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Reading List
 
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For my own recollection and in case it might be interesting to you, I thought I'd include a list of the books I read about Japan before and during my trip.

1. Culture Shock! Japan by Rex Shelley and Reiko Makiuchi. This book provided lots of useful insight into the nuts and bolts of Japanese culture and how to get by in Japan without being a dekai bakana gaijin (a big, dumb foreigner). However, it seems pretty clear that book is a bit out of date. It seems to have been written at the height of the Japanese bubble economy when Americans were all hysterically afraid that the Japanese were going to take over the world. That fault is forgivable--it's mainly a source of mild amusement.

2. Lonely Planet Japan (7th Edition). It was a great guidebook. In additon to helping me get oriented, it had some good basic background texts on the food, history and art of Japan. I had two complaints, one of which was unfair. The first was that it had very imprecise maps of Tokyo, lacking street names for many of the sites; later I figured out that the problem is the Tokyo lacks street names for most sites. The second complaint is that it didn't seem to have a very good selection of restaurants. I often wished I had more options, especially for Tokyo.

3. Dave Barry Does Japan by (duh...) Dave Barry. Mildly funny, eminently readable introduction to Japanese culture and the peculiar pleasures of figuring out how to deal with life in Japan. If I had read this at the beginning of my trip rather than at the end, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

4. Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan by Alex Kerr. (I think in America this might have a different title, Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan.) I felt strongly enough about this one that I put this review up on Amazon's Web site. Dogs and Demons successfully alerts the reader to significant problems in Japan's cultural, political and economic life. As a complement to other reading on Japan I found it valuable. And from a personal perspective, I find it further testimony to the importance of openness and accountability in business and government.

That said, Kerr's tone is shrill. He harps so obsessively on certain points that one must question his objectivity. My own personal experience of Japan--a three week trip here--in some cases makes the book's arguments seem excessive. He complains about the ugly new train station in Kyoto and the monumental buildings of the Shinjuku government center. Yet when I saw them, before reading the book, I quite liked the architecture. It is certainly fair to point out that the modernism of the Kyoto train station is at odds with the cultural history of the city, but New York's Penn Station is a far better example of an architectural crime against humanity. Kerr's repeated attacks on these modern building made me wonder whether he doesn't long for a traditional Japan frozen in pre-modern times. Interestingly, Kerr is aware of this weakness in his writing--in the book he makes an unconvincing case in his defense.

That's enough of my personal perspective. If you're trying to decide whether to buy it, I highly recommend the New York Times Book Review's piece on Kerr's book. I can't include a hyperlink here, but if you go to the New York Times Web site and then to its book section, you can search on "dogs and demons" and see the review for free.

Also, a reader of this book might be interested in Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner. It's a classic study of America's own runaway bureaucracy, which for decades wasted taxpayer money and devastated the beautiful stretches of the American landscape with unneeded irrigation projects and dams.

5. Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D. T. Suzuki edited by William Barrett. I really enjoyed this book.

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