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Living Abroad in Japan

By Ruthy Kanagy

It is encouraging to see the number of books that have been published in the past few years that are knowledgeable about Japan, the Japanese culture and the language. When I was first learning Japanese, there were few people who knew anything about Japan. In fact, when people found out that I was studying Japanese they often asked me if Japanese wasn’t a dialect of Chinese!

Ruthy Kanagy has written a book that proves that Americans can produce authoritative material about Japan that is equal to anything published in Japanese. “Living Abroad in Japan” assumes that the reader is planning to go to Japan to study or work, and provides everything that anyone could ever need to get established in that country.

The book is divided into four parts: Welcome to Japan, Daily Life, Prime Living Locations and Resources. Each part covers the subject exhaustively. Even if one knows nothing about Japan to begin with, after reading this book one would be well on one’s way to becoming an expert.

In the Welcome to Japan part, one is given an abbreviated account of Japanese history, the government, economy, people and culture, customs and etiquette, social values and the arts, among other things. There are also tips on the best way to make a fact-finding trip to Japan to learn more about living conditions before moving there. Personally, I was glad to see that the Ninna-ji temple in Kyōto (Omuro Ouchi 33, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, tel. 075/464-3664, fax 075/464-3664, www.ninnaji.or.jp/syukubou/hall/hotel.htm, $86-127 per person with two meals, $47 without) was noted as one place to stay. The Buddhist meals (料理精進= shōjin ryōri = Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) that are served there are delicious!

Daily Life takes things from there. This part is divided into the following sections: Making the Move, Housing Consideration, Language and Education, Health, Employment, Finance, Communications, and Travel and Transportation. No matter what part of Japan one is headed for, there is comprehensive array of facts and advice about where to live, the living conditions in virtually anywhere in the country one might find oneself, registering as an alien, professional services that can help with whatever one needs, schools and universities that cater to foreigners, health services that might be needed, help in finding a job or getting settled into the job one has come to Japan for, information about banking, transferring money and the Japanese currency, internet access, using the postal system, the television and other media, traveling around the country and modes of transportation.

Prime Living Locations describes the best places to live in Japan. Naturally, Tōkyō heads the list, with the most prominent wards in the city described and suggestions given in regards to the most attractive features of each of them. Ōsaka, Kyōto, Hiroshima, Sapporo and Fukuoka among other cities are also covered exhaustively.

Resources includes dozens of addresses, telephone numbers and websites for embassies and consulates, information centers, travel agencies, moving companies, rental agencies, language schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and clinics, emergency telephone numbers and other valuable contacts that are too numerous to list here. There is also a glossary and Japanese “phrasebook” (which is only nine pages). The book ends with a bibliography of suggested books to read and an index.

The author grew up in Japan and has spent 25 years living there. Her parents came to Japan as Mennonite missionaries, settling in Hokkaidō and establishing a church and a pre-school there. That explains some of the quirks of the book. For instance, after Tōkyō the next city that is featured as one of the best in Japan in which to live is not Kyōto, Ōsaka or Nagoya, but Sapporo in Hokkaidō! I have been to Sapporo and it is a perfectly fine place to live, but it lacks the bustling energy of Tōkyō, the business activity of Ōsaka or the traditional Japanese ambience of any number of other Japanese cities. One thing I have to credit the author with, though, is the fine map of Hokkaidō that is included in the book. It is the best that I have ever seen! (In fact, all of the maps in the book are excellent, including those of Japan itself, Tōkyō, the Kansai area that includes Ōsaka and Kyōto, and the Inland Sea.

Here is a paragraph from the book that will give one a feeling for the writing:

Japan and Russia have yet to sign a Peace Treaty ending World War II because of Russia’s wrested control of the Kuril Islands (four islands off eastern Hokkaido) in the final days of the war. Japan has demanded the return of their “northern territories” but the dispute has not been resolved. Japan has had tense relations with North Korea as well, due to North Korea’s abduction of 20 or 30 Japanese citizens during the 1970s and 1980s, forcing them to live in North Korea and teach Japanese to future spies. North Korea’s recent nuclear program and nuclear testing has not helped to resolve the situation. The irony of the world’s most foremost nuclear power trying to persuade a starving kingdom to change course is captured in a terse haiku submitted to a major newspaper by a Japanese reader: Amerika to kita no kaku dewa doko chigau? American nukes and North (Korean) nukes—what’s the difference?

Now, perhaps I am a stickler for accuracy, but within this paragraph there are several mistakes. In the first sentence “Peace Treaty” should not be capitalized because it is not a proper noun. North Korea abducted at least 50 Japanese citizens, whose photographs have been widely publicized. It is strange that the author could make such a mistake as to indicate that only “20 or 30” victims were involved. Also, it is clear that the North Koreans were not seeking teachers! They were actually practicing abduction techniques to use on more high profile targets. Finally, the “haiku” is not a haiku at all. It is a senryū, which follows different rules of composition.

These are minor quibbles and actually the fact that the author made those mistakes indicates that she wrote the book herself. They are the kind of things that average Japanese citizens believe. Another proof of the author’s close involvement with the production of this book are the numerous photographs of famous buildings and sightseeing locations in Japan that she took herself.

In conclusion, “Living Abroad in Japan” (which is part of the Living Abroad series published by Avalon Travel, which produces the maps in the book, in the Moon living Abroad series that includes “Living Abroad in Australia” and “Living Abroad in Italy”—www.moon.com) is a book for that can be of significant value to people interested in the minutia of daily life in Japan. It offers much information, tips and insights concerning the country that are difficult to obtain anywhere else.

Robert J. Terry

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