Thursday 21 September 2017

Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey

Wrong About Japan was a lovely surprise. My relationship with Peter Carey is a bit hit or miss, but this slim memoir/travel journal with his teenage son hit the mark.

I recently caught up with a well-travelled friend who has been to Japan several times to mine her for information about where to go and what to see. At the end of the chat she loaned me her copy of Wrong About Japan saying it was a book that she and her family all read and enjoyed together.

It turned out to be a fascinating snapshot of manga and anime obsession as well as a great introduction to the Asakusa area of Tokyo and some of the cultural differences that Westerners often feel when the visit Japan trying to find the 'Real Japan'. I hadn't given much thought to manga or anime, well, ever, but reading about Carey and his son's passion for the art form and it's stories, piqued my interest...a little.

Father's of teenage sons have to find all sorts of ways to stay bonded during this weird and often trying phase. I'm not sure how many dads would spot a trip to Japan to assist in that process, but all power to Carey for doing everything within his means. Having watched Mr Books go through this painful time with both his boys, I found many of the brief comments and asides made by Carey to be very affecting and authentic.

The book was first published in 2004. I would love to know what 26 year old Charley now thinks about this trip with his dad and whether he is still enthralled by manga and if he ever returned to Tokyo. I wonder how they both would describe the 'Real Japan' now?

I'm often dissatisfied with outsiders writing about the Australian way of life. On the one hand's it's seductive to see our way of life reflected through an outsider's eyes, but on the other, it's extremely provoking to see how many errors and misconceptions exist. I therefore wonder how a Japanese reader would view Carey's thoughts on his time in Japan.

In this curious little book, I learnt a bit of history about samurai's and sword making, I got a sense of the trains and just how big and complicated the stations can be as well as the hotel rooms and just how small and compact they can be.

I also picked up two more Japan reads to add to my wishlist - Rick Kennedy's Little Adventures in Tokyo and Alex Kerr's Lost Japan.

Part of the pleasure of a holiday really is the anticipation and the preparation.


  1. I read this a decade ago when my reviews were less long than they are now ... "In which Peter Carey (yes, that one, the Booker-winning novelist) has a somewhat unsatisfactory trip to Japan with his son. Encompassing the history of manga, a guide to some of the towns and a father-son-road trip, this is a dreamy read, like the trip, full of misunderstandings and over just that bit too soon." That's it. But it was a good read!

    1. I wasn't sure if anyone else would know of this book - love the brief review as well! My first year was full of pithy (or not so pithy) one paragraph reviews too :-)

  2. I'm curious about Japan too, not so much on the history but on the way of life and why certain attitudes are still held today. I've visited a few times for work purposes, and had a lot of opportunity to engage with local people. Enough to stimulate my interest ...
    There's a book you might be interested in that I reviewed a few years ago - Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life by Michael Pronko who is a journalist and a professor in Tokyo. Its a series of articles ranging from cherry trees to the vending machines....



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