Book Review – Dave Barry Does Japan

Book Review

Dave Barry Does Japan

By Dave Barry

Dave Barry, for those of you who are not in the know, is a Pulitzer Prize winning author. While his more well-regarded books include I’ll Mature When I’m Dead and Homes And Other Black Holes, the most representative is Boogers Are My Beat. I was first exposed to Mr. Barry in the early 90’s when I came to Japan for the first time. Back then, he was a columnist at the Miami Herald when a columnist could make money. This was before blogging, which has basically replaced column…ing. This was also before bloggers could make money, which they don’t anymore, so you can kind of see how long ago we are talking about here. Dynasties have risen and fallen, leaving casualties in its wake.

The Japanese economy is one of those casualties. But he didn’t know that at the time. It was in 1992 that the book was published, which means that he probably visited the country in 1990 or ’91. Which puts him in Japan just when I was arriving (late ’91 if memory serves). The economic miracle was technically over. It’s just that nobody knew it yet. The economy was in mid-burst, like watching a soap bubble in ultra slow-motion, when you can still see the shadow of the shape of it.

Somehow, the guy was able to capture everything (well, nearly everything) I felt about the country, but was unable to express in a fart joke. He covered all the bases, like slippers in the toilet, farting, cleaning women in the men’s bath, plastic food, conformity, quality, language use, tentacled food, language misuse, conformity, sports, conformity, safety, conformity, cicadas, domestic tourism, conformity, and farting.

I was amazed at how accurate it was for a guy who had only spent 3 weeks here. Let me give you an example.

“Footwear etiquette was a major problem for us. In some parts of the Suginoi complex you could wear shoes; in some parts you had to wear slippers; and in some parts– I think this had something to do with the baths– you had to wear a different kind of slippers. I never got it right. I’d be mincing along, yukata flapping, and I’d cross some invisible slipper frontier, causing hotel employees to rush up to me, point to my slippers, and lead me over to an area where I’d have to pick out some new slippers, which of course were always smaller than the ones I had on. It was the old Shrinking Slippers Trick. I bet they were secretly videotaping me for a popular TV comedy show call Foot Fun with Foreigners, seeing if they could eventually get me to go around wearing condoms on my big toes.”

I only wish I could have expressed half as well.

One thing surprised me, however. The only part of the book that was not funny was the section on Hiroshima. He visited the site of the atomic bomb attack during the anniversary. He was clearly unsympathetic to the attitude he could see, which was one of victim-hood (if that’s a word). In other words, he felt that there should have been more of a mea culpa in the way that the world war was remembered. It does seem that the comparison to post war Germany is not favorable. That is to say, the Germans seem to have taken a very direct approach, in order to ensure such a thing doesn’t happen again. Then again, it is the #&$@ing a-bomb. So for the people that were there (not the government or the soldiers at war) would feel a little put out by the whole thing. It is clearly a complicated issue. But it was interesting to note that it was the one distinctly un-funny section of the book. And even there, though, he does have some empathy. He predicts that, “in another fifty years, the anniversary will have lost all its meaning, the way that for many people in the United States, Memorial Day means nothing more than picnics and softball.”

All in all, it was surprising how spot-on the 210 pages were, even 25 years later, even from my perspective, that of a guy who has spent 18 of the last 25 years living here.

 

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