Raised in the tumult of Japan’s industrial powerhouse, the 11 men and women profiled in A Different Kind of Luxury have all made the transition to sustainable, fulfilling lives. Based on Andy Couturier's popular articles in The Japan Times, this lushly designed volume has a wealth of stories about real people who have created an abundance of time for contemplation, connecting with the natural world, and contributing to their communities. In their success is a lesson for us all: live a life that matters. Read an excerpt of the book here or here. Read a review of the book here, here, or here.

Friday, December 31, 2010

"They Just Happen to Be Japanese" Two expatriates' views

I met the translator By Alan Gleason in Tokyo in June when I was lecturing at the (wonderfully acronymed) Society of Writers Editors and Translators (SWET) meeting.  (And, by the way, it was great to speak to this group about the craft choices and translations decisions in the book to add that to how I presented the content.)  Alan later wrote a review on the website of "Hobbit Village" (which I mentioned in Chapter 11 on Masanori Oe--it was the first center of alternative/ environmental culture founded in Japan).  Here's his review:  (original link) 
"A rustic humility"
Masanori and Wakako working on a translation
There are plenty of books in English about people going “off the grid” to live a simpler, more natural life, and nearly as many books about the exotic aspects of life in Japan. The nice thing about this book is that it introduces some fascinating people whose courageous and innovative approaches to alternative living are worth reading about for reasons having nothing to do with nationality: they just happen to be Japanese. Still, I can’t help thinking that a common trait they share -- a realistic humility, amply laced with humor, about the ultimate impossibility of being purely self-sufficient in this day and age -- comes more readily to Japanese people than to Westerners raised in the Judaeo-Christian tradition of logical absolutes. 

"I tried reading the book at my normal pace..."

Translator George Bourdaniotis also wrote a review of A Different Kind of Luxury (original link) in May before I came to speak to the SWET group in Kobe.  It ran in the magazine Kansai Scene and I think my favorite line of George's is "the sense of time [the book] captured within its pages begged for me to slow down and absorb the wisdom it held." 

Getting caught up in the daily rush is part of life in Japan and we wonder if it is possible to slow down. Kansai Scene talked with Andy Couturier while he prepared for a promotional tour of Japan for his new book, A Different Kind of Luxury.
Many books on Japan rehash the same themes of uniqueness and eccentricity, perpetuating the stereotypes,and the life of the gaijin (foreigner) in Japan. Essayist, poet and writing teacher, Andy Couturier’s A Different Kind of Luxury looks beyond the shiny facade and deeper into the rural areas, at 11 people leading simple but luxurious, lives on Honshu and Shikoku. Fifteen years in the writing, the book is based on Couturier’s articles in The Japan Times.
Couturier first arrived in the late 80s expecting a Japan even more money oriented and status conscious than the USA. While here, he met the people who are featured in his book while working on environmental causes.
At first glance, what appears to be a book about people leading traditional lives is actually one about simple living. “I had an idea of ‘the traditional life’ as something that does not change,” Couturier says. “But each aspect of our heritage is not a thing but part of an integrated and connected life that shifts and moves with time.
"My grandparents and great grandparents used cash to meet their needs, but as recently as the 1960s in Japan, in the mountains, rural people were still making almost all of what they needed without much inter-action with the cash economy. Many of the people in this book could learn how to meet many of their own needs by walking down the road to speak with a nearby older man or woman.”
Wildflower Watercolor by Akira Ito (ch.6)
Time is a recurring theme in these chapters, not only in terms of tradition but how time controls our everyday lives.
Osamu Nakamura (Chapter 2): “Humans have a tendency to create a visual image in their minds of what they think they can accomplish in a particular period of time. I felt ill at ease and irritable all the time. I eventually learned, however, to adjust my imagination, and plans, to what was actually possible.”
The people Couturier has written about “live the way they do based on their deeply-held value system about the way they should use their time on Earth. I don’t think they consider themselves eccentric or iconoclastic, or even ‘individualistic,’ but just living from some solid core in their personality, forged out of their experience and understanding of what it means to be human.”
As Couturier writes in the Introduction, “this book is not a blueprint for achieving ‘the good life,’ nor is it a how-to book. [It is] for anybody who wants more out of their life, or who is dissatisfied with what’s happening in today’s society, and would like to make changes.”
"Understanding what it means to be human."
Koichi Yamashita (Ch.9) talking and drinking tea.
I tried reading the book at my normal pace, but the sense of time captured within its pages begged for me to slow down and absorb the wisdom it held — exactly Couturier’s intention. “The book is meant to be read slowly. I tried very hard to make it both beautiful and meaningful, and accessible to a variety of people. ... As a gift, hoping to share with others the fantastic teachings I received from these modern-day wise men and women.”

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