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megustaleer

Wrong About Japan

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I had no idea what this forum was about until I woke in the middle of last night to hear Peter Carey talking on the World Service about the trip he made with his young son, a Manga and Anime addict, to Japan to research into the roots of Manga (A bit like Top Cat, and his travels with a teenager into the history of rock!!)

I thought manga fans in BGO might find it interesting.

 

 

Synopsis

In a stunning memoir-cum-travelogue Peter Carey charts this journey and his own re-evaluation of Japan through his attempt to understand its culture of animated film and cartoon. With an appeal that spans the generations, these cartoons are violent and disturbing but also inherently concerned with Japan's rich history and heritage. Led by their adolescent guide Takashi, father and son look for the puzzles and meanings hiding within manga and anime, searching for what they call their own 'real Japan'. From Manhattan to Tokyo, and Commodore Perry to Godzilla, by way of the Atomic bomb, Wrong about Japan is a fascinating and personal exploration of two very different cultures.

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Peter Carey was introduced to Japanese manga comics and animé films by his 12 year old son Charley. Intrigued to know more, he organises a trip for both of them to Tokyo to meet some of the major figures in the movement, their ultimate goal being an audience with "Spirited Away" creator Hayao Mizaki.

 

This book relates the story of the trip. Charley is already in full on moody teenager mode. His dad has more interest in relating manga/animé to more ancient Japanese forms such as kabuki theatre and the reverence for swords, so they visit one of Tokyo's two working swordmakers and sit through several hours of kabuki.

 

Charley perhaps unsurprisingly finds both incredibly boring, preferring instead to make contact with a guy he's met over the internet called Takashi. As a result, the book is as much about their father/son relationship as it is about Japan.

 

As to what Carey discovers he's actually wrong about, his interviews find him reading things into the comics that aren't there and alternately he is told by his unfaiIingly polite hosts that there are things in there he will never understand because he is not Japanese. He also writes humourously about some of their misunderstandings as they make their way around the city, such as choosing to have dinner in a restaurant that turns out to be a front for a yakuza run brothel.

 

Overall, the book is pretty lightweight - I read it in a couple of days - and makes no stunning revelations about Japanese culture apart from, perhaps, the motivations behind the manga itself. For example, "Gundam Mobile Suits", one of the Careys' favourite series, turns out, in true capitalistic style, to have been created to sell associated merchandise, rather than make profound observations about Japan as Carey has mistakenly assumed.

 

Carey's narration is affable and unpretentious, less showy than in those of his novels I've read. It also comes with some rather splendid illustrations, sadly all in black and white apart from the shockingly pink cover.

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I am always wary of books about exotic Asian lands written by foreign visitors who can barely speak a word of the local language. I have travelled Japan extensively, and know from personal experience that it is indeed feasible to have a wonderful time without speaking Japanese. In 1983 I hitch-hiked all over the country for six weeks, having set out with only three, rote-learned phrases of Japanese, by far the most useful of which was Nihon-go wakarimasen, or 'I don't speak Japanese'.

 

Good travel writers can pull of the illusion that their understanding of foreign lands is far greater than it is in reality. One famous writer of non-fiction pulled off an extensive travel narrative on Korea that managed to create the illusion that he made the long journey described alone. The truth of the matter was that he was accompanied by an interpreter through whom all the dialogue in the book was channelled -- and yet her contribution went all-but unacknowledged in the course of the narrative.

 

Ron McMillan

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I heard Peter Carey talking about this book a couple of years ago and have had it on my sort-of-thinking-about-reading-list ever since, because I like Peter Carey, and I'm fascinated with Japan. I also think the travelling with his son subplot looks like it might be interesting. It seems to be one of those books that's hard to categorise - not really travel, not really memoir. Grammath, would you say it was more like an extended essay? I might read it out of interest in its oddness, too. I can't imagine an author without the Carey clout being able to get a publisher interested in anything like this.

 

(PS I tried not to say this, but can't help myself - I'm going to Japan next year :) )

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Grammath, would you say it was more like an extended essay?

 

Extended essay would be a good description for it. It's only about 160 pages of widely spaced type.

 

Ron, Carey makes no secret of his lack of knowledge about Japan - part of the point of the book is how his expectations are confounded - or that people are speaking English to him and always making allowances for the fact he himself is not Japanese. In that sense, this is certainly not a traditional piece of travel writing.

 

As Kim says, if it hadn't had Carey's name on the cover I'm not sure what publishers would have made of it. It certainly helps that he writes wonderfully, even though, as I said in my OP, this isn't really in his usual style.

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Good spot, SlowRain. I think it sits better in Travel than Sci fi, though. Its not exclusively about manga and animé.

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