Lost Japan by Alex Kerr

LostJapan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan Paperback by Alex Kerr

Introduction

Lost Japan is a headfirst dive into Japan and its culture. Written by an American whose heart was captured by Japan from an early age and has spent his life getting to know it. So much so that the articles he assembled this book from were originally written in Japanese and translated from the Japanese not by Kerr but by another writer (Bodhi Fishman).

I think this is an important thing to notice about the book, that this is a book about Japan meant for the Japanese themselves. Its also semi-autobiographical telling the authors life through his discovery of Japan.

I believe Lost Japan has barely ever been out of print in English since it was published. It’s insightful, opinionated and hard to put down. Moreover if you read and liked In Praise of Shadows (Chapter two nods at the book), you will find a collection of articles in the same vein but perhaps more accessible and which brings our view of Japan a little more up to date to the beginning of the 2000’s.

So I recommend this book wholeheartedly see below for a few notes and some of the key ideas running through this book.

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In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizak

In Prasie of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizak (translated by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker)

Review

A beautiful book about Japanese aesthetics and the love of perception in the shadows at the edge of darkness.

This book is short and sweet and at well under eighty pages it flits between more weighty subjects of Shadows, Color and Architecture with seemingly more trivial ones, Japanese toilets, paper, wiring Japanese homes among the many.

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The Eyes of The Skin Review

The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses by Juhani Pallasmaa

Introduction

This book is a short but beautifully crafted argument for an Architecture based less on the sense of sight and more on the other senses, and about how touch is the core sense from which the others flow. It argues we have gone too far in holding sight above those other senses, particularly in Architecture and that there is a better, deeper way to understand and shape the spaces we design.

Book History

Pallasmaa wrote the argument out as an essay and lecture, then turned it into a book first published in 1996 which quickly became a classic of Architectural Theory. Amazon has it at 130 pages long but my edition is only 80 pages! Either way it’s a short and fairly quick read provided you are familiar with the references Pallasmaa makes. If you don’t you might find it hard work to digest.

Basic Premise

The skin is the oldest and most sensitive of our organs, and touch is the sense that became differentiated into all the other senses. The understanding of our external environment is much more co-dependant on all the senses. But vision is the sense that is increasingly dominating in Architecture. Pallasmaa sets out the case for the tactile senses in the experience and understanding of the world and in the design of buildings and cities. That the pre-conscious perceptual realm, that of peripheral vision contains the quality of architectural reality much more than a focused image. The quote below joins up these associated ideas and expresses them beautifully.

‘I confront the city with my body; my legs measure the length of the arcade and the width of the square; my gaze unconsciously projects my body onto the facade of the cathedral, where it roams over the mouldings and contours, sensing the size of recesses and projections; my body weight meets the mass of the cathedral door, and my hand grasps the door pull as I enter the dark void behind. I experience myself in the city, and the city exists through my embodied experience. The city and my body supplement and define each other. I dwell in the city and the city dwells in me.’

– Juhani Pallasmaa

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