The Booker Prize-winning author of Oscar and Lucinda describes how his shy young son's fascination with Japanese manga and anime led father and son on an intriguing odyssey to Tokyo, where they discover the intricacies of modern-day Japanese culture, from shitamachi and the Internet to kabuki and the samurai. The recipient of two Booker Prizes, Peter Carey expands his extraordinary achievement with each new novel and now gives us something entirely different. When famously shy Charley becomes obsessed with Japanese manga and anime, Peter is not only delighted for his son but also entranced himself. Thus begins a journey, with a father sharing his twelve-year-old's exotic comic books, that ultimately leads them to Tokyo, where a strange Japanese boy will become both their guide and judge. Quickly the visitors plunge deep into the lanes of Shitimachi into the weird stuff of modern Japan meeting manga artists and anime directors; painstaking impersonators called visualists, who adopt a remarkable variety of personae; and solitary otakus, whose existence is thoroughly computerized. What emerges from these encounters is a far-ranging study of history and of culture both high and low from samurai to salaryman, from Kabuki theater to the postwar robot craze. Peter Carey's observations are always provocative, even when his hosts point out, politely, that he is once again wrong about Japan. And his adventures with Charley are at once comic, surprising, and deeply moving, as father and son cope with and learn from each other in a strange place far from home. This is, in the end, a remarkable portrait of a culture whether Japan or adolescence that looks eerily familiar but remains tantalizingly closed to outsiders.
And of course, what makes the book compelling is the stubbornness of Peter Carey in his attempts to understand the meaning of Anime and Manga, through visits to creators and producers of such artforms. He always misunderstands the main purpose these creators and producers had in mind.
The shocking truth behind the origins of Gundam Wing as something designed to sell toy robots is hard for Peter Carey to stomach, but as a veteran cartoon show watcher, having seen what Transformers was as a franchise, it's not that impossible to imagine that this was the truth with Gundam Wing.
Yet Peter Carey never gives up in his mistaken belief he understands Anime and Manga, and therefore Japan itself. The futility of his attempts at piecing together an accurate understanding of Japan through these art forms is as much unspeakably funny as it is painful to read what Carey does next, digging himself into a hole that he buries himself in with the shovel of his own ignorance, prospecting for meaning but finding only bitter disappointment.
The premise of the travel book is that Peter Carey takes his son along to Japan because Charley wants to find out more about Manga and Anime. Simple enough a premise, but not a good foundation for a book about "understanding Japanese culture". The resulting, light reading tome is fun and is a page turner, but you will cringe as Carey refuses to admit defeat and his constant assumption that there is something about Japan that he believes, paranoid to the end, that the natives will not tell gaijins.
The answer to Carey's dilemma is that he approached the way he asked his questions the wrong way. Even if you don't live in Japan, assuming you know the answer all the time when you ask a question will not help you win friends. Carey gets what he deserves in this book, and he was lucky enough to escape the country without being thrown out by force.
The father is from Australia, and now they all live in New York. Charlie becomes interested in anime and manga. That's it, just ANIME and MANGA. (He also rents Kikujiro a few billion times, but it's a kick ass movie, so you can't blame him) So what does the father do? Like any good, white father he tries to see what his son is inerested in. (if you noticed that white there, i'm too chicken to take it out) So because the guy is an Australian, maybe, he's like, "Wanna go to Japan?" (THAT QUICK?!) and the kid is like "Yeah, whatever".
Rich people. Anyway.
They go to Japan, and even though he's been there before, the dad totally ruins the trip for his kid. The kid, ironically, begs his dad not to see "Real Japan", that is, Kabuki shows and torii shrines and probably well-endowed tanuki sculptures but that last one isn't mentioned. Charlie would rather go to play video games and make Gundam models and stuff. But noooooo. After telling the reader that Japan is a closed society and that gaijin will never understand, he is determined to be the "gaijin who got it." worst of all, he wants to "get it" through anime and manga.
So he gets to go to all these interviews with famous anime and manga artists. He also goes to see a swordsmith and a cross-dressing "visualist otaku". They all insist to him that manga was just developed trying to sell candy, and anime is to sell toys, or from manga. And he's still like, "but to the Japanese, aren't there parts of the anime, to which other societies are oblivious?"
"um... no. Just to sell robot toy."
