on February 3, 2003
I laughed so hard that tears were running down my face.
What was so funny?
Dave Barry's ability to be so incredibly insightful with his own reactions to very common situations in Japan (but more specifically, Tokyo and big city life) and then compare and contrast them with "the American Way of Doing Things".
I've lived in Tokyo for more than 3 years, but I'm not new to living "overseas" so it wasn't the un-Americanness that grabbed me, although I can appreciate it; I haven't lived in America since 1985. Dave describes in detail most Westerner's first reactions to Japan, whether they know it or not themselves or admit to it. His observations were my own and had been sitting dormant in my mind until I read his book upon which I howled with acknowledgement (what is the love affair with corn all about anyways; corn chowder at McDonald's?)
I love living in Japan; the people are kind and honest (ok, politicians in every country are crooked), it's safe (6 year-old kids run around by themselves even in Tokyo!), the food is wonderful and Tokyo is ugly as sin, but never, ever boring.
Many Kanji (Chinese ideograms) are finally looking less like Dave's chicken scratch to me, I know that even taxi drivers have trouble finding some places, it's second nature to slurp my ramen and I less often have to feel like an anxious dog looking for something familiar/train station name as I ride the trains.
But...I will always feel like a large white waterbuffalo lumbering down the streets here (most of my Japanese friends wear size 0 or 00 jeans!).
My only question is, how did he get the picture so accurately in only 2 weeks!
on May 10, 2002
This is my first Dave Barry encounter, and for the most part I have to say that I found him quite amusing. There were, however, several instances when I thought that maybe he went a little too far, and then came the chapter on Hiroshima. This chapter is preceeded and followed by a leaf printed darker which obviously is intended to indicate that the book is going to get serious for a moment. I was curious to read what his thoughts were, what the reactions of a comedian--an American comedian--would be to what he experiences. He writes the following about his visit to the memorial museum in Hiroshima:
"I found myself weeping, out of sorrow and helplessness and guilt. But I also felt anger. Because the way the museum presents it, the atomic bomb was like a lightning bolt--something nobody could forsee, and nobody could prevent. It was as though one day, for no reason, the Americans came along, literally out of the blue, and did this horrible thing to these innocent people.
"I don't know if it's possible to justify what happened to Hiroshima--I certainly wouldn't try to justify it to the victims' families. But I found myself wanting to shout to the other museum visitors: Do you know WHY my country did this? Do you wonder what would make a civilized country do such a thing?"
This is the point where I really lost interest in the book. Sure, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it is quite evident that Dave Barry just does not get it when it comes to this matter. Yes, why, indeed, would a "civilized" country do such a thing? Certainly because it had no other choice, because they were forced to do so by the knowledge that were the Americans to invade Japan itself, it would actually face resistence from millions of civilians--something the Americans would themselves do. The argument that the bombs were dropped in order to "save lives" is weak, and does not take into consideration the geo-political developments in July and August, as well as the fact that there were simply people in the United States who wanted to see what an A-Bomb could really do.
Unfortunately, I have a habit of finishing books, no matter how bad, and no matter how long it takes, so finishing this one to the end was like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard the rest of the way (which was fortunately not long). Although by the end my disgust with the Hiroshima chapter wore away somewhat, but it will take a while before I get around to reading another Dave Barry work.
on May 31, 1998
About as funny as hanging with some "Ugly American" Frat boys on your first trip abroad. You know, the kind that just can't get over that the French use mayonnaise on Pommes Frites and that the beaches are topless ("Boy, these people are WILD!") .
Barry does use Japan to take a hard look at American values and attitudes and the book does succeed there. But, he totally misses the Japanese spirit, mocking Shinto Temples as places too boring for him, and Sumo as nothing more than a bunch of naked fat guys wrestling (its not: its built on centuries of tradition and involves nuances and martial arts techniques lost on Barry).
And food? He spends the whole trip in Japan -- a country with a rich culinary tradition --eating nothing but KFC and Pizza and mocking the rest. Hee Hee, Ha Ha.
