The essays that comprise Cipangu, Golden Cipangu were originally published in the Japan Times, in the monthly Japanese history column, ‘The Living Past’. They range in time from Jomon to yesterday, forming together (the author hopes) a portrait of a nation simultaneously ancient and modern.

To quote from the preface:

“So rapid is our ‘progress,’ if that’s what it is, that the past is in danger of vanishing. Is it worth preserving?The Living Past column, and this book, were born of the conviction that it is.”

The topic of this Book Break is “The Strangest World in the World.” There are two, actually. One is the world we live in – this, here, now. The other? Heian Japan. To escape the one, we visit the other.

The Heian Period (794-1185) is a span of 400 years in which – this is almost true – nothing happens. No war, little change, the masses silent, the aristocracy exclusive. Its culture was exquisite, and yet it was a closed culture – closed to the outside world, which scarcely existed, and closed to Japan’s own lower classes, who were frankly and unashamedly regarded as comically subhuman.

Closed? Stifling, we would say today; choking.

And yet this tiny, distant, hushed, artificial, all-but-motionless world-within-a-world-within-a-world gave birth to first novel in history of world literature, an innovation with which Europe, usually given the credit, would not catch up for 500 years. The Tale of Genji is not only the world’s first novel, it ranks even now, 1000 years later, as one of the best. It’s a miracle, a mystery. Would Japan be Japan without the Tale of Genji? Diminished, for sure.

Hoffman’s other books include In the Land of the Kami: A Journey Into the Hearts of Japan; Fuji, Sinai, Olympos; and the short fiction collection Other Worlds

Doors open at 6:00 pm. Dinner is served from 6:15 pm. The presentation starts from 7:15 pm. Menu: Salad/ Roasted Pork with Provençal Sauce/ Mont Blanc with Caramel Ice Cream/ Coffee or Tea with One Drink. Book Break charges are 3,000 yen/ 4,000 yen (members/ non-members) per person.

FCCJ members can sign up at the reception desk. Reservations cancelled less than 72 hours in advance will be charged in full. Non-members can reserve at the reception desk by email ( Payment is in advance till Friday, November 12th, 2021. No refund is available unless the event is cancelled by FCCJ.

Online attendance (via Zoom) is available at 550 yen per person. Please indicate the intention to attend online when signing up. Details on how to join online will be sent to individual emails after their reservations are confirmed.

Attendees with food restriction should inform the reception desk ( three days before the event. 

We kindly ask for your cooperation with Covid-19 prevention measures at the reception and to wear a mask in the premises. Thank you.

(The talk will be in English)

Library, Archives & Workroom Committee