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Lost Japan

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  716 Ratings  ·  64 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 2002 by Lonely Planet Publications (first published 1993)
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Feb 09, 2008 Chris rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, japan, culture
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
Dec 15, 2015 Chuck rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jun 21, 2011 Andreas rated it it was ok
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
Jan 30, 2010 Kapalama rated it did not like it
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
Patrick McCoy
Oct 19, 2012 Patrick McCoy rated it liked it
Shelves: japan
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 ...more
Jan 17, 2016 umberto rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel, japan, description
This 14-chapter “Lost Japan” by Alex Kerr should be highly recommended to some real Japanophiles to read for enjoyment and understanding things Japanese. Why not all? I think the title itself might imply something seemingly ancient, historic or hidden which is definitely not interesting to some alert and active in the latest trends of IT, high technologies, fashions and so on in this 21st century, so what’s the use of those outdated things, culture, temples, etc.? Some simply don’t care; ...more
FreshGrads .Sg
Nov 07, 2010 FreshGrads .Sg rated it really liked it
"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
Jan 10, 2008 L.J. rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Aug 06, 2014 Carl rated it liked it
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
Jo Roberts
Nov 13, 2015 Jo Roberts rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish I'd read this book whilst I lived in Japan as it would have helped me understand and seek out more from the culture. I've read it as someone who knows the same roads and areas in Kyoto that Alex refers to. Reading this book wasn't quite a trip down memory lane, but a further explanation and additional knowledge from what I knew then to now. It's made me feel very reminiscent of Japan, it's wonderful culture and people. It's hard to explain the pull I have towards Japan, but this book will ...more
May 26, 2009 Kiri rated it really liked it
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 ...more
May 29, 2007 Channing rated it it was amazing
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...
Rogue Reader
Nov 25, 2016 Rogue Reader rated it it was ok
Shelves: travel-japan
A bit too self-absorbed but a useful outsider's view of Japan from one who perceives himself as one of the few to preserve and appreciate it's history.
James Eckman
Nov 28, 2016 James Eckman rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A very personal journey, a fun read once, even maybe twice.
Apr 01, 2016 Luke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Originally published in 1993, this revised edition of Lost Japan is Alex Kerr's examination of aspects of Japan that are slowly disappearing. It's an exploration - admittedly by an outsider, though a long-term resident - of the parts of Japanese culture which, after hundreds of years, are vanishing in the wake of economic miracles and crashes, and with the rise of technology. (Kerr would later write about different forms of downturn in Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan, though t ...more
Oct 05, 2016 Joni rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
premonitions of a sun setting eastwards by a pagoda wanker and explicator deluxe
Oct 03, 2016 Judy rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, insightful and thoroughly interesting.
Dwight Penny
Dec 04, 2015 Dwight Penny rated it really liked it
The author is an Asian scholar, art dealer, lover of history and long time resident of Japan The book consists of individual essays on element of Japanese arts and aesthetics that are lost, or endangered. He writes of a hidden valley in Shikoku that was a holdout of Heian era culture, of a loose tradition of "literati", who painted, potted and poeticized (as well as swept and tended gardens) for the sheer pleasure of it, of a lone troupe of "lower class" actors in Osaka whose devotion to sheer ...more
Dec 30, 2011 Mitchell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Carianne Carleo-Evangelist
2005 read while in Japan
Lost or non-existent, I'm really not sure which. So long has passed since Alex Kerr wrote this book that I'm not sure even his Japan exists anymore, but the book is still a great read. Loved the Osaka chapters and the acknowledgemnent that you can be a Japan-o-phile without worshipping the place.

The Japanese have always tended to treat foreigners like creatures from another universe.

100% agreed, a lot of Alex Kerr's 'existing Japan' thoughts are less relevant now but that
Kerry Hennigan
Apr 04, 2014 Kerry Hennigan rated it really liked it
“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
Dec 15, 2015 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a Japonophile, this book has been on my radar for a while. What made me hesitated to read it earlier was the fact that it was promoted as a book that thrashed Japan.

It isn't.

In fact, it is a constructive criticism by someone who has immersed himself with Japan, Japanese, Japan life and cultures. Kerr loves Japan too much, and in his typical American way, cannot keep quiet about it. He has to say something, and in his orientalist way, he has to save Japan.

I truly enjoyed his descriptions of tr
Sep 20, 2015 Nicola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really love this book about Japan's traditional arts and rituals that are fading against a backdrop of pachinko, bright neon lights and noise.

I was enchanted by Kerrs description of both of his houses, his love and passion for Japanese culture and pleas to all, I felt, to wake up and realise what we are losing as we embark on our journeys into the future. We want to advance, yes of course, but it should not be at the expense of missing out on valuable cultural beauty. But Bright lights and loud
~ Saleh ~
يتحدّث الكتاب عن حياة الكاتب الأمريكي "أليكس كير" والذي عاش في اليابان منذ نهاية الاحتلال الأمريكي لليابان عام م . بداية الكتاب كانت مشوّقة ، تحدّث فيها الكاتب عن التغيرات التي طرأت على اليابان بعد الحرب ، كما تحدّث قليلاً عن عصور اليابان القديمة وقارنها بعصرنا الحاضر.
يمجرد أن أنهى الكاتب دراساته الجامعية تغيّر موضوع الكتاب الى تاريخ الفن الياباني ، حيث خصص الكاتب جزءاً كبيراً من وقته في دراسة الفنون اليابانية القديمة كـ طرق شرب الشاي، مسرحيات الكابوكي وغيرها...
انتقاداتي لهذا الكتاب هي أن الكاتب
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 ...more
Rylan Perrott
Dec 19, 2013 Rylan Perrott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Heather H
May 21, 2013 Heather H rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013-reads
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
Jan 13, 2013 Paul rated it really liked it
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 ...more
May 24, 2011 Crystal rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Penelope Irving
Apr 23, 2013 Penelope Irving rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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“It has often been pointed out that the Japanese educational system aims to produce a high average level of achievement for all, rather than excellence for a few. Students in school are not encouraged to stand out or ask questions, with the result that the Japanese become conditioned to a life of the average. Being average and boring here is the very essence of society, the factor which keeps the wheels of all those social systems turning so smoothly. It need hardly be said that this is one of the major drawbacks of Japanese life. However, in watching the pottery class at Oomoto, the weak points of the American educational system became evident as well. Americans are taught from childhood to show creativity. If you do not ‘become a unique person’, then you are led to believe you have something wrong with you. Such thinking becomes a stumbling block: for people brought up in that atmosphere, creating a simple tea bowl is a great hardship. This is the ‘poison’ to which David was referring. I sometimes think that the requirement to ‘be interesting’ inculcated by American education might be a very cruel thing. Since most of us lead commonplace lives, it is a foregone conclusion that we will be disappointed. But in Japan, people are conditioned to be satisfied with the average, so they can’t fail but be happy with their lots. If” 0 likes
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