Viewed Sideways: Writings on Culture and Style in Contemporary Japan (2011)
by Donald Richie
Reviewed by Amber Burnham
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Viewed Sideways: Writings on Culture and Style in Contemporary Japan is the third collection of essays from author Donald Richie. This new addition to the series is a page turner. Once you finish one essay, you look at the title of the next and want to keep reading. The book contains eleven essays from previous collections and twenty-six never before collected. The book is split into five subsections, each containing essays that are related to a particular aspect of the Japanese culture. One section focuses solely on Japanese Film while another section examines how the Japanese and Americans view the world and their place in it in fundamentally different ways.
Viewed Sideways is written by a man who grew up in America and later adopted Japan as his second home. This creates a point of view that is knowledgeable of the two countries and their cultures. The understanding that Richie possesses of the cultural view points from each country is obvious from the first essay. He writes in a way that helps the layman from either country to not only understand but also respect the viewpoints of the others. It is never felt, while reading, that you are being given an opinion of a man who is choosing which viewpoint is better. He is simply discussing the differences between the two cultures and giving reasons for these differences.
There is much to be learned from these essays, not only about Japanese culture but also about the American culture. There are times when, as Americans, we do not see how our culture and upbringing affects our home and worldly viewpoints. Scattered throughout this collection of essays there are many examples of just how this is, whether from history or from modern days. Then there is the aspect of how our culture has affected the culture in Japan. Since Japan decided to open its borders in the late 1800’s to other countries, their culture has been affected. Richie hits on bits of how Japanese culture has been affected by other Asian countries, as well as how they have reached out to in turn affect those countries as well, but his main focus is on the Western American influence over the past decades. Because he has been living in Japan for a substantial amount of time, he has the advantage of looking at the changes in terms of recent history and the ever changing modern society.
Amber Burnham has a BA in Early Childhood Education from Kendall College. She is also a regular panelist on Kichicast, the all-girl, Chicago-based podcast devoted to anime, manga, and Japanese culture. You can listen to Kichicast at kichigi.com.
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