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Lost Japan

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  492 ratings  ·  46 reviews
Originally written in Japanese, this passionate, vividly personal book draws on the author's experiences in Japan over thirty years. Alex Kerr takes us on a backstage tour, as he explores the ritualized world of Kabuki, retraces his initiation into Tokyo's boardrooms during the heady Bubble Years, tells how he stumbled on a hidden valley that became his home...and exposes ...more
Paperback, 269 pages
Published April 1st 1996 by Lonely Planet Publications
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,079)
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Chris
Alex Kerr is one of those writers you have to end up reading when you live here. There's this book and Dogs and Demons, which invariably tend to signal the end of the Japan Honeymoon for any long-time resident.

To explain - for a lot of people who come here, Kerr included, there's a kind of romantic idea of Japan that keeps people here. It's the Zen and the temples, the red torii gates, the yukata and the festivals. It's the Japanese Mind and the Far East attitude, so different from our own, that
...more
Chuck
I have been involved in teaching Asian studeis in high school for almost 10 years, and this has to be the best book on Japan I have ever read. It is very accesible to westerners becasue 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 a ...more
Andreas
In preparation for a vacation to Japan, my mother gave me this one to read. Its main themes are about the loss of important Japanese cultural traditions and the uglification of both the body and the soul of Japan. The author is an art collector, calligrapher, Japanologist and long time resident of the country. Kerr decries modern Japan as filling with concrete, electricity poles, neon pachinko parlors and ugly rooflines while her inhabitants have become conformist, dull and unimaginative.

I found
...more
Patrick McCoy
I recently read Alex Kerr’s appreciation/criticism of Japan-Lost Japan(1996). I had previously read his more recent expose on what’s wrong with Japan-Dogs and Demons (2002). Despite the fact that there are several recurring themes in both books, I did find a lot of worthy passages in Lost Japan that made it worthwhile to read. It is impressive that this book originally was published in Japanese and won the 1994 Shincho Gakugei Literature Prize. Some of the themes that he has become associated wi ...more
Kapalama
This is about as irritating as a book can get. Kerr majored in Japanese Studies at Yale. However, his handle on historical facts is almost non-existent, seemingly learned by watching movies, and reading 'Shogun'.

His observations are accurate, but his handle on historical facts is shaky at best, and his analysis is nearly psychotic in its disconnection from reality. An example: He talks about love for traditional ways in his dream house of Chiiori. 'Of course, getting electricity and running wat
...more
FreshGrads .Sg
"Lost Japan" by Alex Kerr is a great read for all Japan fanatics. The book gives an personal yet indepth look into the Asian leader's culture, art and literature world while shedding fragments of light on the country.

To be precise, it is a collection of autobiographical essays that describes the experiences Kerr accumulated since he stepped into Japan as a boy in 1964. And having stayed there since then, he shares his observations of how the country has changed as well as the direction it is hea
...more
L.J.
Jan 10, 2008 L.J. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Japan studies, travel
Remember reading this when it first came out and enjoyed it, but was a little cautious to the opinions from Mr. Kerr as he has very clearly looked at Japan from a perspective of what he thinks it could be like and what it is. I respect his bold attitude toward the need for the younger and current generation in regards to losing their culture but then the Japanese are still very much a distinct people in language, arts, social mores and such that it sounds more of a modern/traditional argument an ...more
Carl
My wife and I have plans to visit Japan soon, but after reading this book I realized that we were about 500 to 1000 years too late. Alex Kerr details how Japan has been degraded since its golden age. He says all the spirit has been crushed out of a happy-go-lucky people by generations of samurai and Prussian style education, and the environment has been covered with concrete and fluorescent lights. (Kerr San really has it in for fluorescent lights.) There hasn't been a decent Kabuki performance ...more
Kiri
I really enjoyed the journey that this book provides. It's a tour of modern yet magical remnants of an older Japan, an education in Japanese arts, and a paean to that which is beautifully and uniquely Japanese. The author also clearly intends it as a wake-up call to alert us to the destruction of that beauty that has been going on for decades. I enjoyed it for the fun glints of recognition when the narrative passed over places I've actually visited, and for the insight into arts and worlds I wou ...more
Kerry Hennigan
“Lost Japan” was a book I read many years ago when I was first getting into travel narratives. I was entranced by it. Having just finished it again, many years later, I understand why it has always stayed a favourite.

I’ve just returned from a trip to Osaka and Tokyo, and while I did not focus exclusively only the historic architecture or artefacts of the country, an open-mouthed admiration certainly took hold of me as I stood beneath the walls of Osaka castle, and admired the historic temples of
...more
Channing
Incredible book by an American who has spent more than half his life living in Japan. After reading this, I was inspired to travel to Shikoku and spend a few days at Alex's 300+ year old house in the mountains of Tokushima Prefecture. Alex wasn't there, but the house's co-owner, Lonely Planet writer/photographer Mason Florence, was. Possibly a few of the best days of my life...
Mitchell
A very interesting combination of memoir, cultural guide book and lament for a golden age.

