155 of 166 people found the following review helpful
The pleasure any reader will have in any travelogue depends on the personality of the author. Does he or she make a good travel companion? Tim Anderson is snarkily funny and doesn't complain. He plunges into the life of an English teacher in Tokyo with brio. Tokyo is one of my favorite cities and Anderson's narrative is often amusing. I'm not sorry I "visited" Tokyo again and glimpsed it again through his eyes. Tokyo is a fascinating city and Tim gives us all the surface glitz.
Don't expect great insights or to learn anything new about Japan.
I didn't mind that Tim was self-absorbed,ignorant and clueless at the beginning of the book. One travels to discover and learn. Or some of us do. But the typical chapter in this book will have Tim observing some typically Tokyo scene and then go off into some kind of fantasy riff as if the stuff happening in Tim's head was more real than what he was seeing. Worse, the fantasy seemed to shut off his natural curiosity about what he saw so he remained ignorant and was never driven to find out why.
At only one point did he come close to grasping an essential difference between Japan and America and that was in the chapter on karaoke. He notes that Americans hog the microphone playing the big star that they see in their heads. Then he talks about going out drunk with a group of Japanese who when one person sang would act like the back up singers/musical group. And he got into it--he liked being part of the group with everybody participating...but it didn't lead him to a better understanding of the importance of the group to the Japanese persona. At the end of the chapter he declares his intention of continuing to hog the microphone in the American Way. It's sort of funny, as by chapter 15, we're familiar with Tim's ego but since this the closest he's come to recognizing something outside of himself, it's also disappointing.
There are better books to find something out about Japan; some are more entertaining then this one. But Anderson has a gift for writing and for depicting arresting images whether they are fantastic montages or Tokyo street scenes. He can be irritating, obnoxious and clueless but he's not vicious. He's openly gay. That's more important to him than to me, but I feel compelled to mention it. I laughed several times reading this book and almost gave up reading it several times. I heartily recommend this book to fans of Tim Anderson.
77 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2012
I bought this book because it sounded like I had a lot in common with the author. I too, teach English in Japan (although not Tokyo) and I was excited to read a book detailing the adventures of another young gay guy in Japan.
Unfortunately, it kind of let me down. The writing, for me, was hard to follow. There were times when Mr. Anderson would launch into detailed fantasies mid-story. A lot of the times, it was hard to distinguish what he was actually seeing and doing and what he was just fantasizing about. Another thing that made the book hard to read was the use of really really long, detailed sentences that used several examples and descriptions and references all crammed into an incredibly long run-on-esque sentence that when I was in junior high and high school my teachers would always berate me about and threaten me with certain death unless I beat it into my poor hormonal, adolescent brain that it was wrong and I avoided them at all costs. <<< Kind of like that.
The result of this made want to fast forward to the end of several paragraphs to bypass all of the (at times) unnecessary description and fluff.
As for the content, I laughed a few times and I think the author was spot on in his description of certain things. Other times, I found myself raising an eyebrow at what I was reading. I felt a lot of times that I was just reading a big gay stereotype. Some of the references in the book maybe outdate me (sorry!), but it just felt like he was turning himself into a gay caricature to make a point.
Usually when moving to a new country and living there for an extended period of time, you change as a person. I didn't really get that from this book. If there was any self-realization or maturing, it didn't come through very strongly. I feel like Mr. Anderson didn't really write about and describe the culture as much as he could have. For someone reading this book with no real idea of Japan or its culture (especially Tokyo's), it might be kind of hard to grasp some of what he's talking about.
Overall, I thought the book was funny at parts, but lacked substance. The other characters in the story seemed very one dimensional and just seemed to be kind of...there.It also ended pretty abruptly and I felt the ending tried to be deep and introspective, but it wasn't well-executed. Sorry, Mr. Anderson. Maybe next time :(
46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
The term "gaijin" (Japanese slang for "foreigner") actually has close literal roots to the term "hairy barbarian," the way westerners were viewed when the term was coined (and in many ways, still to this day).
I'm a fan of Japanese culture (three ex-girlfriends who were Jaoanese, JPOP and the cuisine, mostly) and over the years I've become educated in some of the "inside" details of the culture, like "kawaii" ("cute," but in a sugary, adolescent, "Hello Kitty" kind of way). I've also read Christopher Seymour's Yakuza Diary: Doing Time in the Japanese Underworld...which I highly recommend...because it's a book that balances the sunnier, goofy, sweetly eccentric aspects of the culture emphasized in Anderson's book with the more harsh, stark, day-to-day realities of life in Japan.
