Book review: Japan, Funny Side Up by Amy Chavez


During the recent weeks news abroad in regard to Japan were full about tragic, sad and dramatic events related to Japan. Time has come for some funny episodes about Japan. I was lucky to have the opportunity to read “Japan, Funny Side Up”, which was for me especially a joyful experience, because I had always liked Amy Chavez articles in the Japan Times. I had read parts of the book before the earthquake and had now finished it in the last few days. What I liked about Amy Chaves approach in “Japan, Funny Side Up” is that she challenges the reader about the common perception about Japan in a truly funny way. It worked for me well, because I found myself laughing out loud many times. Additionally I was happy to read the same concerns or questions that I still have myself after more than 9 years in Japan. For example I am still getting annoyed many times outside in public to see Japanese adults dragging their feet. After reading Amy’s book I have shifted my perception. Instead of getting annoyed every time and screaming inside of me “can’t you walk?”, I guess I should learn to do it myself with Amy’s instruction:

“The proper way to drag your feet is to lean back on your heels and point your toes out. You should hear a definite scraping sound with each step so you effectively wear down the rubber on the soles.”

I guess after having purchased for the first time in my life last week a yukata and fitting geta (Japanese style sandals) it is the prefect timing for me to learn how to walk the Japanese way. So far learning to walk at home was not too effective as I tend to wabble on the geta.
Another example which felt close to my heart: Japanese letters. I have to confess I am a rather impatient person and Amy’s description about the pain of receiving a Japanese letter is just wonderful. Opening a Japanese letter is truly a painful task, because no matter what you will do, you cannot get a Japanese letter open the way you are used to do it abroad:

“Round one: Try to open the letter by sticking a thumbnail under the corners of the flap. Try again, this time using the thumb and index finger to start peeling the flap off. Defeated!
Round two: Letter opener poised, attempt to insert the very tip of it under the corner of the flap. Dig and pry, dig and pry. Curse. Try again, this time using a sashimi knife. Defeated!
Round three: Fetch a pair of scissors to cut open the end of the envelope. When you realize you’re cutting the letter because Japanese stationary fits so tightly, it leaves no extra room in the envelope, curse again. Defeated!
Round four: Go ahead, get the sledgehammer.”

I think I had ripped up countless Japanese letters, simply because I could not open them properly. For sure her comments about Japanese culture, business and everyday life let me laugh out loud many times with her unique description of Japan which are so true: “Japan: A nation ruled by cartoon characters”, the immensely colorful clothing style of children or then the explanation of employees at a bank in terms of ants. Furthermore at the end of the book I enjoyed the Gaijin quiz, which was funny and reflects reality the way I perceive it too. For Japan beginners the glossary is very helpful.
If you care about Japan and want to have a good laugh, “Japan, Funny Side Up” is the book I recommend.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

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