"but why the obsession with robots? When the kids are in the robot, is it like they're in a robot 'womb' so they feel safe from all the 'other' kids" (in other words, do the nihonjin want a big robot mommy so they can be protected from the ignorant, evil, gaijin?
"Um... it's a toy."
So by the time they get to Kazu or Kayu or whatever the hell his name was, I'm convinced that there is actually an "it" that the nihonjin are conditioned to keep secret from all gaijin. Perhaps it is a small stillborn child floating in some sort of bluish green liquid that was frozen in the snowy snowiness of Hokkaido. Maybe not. But Carey is certain that something like this exists, so he has to go around doing interviews and keeping his poor kid from his penpal Takashi. He is annoying. Annoying to the intervewees, annoying to Charley, annoying to his connections, annoying to Takashi, and annoying to ME.
But then, Carey does something so wonderful and completely unexpected. He is really funny. REALLY funny. There were some moments that made me chuckle before but wow. When they are trying to visit Takashi (with whom I am in love) one last time, they go to the Mister Donut where he works. But the store is closed, and you read this:
But Mister Donut was closed. Impossible. We both got out of the car and stood with our noses pressed against the glass doors. It had been open before, so how could it be closed now? I took the parcel from my son and laid it on the step.
Charley retrieved his gift and then, from deep in a pocket of his baggy jeans, pulled out the map Takashi had drawn when he invited us to his grandmother's apartment.
"Oh no," I thought, "no, please, no."
But what was I to do? My only choice was to hand the driver our map. "We go," I said in perfect English.
This is very funny--I don't care what you think. It's my review.
In conclusion!!! This was a very good book writing-wise. But I'll tell you, this Carey guy got on my LAST NERVE. You were Wrong About Japan. You lose. But the last part was great, and not because it was the last part. But because it was funny... very cinematic. Good Job.
Stay tuned for my next review: Howl's Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones. Let's see how interesting the people are when they aren't dubbed from the nihongo.
I picked this up out of interest in Japan rather than for its focus on anime and manga, but I became interested in watching some of the Japanese films Carey describes. It is interesting to discover the ways that the bombings in Japan during World War II influenced these art forms and to hear the explanations that Japanese people give regarding the symbolic aspects of manga. Carey recognizes that as a foreigner he will never quite understand Japan in the way that he would like to, but this is a perfectly satisfying and honest outcome.
Although it is not a weighty book, I found it entertaining and readable. Carey’s twelve year old son, and his Japanese friend Takashi also lend humour and interest to this small story.
it seems that all peter carey found in japan is disappointment and irritation. this would be fine, if he could turn those findings into an interesting book with any sort of insight. when i wasn't waiting for him to really get into it, i was busy being irritated and offended. (also annoyed with the translation/transliteration errors.)
it seems to me that all of his disappointment comes not from japan itself, but from being told that all of his show-offy theories of the effects of WWII, Commodore Perry, and Hiroshima on anime are all incorrect. he randomly injects long blocks of text from other sources about japan, presumably to give the book some sort of historical depth.
carey admits that he was wrong about japan, as the title suggests, but he also does not take seriously any of the explanations he receives from the japanese he interviews. i got the sense that once he knew he was wrong, he wasn't interested in learning more so he could be right. if he spent less time talking about his theories and examining, or even just depicting, what was actually there, it would have made for a much more interesting book.
i wonder why and how he decided his obviously unfulfilling and disappointing trip would be a topic with enough meat for a 100-something page book.
Peter Carey's trip to Japan with his son to find out a little more about the history of anime and manga was exactly the kind of introduction I was looking for on the subject. A Wide eyed foreigner’s perspective. Like Carey I've had many misconceptions about the content of the stories and the influences thereof. From Hayao Miyazaki's studio to the creator of the Gundam wing franchise Carey visits and talks with these artists to try and get a grasp on the whos and whys of the genre, and at almost every turn is either surprised or proven wrong about his research.
My only complaint is that it's a very short book and has only made me want to find out more, but once again I have no idea where to start.
When son Charley is offered a trip to Japan he says on p.10 '" Not if I have to see the Real Japan."' The challenge of Peter Carey's book is: what is the 'real Japan' for each reader. Certainly that was the challenge for me. When I think of my son-in-law's family making mochi rice on their farm, that is surely the 'real Japan'. It is real because our family has experienced that. Whereas Charley might have regarded that as the 'Real Japan' he didn't want to see.
