Donald Richie, The Japan Journals: 1947–2004

Donald Richie’s The Japan Journals: 1947–2004

Article first published as Book Review: The Japan Journals: 1947-2004 by Donald Richie on Blogcritics.

This is what every memoir should be. Unhindered by any attempt to be self-serving, Donald Richie’s The Japan Journals: 1947-2004 is about the most unflinchingly honest opening of the tightly turned lid of self you’ll ever read. You can’t help but like an autobiographer willing to welcome you this deeply into his 510-page heart.

Not that there’s a paucity of things to like about Donald Richie. One of the most underrated writers of the last 50 years, Richie wields his pen with a depth of insight that more famous writers would swap Booker Prizes for, and his command of detail and emotion are on par with the best—even here in a ‘journal’.

Although journal in name, The Japan Journals is more than nighttime afterthought, for Richie realised early on that the detritus of his daily life was destined for the shelves of others, and therefore wrote accordingly—with concentration and abundant skill.

Richie isn’t just an interesting writer—he’s an interesting human being, a person who has lived a life filled with fascinating and often famous others—Yukio Mishima, Marguerite Yourcenar, Emperor Hirohito and Francis Ford Coppola to name a few. Included is perhaps the most insightful assessment of the internal life of the near impossible to comprehend Mishima, while it is highly likely that Richie is the inspiration for Bill Murray’s character in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, for he tells of spending time with the teenaged director-to-be in Tokyo.

Better known as the leading Western authority on Japanese film, the beyond erudite Donald Richie could also be subtitled the ‘Gore Vidal who chose to live in Japan’. Equally talented and insightful as the American polemicist, Richie is more heartfelt to Vidal’s glib, and therefore on final reckoning, even more rewarding.

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  • Sue
    Posted at 13:10h, 19 May

    I do not read too many memoirs, but this book seems worth reading.

  • Jaitra
    Posted at 15:36h, 19 May

    Yes, it’s definitely a must-read memoir, but it’s also an absolutely fascinating insight into the countless people he has met—something of a who’s who of the famous and interesting from the past 50 years. His stories of Mishima and Capote for example are worth the cover price alone.

  • Cadouri
    Posted at 13:03h, 10 August

    I’ve never heard before about Donald Richie but it seems that he’s a master. A pro writer. I am going to research him on the internet more. Also, thanks for the suggestion, I am going to look after his memoir.

  • Jaitra
    Posted at 15:21h, 11 August

    Some consider his Inland Sea—a book of travelling around Japan’s sea of the same name in the early 70s—to be his best work, while I myself found Japanese Portraits—a collection of anecdotes and personal portraits very similar to The Japan Journals—to be simply outstanding.

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