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Behind the Mask: On sexual demons, sacred mothers, transvestites, gangsters, drifters and other Japanese cultural heroes

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  156 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
Published (first published 1984)
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Marija S.
A gem of a book I accidentally stumbled upon. Ian Buruma knows what he is writing about (small wonder since he had been living in Japan for seven years) and has very insightful and sharp remarks about the Japanese society and some of its particularities (the cult of mother, the worship of immaculate beauty that reaches its peak in destruction, etc.) which are usually omitted or sugarcoated in other works representing the country/nation/mentality.

The only downside I can find with the book is unsy
Feb 02, 2012 Jenna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, non-fiction
I don't know how beneficial it was for me to read this. First of all, it is likely dated since it was written in the 80s, almost 30 years ago. I felt really offended through most of it, because it focused on such grotesque aspects of Japanese culture and insisted they were the socially acceptable norm. I don't know how true that is, but I would never assume such things of the Japanese people that I meet. Overall, the book had some interesting insights into why certain aspects of Japanese society ...more
Jap Hengky
Jan 07, 2017 Jap Hengky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Buruma tells the uniqueness of Japan. How it is developed from ancient empire time through modern era nowadays.
Lyn Elliott
Aug 17, 2014 Lyn Elliott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Japanese culture
Shelves: japan
Ian Buruma's preface to the 2012 re-issue of this book, first published in 1983, points out that the popular culture he wrote about in the early 1980s will have changed greatly 30 years later, and will be unfamiliar to many young Japanese. But the background to the cultural elements he described go back to the emergence of Shintoism, 11th century literary tradition, 18th century visual arts and theatre traditions, as he aims to give some idea of Japanese nationl identity, of 'Japanesness' (p x) ...more
Andrew Dale
Jul 26, 2013 Andrew Dale rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ian Buruma's nonfiction tends to be wonderful, and this book is no exception.

In one sense, this is an attempt to do something fairly standard: understand a people and their culture through the stories they tell about themselves. In another sense, this is an extremely unique work, however, in that not only does each chapter stand alone as genuinely insightful film or fiction criticism but together the essays constitute a nearly complete, nuanced and sensitive account of what one might call a "pr
Jul 30, 2007 Channing rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ian Buruma is a great writer: his book "Bad Elements" on dissidents in the Chinese-speaking world contains enough witty little hooks for at least four indie-chart-topping singles.

"Behind the Mask" is one of his earlier works and is a bit dated now (I think it was written in the early-mid '80s). His deliberately weird method of romanizing certain Japanese words was probably meant for businessmen and those only tangentially interested in Japan who he figured would otherwise never figure out how to
Sep 25, 2009 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yet another book about Japan, but I totally loved it! There are enough tidbits in here about things that sound crazy from the perspective of a Westerner, but make sense in the Japanese way of thinking.... I always say this. This book was really heavy on examples from film, but it was well-written, by a guy who totally knew what he was talking about. This is a classic in the people-not-from-Japan-trying-to-explain-Japan genre. Loved it. Essential for otaku.
Pearse Anderson
Burma's culture study of Japan felt very dated, very hypocritical, and very boring at times. I had to power through almost all of this, and though I did learn something every page, every chapter seemed to contradict what the previous chapter had said. Because of this, and the strange vibes I was getting from the book, I wasn't really sure how much I could trust of what I was reading. I still don't know, and this much time put into a book should not make me feel that way accidentally.
Dec 13, 2012 Vicky rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is a very interesting insight into the soul of Japanese culture. The book was written in the 80th and the author did not revise the new edition. He believes that to understand today’s modern Japan the reader needs to explore the history of the country. Japan has strong links with its past. The history is a mirror that reflects modern Japanese society and through the past you come to understand this unique country.
Craig Herbertson
In the hermit's cave where I live I'd never heard of Buruma. I certainly have now. An utterly brilliant book by a man with the brain the size of a small planet. I will be actively seeking his work out which rarely say about anyone.

Others have given extensive glowing reviews all justified. it's about Japan or how Japan and the world sees itself. Not complex,just brilliant.
Oct 21, 2012 Iztok rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Down to earth analysis of some of Japanese 'types' of people as they appear in the arts or pop culture. Nevertheless, be careful reading it as it is 30 years old and some aspects of society of course have changed. But for a general overview of Japanese aesthetics and construction of characters, it is still a good read.
Jul 26, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Buruma has a clear-eyed and yet wry and ironical tone when discussing Japan that can be very refreshing or grate on the nerves, depending on what mood the reader is in. However, he is always entertaining, never simplistic, and rarely judgmental (at least not in any traditional sense). Fun and illuminating read.
Oct 23, 2007 Tosh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-bought
One of the first books I got into with respect to Japanese sub-culture. Buruma is a very good writer/journalist. The thing is he doesn't have the Donald Richie cool. Yet, I learned a lot from this book.
Chris Feldman
There's a glitch in Goodreads. I haven't read this one yet ("A Japanese Mirror"), though I did read and review Buruma's "Behind the Mask."

CORRECTION: These are actually the same book, under two different titles. (So now I have two copies.)
Alice Mack
Aug 22, 2012 Alice Mack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Essential reading for anyone studying the Japanese language or culture. I would love to see a second edition of this book published, but I wouldn't say that this book has become dated.
Jul 07, 2007 Adam rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
After living in Japan for a couple years I thought this book would be interesting. I found myself pretty bored with it.
Kit Fox
Nov 30, 2007 Kit Fox rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you have the slightest interest in Japanese film, this book's more or less a must. Unless you don't want to. Like, it's a free country, you know?
Fraimirtilli rated it it was amazing
Nov 17, 2010
Liz rated it it was amazing
Jun 07, 2013
Tom Barker
Tom Barker rated it it was amazing
Oct 26, 2011
Soph rated it liked it
Oct 25, 2015
Currybreakdown rated it it was amazing
Apr 30, 2013
gcaltabiano rated it really liked it
Jul 09, 2014
Jitsuryoku rated it really liked it
Apr 02, 2016
Polyglot27 rated it really liked it
Sep 25, 2012
Manuel Artiano
Manuel Artiano rated it it was amazing
Sep 12, 2014
Cayo Orlando Hern
Cayo Orlando Hern rated it really liked it
Nov 09, 2016
Iain rated it really liked it
Sep 17, 2010
Andreas Lindholm
Andreas Lindholm rated it really liked it
Aug 21, 2015
Rob Salkowitz
Rob Salkowitz rated it liked it
Jan 13, 2008
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Ian Buruma is a British-Dutch writer and academic, much of whose work focuses on the culture of Asia, particularly that of 20th-century Japan, where he lived and worked for many years.
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