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36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan
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36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  626 ratings  ·  79 reviews
In 1980 Cathy N. Davidson traveled to Japan to teach English at a leading all-women’s university. It was the first of many journeys and the beginning of a deep and abiding fascination. In this extraordinary book, Davidson depicts a series of intimate moments and small epiphanies that together make up a panoramic view of Japan. With wit, candor, and a lover’s keen eye, she ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published October 25th 2006 by Duke University Press Books (first published October 1st 1993)
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Oct 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Chrissie by: Gaeta1

ON COMPLETION: Below I state that the author was teaching on all of her trips. This is not trueI She returned for other reasons, which you will find out by reading the book.Furthermore, Cathy, in fact returns a fifth time in 2005, 10 years after the the earthquake in Kobe on January 17, 1995. This final trip is chronicled in the Afterword. The book has a dictionary of useful terms and an Acknowledgments chapter at the very end. The acknowledgements are essential reading. She state
Feb 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
A delightful book by the author describing one of the four times that she lived in Japan with her husband and son as a professor. The title comes from a set of woodblock prints (36 of them originally) by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849).

The woodblock prints which is a series of prints - depicts Mount Fuji in varying seasons/weather conditions from different places/distances.

The series consists in total of 46 prints created between 1826 and 1833. The first 36 were included in the
Jun 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Like so many American sojourners to Japan, Davidson taught English, and here she describes her relationships and experiences in Japan over a period of 10 years, during which she moved back and forth between there and North Carolina. Some of her experiences were outmoded by the time I arrived there (staying at a "practice house," where young women are groomed to become good wives for American men; counseling a young female student fattening herself up so she won't have to enter an arranged marria ...more
Jun 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People Living/interested in Japan
I quietly finished this memoir at my office, I have no work to do but as it is Japan they won't let me leave so I sit and read...I loved this book, especially now as my time in Japan draws to an end. Davidson aptly captures the spirit of living as a foreigner in Japan, the wonder, the aggrivation, the struggle to learn Japanese, the education system, it's all there, told in a warm, comfortable way. I am glad I found the book and can't wait to pass it on! ...more
Nov 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this book when we first moved to Japan, about 9 years ago. I decided to re-read it and see if it still seemed insightful to me. It's aged very well, and some parts (especially about the frustration of teaching female college students) moved me to tears this time around. Other parts seem a little facile, but it's still a wonderful and insightful exploration of--not so much Japan itself, but how living in a foreign country shapes your image of yourself and your place in the world. ...more
Frederick Bingham
Jan 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
This is a typical Gaijin-goes-to-Japan-for-a-year-and-writes-a-book-about-it book. It has reasonably good descriptions of some of the strange (to a westerner) customs of Japanese culture. The author for instance spends some time in the "floating world" of hostess bars. Some of what she relates is different from what our experience was. I was able to get about 2/3 of the way through this before I lost interest. ...more
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a lovely book--one of the best I've read of its kind (i.e. gaijin wrestles with Japan). Davidson writes beautifully and is a most perceptive observer. Each chapter is as finely crafted as the Hokusai prints to which the book's title alludes. A bit dated, perhaps, but enlightening nonetheless. I'd love to read a sequel, assuming Davidson has continued her Japanese visits. Her ruminations on the culture and people of Japan are too valuable (and enjoyable) to be allowed to subside. ...more
Dec 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: magic-square
This is a fascinating and absorbing account of how Cathy Davidson, an American academic, visits and falls in love with Japan during a number of trips to teach in a women's university. The country clearly gets under her skin, and she in turn delves much deeper than the sterotypes associated with Japan. Reading it, I was embarassed to realise just how little I really knew of the country, and how my idea of it was based on those stereotypes. Davidson writes sensitively of the culture and the Japane ...more
Feb 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook, 2017
Overall this was an interesting and insightful book, just one that I had a few issues with.
Firstly there is the fact it is rather dated, but that is to be expected. In much of the book this was not a problem because as a memoir much of what she is talking about are universals such as identity, friendships and a sense of place. But whole sections - such as the one where she travels with her husband to Paris and all the other tourists seem to be Japanese - are no longer the case.

Secondly - a lot
Michael Anderson
Mar 18, 2015 rated it liked it
I really liked this book when her stories provided insight into Japanese culture, particularly the role of women. I liked it less so when the author told stories about her personal, more autobiographical, experiences. But it was all very readable and her stories were always interesting to some extent.
Terry Pitts
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, memoir
There are many books that purport to help us Westerners understand Japanese culture and how that culture creates cultural norms and expectations for Japanese individuals that are difficult for outsiders to understand. So let me just say this upfront: this is the best book about Japan I have ever read.

Davidson, who is now an academic superstar at Duke University and is also Founding Director of the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, was a professor at M
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 18tbr, non-fiction
Intrigued by Japanese culture, Ms Davidson and her husband, both college professors, travel to Japan to teach English and to travel. In this 1993 memoir, she explores Japanese culture from the perspective of her own experiences. Honest, perceptive, and adventurous, she is an entertaining and insightful guide as she interprets her experiences ranging from the classroom to after hours outings with colleagues to visits to shrines and to a remote island near Okinawa.

