WRONG ABOUT JAPAN by PETER CAREY

 |   |  1 min read

WRONG ABOUT JAPAN by PETER CAREY

The Japanese phenomena of manga (comics) and anime (animated films) have long commanded Westerners‘ attention: they are often violent and sexual graphic, some explore arcane myth, others are hopelessly romantic, and some are social documentaries.

There have been numerous attempts at penetrating their layers of meaning (Frederick L Schodt’s Manga! Manga! from the mid 80s is recommended) but despite goodwill and best efforts manga remain elusive. That is because of specific Japanese mores, the nuanced flexibility of the language and the ever-changing Japanese pop culture context. Even the most simple frame of action-adventure manga or anime may have multiple meanings beyond Western comprehension.

New York-based, two-times Booker-winning author Carey came to manga through his 12-year old son Charley who sounds like a typical pre-teen kid: into cellphones and comics, wearing baggy hip-hop clothes and prone to whining about having to make eye contact when he meets people or feign interest in what adults might be saying.

Carey looked past this to the manga and, using connections only a prize-winning novelist has, took his boy to Japan to find the animators and art at source.manga1

This book may be slight in appearance but is dense with ideas and information as Carey tries to get under the skin of Japanese culture. He fails of course, but the journey is fascinating as he encounters those bold-faced contradictions Japan often throws up: like the swordmaker who insists he has a Zen-like concentration only on the object he is making and not its use. Carey later reads his book in which the craftsman is equally insistent you cannot make a sword unless you understand its function.

Told in an anecdotal manner -- you feel for Charley being dragged to the four-hour kabuki performance -- it is an engaging trip through contemporary Japan which, almost incidentally, explains why some Japanese men dress as Elvis or carpenters when they are actually office workers (visualists they are called) and illuminates the dangers in assuming anything or ascribing particular interpretations to things Japanese.

They also meet one of those immaculately groomed punks who acts as Charley’s guide but their final contact with him leaves them all ashamed for having met in such a mundane, and real-life, situation.

It is as if the mutually agreed dream world had been punctured.

A concise, fascinating, cleverly crafted and information-stacked book which may be a quick read but will come off the shelf often in years to come.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Writing articles index

BULLFIGHTING by RODDY DOYLE

BULLFIGHTING by RODDY DOYLE

A recent profile of the astonishingly productive British military historian Max Hasting – a few thousand words a day, almost every day it seems – must have come as depressing reading... > Read more

AEROSMITH, THE ULTIMATE HISTORY OF THE BOSTON BAD BOYS by RICHARD BIENSTOCK

AEROSMITH, THE ULTIMATE HISTORY OF THE BOSTON BAD BOYS by RICHARD BIENSTOCK

The real problem with the story of Aerosmith's five decade career is that -- despite the drugs, decadence, women, partying and internal friction -- it is rather boring. It follows such a familiar... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Dani Wilde/Victoria Smith/Samantha Fish: Girls with Guitars Live (Ruf/Yellow Eye)

Dani Wilde/Victoria Smith/Samantha Fish: Girls with Guitars Live (Ruf/Yellow Eye)

As mentioned about a previous album of this concept of gals with guitars, there's nothing like giving 'em what it says on the box. And yep, these three are blues-rock women with guitars and that... > Read more

TRAVELLING RIVERSIDE BLUES: Robert Johnson, the blues and Clarksdale, Mississippi

TRAVELLING RIVERSIDE BLUES: Robert Johnson, the blues and Clarksdale, Mississippi

The intersection of highways 61 and 49 near Clarksdale in northwest Mississippi doesn't look particularly special: there's a car yard, a service station, a couple of kids listlessly kicking a ball... > Read more