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What color is blurriness? And what is the difference between the gray above the clouds and the gray of a blunted blade? How dark is blind black? The indigo of a mountain, the brown of the wind in winter, the white of a moon-lit sky: in Japan, everything has its own color because everything can be said with a color. Laura Imai Messina recounts Japan in a unique and thrilling way: through its colors. In a kaleidoscope of stories, legends, and traditions, and with splendid illustrations by Barbara Baldi, Il Giappone a colori has the delicate yet explosive power of journeys that can change our gaze. “The rain falls, on the rocky shore of Jogashima | falls a Rikyucolor rain”, wrote the poet Hakushu Kitahara: but Sen no Rikyu was an ancient tea master who lived many centuries before; how can a person be used to indicate a precise shade of gray? And why, at a certain point, did some colors become “forbidden colors”, the exclusive prerogative of the imperial court, and how did the people react to that “theft”? Or again: how many shades of an emotion can be communicated through the simple choice of the color of a love note’s paper? Among the many secrets that Japan still conserves to Western eyes, one is its extraordinary relationship with colors. The color of a wet crow’s feathers, the color of a black crane’s feather, an arid field, the sky illuminated by the moon, a blunt blade: the traditional names of colors in Japan are in themselves a taste of poetry. But when we discover the stories, traditions, or legends that hide behind these names, the wonder multiplies. Each one (starting with the basics: gray, white, and black) carries within a story that is part of the country’s history, of its literature and art. A treasure that stretches to the present time. And when this universe of infinite variety is recounted by the pen of an author like Laura Imai Messina, the colors of Japan can illuminate the dark corners of the heart with unpredictable resonance. Combining her expertise as a scholar (and her first-hand knowledge of Japanese culture) with her narrative talent, Laura Imai Messina has written a unique and precious book, an invitation to travel and to imagine, an epic novel whose protagonists are colors.


Laura Imai Messina was twenty-three when she moved to Tokyo, where she received her PhD in literature. At present, she teaches Italian at some of the city’s most prestigious universities. She has written novels, academic papers, and children’s stories. With Einaudi, she has published Tokyo tutto l’anno. Viaggio sentimentale nella grande metropoli (2020), and Le vite nascoste dei colori (2021).

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