Drama Review – H2

Next up in the review series is the Japanese Drama “H2”.

This is going to be one of possible several reviews that are in fact half-reviews. This is one of a number of shows I started to watch and simply had no interest in continuing. I think I made it through about 45-50% of the episodes before stopping.

I initially gave it a shot for two reasons: 1) I was looking for an easier show to get into to work on my Japanese. 2) A bartender at a local establishment recommended it to me after I told her about my love of Tokyo Love Story.

H2 is a drama, like most J-dramas, based on a popular manga. It’s the story, like most J-dramas, of high school life. The story revolves around a high school baseball team, its star players, and their rival baseball team. In junior high, 3 friends comprised the nucleus of the best team in the nation.

Then they got hurt. They were told they would never play baseball again. So, they went their separate ways and ended up going to different high schools.

However, the doctor who gave the diagnosis turns out to be a quack and in fact all the kids are perfectly capable of playing baseball.

In many aspects the story is similar to the Bad News Bears mixed with Major League – an amazing player joins a team who literally can’t help but trip over their own feet (this comprises 50% of the “jokes” in the show as far as I can tell) and makes them great. The team is to be cut from the school the following season unless they can reach the high school tournament in Tokyo. The principle is a bit corrupt and through workings I couldn’t quite make out he stands to profit a bunch from this.

So the team sets out to accomplish what should be impossible.

Hilarity ensues.

.

.

.

Actually it doesn’t. Well, unless you find watching people fall off chairs hilarious. I guess some people might.

The show isn’t too bad, and it does have some rather cute girls. Fortunately, I’ve never been persuaded to watch anything… wait… almost anything simply because the presence of some cute girls. Part of the story is that the two former best friends went to separate schools. Our protagonist (A) and his new rival (B) are those friends. The seemingly older B (seriously, the actor who plays him might be 35) spends a good deal of time secretly watching A and wishing him well. Even going so far as to help him out clandestinely a few times. I enjoyed this part of the show as traditional rivalry stories are a bit old at this point.

The main girl is cute and she grows on you after a while. Still, she spends most of her time as comic relief, and by “comic” here I mean she spends most of her time falling over and dropping things on the floor.

Japanese humor is just awful.

Anyway, she does grow on you. She’s a pretty decent actress, especially when you consider what she’s given. The burgeoning love story between A and the girl has its moments of sweetness.

In the end, I just couldn’t get in to it. I find myself too far removed from high school to care about watching high school things. I’ve been going through Buffy by everyone’s favorite nerd Joss Whedon and have found it tolerable, and at times enjoyable. Whedon used a lot of the show’s plots to discuss themes on life and coming of age. It also has some wickedly sarcastic humor.

H2, and most J-dramas, are simply about high school life. It would be like reading a teenager’s blog. There’s no discussion on themes but rather just watching teenagers act like teenagers. And the humor is just bad. Personally, this doesn’t interest me very much.

Japanese Level: Something around conversational level. A lot of the sports moments has very manly colloquial speech, which is much more difficult in my opinion. Also, some of the behind the scenes moments (why does the principle want the team gone, etc.) requires more advanced Japanese. However, I think because the subject matter is baseball and not too much else, it would be easy to familiarize one’s self with some key words and word mine through some of the dialogue. You could easily get a sense of things from doing this.

The rest of the show is fairly standard. Dialogue between A and the girl is standard and easy enough to follow. This is also a great show for people to try to pick up some Japanese because a lot of it is physical based plot lines. You won’t understand what is going on between characters or who is who so much but you’ll definitely be able to follow most of the plot without understanding much of what is said.

Final Thoughts: This is a show that I simply couldn’t get in to. If someone loved baseball I could see it working. If someone really wanted to practice some Japanese and didn’t care about content they might find it worthwhile. Finally, someone in their late teens or early 20s, who still thinks high school was the high moment of their life, would probably really get a kick out of it. Heck, someone who just likes to look at cute people would also enjoy it.

