Wrong about Japan, by Peter Carey
Short and somewhat frustrating book (but a good data point) about the gulfs between cultures
(Review posted 24 Jan 2005 00:04:09)

So this writer guy's son gets into Japanese manga and anime and like that, and the guy gets interested also, so they visit Japan and interview some anime and manga people, and a guy who makes swords, and another guy with really horrifying memories of the Allied bombings of civilian areas in World War II. The writer guy has these various ideas that he considers insightful about the relationships between common anime/manga themes and aspects of Japanese history and similar stuff; when he mentions these to his hosts they smile politely and tell him that he's completely wrong. He goes away feeling (and leaving the reader feeling) that he's had an interesting time, but has learned mostly that you can't capture a real live culture in a few imported insights, however clever they seemed at the time.

If it had been a longer book, this would have been frustrating and might have left me feeling I'd wasted my time. But it's only 158 very small pages, and the writing is clear and quick. There's not a whole lot of positive information or insight here, into Japan or manga culture or anything like that (although there are a few tantalizing snapshots that I'll have to follow up elsewhere). But as a data-point about how a foreigner trying to wrap his mind around an entire culture quickly and all at once is unlikely to really get the point, it's worth the small investment of time that it takes to read it.

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