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Sunday, July 20, 2003

THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF

Need to leave Japan?

YOU KNOW YOU'VE BEEN IN JAPAN TOO LONG . . . , by Bill Mutranowski. Tuttle Publishing, 2003, 120 pp., $14.95 (paper).

Many foreigners will tell you that if you plan to stay in Japan long term then "for sanity's sake, get out of the country at least six times a year!" It is one of those warnings that during your first few months, or even year of the trendy, Asian-lifestyle honeymoon period, you don't take too seriously. And then later, it all becomes so frustratingly clear: The women seem irritatingly submissive, direct answers are hard to come by, train stations are like a battle ground, everything comes in tiny plastic sachets, absolutely everyone stares at you -- the list goes on. And in a country where manners seem so important, the outspoken foreigner almost enjoys blowing steam, even at the risk of making him or herself sound arrogant.

So why stay? Only you can answer that, but in the meantime here's some survival advice: Just don't take it and the handbook -- Bill Mutranowski's "You Know You've Been in Japan Too Long . . . " -- too seriously.

Mutranowski has taken all those little things that niggle foreigners in Japan and made them into a humorous series of cartoons. Not profound, but then neither is grumbling over a Japanese grandmother whose "supernatural" strength just forced you out of the only free seat on an "inhumanely" overcrowded train.

There's nothing better than knowing that someone else feels the same way as you do about Japanese foibles, and at times Mutranowski hits the nail right on the head. Best of all, he's not apologetic about his opinion. And if you read all the cartoons, you'll realize that he actually pokes just as much fun at foreigners as he does at the Japanese. Take a look at his acknowledgment page, and you'll see the writer/cartoonist not only takes living in Japan with a large dose of salt, but also himself and even his book.



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