It’s not a bad drama; it’s just not for me.

Verdict: J-drama watch-o rating:    I’ve seen worse.

Advertisements

Myths

There are some prominent myths surrounding Japan, most very wrong. I’m not sure why but it always irks me when I see these things spread around the internet. So, indulge me as I take a minute to call them out.

First, and I’ve touched on this before, the myth that Japanese people speak English. This seems to be a myth spread by 3 groups of people: 1) Foreigners who live in Japan (Tokyo), and never leave the city to find out what Japan really is; 2) foreigners who visit Japan (Tokyo) for a week decide they have figured this out; 3) people whose entire knowledge of Japan comes from hearsay (about Tokyo).

I’ve only been to Tokyo a handful of times and spent less than significant time in the city. However, I can say that from what I’ve seen in the touristy areas of the city the shopkeepers and such have some basic English ability. Think of it this way: you work at the airport in Miami, Florida. How long do you think you’d make it before learning at least rudimentary Spanish? With so many English-speakers making their way to Japan (Tokyo) for getaways it only makes sense shopkeepers and the like would know some fundamental English.

Tour guides and other people of course will speak English, however roughly. It’s their job, after all. One should also be careful not to confuse “can greet people in English” with “speak English”. For that matter, it’s prudent to remember understanding a language is always much easier than speaking one. Even you, dear reader, could probably “understand” Mongolian if the person you were talking with used enough gestures and other non-verbal communication.

As far as the myth, Japanese people on the whole have very low to no English ability. I again would use Spanish in America. You can go to many cities near the border of Mexico or in Florida where many people speak varying degrees of Spanish. You will also find Spanish speakers around big cities of America, most prominently L.A. and to some extent N.Y. However, saying that Americans know Spanish is absurd. The majority know how to count to ten and say a few key phrases.

Can we please kill the myth that Japanese people know English? It’s something people have come to believe about the entire country because it’s only somewhat true about Tokyo, and as I’ve said before people seem to think Tokyo is Japan.

Myth #2: Japan is a mysterious place.

This is a common one. It’s probably most common with foreigners who are long-term residents here when discussing their initial and continuing interest in Japan or by Japanophiles itching to get a taste of “mysterious Japan”. My initial inspiration for this post was a rather decent blog on Japan things where the blog writer, who has lived in Japan for a long time, mentions his reasons as being in love with this mysterious country that is Japan.

Japan is not mysterious.

Japan is a country, like any other. Its people have quirks, habits, customs, and shared traits like any other country on earth. The language is notoriously vague, and this manifests itself in the character of the people themselves. However, it’s not mysterious other than just being very difficult for a non-Japanese native to penetrate the unspoken.

There are no mysterious fogs rolling around the low lands and making hidden temples eerily spiritual, as seen in your favorite movie about Japan (ok, there might be occasionally but 1) it’s rare and 2) no one I’ve ever met has seen this). There are some rather bizarre things going on with fashion and style. Mostly in Tokyo. What’s not reported is how most natives themselves consider this stuff bizarre and outlandish. Yes, 50 year old women walk around with Hello Kitty shoes and their cell phones sparkled up like a pre-teen, but this owes much more to the chauvinistic character of the society and the useless feeling many women experience than to any deep mystery about Japanese aesthetic appeal.

Temples aren’t mysterious; they are standard religious fare. The people aren’t mysterious; they are standard people with Japanese traits. The Japanese countryside isn’t mysterious; it’s just a bunch of mountains and trees separated by long stretches of rice fields.

There, now I feel better.

So, if you come to Japan or decide to live here just remember: learn Japanese, you’ll need it; and, after having spent time roaming around the country, if you find it’s a bit more earthly than you imagined it would be that’s because it is just like your home country, with different rules.

Reading in Japan

Japanese are voracious readers. The literacy rate of the country is among the highest in the world, and for good reason. The school system is based largely on the teaching of kanji and with so many years of practice I can’t help but think that Japanese people take that love of reading (or at least looking at) Japanese and carry it through their lives.

