Cool Japan Guide, by Abby Denson, is marketed with the catchy subtitle: “Fun in the land of manga, lucky cats, and ramen”. Despite the fact I am pretty heavily into Japanese culture, I haven’t read a printed book on it in some time, so I was looking forward to reading this book.
This 128 page work is a tour of Japan’s culture, with over 600 hand-drawn illustrations accompanying the descriptive text. Content-wise, I feel this book is right on as it covers many topics which I feel are interesting or notable about Japan, including game centers, shopping, and customs. Of course, a good portion of the book is dedicated to food, whether it be tasty meals, deserts, or drinks. The style is very casual, as if the author is sitting with you and having a friendly chat, and as a result this book is just as entertaining to flip through quickly as it is to read from start to finish. Neither preachy, nor overly detailed, the cultural accounts strike a good balance with giving you just enough information to keep you reading.
The only issue I have with the content is that if you’re into Japan like me and have visited there several times, you probably already know much of what she’s covered. Having said that, if you’re new to Japan this is a great first introduction to Japan’s culture.
At first, the illustrations’ over-simple (though colorful) art style turned me off, but as I read through it more I quickly got used to it, and feel it does a good job complimenting the various cultural points. In the author’s bio it says she participated in well-known comic books such as The Powerpuff Girls, though I’d guess in Cool Japan Guide she did everything herself whereas in popular comic books she had a team of people helping out. So in that respect it’s impressive she did this many sketches for this book. Also, Powerpuff Girls has a pretty simple art style itself, so I guess she kept with what was already working for her.
In addition to cultural anecdotes, for those wanting to learn the language there is some Japanese words and sentences interspersed here and there. Since this blog is, after all, about studying Japanese language, I can’t help but look at these with a critical eye. Unfortunately, there are a host of problems with the Japanese in this book. Here are a few examples:
- Inconsistent spelling of long-vowel words. For example 郵便局 is written as “yuubinkyoku”, but デパート is written as “depato” (instead of the correct “depaato”). This is the most minor of the problems, however.
- In one case a shorting of a long-vowel plus an incorrect English translation ends up with a phrase that could cause confusion. “Kado onegaishimasu” (pg.88), described as “Do you take credit cards?”, sounds more like “Corner please”. I’d prefer something a bit more literal like “Kaado tsukaemasu ka?” (Can I use a credit card?). Alternately, you can add a “de” to the original phrase (plus correct the spelling) to end up with a more natural “Kaado de onegaishimasu”.
- Incorrect spelling of verb conjugation (ex: “taberarimasen” instead of “taberaremasen”, pg. 44)
- Incorrect writing in some of the illustrations. For example, pg. 96 has 中野サンモール written with a も instead of モ, and the サ is drawn strangely with 4 strokes. Also page. 94 has “ベルサイユのばら” written as ”バレサイコのばら”. The illustration of the Osaka Kaiyu Ticket on page 84 also seems to have several errors, such as 大阪 being written as ホ阪。
Nonetheless, since this book’s focus is not learning the Japanese language, and only a small fraction of the Japanese is incorrect, I can (mostly) forgive it in this case. The book was published in March of this year (2015), so hopefully they will make a second edition with some corrections.
Cool Japan Guide, published by Tuttle, is available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble for around only $10.