“For me, the class is a revelati
Dante Ashby
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm still in the process of reading it. I just can't get myself to finish it. Not because it's bad, but because its like nibbling on fudge or breaks in between those intermittent obsessions with Incubus where you want to fully dive into them and they're the best thing ever and then they kinda just fade from memory to grab you and remind you how great they are.
Well, I mean, the book isn't THAT good but its refreshing and interesting to hear the comparisons between American and Japanese lifestyle
Nancy Murphy
Sep 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
One of the magical aspects of travel is not just experiencing a new country and culture but to see your own home (and sometimes even yourself) through fresh eyes. That magic is insightfully and wittily captured in this memoir by Cathy Davidson, an American English professor who visits (and falls in love with) Japan. From her first trip in 1980 through subsequent sojourns into the '90s, Davidson's keen observations, driven by openness, curiosity and candor, paint a complex and endearing picture o ...more
Simon Firth
Jul 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a perceptive and self-aware reflection on an American academic's long interest in, and appreciation for, all things Japanese. It's a personal and very particular story that finds its meaning when individuals meet across boundaries of culture, education, gender, and class, not to mention nationality. But Davidson, a feminist scholar of English who first travels to Japan to teach Victorian literature at a women's college, makes no claims of universality or even that her story is emblematic ...more
Sep 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Davidson relates her travels in Japan made between 1980 and 1993, with an update from 2005. This memoir of her experiences in Japan is empathetic and insightful. She learns to understand much about Japanese culture and with that mirror learns something about herself. She is balanced and fair, finding favor and fault with both Japanese and North American culture.

She travels from place to place experiencing something of the wide variety of cultures within japan, contradicting the Japanese people'
Oct 12, 2020 rated it liked it
The title comes from Hokusai's series of woodblock prints. The author uses it as an allegory to her times in Japan in this series of written pictures outlining those times. An interesting set of "snapshots" of life in Japan as experienced by a non-native. The author does state that this is an amalgam of her times in Japan, however in various places this leads to some contradictions where she states one thing and on the next page states the opposite. ...more
Jan 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
A friend gifted me the book in preparation for a trip to Japan. The memoir is a well written peek into the intimate lives of the Japanese culture and people from an American's perspective. I read most if when I returned from a 3-week trip to Japan and found the story even more interesting because I could relate to the stories and feelings of being a "gaijin" in Japan. ...more
Sep 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A delightfully charming memoir of Japan, which succeeds in being neither excessively idealistic or negativistic. Insightful and funny.
Jul 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Awesome narrative, great stories of Japan.
Jessica Morgan
Oct 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the snapshots of Japanese culture and she personal experiences of being a foreigner in another country.
Feb 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
Notes from 1994. Beautiful meditation on Japan and US. how being attracted to both removes sense of home in either. very well written sent my copy to Barbara M
Jun 05, 2007 rated it really liked it

I used to read this book all the time. It's kind of an odd book to return to again and again, but I just thought it was terribly interesting. I only recently got my own copy (I'd just stumbled across it in the library when I was supposed to be researching Japanese theatre and just kept reading that copy) and read it again for the first time in years. It remains terribly interesting!

I've always wanted to visit Japan (okay, so I want to visit everywhere in the world), so it's definitely intere
”Intensity, novelty, urgency, surprise: that’s what it means, to me, to be a gaijin. In Japan I am foreign territory, slightly forbidden, hard to categorize. …I’m not always sure what my role is when I’m in Japan. Some of my Japanese friends say that when they’re with me they find it easier to break rules and they feel they can do so without incurring immediate censure.”

As I prepared for my trip to Japan, this book was mentioned in something that I was reading. I looked around to see if a local
Jan 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Davidson, an American professor participates in a teacher exchange and moves with her husband to Japan on several occasions for extended periods of time. During her visits, she truly makes an effort to immerse herself in Japanese culture, and dedicates herself to learning the language, as well as Japanese traditions - and is committed to getting to know the real Japanese. Davidson has a love affair with Japan, but she is realistic. She knows she cannot move there permanently for a number of reas ...more
Nov 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
The book discusses the author's 10 visits to Japan and how her view of the country changes over time. Because of this book, I bought another one about Japanese culture.

She described how women and men are treated differently in Japan and how an added complication arises when the woman is an American and a professional. I felt sad for the salarymen and the endless studying for students. Her description of the island of Oki sounds wonderful - swimming around collecting glass balls used in fishing.
Aug 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
I so enjoyed this book. Davidson has an engaging style that is easy to read. I felt like I was right there with her on all of her adventures and encounters in Japan. She vividly describes the experience of being a stranger in a strange land - the similarities and differences (one funny scene involves having to give a urine specimen while on antibiotics that turn her tinkle blue, confirming for all present that Americans really ARE different - they even have blue pee pee!); being held at arms len ...more
Ian Josh
Jan 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: about-japan
I really enjoyed this book.

In some ways it's that same old story I've read so many times, of the person coming to Japan and trying to discover what it really is, and who they really are.

However, I would put this one up at the top with the best of the genre.

The reasons it is better than average are:

1. Distance. These memoirs tend to get better the further away from the events the writer is.

2. Professional Writing. These books are always better when they are the 2nd or 3rd book written by someon
Lorna Collins
Sep 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the first books recommended to us when we arrived in Japan in 1998, and it remained a favorite during our 31 months living there. Professor Davidson provided some guidance as we traversed the minefield of the expat in a culture diametrically opposite of our own.

She also encouraged us to write our own book about our experiences building the Universal Studios theme park in Osaka, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park. Without her book, we probably never would have conside
Jul 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoy travel books in general, but I particularly enjoyed 36 Views of Mount Fuji. I like an author that doesn't hesitate to have a laugh at his/her own expense. Her ability to describe the nuances of cultural difference as she discovered them was refreshing. I was impressed by her perspective on the role of women in Japan. She acknowledged the cultural roles of American and Japanese women, while undermining neither. She recognized and shared the faults and virtues of both. By the time I ...more
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Cathy N. Davidson served from 1998 until 2006 as the first Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University, where she worked with faculty to help create many programs, including the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and the program in Information Science + Information Studies (ISIS). She is the co-founder of Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory, HASTAC (ha ...more

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