Lots about the difference between Japanese Buddhist aristocratic culture and Shinto popular culture—with examples from films, plays, novels, prostitution—pegged, indeed chained, to the familiar idea that "hedonism is held in check by social taboos. The morbid and sometimes grotesque taste that runs through Japanese culture—and has done so for centuries—is a direct result of being made to conform to such a strict and limiting code of normality. So: "while the heroes and heroines of this book tell us something about the culture that created them. Buruma starts off by distinguishing between Japanese progenitors Izanagi and Izanami and Adam and Eve—or "pollution" vs. Original Sin.
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Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Behind the Mask by Ian Buruma. Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages. More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
To ask other readers questions about Behind the Mask , please sign up. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 3. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Ian Buruma's nonfiction tends to be wonderful, and this book is no exception. In one sense, this is an attempt to do something fairly standard: understand a people and their culture through the stories they tell about themselves. In another sense, this is an extremely unique work, however, in that not only does each chapter stand alone as genuinely insightful film or fiction criticism but together the essays constitute a nearly complete, nuanced and sensitive account of what one might call a "pr Ian Buruma's nonfiction tends to be wonderful, and this book is no exception.
In another sense, this is an extremely unique work, however, in that not only does each chapter stand alone as genuinely insightful film or fiction criticism but together the essays constitute a nearly complete, nuanced and sensitive account of what one might call a "prototypical" Japanese psyche.
Keeping in mind that people in Japan, like all countries, are individuals and do not conform to some unitary national mode of thinking, it is immensely helpful to understand the standard cultural tropes with which people describe and relate to the world they live in. Buruma begins with Japanese founding myths, which in a few crucial ways differ greatly from those of Ancient Greece and Rome or even other Asian nations.
He then discusses key works across a variety of genres, including No and Kabuki theater, fiction, and later film and manga. He excels at tying these works together by explaining core concepts which aid in elucidating the emotional reactions of both the characters and the audience. In some cases, these concepts have formal names, like giri, and in others they are less easy to encapsulate, but equally important in understanding why characters behave the way they do. To top it all of, Buruma's erudition and sense of humor makes the book a pleasure to read.
I'd recommend this book, despite its age, to anyone interested in a survey of Japanese fiction and film, and also to anyone curious about Japan in general. Feb 02, Jenna rated it it was ok Shelves: japan , non-fiction.
I don't know how beneficial it was for me to read this. First of all, it is likely dated since it was written in the 80s, almost 30 years ago. I felt really offended through most of it, because it focused on such grotesque aspects of Japanese culture and insisted they were the socially acceptable norm. I don't know how true that is, but I would never assume such things of the Japanese people that I meet. Overall, the book had some interesting insights into why certain aspects of Japanese society I don't know how beneficial it was for me to read this.
Overall, the book had some interesting insights into why certain aspects of Japanese society are the way they are, but it felt negative and biased in one direction. Surprisingly bland. More judgmental and less insightful than the author's other books on Japan, with some glaring, repeated factual errors.
Aug 30, Marija S. A gem of a book I accidentally stumbled upon. Ian Buruma knows what he is writing about small wonder since he had been living in Japan for seven years and has very insightful and sharp remarks about the Japanese society and some of its particularities the cult of mother, the worship of immaculate beauty that reaches its peak in destruction, etc.
The only downside I can find with the book is unsy A gem of a book I accidentally stumbled upon. The only downside I can find with the book is unsystematic presentation since it is unclear what the author was trying to accomplish by compiling essays on various topics and giving us random glimpses into the core of the Japanese society and their way of thinking.
Oct 21, Iztok rated it really liked it. Down to earth analysis of some of Japanese 'types' of people as they appear in the arts or pop culture. Nevertheless, be careful reading it as it is 30 years old and some aspects of society of course have changed. But for a general overview of Japanese aesthetics and construction of characters, it is still a good read.
This story is then extrapolated to explain certain notions which are ingrained in Japanese culture. Buruma identifies three traits threaded throughout Japanese cultural practices and memory: jealousy coupled with its projection of personal deficiencies and damaging capacity for incorrect assumptions , pollution physical or mental degradation, and society's innate Ian Buruma's 'Japanese Mirror: Heroes and Villains in Japanese Culture' opens by exploring Japan's eighth-century foundational myth.
Buruma identifies three traits threaded throughout Japanese cultural practices and memory: jealousy coupled with its projection of personal deficiencies and damaging capacity for incorrect assumptions , pollution physical or mental degradation, and society's innate corrupting effect , and death. The author proceeds to examine how collective psychology is enacted within Japanese society. He observes that imbedded and omnipresent social obligations inevitably lead to suppressed emotion.
This controlled character finds emotional outlet through Shinto religious practices, creative mediums, or other rituals which are socially and psychologically compartmentalised from shared behavioural conventions. Ginzburg's peasant radicalism runs deep in Japan, and one only need peel away a thin veneer to discover its presence. Literary figures are used to demonstrate a Japanese cultural dialectic that exists between the public and private sphere.