Japan is made up of a host of realities, of real Japans and each person will have their own experience of those, or glimpse into them. Perhaps the book is about created reality with the boy Takashi being an example of a creation which for him is real and which is probably echoed by many other young people in the world and perhaps more obviously in Japan. Takashi's other realities are working at Mister Donut and conforming to business norms and practices, and on the other hand having a family - well a grandmother whom Charley and his father meet very briefly at the end of the book. Had they accepted Takashi's invitation, they would have seen another Real Japan. Well in a way on p.158 I think Charley recognised another reality from the one he had wanted to see.
On p.16 there is mention of 'old Japan, kimonos, fish and rice for breakfast'. Maybe there is an 'old Real Japan' and a 'new Real Japan.' In the new Real japan one would commonly have a salad for breakfast!.
On one trip to Tokyo I attended a performance of a Noh play - which reality was that? Or was it unreal but pointing to reality? Perhaps Peter Carey and his son had a comparable experience when they went to kabuki.
This book also highlights the fact that we pick and choose things when we go to a different culture, and sometimes when we experience something not chosen that is the reality.
Peter Carey does underline for me that there is a loud, brash and slightly scary angle to entertainment in Japan, and this is even evident in TV programmes for children. The beauty of his book is that he is able to underline some of the origins of that.
Really worth reading.
This book is funny, and very quick to read. I particularly love the part about My Neighbour Totoro. It tells me more about it that merely watching it doesn't tell me.
"Kakuki," I said, "is like the manga of its time."
"No it isn't."
"Then go to sleep." (66)
"You will never meet Mr. Miyazaki," Takashi said sternly. "...Mr. Miyazaki is more difficult to meet than Walt Disney."
"Takashi," I said, "Walt Disney is dead."
"His point," said Charley.
This book makes me laugh.
The book reminded me a bit of Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. That too is about a foreigner in Japan struggling to come to terms with the culture through some particular aspect. I felt that Herrigel did it with far more grace, though to be fair Herrigel was actually living in Japan at the time rather than just there for a quick visit. Herrigal didn’t demand answers in the way that Carey did or seek to extract the essence of a culture by interrogating its forms.
The non-answer to Carey’s interview questions by those in the anime and manga industry reminded me a lot of Zen and Buddhism—the teacher isn’t there to give you the answers, you must arrive at your own.
Despite my dislike of Carey, it was quite a fascinating book. I loved that he highlighted the generational gap in Japan as well as between himself and his son. That in turn resonated with the culture gap.
Hearing about the bombing of Japan was quite eye-opening and made me realise that there is indeed a focus on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, when the devestation was really more widespread. There were other facts scattered throughout that made me stop and think as well (13 year-old samurai being one). Miyazaki came across to me as being as much a breath of fresh air as I’m sure he did to Carey. And being quite an anime fan, I appreciated the references.
All in all, an interesting book, but not one I particularly enjoyed.
"What makes it a ghost house?"
"Well, as you will see in a moment, there is a well."
"The well is a very animistic thing. It is a hole to another world, to ghosts and spirits. A Japanese viewer sees that well and immediately understands that this will be a story about spirits."
When Peter Carey's 12-year-old son became interested in anime and manga, his father took him on a trip to Japan, with the promise that they wouldn't be wasting their time on the 'real Japan' of old temples and boring museums. It could have been quite an interesting book, but I wasn't really enamoured of it, mainly because Peter Carey comes across as a bit of a git.
But at least I now know the significance of the well in "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle". I just hope I still remember when I get round to re-reading it!
Not as much of an anime/manga fan as some visitors to Japan are, but I was given this book and I'm quite enjoying it. Will probably pass it on to Nicole when I am done for her to read and share if she wishes and/or hasn't read it yet.
Journal entry 2 by SKingList from New York, New York USA on Saturday, December 03, 2005
Found this to be an interesting and readable book, not too much OD on the manga/anime for those of us who aren't die hard fans, but enough to pique the interest. Kind of makes me want to read some manga, but we'll see.
Beginning this, I knew nothing about either anime or manga, but Carey's plot synopsis of several of the popular ones intrigues me.