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It's pretty empty as it's just begun but, this section will (hopefully) be full of insightful reviews of Asian/gaijin related novels. That means books that are about Asia, Asians abroad, foreigners in Asia, travel guides, romances between gaijin/Asian - that kind of thing, catch my drift? If you feel like you'd like to write a review of a book you enjoyed recently, feel free to contribute, including a title picture of the movie (rip it off the net if you can find it) your name and review, and send it to: Don't worry too much about finding pictures of the book, as these are few and far between on the net.




Culture Shock:JAPAN - Reviewed by James


Dave Barry Does Japan - Reviewed by Oscar


Hokkaido Highway Blues - by Zac


Japanese The Easy Way - Reviewed by Kris


Kinki Japanese - Review by Nayuta


Making Out in Japanese - Review by Kris

Memoirs of a Geisha - Review by James

My Year of Meats - Review by Oscar


Norweigan Wood - Review by Kris


Red Barbarian - Reviewed by Kris


The Samurai - Reviewed by Kris


The Land of the Rising Yen - Reviewed by Oscar
Tokyo Bay - Reviewed by Kris
Tokyo Pink Guide - Reviewed by Kris


Underground In Japan - Reviewed by James


Wild Swans - Reviewed by Kris

Culture Shock: Japan **** - Reviewed by James
(By Rex Shelley 1992 - ISBN: 1558680713)

I picked up a copy of this book from the airport shop on the morning that I left for Japan yet by the time my plane had landed in Osaka I had already read it twice over. No I'm not making a dig at the extremely long flight delays, what I'm trying to say is that this is a bloody good read that will have you itching to read over everything presented. It's not a guidebook in the sense that it tells you about public art galleries and special festivals, Culture Shock: Japan is more of a guide to Japanese society and etiquette from the eyes of a foreigner.

It tells you what reaction to expect if you crack a joke about the vicar's wife and the dog next door or how to get out of commitments you made after downing way too much sake. It has sections on what to expect when passing through customs and some much needed advice on reading Japanese body language for both men and women. Now from the comfort of the bar you dudes can finally figure out if that chick is trying to make a pass at you or just telling you that she's had enough of you leering at her all night. Basically just quirky little titbits of information that you don't usually read about in any books yet prove to be useful in most situations. My favourite section has to be the one about what subjects you should never bring into a conversation, whether they're true or not is one thing but they sure make for some amusing light reading.

Thankfully the book stays away from the usually tiresome language guide, if you want to learn the lingo then buy a real language book but if you want to learn about Japan then get this (before flying over there and getting first hand experience that is!). The only down point to Culture Shock: Japan is that some of the information is outdated and the amount can only grow as time goes by, the book is already 8 years old now and the rules of society are always changing, not matter what country your in. Probably more suited for the first timer but even you pros should pick up a copy to brush up on your trivia, Culture Shock: Japan is a damn good read.

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Dave Barry Does Japan *** - Review by Oscar
(By Dave Barry; Fawcett Books; ISBN: 0449908100)

This is a shallow book to be charitable.
Still I have met Americans who have recommended this book to *me* !
Now, why on earth would you recommend a book that is purportedly an entry-level guide to Japan to a Japanese? Well, I am glad to have read this book before any idiot told me about it because then I would have avoided it like an Ebola virus. This book is really not a guide to Japan, but it is a book about hapless Americans in Japan. You do not read this book for its descriptions of this country, but for Dave Barry's comic account of his ugly-American antics. The truth is, a lot of guidebooks have unintentionally become reflections on American un-worldliness. Some of those books that high-handedly serve you the "tips of the seasoned traveler" give you nothing but ramblings of a confused journalist struggling to meet a deadline with a story on the best manju shop in the Shibamata district while passing up the delights of Roppongi and Shibuya in his desperation to finish his manuscript. They really tell you more about the writer and the culture of his origin than the subject of the book. Barry must have known this when he started writing. He never makes any pretensions that a three-week stay in a country he barely knows will give him insights worthy of the price of a book. He concentrates instead on describing how clueless he is. It makes good reading when you are in the mood for a good laugh. Some of the observations are so shallow and stupid that you would be outraged if you were not in the mood for the format. But every gaijin is equally shallow from time to time and I sometimes wish that gaijins would read this book before coming to Japan so they can avoid sounding so idiotic. Dave Barry is actually trying to sound stupid on purpose, and it is a testament to his talent that he sounds like every irritating American I have ever met. There is one pompous asshole I really want to recommend this book to and tell him that his pseudo-high-brow analysis of Japan has already been published in the Miami Herald. Read it to save yourself the embarrassment.

