Memories of Silk and Straw: A Self-Portrait of Small-Town Japan

740082by Junichi Saga
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

My lovely CP Ella rec’d this to me for Fox Story research and it was immensely helpful! Aside from that though, I just found it to be incredibly interesting.

Informative and brutally honest, this collection of interviews details life in a poor fishing village from a variety of perspectives. It was all fascinating, and made it feel like you were there. The sections are well-organized so that you can see how the different layers and branches of the town functioned together. Each section is short as well, as the person describes a specific detail of life. This kept the narrative focused and honestly, had me wishing for even more.

Anyone fortunate enough to get anecdotes like this from grandparents or great-grandparents knows the feeling of getting a sneak peek into the past. Not what a history book tells you or what a history teacher may have tried to instill (probably with limited success, bound as they are by the “Memorize these names and dates!” teaching philosophy). These are stories from experience, and they make you feel like you were there.

This period in Japanese history was a brutally impoverished time for most people, right before industrialization created wealth for so many (though these interviews express the dubious change in societal values as well).

I’m so glad this doctor saw the value in capturing these stories and viewpoints and I would love to see more books like this one about so many regions. I enjoyed reading this a few chapters at a time–it would probably be overwhelming to read in a few days!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Memories of Silk and Straw is available on Goodreads and on Alibris’ website here. (It is currently out of print, so secondhand stores are your friend).


Similar reads:

  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller – An interesting memoir about growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the ‘70s. There are moments of humor and heartbreak as she grows to understand her mother’s alcoholism and the social issues of the time.
  • Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox – An anthropologist’s take on the quirks of modern British society that (in my limited experience) is spot on. Often hilarious, and definitely informative!
  • Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart – A really cute find I stumbled upon at the library! These stories are both funny and poignant, detailing her experiences in NYC in 1945 during a lively time in U.S. history.  Anyone who has worked in the service industry will find her snapshots interesting and relatable. Marjorie and her friend Marty were the first two women to work the shop floor at Tiffany & Co.

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