There is humor in Japan, but not in this Book. I only hope its never translated into Japanese. Its an embarrassment.
on October 9, 2003
I have found myself on a recent binge of amazon.com review writing that stems from days where I don't have to teach class. So to occupy myself when I should be teaching English, I write reviews. Today, I finished Dave Barry Does Japan, and I decided to add my two cents to the other 50 reviews.
I started off enjoying this book a great deal. And I finished the book enjoying it a great deal. And I highly suggest it for anyone living in Japan or anyone who's remotely interested in travel. Its hilarious. The best moment for me was Chapter 2. I shared this chapter with the English Club I teach once a week and it was refreshing to find that the Japanese are also befuddled by the "Elevator Ladies."
3 Weeks in a place where you've suddenly stepped off of the plane and become illiterate can be extremely alienating, and Dave Barry has done the best to exemplify that alienation. I have read enough complaints from people living in Japan; Barry was refreshingly funny. Definitely a good read if you want to wallow in a spirit of I-Hate-Japan.
I was nearly in tears while reading about becoming accustomed to bowing. And his assesment of Japanese driving is right on the money.
In a country where you shouldn't stick out, I got quite the number of stares from my coworkers as I laughed out loud.
Then there's the Hiroshima chapter, which is definitely a step into a different book. I paid particular attention to it as I am taking a trip to Hiroshima this weekend. I agree with his assessment of August 5 becoming like Memorial Day, though other reviewers have made comments about his rant about "WHY" so I will leave that alone. It definitely ruined what was shaping up to be a five-star review.
In a nutshell, I really enjoyed the book and will probably find myself reading it repeatedly, though there were moments when I felt like, "Geeze broaden your horizons a little" Though if the entire book were about how much he loved Japanese culture and couldn't get enough squid, octopus and raw fish complete with eyes, then the book wouldn't be nearly as entertaining.
His final assessment is an astute one. Nobody's perfect. We have a lot to learn and centuries of improvement to affect in the US, but Japan has some wacky hangups too.
I hope you can tell from this review whether or not you'd enjoy the book. It has its gems, but if you're like me, you will find yourself getting tired of his demeanor at certain points. Overall, its worth it.
on January 18, 2003
I am a huge Dave Barry fan, but I agree with a few of the others here-- his sharp wit is definitely missing from this one. It just didn't make me laugh. I saw all his attempts on every page to make us laugh, but I just felt like it simply was not funny. He was just pointing out things that are different, and I did not see how that is supposed to be funny. I am a big fan of Japanese culture & language, but I would not go so far as to say that I was "offended", because I wasn't. In fact, I did think the part he talked about Kanji was pretty good. There was one line in which he said something like experts suggest the best way to speak Japanese is to "be born as a Japanese baby, in Japan, raised by a Japanese family." That was probably the funniest line of the whole book to me, simply because I can totally relate as a student of the language for the past three years. But that alone is not enough to save this book from being one of his worst. The rest of the book he just goes on and on about how different we are. How little he likes sumo and kabuki. It seems more close minded than funny. But, I guess that goes with background theme of the book, "Americans are the best". He didn't directly say that, but it seems that basically he is saying throughout the book that anyone who does not do things like americans are weird and therefore funny. A lot of the comparisons are true, and there are differences between our cultures that are funny, and their use of english is quite amusing (also known as engrish). But how does Barry help make any of that to be any more funny than they are alone, by sprinkling exaggerations and mockeries here and there? I expected much more from Barry, not just a "wow, this place is weird, laugh at it". I don't mind his Bold, Proud American point of view-- I actually find that funny at times because I know many people like that. But it just made him sound stupid, unfocused, and like the best he could do was make fun of that which is so different. Do not read this book if you want to read Dave Barry's REAL WIT! He is just not funny or witty in this book!
on January 25, 2002
This book kept popping up on my recommendations, and I finally gave in and bought it. I have recently been wading through a series of Japan-orientated intercultural texts, and this book was a breath of fresh air. It is equal parts funny and insightful.
The book takes an irreverent, realistic look at Japan. This is the point of view of the tourist. Some things, like plastic squid and Sumo, really are strange to us. Dave Barry is not afraid to call a spade a spade. He does not attempt to cross-examine his own cultural biases, but just is happy to say "Look at that. Weird." Also, he is a very funny writer. I have not read any Dave Barry books before this one. The chapter on Hiroshima shows that he can be respectful as well as silly. That chapter really made the book for me.
