July 24th, 2009

goku - reading


The book I started this afternoon while waiting for myrialux to pick me up from the workshop is Memories of Silk and Straw: A Self-Portrait of Small-Town Japan, by Dr Junichi Saga. Back in the 1970s and early 90s, Saga started talking to the elderly residents of Tsuchiya, a small town 40 miles from Tokyo, about their memories of life in the town at the turn of the century, before it became modernized. It's a collection of these stories, which build up to form a sort of ethnography of the town. It's also nice to see a book like this compiled by someone who's a native of the place in question - having read many, many ethnographies while getting my Anthro degree, it's always hard for a non-native visitor who may even be learning the language at the time to get a full picture.

I'm only a couple of chapters in, but it's fascinating. It tells of aspects of small village life that I'd never considered. Recommended if you're interested in old Japan, or if you're interested in writing fantasy and want details of rural and small-town life.

Two things I've learned in these first few pages that made me go "whoa":

--one man said that as a young boy, lighting was very expensive. He'd study into the night by catching fireflies and putting them in to a paper bag - they'd give off just enough light that he could practice writing by them.

--the villagers practiced infanticide of newborns, as people have done throughout history, to control the population when there wasn't enough food to feed the kids. The man said that if the village had a constable who was alert and who'd notice a pregnant woman was no longer pregnant and there was no baby and would start asking prying questions, they'd leave the baby alone but if there was a new constable, or a lax one, they'd go ahead and commit infanticide. He said the sizes of classes in the local school varied according to who was the constable at the time they were born.

Can't wait to continue reading this book.

Crossposted to my Dreamwidth account at http://telophase.dreamwidth.org/1565548.html. You can comment here or there.