The Secrets of Mariko: A Year in the Life of a Japanese Woman and Her Family

Overview

As it follows a Japanese housewife named Mariko Tanaka over the course of a year, The Secrets of Mariko transcends reportage to yield the kind of human insights we expect from literature. Meet Mariko, a cheerful, overscheduled woman who cares for three children, two aging parents, and an unresponsive husband. As readers watch Mariko take part in PTA meetings, bicker with her teenagers, and pursue independence through her part-time job, they come to see Mariko as someone whose ...
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The Secrets of Mariko: A Year in the Life of a Japanese Woman and Her Family

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Overview

As it follows a Japanese housewife named Mariko Tanaka over the course of a year, The Secrets of Mariko transcends reportage to yield the kind of human insights we expect from literature. Meet Mariko, a cheerful, overscheduled woman who cares for three children, two aging parents, and an unresponsive husband. As readers watch Mariko take part in PTA meetings, bicker with her teenagers, and pursue independence through her part-time job, they come to see Mariko as someone whose dreams and disappointments mirror our own.

As it follows a Japanese housewife named Mariko Tanaka over the course of a year, The Secrets of Mariko transcends reportage to yield the kind of human insights we expect from literature. Meet Mariko, a cheerful, overscheduled woman who cares for three children, two aging parents, and an unresponsive husband. As readers watch Mariko take part in PTA meetings, bicker with her teenagers, and pursue independence through her part-time job, they come to see Mariko as someone whose dreams and disappointments mirror our own.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A rich, sustained look at real life in middle-class Tokyo....full of cultural insight.... Her discussions of [Japanese society] are clear, well-reported and skillfully interwoven with the portrait of Mariko"—Kyoko Mori, The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An examination of contemporary Japanese society as seen through a year in the life of a middle-class woman. (Nov.)
Library Journal
While interviewing in Japan for the Washington Post in 1991-92, journalist Bumiller chronicled through an interpreter a year in the life of Mariko, "an ordinary Japanese woman," and her family and neighborhood. Her struggle to balance her own needs with those of her family is a "reminder that certain universalities transcend borders." Like the author's May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons (LJ 5/1/90), about Indian women, Mariko is best suited to young adults despite its occaisional clichs. In 1910 Makiko Nakano (1890-1978) was a newlywed daughter-in-law with responsibilities in a busy family community that functioned both as a residence and as a store. Likable, assiduous Makiko detailed changes taking place in her early-20th-century Japanese town and domestic life in her diary. Nakano Takashi's 1981 publication of his mother's record is in Japanese-language collections of many university libraries. Translator Smith (Japanese, Cornell Univ., ret.), who is associated with the creation of The Diary of a Japanese Innkeeper's Daughter (Cornell Univ. East Asia Program, 1984), provides all the relevant explication, notes, maps, and illustrations a researcher of modern Japanese social history could desire. Both works offer insights into the daily lives of 20th-century Japanese women and help dispel the mythology; both are recommended for public library and women's studies collections, though Makiko's Diary is essential for academic and scholarly libraries.-Helen Rippier Wheeler, formerly with SLIS, Univ. of California-Berkeley,
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679772620
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/1996
  • Series: Vintage
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 846,201
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2008

    Excellent Book

    I really enjoyed reading this book. Captured my attention and concentration. Learned a lot about Japanese culture in a very fun way.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2000

    Valuable Insight into Contemporary Japan

    When comparing the cultures of the world, those of Japan and the United States appear to be vastly different. The endurance of the perception of the mysterious Orient endures in the West, and it is difficult to imagine many similarities. By studying a Japanese wife and mother, Elisabeth Bumiller provides insight into this matter in her book The Secrets of Mariko. Bumiller enters into a lengthy study of suburban Japanese culture, letting her discoveries and events guide her progression into her subject's life. Her easy, pleasant writing style and enjoyable story assembles an image of a typical Japanese woman that, in the end, American readers may find surprising. Mariko is the woman that Bumiller trails for slightly over one year. Bumiller chose Mariko because of her apparent middle class status, white-collar husband, and teenage children, hoping that she would provide an ideal example of the average Japanese woman at the beginning of the 1990's. Bumiller speaks no Japanese, so she hired a translator, Sachiko, a younger Japanese woman whom we learn during the course of the book is more cosmopolitan and independent than Mariko. Bumiller relies on only Sachiko throughout her study but writes little about her dependence upon a translator and how it will affect her research. One of the many events the three women attended was the neighborhood Parent Teacher Association meeting. Mariko is a member of the all female PTA, and Bumiller gained insight on the social rules of interaction from these meetings by witnessing the consensus style of Japanese diplomacy. Although a purchase by the PTA was approved by consensus early on in this meeting, a single member dissented near its end. What was earlier a closed issue was now reopened for discussion. In the end, the decision was even put off until another meeting. From her American perspective, Bumiller found this sequence of events confusing. Mariko also held a part time job reading meters for a utility company. Although she enjoyed the responsibilities and flexibility of her job, she would elect to go for many weeks at a time without working to meet her various family responsibilities. The traditional roles of wives are rarely observed as they were in pre-war Japan, but it is also the case that a wife in Japan is less likely to pursue a professional career. Thus, it seems from the book that women frequently enter and leave the part time work force as the circumstances of their family lives dictate. A lively activity that Bumiller describes is Mariko's participation in Sanja Matsuri, a festival in which participants carry a portable Shinto shrine, mikoshi, along the street. Japan has many similar festivals that carry a mikoshi, but Mariko had worked her way up to this, 'the biggest-and raunchiest-religious festival in all of Tokyo.' (Bumiller 65) The procession of the mikoshi shrine is raucous and energetic so as to let the spirit inside enjoy the ride, thereby bestowing good fortune upon the community. This festival, spiritual in origin, was in actuality an opportunity for Mariko and the others to have fun and get drunk. Although Mariko's husband Takeshi disapproved of her involvement, he did not act to oppose her attendance. Takeshi played a minor role in the family's affairs during Bumiller's study. For instance, he chose not to attend Mariko's samisen concert or his children's school events. Takeshi's lack of family involvement was one facet of Mariko's power in the family, which gradually emerged through the course of the book. In most ways, Takeshi appears to be a typical Japanese salary man. He leaves for work early in the morning and most often goes out drinking with coworkers straight from work. Bumiller plainly considers Takeshi to be an alcoholic and provides many examples of his drunken behavior. He is not while intoxicated, but he would arrive home late at night or sometimes not at all because of it. He seemed remor

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2011

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