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Memories of Silk and Straw: A Self-Portrait of Small-Town Japan
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Memories of Silk and Straw: A Self-Portrait of Small-Town Japan

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4.24 of 5 stars 4.24  ·  rating details  ·  133 ratings  ·  23 reviews
Voted Best Book of the Year by Japan's foreign press, a collective autobiography based on interviews taped by a provincial doctor.
Paperback, 258 pages
Published June 15th 1990 by Kodansha (first published 1987)
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111th out of 261 books — 163 voters
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Hana
Come, sit down by the fire, and listen to the grandparents tell stories about "how it was in the old days" in a small lakeside town just north of Tokyo.



Midwives and pawnbrokers, fishermen and thatchers spin tales of a different world--one that was still very much a part of Japan's ancient feudal history.

The elderly people interviewed during the 1970s by Dr. Junichi Saga were mostly born in the late 1890s or early part of the 20th century; through the memories passed to them by their parents, t
...more
Chrissie
Very interesting. Still .....kind of hard to read. You learn for example exactly how one thatched a roof or dyed cloth or arranged different hairstyles. Very detailed. There are chapters about all kinds of people - gangsters to fishermen to teachers to geisha. Such poverty!No health care. Life was hard and yet they played and enjoyed life in very simple ways too.

Wonderful sketches and photos and a helpful map of all the places named.

I might have enjoyed the book more if I had read one chapter
...more
Dot
This is a wonderful study of Japan in the early part of the 20th century and a book that can be enjoyed by reading all the way through or by dipping into. The book was produced in the 1980s and is composed of short biographies of actual people who lived in a rural area of Japan during the years of the Meiji Restoration. Their lives are diverse...some are moderately wealthy while most live in dire poverty and feudal customs are still prevalent. In order to get the material for the book, Dr Junich ...more
Incandragon
Man, but I love this type of first person reminiscence of a known but unknown world. Seriously, one long lifetime ago in Japan? We're talking medieval feudalism.

This book is filled with reminiscences and detailed histories of life, back when people made their own bricks, thatched their own houses, and regularly got sick from eating bad food because food preservation was non-existent.

It's an almost sad book, since nearly every person who could remember life from 90 years ago has a lot to say on h
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Grady McCallie
This fascinating book consists of roughly 60 short recollections of life in a rural Japanese town between 1900 and World War II. They were collected, edited, and arranged by Dr. Saga in the 1970s and 1980s; virtually all the contributors were elderly at the time and must have now passed. The pieces are arranged sensitively, building and playing off one another, giving the book a delicate beauty - even as many of the lives it describes were full of unsparing work, with little shelter from harsh w ...more
Laura
Oct 15, 2009 Laura rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: EVERYONE!
Shelves: non-fiction
Wonderful wonderful wonderful! It's basically an oral history project, transcribed and with the interviewer's questions removed so that it creates a seamless memory. As a budding oral historian I would have loved to see the questions that prompted the given responses, but oh well. There are also lovely little line drawings in the margins, done by the author's father.
James Clark
A very good book about early 19th century Japan. I lived in Northern Japan for about 1-1/2 years, in the city of Misawa, a rural city...this book's collection of village life reminds me very much of the rural mentality of Japanese...who even today are not so very different from their inmediate ancestors This book is a collection of short stories as recounted to a Japanese medical doctor by his patients...life in rural towns while I was there was not quite as rude but elements being similar as I ...more
Heather
This is a fascinating portrait of life in a small Japanese town in the early 1900s through the eyes of the elderly. Hundreds of memories were gathered and recorded with a portion telling this clever narration of a forgotten age before the influence of the industrial revolution swept it all away. Fishermen, magistrates, geisha, midwives, tofu makers, craftsmen gangsters, and many others share their unique heritage in short, easy to read chapters that paint a vivid picture of Japanese village life ...more
Louise
These are the stories of everyday people in a small town in Japan. The narratives are short, Studs Turkel style, stories of early 20th century Japan from interviews made 70 or so years later. The small town, just outside of Tokyo is large enough to have a department store (that closes for a month to auction off silk cocoons) a draper and separate areas for brothels and geisha. There is a lake, teeming with fish and a nearby air force training center.

All interviewees agree that the area, now lace
...more
Barry Lancet
If famed folklorist Alan Lomax had been steeped in the traditional ways of Japan and possessed a subtle eye for the Japanese character, he might have penned this book. Instead, Dr. Saga, the proverbial beloved village doctor, all but channeled Lomax, recording the stories of his elderly patients as he saw their way of life disappearing. He gets them to open up to him, and the reader is rewarded with a series of personal recollections from a tatami-mat maker, the town midwife, a yakuza, the local ...more
Dan Gobble
I read this book as a part of my Far-East history class. It gives an interesting look at the radical transformation the culture in Japan underwent after WW II by looking back on pre-industrial revolution life from many different facets of everyday life (i.e., thatch roof makers, cracker makers, geishas, fishermen, etc.).
Aurel Pasztor
Found it very entertaining after I got the rhythm of it. Descriptive sometimes to the expense of pace but has some very strong, impactful stories.
Jared Miller
I pick this book up at a used book store and it has been one of my favorite reads that I have gotten there. I have taken my time reading this book. I have read a story here and there over the last year. It is an excellent book, it gives you a window to see into the past in Japan. Dr. Saga traveled collecting stories of every day people. From farmers to artisans, midwife and gangsters and every one in between. This book is definitely worth the the read for any one intrested in turn of the century ...more
Armen
This books is an engaging and enjoyable collection of reminiscences from people who knew, and lived, a once-rural part of Japan during decades of immense change. I commend Dr. Saga's diligence in recording their words and preserving them for posterity. Would recommend this book to anyone looking for an enjoyable read about the everyday lives of everyday folks in early 20th century Japan. I also hope that someone out there is using this in a university-level course, I think students would love it ...more
Mike Barton
Based on reading this book I made a trip to Tsuchiura. Clearly the old days that Junichi Saga has docmented have long gone, There are no real echoes of it in Tsuchiura either.
The books is the memories of older inhabitants of the town. The author realised that soon these people and their memories would soon be gone so he put down what they had to say. Fascinating.
Linda
Excellent collection of simply-told memories of real people living mostly in poverty-stricken pre-WWII Japan. Includes farmers and fishermen, geisha and gangsters, businessmen and craftsmen. A treasure-trove of historical and cultural details that are truly amazing, esp when compared to modern Japan.
Lisa
Sep 17, 2007 Lisa rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those interested in Asian history
Shelves: history
A riveting collection of short interviews with various people in a small Japanese village, which recount events from the early 19th century. Includes interviews with a geisha, a member of the Yakuza, a fisherman, a farmer and more...
Kylee
If you like Japan and want to know more about pre-war Japan then this is the book for you. It's a lot of details on day to day life in rural Japan. A bit of a slow read but I really enjoying reading anything on Japan.
Patricia
A very interesting look at Japan in the early days of the 20th century. Interviews with various artisans and others who give a look at a way of life gone by.
Trine
Essential reading to anyone interested in the history of Japan. Very thought-provoking and moving read!
Miggy
An amazing book. Extremely easy to read. The chapters simply flew by, and I learned SO much.
Akiko Jan
A wonderfully evocative book that provides an intimate portrait of real people.
Kate
A glimpse into the daily lives of these people in Japan.
Yui
Yui marked it as to-read
Apr 24, 2015
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Apr 18, 2015
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