I read some books about Japan!
And as I'm always encouraging my students to write shitty book reports, I should lead by example. So here are my (brief) impressions of some books about Japan (aka shitty book reports).
Bay McNeil is a famous blogger on the expat-in-Japan blog scene. He writes over at http://www.locoinyokohama.com/, but that site is a bit wordy for me. Massive short attention span when in front of a screen. Need shiny photos. But a paper book is a different story!
"Born to Love — Taught to Loathe In this powerful and controversial debut book, acclaimed blogger turned author, Baye McNeil (a.k.a. Loco), vividly illustrates with unflinching introspection and candor the birth and evolution of a racist and in doing so makes the persuasive argument that the only way to cure this social virus is by first engaging one’s own susceptibility."
I thought this would be his accounts of crazy shit going down in Japan, written from a black American's point of view. I ended up being totally wrong. Instead, it is an account of crazy shit going down in general, written from a black American's point of view. New York in the 80s. The Five Percent Nation. 9/11. Japan.
The book was a surprise. If you don't like black people (seriously, I know a few dudes out here in Japan who are hella racist) you probably won't like this book. But as far as memoirs go, it was a good read. I think he mentioned Rakim and The Wu-Tang at one point, so it has that going for it. The chapters are relatively unconnected, though there is an overarching theme of growth and self-discovery.
Speaking of black dudes who wrote about Japan.
"THE YEAR OF NO MONEY IN TOKYO is an intimate, first-person, true story about triumphing over adversity, in the form of being poor and American, in Japan, during the country`s worst recession, since the Second World War."
I was at a friend's apartment, and this was the shortest book he had on the shelf. Judging said book by the cover, I thought I would be getting into a comical account of thrifty living in the capital city. Totally wrong. This is the story about some dude who loses his job, then lives off his four sugar mamas, all of whom he doesn't seem to like very much. Sure, that concept could be comical, but it was just sad and annoying to read. The writer comes off as being a dick.
Skip this one, unless you stay at my friend's pad and can read 162 pages in a couple days.
The title, "People Who Eat Darkness," is epic.
"Lucie Blackman—tall, blond, twenty-one years old—stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo in the summer of 2000, and disappeared forever. The following winter, her dismembered remains were found buried in a seaside cave."
You can get the gist of the Lucie Blackman case by skimming the wikipedia article, or watching the 40 minute documentary on YouTube. It is your standard prostitute disappearance story, a common occurrence in the Japanese underworld. But this case was unique. A blond haired, blue eyed British girl and a zainichi mega-millionaire dude. A media-hungry father and an inept police force.
While "People Who Eat Darkness" is a little long (chapters and chapters full of minor details about people's childhoods), the way this whole thing went down is nuts. The book is written in a way that manages to save some suspense for an event that has already happened (spoiler, she was rape-killed and buried in a cave); no small feat.
Read this book.
"Jake Adelstein is the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club, where for twelve years he covered the dark side of Japan: extortion, murder, human trafficking, fiscal corruption, and of course, the yakuza."
Whether you are interested in Japan or interested in underworld in general, Jake Adelstein's "Tokyo Vice" is solid. I read it a while ago when I was on a Yakuza book spree.
I'll write a bigger review over at my ramen site (http://www.ramenadventures.com/) for this rad book, but here is a quick rundown.
"Ramen, Japan s noodle soup, is a microcosm of Japan and its historical relations with China. The long evolution of ramen helps us enter the history of cuisine in Japan, charting how food and politics combined as a force within Sino-Japan relations."
If you want what I thought this book would be about, ramen shops and modern ramen culture and what not, skip to chapter 10. Otherwise, get ready for a history lesson. "Slurp!" tells the story about how Japan became a country where a dish like ramen could thrive. Historically, Japan was a rice-miso-fish eating society. Most people know this already, but this book goes into the why. I find Japanese history in general to be a bit dry, but "Slurp!" fed me the details one delicious noodle at a time.
I'm ashamed of that metaphor. Weak!
Anyways, I can actually say that I am smarter after reading this book. Barak Kuchner is obviously a scholar, and he balances the academic level just right. He inadvertently makes a connection between Japan's colonization of much of Asia, and their eventual loss, with food culture. Awesome.
"A collection of outrageous and hilarious true anecdotes about the antics of English Teachers in Japan."
For what I thought the Loco book would be about, "Senseitional" delivers! This one is tiny, and the chapters are all random stories about the crazy antics that eikaiwa teachers get into. A lot of drinking and fucking in this one. The formula is simple as a pimple. Anyone with a pulse can come out to Japan after college and spend a year making money and partying. This leads to everyone breaking out of any kind of shell they were in before, and stories worthy of "Senseitional". Super short, super dumb.
And there is always Charisma Man!