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Dave Barry Does Japan *** - Review by Oscar
(By Dave Barry; Fawcett Books; ISBN: 0449908100)

This is a shallow book to be charitable.
Still I have met Americans who have recommended this book to *me* !
Now, why on earth would you recommend a book that is purportedly an entry-level guide to Japan to a Japanese? Well, I am glad to have read this book before any idiot told me about it because then I would have avoided it like an Ebola virus. This book is really not a guide to Japan, but it is a book about hapless Americans in Japan. You do not read this book for its descriptions of this country, but for Dave Barry's comic account of his ugly-American antics. The truth is, a lot of guidebooks have unintentionally become reflections on American un-worldliness. Some of those books that high-handedly serve you the "tips of the seasoned traveler" give you nothing but ramblings of a confused journalist struggling to meet a deadline with a story on the best manju shop in the Shibamata district while passing up the delights of Roppongi and Shibuya in his desperation to finish his manuscript. They really tell you more about the writer and the culture of his origin than t

Japanese The Easy Way ***** - Review by Kris
(By Karen Sandness; Barrons Educational Series; ISBN: 0812096274)

I'm not even going to pretend I can start advising people on how to speak Japanese well, (which I can't do anyway) but there is just one book this is just one book that I have to recommend, and that gave me huge push when first beginning my journey into the complicated and often frustrating labyrinth that is the Japanese language.
If JTEW was titled under any other name, it would be Japanese for Idiots, and would be an excellent addition to the 'Idiots' collection, as the clear explanations of grammar, excellent examples, and smooth learning curve in the book show. Before 'stealing' this book from a guy I knew (who was one of those weird gaijin in the UK who eat beans on toast with chopsticks and have shoji instead of doors) I had always struggled to get through other 'Teach Yourself Japanese' books. Whilst they always made Japanese seem like a dull computer language, JTWE I read from the first page to the last. The book progresses from polite Japanese at first, and then to more informal and friendly towards the end, on the way covering complicated for beginners te forms and intransitive and transitive verbs with easy to understand explanations and examples. It really has that 'teacher-in-the-room-with-you' feel, and I never felt left in the dark or confused about certain grammatical points. Moreover, the exercises were well-designed and also informative, yet not overwhelming as in the likes of the Japanese for Busy People series (which is basically a good book too, shame about the sleep inducing conversation practices). The book even introduces a few useful kanji that you often will come across in day-to-day Japanese life. It's too bad really that JTEW didn't spawn a group of sequels for the more advanced in Japanese, as the author has obviously a good teaching method, and I'm sure she could make a few quid by doing so. Put it this way, before I started this book, I knew bugger all Japanese, but by the time I'd finished I actually felt like I had a very solid foundation for when I was arrived in Japan. And yes, this book will help you get girls!! (not as much as Making Out In Japanese will mind you). Pretty soon when you're abroad you realise that no books are gonna beat learning a language by going to bars and just 'chatting' to whoever's close to you, but truly, JTEW helps.

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Kinki Japanese *** - Review by Nayuta
(By D. C. Palter and Kaoru Horiguchi; Charles E Tuttle Co; ISBN: 0804820171; )

(Note: The "Kinki" area of Japan refers to Kansai -- Shiga, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Wakayama, Hyogo, and parts of Mie and maybe southwestern Fukui -- and has nothing to do with the homonymous English word. Sorry.)//Albeit humurous to the Japan newcomer, this also explains the reasoning behind a famous boy-band in Japan calling themselves 'Kinki Kids'. -- Evil

I picked this book up in a Tokyo bookstore shortly after moving from Shiga-ken, and it brought back delightful memories of how everybody talks over there. This is a fun book and educational at the same time. The authors explain sixty essential words used in Kansai, broken into 15-word groups, and interspersed between the language-learning chapters are segments about Kansai culture -- food, the Hanshin Tigers ("Rokko Oroshi" fight song included!), and the differences between various cities in Kansai. Though the book focuses on Osaka, you also get to brush up on the dialects of Kyoto, Kobe, and other places. Sample conversations (if only there were more) include original Japanese, romaji, and English, so you can enjoy it no matter what your Japanese level is.

