Friday, May 25, 2007

36 Views of Mt. Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan (Cathy N. Davidson)

36 Views in Mount Fuji is the title of a series of woodblock prints by Hokusai (which actually includes 46 prints) and also a title of Davidson's memoir of her travels in Japan back in the 1980s and 1990s. The book has recently been reissued with a new afterword, but the library copy I read was the original 1993 paperback. I'd be curious to read the new afterword (and might duck into a bookstore to do just that) because I very much enjoyed this book, I read it quickly, and often, whenever I had a few minutes.

Davidson's main thread throughout the book is what it is like to be a foreigner, mostly in a foreign country, but even somehow in your own country after returning from abroad. She's adept at picking up minute details in body language, nuances in what is said and what is not, and gives a snapshot of the Japanese culture and people she experienced during her travels: her participation in what she believed to be a mandatory health screening, the willingness of her Japanese friends to step out of their own cultural practices when she needed them most, and her found happiness in Paris (which turns out to be related to Japan in ways she couldn't have imagined).

In the woodblock series, Mount Fuji is sometimes off-center, very small, or not visible at all (in the case of a scene taking place on the mountain), and Davidson feels her experience of Japan is fragmented in the same way. I would recommend this book to everyone, those who have traveled abroad, who want to, or who feel like their travelers in their own city.

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