Friday, February 26, 2010

Living and Working in Japan

Book review: Live and Work in Japan
By: Erica Simms

Last post I talked about ‘Cruising in the Anime City,’ a book that doubles as a treasure map for any dedicated anime fan planning a trip to Tokyo. If that book was all fun, then today’s book is all work. ‘Live & Work in Japan’ is structured like a normal guidebook, but unlike travel writing that is meant for tourists and short-term visitors, ‘Live & Work’ is for people who are actually planning on buckling down and making a go of it in Japan. Before reading this book, I was a little unsure of how I would be able to navigate a new life in a country so different from my own. After reading ‘L&W in Japan,’ I feel that I at least know what challenges lie in wait for me and how to overcome them.

There are a few different things that help make this book fun to read as well as informative. First off, there’s a ton of first hand accounts from expats who have lived in Japan. Hearing about their struggles and achievements gives you a good idea of what to expect, and also a bit of hope (if they were able to do it, so can I). It also puts a human touch on things, something a lot of guide books end up lacking.
The lay-out makes it easy to find whatever information you’re looking for, and the book covers everything from how to have a social life in Japan to business etiquette to how to rent an apartment (which can be a trying and difficult experience in itself, but once you throw in foreign concepts like ‘key money’, a guidebook like this one comes in handy). It’s pretty much a step-by-step guide to living in Japan.
If there’s one complaint with the book it’s that while it’s full of practical information, it could use a little insight about what to do in more informal situations. For example, I’m a vegetarian, so in the section about food I was hoping to get some advice about how to politely decline meat and fish dishes. No such luck, though there is a lot of other interesting pieces of information.

The book is packed with addresses, telephone numbers, and useful websites. A blurb on the cover calls it “Essential,” and I have to agree. If you’re actually planning on moving to Japan, or if you just want a look at Japan that’s more in-depth than the usual guidebook, you should check it out.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Review: Ciao Ciao Bambino

New manga review of mine up at Kuri-ousity. Check it out here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book review: Cruising the Anime City
By: Patrick Macias and Tomohiro Machiyama

While looking at my library’s collection of books on Japan, I found this gem. I didn’t know how much I needed this book until I saw it sitting there, nestled amongst tomes on more serious topics like cherry blossoms and photography of Mount Fuji . The title explains it pretty clearly: this is the nerd’s guide to the anime capital, detailing everything from the Gundam museum to where to get Morning Masume goods. If those names don’t ring a bell, then this book might not be for you. While the authors do a pretty good job of giving background info (for example, the back story of how Morning Masume came to be and how they exploded onto the music scene) but for the most part they expect you to know what they’re talking about. This book is for people who have already gotten their nerd degree, not folks still in Geek 101.

The breadth of topics is pretty amazing. While most of it is anime related, there’s also fascinating chapters on the different movie houses in Tokyo and the weird fast food choices available. It also gives some insight on aspects of anime fandom, such as the definition of terms such as “Moe” and “Otaku,” or giving brief history lessons on things like dating sims. While the books is a fantastic find if you’re planning a trip to Japan, it’s also a great read even if you’re not.

Another point in the book’s favour is that it’s funny. When visiting a cosplay cafe (the waitresses are all dressed up as anime characters) the author takes in the anti-social, male otaku who patronize the place and describes it as “an otaku version of Taxi Driver.” Yet while the authors might poke fun at some aspects of the city and fandom, it’s done with an obvious amount of affection and self-deprecation. There are a few interviews in the books with people who have taken their fandom to the extreme, such as the ‘King of Model Kits’, Chimatsuri, and rather than talking down or ridiculing the subjects the authors approach them as fellow fans. Of course, they’re still objective enough that when things get weird, they notice (the Chimatsuri interview is a great example of this. Even if you’re not interested in models, it’s still a fun and surreal read). In the introduction both authors pony up their nerd cred (Tomohiro Machiyama is even partly responsible for coining the term ‘otaku’) and it’s clear this is a book written by fans for fans.

Not to say it’s a perfect book. For one, it seems pretty squarely aimed at male anime fans. There are stories about maid cafes and ‘little sister’ cafes, but nothing about butler cafes. And if “Moe” (a phenomenon aimed at men) can get a whole section, why not yaoi or slash? While the book is filled to the brim with great info, it’s missing some of the more girly aspects of anime fandom.

Also, with something as jam-packed as this book, and index would have been a godsend. Still, it’s not so bad just flipping through the book: you don’t always find what you’re looking for, but you do end up somewhere pretty neat. Metaphor for Tokyo? I’ll know once I get there.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Going to Japan

There is a chance that I may be going to Japan come August. For anime fans, going to Japan is like making a pilgrimage to Mecca: you have to do it at least once in your lifetime. But I won't be going just to find weird Pocky flavours and soak in hot springs (though I do plan to do that as well). If all goes according to plan, I will be teaching English and staying there for quite awhile. With that in mind, I thought it might be time to revive this blog. For one, I'm too lazy to create a whole new one, and two, I'm actually pretty proud of my writing posted here and might bring back the 'Manga for People Who Don't Like Manga' series. But my main aim in writing here again is to chronicle my preparation for going to Japan: the books I'm reading to get ready, the research that I'm doing, the hassle of figuring out what to do with all my books and DVDS, etc. I also hope that eventually this blog will grow to include my experiences when I get to Japan.

Of course, there's always a chance that I don't get into my chosen program and don't go to Japan. In which case this blog becomes the biggest internet joke since 'piano cat.' I'm hoping that doesn't happen.