36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan

36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan

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by Cathy N. Davidson
     
 

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In 1980 Cathy Davidson traveled to Japan to teach English at a leading all-women's university. It was to be the beginning of a deep and abiding fascination. Cathy Davidson had imagined a Japan of rock gardens with raked sand, of delicately arched wooden bridges and glowing paper lanterns. She was not prepared for the grim modernity of Osaka with its garish billboards… See more details below

Overview

In 1980 Cathy Davidson traveled to Japan to teach English at a leading all-women's university. It was to be the beginning of a deep and abiding fascination. Cathy Davidson had imagined a Japan of rock gardens with raked sand, of delicately arched wooden bridges and glowing paper lanterns. She was not prepared for the grim modernity of Osaka with its garish billboards and dingy concrete apartment blocks. Yet gradually another Japan revealed itself to her—one of rituals and communal baths, of temples with rice-paper walls, of pleasures that are subtle and lasting and deep emotions expressed without words. Even more unexpected, this Japan suggested to her secrets about herself. Spirited and original, "36 Views of Mount Fuji" is at once a look at the seductiveness and disappointments of being a stranger in a strange land, the memoir of a deeply personal interior journey, and a poignant meditation on whether we can see things clearly only at a distance.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Empathy infuses Davidson's reactions to the Japanese and lifts this graceful, balanced account of her experiences in their country above the ordinary. Her book's title, taken from the series of woodblock prints by the famed late-18th century artist, Hokusai, reflects her will to see many different and sometimes contradictory aspects of the culture, to avoid stereotypes and to admit a range of emotions. Between 1980 and 1990, she visited Japan four times, twice for year-long assignments as an English professor at Kanzai Women's University. She struggled with the language, made do with standard cramped living quarters, reached out within the acceptable social forms to fellow teachers, students and neighbors. She ate native foods, accepted the invitation of a male colleague to tour the pornographic boites of Osaka's ``Floating World,'' stayed overnight with the priestess of a matriarchal communal religion, and generally learned to feel so much at home that she occasionally thought of herself as Japanese. Through women friends, Davidson ( The Book of Love: Writers and Their Love Letters ) came to understand their power in this society as well as their needs. Her charmingly drawn word-pictures resonate. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Davidson relocated to Japan in 1980 to teach at a women's university. With no prior exposure, Davidson quickly developed a deep love for the country and its people, which she conveyed in this 1993 travel memoir. This reprint sports a new afterword written by Davidson after returning to Japan in 2005 to visit old friends and haunts affected by the 1995 earthquake that devastated the city of Kobe and the small town where she taught.


—Michael Rogers
Kirkus Reviews
Travel memoir about the author's four trips to Japan that grows like a novel and takes on unusual richness as it keeps reinvesting itself in earlier scenes and people. Davidson (English/Duke; co-ed., The Last Tradition, 1980, etc.) and her husband, Ted, first moved to Osaka in 1980 to teach at "Kansai Women's University" (a fictional composite), where she instructed a class in spoken English. Despite trying several times, the author never did master Japanese—though it must be said that, in turn, most of her Japanese students seemed to have learned an artificial English that has little tie to own. Davidson writes about almost nothing for itself alone but, rather, for its emotional impact on her, and nearly all the people she describes here are composites who become vehicles of feeling. She writes this way because the Japanese usually hide their deeper feelings, and those she knows personally would be embarrassed by appearing recognizably on these pages—especially being portrayed in exactly the emotional states they usually cover over most carefully. These novelistic devices, along with the way the Davidsons' visits to Japan gather depth of feeling, lend her account a personal quality all her own—and may give it a longer life than most travel memoirs. Davidson reveals little new about the Japanese, but what she makes clear are the shame and humiliation she most commonly feels with her students, fellow Japanese teachers, Japanese friends, and street people, all of whom see her as gaijin (foreigner) and cry out "Speak no Engrish!" (Perhaps because of this humiliation, the Davidsons, rather than settle down in Japan, finally build a Japanese house in North Carolina). Over theten years covered, many deaths occur, especially in the final pages, which adds a memorable darkening to the text. Top-drawer. (Eighteen line drawings)

From the Publisher

“A delightful read, offering insight not only into Japan but into the adventure of living in a foreign culture anywhere in the world.”—Mary Catherine Bateson, author of Composing a Life

“Beautifully written. . . . I did not want to put it down.”—Susan Allen Toth, author of Blooming: A Small-Town Girlhood

“Brilliant, wise, and witty . . . as enjoyable a read as Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provençe.”—Louise DeSalvo, author of Vertigo: A Memoir

Laura Crawford

“Davidson is inquisitive and careful: observations serve as prompts for thoughtful appraisals of her native US, and stereotypes of Japan are questioned. . . . [I]t’s when Japan is clearly in focus – especially when revealed through the author’s experiences and conversations with locals – that the narrative is most engaging.”
Corrie Pikul

“Davidson’s memoir, shimmering with poetic insights and poignant observations, stands out from the rest. . . . [A] compelling read for anyone considering a trip to Japan—or who has recently returned from one.”
Elizabeth Ward

“Intelligent, sympathetic . . . and quick-witted.”
Booklist

“Luminous . . . Nuanced and passionate, [Davidson’s] book achieves what many travel writers can only aspire to: the sense of being both inside and outside of a culture at the same time.”
Francine Prose

“No one could have tried harder to fathom Japanese culture [than Davidson]. The result is a series of illuminations not unlike the sudden break in the clouds that finally lets her glimpse Mount Fuji from the window of a bullet train.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780822339137
Publisher:
Duke University Press Books
Publication date:
10/28/2006
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
757,986
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Cathy N. Davidson is Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies, cofounder of the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, and Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English at Duke University. Her numerous books include Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America; Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory; and No More Separate Spheres! (with Jessamyn A. Hatcher), also published by Duke University Press. She is a past president of the American Studies Association and a previous editor of the journal American Literature.

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