When you move to Japan, one of the first things you realize is how woefully unprepared you are for the experience. Naturally, there’s the language to deal with, its never-ending foreign words and phrases coming at you from all directions. Then there’s that “reading the air” thing, the expectation that you are supposed to understand instinctively what is going on with those around you, which you don’t.
This perplexity about your new homeland shows up even when lounging in front of the television. From the backstories for the jidai-geki period dramas to the prime minister’s latest statement on the evening news detailing yet another government expense, there is just so much to learn. To help bridge the knowledge gap, I recommend the new book Into Japan: A Starter Kit for Understanding Japanese Society. As for the author of this tome, well, he’s me.
I got the idea for the book when thinking about the American President’s Day holiday. When I was a kid, the US still had distinct celebrations for the births of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and I realized that newcomers to the United States wouldn’t have any innate cultural understanding about President’s Day, or presidents in general, or the government’s executive branch, or how that branch works with the legislative and judicial branches to carry out the will of the people. This was exactly my own situation in Japan, where everyone around me was carrying in their heads a basic understanding of Japanese society, where it came from, and how it works. What if there was a resource that gave new arrivals like me the same information that the native Japanese population still remembers from their high school history and civics classes?
Now there is. All five chapters of Into Japan offer the kind of basic details that residents of any nation need to participate in society. These sections cover the following essential topics in a friendly, conversational style.
- Japanese history, from the first settlers thousands of years ago up through last week.
- Japan’s modern Constitution, its basic parts, and how those parts define the nation.
- Symbols of Japan, those tangible or ideological totems—including one human—that define what Japan means to itself and the world.
- How the Japanese government carries out its duties, and the role that residents play.
- The Japanese economy, where the money for it comes from, and how the government divvies up the funds in its coffers.
Despite this broad coverage, you won’t be overwhelmed. Published by Owani Press as part of its “Understand in One Afternoon” series, this compact book was designed to be consumed in less than four hours—in one afternoon.
Anyone with an interest in Japan will discover new insights into this fascinating culture. But if you are one of Japan’s foreign residents, especially if you plan to live here for many years to come, this book was written for you!
If you have been reading the articles here on Japan Everyday for any length of time, you know I am a big believer in having foreign residents not just experience Japan—as fun as that is—but in playing an active and productive role as residents. Into Japan is a useful resource for instilling cultural common sense within those who have made the move to Japan, a key step to full participation in Japanese life.
Into Japan is available in paperback from Amazon sites worldwide, and in e-book format from a growing list of popular bookshops. Visit the book’s page on the Owani Press site for details, or wander over to your favorite online bookstore to see if they carry it.