Written by

Andrew Millar


August 29, 2011

I love the Internet. I love the way it closes gaps in the World and allows instant communication between parties that were hitherto strangers…

OK I’m having fun arguing with someone in America about a book.

The tome in question is ‘Dave Barry does Japan’. I posted a review on Amazon that flew in the face of most popular opinion. Nearly 80 people thought it a hilarious and witty read. I thought it unworthy of living under my dining room table leg to keep it level.

In this hastily dashed-off little book Dave Barry, an American columnist, humorist and author sees Japan through the eyes of an American. And in this book all he sees is everything that isn’t American about Japan. His whole proposition is that what he does not understand is therefore silly, incompetent, wrong or fodder for ridicule. I found it a terribly disappointing read from someone who’s won a Pulitzer Prize. He skims the top of a rich and subtle culture and does not bother to go deeper than his initial and basic xenophobic reactions to anything that he finds new and challenging. In the end, for anyone non-Japanese, everything about Japan is new and challenging and that’s why we go there. Yes, I had a few laughs along the way. But in the end I was tired of Dave Barry’s continual assumption that ‘I am right. You are all wrong’ attitude.

The book, from cover to cover is an endless string of shallow gibes like… “’The method of learning Japanese recommended by experts is to be born as a Japanese baby and raised by a Japanese family, in Japan. And even then it’s not easy.’.” Funny, many people can and do learn Japanese without even visiting the country. Like most things worthwhile it just takes a little application. Perhaps Dave could start by learning a few new words like humility, open-mindedness, appreciation and perspective. Instead he whitters on about being a ‘foreign water buffalo’ and how he constantly became confused and lost. Lost? How? He was met and escorted everywhere he went by representatives of the newspaper that paid for his trip!

Now Tracy, with whom I am arguing, seems to think the Dave must be forgiven his ‘cultural bull-dozering’ because he’s being funny. She explains that I picked the wrong book if I was looking for a serious cultural history of Japan. In that respect, she’s dead right because there isn’t one page in this book when Barry descends from his platform of ‘measure the world by American standards’ to understand anything.

The closest he comes is realising Karaoke is dumb-arse fun. Nothing more.

But he walks out of sumo.

He, to quote, thought the music scene in Harajuku ‘served as a heart warming proof that rock music is indeed the universal language of the young and the Japanese can’t speak it worth a squat.’

To quote Dave again ‘I’m probably revealing my own intellectual limitations and cultural myopia when I tell you Kabuki is the silliest think I’ve seen onstage, and I’ve seen a man juggle two rubber chickens and a birthday cake.” Whatever holds your attention, Dave, go for it.

Maybe this book fails because Dave Barry can’t bear for a moment to be totally open to new ideas, new concepts and new views. Maybe he can’t stand reflective silence… – he certainly can’t take a few hours alone in a plane…: ‘Flying from the United States to Tokyo takes approximately as long as law school’.” For heaven sake… and he’s in First Class.

Even the cover is an insult. It features two of the worst Geisha impersonators that have ever existed.

But, dear Tracy, I’ll let Dave himself sum it all up his position on what lies beyond the rim of the United States, where you guys twice elected a President who had never applied for a Passport…. “I’d like to be able to conclude with some deeper insights into the Japanese, but looking back through my notes, I don’t find any. I find a lot of notes like: “CORN ON PIZZA!?!”

Says it all really.