Chrissie's Reviews > 36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan

36 Views of Mount Fuji by Cathy N. Davidson
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's review
Oct 03, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: bio, japan, kindle, sample-g, philo-psychol, usa
Recommended to Chrissie by: Gaeta1
Read from October 07 to 11, 2011


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 states which characters are true and have retained their proper names. Many of the other characters and even the name of the school where she taught are composites. She has done this to protect the privacy of the places and people involved.

What is most important to point out is that this book is clearly not just about the Japanese culture. It focuses on many other topics too - national identity, learning capabilities, self-doubt, individualism versus conformity, privacy and death too. This book is personal and the author is not trying to come up with a pat solution that explains all the congruities of Japanese, American, Canadian or French people's behaviors. She looks at the different behavior patterns and sees the differences, overlaps, the pluses and minuses of each. From there she has to resolve where she fits. I found this aspect of the book very interesting since I too have lived in different countries for years. I too never know quite where I fit. However the first half of the book is predominantly about Japanese culture. The second half is her search to sort out where she belongs, albeit still teaching the reader about curious Japanese cultures that few tourist have access to.

At the end of the book the author explains why she has chosen the the given title. In brief it is beause what the book focuses upon is personal and does not attempt to find solutions to behavioral disparities. She accepts and shows us that people do act differently in different circumstances. This was the message in Hokusai's book, to which she is refering. You shouldn't be to quick to judge others and assume that the behavior you see one day is a clear definition of that person's personality. I have always had difficulty putting together the horric history of Japanese in war with the kindness, empathy and goodwill you feel when you meet them. This has always troubled me.

Sometimes I felt the book was longwinded.


AFTER 48%:
This is a memoir of the author's experiences teaching English literature in Japan. She makes four trips. The first trip occurs in 1980 and the last in 1990. Her husband follows her and also teaches in Japan. On the first trip, they live in Nigawa, between Kobe and Osaki.

I am learning a lot. You get to experience with the author how she comes to understand the Japanese on an intimate level. She learns their customs and their habits. She is accepted by them as their friends. What I most appreciate is her open and searching quest to understand the psyche of particularly Japanese women. She works at the Kansai Women's University. She experiences great sorrow on this trip and you learn how the Japanese helped her. You learn it through their small actions. I feel I understand the Japanese psyche much better from reading this book. They have cultural rules, but they also have instances when these rules are discarded! They can behave in what seems completely contradictory/ manners in different situations.

In addition, you will learn more traditional facts about Japanese life. You maybe already knew that Chrysanthenums are the flower of Japan, used for commemorations, but did you know that yellow and orange are colors of life?

She travels to Kudakajima, an island of Okinawa. This is the last surving matriarchal culture. She does not travel there as a tourist, but with her Japanese friends. She is invited to see that which is not on display for tourists.

From reading tthis book you will learn more than the ordinary facts about Japan. from reading this book. You are given a personal glimpse into the culture of Japan.

Please see the comments below. There are some criticisms voiced.

ETA: OK I forgot to add an excerpt. Given what has happened there is no reason to laugh. Cathy and her husband Ted spend a New Year's celebration with their friends Maryvonne (French) and her Japanese husband, Ichiro. Out of respect to Japanese customs they had declined participation, but in the end they did come:

Maryvonne has the deep ùelancholy voice of a French cabaret singer. She has not sung a solo tonight. I know, because her Piaf style can coax tears from a stone - and this is not a time for tears. We've Tennessee Waltzed, Mashed Potatoed, and Twisted the night away (after the traditional Japanese celebration). We are in a house in Nigawa, Japan, singing, dancing, and miraculously, Ted and I are laughing.(48%)

You have to read the book to know what has happened.

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message 1: by Chrissie (last edited Oct 09, 2011 10:19PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chrissie I like it! Much is around the perspective of women's life in Japan, different ways of seeing feminism, but there is much more too. Her trip to Okinawa and the island Kudakajima, known for its matriarchal society, is fascinating. And although I have read about Japanese baths, her writing, rmember Doi-san, made me slmost feel what she felt. And her search for "the typical Japanese woman" , who took on that role was marvellous! I like that I am learning. I like that the author is aware that she is NOT seeing things perfectly correctly. All memoirs are this way. You are getting their impressions. I think she hits close to the truth but with a self-questioning attidtude/

When she describes Buddhist ceremonies, I am a little annoyed since I cannot comprehend these......or maybe I am just jealous!

I VERY much liked how she explained that Japanese act as different people in different situations. I have had such a hard time putting together the frienliness and kindness with which I was met in Japan, knowing the Japanese history where they act with such barbarity and cruelty. This has always stumped me.

One thing I definitely didn't like. She says that it is impolite to eat in public places, such as on trains. WHAT? At every train station there are kiosks selling bento boxes for onsumption on the train. Have times changed so rapidly. She says this when she was there in 1980. Maybe that is the explanation, but she didn't edit or chang the/error.

I am very glad I am reading it. Thank you. I have read about 40ish persent, I think.

Chrissie The author does not make an exception for bentos! And this book has been edited!