Another good book is Peter Tse's "Kansai Japanese", which is similar to this one but is all romanized.

Speak Kansai-ben and free yourself from the Tokyo conspiracy!

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Making Out in Japanese I/II **** - Review by Kris
(By Todd and Erika Geers; Charles E Tuttle Co; ISBN: 4900737097 )

Okay, so there I was in Sapporo, dancing away in a club, when I spotted some fine looking women in the corner. I happily trudge over to them with a big grin on my face, before I start thinking "How in hell do I say 'Do you come here often?' in street Japanese without sounding like some dork gaijin?"..sure I could say it in keigo or polite Japanese, but it would instantly give away the fact that I was more or less a complete beginner. (Not that that's not always a good thing).. Then I came across the Making Out series of books, and my prayers were answered. How's about "Hey babe, ask me anything you want!! Except the colour of my underwear!!", or "I pulled a beauty the other night!!"..yeeeeaaahh, just like back home, this was my regular study book before I'd hit Bar Isn't It?, the main drag for getting girls in Susikino, Sapporo. Pretty soon I was regailed with 'whooah, nihongo suge joozu da ne!! (good Japanese, guy!!)' and other such comments. To tell the truth, this book has helped me in the many stages of relationships I've had with Japanese women, from passionate love-talk to heavy arguments, I never felt like a dick when I knew the stuff in Making Out. Okay, it won't help you become genuinely fluent in Japanese (Christ, that takes years!!), and you might have to be a little aware of the full implications of most of the words. But if I was a tourist maybe going on a half-year teaching holiday, I know I'd be glad if someone had recommended this to me before I went. I've laughed at other books that claim to be full of 'genuine contemporary slang', and turned out to be the kind of chat Japanese used in the 80's when Duran Duran was still in hip. MOIJ is dangerous, don't you just love that?!.

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Memoirs Of A Geisha ***** - Reviewed by James
(By Arthur S. Golden 1999 - ISBN: 0679781587)

//Someone had to review it -- Kris :-)
Geisha eh? What are they all about then? I could have easily gone with the opinion of 99% of the western population and ignorantly assume that geisha are nothing more than expensive Japanese prostitutes. However being an awkward bastard who always likes to be different, I decided to read this book instead in the hope of being able to understand a little more about those legendary symbols of Japan for myself and the end result was like a cocktail mix of different feelings.

In brief, this epic story is about the life and times of Sayuri, who started her life as nothing more than a simple peasant girl from a fishing village and ended in becoming one of the top geisha of all Japan. We follow her life in extraordinary detail, witnessing the time she is sold to a geisha "family" at 9 years of age, the triumphant auction of her mizuage (virginity) for a record price as a teenager and how she becomes the distinguished mistress of the powerful patron of her dreams. In between these key moments of the story we are taken on a number of adventures, both good and bad, which offer a deep insight into the real thoughts and feelings of the geisha lifestyle and which have never been documented so well anywhere else.

The writing style is so accomplished that you can easily see yourself sitting in the teahouses and walking the streets of old Gion. Everything is described to the point where you don't have to imagine anything of it for yourself because it's already become a detailed image in your mind for some time. Even the characters are detailed enough for you to fear the outcomes when you take a sneak peek at future pages to see who is still around. When they finally get around to making this into a film I hope they cast Vivian Wu as the evil geisha Hatsumomo because the second I read the description she came into mind. Drop dead gorgeous and a total bitch, yeah that's Wu.

