36 views of Mount Fuji : on finding myself in Japan

by Cathy N. Davidson

Paperback, 1993




New York, N.Y. : Dutton, c1993.


In 1980 Cathy N. Davidson traveled to Japan to teach English at a leading all-women's university. It was the first of many journeys and the beginning of a deep and abiding fascination. In this extraordinary book, Davidson depicts a series of intimate moments and small epiphanies that together make up a panoramic view of Japan. With wit, candor, and a lover's keen eye, she tells captivating stories--from that of a Buddhist funeral laden with ritual to an exhilarating evening spent touring the "Floating World," the sensual demimonde in which salaryman meets geisha and the normal rules are suspended. On a remote island inhabited by one of the last matriarchal societies in the world, a disconcertingly down-to-earth priestess leads her to the heart of a sacred grove. And she spends a few unforgettable weeks in a quasi-Victorian residence called the Practice House, where, until recently, Japanese women were taught American customs so that they would make proper wives for husbands who might be stationed abroad. In an afterword new to this edition, Davidson tells of a poignant trip back to Japan in 2005 to visit friends who had remade their lives after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, which had devastated the city of Kobe, as well as the small town where Davidson had lived and the university where she taught. 36 Views of Mount Fuji not only transforms our image of Japan, it offers a stirring look at the very nature of culture and identity. Often funny, sometimes liltingly sad, it is as intimate and irresistible as a long-awaited letter from a good friend.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member tracyfox
Cathy Davidson's interwoven stories of her four extended trips gave me a glimpse of a far different Japan than most travelers see. Instead of recounting visits chronologically, the book explores aspects of Japanese social behavior and the Japanese psyche. The author blends her experiences teaching English in a Japanese women's university in a suburb of Osaka, her penchant for off-the-beaten path travel, and her commitment to making and maintaining Japanese friendships into a series of essays. Some of the essays focus on educational matters--the role mothers play in preparing children for school, the infamous juku cram schools, and the seeming contradiction between students who toil for years to gain admittance to prestigious universities only to rarely attend class. Others deal with her struggles to understand the context of Japanese behavior--whether visiting the entertainment district with the a male colleague, vacationing on the isle of Oki and befriending a local bar owner who shares her enthusiasm for glass fishing floats, or struggling to find the right words to thank an assortment of friends and university associates in a time of grief.

At times the author's attempts to honestly depict her reactions to the Japanese world around her seemed to flicker and then just fade away, leaving me with unanswered questions. But her admiration of the Japanese culture and people, evident in the loving care with which she built a Japanese style house and welcomed Japanese friends there, always shone through. In the end I came to appreciate that the Western world's struggles to fully understand Japanese culture are a more fitting descriptions of its complexity than any neatly wrapped explanation.
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LibraryThing member MichaelRWolf
Wonderful read. A poignient story of one woman and two cultures. The subtitle "finding myself" is accurate, but she also found the heart of America and Japan. Beautifully written.
LibraryThing member kencf0618
An astute and exhilarating saga of living in an alien culture. How and why the Japanese can "misread" certain aspects of American culture is a real eye-opener! Highly affectating and highly recommended.
LibraryThing member debnance
An American’s close look at Japan. The author sees many of the troubling aspects of Japan that receive so much press, but she also takes on wife-husband relationship difficulties, students’ inability to shake off conformity, and Japanese social pressures.
LibraryThing member vpfluke
This is a well written book of a professor of English who has visited Japan a number of times, initially as part of an exchange program. It describes here awkward adaptation but eventually real love of Japanese ways of life. As she peels back layers of understanding, she finds a greater and more appreciative reality. For instance, she had thought that wives were totally under the thumb of their husbands, until she found out from a woman in her apartment complex that this was not really true. This wife had determined that her family could move, and without any participation by the husband, she found their new home new and negotiated all the finances. She hoped her husband would like, because he would see it for the first time after their furniture would have been moved in. Cathy Davidson realized that very few wives in the U.S. would do a substantive life change without ones spouse's participation.

The book is written in chapters that outline a number of her unfoldings while living in Japan. Her assumptions of life there are challenged, but she also challenges her students at Kansai's Women's University to see life differently, particularly as they learn the English language. This is a book well worth reading, but each chapter should be savored separately, as might look at the prints of Katsushika Hokusai's, for which the book is titled.
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LibraryThing member burmaball
This book struck deeply, and given the recent terrible events in Japan, has been haunting me.

I didn't expect to like it that much. I thought, oh, another memoir of an expat teaching English. It was so much more, an incredibly nuanced portrayal of Japanese people and customs.

Davidson has a wonderful writing voice, subtle but persuasive. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to know something more about Japan, and also of what occurs when a person attempts insinuating herself in a foreign culture.… (more)
LibraryThing member kcoleman428
What a great memoir of Japan...I sooo want to got and experience it myself!



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