[Cross-posted from New Books in East Asian Studies] Merry (Corky) White’s new book Coffee Life in Japan (University of California Press, 2012) opens with a memory of stripping naked and being painted blue in an underground coffeehouse, and closes with a guide to some of the author’s favorite cafes in Japan. This framing alone is worth the price of admission. In addition to being an extraordinarily spirited, witty, and enjoyable book, however, Coffee Life in Japan is also a thoughtfully argued and exhaustively researched account of the history and ethnography of coffee and cafes in modern Japan. This wide-ranging and trans-disciplinary work explores the spaces of the modern café, be they social, solitary, or occasionally silent and sprinkled with stuffed animals. White introduces readers to chaptersful of fascinating characters, including passionate coffee experts who train like dancers to learn to create the perfect cup. This is a surprising book, a pleasure to read, and a treasure for anyone interested in the history of drink, of global commodities, and of Japan.
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