If you haven't already realised then Memoirs Of A Geisha is written by an American man who has an extraordinary knowledge of this often hidden lifestyle. My only gripe with the book is that it turns out to be a work of fiction when all along it's written as an account of her life by the ageing Sayuri. I kind of felt a little cheated when this wasn't the true story that I hoped it was. Anyway, this may not be for all of you young dudes but for those who want a little more depth to their reading then I can fully recommend Memoirs Of A Geisha, you won't be disappointed.

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My Year of Meats *** - Review by Oscar
(By by Ruth L. Ozeki;Viking Pr; ISBN: 0140280464)

Warning to Kawama: You may be put off by the political argument against the meat industry contained in this novel. To be fair, the book does not stupidly turn into some propaganda sheet for vegetarianism, but the politics do get in the way of the story at times.//Read the forum to understand what Oscars talking about :-) -- Kris

That caveat aside, this is an unusually good book and one that I thought for a while was an impossible feat; a truly entertaining bicultural novel.

It is a story of a Japanese-American starving artist who is hired to produce a series of television programs for Japanese television sponsored by an American beef exporter. The point of the show is to indoctrinate Japanese housewives about the wholesomeness of American beef. The artist - like most bicultural, racial minority, starving-on-purpose intellectuals - is not the sort to dish out unquestioned indoctrination without a fight. She uses what little creative freedom she has - under the auspices of the Japanese ad agency that she answers to - to make a true documentary about American life and, eventually, the meat industry.

It is also a story about a Japanese housewife, the wife of a salaryman who works at the ad agency in charge of the show, who must deal with her asshole husband and her own infertility while trying to stomach the disgusting recipes her husband is pushing on the viewers. (A meatloaf boiled in Campbell's onion soup and Coke? Puh-leeez!)

The story itself is very funny and romantic and weird at the same time. The asshole salaryman is rolling-on-the-floor funny and also infuriatingly noxious. The love affair between the video artist and her musician boyfriend will make you chuckle. The salaryman's wife and the video artist's mother make an interesting contrast as to what Japanese wives can be like. There are also snippets from "The Pillow Book" by Seishonagon interspersed between the chapters which is timeless.

This book, sans PC, is the kind of thing I would like to shoot for in the future. A book that will make you laugh about both American and Japanese cultures and make you see each in a new light.

Unfortunately, too many Japanese characters are two-dimensional and which makes it a poor guide to Japanese culture. All the same, it is amazing that a bicultural book like this was pulled off at all. It makes you think of how far we have come since the days of "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword".

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Norweigan Wood ** - Review by Kris
(By Haruki Murakami, Jay Rubin (Translator); ISBN: 0375704027)

I once had a pimp, or should I say, he once had me..ackackack<---popeye laugh.
I think the song of the same title reflects this books mood well. The book is about a guy called Toru Watanabe, who falls for a girl who used to be in love with his best friend, who tragically committed suicide when he was 17. The book is full of reflections of the past, and how it affects the ongoing relationship between Toru and Naoko (the girl), and Toru's unrealised dream of unrequited love between himself and Naoko. Unfortunately, Naoko is a fruit loop who can't commit to him because of it, and he has to visit her in the mental hospital, where he also meets a guitar-playing lady called Reiko, who acts as something of an inbetween him and Naoko, and advises them on plans for the future. As they say though, life is what happens whilst making plans, and due to the intervention of another whacky but not as far gone girl called Midori who Toru ends up with instead, he decides to sever his relationship with Naoko. Naoko snuffs it towards the end of the book anyway, without ever finding out. After hearing of this Toru goings on a month long trip around Japan, living on the streets and getting drunk everynight (why'd he stop??), before heading back to Tokyo and committing himself to Midori.
The book starts off slow, too slow, you often wonder if it's worth reading to the end, but it does heat up eventually. I wonder if the book starts off so shit because it was originally in Japanese and loses it's full effect through the translation, or just because it wasn't that good a book anyhow. Anyway, despite that, the book sold around 4 million copies to the Japanese public after its release, and has been translated into something like 8 languages. It was so popular when it came out that it was 'the book that everybody's read'..Again, I wonder if this is just becuase Japanese will often copy what their friends do. I.E. She's got a Kitty-chan bag, so I'll get a Kitty-chan bag. Teacher says Norweigan Wood will expand my mind so I had better read it. That kind of thing. This book really isn't anything exceptional although some parts caused me to think. It has some nice twists and turns, especially at the end when Toru inadvertantly shags Reiko, who's like, 19 years older than him. But alas, the book didn't do it for me. Although Toru was deep and got up to some interesting stuff, he turned out to be kind of a dull guy in the end. The book should've been written about his more adventurous friend Naka-- shit, I forgot his name. Possibly this book was just full of subtleties and other hidden meanings that I couldn't appreciate because I don't have the Japanese mind-frame, and well, for me it just didn't seem to have much more life in it as a bowl of toe-nail clippings. I'm sure others will disagree though.