I identify with Alex Kerr's lament for modern Japan's disinterest in the great cultural treasures of their country (calligraphy, Kabuki, ikebana). I have experienced this first hand asking young Japanese about Kabuki - I had seen the Kabuki-za in NYC when they were on tour and was amazed. The response is bafflement. Why would I be interested in that - no one today understands it. Even classic films get the
...more
Miu
2.5

Agree with another reviewer: The book is quite interesting in parts. His stories of finding and buying an old house in a secluded valley, of the inner workings of kabuki theatre, of unappreciated artworks and of the history of tea ceremony and zen are everything from fascinating to merely eye-opening. However.
James L
A must-read for anyone travelling to, moving to, PCSing to, or doing business in Japan. Also read
Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Modern Japan, by Alex Kerr.
Miriam
this took longer to read than it should have done, because I found the author smug.
still interesting and worth reading if you can get it on a deal
Jared Della Rocca
One sign of a great book is when you're in the middle of it, you are already looking forward to reading more books on the topic. Such is the case with Lost Japan. Japan is not a topic I would normally be interested in, but Alex Kerr does a phenomenal job of taking you through the various cultural aspects of Japan, mixing in anecdotes, discussions of daily life, and history into a pleasurable read. Kerr has a rich love and deep understanding of Japan, but can also see it from an outsider's perspe ...more
Thieluar
Damn wade-giles creeping in. Anyway, I learned so much reading this book, I didn't want it to end.
Paul
A very cleanly written and organized introduction to many of the 'lost' arts and traditional cultural sites of modern Japan, written in the early 1990s, first in Japanese, then in English for publication as this book. Indispensable if one is going to visit that country out of a love for its past. Having been to Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka, his take on those cities seems deep and clear, as well as deeply refined and clearly nostalgic. A book of immense charm, and far less simple than it appears, for t ...more
Penelope Irving
Absolutely fascinating miscellany of musings on the author's personal experiences of aspects of Japanese culture, most of which are in danger of vanishing into the mists of history. The author is a westerner who has spent most of his life in Japan, and studied the country and culture academically, so his perspective is powerful and informed. It's a bit of a whistle stop tour of everything from Kabuki to calligraphy, but it educated me on the existence of things I had no idea about, and encourage ...more
Jason Keenan
An interesting snapshot of Japan in the 1990s - and era when the shift into the modern was at full tilt while the crash that never ended was about to kick in.

The premise of the Lost Japan is this is also an era when traditional arts were on the verge of vanishing forever. Calligraphy. Kabuki. Ikebana. Thatched roof houses. Many seem to be alive through the efforts of artisans today - but I do not know enough to say if 25 years on they are merely a pale imitation. That I would like to know.
Crystal
I read this in the original Japanese - it was the first book by a non-Japanese author to win the Shincho Gakugei Prize. I deeply respect Kerr's understanding of Japanese culture, and therefore I find his criticisms of the excesses of modern Japanese society insightful and spot-on. I am recommending this book to my 10th graders to see a) how it is possible to acquire a foreign language and foreign culture completely without losing your original identity and b) an interesting take on kabuki, as w ...more
Noah Dropkin
This is an interesting collection of essays. Some are beginning to show their age but many are still relevant and I am glad that I read this before heading over to Japan.

Alex Kerr is certainly longing for a Japan of times gone by. Even if you don't agree that the Japan he longs for is the real Japan or even a Japan that should be preserved, many of his observations are well-founded. Further, these observations ring true 15 years later as separate from the recreation of old Japan.

A good read for
...more
Alexandra
A poignant book; you do get a feel for the sense of loss the author feels, perhaps for more of an idea than a place. Kerr meanders from his own personal story to his thoughts on the environment, history, the culture of caligraphy, opera and domestic life. It's a book to time your time with, to linger and swim around rather than devour. From what I remember, he can be a little vague at times. A little pompous. But I came away thinking he would be an incredibly interesting man to know; you get a ...more
Rylan Perrott
I found this book while looking for books on Japanese culture in my local library. Was the only book I could find about Japanese culture! I did’t know what to expect but it sounded interesting..

Over all a passionate eye opening view of Japanese culture. I really much enjoyed the very personal account of the author’s experiences and opinions of living in Japan for over 30 years

The only thing I really didn't enjoy is how disjointed the book feels. It's more a collection of articles then one flowi
...more
Heather H
An interesting book to read while on holiday in Japan some 30+ years after I had the dream to go, inspired by a teacher when I was around 8.
I fear yet more has been lost though I head to Kyoto tomorrow so time will tell. Japan is a country that's hard to understand / obsessed with cleanliness and hygiene but you can smoke in a restaurant, guards and such like now as they enter and leave a carriage on the train, yet it's not the Japan I imagined. An urban chaos if electric wires is everywhere and
...more
Lee
beautiful!
Ana
A nostalgic gaze of no nonsense into the past of a nation changed - something in its short musings tells me that Lost Japan is not wholly intelligible without living its context.
Fresno Bob
somewhat dated work on living in Japan (1970s and 80s)
Nina
After living in Japan two years, I felt like Kerr put into words a lot of my feelings (without the bitching) about the country.
I especially liked his writing on Kameoka, where we both currently live. I never knew my town had so many hidden treasures!

However, at times Kerr got too caught up in his privilege and came across as arrogant when speaking about art and culture. I had to skip the chapter "calligraphy" because it was just too much.
Judith
Sep 11, 2011 Judith rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Japan
This book really is wonderful. Kerr writes about the Japan he encountered as a student, as a collector and as an artist. While it is a personal account, it is critical, though positive. He shows people and places that are removed from the common cliches of Japan and shows the background of things. The writing and stories are engaging and interesting and draw you in, while vividly creating the scenes Kerr is telling of.

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