If Only I Had Known


174 pages
ISBN 0-7780-1101-1
DDC C813'.54






Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University and an avid outdoor recreationist. She is also the
author of The Mountain Is Moving: Japanese Women’s Lives, Kurlek, and
Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Hom


As an outsider and also the wife of the Canadian ambassador, Mary Taylor
had a unique vantage point in Japan. Her book describes aspects of
everyday life as experienced by a foreign woman who found the culture
endlessly fascinating. Since a large majority of Western writers on
Japan are male, her perspective is of special interest.

Nineteen short chapters cover some of the obvious topics such as
festivals, arts and crafts, Tokyo, and the ancient capital of Kyoto.
More individual pieces include “The Joys of Daily Life” and
Taylor’s introduction, “A Different World.” Daily “joys”
peculiar to Japan include pachinko (a gambling game) and “the
pleasures of the bath,” especially at hot springs. Taylor notes that
Japan’s uniqueness stems in part from the fact that it had never been
invaded before 1945 and had undergone a long period of self-imposed
isolation from the 17th to the mid–19th century.

Observations stem from a sympathetic curiosity and are recorded with a
light touch. Taylor notes that women dress and behave so as to emphasize
“gentle femininity.” This may be changing, as teenage girls are no
longer “demure,” and the dependent attitude of older men is no
longer popular with young women. A short epilogue emphasizes, once
again, the gentleness of the Japanese and their highly developed sense
of beauty. If Only I Had Known is itself a gentle book, well written and


Taylor, Mary., “If Only I Had Known,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/94.