There are three kinds of "gaijins" who go to Japan in an attempt to immerse themselves in the culture:
1). The outsider. They arrive an outsider, remain an outsider, and leave an outsider
2). Those who "fit in," with varying degrees of success, primarily via making themselves "useful" (such as teaching English)
3). What Anderson describes as a "Japanger"..."the overwhelming feeling of frustration and displeasure, usually of Western people living in Japan, resulting from doing daily battle with the sometimes maddening idiosyncrasies and inscrutable behaviors of the Japanese people."
Where does Anderson, as a "gaijin" from the American South, fit into this picture? At different times during his adventure, he experiences a little of all three categories.
At one point he describes the union he's formed with a couple of Japanese musicians: "One night we go to the used bookstore/clothing boutique in Kichijyoji, west of Koenji, where Yu, the bassist from the very first music session who is a sort of punk rock performance artist who also dabbles in apocalyptic woodblock prints and illustrations, is holding court."
The average "gajin," in many instances, sees thing in a linear, black-and-white way. Japanese culture colors outside of the lines. The more you try to pigeon-hole or categorize any element of it, the more stymied you'll become. The lack of sense makes sense to the average citizen born and raised in Japan...that's just life.
During one outburst that was borne of frustration, Anderson writes "Something is wrong with me. I am not the same champion teacher I was before, one who can handle the weird neuroses of his class with grace and humor. Someone has swiped my mojo and I need it back."
That's the "hook" of this particular book...if you're a "gaijin" stepping onto Japan's home turf, you'll never have your "mojo" unless you allow life...as David Byrne might put it...to "stop making sense." Another excellent book that I recommend is Japan's Cultural Code Words: 233 Key Terms That Explain the Attitudes and Behavior of the Japanese...these are the idioms, the words and phrases that are taken for granted and woven so closely into the fabric of Japanese society that an ignorance of their existence would prevent an outsider from ever truly "knowing" the Japanese people.
Anderson's book has a bold (and romantic) premise, the guy who needs to shake up his life and jump into the deep end of the pool, just to shake things up. His mix of amusement and annoyance in his new "deep waters" comes across as honest, and the journey is a bittersweet one in many regards.
I would have to say that I enjoyed the book primarily because I'd read the other two books I've mentioned first, and also have a couple of decades' worth of "exploring" that I've done as well. Hitting this book cold, getting the details first-hand from Anderson, I don't know...it's a lot to absorb if you're a first-timer. I can see some readers losing patience with the book after a short time.
I'm reminded of an entry in one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's journals, in which he writes about a proposed trip to England. His intention was to "get away from it all," but realized in the final analysis that "Everywhere I go, my giant goes with me"...meaning his problems, his attitude...a change of scenery really doesn't change much unless you do a little "internal housekeeping" first.
Anderson became bored with the status quo, bored with a lack of opportunities, bored, bored, bored. On one hand, the trip to Japan was an adventure. On the other hand, he took his "giant" to Japan as part of that adventure.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2011
This uneven sophomoric, memoir provides mostly amusing episodes from the author's sojourn in Japan teaching English to a wide variety of students of all ages. Most of the cultural insights are superficial consisting of what can be seen on the surface, along the lines of "I saw this and then this and then this, isn't that strange!"
Perhaps the author spent a tad too much of the time drinking, smoking weed, and popping mushrooms to offer the insights I held out for throughout my reading experience. But I was looking for something the author himself did not promise. Taken on its own terms, its an "okay" read, sure to bring some laughs.
23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2010
I haven't read a book through in one sitting in a long time. This one I did. A friend bought it for me to read on vacation, but I finished the book before I finished packing. It's a funny, charming memoir of one introverted gay Southern man's experiences teaching conversational English in Japan. It's written in a free-form "bloggy" style that keeps readers squarely in this guy's head the whole time, so don't expect a whole lot of history and cultural criticism of Japan. There's no story arc to speak of--the plot is episodic and impressionistic--and funny, laugh out loud funny. Nothing deep or particularly insightful here, but the writer's voice is friendly, conspiratorial, and addictive.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Tim Anderson's well-written memoir "Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries" is a funny, fascinating window not only into Tim's life as a tall, white, gay, American Southerner but also into life in Tokyo and the Japanese culture. Tim, who was pushing thirty, left his boyfriend and moved to Japan after a string of dead-end jobs. Tim's hilarious self-effacing stories as an English teacher and his experiences while playing in an all-Japanese noise band as a "gaijin" or outsider are masterfully told.
My favorite humorous descriptions include Tim's experience at the Shinjuku Train Station. He found himself eased down the nearest staircase by the sheer force of the crowds tugging him like an undertow. They decided he would go out the south exit. That was fine with him.
