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Japanese Culture and History
Fashion Cats
Fashion Cats
Japanese Culture Book Review

Fashion Cats isn’t a serious fashion history book or a serious study of Japanese culture — but it is a wonderful inspiring little gift book for anyone who loves looking at fashionable fuzzy little creatures. On the surface the book is richly illustrated with dozens of high quality photos of cats wearing a wide range of well tailored couture, however you quickly realize that the real rock star of this book is Takako Iwasa who started the first clothing store for cats in the world.

Fashion CatsThe idea of doing a clothing store may seem obvious to us today, but what’s interesting is that Takako Iwasa came up with this pioneering concept all the way back in year 2000. Her business inspiration at the time was a 16 year old girl from rural Japan who started an online t-shirt shop. And around the same time her mother made a cape for her cat Prin, and thus she started off on her epic journey of building a cat clothing empire. Of course at the time there weren’t any cat tailors (it was a bit of a taboo), however to be fair there was an established market for dog clothing so she knew she in her heart that she could make it work.

After that it didn’t take long for the store took off, and Takako became a bit of a fashion star in her own right. And this books illustrates why by showing off an amazing variety of outfits that are mostly modeled by her cute Scottish Fold cat. Just a few of the many cat garments are: A princess outfit, a Chinese lion dance costume, numerous Christmas themed cat hats, and oh yes Anne of Green Gables! I think my favorite of all was a Hello Kitty hat which she did in collaboration with Sanrio.

The book includes quite a few nice little touches like a heartwarming diary section and some how to instructions for those interested in trying their paws at making cat clothing. And the level of detail describing each outfit is charming: So I’d highly recommend this book to any feline fancier.

Fashion Cats

Reviewed by Michael Pinto, February 2014

Japanese Culture Book Review

Kokeshi is typically known as a traditional Japanese doll. They are recognizable by their rounded heads, trunks of a body with no arms and legs and their face drawn with thin lines. Now consider Annelore Parot's "Kokeshi" series of books, and knowing about this set guarantees to send a fan of kokeshi dolls and the Japanese kawaii aspect into titillations.

KimonosKimonos and other Kokeshi series books were originally published in French and then translated into English language. Kimonos is a title among the series hardcover bound books meant for a young girlís viewing pleasure. If the child is still leaning simple phrases in the Japanese language, how to count or how to figure out similarities among many, Kimonos is useful as a tool to enrich a young mind. The book is a great choice as a storytelling tool, when kids can be called on to point things out. There are also games such as finding the Koeshi or guessing what is under a flap can be played.

Although the book is known by the Japanese fabric, the book contains themes of family, and friendship. Within the books glossy pages, each page contains wonderful pattern of vivid color that make any reader want to reach out and see if it can be touched. Kokeshi are just that cute, and for being just a Northern Japan invention, its spread has been global.


Reviewed by Linda Yau, August 2012

The Art Trucks of Japan
The Art Trucks of Japan
Book Review by Brian Cirulnick

Dekotora is a popular Japanese subculture, sort of like "Hot Rodding" in the USA. Dekotora is about decorating your truck or van. Some have many lights and other stuff stuck onto them like 'art cars' while others in more recent times have wildly ornate fiberglass body kits that make an ordinary minivan look like something out of Gundam.

The art trucks of Japan made their debut in the 1975 smash hit Truck Yaro!, roaring onto the big screen to wow Japanese moviegoers. Decorated with banks of flashing lights, lengths of aluminum piping, and sheets of shining steel, these vehicles were brash, colorful and unapologetic.

Some 30 years later, Japan's art trucks have become highly stylized creations that attract a loyal following of hobbyists and professional drivers. This stunning collection of dekotora photos reveals both the beauty of Japan's art trucks and the creative talents of their owners. Described as masterpieces of the highway, the art trucks of Japan are a must-see for all lovers of vehicle art and extravagant design.

A Japanese Art Truck

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, June 2011

Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential: How Teenage Girls Made a Nation Cool
Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential: How Teenage Girls Made a Nation Cool
Japanese Culture Book Review

How did the Japanese schoolgirl develop into a brand that can be used to sell anything from kimchi to insurance? The image of the Japanese schoolgirl has gained iconic recognition all over the globe. With inspiration from all facets of Japanese culture, from samurai to geishas, she's every woman — a pop star, a muse, a heroine. One part sexual fantasy, one part demure bookworm.

Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential: How Teenage Girls Made a Nation Cool provides an insider's glimpse into the lives, fashions and motivations of the women who have created the universal symbol of girl power.

Ashcraft, who is well-known for his Wired column, "Japanese School Girl Watch," explains the fascination. "For women, the appeal of schoolgirls is that they are in the prime of their lives, unfettered by work, marriage and children. They are young and relatively free," he says. "For men, the appeal is the memory of a first crush, of sitting in a classroom surrounded by girls in skirts and sailor outfits."

Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential explores the history of the schoolgirl and how the she evolved into the international symbol of hip Japan. Ashcraft and Ueda uncover the origins of the sailor dress that is synonymous with the image, and explains how the image of the schoolgirl became so popular in manga, anime and gaming, and also how it has replaced the Geisha as the Japanese female icon. The authors also look into the Japanese schoolgirlís influence on movies, music and the advertising industry.

Packed with dozens of color illustrations, photos and magazine covers, Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential is the essential reference for anyone interested in Japanese pop-culture.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, September 2009

Pink Box: Inside Japan's Sex Clubs
Pink Box: Inside Japan's Sex Clubs
Japanese Culture Book Review

You know, just doing a search for "anime" on Amazon now yields the first result as Hentai, so, it's high time we recognized that sex sells. And in Japan (as in the rest of the world) sex is *for sale* as well. But Japan, with it's outward victorian-ish prim and proper hides a seedy underbelly of really strange perverseness and this book introduces the steamier side of Japan's Fetish Clubs that cater to the bizarre (and sometimes hilarious) sexual tastes of the otherwise stoic Japanese.

Pink BoxIn Pink Box, photographer Joan Sinclair takes us on a journey inside the secret world of fuzoku (commercial sex) in Japan, a world where kawaii (cute) collides with consumerism and sex. Unrivaled in their creativity and the sheer number of choices, the clubs featured in this book offer their clientele every fantasy imaginable. Subway groping, visits to the nurse's office, and comic book character encounters are just the beginning of the immense list of possibilities that are played out in colorful playrooms for adults where no detail is overlooked. Sinclair's photographs capture it all, while an introduction by sociologist James Farrer provides a brief history of commercial sex in Japan and places the images in the context of contemporary Japanese culture.

"The clubs are a reflection of modern Japan," writes Sinclair, "where the rules are written out, prices are not negotiable, and fantasies are predetermined, prescripted, and prepaid." But those who dismiss the Japanese as excessively demure or morbidly repressed would do well to take a peep inside.

America has its run-of-the-mill massage parlors and topless bars, but only in Tokyo can you find entire clubs populated by faux nurses, teachers, stewardesses, and secretaries, not to mention naked karaoke, mirrored floors, life-size latex dolls, and bathtubs filled with green gel and faux-mermaids. And, as Tokyo police crack down on a wave of subway gropings, the Kabukicho district offers not one but three clubs equipped with immaculately reconstructed train cars filled with short-skirted schoolgirls who won't press charges.

Yep, it's weird. Yep, it's sometimes utterly tasteless - but yep, it's distinctly Japanese.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, November 2006

Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide
Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide
Japanese Culture Book Review

A few years ago, there was a humorous series of books known as a "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Guide", which showed you things like how to fend off a shark attack, or how to properly control your car in a spin-out. While they were done to be funny, the information was actually valuable should you be in the unfortunate situation of finding yourself *in* one of these worst-case scenarios.

Done as a police blotter, case-book file graphic layout, Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide is a manga-sized full-color worst-case scenario handbook on how to deal with Japanese demons, spirits, monsters and other supernatural beasties. Filled with case-studies of actual events including first-hand accounts and microfilms of 18th-century publications stored in the National Diet Library in Tokyo, authors Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt have produced the first English-language guide to Japan's yokai monsters.

Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival GuideEach yokai is given specifications such as: height, weight, attack and defense. Each yokai is also shown as wonderfully drawn illustrations, created by the talented Tatsuya Morino, detailing the potential visible appearance of each yokai, and if available, traditional Japanese illustrations (such as a 19th century woodblock print). The Japanese name, English translation, and (very helpful) pronunciation of the Japanese name augment the data points allowing you to know who your demonic attacker is before you are swallowed in his toothy maw.

If you have even a passing interest in Japanese folklore or are intrigued by some of the demons that show up in Inuyasha, you'll find this book to be a total blast and way more fun than you were expecting.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, February 2010

Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime
Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime
Japanese Culture Book Review

We know that anime and manga are popular in Japan. But why are anime and manga also popular OUTSIDE Japan?

As anime and manga are both based on "westernized" entertainment forms, and tell stories through visual imagery that break language barriers, they also slyly bring with them many portions of Japanese culture and also make statements about the culture clash of east and west without the viewer or reader ever being aware of any of what's going on behind the scenes.

Even the artists and authors may not be aware of what they are doing as the influence is so pervasive. Art is a mirror of culture and in this case, the art has become globalized.

Well suited to electronic transmission and distributed by Japan's media industry, anime and manga have become a powerful force in both the mediascape and the marketplace. Has Japan found a way to distribute its cluture globally?

