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Lost Japan

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,762 ratings  ·  161 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
Paperback, 269 pages
Published 2002 by Lonely Planet Publications (first published 1993)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,762 ratings  ·  161 reviews

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Feb 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan, history, 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
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
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
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
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
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 ...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!
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
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... ...more
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 ...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 ...more
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
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.
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 ...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 ...more
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
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
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; ...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.
Maria Longley
Alex Kerr's book pulls together his biographical and travel articles of his experiences of living in Japan (by 1992 he had been there a couple of decades). He first experiences Japan as a child, then as a university student, and then moves to the country.

He has a lovely way of observing his world and writing it down in an accessible way giving us glimpses of many things that I found really interesting. Kerr is passionate about the traditional arts and this is not an area I know anything about
FreshGrads .Sg
Nov 07, 2010 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
Lisa Lucie
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Okay, I'm cheating a little bit here - technically I haven't finished the book. I just couldn't bring myself to do so. I just gave up after trying for nearly 3 weeks.

Don't get the wrong idea, this book is not awful or anything but I just found it boring because the tone is, at times, a bit pompous. Alex Kerr certainly has had a very interesting life, and I'm sure it would be interesting to meet him in person and that he would be a decent person , but the book just makes him sound unbearably
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
Francesca Davies
This book was interesting and provided some background for the more historical arts in Japan, however a lot of what is described is quite visual and a collection of images might help as I found myself googling a lot of the things Kerr describes.

Aside from that, this book seems to be a very personal account of Kerr’s own experience discovering Japan and the arts. He has obviously gathered a lot of friends in high places and the book is shaped by his own ideas of what constitutes good art,
Jo Roberts
Nov 02, 2015 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 18, 2009 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
Dan Nietsche
I bought this on a whim even though I have no real interest in Japan. It has a few things to tell I have never heard of and therefore broadened my horizon, but there is only so much of 'it used to be better' and 'modern life is rubbish' I can take on any given day.

And maybe it's my character, but how one can have so much admiration for a culture steeped in so much useless codes and rules is beyond me. I am probably way to direct.
May 29, 2007 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...
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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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