Reading is a big part of Japanese culture. It’s not abnormal to witness droves of young men and teenagers at the convenience store on a Saturday night standing around doing nothing but reading magazines and comics off the shelves. As I am writing this I am in a Starbucks and the bookstore is full of people standing around reading. It’s Saturday afternoon and it would seem many young people have nothing better to do than stand around in a small bookstore and read.

As you may have seen even Japanese TV has not escaped this aspect of the culture. Almost any Japanese show has subtitles throughout. These are part of the program and there is no way to turn them off. Imagine watching the nightly news or your favorite reality show with giant English subtitles and no way to turn them off. I feel like this would drive many of us crazy.

What do Japanese people like to read? Many young people tend to like manga. For men this may or may not wane as they get deeper into their 20s and older. Women seem to outgrow manga sometime around the college years or shortly thereafter. That’s not to say no adults read manga; however, I’ve always gotten the impression Japanese people view manga as something for kids. Adults tend to like novels, magazines, and biographies.  Many times I get the feeling people just want to read something and set about reading whatever they can.

Despite being such prolific readers Japanese people have not adopted the e-reader as a fixture. I’ve never seen one here. They only just recently started selling the Kindle and it’s such an unpopular item it retails for almost 50% off what Americans pay. As I’ve mentioned many times, the stereotype that Japanese are much more technologically ahead of the curve has been completely to the opposite in my experience. They are about 10-15 years behind in most things; e-readers are not an exception.

So, when in Japan grab yourself a book and get to reading.

 

Things to take / Thing to leave #1

Here’s the first of my 5 entries on “What I can do with and what I could do without” on my life in Japan.  One note need be said: this is purely subjective and pertains only to my observations and experiences.

Thing I can do with:  Conversation Skills and Style

In general, Japanese people seem to be great conversationalists.  First, they really enjoy talking about the weather and food.  I’d say 75% of the conversations you hear in a day center around these two topics.  A simple conversation about the weather might go on for 15 or 20 minutes.  This means one needn’t bring the heat to kindle a good conversational fire. 

Much more so than people back home Japanese people seem very at ease talking to newly met people.  Often times when you’re out and about it’s impossible to tell who are lifetime friends and who just met for the first time.  For example, I made a post a while back about a Hakuba trip I took with a teacher and his family.  Of the 9 people on that trip only 4 had ever met before.  Still, from the second people initially greeted each other there was non-stop chatter and camaraderie the entire time.  For an entire weekend.  They might be tremendously shy and timid to approach people, but once in there Japanese people can hang with the best of the gregarious bunch.

Just like this. Every time.

Just like this. Every time.

 

Something I personally appreciate is the style with which Japanese people converse.  Simply put, they don’t fear silence.  In America (perhaps in the west or in English-speaking countries as well) silence is like the drunk cross-dressing uncle with whom you don’t want to be seen in the same room.  It’s treated with as vitriol as polio in the 50s and exterminated with as much ferocity.  How many times have you experienced someone just saying the stupidest crap ever muttered just for the sake of breaking silence?  Think of how many people refuse second dates because there was “too much silence” on the first one.  Japanese people don’t suffer this phobia.  To them silence is just a point in the conversation to reflect about what you’ve talked about or what to talk about next.  I really appreciate this aspect as I tend to be an extremely silent conversationalist.  My friend B and I used to go out for drinks back home and in the 3 – 4 hours we’d be out we could go an hour with barely saying a word.  I appreciated that he knew silence was not a bad thing, and I appreciate the Japanese know this, too.

Thing I could do without:Coldness

I have no actual proof of this but I have to believe Japanese people are the coldest people on the planet.  I’ve posted about this before.  The other day it was 70 F (21 C according to my phone) and everyone had on sweaters, a few with a winter jacket, walking around saying “it’s cold! it’s cold!”  Now, maybe I’m insane, but this is insane.

