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Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette: Kata as the Key to Understanding the Japanese

Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette is a must read for anyone trying to understand Japan, who may be going to Japan for the first time, or who wants to do business with the Japanese. I really enjoyed the beginning of the book, even though those who have spent much time in Japan won’t learn many new things. Occasionally there were thoughts that connected the dots a bit more for me.

The book can be slightly odd at times however. The author (Boye Lafayette De Mente) is now deceased, and portions of the book (maybe most of it?) seems to have been written in the 1980s or 1990s. Geoff Botting has updated and revised portions. This makes for a rather uneven flow–especially in the latter part of the book. The content, being written by multiple people and in multiple decades, can be repetitive and occasionally contradictory. Mostly because of these reasons I found it difficult to finish. I read the first half in a couple nights, yet it took weeks for me to make it to the end.

A couple other things I think could be improved…
Instead of putting (an odd-looking) pronunciation after Japanese words, insert the kanji. Example on page 130: rather than “Aisatsu no shikata (Aye-sat-sue no she-kah-tah)”, since many of the people reading the book are studying Japanese, write “Aisatsu no shikata (挨拶の仕方)” as I doubt anyone finds any use in “Aye-sat-sue no she-kah-tah”.

The other thing that bugged me is the term “kata” seemed to be thrown it at times simply because it was in the title. Sometimes I felt like large portions of other books written by the author were included with the only changes being the occasional reference to “kata” that probably weren’t labeled as “kata” in the original.

The frequent, full-page photos are nice–even though they aren’t in color. They are very common early in the book and much more rare later, unfortunately.

Many of the topics I’ve referenced on the blog before (like here). For instance, on page 149 we read

“One foreign ice cream company used the follow-the-leader syndrome in the Japanese makeup to introduce its product into the market in a simple but very astute way. When the company opened its first shop in winter, it hired a large number of people every day for several days to form a line extending from the counter in the shop to well down the block. Seeing the long line, other people joined it in droves, making the new ice cream an extraordinary success in a short period of time.”

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