CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 12 . . . . February 16, 2001
"In Japan, in the spring, everyone tries to make time for hanami, cherry blossom viewing. Thousands of Japanese picnic under sukura (cherry) trees. Companies reserve space in parks for office outings. People eat, drink, and sing.Each chapter opens with a brief description of the festival (like the one above in the excerpt), followed by description of what the celebration would be like if you were participating in the observance. As in all chapters, the Japanese words are in bold type. When the word appears for the first time, a definition is included in the text. In subsequent uses of these words, they are not always defined e.g. tatami (p. 26 and 31). Because there is no glossary, this approach of "within text" definition suggests that the book is intended to be read from beginning to end and not to be used as a quick reference.
If the author and publishers designed this book to be read from beginning to end, there are probably more successful ways to organize the information presented. As mentioned earlier, each chapter begins with a festival, and is followed by other information which, at first glance, seems to be chosen at random as, in many cases, there is no connection with the festival for which each chapter is named. In the publicity that accompanied this review copy, we learn that it is arranged historically, beginning with the "first Japanese people living as nomadic tribes and follows developments as Japan becomes a land of settled rice growers and organized by clans and speaking a common language." Therefore, one might assume that the festivals are tied to other historical events described in each chapter. But historical information, such as the dates the festivals started, is not included, nor are dates included in other sections. The chapter that works best is the last chapter on "The Cherry Blossom Festival." (Although it is not completely clear to this reader, it appears that the Cherry Blossom Festival happens only in the U.S.) Following the description of the festival, there is information on the Japanese immigration, the famous cherry trees in Washington D.C., and the Internment during World War II. But the folk tale that is included in this section is one acted out by kamishibaiya-san (paper theatre men) on the streets of Tokyo. The side bar that accompanies this story is about sake.
In addition to stories (which are all retold well), there are craft activities and recipes for special holiday foods.
This reviewer is not an expert on Japanese culture and cannot comment on the accuracy of the text. However, at times the writing style is loose and difficult to understand, the structure difficult to comprehend and the index is incomplete. The information on the festivals will probably be of interest, but there have been other books in recent years that cover these topics. For the student who likes nonfiction, this would be a hard sell, and for research projects, inadequate.
Ruth McMahon worked as a professional librarian for 13 years and is co-chair of the Rocky Mountain Book Award.
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