Book review: A Geek in Japan

By Jeff W Richards

Not many blogs have made the transition from monitor screen to print. Correction: not many of the over 156 million personal weblogs on the internet have made a successful transition to book form. Some of the creations which have made it include, in no particular order, "Julie & Julia," "I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell," "Stuff White People Like," "The Joys Of Engrish," "This Is Why You’re Fat," "I Can Haz Cheezburger" and "Post Secret" — which later became a series of five NYT bestsellers. Though it’s safe to say the bulk of them are compendiums of crowd-sourced content, it remains a drop in the bucket compared to the sheer volume of websites out there — both good and bad.

Hector Garcia came to Japan in 2004, a mild-mannered Spanish software engineer who started posting in Spanish about his new life in Japan and the things that interested him here. His blog, kirainet.com, was a way to document his explorations of all the crazy foibles of Japanese pop culture: the manga, the maids, the otaku, the idols, the gadgets. He subtitled it “A Geek In Japan.”

It quickly became one of the most-read Spanish blogs on the interwebs. It was named one of the best Spanish blogs of 2004 — if not the best — on numerous media lists in his home country. By 2006, Garcia was translating kirainet.com and posting entries in English. He was documenting not only otaku culture, but also Japanese cultural history, customs and travel. It has since gone on to become one of the top ten blogs on Japan—period.

Published in Spanish in 2008, "A Geek In Japan" made it onto the bestseller list there, and is currently into its fourth printing. Now, Tuttle has published it English.

For those living in Japan the book, on first glance, seems to be just another book about how different and crazy it is here. But while it might not be the in-depth field guide to Japanese history, culture, politics or religion you might look for on the reference shelves, there is more than enough here to recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in Japanese pop culture, or as a gift for those with friends outside the country who are interested in your land of residence.

Starting with a general overview of Japan, its later pop culture sections are one of the strengths of the book. Colorful and teeming with pictures, the book brims with page after page of Garcia’s own photos, giving an intricate look at whatever craze or obsession you might fancy. Subcultures, anime and manga, youth tribes, modern Japanese pop music, and television are all included; but there are some surprisingly serious entries here that belie Garcia’s knowledge of all things tech- and Electric Town-oriented.

In one entry, he tackles the Japanese attitude toward suicide, explaining it as a Shinto belief in doing the right thing: “Today, if the father of a family cannot repay a loan or cover the cost of his son’s or daughter’s wedding, he may resort to suicide in order for them to receive the money from his life insurance.”

Garcia’s book is more than just a compilation of otaku culture and the crazy Japanese pop life articles that blog pundits who don’t live here love to gab on about. It takes the best of his entries from the website and fleshes them out within the bigger picture of today’s modern Japan. This, combined with some great street-cred photography and lots of personal insight, makes "A Geek in Japan" a great table-top book for quality skimming.

Available in major bookstores and via Amazon.

This review originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

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Wow... never expected that one of my favorite bloggers got it in the book world...

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I'll have to check this one out. I've not seen the blog before.

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I picked up the book of couple months ago, and found it to be entertaining and interesting. For those also interested in similar books, I'd recommend:

"The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider's Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan" by Patrick W. Galbraith "Cruising the Anime City: An Otaku Guide to Neo Tokyo" by Patrick Macias and Tomohiro Machiyama "Tokyo Clash: Japanese Pop Culture" by Ralf Bahren. "The Anime Companion: What's Japanese in Japanese Animation?" by Gilles Poitras "The Anime Companion 2: More... What's Japanese in Japanese Animation?" by Gilles Poitras

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The most striking point of the blogger is that he doesn't claim to be a Japan expert on every facts despite very good knowledge on Japan and a talented man personally. I wish reading of book will be worthy of time.

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It is a pity that I can't go to Japan for living there...as a young researcher I cannot get a job until doing several posdocs there...since I'm married and have kids, scholarship won't be enough for sending money back home, saving for paperwork and the trip, saving for buying a house and all furniture and appliances, and leaving a bit for me to live there...I regret of doing phd studies...

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and leaving my family for years until I get a job, that sucks!

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