Books play a large part in the life of any foreign resident of Japan. For no matter how pervasive online linkage to the homeland becomes, books have always been, and always will be, a main conduit to the language and culture left behind, especially when socked into riding the trains for hours on end.
Topics on Japan are especially popular, but I often find this genre somewhat lacking. As a person who dabbles in the babble of the literary world, I sometimes muse on the “life in Japan” books that I feel convinced would become best sellers if only I could find the time enough to write them . . . and a publisher drunk enough to fund me.
Here then is a list of titles that with a bit of luck might one day be weighing down your bookshelf. While some may seem a tad scanty on content, in many cases the titles alone speak volumes.
From A to Z . . .
* “Audrey Hepburn’s Navel” (If Alan Brown can make a bundle writing about Hepburn’s neck, then I can likely double that by focusing on her navel, or elsewhere. Be honest, now. Which book would you rather read?)
* “Breaking the Mobile Phone Habit” (with Chapter One focusing on breaking the damn phone)
* “The Chrysanthemum, the Sword and the Love Hotel”
* “Games to Play With All Those Business Cards”
* “God, the Most Important Job Interview of Your Life and the Meaning of Why the Chuo Line Stalled”
* “How to Japan” (including chapters on everyday matters such as what to do with the noodle in your lap, exactly when to stop bowing, and how to laugh “with” the gentleman who is laughing “at” you . . . until you can step close enough to kick him)
* “How to Pick the Right Train — Before You Get On” (This might be a board game as well, perhaps with darts.)
* “How to Pretend You Love the Dish You Pretended You Knew the Directions For”
* “Hunting for Underwear in the Forest” (subtitled “The Fateful Difference Between ‘Shitagi’ and ‘Shiitake,’ and Similar Pratfalls in Japanese Language.” Alternative title: “Hanging Your Mushrooms out to Dry”)
* “Impromptu Japanese Design” (subtitled “Ways to Use Your Stamp on Clerks Who Won’t Take Your Signature”)
* ” ‘I See Cindy Sitting on the Seat!’ and Other Party Drills for Japanese English Learners”
* “Is Hello Kitty Satan?” (including chapters on the correlation between cats and evil, the clever camouflaging of the word “hell” in Kitty’s name and “Whatever you do! Don’t stare into those eyes!” plus other survival hints)
* “Japanese for Dizzy People” (Far more practical, I believe, than the “busy” AJALT textbook of similar title.)
* “The Japanese Restaurateur’s Foolproof Guide to Preventing Secondhand Smoke Inhalation” (excerpt: “And next, to be really, really effective, place a tiny placard between seats, designating one as nonsmoking and the other as smoking.”)
* “Japanese Toilets for Ph.D.s” (The dummy market gets competition.)
* “Karate, Sumo, Judo and Other Martial Arts Useful in Japanese Roach Control”
* “Living Each Day on a Japanese Diet . . . But Pigging out on Pizza at Night”
* “Magical Experiences With the Japanese Cost of Living” (subtitled “Making Money Disappear”)
* “Making Your Japanese Dreams Come True!” (Like the dream where you’re on the train and wearing nothing but your house slippers. This simple primer can help you realize that.)
* “Murphy’s Law: The Japanese Corollaries” (including comments on which way the yen/dollar rate will zoom on the day you exchange money, why the yummiest-looking bread in the bakery is bound to be pumped with bean paste, and how you will probably mispronounce the word “shoe” when you mention your itchy footwear during that big presentation)
* “Predicting the Big One: A Year’s Study of the Mysterious Canine Habits That Could Save Your Life!” (excerpt: “Jan. 1st. Today Pochi ate, rolled over and slept. Jan. 2nd. Today Pochi ate, rolled over and slept. Jan. 3rd. Today Pochi ate, rolled over and slept. Jan. 4th. Today Pochi . . .”)
* “Ranger Tom’s Guide to Dealing With Increased Bears in the Japanese Wilderness” (to include chapters on playing dead, screaming out of control, and running like a sonovabitch)
* “Reversing the Decline in Japanese Population” (with chapters focusing on immigration, adoption, cloning and reanimation of the dead)
* “Unfolding Paper Cranes — Step by Step”
* “What If We Had Sailor Suits Too? — An Examination of English Teachers and Their Fears”
* “When and When Not to Fill the Other Guy’s Glass” (excerpt: “Tanaka lay flat on the floor like a tuna begging for the swift mercy of the meat cleaver. I sloshed through his vomit and lifted his head from the tatami by his necktie. His eyes rolled white. His tongue trailed along the floor like a pink ribbon. ‘C’mon now, buddy,’ I belched. ‘You gotta have one more round for the road!’ “)
* “Who Says the Japanese Aren’t Creative?” (subtitled “The Various Ways the Emperor Could Wave His Hand If He Wanted To”)
* “Why Mickey Mouse Makes Japanese Friends and George Bush Doesn’t — Could It Be the Voice? (Without giving away too much content, my premise here would be that there might be an easy way for the president to increase his support among the Japanese people.)
* “Willing People to Get Off Your Train — And What Else You Might Do If You Had Telepathy”
* “Zen and the Art of Commuter Wicket Maintenance”
Alas, the only one above that will probably ever be finished is the one on hunting underwear, which I have already written under another title, “Japanese Made Funny” (The East Publications, 2001). The publisher was helpful, not drunk — though he may have hit the bottle after seeing the sales.
Ah, there’s the rub. Writing is fun, but marketing . . . it’s always a pain in the shoe.