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Harp of Burma

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  657 ratings  ·  96 reviews
Harp of Burma is Japan's haunting answer to Germany's famous requiem for the First World War, All Quiet on the Western Front.

Winner of the prestigious Mainichi Shuppan Bunkasho prize and the subject of an acclaimed film by Ichikawa Kon, Harp of Burma portrays a company of Japanese troops who are losing a desperate campaign against British forces in the tropical jungles of
Paperback, 132 pages
Published December 15th 1989 by Tuttle Publishing (first published April 15th 1959)
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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Nov 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, japan
Review 2

It has long been taken for granted as a discipline strictly practiced by Buddhist monks in the Theravada sect in Thailand in that they do not play any musical instrument as one of the Vinaya (monastic discipline), let alone take one with them. Notably, Buddhist monks in Burma also are in the same sect. ( So there might be a misunderstanding concerning the following dialog by the old woman, ". . . Burma is full of monks. They go traveling here and t
Jan 09, 2008 rated it liked it
The novel, harp of burma by Michio Takeyama, was about the lives of a group of musical Japanese soldiers who were P.O.Ws in Burma after WWII ended. They face many challenges, especially when they do not know the whereabouts of a beloved soldier. Most of the book is about the soldiers trying to find out where he is, if he is even alive. Takeyama has also ritten, The Scars of War: Tokyo During World War II: Writings of Takeyama Michio. WWII is a common theme in his novels, and does have japanese h ...more
Matt S
Jan 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: asia, 2016
Originally written in 1946, Harp of Burma shows its age just a little bit in some of its stereotypes. And, Takeyama's teaching a moral lesson in the book, so it gets a bit heavy/didactic in a few parts. I think it was originally written for teens, so it's a bit more overt in the message too, rather than being more subtle. Even so, I'm glad I read it as I can imagine it was probably revolutionary in Japan for the time it was written (being more open-minded about the Burmese people & those from ot ...more
May 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: big-red-circle
"The Burmese look very much like us Japanese, except that they have light beards."

"Like any bridegroom, I stood looking down meekly as if resigned to my fate."
Jan 13, 2008 rated it liked it
Written by Michio Takeyama, Harp of Burma is a war novel taking place during World War II in Burma, which is now called Myanmar. Takeyama wrote the novel in 1946, and it was later translated into English in 1996. The novel demonstrates the significance of music in a soldier’s life. The Japanese soldiers who were known as the “singing company”, sang songs and played instruments to cheer themselves up during rough times, and also times of rejoice. The main character of the story, corporal Mizushim ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Michio Takeyama, author of Harp of Burma, was born in Osaka, Japan in 1903. He spent many of his childhood years in Seoul, Korea and later graduated from the German Literature Department of Tokyo Imperial University. After the great success of Harp of Burma, Michio gave up his career as a professor of German literature to focus on literature and literary criticism. Harp of Burma recounts the journey of a company of Japanese soldiers in Burma at the end of World War II. The men encounter many har ...more
May 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
A beautifully writen story about a company of Japanese soldiers in Burma at the close of WWII. To keep their morale high, they sang and played insturments, and the main insturment was a homemade harp. It is a charming story of bravery and companionship, and also a comment on the ugliness of war. I highly recommend it for its charming story and beautifully written prose.
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Jun 10, 2015 rated it did not like it
This book was written for children, and it appropriately naive, silly, and uninteresting. Why it has become popular with adults is beyond me.
Apr 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mythological interpretation of the Japanese war, aimed primarily at younger audiences. Takeyama's way to get a young reader to ponder the future of post-war Japan.

Given the young audience, many details of the war are excluded, particularly the actions perpetrated by the Japanese soldiers and the horrors of war. Instead, the story points the reader to think about the future. Reading the book as an expression of debate on the future of Japan as a nation and Japanese culture, Takeyama clearly embra
May 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It gets an extra star for being a thin book, and, a WWII story written by a Japanese author from the Japanese perspective over a half century ago.

It gets another extra star or two for incorporating interesting WWII details that rang true.

And it gets an extra star for not being like any other crap you’ve read lately.

~Four stars plus a 20% tip gets us to give stars.

Ultimately it’s the story about a few dozen Japanese soldiers in Burma, late in the war, when it’s going badly for Japan. They’re cut
TS Allen
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan
Harp of Burma is the finest literary memoir of the kyodatsu condition, the incomparable exhaustion and despair that pervaded Japan after its defeat in the Second World War. Its theme--ambitious for what was meant to be a children's novel--is the transcendence of defeat through Buddhist contemplation. Through the odyssey of a company of the Imperial Japanese Army, Michio Takeyama compares Japanese civilization, which sent its soldiers to be destroyed in a foreign land, with Burmese civilization, ...more
Apr 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Although I had heard of Harp of Burma sometime in the past, I never read it. I read it at this time in conjunction with a course I am auditing on Japan as it has been portrayed in fiction.

