SBP Blog

Donald Richie's "The Inland Sea" gets a new/old look

Peter Goodman - Monday, September 28, 2015

This month we are releasing a new edition of Donald Richie’s novelistic travel journal The Inland Sea.

The book was first published over 40 years ago, and while the villages and lifestyles that Richie describes in its pages have changed greatly since then, the landscape, the hills and waves and especially the stunning cloudscapes are as they were. And while Japanese people may now be more fashionably dressed and newly equipped with every techno device imaginable, the fundamentals of their -- or anyone’s ---culture don’t change so fast. Certainly the odd foreigner wandering about on his or her own is still something to remark on in the remoter parts of the country. Much of Richie’s views of Japan had to do with his unshakable belief that he would forever be an Outsider in the country he had adopted but that had not exactly adopted him. It was this separation of himself from the places where he enjoyed his most intimate encounters that gives his writing such a sense of close observation from a distance.

Donald Richie

So why a new edition? What was wrong with our old one? The Inland Sea was first published in 1971 as a hardcover with photographs by the Weatherhill company, presided over by Meredith Weatherby, a brilliant book designer. It was re-released in the 1990s by Kodansha International as what can charitably be called a cheap paperback. We at Stone Bridge obtained the right to publish it directly from Donald in the early 2000s. Cost calculations led me to contrive a two-column format in small type that would be readable yet save on manufacturing costs. We also were fortunate enough to obtain access to screen grabs of a recent documentary film that had been based on the text. The cover was given a wonderful new graphic design by D. S. Noble.

The quality was high, but we made a great sacrifice in elegance and received some harsh criticism from online reviewers. I had made a mistake and always felt bad that we hadn’t done Richie’s signature work justice. So after Donald’s passing in 2013 I determined we would do better.

And we have. We’ve returned to a larger and more traditional format. And we were able to track down the wife of photographer Yoichi Midorikawa and obtain permission to use all of his photographs from the original 1971 edition. She said she was not sure where the original photos were, but thanks to modern scanning technology we were able to reproduce the photos perfectly well from a couple of used library volumes we purchased online.

The Inland Sea is one of those books about Japan that should never go out of print. I’m glad we’ve brought it back in a quality edition. The typeface has been updated, but we were careful to pay homage to some of Meredith Weatherby’s original text geometry and specifications. In this way, we’re honoring not just the writer, but the book, which has played such a key role in the legacy of Donald Richie and provided several new generations of expat observers with a model to follow in their own writings.

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