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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Book Review: Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan

Oh my goodness, how could I be so impolite?

The folks over at Stone Bridge Press had sent me a book to review—Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan—and I completely forgot to do a write-up.

I didn’t expect to be enthralled by the book, nor learn anything from it, based on the book’s cutesy cover featuring anthropomorphic cats—but dammit, I did enjoy it.

The softcover book has 140 pages, and cost US $12.95 and features nine chapters of easy-to-read and easy-to-understand sections that will help you navigate your way through Japanese customs and cultural differences to avoid looking like a complete idiot.

Firstly, however, as a foreigner and thus guest in Japan, 99.9% of the time you will be treated as such by the Japanese populace. Culturally, Japan is a very polite society.

Now, since no one in Japan is really going to get angry with you for any faux pas or cultural transgressions you may make, why, you may wonder would I need to read: Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan ?

Simple. Who the heck wants to stomp around a country with complete disregard for its peoples or customs?

Barbarian hordes stampeding the women and raping the cows, that’s who. That’s not us, of course.

No… we want to do our best to fit in, with a “when in Rome, do as the Roman’s do” philosophy.

Rather than Rome (in the case of the adage, we are talking about Rome the country), we’re talking about Japan…

Trust me, you don’t want to commit half the mistakes I did. The Japanese are quite forgiving because they know we don’t know any better - but Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan is here to educate you better.

Even though it is only confined to two pages, the book provides two 10-pieces of advice: Things you should never do in Japan; and things you should always do in Japan.

Excellent advice... and that alone would make the book worth its weight in cold chocolate coins.

Still, the book offers pointers on (based on the chapter headings): going out (to the mall) or on a date); standard etiquette; etiquette for traveling whether in daily life or on va-cay; hotel do's and don'ts; toilet and bath etiquette, which is actually quite important, as people are less forgiving at a hot spring facility; eating foods and drinks; homestays/visits; general language conversation (see below for my story on my mistake (?); and business etiquette.

My favorite language mistake? I was at an office enkai (party) and was asked how we Canadians say kanpai (cheers) when doing a drinking toast. I told them that Canada “cheers” is very common, but we do also possess a bit f an international flair and also use such cheers as "prost!" (German), Nazdrovia (Russian, Czech, etc), "yamas" (Greek), and good old "Cin Cin" (Italian).

Cin cin in English is pronounced as "chin-chin".

All cool, right?

Except in Japanese, "chin-chin" translates to a slang of "penis".

So when I told the Japanese we said "chin chin", all of the women cheered, while the men en masse grabbed their head (forehead, actually), and gave it a slight sideways shake in disgust.

The women were soon drinking heavily and toasted good fortune with bellows of chin chin, grinning as the cheers of "penis" abounded within the restaurant.

When someone from the restaurant came in to see what the hubbub was about, the women giggled and told them. Pretty soon the main part of the restaurant up front was laughing and drinking away to toasts of "penis" (or rather the Italian version), and I realized that internationalization in Japan could be a lot of fun if one wanted to stir up mischief.

Amy's Guide To Best Behavior in Japan may not cover all of the faux pas that a foreigner could get up to in Japan, but it can help you avoid many an embarrassing situation.

Is it worth picking up? Yes.

While it may not have avoided the infamous "penis" incident of 1990, it will help you fit in better in your new country.

Now, I'm still of the opinion that life is worth screwing up a bit in order to create better stories...

Can you imagine just how bland my life and this blog would have been if I didn't constantly screw up while in Japan? Boooorrrrring.

However, I had/have the capacity to deal with such fallout. Many of you would not.

Few men and women, for example, cared to let their true selves out in Japan... whether they are foreigners of Japanese. That old adage in Japan about the nail that stands up gets hammered down, isn't just an adage - it's a way of life.

Personally, I don't mind standing out.

But I do respect that fact that if possible, most people would prefer that their actions did not cause WWIII.

I can't guarantee that Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan still won't cause WWIII, but I can guarantee you that you will have fewer embarrassing interactions while in Japan. 

Don't get me wrong. I seemed to thrive in embarrassing situations... and those faux pas I made in Japan sure seem stupidly funny now... but I can guarantee you I was embarrassed by them at the time. Why do you think it took me so long to bring this stuff up?

Pick up a copy of Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan. Author Amy Chavez did a fine job of explaining how to "do it right, and be polite". Chavez has been a columnist for the Japan Times for 20+ years, writing about cultural differences between Japan and the West - kindda what I do mostly.

Currently she owns the Moooo! Bar & Calfe on the beach of Shiraishi Island. See HERE and HERE for info on her blog and bar! She's been writing since February of 20019 - a few months longer than I have (though I will lay claim to having a few more blog entries than Ms. Chavez - but quality over quantity?)

Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan is a quick read, though NOT skimpy on words. Has lots of fun drawings by Hazuki Jun (surname first) involving cats. Why not cows? I guess Chavez didn't wish to hawk her bar/calfe.

Contact Stone Bridge Press at and order a book and make cowgirl Chavez smile. You'll learn something from Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan, and maybe even get a chuckle or two from it as well. 

Chin chin,
Andrew Joseph
PS: For Michael at StoneBridge Press - sorry for not posting this earlier. I actually did read it days after receiving it... and I did write most of this then... but for whatever reason, I stopped at the point of the penis cheer, and forgot to complete it. D'oh.  

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