Aside: This post has been long in coming. Also, I should really try to do these when I have the book in my hands or when it is super fresh on my mind.
End aside. Cue review.
Living Abroad in Japan is the second culture book I read in preparation for my departure. With a length of around 320 pages, it is quite a bit bigger (in length and dimensions) than Japan Culture Smart! and therefore more extensive in terms of the information it offers. Like Japan Culture Smart!, Ruth Kanagy’s book outlines important aspects of Japan’s culture, such as bathing and omiyage, and provides key statistics like population and current. Kanagy’s qualifications (25 years of living in Japan) are listed in the introduction, which provides her with more credibility. In addition to containing valuable cultural information, Living Abroad in Japan contains immense amounts of information about finding apartments, costs of living in different prefectures and cities (my favorite example of this was the table comparing the costs of common goods in New York City and Tokyo), and challenges pets and children face when transitioning to another country. Since my company set me up with an apartment and I have no children, I mainly skimmed portions dealing with such matters, but I did find it interesting that some apartment companies would not rent to gaijin and that Kanagy briefly emphasizes the unavoidable discrimination one could encounter.
In addition to extensive information about living conditions, Kanagy provides information dealing with specific regions of Japan and lists approximate figures for rent, as well as popular restaurants in the area (and their costs). Each regional section contains a map of trains and main roads running through the city. The maps in this book are spectacular; kanji is listed alongside the romanized versions of location names in most instances. Two color maps precede the table of contents, one a geographic map, the other highlighting regions that are ideal to live in (these are described in greater detail in the aforementioned chapters). The book wraps up with an extensive list of contacts (embassies and the like) and a phrase book that includes information on how to tell time and how to count.
Despite these strong points, there are a few things missing in this book. First, I remember noticing early on that the boxes containing bullet-pointed information were sometimes oddly placed, either in the middle of a paragraph or even mid-sentence, which at times made reading challenging because I would want to finish reading a paragraph before flipping back to the text box on the previous page. There are two important points of inconsistency which may have appeared earlier than I noticed them. The first deals with the order of units. At one point in the Kansai chapter near the end of the book, I noticed that the order of units appeared in the following order: metric (standard). However, several pages later, the order was reversed. Staying consistent would have made this easier for me to read. Another inconsistency I noticed occurred in terms of romanization. Initially, Kanagy romanized the Japanese word for “convenience store” as conbini. However, I later saw the variant combini. Again, staying consistent would sustain a greater amount of clarity; although most careful readers would likely make the connection, others may not. My last gripe comes with the ending. It may be the academic in me, but for me, the very end of the book was a bit abrupt. There was no conclusion; it simply shifted from a section dealing with the final region covered in the book to the contact list with no summary of the important information presented before that, no wrap-up chapter (perhaps something about the culture shock experienced upon reentering America).
Living Abroad in Japan has provided me with some invaluable information and some information that I simply find interesting. The depth of the information contained in this volume, as well as its numerous maps, will prove useful once I make the move, in part to help me adjust to the cultural things and to enhance my language skills. Although I bought my copy at Barnes and Noble, used copies are available on Amazon for a fraction of what I paid, and there is also a Kindle edition for those seeking to save valuable suitcase space.