For centuries, Japan has magnetised the West’s imagination, evoking both fear and fascination. In the late nineteenth century, when most writers and readers in Europe, North America, and Australia had yet to see this ‘young’, newly accessible country for themselves, literary fantasies on the Madam Butterfly theme became a craze. Then, after Japan invaded its neighbours and defeated the Russian fleet, invasion fiction and drama flourished. Later, stories about geisha and yakuza served the same two purposes, attracting some and frightening others. Many readers are better informed now, yet the ‘Lost in Translation’ genre continues to cater to those who prefer Japan to remain weird and inscrutable, while ‘Last Samurai’ narrativesenable others to fantasise about the virtues of a past, more civilised age. Anime and manga continue to fascinate their fans across the world. There is a nascent revival interest in rakugo; surprisingly, the authors responsible for introducing it to Western readers are Australians.
The Storyteller and his Three Daughters
by Lian Hearn
Hachette Australia, $29.99 pb, 266 pp, 9780733630293
Henry Black: On Stage in Meiji Japan
by Ian McArthur
Monash University Publishing, $34.95 pb, 285 pp, 9781921867507
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Alison Broinowski has lived, worked and frequently travelled in Japan. She was Australia's cultural attaché in Tokyo in the mid-1980s and has recently contributed a chapter, with Rachel Miller, on the history of the Australian Embassy, to a book on Australia–Japan relations edited at Deakin University.
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