Japonisme: a Book Review

After deviating from my non-resolution plan last week, I have managed to quickly get back on track to work through my Christmas book haul. This week I have been reading Japonisme by Erin Niimi Longhurst. In the end I managed to finish the book in just two sittings, and it has taken me longer to get round to actually writing the review! I have a slightly longer choice for my next read Bee, so might be able to ease off on the review posts a little…

First, come with me as we make an at times otherworldly journey to Japan!

Japonisme: Ikigai, forest-bathing, wabi-sabi and more

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

For anyone with even a passing interest in self-improvement and mindfulness, some of the themes and topics in Japonisme will be instantly familiar. Ideas such as forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku, 森林浴) and visibly repairing broken items to make the flaws part of their beauty (Kintsugi, 金継ぎ) have gradually become part of the consciousness of Europeans and Americans, even if they are not practiced consistently by those people. Longhurst’s book brings these more familiar concepts and a couple of ideas I had not been familiar with, and approaches them from the advantageous perspective of someone who is half Japanese, half British.

With a writing style which is both optimistic and easy going, it is easy to devour this book cover to cover in a short space of time as I did. Equally, as each chapter of the book stands somewhat alone, it could be read in parts depending on the needs of the reader. Alongside the writing, the beautiful illustrations and photographs make this little book a delight to read.

Having come from a blogging background, Longhurst is adept at talking to her audience, and manages to explain potentially confusing concepts rather succinctly with only the occasional need for illustrative examples. Coupled with the personal stories and anecdotes dotted through the book, it really feels like Longhurst is writing to and for you as a reader.

What I really liked

  1. The pacing of the book, the length, and the amount of detail for each concept introduced felt about right. This is not a philosophy textbook, so it does not need an in-depth critique of the Japanese mindset, rather it is there to introduce Japanese lifestyle ideas to a presumably naive audience, and in this it works very well.
  2. The illustrations, artwork, style and photographs really stood out as something special in this book. Having travelled to Japan a couple of times, it really invoked some of the wonder I experienced there, but also had a distinct feel to it. This book is not a pastiche, it is very much a product of the hybrid world of the author and is all the better for it.

The less good bits

  1. While I did like the length of the book and the amount of detail, I also found the book lacking a little in concrete examples. After explaining a philosophical concept, Longhurst provides few ideas about how these can be applied to every day life, something I am sure she would like to see her readers at least attempting. Examples do appear here and there, it just felt like more were needed to really ground the subject matter and provide practical guidance for the audience.
  2. The use, or should that be partial use, of endnotes seemed a little off. There are five in total in the book, three of which come on the same page. It might be as I come from the reference heavy medical world, but this book felt a little devoid of evidence. Either the book should have had no footnotes as it comes from personal experience of the author, or it should include more than the five on offer to support her claims.

Summary

Japonisme is a short, beautifully put together book about a world which will be at least in part familiar, and expands nicely on philosophical concepts and lifestyle ideas some people may wish to apply to their own lives. While it is not an instruction manual, it does feel more concrete examples would help the reader apply their new knowledge, but on the whole Japonisme is a delightful little book which I very much enjoyed.

Who should read this book? Anyone with an interest in Japan and the Japanese lifestyle of course, but also those of you interested in the world of self-improvement who might just pick up a new tip or two.

Have you read Japonisme or got it on the TBR pile? How much did you love the illustrations? Have you tried any of the ideas in the book and did they work? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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