“How To Japan: A Tokyo Correspondent’s Take”

I am preparing for our move to Japan by reading as much as I can about the country. During the flights to South America, I read, “How to Japan: A Tokyo Correspondent’s Take” by Colin Joyce (2009 NHK Publishing) He is an English journalist and worked for the Daily Telegraph and Newsweek Japan Magazine and lived in Tokyo for over 15 years. The book is explaining Japan for Westerners, but was first published in Japanese for the local market in 2006. This is the English translation of the book.

The author’s love for Japan shines through and it gives insights into the culture from someone who has lived there for a long time. As with all foreign correspondents, his personality and personal tastes color the topics and views expressed. I liked him being touched by the politeness, empathy, pride, and sense of community most Japanese express in their daily lives. He was truly changed by his experience and I hope to be influenced as well.

There are some things I learned from his observations that I will definitely be thinking about when I live there. He loved going to the public baths (sento) and I recall the spas of the Baltics that I enjoyed, so I will be checking these out. Joyce also pointed out the well-thought out design of things, ranging from way people read a newspaper to the actual book, which is small to be portable and cheaply made, which is savings for the consumer, and not to have Western publishers “adding value” (greed) to books with fancy covers and hard covers that add to the price of books. I also learned that Japanese are “foodies” and appreciate and discuss food in detail and seriousness.

The two best chapters in the book are “Gaijin Dilemmas” and “Letter to an Incoming Correspondent”. The first applies to all expats, and the eternal question of how much of the new culture does one adapt to their own life. He suggests moderation and not to “go native” or to culturally isolate oneself, but to adapt some things and question others. He gives several examples of choices one has to make when put in a situation that the culture dictates one acts contrary to the home culture. In the last chapter, he gives some great advice to his replacement. These are as follows:

• buy slip-on shoes, which will save loads of time when entering/leaving Japanese homes.
• learn 20 words before you come, he suggests adjectives like oishii, atsui, natsukachii, sugoi, kirei, omoshiroi, – the people will appreciate it.
• honne and tatemae – the gap between what people actually think and what people actually tell you
• In England, you probably try to own as much stuff as possible, in Japan, this urge must be tempered by rigorous reference to how much space you have in your apartment.
• Japanese people in a Japanese company can’t leave without doing hours of overtime, you can.
• Don’t swim after mid-August, because the jellyfish stings last for months; walking and eating is considered rude

Basil Hall Chamberlain (19th century British Japanologist) “Do not fail to write down your first impressions as soon as possible. They are evanescent, you know; they will never come to you again, once they have faded out; and yet of all the strange sensations you may receive in this country you will feel none so charming as these”

 

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