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Tune In Tokyo:The Gaijin Diaries Kindle Edition
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Don't expect great insights or to learn anything new about Japan.
I didn't mind that Tim was self-absorbed,ignorant and clueless at the beginning of the book. One travels to discover and learn. Or some of us do. But the typical chapter in this book will have Tim observing some typically Tokyo scene and then go off into some kind of fantasy riff as if the stuff happening in Tim's head was more real than what he was seeing. Worse, the fantasy seemed to shut off his natural curiosity about what he saw so he remained ignorant and was never driven to find out why.
At only one point did he come close to grasping an essential difference between Japan and America and that was in the chapter on karaoke. He notes that Americans hog the microphone playing the big star that they see in their heads. Then he talks about going out drunk with a group of Japanese who when one person sang would act like the back up singers/musical group. And he got into it--he liked being part of the group with everybody participating...but it didn't lead him to a better understanding of the importance of the group to the Japanese persona. At the end of the chapter he declares his intention of continuing to hog the microphone in the American Way. It's sort of funny, as by chapter 15, we're familiar with Tim's ego but since this the closest he's come to recognizing something outside of himself, it's also disappointing.
There are better books to find something out about Japan; some are more entertaining then this one. But Anderson has a gift for writing and for depicting arresting images whether they are fantastic montages or Tokyo street scenes. He can be irritating, obnoxious and clueless but he's not vicious. He's openly gay. That's more important to him than to me, but I feel compelled to mention it. I laughed several times reading this book and almost gave up reading it several times. I heartily recommend this book to fans of Tim Anderson.
Unfortunately, it kind of let me down. The writing, for me, was hard to follow. There were times when Mr. Anderson would launch into detailed fantasies mid-story. A lot of the times, it was hard to distinguish what he was actually seeing and doing and what he was just fantasizing about. Another thing that made the book hard to read was the use of really really long, detailed sentences that used several examples and descriptions and references all crammed into an incredibly long run-on-esque sentence that when I was in junior high and high school my teachers would always berate me about and threaten me with certain death unless I beat it into my poor hormonal, adolescent brain that it was wrong and I avoided them at all costs. <<< Kind of like that.
The result of this made want to fast forward to the end of several paragraphs to bypass all of the (at times) unnecessary description and fluff.
As for the content, I laughed a few times and I think the author was spot on in his description of certain things. Other times, I found myself raising an eyebrow at what I was reading. I felt a lot of times that I was just reading a big gay stereotype. Some of the references in the book maybe outdate me (sorry!), but it just felt like he was turning himself into a gay caricature to make a point.
Usually when moving to a new country and living there for an extended period of time, you change as a person. I didn't really get that from this book. If there was any self-realization or maturing, it didn't come through very strongly. I feel like Mr. Anderson didn't really write about and describe the culture as much as he could have. For someone reading this book with no real idea of Japan or its culture (especially Tokyo's), it might be kind of hard to grasp some of what he's talking about.
Overall, I thought the book was funny at parts, but lacked substance. The other characters in the story seemed very one dimensional and just seemed to be kind of...there.It also ended pretty abruptly and I felt the ending tried to be deep and introspective, but it wasn't well-executed. Sorry, Mr. Anderson. Maybe next time :(
I'm a fan of Japanese culture (three ex-girlfriends who were Jaoanese, JPOP and the cuisine, mostly) and over the years I've become educated in some of the "inside" details of the culture, like "kawaii" ("cute," but in a sugary, adolescent, "Hello Kitty" kind of way). I've also read Christopher Seymour's Yakuza Diary: Doing Time in the Japanese Underworld...which I highly recommend...because it's a book that balances the sunnier, goofy, sweetly eccentric aspects of the culture emphasized in Anderson's book with the more harsh, stark, day-to-day realities of life in Japan.
There are three kinds of "gaijins" who go to Japan in an attempt to immerse themselves in the culture:
1). The outsider. They arrive an outsider, remain an outsider, and leave an outsider
2). Those who "fit in," with varying degrees of success, primarily via making themselves "useful" (such as teaching English)
3). What Anderson describes as a "Japanger"..."the overwhelming feeling of frustration and displeasure, usually of Western people living in Japan, resulting from doing daily battle with the sometimes maddening idiosyncrasies and inscrutable behaviors of the Japanese people."
