Before I get into this review, I have to admit something that other nerds might find to be a bit disconcerting. It is only in the past several years that, aside from video games, I have truly appreciated the nerdtasticity of Japanese culture. However, I recently have experienced the crazy awesome shows Fist of the North Star (quite literally mind-blowing) and Ranma 1/2. As with all of my hobbies/obsessions, I wanted to dig deeper and find a book to tell me as much as possible about the mysterious land that produced such brilliant artistic content.
Hector Garcia’s book is excellent on the whole, although the short title A Geek in Japan is a bit misleading. A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony covers all different aspects of Japanese culture; this book is not entirely about manga, anime, video games, and other geek related hobbies. However, I am actually glad that it covers a broader view of the country because it provides a more complete picture of Japanese culture. There are chapters dedicated to just about everything, including history, arts, workplace culture, daily life, travel destinations, and everything in between.
Garcia manages to survey Japan to an impressive degree in a relatively brief work. I am struck by what, in my humble opinion, is the extreme hodgepodge of positive and somewhat concerning aspects of Japanese culture. Japanese achievements in the arts and general attitude toward life are extremely appealing, whereas the extreme degree of public formalities and high stress work environments are intimidating at best and dangerous at their worst. One problem for anyone who is interested in actually moving to Japan and integrating into the culture is, as Garcia points out quite effectively through his own personal anecdotes, that Japan is still a very closed society. The general impression that I received from the work is that tourists are always welcome and treated with respect, but it is next to impossible to truly integrate into the “in group” of Japanese society.
As for my fellow nerds reading this review, it is my pleasure to report that Garcia’s chapters on manga, anime, video games, etc. are infused with his own passion for nerd culture. Anyone who is interested in Japan from either an artistic or sociological perspective will find A Geek in Japan to be a worthwhile journey into the heart of Japan.
Just watch out for giant, fire-breathing lizards. I hear that they are indigenous to Japan.