Saturday, January 29, 2011

36 Views of Mount Fuji - Cathy Davidson (JAPAN)

I first read this book when I was in high school and had never been to Japan. Davidson, an American professor participates in a teacher exchange and moves with her husband to Japan on several occasions for extended periods of time. During her visits, she truly makes an effort to immerse herself in Japanese culture, and dedicates herself to learning the language, as well as Japanese traditions - and is committed to getting to know the real Japanese. I recently decided to re-read this book - partially after my truly negative experience with Dave Barry's book. I worried that the years that had passed since I first read the book would affect my view of it. But, all it did was make me better appreciate Davidson's ability to honestly report her experiences and to better understand how the Japanese are so different from Americans. Davidson has a love affair with Japan, but she is realistic. She knows she cannot move there permanently for a number of reasons, but she still makes an effort to incorporate the best parts of Japan into her life. Rather than write off the Japanese as weird or different, she really digs to understand why. The results are fascinating. I particularly enjoyed her observations about the Japanese education system - the pressure on mothers to produce perfect children, and the ever-mounting pressure on children to study to the point of exhaustion, just so they can later get all-consuming jobs. Davidson is meticulous in her observations and study of Japanese traditions, their interactions with each other and with foreigners. My husband has done a lot of work with a Japanese client over the past several years, and I think for him reading this book would be invaluable to understanding the people he interacts with on a daily basis - and for recognizing when and why their motives and behaviors are so different from the ones we assume of others in the United States. About the second half of this book focuses more on Davidson's personal life - her personal struggles with reconciling her need to be in the United States with her desire to be in Japan. I did not find this as compelling as the first half, but by the time she got to it, I trusted her opinions and thoughts a bit more than I would have if she'd started out focused on herself from the beginning. While this book can't possibly answer every question about the Japanese, and is clearly dated in many ways with Japan's ever-changing youth culture, I still found it immensely intriguing and worthy of lengthy discussion.

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