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What books or movies would you recommend to anyone wanting to gain an understanding of Japanese people's way of thinking and culture?

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Tokyo Vice

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All of the books and the movies in this world will not help you to understand the Japanese way of thinking because Japanese people are very difficult people when it comes to everyday thinking. As for recommendation, I would recommend to anyone that wants to truly learn about the Japanese culture and their way of thinking to come to Japan to live for at least 5 to 7 years and do everything that most Japanese people do in their daily lives. When I say come to Japan, I mean the real Japan, not Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya or the big cities in Japan. You have to go to the country side to live where the real Japanese culture and the real Japanese people are. That is the only way you will learn how Japanese people truly thinks.

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Ningen no Shoumei. Very dated but the general beliefs are still reflected in this movie.

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Mr. Baseball with Tom Selleck.

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Any film work directed by Koreeda Hirokazu. The too-few books by Alan Booth.

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I've shown friends "Last Christmas" drama from 2004 and "Densha Otoko" from 2005 and the anime "The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi" from 2006.

In my opinion, "Last Christmas" has done the best in bridging the cultural gap. It seems like they "get it" about japanese culture more quickly, without having to explain much. :-)

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When I was studying Japanese at university, the teachers used to always recommend books like "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" and other books by academics. I never thought they had any relevance or were a mirror on modern Japanese society.

I do think watching the juvenile programs on TV offers an insight into society and what people like for their entertainment.

The most entertaining book about Japanese society I have read is one called "Nihonsense." I don't know if it is still in print, but the author humorously looks at various customs. His explanations were right on the mark. He'd ask questions like "Why do Japanese peel grapes before eating them?" "Why is KFC the most popular meal at Christmas?" and so on.

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Battle Royale

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A book about SMAP? A book that says only Japan has four seasons. A book that says Japanese are different from the rest of the world. A book with a map that has Japan as the centre of the earth. Silly comments I know but it is a baffling mindset to understand.

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Kori, you just managed to describe Japan and its people in 3 lines. Nice! I say "Sayuri" when it comes to sex.

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sazae san....haha

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Karate kid - It is about the same level of maturity.

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This is tough. I agree with alladin in that I think living here is the only way to even begin to understand. A lot of books and movies paint a picture, whether that be that all Japanese are saintly samurai or something else altogether.

I also agree with koriyamaboy, haha.

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Once you've lived here for a while, have a film fest weekend of Itami's films, while slightly dated and certainly won't win any prizes for cinematography do offer an interesting view that unfortunately led to his untimely demise.

@chuckers: LOL

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Akira Kurosawa, Itami Juzo, and B movies from the 40s to 70s. That is it for movies. The rest is noise.

Sazae san, Chibi marukochan, Warau saleseman. The rest is opinion.

That will give you an education by osmosis.

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Battle Royale

Too damn funny, but there is a sad element of truth in this, that students might just do about anything the teacher (OR COACH--as these people are like gods to so many Japanese, especially in baseball) tells them to do. Hopefully, the Japanese are wising up, you know.

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"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll

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I would say "Taiko" by Eiji Yoshizawa. It shows that Japanese way of thinking and culture hasn't changed in 500 years. Mr. Baseball was good but more for if the japanese want to know how the look through western eyes.

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"Gung Ho" - A Japanese car company buys an American plant.

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Im suprised noone mentioned Lost In Translation. I think that movie did it for me. Plus Scarlet Johansson. hubbahubba.

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I went to see Akunin the other day, great film by the way, but the trailers before it were ALL for Japanese films and they were ALL jidai-geki. Can you imagine going to see something like Paranormal Activity and all the trailers before it were for nothing but spaghetti westerns? Non-Japanese films show Japanese film trailers, why not the other way around? And how many times are they going to make and/or remake Ooku?! What is the obsession with it????

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Just looking at the above posts, almost all movies, doesn't anybody read anymore?

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Just looking at the above posts, almost all movies, doesn't anybody read anymore?

Japan Today

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Tokyo Underworld by Robert Whiting is one of the few books I've read about Japan. I liked it, especially the part about how a pro wrestler captivated the whole country as Japan started its economic recovery after World War II. The wrestler's name was Rikodozan, I believe, and he was whipping American wrestlers, including Killer Kowalski, to the delight of his "countrymen". He is credited with restoring the wounded national psyche so badly bruised during the war. Turns out, he wasn't actually Japanese, but was of Korean descent.

The book, however, is mainly about an Italian-American restaurateur and the sinister doings of the Japanese mafia.

Sayonara was educational as far as understanding post-war relations, but the lead actress was so plain. It was hard to believe that Brando could fall for her. She probably got the part due to her English skills.

