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Wrong About Japan: A Father's Journey with His Son Hardcover – January 11, 2005

2.8 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist Carey is a two-time Booker Prize winner (Oscar and Lucinda; True History of the Kelly Gang), and although his latest work is presented as nonfiction, his fiction readers won't be disappointed. This travel diary reads like a scintillating novella, and Carey has, in fact, added his own fictional embellishments to the real-life events he reports. After his shy 12-year-old son, Charley, began reading English translations of Japanese manga, their Saturday mornings at the Manhattan comic book store Forbidden Planet spurred Carey's own interest. As their "cultural investigation" of manga and anime widened, "the kid who would never talk in class was now brimming with new ideas he wasn't shy to discuss." This father-son bond deepened when they flew to Japan to meet manga artists and anime directors, including Yoshiyuki Tomino (Mobile Suit Gundam). At publisher Kodansha, they learned of manga's history, and touring Studio Ghibli, they encountered the "most famous anime director in the world," Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away). Their guide to Tokyo's cartoon culture was Takashi, a teenager the narrative says Charley met online (yet, as Carey revealed in a newspaper interview, he created the imaginary character of Takashi because the narrative needed conflict, and Carey wanted to avoid "conflict with anybody in real life"). Carey's fluid and engaging writing style gets a boost from 25 energetic b&w anime/manga illustrations.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

With two Booker Prizes to his credit, Carey has little left to prove in literary circles. But he admits straightaway that he’s a horrible reporter. So horrible, in fact, that one of the characters of his new nonfiction book, Wrong About Japan, is entirely fictional. That reviewers let such trickery slide attests to Carey’s remarkable writing skills, as does the rich variety of critical responses to his book. It’s an homage to his son, a study of dislocation, and an intellectual inquiry into the roots of Japanese animation. A few critics knocked Carey for not being the best travel companion on the page and meandering rather than driving straight at his point. Wrong About Japan is a slight book, but just as with the best animation, one should not dismiss it as child’s play.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400043115
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400043118
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,460,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I should say first that I'm not what you'd call a devotee of Carey's work. But the man has scored two Booker Prizes for himself, and he's writing on a subject that I am deeply fascinated by. So I thought I'd give him another chance.

Pulling it off the shelf at my local bookstore, I was surprised by the physical lack of substance. At 120 easily-digestible pages, I had it read in less than two hours. Granted, 120 pages doesn't give you much room to manoeuvre. I would have liked to have seen what Carey could've done with this book had there been an extra hundred, or even fifty pages.

But as it stands, 'Wrong About Japan' is a surface account of anime and manga culture in Japan, that goes into no specific detail, except in giving synopses of the opening scene of 'Blood: The Last Vampire' and the first half hour of 'My Neighbour Totoro'. It does contain the occasional laugh and genuinely funny culture shock. but for the most part I felt as if Carey was just giving me excuse after excuse as to why he's not delving past the surface of this world that is always talked up as being so different to the West.

As the book progressed, and as Carey's own 'misreadings' of anime and manga are turned aside by a series of Japanese industry folk (who might as well have all been played by one actor in different costumes, for all the individuality the narrative accords them), I was left with the slightly sour impression that Carey himself, whilst faithfully recording these put downs, wasn't all that open to considering them.

I felt his growing frustration with being told no, his analysis was not correct (and why on earth he never asks 'why not?' is beyond me; as far as i'm aware, Barthes' declaration that the author is dead still holds some weight).
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Format: Paperback
It's odd indeed to read a non-fiction book (well, except that one essential character is actually a conflated invention of the author...a fact he neglects to share anywhere in the text) and find it unconvincing. But that is precisely the impression Carey's book gives.

I have lived and worked in Tokyo, where this specious memoir takes place, for two years now, and while I hardly fancy myself an expert on Japanese traditional or popular culture, I was noticing inaccuracies and flat-out mistakes from the first chapter on (if you can't even parse "gaijin" properly, I'm not likely to trust your insights elsewhere).

Peter Carey is excited about Japan. Great. Learning about Japanese pop culture is a way for him to connect to his son. Also great. He's read all the requisite authors (writers much better than he himself) -- Kennedy, Kerr, et alles. Still great.

Slapdash and shoddy research padded out with dull anecdotes to fill a scant 158 pages (and the volume is physically small, to boot!)? Not great at all.

Carey may be a fine novelist -- I take nothing away from his other books -- but this is hackwork. He puffs as though he's discovered a topic far more articulately and provocatively explored by literally dozens of other authors. And he lies, and flubs up, throughout. (Parenthetically, I hope he's a better dad than a journalist.)

Skip it. I got mine from the English-language section of my town's Japanese library, so it was a free if unfulfilling read. But I really wouldn't spend my money if I were you.
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Format: Hardcover
This book seemed interesting to me, since I recently went to Japan to indulge my taste for Japanese pop culture. Much like the author's son, I didn't have much interest in going to temples or musuems(unless it was the Bandai or Ghibli Musuem) when I could go see a Godzilla movie or lose myself for a day at Nakano Broadway.

The author mentions visitng the Ghibli Musuem, but fails describe this wonderful place it at all! When interviewing the creator of Gundam, he is so narrowly focused on finding assumed hidden Japaneseness, he blows what could have been an entertaining interview. He knows nothing of these subjects. It's unfortunate that since Mr. Carey is a respected author he can get interviews with top shelf talent and waste everyones' time who is involved, including the reader's.

You will not gain much insight into anime, manga, or Japan from this book. If you are interested in these subjects buy "Cruising the Anime City" by Patrick Macias and Tomohiro Machiyama. It's a wonderful book that does a wonderful job of explaining the pop culture aspects of Tokyo.
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Format: Paperback
"Wrong about Japan" is an embarrassing book, and Peter Carey should be ashamed of himself. The basic premise is a father finds himself with an anime-obsessed son. Looking to bond a little, he suggests a trip to Japan for the two of them. Not wanting the foot the bill, and being a writer by trade, he cons his publisher into paying for the trip promising a book in return.

But Carey knows nothing of Japan, has no insight, discovers nothing. He seems well aware of this deficiency, padding out the book by quoting long passages from other, better books on Japan including Alex Kerr's "Lost Japan" and recapping, in detail, the first half hour of ""My Neighbor Totoro." He even invents a fictional character, Takashi, as a playmate for his son, but Carey's complete lack of knowledge into Japanese anime fans, or anything Japanese for that matter, renders him lifeless and untrue.

Worse still, in an attempt to justify the trip, Carey has whipped through a few books on Japanese culture and cobbled together a few pet theories that "explain it all." In an ultimate show of hubris, he refuses to relinquish these theories even when the actual people, such as master swordsmith Yoshindo Yoshihara or Gundam-creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, tell him how mistaken he is. He wants Gundam to be a metaphor for the atomic bomb. He wants swordsmithing to be a window into the military past. He wants everything to mean something, but refuses to listen to the actual explanations when offered him. (His interview with Yoshiyuki Tomino is especially painful. One imagines a Japanese scholar confronting the creator of "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe," demanding that he admit how Skeletor reflects on past fears of the bubonic plague ravaging Europe...
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