The Essential Reading List for Fall 2016

A cover-worthy image of autumn in our garden.  Photo: Aurora Santiago.

A cover-worthy image of autumn in our garden.  Photo: Aurora Santiago.

Dokusho no Aki—読書の 秋, or “Autumn, The Season for Reading” is a common saying in Japan, and it is a popular time of the year for all kinds of themed reading lists to be published.As the days grow colder and the nights get longer here in Seattle, books are a welcome companion.  For your fall enrichment, Corinne Kennedy, one of Seattle Japanese Garden’s most literary garden guides, recently shared with us her favorite Japan-related books to peruse this fall.

NON-FICTION (Japanese Gardens and Garden Design):

The Art of the Japanese Garden, by David E. and Michiko Young (2005). Winner of the 2006 American Horticultural Society Book Award, this work looks at the development and blending of Japan’s two major garden traditions. An ancient indigenous tradition dedicated pebbled sites to nature spirits. A second tradition began with beliefs and practices imported from China and Korea, and included more complex elements – such as ponds, streams, waterfalls, rock compositions and a variety of plants. Over centuries, as these traditions were integrated and continued to evolve, distinctively Japanese gardens were created. In the largest portion of this beautifully-illustrated work, the Youngs examine some of Japan’s most important gardens, including more recent ones.

A Guide to the Gardens of Kyoto, by Marc Treib and Ron Herman (1980), and Kyoto Gardens: Masterworks of the Japanese Gardener’s Art, by Judith Clancy (2014). These two works – an older handbook in black and white, and a contemporary work with color illustrations – are devoted to the gardens of Kyoto, where many of Japan’s most important gardens have survived.

Japanese Garden Design, by Marc Peter Keane (1996). Written by an American landscape architect who lived in Japan for 18 years, this may be the single most helpful book for Westerners committed to learning about and understanding Japanese gardens. With illuminating text and many illustrations, it explores the history, and the essential concepts and processes, that underlie Japanese garden design. Keane covers how the Shinto, Confucian and Buddhist religions — as well as politics, society, art and the tea ceremony — have contributed to its core principles, elements and techniques.

Quiet Beauty–The Japanese Gardens of North America, by Kendall H. Brown (2013). With insightful writing and beautiful photos, this book features 26 Japanese-style public gardens in the U.S. and Canada. As noted on the front cover, “The history, style, and special functions of each of the gardens is examined, offering an insight into the ingenuity and range of Japanese-style landscaping on foreign soil.” Our Seattle Japanese Garden, including its historical and aesthetic importance, is covered in this comprehensive work. Brown’s earlier book, Japanese-Style Gardens of the Pacific West Coast (1999), is also well worth reading.

FICTION (Japanese-American Fiction, with Pacific Northwest Settings &/or Themes):
Beacon Hill Boys, by Ken Mochizuki (2002). For ages 14-up. This coming-of-age novel is set in the early 1970s in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, and deals with its teenage protagonist’s search for personal and cultural identity. A Nisei (second-generation Japanese-American) high school student, he’s confronted with society’s and his own family’s pressure to assimilate.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford (2009). This novel opens with the 1986 discovery, in a Seattle Hotel, of belongings Japanese-Americans were forced to leave behind when they were sent to World War II internment camps. It links two periods, the 1940s and the 1980s, in the life of its Chinese-American protagonist. Written with a wealth of period detail, it contrasts his childhood relationship with a Japanese-American girl, and his horror when she and her family are sent to a camp, with the anti-Japanese attitudes of his own father and Chinese-American community.

No-No Boy, by John Okada (1957). At the end of World War II, a young Japanese-American returns home to Seattle after spending two years in an internment camp and two years in prison — for his refusal to serve in the military and swear loyalty to the U.S. Published at a time when people were trying to forget about the war and its injustices, this ground-breaking novel was virtually ignored. However, two decades later, it was discovered and re-introduced by a younger generation of Japanese American writers, who recognized its power and historical importance. In a new forward, Ruth Ozeki writes that the novel reveals one man’s “threnody of guilt, rage, and blame as he tries to negotiate his reentry into a shattered world.”

Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson (1994). Guterson’s best-selling first novel explores the tensions between Japanese-Americans and Caucasians on a small Washington island in the aftermath of the World War II. Tensions are heightened when a Japanese fisherman is accused of murder, but the novel is much more than a murder mystery/courtroom drama. It’s also a love story in which the theme of injustice and the natural setting itself are of equal or greater importance. Although its author is Caucasian, his research was extensive, and the novel’s publication in the early 1990s played an important role in increasing the general public’s awareness of the internment/incarceration of Japanese-Americans.

The Strangeness of Beauty, by Lydia Minatoya (2001). Seattle author Minatoya’s first novel is about a Japanese woman, living in jazz-age Seattle, who returns with her young niece to Japan. One reviewer, Robert Olen Butler, called it “a quietly daring exploration of art, family, culture, and conscience, as three generations of women, American and Japanese, face a strained reunion in pre-World War II Japan.”


Midnight in Broad Daylight, by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto (2016). “Meticulously researched and beautifully written, the true story of a Japanese American family that found itself on opposite sides during World War II. An epic tale of family, separation, divided loyalties, love, reconciliation, loss, and redemption, Pamela Rotner Sakamoto’s history is a riveting chronicle of U.S.–Japan relations and the Japanese experience in America… Intimate and evocative, it is an indelible portrait of a resilient family, a scathing examination of racism and xenophobia, an homage to the tremendous Japanese American contribution to the American war effort, and an invaluable addition to the historical record of this extraordinary time.” These words, from its front cover, eloquently capture the power of this amazing story. I appreciated its Pacific Northwest connections — Seattle and the small city of Auburn, Washington, where the Fukuhara children were born and raised.

Nisei Daughter, by Monica Sone (1953). The first published autobiography of a Nisei woman, this memoir by Seattle-born Sone (1919-2011) covers her incarceration at Minidoka internment camp during World War II, as well as her early life and later years. It explores, with sensitivity and humor, themes of racism, cultural identity, assimilation, and intergenerational conflict within the Seattle Japanese-American community. The book was well-received at the time of its publication, and appreciated for its lack of bitterness. More recently, some reviewers have criticized Sone’s willingness to neglect the injustices of the internment, while others have argued that, in the early 1950s, the pressure to assimilate was intense — and that her memoir served as a first step in the historical processes of revealing injustice and seeking reparation.

Rumi Tsuchihashi is the staff editor of the Seattle Japanese Garden blog.  Thank you, Corinne Kennedy, for contributing the main content of this post.