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Lost Japan

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  2,398 ratings  ·  222 reviews
An enchanting and fascinating insight into Japanese landscape, culture, history and future.

Originally written in Japanese, this passionate, vividly personal book draws on the author's experiences in Japan over thirty years. Alex Kerr brings to life the ritualized world of Kabuki, retraces his initiation into Tokyo's boardrooms during the heady Bubble Years, and tells the s
Paperback, 269 pages
Published 2002 by Lonely Planet Publications (first published 1993)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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 ·  2,398 ratings  ·  222 reviews

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Feb 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture, history, japan
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
Jan 30, 2010 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
Dec 06, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
It’s a shame that readers looking to gain an insight into Japanese history by way of a good non-fiction book are likely to pick up this short title with the powerful market endorsement of its orange Penguin spine. Packaged as an insight into Japan’s sacred and artistic traditions by one of its foremost Anglophone experts, Alex Kerr, it’s actually a polemical diatribe against modern Japan and the disregard with which the country allegedly treats its own past. Kerr, a ‘Japanologist’, does impart t ...more
Daniel Clausen
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-of-2018
A good travel book should make you marvel at the world. It should restore your faith in the unknown. It should show you that adventure can be found any and every place. It should make you feel like a child again.

Lately, some of the most remarkable travel books I've read (Road to Purification, Arabian Sands, Seven Years in Japan) have also been meditations on the destructive effects of globalization and modernization on the unique and magical in the world. In these books, there is a lament again
Jun 21, 2011 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
Luci Block
I've (temporarily) relegated this "insightful" memoir to my Abandoned shelf.

"Insightful"? Very much so! "Insightful" regarding Kerr's huge ego and narcissism!! There's not a shred, an iota of humility in this author that I found half way through reading this! Got as far as the chapter "Calligraphy". Turns out all the calligraphy throughout the book is Kerr's. Which is okay, but droning on and on about how he initially studied Chinese kanji (or whatever the Chinese call those characters) at 5 or
Jun 20, 2012 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
Jul 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
so according to this book japanese people are such dummies that they don't understand their own economy, their own culture or even how to light their houses. good job this one american guy is here to show them how!

incredible generalisations, pig headed orientalism, plus the author decrys the uglification of japan with concrete and wires while letting us know he definitely put a toilet in his japanese house (which he sees as saving traditional architecture even though he admits he torn down the r
Yeah, no. This book is old and it shows. Actually no, wait, it was revised in 2015, so I take it back. Or maybe – since old is GOOD, according to the author – maybe even more of the démodé stuff got put in? It is so full of absolutely bizarre statements and plain colonialist, paternalistic attitudes towards those ungrateful Japanese bots who only care for pachinko and 101 ways to use concrete – who certainly don’t understand their cultural values and should not be trusted to run their own countr ...more
Mar 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Japan" lost is worth your time, even though it has some issues. Alex Kerr is a bit too sentimental and picky but he comes from a place of love for a disappearing culture (or his vision of it). However, if you will not treat this book as a comprehensive picture of the society, it can become a passion filled presentation of selected parts of Japan and its culture. And the Polish edition is great! ...more
Erica Ricketts
Feb 16, 2017 rated it did not like it
Although the Japanese history woven throughout the book is interesting, the manner of delivery is sub-par and whiny. Kerr boasts about his accomplishments while living in Japan rather than telling the readers about his cultural experiences. It feels more like a promotion of himself rather than the changes that have taken place in Japan throughout the past few decades.
refreshing read.
made me think a lot
also connected some dots and filled some blank spaces i have wondered forever about such as why boring ass pachinko is so popular or why there is almost no wild nature to see in a country advertised partially as one of the most picturesque in the world and what happened to it ect.
J Alvarez
May 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
The topics covered by this book are very interesting but it’s all marred by the fact that the author comes across as an insufferable person who’s clearly very fond of himself.
Nicky Neko
3.5 stars. Very interesting in parts, but also a little preachy in others. He could do with getting off his high horse... 🏇
Hanna  (lapetiteboleyn)
Dec 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patrick McCoy
Dec 21, 2007 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 wi ...more
Feb 20, 2019 rated it did not like it
This book was painfully boring to read. While I learned a little about Japan, I couldn't help feeling like the book was more of an homage to Kerr than it was to "lost Japan." The whole text had an air of "I'm not like OTHER people, I LOVE nature!... as if appreciation of beauty and nature isn't a trait shared by many people. I couldn't shake the feeling that Kerr thinks he's some kind of innovative genius, when in reality he's just a foreigner who happened to be in the right place at the right t ...more
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan
I have not left Japan just yet, and l am already longing for my next visit here - and without exaggeration this is largely due to this book. Far better than I expected. Alex Keer takes you on a fantastic trip to traditional Japan, going through history and ceremonies and art, all the while sharing some pertinent views on the current state of the country. He is a bit dramatically nostalgic about his “lost Japan”, slowly eroded by pachinco-like modernity (and upon visiting Kyoto and Osaka, i mostl ...more
Sanne (papierplanet)
As someone who grew up with Japanese pop culture my interest for Japan never faded away. This book was insightful on many levels. I loved how the author told a story about Japan through a personal account. As a historian I find it particularly interesting how the relationship between the Japanese and their history is, because it's not that close or falls different than for example European history. The regret Kerr felt that the Japenese were "destroying" their history and landscape (bulldozing o ...more
Oct 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why can't I give half star ratings? This one sits solidly at 3.5 stars, as I can't decide whether I actually like it or not. It was interesting, but so unbelievably dense it took me almost 4 months to plow through the whole thing. As someone who can read 400 page books in a day, finishing this was a labour.

