Book Review: “An Affair with a Village” by Joy Hendry

Back in the relatively early days of COVID-19 lockdowns, I attended a webinar by Joy Hendry on her ‘affair with a village’. It was not that the webinar was based on a book that would be coming out. The book came out earlier in 2021 and I have just finished reading it.

As I have discussed in another post, Hendry’s idea of a ‘wrapping culture’ is one that has surrounded much of my own research and been highly influential. All of her textbooks, such as Understanding Japanese Society and Other People’s Worlds have also been essential reading for my students (indeed I even called one of my modules ‘Other People’s Worlds’).

So, having attended the webinar and read all of Hendry’s works, I was particularly looking forward to reading the book. In many respects, the timing of reading the book was fortuitous. First, in many ways, the book is like an autobiography – not of Hendry’s whole life, but the parts which relate to her visits to a village, Kurotsuchi, in Kyushu – and, having just read another autobiography, the style of writing was a great continuation. Hendry always has an engaging writing style, but this book is much more chatty than an academic book and it works. Second, having just been granted funding to go to Japan in relation to updating my book Japan: The Basics, it helped me to further reflect about where and how I do my own research – something I discussed in my post ‘Brief Encounters in Research‘ after Hendry’s webinar.

Overall, this is a wonderful book that I would recommend that any anthropologist or student (by which I don’t mean just actual students, but all of us who study) of Japan reads. I think one of the hardest things of studying some aspect of a country is wondering whether you are doing it correctly or not. There is so much uncertainty. It is very reassuring to read about how someone as eminent as Hendry went through a variety of challenges herself and how her understanding and experiences changed over time.

There are times where I was wanting more – in particular the need to keep certain people anonymous makes some of the text overly wordy in comparison to if actual names had been used. Also, I would love to have seen a picture of the family tree included. Further, some more maps would have been helpful. There is only one map in the book – which is helpful in establishing where in Japan the village is (which I suspect will be useful to Japanese and non-Japanese readers alike), but I had to laugh at the lack of inclusion on this map of Japan’s fourth largest city, Nagoya (the map only includes the village, Fukuoka, Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, Sendai, and Sapporo) given my experiences of living near that city when I was in Seto, and the discussion about Nagoya in my third novel, FOUR.

The book refers to the documentary that was made about the visit to the village by Hendry in 2019, and I would recommend that you watch this video which is on YouTube.

After watching that video, you should also watch the webinar related to it and the book…

After that, you should then also get a copy of the excellent book for yourself.

Click here to get more information about the book on Amazon.

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