Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for December, 2008

36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan

Posted by nliakos on December 27, 2008

by Cathy N. Davidson.  Dutton 1993 (out of print)

This is the third time I have read this wonderful book about bridging two cultures.  In the early 1980s, Cathy Davidson and her husband Ted, American academics, went to Japan to live and teach.  Over the next decade or so, they straddled two worlds.  The book describes not only the Japanese world that they fell in love with, but also the culture shock that they experienced as they traveled between the two cultures.  This is what distinguishes 36 Views from other memoirs about living and working in a foreign culture.

The book is sometimes funny, as when Davidson describes the dinner where a Japanese couple try to get her and her husband to teach them exactly how to eat soup in America.  It is sometimes heart-breakingly sad, as when she recounts the delicacy with which her Japanese friends and colleagues helped her and her husband after the sudden death of his brother and sister-in-law in an accident.  It is always fascinating, as in her description of her visit to a sacred grove on Kudakajima, an island near Okinawa with a communal matriarchal society.  And it is unfailingly honest.  Davidson skillfully portrays her states of mind as she straddles the two cultures, never completely at home in either.  This feeling of incompleteness, of longing for the other, is something with which all who have enjoyed living in a foreign culture can identify.  It is the bittersweet price that we pay for stepping outside of the familiar and learning to appreciate new ways of doing things, of looking at the world.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  It is not particularly easy to read, but English learners who have lived in other cultures will appreciate the descriptions of learning to get along in a strange place, of struggling with the language, and of learning to adapt and disadapt as they travel back and forth between the home culture and the new culture.

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