This book is a series of essays with a few high-school-English linking phrases thrown in at the end of "chapters" (which are of wildly varying length). Some chapters are infinitely more inter
Piotr Chrobot
Dragging personal memories like a tea ceremony, which is hard to digest if you never visited this place. Probably different outtake for those who live there or visited this place. Had to drop in the middle.
Yew Han
Sep 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of those rare books that I wish has a sequel to it.

The combination of Kerr's background, bring ups and distinctive experiences all contributes to the unique point of view of Japan. The red threads in the book were rather obvious via Kerr's set ups, contexts and storytelling.
Jan 08, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, nonfiction
An outdated, snobbish, self-absorbed old man's trip to his memories of Japan that HE lost. Very egocentric, arrogant and full of generalisation non-fiction piece that tells you almost nothing interesting about the country - instead, you can find out how the author has built his house in Iya, how many antiques he has and how many people he knows. Hell, one of his professors even talks to dalajlama himself and one of his friends received some letters from Virgina Woolf herself! You'll also find ou ...more
Apr 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
I've always been somewhat fascinated with how different Japanese culture seems from the Western way of life and one day hope to travel there. I think this must have stemmed from my love of the book and film Memoirs of a Geisha which I enjoyed growing up. Recently I watched an excellent BBC documentary about Japan and I have been wanting to read more non-fiction so I was delighted to find this book in my local library.

What a disappointment. Despite learning a little bit about kabuki theatre and
Jan 10, 2008 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 an ...more
Emily Lin
Growing up in SE Asia, Japanese culture had a big influence on my upbringing. I came upon this book, thinking it can give me more perspectives on culture, heritage, and identity. It did, but not to the extent that I thought it would.

The book is interesting in parts. Descriptions of the author's journey and experience in settling in Japan are captivating at times. But the constant name dropping throws me off. The underlying tone of skepticism towards change is also quite skewed. I acknowledge hi
Aug 06, 2014 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
Dec 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan, travel, 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; however ...more
Katelijne Sommen
In the first half of these collected essays I grew increasingly frustrate with Kerr's approach in writing about how Japanese culture is changing; he's one of those people who can't stop whining about How Everything Was Better Back Then, even while absolutely contributing to the demise of certain old traditions. A real insightful critique of the influence of fast modernisation and globalisation in a culture that historically has been isolated would be interesting, but Kerr is so horrified by what ...more
Feb 09, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
meh. there's probably a good book there, it's just hard to get to it through the complaining and being irritating in general. i feel like Kerr's complaints about changes in Japan could be applied to many countries and the whole book have this "old man screaming at clouds" vibe. plus, I am not too comfortable with an American telling Japanese how to live. ...more
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Born in 1952, he's an American writer and Japanologist that has lived in Japan since 1977.

Librarian note: There are other authors with the same name. To see the English historian go to Alex Kerr.

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“Creo que lo único que quieres hacer cuando realmente has amado algo es transmitir su recuerdo a otros.” 1 likes
“Japón es como una ostra. A una ostra no le gustan los objetos que vienen de fuera: hasta cuando el grano más fino de arena o de una concha rota logra entrar, la otra considera esa invasión intolerable, así que secreta una capa y otra de nácar sobre la superficie de la partícula infractora hasta que, llegado el momento, se crea una hermosa perla. Tras el proceso de recubrir la partícula externa, no queda ni una sola huella de su forma o color original. De manera similar, Japón reviste la cultura extranjera que le llega y la transforma en una perla de estilo japonés. El resultado final es enormemente bello (a menudo, como en el caso de la ceremonia del té, más refinado que el original), pero la naturaleza esencial del original se pierde.” 1 likes
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