Friday, December 01, 2023

Into Japan A Starter Kit for Understanding Japanese Society

Japan Book Review: Into Japan: A Starter Kit for Understanding Japanese Society

Into Japan: A Starter Kit for Understanding Japanese Society

by Tim Odagiri

Owani Press (2023)

ISBN: 978-1-529-11481-2
176pp; paperback

Into Japan A Starter Kit for Understanding Japanese Society.

You've lived in Japan a few years now and you think you'll stick around for a while. You want to be a good citizen (OK, resident) of your new country, but you're not sure how Japan works and what you need to know. What to do, what to do?

In his introduction to Into Japan, author Tim Odagiri writes that his objective in writing this book was, "to provide tools that foreign residents need to better participate in Japanese society. A common frame of reference is essential for a functioning democracy."

His tome is broken down into five chapters, with an appendix consisting exclusively of the surprising easy-to-read Japanese constitution in its entirety. No worries, it's all in English.

The first chapter is a deep dig into Japan's history, going back 30,000 years. That's a lot of history to cover in 31 pages. Even longtime Japanophiles will learn a few new things. This chapter reveals how Japan's keen sense of nationalism came into being. The ensuing chapter discusses Japan's modern constitution, in case you don't want to scrutinize the whole thing. Included is the much-discussed Article Nine, which states in part, "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes," and Article 27 which states, "All people shall have the right and the obligation to work." Some American friends of mine would like to see the "obligation to work" part inserted into the U.S. constitution.

The easiest chapter to digest is the third chapter concerning the state symbols of Japan, which incorporates discussions of the emperor, the imperial seal, the flag, imperial regalia and more.

The final two chapters address the workings of Japan's government (including a good explanation of the court system) and the Japanese economy.

Probably few people have read their own country's entire constitution, but reading Japan's constitution doesn't take much time. Some of the 103 articles are very short; the shortest being Article 23 which reads, in full, "Academic freedom is guaranteed." The preamble is a flowery work of art.

Although written in a humorous style at a not-burdensome length of 176 pages, Odagiri's writings are not exactly…jejune. He had me tapping into my online dictionary a few times. The concepts discussed by the author are most appropriate for long-time Japan expats wanting to contribute to their new land, and not your two-years-and-gone eikaiwa types.

In addition to learning how to be a responsible Japanese resident, readers will also come away with numerous interesting tidbits of trivia to stump their fellow expats. For example: *Kimigayo, Japan's somber national anthem, is, at just 32 words, the world's shortest national anthem.

*Among the signees of Japan's 1946 constitution (written by Douglas MacArthur and his associates), was the Minister of State, Baron Shidehara Kijūrō. Who knew there were barons in Japan?

*Between 1976 and 2016, every single lower house was dissolved by the prime minister before serving its complete term.

Whether you want to become a more informed resident to fit into Japan better, or just hope to peruse some interesting history and culture, reading Into Japan is a good expenditure of your time.

Review by Marshall Hughes.

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