Maybe I mentioned this before but I never heard the words “summer sweater” used together until I came to Japan, where it is a staple of dress in August when temperatures consistently reach 95+ F (35? C). 

The temperature in this picture is approximately “oven”.

This is probably exacerbated a bit since I’m from a very cold winter state but this is extreme.  So why does this bug me so much?  I think because I feel at some point coldness is no longer a subjective feeling but a qualitative fact.  2 people may disagree on whether or not 65 F is time to hang up any long sleeve article of clothing or not, and that’s fine.  However, when people are still dressing in jeans and sweatshirts when it’s 90 F something is wrong.  Also, as I explained before I think the fact Japanese people need to express everything at all times plays a part.  Hearing “it’s cold!” 100 times a day when it’s 90 F and I’m sweating just from existing starts to wear thin.

And yes, my pictures are shamelessly ripped from the net.

Me and J-Girls

Today I’m going to take a detour from my normal post topics.  I’d like to talk about something that comes up with just about any guy you will ever meet in the following moments after “Japan” is mentioned in a conversation: J-girls.  More specifically, J-girls and their relation to the quest for most men to copulate with anything and everything they can.

Disclaimer: lewdness ahead. 

From my understanding, Japanese girls are the holy grail for the male sex drive.  First, Japanese girls are just cute.  There’s no way around this.  And who doesn’t like sexing cute things?  Also, Japanese girls are brought up in a society where they are taught to be subservient to their male counterparts.  So, most Japanese girls hold a rather giving personality.  This extends to the bedroom, or at least the thinking goes (it does).  There is something about all this that plays to the male psyche.  It’s a carrot held out in front of the mule, except here it’s a funny walk or coy little “cooh”s that are held out in front of the male’s most primal brain.  A brain that has previously been devoid of proper thinking-enabling blood by the cuteness of the J-girl. 

Where all this gets us is to the situation: a great percentage of males in Japan spend their time chasing, and bedding, Japanese women while a great percentage of males outside of Japan spend their time wanting to come to Japan to chase, and bed, Japanese women.  Or so we are told.  Is there truth in this?  Is this just a stereotype?  Are Japanese girls really that easy?

Here’s what I can say:  Everything is true, except that which isn’t.  I think I would divide Japan into two sections.  One section is the larger cities like Osaka and Tokyo, extending to slightly smaller cities with an active night life.  The other section comprises town-ey Japan, not just the inaka but also bigger cities that just happen to be in areas of the country that are otherwise inaka.  This describes my former town of Takamatsu.  The city itself was over 300,000 people, but it was still had town characteristics.

Japanese girls in the city have earned a reputation as willing to sleep with any foreigner after just a tiny convincing.  For the record, I’ve never tested this myth.  Not for lack of not wanting to, either.  I’ve simply never found myself in a position to do so, less geographically than relationship-statusy (coined, bitches!).  However, I’ve heard stories.  Boy have I heard stories.  I’ve even heard stories from some of the less lady loving and more monogamous people about hooking up with girls from their conversation classes and the like.  Places like Gaspanic in Tokyo exist almost solely for women looking for foreigner sex to get their weekend thrills.  For the record I’ve heard Gaspanic described as a place that if you have a pulse, you’re getting laid.  Furthermore, I think anyone who has lived in Tokyo can speak about the very casual nature that Tokyo-jin look at sex. 

Out here in Buddha’s country things appear to be different.  Clubs like Gaspanic don’t exist.  Yes, there are clubs but I’ve yet to find one that is basically a mating stable in dance club form.  Foreigners out here are also a more rare sight than in big cities so girls are a bit more reluctant to open up to them (pun intended) as quickly.  Still, I’ve heard about many foreigners who pull their weight in medium size cities like the one in which I used to live. 

