According to a 2008 report by the Bank of Korea, there are 5,586 companies in the world that are 200-years-old or older. 3,146 of them are in Japan. The complex duality of maintaining tradition while staying at the forefront of innovation astounds travelers. In the same day, you can play 4D arcade games and take part in thousand-year-old practices like tea ceremony. The economic boom of the 1970s laid the foundations of the Japan we know today.
During this decade, business and political engagement with Western countries grew alongside the population’s desire to preserve traditional cultural practices. Fredric C. May’s Essence of 1970’s Japan examines contemporary society through the lens of the past and provides a blueprint to Japanese culture for travelers. In his book, May weaves together vintage photos, haikus, and vital information.
Essence of 1970’s Japan (EOJ) covers topics such as religion, recommended locations, architecture, and the arts. Each chapter begins with a brief yet thorough explanation behind the motivations of Japanese thinking. Through these blurbs, travelers can gain an understanding of social mores and let go of any preconceived notions.
At the end of every chapter, May includes an indexed dictionary of important Japanese terms. Although these aren’t words you'd hear in a typical conversation, the definitions effectively convey difficult or untranslatable concepts. Readers will quickly become accustomed to the likes of wabi-sabi, omotenashi, and noasobi. In this sense, Essence of 1970’s Japan acts as both a travelogue and a learning tool.
I’ve seen many first-time travelers run into awkward situations when they found their expectations didn’t match up with reality. EOJ prepares visitors with accurate and helpful facts that will make them excited to experience and learn about the culture. Westerners often misunderstand Japanese people—and in turn, so do the Japanese about Westerners—but May strives to teach the core of Japan’s social constructs.
Although it may not be so apparent under the neon lights of Tokyo, Buddhism and Shintoism have shaped much of the development of modern Japan. EOJ brings this point to the reader’s attention in a way most travel guides don’t. Instead of providing a brief history of religion in Japan and leaving the subject at that, May shows concrete examples of how beliefs affect everything from community dynamics to agricultural.
The success of Essence of 1970’s Japan is due to May’s 378 photographs and graphic renderings. His images, originally captured on 35 mm film, work with the text to create a complete portraiture of the era. Through May’s eyes, we see historic temples, scenic landscapes, and popular tourist destinations. Under the haiku captions, May often includes descriptions about how these places have changed over the years.
While the locational pictures are great, the more intimate snap-shots bring the most joy. Here, we see a daughter noticeably annoyed by her mother at Meiji Shrine; There, two boys watch TV as they lay on a tatami floor; In another, sumo wrestlers sit on a station bench waiting for a train. These depictions create a satisfying impression of life in Japan.
Travelers and students of all things Japan can benefit from May’s insights. In addition to customs and etiquette, you'll learn the essential perspectives that create and define the country’s identity. By studying such things, you can deepen your appreciation for how similar or different Japanese beliefs and values are from yours. Not to mention, you’ll get a few ideas on where you want to go on your next vacation.
Readers can use EOJ as a guide to prepare for their trip, or as a reference during their travels. The printed book measures 5x7 inches and can easily fit in a backpack or handbag. The high-quality paper effortlessly fans out, and May marks each page with the corresponding topic, so you quickly find the fact or term you're searching. It retails for $29.95 and has a convenient QR Code for EOJ’s website.
The eBook version sells for $15.00 and features links to concepts and term definitions. However, Wi-Fi isn’t always readily available in Japan, so you may want to plan or purchasing a SIM card or a pocket Wi-Fi router.
Essence of 1970’s Japan is a more than fitting title. May distills some of the most pertinent historical events, landmarks, and thought patterns into an easy-to-follow guide. If you find a topic that piques your interest, EOJ’s website offers a library of additional resources with further details on specific subjects.