Wednesday 25 July 2012

Wrong About Japan

A Father’s Journey With His Son
Peter Carey, 2005
(July 2012)

You can forget what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. Of course, the extent to which you ever really ‘in’ is debatable, though that’s no more true in Japan than anywhere else. Just in case you were in any doubt that every culture has its own little foibles and obsessions which can be initially baffling to outsiders, at one point Carey asks one of his interlocutors about a Japanese person’s class background.

              “Japanese don’t really have class-differentiated accents.”
                            “Is he educated? Educated at all?”
                            “Is he gay, do you think?”
              “Who would know?”

After being here for so long, it’s a helpful reminder both of how Japan appears to the outside world, and how Japan likes to present itself to that world. Or not.

              “However, we were continually wondering what we were missing. What might be obvious to a Japanese viewer but inaccessible to us?”
              Mr. Tomino closed his eyes and made a long mmmmmmm sound before he answered.
              “There is nothing you are missing,” Paul translated, “and the reason is that Mr Tomino made sure that there wouldn’t be anything like that at all.”

It’s the fate of every parent that their teenage children will find them excruciatingly embarrassing, but in all honesty I was embarrassed too. This is a thought provoking little book if you know anything at all about Japan, but not necessarily a good one. An object lesson in seeing not observing, and how a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Interesting, but not for the right reasons.

What’s amazing here is that Peter Carey gets almost every single thing wrong, and then when reassessing those assumptions, gets that wrong too. In fairness, it’s right there in the title so it’s not like he’s particularly trying to hide it. Still though, for the sake of narrative form you’d expect some kind of epiphany, or even just a vaguely coherent conclusion of some sort. No such luck. He doesn’t even mention the toilets until page eighteen. It’s like he can’t even be bothered to get the basics right.

A lot of this is about anime and an overly intellectual writer trying to win a place in pseuds corner by seeing meaning where there really isn’t any beyond the obvious. On that note, and to close, there’s this scene from The Incredibles, which is worth watching through to the end -


  1. I started reading that book but the first couple of pages were enough. Peter Carey - total wanker.

    1. I really liked True History of The Kelly Gang for all its occasional problems with consistency of voice. That's one of his that is worth reading, which I guess is what suckered me into this one.

      Not that being able to write precludes being a total wanker, of course

    2. Never read True History of the Kelly Gang because when it was released every wanky wanna-be intellectual hipster here was going on about it. Also I hate Ned Kelly - well I hate the legend. How the hell did he become a national hero?

    3. How did he become a national hero? Well, you can only work with what you've got. It's not like you Aussies are exactly spoilt for choice in that regard, is it? ;)

      I know what you mean about avoiding some books because of the hype. It wasn't anywhere near that bad in the UK, by the sounds of it though.

    4. At the time it came out, I was doing a creative writing course too which made it worse. Everyone in my class either wanted to be him or Helen Garner. That is why I never read Australian literature.

      I don't get why Ned became a national hero either. Dumb Irishman who stole stuff. I was working at the state police headquarters last year and they had a museum there with his armour. It was really freaken heavy. I couldn't even lift one of the leg plates. Moron. He'd have been better off with no armour so he could've ridden his horse away faster.

      I think Aussies just love losers. We have a statue in the middle of the city of Burke and Wills - the 2 explorers who set out into the desert and got lost and died. Why are they heroes? You never hear about the ones that actually explored stuff and returned.

  2. He lost me with the stupid cover with impossibly large eyes ala Manga. How fucking original ....not.

    1. To be fair, the author's unlikely to have chosen the cover himself. And in my defence, I had hoped it was ironic. It wasn't.

      I bought this years ago because it was cheap. That should have been a warning sign, to be honest. I read it just now because one of my returnee students needed something more challenging for his summer homework. What with it being pretty short I thought it might be suitable, but figured I should check it first. Good job.

      Still might be a pretty interesting read for him, though. But he chose To Kill a Mockingbird, which you can't argue with, really.

  3. That conversation, between Elastigirl and offspring, Dash, kind of reminds me of Masi Oka. Apparently, his mother recognized that he was gifted and got out... of Japan. Who wouldn't want to work in and around ILM?

    I've met a number of bright people here who could have flourished, had the system not wanted to fit them in. Also been lucky enough to meet folks who just pretended that they were more or less normal. Unfortunately, there is no central hub.

    Kind of sad, in a way that seems to permeate just about everything.

    1. Yeah, it's the wasted talent which is so disappointing.

      Bugger, I think I might have just quoted David Brent unironically. Still, a stopped clock and all...