The book addresses such topics as spirituality, the use of visual culture by Japanese new religious movements, Japanese Goth, nostalgia and Japanese pop, comics for girls, and more. It brings together an international group of scholars from many specialties to probe the richness and subtleties of these deceptively simple cultural forms.

With illustrations throughout, it is a rich source for all scholars and fans of manga and anime as well as students of contemporary mass culture or Japanese culture and civilization.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, August 2009

The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture
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The Encyclopedia of
Japanese Pop Culture

Japanese Culture Book Review

When most of us think about Japanese pop culture images of the Power Rangers, Godzilla movies, and Sanrio products come to mind, however the indigenous pop culture is much richer. Instead of focusing on what the rest of the world has already encountered, Schilling provides an encyclopedic compendium of books, movies, music, comedians, and cultural scandals that have had the greatest impact in Japan. The book provides real depth and analysis in his articles, opening up Japan's rich pop heritage to the world. The book does more than list movements: it provides historical references and connections essential to understanding how these interests developed.

While the book doesn't cover everything, it acts more as an introduction to the subject matter. The book explores important cultural icons, from Misora Hibari and Sazae-san, through Pink Lady and Doraemon, ending with SMAP and Sailor Moon. If you're looking for a primer on Japanese pop culture over the last 50 years, this is the book.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, June 2002

Encyclopedia of Contemporary of Contemporary Japanese Culture Japanese Culture
Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture
Japanese Culture Book Review

This mega-informative volume contains a little bit about everything you need to know about Japan since 1945 to today. Over 700 entries cover areas such as literature, architecture, food, health, political economy, religion, and technology. And while it does cover music, film, TV & anime and manga, it also looks at more traditional aspects of Japan in the modern world, including kabuki and noh, fishing and fireworks.

With only 634 pages, the book sensibly points readers towards more in-depth studies. You may not get all the answers you want from an entry, but in most cases, you can close this book with a better idea of where you should look next. It would take twenty other books to cover the subjects that this one volume takes on - making this an excellent starting point for students of Japanese culture, or anyone with a deep need to understand modern Japan.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, February 2004

Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture
Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture
Japanese Culture Book Review

Okay; this book isn't for everyone. In fact, there may be some here who will actively hate this book, because it takes a hard look at how pop-culture, particularly how the manga and anime revolutions have influenced the entire culture of post-WWII Japan.

Little Boy examines the culture of postwar Japan through its arts and popular visual media. Focusing on the youth-driven phenomenon of otaku (roughly translated as "geek culture" or "pop cult fanaticism"), Takashi Murakami and a notable group of contributors explore the complex historical influences that shape Japanese contemporary art and its distinct graphic languages. The book's title, Little Boy, is a reference to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, thus clearly locating the birth of these new cultural forms in the trauma and generational aftershock of the atomic bomb.

Toy ElephantThis generously illustrated book showcases the work of key otaku artists and designers, many of whom are cult celebrities in Japan, and discusses their feature film and video animations, video games and internet sites, music, toys, fashion, and more. In the process, the following questions are posed: What is otaku, and what does it tell us about contemporary social, economic, and cultural life in Japan and throughout the world? How is it related to the pervasive and curious fixation on 'cuteness' evident in Japanese popular culture? What impact did the atomic devastation of World War II have on the development of Japanese art and culture?

This brilliantly designed, bilingual (English and Japanese) publication examines these themes to explore how contemporary Japanese art has become inseparable from the sub-cultural realms of manga and anime) -- a world where meticulous technique, apocalyptic imagery, and high and low cultures meet.

A dazzling array of works--ranging from the first Godzilla movie to the anime masterpiece Neon Genesis Evangelion to the provocative paintings of Chiho Aoshima--is accompanied by essays that delve deeply into their sources, themes, and resonance. The result is a superlative overview that will thrill manga and anime enthusiasts, and open up a new world of cutting-edge aesthetics and social critique to readers unversed in the fully loaded imagery and daring styles of Japan's globally embraced artistic innovations.

But beware; some of the deep ponderings are hard to digest -- often reaching into places we'd rather not go and dealing with subjects we'd rather avoid. It takes an artist to understand the cultural mirror that is art, and Murakami fits the requirements.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, February 2007

Un-useless Inventions!
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101 Un-useless Japanese Inventions:
The Art of Chindogu

Book Review

Author Kenji Kawakami has invented a wide range of silly gadgets which have a Rube Goldberg sense of humor with a zen flavor. Some of the featured chindogu (translated as "an odd or distorted tool") are Duster Slippers for Cats (for feline assistance with tedious housework), the Full Body Umbrella (for day-long all-over dryness), the Fish Face Cover (helps get the fish cut up with minimum emotional trauma), and the Temporary Ladies' Room Converter (stake your claim to the facilities). 101 Un-useless Japanese Inventions displays the above contraptions (along with many more) all lovingly photographed "in action."

Reviewed by Michael Pinto, May 2002

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