Learning Japanese as a foreigner he was terrified that one day he would instead of telling someone they looked nice he'd end up saying, "I want to lick your daughters underarms."
I loved Tim's description of a Washlet or toilet found in nicer Japanese restaurants. "It has a slew of useful functions, like a butt sprinkler, a heated seat, and a dizzying selection of sound effects to muffle the user's unseemly emissions."
When teaching English as a foreigner in Japan Tim says the classroom atmosphere is one of absolute deference to the teacher. By contrast "teacher" to many American students is just a fancy word for "target."
While sitting on a sofa in the Chill Out Room at a nightclub in Tokyo Tim wonders why his friends approach the glass, see him, wave, look above him, then back at him and giggle. Then it suddenly dawns on him Oh-my god-no-it's -a-vagina! Behind his head is a huge black and white photo of the biggest vagina he has ever seen. And it looks angry. Tim looks around and realizes to his surprise the room is simply jam-packed with photos of vaginas of all sizes - every gay man's nightmare.
Ryuji, a first grader Tim was tutoring, successfully got Tim to say the word "sex" by asking him to say the letter X five times. Ryuji then laughed at him for saying a "bad" word.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2012
Very interesting book for people who loves the Japanese culture. Each chapter contains one funny story about the author's misadventures in Japan. An easy book for boring Sunday afternoons.
Pros: well-written, humorous, very interesting!
Cons: too short; the author referring too much to his gayness, this can be boring!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In the acknowledgements section, the author notes that a series of mass e-mails morphed into a series of longer mass e-mails and eventually became a book outline, manuscript, and then book. I wish this information had been provided in the beginning rather than at the end because it actually made me look at the book in a more positive way. When I read that I thought, "Yes, OK, I can see that and it makes perfect sense."
For me, Tune in Tokyo is one of those "almost" books. You know, one of those books that you read and think, "This is almost a great book." It is almost a book that I wanted to recommend to all my friends and almost a book about which I would make a Facebook post declaring, "I just read the funniest book ever!" Almost, but not quite. I didn't quite connect with the author and there were a few too many cringe moments for me to wholeheartedly recommend the book.
On the positive side, there are a number of "laugh out loud in a public place" moments in the book and many more "smile and chuckle" moments. The book is also full of interesting characters and provides an entertaining glimpse of life in Tokyo and Japanese culture.
I think this book would appeal to a wide variety of readers. If you are a fan of Bill Bryson-type travel books, you might enjoy this one, as well. If you have ever fantasized about running off to a foreign country to teach English, as I have more than once, you should take a look at this book. If you like fish-out-of-water tales, this is one. Finally, if you have ever visited Japan or would like to, you might like this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The ability to laugh at himself makes this autobiography a fine and funny read as this American author describes his experiences teaching English in Japan. To give you an example, I quote directly from the preface of the book.
"Why would a college graduate with such impeccable credentials as a BA in English, diabetes, credit card debt, Roman nose, and a fierce and unstoppable homosexuality want to leave the boundless opportunities available to him the USA (temping, waiting tables, getting shot by high school students) for a tiny, overcrowded island heaving with clever, sensibly proportioned people who make him look fat?"
I laughed out loud when I read this and I must say I kept laughing throughout the rest of the book as I followed his adventures and misadventures as a rather awkward fish out of water teaching English to a wide variety of Japanese students and experiencing various forms of culture shock as he plied his trade. Both he and his students struggled to learn the other's language and the results of their efforts are sometimes just "laugh out loud" funny.
The book isn't perfect however. Sometimes it gets a little repetitive and just made me smile instead of laughing out loud. But it is always upbeat and easy to identify with the narrator and I certainly recommend it to anyone who needs a break from being serious and wants to enjoy this lightweight romp.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I actually had stumbled onto Tim Anderson's blog (which I loved) before I realized he'd written this book. He's got a wry, witty writing style that I rather like.
I didn't pick up the book to learn anything about Japan, I wanted to just bask in someone's awkward situations regarding cultural differences told in an amusing light, and that's just what I got. I've never been to Japan myself, but I've always wanted to go. Tim hops over to Japan without speaking Japanese and ends up teaching English to Japanese children. Sure it's a typical 'fish out of water' scenario, but his off the cuff quips & observations are delivered in conversational storytelling manner. These are the kinds of memoirs I enjoy from time to time, it's light and fun to read. I plan on giving this to my boyfriend next as he has been to Japan a number of times. Many of the stories my boyfriend had told me about being an American in Japan have sounded much like the ones Tim has written here so there's no doubt he will be able to enjoy the book while relating to it at the same time.