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Posts tagged book review

The Mad Kyoto Shoe Swapper and Other Short Stories


The Mad Kyoto Shoe Swapper and Other Short Stories is a fun, little book for anyone with an interest in Japan. Some of the stories will probably have more impact for those foreigners who have lived in Japan for a while. The author, Rebecca Otowa, is such a person so she has the insight that those only casually acquainted with the Japanese culture will not.

The stories are all over the place in terms of style and theme. Some are based on true events.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it.

Houses and Gardens of Kyoto

@aniklasson @TuttleBooks

Houses and Gardens of Kyoto is a coffee table book with more than just gorgeous photos. The descriptions, history, and details provided next to the photos are excellent as well. While there is little to complain about, I do like to point out areas for improvement in even the finest books I review.

First, I would have enjoyed larger photos, even if that meant reducing the total number of photos. The full page photographs are lovely, but many of the postcard or (even worse) stamp-sized photos are simply too little to be much appreciated.

Second, I liked how the photographer (Akihiko “Alan” Seki) edited the images, straightening the distortions that photography creates when architecture is captured. He didn’t overdo things. The photos look natural and not HDRed (perhaps because this was published before the HDR era). However, (and most people who aren’t photographers won’t even notice this but) there are some blown highlights that didn’t have to happen and the occasional indoor flash usage is not nearly as nice looking as the naturally lit interiors.

This is a great book, especially if you have been to Kyoto or are going at some point.

Finally, if there are any authors out there who need a photographer to do a similar book (especially in Japan!) hit me up.

A Manga Lover’s Tokyo Travel Guide: My Favorite Things to See and Do In Japan

A Manga Lover's Tokyo Travel Guide: My Favorite Things to See and Do In Japan

@aniklasson @TuttleBooks @evacomics

A great book for kids or adults heading to Japan for the first time, or who want to reminisce about their time in Tokyo, I read the entire thing on a less-than-two-hour flight this past weekend. The pictures are fun, the facts are accurate, and the suggestions will lead to discoveries (or enjoyable memories) for anyone and everyone.

My daughter (now 21), who lived in Tokyo for a year when she was 11 years old, read much of A Manga Lover’s Tokyo Travel Guide: My Favorite Things to See and Do In Japan when she saw it on the nightstand in our hotel room. When she finished looking at it she exclaimed, “I wish there was a book like this for Ecuador!”. She is heading to Ecuador, for the first time, for a month or so on a study abroad in a couple months.

Nice work, Evangeline Neo!

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.