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Red Barbarian ***** - Review by Kris
(By Margaret Gaan; Ulverscroft Large Print Books; ISBN: 0708919588)

Quite often people expect the 'best of a genre' to be the most widely recognised. This is not always true, as Red Barbarian is one of the best of the 'Orient epic historicals' out there. People who've read Shogun will love this, and may even prefer it. Based around the mid-1800's when the Anglo/Chinese opium trade was in it's peak, the story revolves around Charles, an Englishman with flaming red-hair and also one of the chief pioneers of opium trading in the waters of Hong Kong bay in the last century. Known as the Red Barbarian, Chinese believe that his hair colour is extremely good luck - or joss as it's called over there in Hong Kong (now you know why they're called joss sticks eh?). Yep, funny as it may seem, whilst being a ginger=knob these days won't get you much respect, the Chinese used to love it.
Sent away as a child by a hating father, Charlie is motivated to become a more rich and powerful man, and driven to return to England and throw the silver he's accumulated into his fathers face.
Anyway, the book follows Charlies life in sections, from being a young boy, to a powerful merchant, who's sick to the death of the pain caused by the evil opium trade. He originally falls in love with a Chinese prostitute much older than him, but in her wisdom (and infertility) she decides to find him a young wife, who turns out to be the daughter of Charlies step-father, an elderly China-man called Wei. Charlies to-be-wife Ling-Ling adored him even as a young girl because of his hair colour, and even though Charlie is still hurt by the Chinese tart leaving him, he gets an eyeful of Ling and falls for the beautiful women she matured into. The book follows the route of books like Tai-pan, with Charlie's anarchists being a man named Carradine and his son Andrew, who are opposing merchant opium traders.
When Charlie becomes rich enough, he decides he wants to take his family to England for a couple of years to show them off to his father, but his step-father Wei steals them away from him and hides them in a city where only Chinese are allowed to live, due to the fact that the step-father believes the family won't come back, and Chinese are pretty stiff about the whole family separation business apparently. The rest of the book folows Charlies attempts to find them all, whilst he's also involved in a bunch of the books other sub-plots which I'll leave you to discover by reading it yourself. In the background is the war by the British against the Chinese who want opium to be made illegal and are giving the Brits a tough time about it.
Thats enough about the plot, and besides I'm sure someone else could write a better synopsis. I was wary about reading this before I picked it up, as it's a chunky book, and I didn't notice a healthy amount of critical acclaim on the back - the last thing I wanted to do was waste 10 hours reading another piece of Eric Von Lustbader-ish shit, or another James Clavell rip-off claiming to 'push the author to the forefront of historical fiction novel writing'. This one must've slipped through the critics net, as even after the first ten pages I definately got the 'this is gonna be a good book feeling'.
I like the style of the writing, it's filled with interesting and true facts, without overbearing the reader with dates and figures, like as in Wild Swans. Probably a lot of you knew that the expression pidgin English comes from the Hong Kong style English that derived from the Portuguese Inglish hybrid that was used for trading, but I didn't. Or that the British navy was the most superior in the water in the 1800's (well, I kind of knew that, but not by what margin it was superior). Yep, try saying some fancy shite like that at your next Ferrero Rocher party...
Like as in Tai-pan, the words in the book have the ability to grab you at given moments, and you'll really feel the angst that Charlie is going through, or hate his enemies as much as he does..at some points I was thinking that RB is better than Tai-pan, especially after the tragic and superbly written ending. The book is a part of a trilogy, I just hope the other two can match this ones st