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Posts tagged book review

Cool Tokyo Guide

This fun, little guidebook by Abby Denson is aimed primarily at young people (10-25 years old), but has useful aspects for anyone. I would have liked a little more dealing with the seasons and festivals (when to go to see certain things in Tokyo) and less on where to buy souvenirs.

The book contains many useful phrases and helpful hints. The information on ibuprofen is incorrect though. Ringl is not ibuprofen in Japan. Ringl is the same as Tylenol (acetaminophen). If you need Advil or Motrin in Tokyo (or any part of Japan), use the information on this page instead.

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.”

Japan Journeys


I just finished Japan Journeys: Famous Woodblock Prints of Cultural Sights in Japan by Andreas Marks. This is mostly a picture book, featuring about 200 Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e / 浮世絵). Artists include Hokusai (北斎), Hiroshige (広重), Utamaro (歌麿), and Kunisada (国貞).

The prints include a brief description and some historical context. They are arranged by location.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I have a couple of critiques/recommendations should anyone want to do something similar.

The first is that some, if not many, of the ukiyo-e are too small. The book is inexpensive (under $20 for a hardback and all in full color), but I would have preferred a larger book, both in terms of page size and length, so that the prints could be seen in more detail. Some of them are stamp size, and they all should have been at least 8″ on the short side.

The second is that I would have liked to have also seen modern photos of these places, even if the places look radically different today. I’m imagining something like what I’ve done here and here.

“Eco Living Japan” review


I mentioned a while ago that I began reading this book. Although I finished reading Eco Living Japan: Sustainable Ideas for Living Green by Deanna MacDonald months ago, I never got around to writing a review–until now.

Once upon a time I was going to be an architect so design, buildings, etc. have always interested me since. In addition, I’ve always appreciated the clean look of some Japanese and Danish architecture and design. Someone not interested in Japan and/or these items probably won’t be very interested in this book.

The text wasn’t usually riveting for me, and the prose was fairly repetitive and unenlightening, but I still enjoyed the book–mostly because of the photos. The good news is the book is mostly photos.

Another critique I had with the book is the subtitle of “sustainable ideas for living green” should have the words “if you are extremely rich” added. Most of the projects examined are for relatively large, custom properties in Japan using materials that would cost several times the amount of more common construction. A very minor segment of the Japan’s population could afford these “sustainable ideas for living green”.

That said, the properties explored are fun to consider if you, like me, enjoy dreaming big.

Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City’s Most Colorful Neighborhoods

tokyo on foot


Tokyo on Foot is not what I expected. And that’s not a bad thing. I was expecting something like Foot Loose in Tokyo or A Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo in which the reader is given guidance on various walks in Tokyo. While Tokyo on Foot could potentially be used in this way, I look at it more as art/manga appreciation than a guide book. Florent Chavouet’s art is fantastic. The attention to detail and capturing of Tokyo scenes is captivating and the type of work that you can frequently revisit without becoming bored.

If you’ve visited or lived in Tokyo I think you’ll like it more than someone who hasn’t (not that a future visitor won’t want to take a look at this book to get an idea of where to go and what to see in Tokyo). Remembering views that are slumbering just beneath the surface of your memory can be lots of fun.

Eco Living Japan

eco living japan

I began reading Eco Living Japan: Sustainable Ideas for Living Green by Deanna MacDonald last night. First impressions are good. The book is beautiful. More than half of it is full-color, high-quality photographs. I’ll provide a more detailed review once I have finished reading.

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