The appearance of cherry blossoms marks the arrival of spring in Japan, sending revelers of all ages outdoors to enjoy wine and picnic lunches under flowery pink canopies in the nation’s parks and orchards. One cannot delay cherry blossom viewing, or “hanami,” because the cherry blossom is like life: beautiful and tragically fleeting.
In Seattle, consumption of alcohol on public land may not fly as it does in Japan, but the beauty and fragrance of the cherry blossom is just as sweet! The year the Seattle Center will be holding its annual Cherry Blossom and Japanese Culture Festival on April 18 – 20, providing folks in our area with a chance to welcome the spring in this centuries-old tradition.
If the beauty and barbarism, poetry and mysticism of medieval Japan have captured your imagination this season, you may be interested in these books and movies available at The Seattle Public Library.
- Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn
A fantasy set in a world that closely resembles medieval Japan, this first book in the series Tales of the Otori provides an engrossing blend of history and magic that will leave readers anxious for the sequel. Our hero, Takeo, begins this story as a young man whose village was destroyed by an evil warlord. Tests of loyalty, romantic intrigue, secret cults, assassins, and ninja-like supernatural powers fill the pages as the tale unfolds. For adults and teens.
- The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
The author, Murasaki Shikibu, was a real-life lady of the Japanese Imperial court during the 10th and 11th centuries. Her epic tale of Genji offers a vivid portrait of life during the era. This book is widely considered to be the first true novel.
- The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby
The life of famed author and courtesan Murasaki Shikibu is depicted in this fictional memoir, constructed from remaining fragments of the real Shikibu’s diary and poetry. The flow of life in Heian-era Japan—from romantic encounters to the craft of epistolary communication—is rendered in sensuous detail.
- Autumn Bridge by Takashi Matsuoka
In the year 1311, beautiful Lady Shizuka sits in the tower of a besieged castle writing scrolls that detail the powers and destiny of her extraordinary family. Her descendent, Lord Genji, finds forbidden love in 1861 with a Western girl named Emily who uncovers the family’s secrets as she translates Lady Shizuka’s writings. Their stories intertwine throughout the novel. Sequel to the book Cloud of Sparrows.
- The Samurai’s Wife by Laura Joh Rowland
The political climate of 17th century Japan and the intricacies of the Japanese social hierarchy are deftly painted in this period mystery, the fifth in a series featuring Mr. Ichiro Sano, a detective working for the Shogun. Sent to investigate the slaying of an Imperial minister in the ancient city of Miyako, Sano’s sleuthing reveals the emergence of a deadly martial art, espionage in the Emperor’s court, and intrigue so deep that it could lead to civil war.
- Genpei by Kara Dalkey
Based on the classical Japanese legend, this story chronicles the ancient battle between the Minamoto and Taira clans for control of the islands. The author interweaves elements of history with fable, featuring both the human adversaries and the gods and other supernatural forces believed to have lent their weight to this ultimately tragic struggle.
- The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson
In Japanese mythology, the fox is often represented as a magical creature with the power to change shape and a desire to protect humans from evil forces. In this atmospheric novel based on traditional folklore, a female fox uses her powers of illusion to entrance the human man she loves and lure him away from his wife and children.
- The Pillow Boy of Lady Onogoro by Alison Fell
The privilege and restrictions of life as a wealthy woman in 11th century Japan are portrayed in this tale of the Lady Onogoro, who enhanced her real-life amorous encounters with General Motosuke by simultaneously listening to erotic stories read aloud by a stable boy.
- The Snow Fox by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Beautiful and treacherous, powerful yet caged by the limits placed on a woman’s freedom in medieval Japan, Lady Utsu is isolated and forced to murder her true love. Poetry and the magic of the fox conspire to bring light into a life darkened by the influences of powerful men.
- Jojofu by Michael Waite
Jojofu, whose name means “heroine,” is a faithful hunting dog of unusual behavior who earns the trust of her young master when she saves him from grave harm three times. This traditional folktale thought to have been transcribed from an ancient scroll is retold here for a grade school audience, with illustrations that provide a window into the rugged Japanese countryside.
- Rashomon directed by Akira Kurosawa
In this classic film from the 1950s, a man traveling with his wife through the woods of 12th century Japan has an encounter with the notorious bandit Tajomaru and ends up dead. To get at the truth of the incident, the magistrates ask each witness to the crime for his or her account of what happened: the man’s wife, the bandit, the woodcutter who found the body, and the murdered man who speaks through a medium.
- Kagemusha / Shadow Warrior directed by Akira Kurosawa
When a powerful leader is killed during the civil war of 1572, his advisors hire a hapless look-alike thief to pose as the dead warlord in an attempt to hide their disadvantage from the enemy. Events are complicated by the appearance of the real warlord’s ghost.