Having visited Japan for a month in 2006, then lived in Okayama for a year between 2009 and 2010 and furthermore having had a life-long fascination with Japanese history and culture, I have experience of reading a great number of travel guides and books about this fascinating country. The one observation I would make of these books is that they are mostly dry, humourless, rinse and repeat guides highlighting the same places to visit and peddling the same experiences, and whilst there is absolutely a place for these books they fail to capture an important aspect of Japan, namely the fun, adventure and humour of everyday life in this curious country.
Amy Chavez breaks the mould with this collection of articles and observations from her many collated years of living in Japan and it struck a chord with me on almost every page. My personal favourite section was the chapter which describes the delights of transportation in Japan and as I read I reminisced about being in very similar situations during my time living in Japan. I loved travelling through Okayama on a local bus as each corner turned would uncover small surprises. This is an alternative guide to Japan and it focuses on aspects of Japanese culture and life that most of the mainstream travel books miss out on, it doesn’t try to cover the same old well-trodden path, it presents new information for the Japan enthusiast to feast on in a very light-hearted, amusing and sometimes surreal way.
I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who hopes to travel to Japan one day, or indeed to anyone who already has and has happy memories of the time. If you are going to visit for the first time then check out a serious guidebook or two as well but definitely read this alternative guidebook for hints on the little things that could make your trip even more memorable.
Oh and as the author suggests, if you can, DO take part in the Okayama Saidaiji Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Man festival), I did and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Amy Chavez is a columnist for The Japan Times and author of Japan, Funny Side Up. She is also the proprietress of the fantastic Moooo! Bar on Shiriashi Island and can be found on twitter as @JapanLite