toward the end of his life, Algernon Blackwood famously reminisced that “I used to tell strange, wild, improbable tales…” The tale of the friendship between Lu Xun and Uchiyama Kanzō would have met Blackwood’s standard—a look at Shanghai during those times, now nearly 100 years ago, suggests why.

The Chronicles of Lord Asunaro is a curious little volume. In length, perhaps 10,000 words, it is long for a short story but short for a novella. The protagonist, a minor feudal lord in late Tokugawa Japan, was an actual person (apparently: like much else here, it is hard to be sure), his life heavily fictionalized according to the author’s note. While labeled a “tale” or “story”, the narrative in fact lacks much of might conventionally be called a plot.

The Refugees’ Daughter, Takuji Ichikawa, Emily Balistrieri (tr) (Red Circle Authors, November 2019)
The Refugees’ Daughter, Takuji Ichikawa, Emily Balistrieri (tr) (Red Circle, November 2019)

In a society rife with conflict and a world on the edge of extinction, who should we turn to for answers: society’s strongest or weakest? This is the question Takuji Ichikawa, one of Japan’s most imaginative and unusual authors, poses in The Refugees’ Daughter, a magical modern parable for our troubled times.

The Japanese Discovery of Chinese Fiction: The Water Margin and the Making of a National Canon, William C Hedberg (Columbia University Press, October 2019)
The Japanese Discovery of Chinese Fiction: The Water Margin and the Making of a National Canon, William C Hedberg (Columbia University Press, October 2019)

The classic Chinese novel The Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan) tells the story of a band of outlaws in 12th-century China and their insurrection against the corrupt imperial court. Imported into Japan in the early 17th century, it became a ubiquitous source of inspiration for translations, adaptations, parodies, and illustrated woodblock prints. There is no work of Chinese fiction more important to both the development of early modern Japanese literature and the Japanese imagination of China than The Water Margin.