I am, like a lot of people
acording to my reading, attracted to the Japanese culture. This
attraction, however, is based mostly on what we get on popular media.
Japanese culture is anime/karaoke/Final Fantasy/ninjas...
We think it's cool
and it is. It is also a disservice to a culture that is based on so
much more than shape shifting magic girls and tentacle rape. How
does one get a real outlook of Japan (from a foreigner's
perspective) if you can't afford the money/time it would take
to actually make a visit there (wich would probably be too short,
Lost Japan by Alex
Kerr is a wonderful introduction to a very different Japan that the
one we see on TV.
Alex Kerr is a man of
american origin, whose parents were stationed in Japan in the early sixties.
He went on to study on America and England
specializing in japanese studies but lived most of his life in
several parts of Japan.
Originally written in
japanese, this book went on to receive a lot of praise and was the
winner of the Japan's 1994 Shincho Gakugei Literature Prize and was
then translated into english.
Alek Kerr is obviously in
love with Japan, specially the traditional aspects of it. He has a
deep inclination to the arts: kabuki theater, caligraphy, etc.
This book is part of the
Lonely Planet Journeys collection. It is not to be confused with a
traveloge or tourist guide. Rather, it is an account of Kerr's
relationship with the country. First he takes us to the Valley of
Illa, were he buys a traditional country house and spends a lot of
time re-thatching the roof, making a lot of friends among the local
He also recounts his
adventure in the world of business, or rather, the differences in
business cultures (japanese vs western) during what he calls “The
Among the subjects he
addresses, he makes a lot of emphasis on the lost of the traditional
look of Japan. Green areas substituted by concrete, electricity
pylons ruining the landscape. The shortsightedness (according to
him) of japanese city planners and the tendency to westernization of
But he also shows of the
marvels of different parts of the country. The loud and overactive
people of Osaka, for example, the secret (to outsiders) world of
Kyoto, the temples of Nara, the quest for Budha statues, etc.
There are many sources of
information on the internet about life in Japan. Most of it are tips
from expatriates on how to cope with typical day to day chores and
adaptation to a very different country: (how to get an apartment,
utilities, a job, bath etiquette, etc) but this book doesn't bother
with them and doesn't have to. After all, it is a very personal view
of a deeply loved country and culture.
For a lighter view of
Japan, I recommend Dave Barry Does Japan,
a good book on its own right, were everything and everyone is mocked
(Dave Barry himself included), but never in a pejorative manner.
info: Lost Japan by
Alex Kerr. Lonely Planet Publications. 1996. isbn: 0-86442-370-5