My only real complaint with the book is that it is "thin." It is a short book, with a large font. Unlike humorous travelogues by Bill Bryson, this book has very little depth and is no more than a "surface glance" at a small part (Tokyo and Kyoto) of Japan. However, Dave Barry is honest about this and says so straight out. Still, it is lots of fun.
Dave Barry is back, in a hilarious recounting of his time in Japan, for the purpose of writing a book ("You hope to write a book in three weeks?" "Well, it won't be a GOOD book!" *laughs* "I see.")
Apparently being linguistically inept, Dave has to deal with non-English speaking Japanese people, the best airlines in the world, Americans smelling bad, big feet in teeny slippers, Japanese Kabuki theater, and marrying an elderly geisha.
It's clear that Mr. Barry has respect for the Japanese, even as he lampoons them (like he does everyone else. He devotes a chapter to Hiroshima; also, he covers the ability of the Japanese to be dignified while being snockered; covers a crime wave and gangsters; checks out the Japanese foodstuffs; and feels hip for the first time in years.
Barry is his usual irreverent, hilarious self as he covers the "three hippie tourists" in the conservative world of Japan. This is not a book to be missed!
Oh, and "Loving Singing Eating Italian Tomato Restaurant". Nuff zed.
on July 22, 2000
This book was a pleasant surprise; the concept sounded forced, and not really all that funny, so it was not at the top of my priorities list of Dave Barry books to read. But it is truly one of his best, up there with "Dave Barry Talks Back", "Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need", and "Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up". Much of it is screamingly funny, although he actually does have a semi-serious chapter/column on visiting Hiroshima (how much can even Dave Barry find to laugh about at Hiroshima? Not much, and surprisingly, he doesn't try) but the interesting thing, for all that he would deny any intention of being serious, is that there are serious insights to be found in this book on the differences between America and Japan if one looks past the chuckles.
This book is a must for any Dave Barry fan, and his highly recommended if you AREN'T already familiar with his other work. Of course, if you ARE familiar with his work, and didn't care for it, his style of humor hasn't changed any.
on January 16, 2000
I believe this to be one of the funniest books Dave Barry has ever written. I have a paperback version of it, but I've read it so many times, it's starting to fall apart, and I'm thinking it might be time to replace it with a more permanent hardcover version.
Best parts of "Dave Barry Does Japan": Dave trying, and failing, to learn Japanese on the plane...Dave and his family getting completely lost in Tokyo...Dave trying to blend in at a traditional Japanese resort. I also really enjoyed the chapter about Hiroshima, even though it wasn't funny. This guy can write serious stuff too, it appears--not only that, but he can write it well.
Dave manages to make a journey into an extremely foreign culture incredibly funny without being racist or offensive in any way. And believe it or not, I actually learned a lot about Japan by reading this book. Of course, you have to take everything said in any Dave Barry book with a grain of salt, but one of my favorite things about his writing is his ability to point out the absurdities of everyday life, which I would imagine become even more apparent when one is watching them from an entirely different cultural perspective. Plus, you gotta love the booger jokes.
on February 5, 1999
Had to go to Tokyo on a group business trip (technical training...Yuck!) Naturally picked up "Frommers" (or "Fodors" - whatever)so I would know what was going on. Never EVER figured I'd have to go to Japan on business (or pleasure, for that matter.) One of the lines in the introduction to THAT tourist guide went something like this, "If you have a unique sense of humor and really want to get a feel for everyday life in Tokyo... Pick up "Dave Barry Does Japan"" FROM ANOTHER TRAVEL GUIDE, NO LESS! I read it on the plane flight over, my boss read it on the way back. We laughed our behinds off because everything - EVERYTHING - in the book that specifically happens in Tokyo city happened in some way to us. These 'warnings', if you will, allowed me to relax about the people, the language, the food, the prices.... and just enjoy the undeniable humor in a situation where two very different cultures invariably collide. THE BEST book for a Tokyo traveler who is not necessarily into reverential worship or study of the Japanese culture - Just wants to enjoy the people, the trip, the total experience!