Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewed by Jani Patokallio
Don't be put off by the title: Héctor García's A Geek in Japan is a lightweight but enjoyable romp through modern Japanese culture, seen through the eyes of its writer, an amazingly inquisitive young Spaniard living in Tokyo. While he is a self-confessed otaku (cartoon obsessive), only one of the book's 12 chapters is devoted to the topic, so there's a whole sushi train full of tasty bits for anyone with an interest in the country, ranging from gothic Lolita fashion to Yokohama's Ramen Museum.
That said, the book has been compiled from entries in García's popular blog Kirainet and it shows. There is not even an attempt at a narrative arc or a timeline, each chapter is simply a standalone collection of personal observations around a general theme. The simple, stripped-down English combined with the flashy, photo-heavy layout gives the book something of the feel of a middle school textbook, with occasionally brutal oversimplifications: the country is described as being in 'a chronic economic crisis' that 'the Japanese people have learned to live happily with', and the history section will occasion a faceplant or two if you have even a cursory knowledge of the topic. Yet his infectious enthusiasm carries the day (his top piece of advice for travellers in Japan is 'Don't worry!'), and while there is a bit of oohing and aahing over how very different 'we in the West' are from the Japanese, unlike many commentators in this genre García does not flinch from describing some of the more negative aspects of Japanese society like its tendency to produce 'non-thinking ants' and social withdrawal.
All in all, if you're looking for a gift for a teenage nephew who already has the full set of Neon Genesis Evangelion on DVD, you could hardly do better than this book – but if you're looking for a scholarly treatise on the Land of the Rising Sun, then, well, a book called A Geek in Japan probably wasn't too high on your radar in the first place.
Jani Patokallio is a certified geek who has spent 15 years and counting studying Japanese, but never did really quite understand the whole manga/anime thing.
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