A quick review for a quick read: it’s useful, charming, and you won’t go wrong if you get it.
Slightly longer: I’ve been to Japan a couple of times now and so am probably not the intended audience for this book. I had picked up a lot of what’s described within by osmosis – I travelled there initially as a performer in a taiko group, after all – but gee, it would’ve been great to have this as a fast guide to Not Sucking.
What I did notice from travelling through Japan is that the unspoken routines of the culture will rub off on the visitor. Yes, I’ll always be an enormous gaijin. But I’ll also always be a visitor, and so it’s really up to me to minimise myself in the place, to step back and figure out how best I can fit in, rather than expecting the culture to stretch to accommodate me. A lot of this is accomplished by being quieter than you would be, and being extra mindful of the space you inhabit: something that the book certainly suggests.
What’s contained within the slender volume is a crash-course in politeness. Really, that’s all it is. Think of it as a way of being slightly more graceful – sometimes archaically so – in life. You could apply a lot of the rules here to how you comport yourself in your home town and become more charming there, so it’s a sure thing that you’ll improve your reception in Japan if you take even a handful of these suggestions to heart.
There’s stuff you won’t necessarily use unless you’re there for business meetings, but I found myself nodding in agreement a lot of the time: this is really a little guide to travelling more elegantly through a land where aesthetics and respect are still pretty important parts of society.
You likely won’t be corrected if you miss any of the rules in here: Japan doesn’t work like that. I found that I wasn’t expected to follow rules, as an outsider, but it was greatly appreciated when I tried to, however hamfistedly. (The bow is a lot more difficult than you’d imagine, if you’ve not tried it.) But if you’ve been before, you might be mortified at some of the faux pas you’ve made, however unintentional.
Chavez’s writing is clear, and explains (mostly) why certain routines have stuck around. Hazuki’s illustrations are charming, and the book seems to be a nifty passion project. This guide helps minimise yourself, and it does so with good humour. Give it a read, baka gaijin!