Being a person that has had 2 women worth of experience in as many years in Japan, I’m probably slightly unqualified to talk about bagging chicks in Japan.  Still, I know a thing or two.  One time-tested method is the age-old ritual of ナンパ (nampa), the equivalent of “poon huntin'” in America.  Basically, it largely consists of groups of horny boys (think 20 years old) hanging around a bridge or outside a convenience store yelling “do you want to get some tea or something” to every woman who walks past.  Tea being the Japanese equivalent of coffee.  And I do mean pretty much every woman.  Once in a while there’s a bite, tea is had and then the couple goes to a “different place”, which means a love hotel where they proceed to have empty sex for the rest of the night.  The first part of all this is creepy, the second not so much.  I’ve seen this nampa done and it’s really quite saddening.  It usually also consists of the men following the women down the street barraging her with requests and pleas to have some tea.  Sad times, J-dude.

Obviously, there is the bar scene and picking up girls in the local Starbucks is always a popular activity.  Some of this is similar to back home except you’re dealing with a culture of people so shy they can’t even hug their own kids.  Watching an attempted pick up in a bar can be a truly amusing experience. 

Then, there’s the aforementioned conversation school/language exchange pickup.  Actually, this isn’t so much a pickup as it is the girl doing these activities with the purpose of letting some foreigner have their way with her.  Japanese girls are very sly about it all.  They are the librarian race, if ever one existed.  Cute, wholesome looking, coy, and generally just do-gooders; however, secretly they are hiding some hot fire underneath their demure. 

In my experience Japanese girls come off as more reluctant at first.  However, they warm up to the idea of sex faster than their western counterparts and are generally much more hesitant to say no to an advance.  Maybe this is part of the appeal for many guys.  Outside of club life big city places where it is possible to bring a girl to a love hotel 15 minutes after meeting her, it usually takes a date or two to kick off a one nighter in Japan.  However, the work to get there is less, and an easier route attracts many a shark. 

Yes, most foreigners have a great deal of success in Japan.  It’s hard to find guys here that haven’t been around the block a few times just by virtue of the fact they have so many options.  However, I’ve found that the number of guys that are off bedding a new girl every weekend to be on the low side.  It’s probably no more than it is back home.  However, casual successes are much more common than back home.  As far as the women go, there are really only 2 differences: 1) Japanese don’t consider a one night stand to be anything bad or controversial.  They don’t have Christian and westernized moral thinking weighing them down.  Sex is sex and part of life.  2) Foreigners are the same in Japan as someone from Italy is in Midwest America.  It’s foreign, it’s exciting, it’s sexy, it’s lustful.

One other thing to mention here and it might be the topic of an upcoming post:  Japanese girlfriends and wives typically don’t frown on their partner having sex with a prostitute.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Sometimes this is extended out to “high school girl you paid to sleep with” or “girl you picked up at the bar for one night”.  Again, you read that first part correctly.  Housewives aren’t above playing the field either (entire books have been written about foreigners landing all the housewives in their town).  So, there are a bit more oppotunities for males to explore even when it might appear at face value there wouldn’t be.

This weekend I’m going snowboarding with the guys.  Hopefully no big spills.  I haven’t seen the girl for over 2 weeks, which might be partly responsible for me posting about landing J-girls.

Hakuba Trip

For those of you who don’t know, snowboarding is big in Japan.  Actually, both skiing and snowboarding are fairly big in Japan, but snowboarding seems to be all the hype these days.  From what I can figure out, skiing is the traditional winter activity most of the adults in Japan grew up doing.  Did I mention yet Japanese people love them some tradition?  So, there are still a lot of skiers out on the hills, including many 4 year olds that look like they could do a slalom run at the olympics.

There’s another thing Japanese people love them some of too, however:  being hip.  Really, this pertains to the youth of the country but boy is this allure strong.  Many youth are desperate to appear cutting edge cool all over Japan.  In Tokyo, they have taken this to a near-syndrome like addiction.

Which explains this, I guess.

Don’t even get me started on double eyelid surgery.

