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Shots in the Dark: Japan, Zen, and the West (Buddhism and Modernity) Hardcover – May 1, 2009

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Product Details

  • Series: Buddhism and Modernity
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (May 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226947645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226947648
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,621,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A very enjoyable meditation on the curious thing called 'Zen' —not the Japanese religious tradition but rather the Western cliché of Zen that is embraced in advertising, self-help books, and much more. . . . Yamada, who is both a scholar of Buddhism and a student of archery, offers refreshing insight into Western stereotypes of Japan and Japanese culture, and how these are received in Japan."—Alexander Gardner, Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly

(Alexander Gardner Buddhadharma)

"A powerful critique of the process through which Zen was imported into Western cultures. . . . This is a worthy addition to the literature."

About the Author

Shoji Yamada is associate professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto. Earl Hartman is a professional translator and technical writer based in California.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By AlchemistGeorge VINE VOICE on November 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor Yamada's well written and easy to read book deals with two "icons" of Japanese culture - the rock garden at Ryoanji and Japanese Archery (Kyudo) as described in Eugen Herrigel's "Zen in the Art of Archery". It discusses their relationship with Zen Buddhism, and ultimately discusses how we perceive Japan, and how Japan perceives itself.

As a martial artist and Japanophile I found this book fascinating and could barely put it down. Like so many I was enchanted by "Zen in the Art of Archery " which I read at university (circa 1977). During the 80s I lived in Japan for three years during which I studied Japanese martial arts (Jodo and Jojutsu), a practice I continued for another 8 years. I've visited Ryoanji six or seven times.

For me, Herrigel's book seemed a definitive account of zen development thru martial arts training. But is it? Herrigel's teacher, Awa-sensei, was not a teacher, practitioner, nor adherent of zen buddhism, nor was he part of mainstream kyudo / kyujutsu tradition, and the "great doctrine" of which he speaks is not zen, its daishadokyo, a religion invented by Awa. Herrigel only spoke limited Japanese, and his translator admitted he often could not understand and translate what Awa-sensei was saying to Herrigel.

How then did this book become so influential that it has changed even the Japanese perception of Kyudo and become part and parcel of Japanese discussions of "Japaneseness"? I found this to be fascinating.

Just as Herrigel's book has become an archetype, so has the rock garden at Ryoanji. The author shows that its status as an icon of Japanese culture and in fact its identity with Zen are both very recent - dating from the 1950s - this of a garden that might have been constructed in the 1500s.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Allison on November 17, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although not about what zen is, the book is very good at talking about what zen is not. Yamada is very honest and I agree with this work but I can see how it could rub some people the wrong way. I think for anybody that is interested in Zen should read this book because it provokes thought and that is something lacking in today's society among young people. My professor required us to read this and I will be keeping it because of the light that is brought to my life even though I am not zen or buddhist. Overall great book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Adam on November 9, 2013
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"...I eventually came to the inevitable conclusion: Herrigel had simply gotten it wrong..." - This quote actually comes from the translator Earl Hartman, but it could act as a primer for 2/3 (~) of this wonderfully researched book.

While only recently a practitioner in kyudo, I've been involved in martial arts for a bit. As an avid reader, I see MA books as being part of 3 categories: 1) The woefully inept: the dreamers, the charlatans, the McDojo's w/ publishing backing, the very basic of basic martial arts books. Unfortunately, this is the vast majority of publications. (2) The pragmatic - specialized technical details on special fields...great on technical detail, lacking much else. (3) The historical - pure history, little culture, little in the way of opinionated arguments.

For me though, there is a 4th kind - the one's that are largely historical, but asks and expounds upon the bigger questions - 'Yes this happened...but how, and what does it mean, how is it to be remembered, what are the perspectives' - these books are the most enjoyable, and unfortunately the hardest to find. This book, enjoyably, belongs in that category.

The author has certainly done his research, and the book is well presented in an academic manner. It is roughly divided into 3 parts but all asking a central question: how and why has Zen become so inundated as the preeminent cultural trait of Japan. The first part is about Herrigel and kyudo, the 2nd about the rock garden at Ryoanji, and the 3rd a general wrap of up how these views were presented and re-accepted n modern context both abroad and back to Japan.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By auditexecutive on July 19, 2013
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I recently took a Coursera course called Know Thyself earnestly lauding Zen in the Art of Archery and quoting some of its cliches extensively without any thought that this might be a mistake. You can see the same hit the arrow with another arrow in the dark plunked down in the middle of Shogun, too. Remember Robin Hood? Shots in the Dark seems to be fair.criticism of using zen as wrapping paper for your fortune cookie. The martial arts, yoga, all kinds of practices with other origins get into this. If you want zen, sit.
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