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Here's one,OUT by Natsuo Kirino (the book, not the movie). It has everything, disfunctional families, downtrodden housewives, irresponsible teen mothers, gangsters and the sex industry, incompetent detectives, obsession with brand items. Japanese culture in a nutshell.

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Sazae san indeed! Just read the whole series of Sazae san. All your questions about why do they do this/that etc will be answered. The Paris Hilton syndrome, keeping up with the Jones ilness etc will all be explained.You can also learn how to be in the good books of the Jpeople, and how to treat them well etc.

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The Cove.

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"Gung Ho" - A Japanese car company buys an American plant.

awesome movie!

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The Cove. It taught me that Japanese will do anything not to back down to the wishes of nearly every other person on earth. Even though those Japanese know what they are doing is wrong

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Papigiulio at 12:11 PM JST - 24th September Im suprised noone mentioned Lost In Translation.

Agreed, there are so many little subtlties in the movie that give a hint to what life here is like.

A friend who lived here for 10+yrs told me before I moved here, [i]"They are either totally into something, or not at all interested. There is no in-between."[/i] Now after 11yrs, that statement was the most accurate thing I've heard.

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Friday magazine. :-)

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book from the mid 90s seemed good called Straight Jacket Society I think it was, by a guy named Miyamoto if my memory is still working

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It is Americans like Donald Richie, Donald Keene and Alex Kerr who probably understand Japan best. I get a certain satisfaction from recommending them, to newbies and to those for whom Japan really enlarges the old chip on the shoulder :)

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Robert Whitings "You Gotta have Wa" is good (along with his other books). "The Enigma of Japanese Power" was enlightening about the relationship between politicians and companies

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manfromamerica - The Cove.

Thanks for the grin. Sadly, that and Whale Wars are all many foreigners know about Japan.

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the samurai delicatessen

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Here's one,OUT by Natsuo Kirino

Yea, I'd have to agree. Paints a pretty grim and realistic picture of real life people in real life situations (not that everybody is chopping up bodies in their kitchens, but it's gotta be interesting).

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'Mayonaka no Yaji san Kita san' if its pop culture you're after.

'Merry Christmas Mr.Lawrence' if you think there's ever a hope in hell of understanding the Japanese mind.

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The best way to gain an understanding of Japanese people's way of thinking and culture has neither been really portrayed in a book nor in a movie but visiting Osaka Tower will let you understand everything in 10 minutes.

To understand the present, you have to start with the past. Movies like 'Always sunset on 3rd street' portray Japan really well after WW2. The movie 'Zen' explains a lot about Buddhism in Japan.

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The Yakuza ( 1974 )

Dusty: That guy doesn't like you.

Harry Kilmer: No, not much.

Dusty: So how come you figure you can trust him?

Harry Kilmer: Giri.

Dusty: Giri?

Harry Kilmer: Giri. Obligation.

Dusty: You mean he figures he owes you something?

Harry Kilmer: Yeah, sort of.

Dusty: Well, that can work two ways, Kilmer. If you ain't alive tomorrow, he don't owe you sh*t.

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Speed Tribes.

And I can't agree with Alladin. You can't claim that "the real Japan" is only in the places where no one lives. Roughly a third of Japan lives in the Tokyo Metro area. Another huge chunk live in Kansai, around Osaka and Kyoto. Understanding "the real Japan" doesn't mean going where there are no people or most people are 80+.

I would also recommend working in a language school. Boy does that sure offer you some insights into how people think. I hear the most baffling thing on a daily basis, and it seems like most peoples' medical understanding is straight out of 1880. Not taking medicine makes me stronger! Going in the rain will make me catch a cold! If I gargle I'll never get sick!

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Japanese Inn, by Oliver Statler and for another view, From a Ruined Empire: letters, Japan, Korea, China, 1945-46. Edited by Otis Carey. Correspondence between USN translators, many Japanophiles, during and after the War.

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Truckyaro is good! good laugh!

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I think best Japanese movie to description of Japanese Sensibilities is "Kondou san and his Angry Inch"

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As an "outsider" who is also an "insider" I suggest anyone to check this out:www.insideoutsidejapan.com I think you can get some idea as to what life it like here...as an expat, it hits right on.

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The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture

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One that I would NOT recommend is, Memoirs of a Geisha. I have tried to watch it three times but always fell asleep.

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Ningen Kakumei by Ikeda Daisaku. Never read it, but I'm in awe of its sales figures.

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Disillusioned made a point of saying that we should NOT recommend 'Memoirs Of A Geisha' and i completely agree with him - it was a horrible collection of twisted misinformation and it was even sued by the source who the author used for that reason. But if someone is interested in what that source really had said and is interested in the older culture of Nihon then Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki (ISBN: 0743444329) is a WONDERFUL book to read.

