Lost Japan - Alex Kerr

Review :

I have been involved in teaching Asian studies in high school for almost 10 years, and this has to be the best book on Japan I have ever read. It is very accessible to westerners because it is written by an American who has spent most of his adult life living in Japan and Asia. Kerr is an admitted Japanophile, a guy who has been fascinated with the country since he was a boy. However, what is extraordinary about this book is that even though he loves Japan and has bought two old houses in Japan and renovated them, he very pointedly tells his readers what is wrong with the country. Many admirers of Japan can only talk about its admirable qualities: the orderliness, the technology, the booming economy. Kerr, however, sees something terribly wrong with the country. He loves it so much he is not afraid to criticize it.

Japan may be orderly and efficient, but the culture is so driven to be modern that it ignores its own culture and history. Kerr has made a good living being an Asian art dealer because most people in Japan have no interest in their own cultural artifacts. He was able to buy items very cheaply and sell them to westerners at a great profit. Kerr also notes that Japanese society is so intent on order and efficiency that they ironically forget about both innovation and preservation.

This book is almost a love poem to the things that Kerr loves about Japan and the sadness he has about watching them disappear because the Japanese people are focused on other things.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about Japan or get a different perspective on this fascinating culture.


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