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San'ya Blues
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Anyone who believes that Japanese society is a homogenous, well-oiled machine‘a stereotype often sounded in American media‘would do well to read this gritty, firsthand account of life for day-laborers in Tokyo's shunned ghetto district, San'ya. Fowler, who teaches Japanese literature and film at UC-Irvine, visited San'ya repeatedly between 1989 and 1991 and lived and worked there for six weeks in the summer of 1991. His descriptive powers and cultural understanding offer a vivid context for the oral accounts of San'ya inhabitants describing their personal histories and daily lives. For the roughly 7500 day-laborers living in San'ya (many of ethnically mixed origins, like Chinese or Filipino), the district is as much a "state of mind" as a slum. Without banks or educational facilities above the grammar-school level, but replete with bars and pachinko parlors, San'ya is a deadend‘or as one resident put it, "the bitter end"‘that offers little hope for improving one's lot. And, as Fowler learned during his carefully described six-week stint as a day-laborer, dutifully rising at 4:30 a.m. does not guarantee a job. Though local labor unions sponsor four annual festivals that consist of several days of drinking, singing and dancing, even the New Year's festival is called the "Year Forgetting Party" rather than a celebration of the one to come. Overall, this is a vivid, if depressing, account of an urban Japanese underclass that bears a surprising resemblance to America's own inner-city population. (Oct.)

"Anyone who believes that Japanese society is a homogeneous, well-oiled machine-a stereotype often sounded in American media-would do well to read this gritty, firsthand account of life for day-laborers in Tokyo's shunned ghetto district, San'ya... Fowler's descriptive powers and cultural understanding offer a vivid context for the oral accounts of San'ya inhabitants describing their personal histories and daily lives... A vivid, if depressing, account of an urban Japanese underclass that bears a surprising resemblance to America's own inner-city population."-Publishers Weekly "Accepted by the day-laborers, Fowler was able to gain a confidence that ... allows him to present life-stories in ways both informative and surprising... Fowler's unabashedly personal approach guarantees not only that the book's subject come refreshingly alive, but that its author does as well."-Times Literary Supplement "This book offers a vivid personal tour of the San'ya district and its denizens, culled from many repeated visits by Fowler which culminated in a six-week stint as a day laborer... He came to realize that ... 'San'ya's inhabitants collectively give the lie to so much of what is being said and written about Japan.'"-Japan Quarterly "A fascinating book... Fowler has brought San'ya to life by describing the men he met not as titillating images of despair, but as individual human beings, each with a personal story to tell."-Ian Buruma, New York Review of Books "A fascinating glossary... Haunting photographs... All readers must agree that San'ya Blues does indeed give a sense of the 'price paid by a great many' for Japan's economic success, as the author intends, and does so with a respect for historic and social differences... What this highly personalized fieldwork offers us is crucial glimpses into the relationships incorporating the labor of unwanted men into the nationalized political economy of post high economic growth Japan."-Miriam Silverberg, Journal of Asian Studies "A remarkable insight into ... Japan... Fowler's highly descriptive account is vividly personal and a fascinating read."-Meir Ronnen, The Jerusalem Post Magazine

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