Sometime in the recent past snowboarding caught on and now tons of teenagers and 20 somethings can be seen taking to the slopes many nights of the week and on weekends wearing snow pants around their knees, beanies that seem to mimic rap videos from 1998, and for the girls giant fake eyelashes that you have to weave your way around while going down the hill. There are many TV commercials that include snowboarding as part of the ad for no reason other than it makes the ad exciting or cool. I guess the fact that snowboarding is fun as hell doesn’t hurt to add to the number of participants.

Because of all this love for winter sports, and the close access of good ski resorts, people in Japan are keen to spend their weekends travelling the country for some good skiing or snowboarding fun. Perhaps the biggest place for this is a place called Hakuba.

Hakuba is located in the northern part of Nagano prefecture and hosted parts of the 1998 Nagano games. The name is actually the name of the tiny village as Hakuba hosts something like 10+ ski resorts. It has some of the most challenging runs in the country and is also a great place for novices to come to learn how to ski or snowboard. It’s also a very popular destination for foreign visitors to come for a skiing vacation. From what I’ve heard there are many people who will travel to Hakuba from Europe just for the weekend to get in some skiing. Nuts.

This past weekend I tagged along with one of my 5th grade teachers, his family, and a few of his friends for a trip to Hakuba. We stayed in a nice little bed-and-breakfast type place with a friendly older couple who ran it. I guess it’s called a “pension”, a name that is widely used throughout Europe and other parts of the world, or so I read. I’ve never heard of a “pension” before in my life so I am thinking the word is not used in America. I was a bit confused about what this whole pension deal was and had to do a bit of googling to find out what type of place we were headed to.

Somehow the guy knew all about Minnesota sports teams. He even knew about the American Football team and their current season. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked at that.

My teacher had said his daughter was really excited about the opportunity to speak English with a real living foreigner. I originally thought she was a University student studying English but it turned out she was a high school student who had English classes. So, her English level wasn’t quite as good as I was expecting, but it was certainly better than I thought it would be for a high school student. Either way, she ended up being far too shy to converse much on Saturday. Eh, that’s expected. On Sunday she gave snowboarding a try and as she was busy trying not to break her tailbone we spoke primarily in Japanese. Luckily, as I helped demonstrate a few of the basics she warmed up a bit and seemed to be much more open to talking to me by Sunday afternoon. This included doing away with English altogether and just speaking Japanese to me, which I really didn’t mind.

Another notable standout was one of the teachers that came with. She teaches P.E. at an elementary school a bit south of my town but still in the same valley. Her personality is quite unlike most Japanese people. She’s animated, talkative, loud (even though she barely had a voice due to a 3 week long cold), very sporty, and even a bit butch. Also, at 29 years old she’s single, which alone is just about enough to boggle many a Japanese person’s mind. She was the snowboard master and ended up teaching Yumi (teacher’s daughter) and Miyuki (another teacher who came with) for their first snowboarding lesson.

It ended up being a great weekend. One of the things I really want to do while I’m here is spend my time around Japanese people who don’t know English, and I got to do that a bunch on this trip. I got to learn many a good Japanese word, some youthful slang, and recognized some more guyish speakisms I’ve probably heard a bunch but have just now caught on to.

The only downside to the trip was that I took a few big spills. One, which I ended up landing on my shoulder and ribs, was somewhat bad. It was my first snowboarding fall that had me “unnhhh” as I hit, groan as I slowly rolled to my back, and then scoot off to the side to lay there and wonder how long before I feel like getting up again. Ironically, it happened on one of the flatter parts of the entire mountain. In fact, every one of my falls happened on flat areas, indicating that I need to practice 2 things much more: going straight (which apparently is a big problem for many people on a snowboard), and turning while moving slowly. The only problem I had with Hakuba was that some of its runs were very narrow. Think 10 feet narrow. On one side you had the hill/mountain wall, on the other side a drop that basically was the side of the hill/mountain. I have no idea how far down the drops were. I didn’t want to find out. You can see where not being able to turn, even though it was on flatter portions where I struggled, would be a problem.

