Surprisingly, and perhaps a touch disappointingly, there is nothing in Joe’s book about the beautiful country and natural environment of Japan in this book. What it focuses on, in fact, is the people; it is a glimpse into their everyday lives and the culture within their homes, workplaces and shared settings. This is not a tourist guide for holidaymakers, so don’t be under that illusion; there are no recommended sights to see or traveller advice – it is simply what it is: a matter-of-fact journal of the eight years that the author spent living there, seated in the reality of life, rather than the unreality of a two-week holiday. Furthermore, whilst it is an interesting read, with eye-opening insights, it has to be said that the Japanese people are not portrayed in a particularly endearing light, which I’m sure was not the author’s intention.
In that respect, it should be said that this book is somewhat unique, refusing to cast a romantic sheen on this ancient people, as most such books have a tendency to do; it tells us a lot about their real culture and, particularly in this context, their approach toward foreigners. I would strongly recommend that you read this book prior to visiting the country, particularly if your trip is work-related, or away from the popular visitor areas, and certainly if with the intentions of seeking a new life there. I must be honest, I have been to some extremely friendly places in the Far East, but quite frankly Joe isn’t selling me Japan. On many occasions I found myself questioning the implications of their “culture”, particularly speculating reactions if the shoe were on the other foot. Some of the behaviour he describes of his hosts is, to put it bluntly, questionable in terms of the unwritten tolerance expected of the global community – what in their country is fondly passed off as simply “culture” or “saving face” would undoubtedly be called “racism” in others. In fact, considering some of the behaviour he describes, in the West entire civil rights movements have been started for less. Once again though, my apologies to Joe for besmirching, because I am sure this message was not his intention.
The fact is, after reading the book, I’m not entirely sure what the author’s emotional feeling is toward the people of Japan; there is something of a lack of warmth in his narrative tone, and this contributes to my evaluation in no small part. However, there is an undeniable educational value in this book, perhaps more so than in other, more biased journals I have read on the country. It is strange that it is such a short book, at under 25,000 words, and I couldn’t help thinking that after eight years in the country there must have been much more to tell, and a good deal more photographs than the two or three the author has included. His accounts feel a little like concise snippets of anecdotes, rather than a chronological memoir. Still, though, it is a well-intended journal, and definitely worth a read if you are planning a trip to Japan.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: joe-palermo travel journal japan memoir non-fiction