Floating it away

Thomas Crump

  • Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan by William LaFleur
    Princeton, 252 pp, £24.95, January 1993, ISBN 0 691 07405 4

The casual visitor to Japan does not have to wander very far from the beaten tourist track to discover two distinctive but contrasting phenomena of the country’s material culture. The first consists of a row of small stone statues, apparently of dwarfs, each with a red bib tied round its neck; such rows are to be found somewhere in the precinct of almost any Buddhist temple. The second is decidedly part of the modern rather than the traditional aspect of Japanese culture. In its most usual form it is a characterless concrete building, which could be a small block of flats, but whose clinical appearance makes it clear that it is a hospital. The Japanese themselves are left in no doubt: a large notice board invariably gives the names of the doctors who own and operate it.

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