Anyway, that was Saturday. It’s now Wednesday and my shoulder is still sore. So, this means that once again I’ve missed ju jitsu and fallen out of any rhythm I tried to establish. This is a frustrating trend.

Book Review

I finished the book this past weekend.  So, I’ll give my book review of “For Fukui Sake: Two Years in Rural Japan”.  For those interested, you can find the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Fukuis-Sake-years-rural-ebook/dp/B005M9TF78/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326942136&sr=8-1   (Yeah, I REALLY wanted to hyper-link that one but my horrible work computer doesn’t enable the option of hyperlinking.  Strange.)

I’m going to break the review up in to two stages.  First, I will give a typical review, second, and more importantly, I will review the book as to how I see it relates to reading it to understand Japan – which seems to be its purpose.

For Fukui Sake will henceforth be referred to as FF in this post.

FF is a book about a pharmacy assistant, Sam, and the way he uproots his life upon realizing life may be tedious and mundane if he hangs around in the lab the rest of his life.  Yes, they do offer great health benefits but it seems the fun is no longer there, if it ever was.  Sam does what any mid 20s person who already feels the soul-crushing weight of a dead-end job upon their strong, young shoulders does: decides he needs to move to a place with snow.  Naturally, this means Japan.

The first short segment of the book serves as a simple background to the author yet for many readers may serve as a reminder of their own droll life.  Sam takes the out where many people choose to stick around and play it safe.  Obviously he wrote a book with a shiny red cover, so the outcome of said decision isn’t exactly yet-to-be-seen.  Still, reading people’s motivation for life changing decisions is at the least entertaining.

Sam, the author, arrives in Japan and discovers it’s completely different from his homeland.  Then, he discovers the tiny town he will live in is completely different from the image outsiders have of Japan.  Far removed from the bright lights and casual sex ways of Tokyo, Sam is placed on the other side of the country in a small town called Fukui, which lies on the Sea of Japan.  He admits he had more than a few doubts as to whether he did the right thing after arriving.

However, Sam soon settles in.  He finds a bar with some foreigner loving locals and a dog to walk each day at school.  He spends most of his time checking out the scenery, hanging out with other English speakers, drinking beer, and generally doing fun things.  Along the way he shares stories, sometimes with alarming detail, of his adventures through the country.  This part makes one wonder if he didn’t just copy most the book from some journal he was keeping along the way. 

The writing is average.  Sentence structures are standard and vocabulary is normal, for the most part.  Think Harry Potter part 1.  The author does take time to jazzy up a few places with fancy words, usually to good effect.  At times he may be showing off, it’s hard to tell.  Where the book shines the most is in the author’s humor.  A reader will likely laugh more than a few times while reading through the book.  While knowledge of Japan does help with the jokes, the author is good at explaining things so that someone with no knowledge of the country will still find his wit funny.

The book itself is more of a travel book than it is a book about Japan.  Sure, it has smatterings of information about Japan here and there, but mostly it is filled with descriptions of nature and the different adventures Sam finds himself in.  There’s not much connection between these adventures other than “they happened in Japan”.  For this reason, while the book starts off entertaining it starts to wane after the mid-way point.  There is no central narrative, plot, or message.

Caution to readers:  The author is British and uses British spellings of words.  Also, he uses a British vocabulary (do you know what a bonnet is?  Hint: it’s part of a car.)  He throws some British slang in there for good measure, which may or may not be understood fully by American readers.

The book clocks in just short of 200 pages.  With its easy readability and short length it shouldn’t take more than a few dedicated hours to get through. 

Rating : 3/5

Ok.. Part one is over.

.

.

FF seems to be written for people interested in Japan and possibly thinking about coming over.  For anyone without much knowledge about the country, or an insatiable appetite for all things Japan, it’s a decent book to pick up. 