Written in a sparse, direct prose the book is readily readable. In fact, I read the whole thing in one day.

Takeyama offers a striking critique of Japan’s pursuit of world dominance via WWII. His presents a powerful contrast between ‘civilized’ and materialistic Japanese soldiers struggling with terror, helpl
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Spoiler alert for anyone beyond me that reads this :)

Great story about a company of Japanese troops retreating through Burma, who are eventually cut off by British forces, then spend time in a work camp before being shipped back to Japan. Their philosophical captain and musical leader figures prominently as he remains behind in Burma to bury lost Japanese troops as a Buddhist monk.

I found the author's reflections on the Japanese's role in the war, as well as his continued commitment to his count
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had a challenge with this book - I picked it up on Sunday and had until Wednesday evening to finish it for a book discussion. I had a friend mention that she was reading it and had to stop, so I was a bit concerned. Challenge completed, and I am happy that I did. I got hooked from the very beginning because it is not just another war story. So much of what I have read has also been with the American view, and not the Axis view which gives this a different twist. This book does make me wonder h ...more
Sep 17, 2019 rated it liked it
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Jun 29, 2020 rated it liked it
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3.5 stars

The story is a quick read and enjoyable.

This is a rare case where I saw the film years before I read the book, and I loved it! It would be interesting to watch it again, and see how I feel now after reading the book it’s based on.
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not bad; not bad at all. It doesn't have much of an actual plot; I like that. It's not that kind of novel. ...more
Arielle Busetto
Oct 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommend reading it with a critical eye, not everything is at it seems.
T.B. Caine
It was good but I felt like it dragged on for most of the book and parts could've easily been cut out to make it flow better. Not really a great thing for a book that is already so short. ...more
A group of Japanese soldiers in Burma at the end of WWII. They spent time singing as a choir and had self made instruments. Interesting bits about the culture of both countries.

Paul Wade
Dec 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Was given to me by a friend, and ordinarily I would have never read this... But I just couldn't put it down. Highly recommend. ...more
Jan 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers who enjoy slightly upbeat war novels in which you learn only one name
Recommended to Em by: Mr. MacConnell
Harp of Burma narrates the story of The Singing Company, a company of Japanese soldiers who kept their morale up during the war by singing and playing instruments. Taking place at the end of and immediately after World War II, the story revolves around one character, Mizushima, and the way his comrades perceive him. When they are informed of Japan’s surrender, they are taken as prisoners of war and are sent to a POW camp while Mizushima is sent to tell another, more resistant company of Japanese ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
I just concluded reading the book Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama. Michio Takeyama is a distinguished Japenese writer who specializes in novels that express his views on politics and war. Harp of Burma is his most praised novel and is set during World War II. The book follows the journey of the Japanese "Singing Company", a unique group of soliders and friends. The reader gets a good perspective at how surprising it must have been for the Japanese to hear of their country's surrender and be ta ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
"Harp of Burma"

Michio Takeyama, author of "Harp of Burma", shows the reader the suffering of Japan during and after World War II. He tells the stories of a single Japanese company, and he shares their misfortunes and struggles. Michio Takeyama was born in 1903 Osaka, Japan, but moved to many places throughout his life; he died in 1984. Harp of Burma won Michio Takeyama fame and a major literary prize (Mainichi Shuppan Bunkasho) and was made into a well-known movie, also award-winning. Although
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: War-book-lovers
Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama follows the adventures of a Japanese company in WWII. The soldiers of this company use music to pull them through hardships and celebrate their few triumphs. The corporal, Mizushima Yasuhiko, accompanies the singing company on his harp. He is a young, serious soldier that eventually realizes his longing for the natural, spiritual life of the Burmese natives. When the company is finally captured and informed of Japan’s loss, they are taken to a POW camp. There, M ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it liked it
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Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
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Sherean Nur
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
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“I seemed to be walking on and on forever through a peaceful, languid garden of rice paddies. This was no longer the territory of savages, but of an ancient and high civilization. Here and there farmers were plowing their fields, using water buffaloes. As a buffalo started to move, snowy herons would fly down and perch on its back and horns. But they flew away again in fright whenever a buffalo reached the edge of the field the farmer turned his plow.
Once, as I was walking along, a moist wind began to blow and the sky quickly filled with black clouds. Herons were tossing in the wind like downy feathers. Soon the rain came. Rainfall in Burma is violent. Before I knew it, I was shut in by a thick spray. I could hardly breathe--I felt as if I were swimming.
After a while the rain stopped and the sky cleared. All at once the landscape brightened and a vast rainbow hung across the sky. The mist was gone, as if a curtain had been lifted. And there, under the rainbow, the farmers were singing and plowing again. ”
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