Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wrong About Japan: A Father’s Journey With His Son by Peter Carey

Peter Carey is one of my favorite writers—I can say this even though I haven’t read his past few novels. While this is a non-fiction, I felt I just had to read it when I saw it on my colleague David’s desk. Carey, an Australian, lives in New York and decides to visit Japan with his youngest son who has become obsessed with Japanese comics, manga, and anime. Carey finds his son’s interest in manga and Japanese culture infectious, and books a trip for the both of them to meet some manga and anime creators. His son makes his father promise he won’t drag them through “Real Japan”—the old temples and museums that most tourists want to see. Twelve-year-old Charley wants to see how real Japanese live, the modern apartments and shops and arcades that represent the Japan of the now. Carey goes to gain a deeper understanding of Japanese culture and pop culture, but what he finds is quite different than he expects. Carey asks questions of everyone he meets—about the symbolism in certain manga series, about the popularity of manga in Japanese culture (“Everybody in Japan read manga, except those just born or about to die.”), or about the definition and usage of the term that’s often used to describe the manga-obsessed, otaku—but receives little for his pains. He never gets a straight answer. For one, he is a foreigner, and as a Western person, he can never hope to understand Japan. His assumptions are wrong, his questions are wrong, and every time he is made to feel that he is barking up the wrong tree. That Carey shares his humbling experience in this slim volume, and that he shares his bonding experience with his son was quite touching. Sometimes, when it comes to art, we don’t need to understand everything, or can learn to find contentment in our own understanding.

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