Lost in Translation A good place to begin is with a look at the kinds of cultural confusions you're likely to encounter. Even if you're not staying at the Park Hyatt, the hotel that serves as setting in the film, Lost in Translation gives a kind of lyrical expression to the sheer overwhelming size and complexity of Tokyo. When I see it, I remember the panicky feeling I had when I was (briefly) lost and disoriented in the Shinjuku train station. Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan Next, read Bruce Feiler's often humorous account of the year he spent teaching English in Japan. This will give you a much more detailed idea of cultural differences. Hiroshima Americans don't know much about Japanese history. Hersey's classic account of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, originally published in The New Yorker in 1946, is a must-read. Japanese Lessons: A Year in a Japanese School Through the Eyes of An American Anthropologist and Her Children Are you a teacher or someone with an interest in education? (If not, skip this one.) Gail Benjamin's fine account of how Japanese elementary schools operate will prepare you for what you'll see if you have the opportunity to visit one. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa (Essential Poets) Are you interested in literature? I can't think of a finer introduction to the Japanese poetic form known as "haiku" than this one by the American poet Robert Hass. His anthology includes three famous poets: Issa, Buson, and Basho. In addition, Hass's explanations of the complexities of the haiku form are excellent. The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan For fans of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, here is the Japanese counterpart, Alan Booth's account of his 2000 mile walk from the northern island of Hokkaido to Cape Sata, on the southernmost island of Kyushu, with many adventures along the way. Grave of the Fireflies (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) I feel a little guilty recommending this, because it will make you cry. On the other hand, the rendering of the details of Japanese life is exquisite. Shogun And how about something for the plane? Clavell's epic work of historical fiction, set in feudal Japan, is loosely based on the experiences of the real-life shipwrecked British sailor William Adams. This book will keep you absorbed on both legs of the trip. The Flower Master If you prefer something shorter, take along some of the contemporary mysteries by Sujata Massey, which will keep you up to date (if that's possible)on what's happening in Tokyo. Harumi's Japanese Cooking: More than 75 Authentic and Contemporary Recipes from Japan's Most Popular Cooking Expert Once you return home, you'll surely want to do some Japanese cooking. Harumi's recipes are quite accessible, with clear directions and not too many difficult-to-obtain ingredients. Try her dumpling recipe. The only thing is, it will make you nostalgic, thus rendering inevitable another visit to Japan.