Where does Anderson, as a "gaijin" from the American South, fit into this picture? At different times during his adventure, he experiences a little of all three categories.
At one point he describes the union he's formed with a couple of Japanese musicians: "One night we go to the used bookstore/clothing boutique in Kichijyoji, west of Koenji, where Yu, the bassist from the very first music session who is a sort of punk rock performance artist who also dabbles in apocalyptic woodblock prints and illustrations, is holding court."
The average "gajin," in many instances, sees thing in a linear, black-and-white way. Japanese culture colors outside of the lines. The more you try to pigeon-hole or categorize any element of it, the more stymied you'll become. The lack of sense makes sense to the average citizen born and raised in Japan...that's just life.
During one outburst that was borne of frustration, Anderson writes "Something is wrong with me. I am not the same champion teacher I was before, one who can handle the weird neuroses of his class with grace and humor. Someone has swiped my mojo and I need it back."
That's the "hook" of this particular book...if you're a "gaijin" stepping onto Japan's home turf, you'll never have your "mojo" unless you allow life...as David Byrne might put it...to "stop making sense." Another excellent book that I recommend is Japan's Cultural Code Words: 233 Key Terms That Explain the Attitudes and Behavior of the Japanese...these are the idioms, the words and phrases that are taken for granted and woven so closely into the fabric of Japanese society that an ignorance of their existence would prevent an outsider from ever truly "knowing" the Japanese people.
Anderson's book has a bold (and romantic) premise, the guy who needs to shake up his life and jump into the deep end of the pool, just to shake things up. His mix of amusement and annoyance in his new "deep waters" comes across as honest, and the journey is a bittersweet one in many regards.
I would have to say that I enjoyed the book primarily because I'd read the other two books I've mentioned first, and also have a couple of decades' worth of "exploring" that I've done as well. Hitting this book cold, getting the details first-hand from Anderson, I don't know...it's a lot to absorb if you're a first-timer. I can see some readers losing patience with the book after a short time.
I'm reminded of an entry in one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's journals, in which he writes about a proposed trip to England. His intention was to "get away from it all," but realized in the final analysis that "Everywhere I go, my giant goes with me"...meaning his problems, his attitude...a change of scenery really doesn't change much unless you do a little "internal housekeeping" first.
Anderson became bored with the status quo, bored with a lack of opportunities, bored, bored, bored. On one hand, the trip to Japan was an adventure. On the other hand, he took his "giant" to Japan as part of that adventure.
Perhaps the author spent a tad too much of the time drinking, smoking weed, and popping mushrooms to offer the insights I held out for throughout my reading experience. But I was looking for something the author himself did not promise. Taken on its own terms, its an "okay" read, sure to bring some laughs.
My favorite humorous descriptions include Tim's experience at the Shinjuku Train Station. He found himself eased down the nearest staircase by the sheer force of the crowds tugging him like an undertow. They decided he would go out the south exit. That was fine with him.
Learning Japanese as a foreigner he was terrified that one day he would instead of telling someone they looked nice he'd end up saying, "I want to lick your daughters underarms."
I loved Tim's description of a Washlet or toilet found in nicer Japanese restaurants. "It has a slew of useful functions, like a butt sprinkler, a heated seat, and a dizzying selection of sound effects to muffle the user's unseemly emissions."
When teaching English as a foreigner in Japan Tim says the classroom atmosphere is one of absolute deference to the teacher. By contrast "teacher" to many American students is just a fancy word for "target."
While sitting on a sofa in the Chill Out Room at a nightclub in Tokyo Tim wonders why his friends approach the glass, see him, wave, look above him, then back at him and giggle. Then it suddenly dawns on him Oh-my god-no-it's -a-vagina! Behind his head is a huge black and white photo of the biggest vagina he has ever seen. And it looks angry. Tim looks around and realizes to his surprise the room is simply jam-packed with photos of vaginas of all sizes - every gay man's nightmare.
Ryuji, a first grader Tim was tutoring, successfully got Tim to say the word "sex" by asking him to say the letter X five times. Ryuji then laughed at him for saying a "bad" word.
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