I still have a hard time accepting these two opposite forces in one person. She tried to explain it, and I just sort of understood. At least she explained her reasoning. Every observer of Japanese must be troubled by this. I explain it to myself like this: they are proud of their country and heritage. This sits in their bones. When they are polite and kind to another this has nothing to do with a diminuation of their pride. The two can co-exist at the same time. However when a choice has to be made, you know as well as I do what they will choose. French are also very, very proud otheir history and country, but it hasn't to my knowledge led to such barbaric behavior.

message 3: by Manybooks (new) - added it

Manybooks Chrissie wrote: "The author does not make an exception for bentos! And this book has been edited!

I still have a hard time accepting these two opposite forces in one person. She tried to explain it, and I just so..."

Great review Chrissie, another book to add :-) (and I'm so behind lately).

Chrissie Gundula, I want prospective readers to understand that this book is not just about the Japanese psyche, but also about where is home, if you have lived in several countries. I wouldn't say I necessarily have felt the need to stay in the US, but myhusband will not drrop Sweden. I do not want to either. It is not because I belong there but because I LIKE being Swedsih. I adore France, but I do not feel French. This kind of reasoning also comes into the book. There are no answers, just an analysis of what worked, sort of, for her. I would not say I have as easy a time accepting Japanese kindness and past barbarity. I still do not really understand that. In my head I understand the author's ideas, but I am am not totally convinced. The process of thinking about these issues was interesting. Even if these topics do not interest one, the bit about Japanese culture were very interesting.

Gaeta, didn't you love her whole search for glass balls. Again, beauty in the miniscule, scattered among the garbafe. And her friend? What happened to her is not made clear. And what a husband. Jeeze!

Oh, and I loves how the Japanese women would go out and buy houses and cars! So much for American feminism. Swedish women would do that. No question about it. I am not Swedish enough.

So in your book she never returns in 2005? She kept talking about four trips, but then there was a fifth! You didn't read that? Did you get the Acknowledgements? They are important. I was looking on the map for Kansai. Stupid me!

Thank you, Gaeta, for the recommendation.

Oh, and I was quite surprised at how bad her Japanese skills really were. I felt better, since I toohave a terrible time learning languages. That was an interesting topic too.

I could keep blabbing about this book. ........

Chrissie Gaeta, it is true that you have to go into the details to understand feminism in different countries.

Thanks for the recommendation.

Chrissie She spoke more predominantly of the women's situation, but the picture she drew of men, I think, was less nuanced. She took the general situation. The general situation was not pretty, but don't you think to really understand their lives we need to go deeper? Many of the men figures were compsites, Is that the problem? The author's relationships with Japanese women were deeper. They were helping each other. However, I think she was never really one of them. She could hardly speak and her relationship with Marvonne was dominant. She was French born. I do not NOT think this distracts, it just changes her experiences. She admits of this distance, and hopes that it will allow her to see more rather than less. This was another reference to Hokusai. I have learned from this book, but I would hesitate to extrapolate too far. I enjoyed the book because it draws you attention to the personal relationshipe and situation of Japanese women, It doesn't mean this is a compedium of truths. In addition, it is about figuring out what is home. It is a very personal book. I appreciated it for that alone, and then I saw another view of Japanese life and cutlure along the way.

Remember the old Japanese woman who was "the typical Japanese woman", She was lovely and special and full of life at 85 years! I wouldn't mind such a bath!

Chrissie Yes, I understand what you are referring to. And not just the overwork but also the forced alcoholism built into men's jobs. However in that she doesn't have a close male friend, I wonder is she isn't able to go in depth, but is merely expressing the known facts, and I didn't even know all of thatI could have known. I didn't know that men's salaries were often paid into women's account.

I do not think I would be happy living under their traditions. Maybe good jobs are nice (and they are still underpaid, accoring to the book), but being who I am, I want more than a few minutes per day with those I love. The entire Japanese society is a pressure-cooker. It would destroy me to see the damages done to both my children and husband.

BTW, I do not know if my idea concerning the book's less indepth analysis ot Japanese men versus women, is true. It is simply my thoughts on the subject. I enjoy considering the possibilities. And I am so darned outspoken that people think I am figting for an idea while really I am just considering a possible explanation.

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

From reading your review and this discussion, I think I will enjoy this book, Chrissie. Not only am I interested in Japan and Japanese culture, but I do like to find out how different people live day-to-day, how they feel and think. And, I lived for a short time as a "foreigner" in Germany, so it's interesting to see how others adjust to being an outsider.

message 9: by Chrissie (last edited Oct 13, 2011 08:42AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chrissie Jeanette, I do,'t want you to be disappointed. Both Gaeta and I gave it 4 stars, and even we find things to discuss. I LIKE a book that leads to discussion! I want to learn, but that doesn't mean every issue will be given a complete, air tight answer. That is just fine for me too. I just want you to be pleased!

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

If you like the writing style enough to give this 4 stars, I can assume I will enjoy it. I'll review it when I get a chance to read it. Thanks Chrissie!

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