Alex Kerr on Finding Hidden Japan

Alex Kerr

I’ve often thought of Japan as one of the world’s most misunderstood countries, not because it is uniquely inscrutable but because it’s so beset by stereotypes. 

The casual visitor rarely sees beyond their image of geisha, Buddhist temples, hyper-modern electronics and anime. This exotic projection seems especially prevalent here in Germany and in France.

The truth is more complicated and far more interesting.

Why does a culture with a reverence for nature concrete over every shoreline and hillside?

How did today’s repression of the individual emerge from centuries of courtly elegance?

Can the traveler look beyond modern blights to find remaining pockets of beauty?

Japan is a country I know fairly well. I lived on Tokyo’s western edge in my late twenties, and I go back every couple years to visit my in-laws.

I wanted to bring you a conversation that looks beyond the stereotypes of this fascinating place, and so I reached out to today’s guest because his books explained so many things that I found strange about the country, and he opened my eyes to so much more.

Alex Kerr is the author of Lost Japan, Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan, and Hidden Japan. He originally wrote each of these books in Japanese, and was the first foreigner to be awarded the Shincho Gakugei Literature Prize for the best work of non-fiction. 

In addition to being a widely published writer and public speaker in Japan, he’s also an art collector, consultant, and restorer of traditional houses.

You can read more about Alex on his website, and follow him on Instagram and YouTube.

We spoke about embodied philosophy, “instantaneous culture”, and how to look beyond the modern and connect to Japan’s deeper essence.

These are the books we mentioned in the podcast:

We also mentioned:

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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