I like that Sam dedicates most of the book to describing the more routine things about Japan.  There is very little in the way of famous temples, Tokyo, Osaka (absent completely), festivals and the like.  Most of what is contained in the book is mountains, hidden lakes, rivers, neighborhoods, food, local personalities and some culture.  I enjoyed finally reading something on Japan that didn’t need to spend its entirety talking about the Golden Pavilion, Osaka food, and Tokyo everything.  What Sam does is first explicitly tells his readers “I found out that the real Japan is actually a lot different than those things” and then sets about showing them.  This is very important for anyone thinking of spending any significant time in Japan.

Sam’s enthusiasm is hard to miss, however at times it seems misplaced.  I’m not sure he loved Japan so much or if he just loved the fact he finally lived somewhere he could commune with nature as much as possible.  He spends little time describing Japanese culture or customs, although he does include it.  Usually, in the middle of an adventure story you are treated to a paragraph on a Japanese ideal or custom.  I would have liked to see more of this as this is the kind of thing many newbies are looking for on Japan.  Still, what is included is entertaining and informative.

I think it’s a decent book that most people will find joyful.  However, I do have some issues with it.

First, Sam seems to spend most of his time around other foreigners.  That’s fine.  After all, I would say it’s what about 95% of foreigners here do.  They hang out with other foreigners.  Also, the Japanese people he hangs out with seem to have some English capability (at least most of them.  A few he goes out of his way to say they don’t).  Still, he has dialogue throughout the book or some descriptions of lengthy, detailed conversations.  This gives one the impression that Sam is banging his way through these topics in Japanese, learning all about the world around him as though he were taking a tour through San Francisco. 

Here’s my issue:  this doesn’t happen.  I’ve yet to meet any foreigner who has come to Japan with no Japanese ability (like Sam), spends their time mostly around foreigners (like Sam), and after a year has capable Japanese.  The book gives this impression.  Yes, I’m being a bit picky but learning a language is no joke.  Many people hit that 6 month – 1 year wall, see they haven’t progressed nearly as much as they thought they would, and cast the whole thing off.  At times in the book Sam and his friends have to do something in Japanese without help or a translator (buy tickets) and he describes his inadequate and broken Japanese along with the fact he can’t seem to get what he wants. 

I do know many people who have very good Japanese after 2 years, but they spend their time almost solely around other Japanese people speaking Japanese.  I’ve talked about this English bubble before.

Next, if someone were to read the book before coming to live in Japan they could be mislead.  Each situation in Japan is unique, usually drastically so.  Sam describes himself as someone who loves to meet new people, meaning he’s quite outgoing.  A less outgoing person is obviously going to have different experiences.  For example, Sam describes Fuji Rock and how much fun it was.  I was invited to go and know a bunch of people who did in fact go this past year, having a great time in the process.  I wasn’t totally sure what it was but after reading about it in Sam’s book I am very glad I did not go.  Likely, I would have been miserable.  Nothing sounds worse than camping with thousands of other people listening to iffy music for an entire weekend.  *shudder*  This goes for most things in the book.  A reader should know a lot of this stuff is personality based.  Yes, it sounds obvious but it becomes less so when talking about a foreign country and living there.

Sam says he had 8 weeks (!!!!!) off for vacation in the summer.  I was a JET 2 years ago, I didn’t have any time off in the summer outside of 3 days for Obon week.  I’m thinking he took some of his vacation time, but I can’t be sure.  Some JETs don’t work in August, others do.  Some get one school, others get 10.  Teaching English in Japan varies by case. 

The book is written in a personal style, like a blog, which I enjoyed.  However, at times it feels like parts of the book were more about Sam talking himself up rather than relating a story.  I guess this didn’t bother me so much, but I could see how it might bother others.

Overall, the weak point of the book is its lack of main narrative.  It’s simply one story after another in chronological order.  It’s worth checking out as it’s cheap and easily accessible language. 

Afterthough:  There’s something…. wussy about British words.  I mean, seriously, who the hell calls a swimsuit your swimmers after the age of 2?  I did have a good headshake a few times in the book.

Previous Older Entries