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Definitely the, "Enigma of Japanese Power". Slightly heavy going and now 20 years old, but gets right to the heart of the often corrupt heart of Japanese politics and power and how its passive population responds.

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Yes. OUT is a fantastic book! Really highlights the problems of society well, I think. Patrick Smash. Well said. The longer I live here, the less I seem to understand. I think one word that helps explain Japan is obligation. These peoples lives are ruled by obligation. Read a good book that covered that a lot but cant remember the title. Sorry. Written by an American woman quite recently.

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The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently

This is a great book about Asian psychology, that basically takes things back to Confucius and the Greeks. It's a great read, but should be taken with a grain of salt because it was written by someone who had never lived in Asia. But the author is a psychologist and has did a lot of research. I found it really interesting.

Dogs and Demons, and Behind the Mask are both interesting reads, but don't give very positive views of Japan.

The best Japanese book I have read in terms of enlightenment is The Box Man, don't expect to understand it though!

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"Tampopo" by Juzo Itami.

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Dog and Demons by Alex Kerr, after reading it, I burnt most of my Japanese things out of contempt. Is "Nihonjinron" a book? If it was DON'T read that... It'll make you want to punch the next Japanese person you see.

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Oh, I think it's called "Dignity of a Nation", but if you want sort of insiders view of the outside, read that book. Written by a mathematician, he goes on an anti-foriegner (Anti-western) tirade, and makes some pretty absurd claims about Japan and the West.

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Sazae-san has all the wit and wisdom of Family Circus.

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People if you really want to get an edumacation about good ol' Nihon then you need to read:

Hirohito: The Making of an Empire Gold Warriors The Yamato Dynasty Hidden Differences: Doing Business with the Japanese

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I'd go with "Dogs and Demons" too, great book revealing what a sham this place is. Anything based on old Japan is just fairy tales of a bygone era and modern novels are dull as dish water here. Watch "Rising Sun" to get a gist of what a joke J-culture is seen as by Hollywood. Watch "The Ballad of Narayama" to see what swell folks J-people were back in the day.

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Anything by the historian Marius Jansen, starting with "Sakamoto Ryoma and the Meiji Ishin". That book gives a good account of various factors that have continued to exert a great influence since the tumult brought about by the arrival of Perry's black ships.

For those interested in Nara/Heian Era courtly culture and politics, Robert Borgen's award winning "Sugawara No Michizane and the Early Heian Court" is indispensable.

One other readily accessible text is "Tokyo Underworld" by Robert Whiting", which, like Jansen's book on Ryoma, traces the life of a single adventurous individual who made an impact during a transitional period, by means of which an outline of certain big pictures issues that are still relevant today is brought into focus.

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Read "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" and "Enigma of Japanese Power" and watch "Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters" and then just turn on the terebi

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Dog and Demons by Alex Kerr, after reading it, I burnt most of my Japanese things out of contempt. Is "Nihonjinron" a book? If it was DON'T read that... It'll make you want to punch the next Japanese person you see.

iam sandwich: You sound rather troubled, I'm afraid. Burning your Japanese stuff at protest about a book is quite odd. Dogs and Demons may make you pity the Japanese, but it is concerned with the Japanese and THEIR country.

You are then confused as to what "Nihonjinron" is and whether or not it is a book, but feel sure that if it is a book, you will want to punch the next Japanese you see if you happen to read it. As far as I know, it is not a book, but I suspect that you would love to read it.

Just go home and forget about Japan.

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Mishima's over-rated. Confessions of a Mask was innovative though, more like The American Psycho written in the late 40s. Haven't read Kawabata :(

Anything by Shusaku Endo (big fan of Catholic novelists, and his is the only Japanese I'm aware of under that genre), Osamu Tezuka (Father of Manga) will get high-marks from me :)

The Yamato Dynasty was given as present, I'm not sure most of it were accurate but certainly a good, mindless introduction to modern Japanese history.

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Tokyo Underground by Robert Whiting (no, NOT the guy who played Romeo in that 1968 Zeffirelli movie)

The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe

Diary of a Mad Old Man by Tanizaki

The Pearl by Yukio Mishima

Tampopo directed by Juuzo Itami

...I could go on...

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Too bad that the translated titles are not half so tasty as the original ones.

movies:

Floating Couds 浮雲 by Naruse Mikio

Record of a Tenement Gentleman 長屋紳士録 by Ozu Yasujiro

novels:

The Setting Sun 斜陽 by Dazai Osamu

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea 午後の曳航 by Mishima Yukio

A Strange Tale from East of the River 濹東綺譚 by Nagai Kafu

Night on the Galactic Railroad 銀河鉄道の夜 by Miyazawa Kenji

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,,, any of the nihonjinron classics plus a hello kitty catalogue should pretty much nail it.

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