Buruma explains the linguistic distinction made between tatemae facade and public posture , and honne the world of private feelings and opinions which under normal circumstances remains repressed. Idolised cultural figures are frequently outsiders who defy pervasive social norms. The hero's individuality is therefore a public reassertion of personality free from artificially created social strictures, and their actions are an expression of purity resulting from baser human character.
The wandering loner is a lifestyle which is simultaneously romanticised and pitied. For most, it remains an aspiration which is beyond the realms of possibility, except when indulging imagination freed from such conventions.
Buruma goes on to examine various dominant cultural traits in Japanese society. Each of these characteristics occupy a separate chapter: the eternal mother women's central role within cultural memory and social structures - outwardly powerless, yet holding pervasive influence ; the demon women anxiety borne from an irreconcilable juxtaposition between women's maternal role and their capacity for unrestrained sexual desire ; the human work of art staged public conformity and ritualised aesthetic roles ; the art of prostitution the 'floating world' and its role in Japanese history and culture ; the third sex the aesthetic and transcendent beauty in artifice towards the ideal, and androgeny as a means of escaping rigorously imposed social obligations through prolonging the impermanence of youth ; the loyal retainer navigating imbedded social debts and obligations , and so on.
He weaves his narrative using literature, theatre, art, and films from imperial and modern Japan. The depth in which Buruma engages varies from source to source. We are sometimes presented with contextual information and close-reading of a few works by the one author; other sources receive just a cursory glance as they relate to an overarching theme. Given the author's background and interest in film, this medium receives healthy attention in most chapters.
Buruma's observations of Japanese culture oscillates between genuine affection and bemused exacerbation. Having undoubtedly experienced varied cultural interactions first-hand through living in Japan for a number of years, Buruma gently mocks Japanese cultural exceptionalism without attempting to rationalise its presence. In reference to Miyamoto Musashi, a sixteenth-century roaming samurai who has become a legendary figure of Japanese manhood and purity of character, Buruma writes that Musashi possessed in abundance: 'seishinshugi, meaning the victory of the spirit over material things.
It helps if this spirit is Japanese. The term is not really used for foreigners who, one can only assume, lack such a thing. His writing generally strikes a fair balance. It is bold without being overbearing, and broad without succumbing to generalisation.
An insightful overview of Japanese culture, and pleasing introduction into a new world of literature. A Japanese Mirror , published in , is Ian Buruma's dissection of the myths that imbue the darker segments of Japan's culture. He doesn't hold back; his cuts are sharp and deep. The "mirror" here can represent a number of things: a reflection of the nation's history on its present, its heroes and villains on society, or art on life and vice versa, and the way society wants to see itself and also, conversely, how it doesn't want to see itself the wandering hero, for example—like Tora-san, char A Japanese Mirror , published in , is Ian Buruma's dissection of the myths that imbue the darker segments of Japan's culture.
The "mirror" here can represent a number of things: a reflection of the nation's history on its present, its heroes and villains on society, or art on life and vice versa, and the way society wants to see itself and also, conversely, how it doesn't want to see itself the wandering hero, for example—like Tora-san, charming and beloved by audiences as an anachronism incompatible with modern-day Japan and its norms, and rejecting inclusion in this society anyway.
On the mirror concept, Buruma writes: The morbid and sometimes grotesque taste that runs through Japanese culture—and has done for centuries—is a direct result of being made to conform to such a strict and limiting code of normality. The theatrical imagination, the world of the bizarre is a parallel, or rather the flip-side of reality, as fleeting and intangible as a reflection in the mirror. Buruma covers so much in the book in terms of films, literature, historical figures, actors, archetypes, social roles and so forth, that it's as illuminating a read as it is useful as a reference.
It left plenty of impressions on me and influenced how I view aspects of the culture. And these impressions were not all positive.
Buruma has such a masterful way with words, and so broad an understanding of Japan, it's often hard not to agree with him. Although the book came out in the early s, a lot of it still feels relevant to Japan today, though I'd argue that many of the more extreme cultural elements that Buruma brings to the fore have been whittled down over the past decades since the freewheeling days of the economic boom and also due to Japan being further pried out of its isolation by globalization.
All in all, an excellent book that's rich with ideas and acute observation. Oct 14, Cassidy Sanfilippo rated it really liked it. Going into this book, I was expecting a more clear cut historical look at these figures stated in the title in Japan.
It probably took about two chapters for me to completely accept the idea that this book looks at Japanese figures through the lens of important fiction in Japan and once I did I was even more intrigued than when I read the description of the book. Reading this book effectively made me want to experience all of the fiction referenced throughout, and it gave me a perspective I hadn Going into this book, I was expecting a more clear cut historical look at these figures stated in the title in Japan.
Behind the mask
Published by Penguin Publishing Group. Seller Rating:. About this Item: Penguin Publishing Group. Condition: Good. A copy that has been read, but remains in clean condition. All pages are intact, and the cover is intact. The spine may show signs of wear.
BEHIND THE MASK
Behind the Mask