It has been a quarter of a century since American humorist Dave Barry “did” Japan — a task he completed in three weeks. “The Japanese culture is thousands of years old,” he writes. “To truly grasp its incredible complexity and infinite subtle nuance, you’d need at least a month.” Free of nuance and complexity, Barry’s account will make you laugh — and groan — out loud. Thankfully, the laughs outweigh the groans.

Dave Barry Does Japan, by Dave Barry.
224 pages
Ballantine Books, Nonfiction.

Back when he visited Japan in the summer of 1991, Japan was still No. 1. According to Barry, it was way better than America at everything, except at making pizza — and that much hasn’t changed. Given that he failed to master Japanese on the plane ride over and remained, by his own account, clueless the entire time, his book is as much about America’s inadequacies as it is about “quirky Japan.” Still, some of his observations ring true. His assessment of urban planning in Japan is spot on: everything is built next to everything else and it ends with a vending machine.

Barry remains consistently irreverent and upbeat throughout his tour. The groans come when he comments on his own height and the lack of it among his hosts; he also can’t bring himself to try most Japanese food and fights all his conservative instincts to take a communal bath. Nonetheless, this is the guide book you’ll want to accompany your proper guide book, just to reaffirm all the things you may have once thought about Japan but were afraid to say in polite company.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

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