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, anyway)?

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 village dwellers.

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 Bubble Years”.

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 japanese youth.

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.

Book info: Lost Japan by Alex Kerr. Lonely Planet Publications. 1996. isbn: 0-86442-370-5

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