“Wrong About Japan” was not universally appreciated when it was first published in 2005, but time has proven it to be a small, highly original contribution to books on this country. In it, author Peter Carey, recipient of two Man Booker prizes, traipses through urban Japan in the company of his son Charley, who is bent on exploring Japanese film, anime, manga and other facets of popular culture. The result is a very different hit list of travel objectives — and some fresh perspectives.

Wrong About Japan, by Peter Carey.
158 pages
FABER & FABER, Nonfiction.

Entertaining and often hilarious, this travelogue explores contemporary Japan with a view to understanding generational values and tastes, but also what they reveal about history and culture. For the uninitiated, it’s a readable crash course in Japan’s pop culture and the artists and consumers who create and endorse it.

Along the way, we learn the etymology of the word “otaku” — originally a formal device used by science fiction writer Moto Arai to address the readers of her work — the real function of Gundam — to sell toy robots — and a host of other trivia. There are encounters, too: with young author Yuka Minakawa, master sword maker Yoshindo Yoshihara, anime director Hiroyuki Kitakubo and great animator Hayao Miyazaki.

Throughout, Carey presents himself as the ingenuous parent, wary about the next encounter but always thirsty for knowledge. His appetite for experience serves the book well.

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


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