When I set out a few years ago to write a guidebook on Japan, it was my intention to provide foreigners considering relocating to the country with the vital information necessary to ensure that their stay in the Far East was a pleasant one—information that was never available to me as I prepared for my own tenure in Japan. Astounding as it may sound, nothing existed in print that could prepare me for the two years I spent in the country teaching English. There was simply no suitable information that would help ease the often daunting adjustment from life in a Western culture to one that is so often head-scratchingly different. With The Land Beyond, I was determined to rectify that situation by offering a guidebook that would actually be of use to Westerners venturing to the Far East.
Some of you reading this may be shaking your heads right about now. Surely, you may be thinking, there is no shortage of books that have been written about Japanese culture. Bookstores have entire shelves devoted to Japan and its culture, and new works about the country are published on a nearly daily basis. As such, how foolish—arrogant, even—I must be to assert that The Land Beyond is the first and perhaps only publication that offers realistic advice for those who wish to live in Japan.
Certainly, there is a plethora of works devoted to Japan and its people, and I, in fact, have read many of them. However, and this is said with great regret, not one of them is of any practical use to foreigners living in the country. The vast majority of books delve into topics that relate to Japan’s past, but they provide little assistance on how one can cope in the Japanese society of today. Instead, they impart tidbits of information that are of no use whatsoever. Knowing the name of the victorious side in the battle of Sekigahara (an event of little historical significance from hundreds of years ago), how many times one is supposed to turn the cup during a tea ceremony, or the name of the person whose face adorns the 1,000 yen bill may be of idle interest to those who are amused by such tidbits, but is of no use to anyone trying to make a living in Japan. For those who come to Japan with intentions other than to emerge victorious in a game of trivia, the information provided by these books is worthless.
Granted, there are other works that claim to provide insights into the Japanese mind. They explain very little, however. In fact, rather than providing sensible, evenhanded commentaries on the ways in which the Japanese think and act, these works can more accurately be described as fawning odes to the Japanese, gushing with praise for anything and everything in the society. In the eyes of these authors, Japan is a utopia, and its people are a wise and noble race, incapable of doing wrong. Perhaps most disturbingly, these works are mostly written by the so-called academics who consider themselves experts on Japanese society. So riddled are they with inaccuracies, however, any foreigner living in Japan who makes the mistake of trying to read one of these books finds himself bewildered as to how such flawed text could have possibly been put onto paper. One would think that these “experts,” who supposedly have conducted research on Japan for years, or even decades, would know better than to write the drivel they do. The sad truth, however, is that they do not know any better. Either simply obtuse, or blinded by their love for the country (a love that is unrequited, as will be explained in the present work), it is a classic case of not being able to see beyond the end of one’s nose. If you are reading this now, you are likely considering a move to Japan. As such, you may be looking to purchase one of those works that claim to explain Japan. I cannot urge you any more strongly to not waste your money on these books.
The Land Beyond was thus groundbreaking in that it was the first book to explain the way the Japanese really are. Perhaps it should not be surprising, then, that it was blackballed from the start. As so often happens when one dares to present new ideas that disturb the status quo (Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind), there is a concentrated effort to silence the apparent rabble-rouser. The completed manuscript was rejected from countless agents and publishing companies for reasons that were only too clear: In the present politically correct social climate, anything that is deemed unflattering toward cultures other than the West are immediately deemed “racist” or “xenophobic,” and therefore unfit for publication. Accurate depictions are considered irrelevant; anything foreign must be portrayed in a positive light. Although this manner of thought is absolute nonsense—no race of people is without its faults, and the Japanese have more than their fair share—it is prevalent in the world of publishing, and The Land Beyond, which does not shy away from justified criticism of the Japanese, was therefore doomed from the moment it was completed. Not only did the traditional publishing agents refuse to consider it, when I ultimately published it myself (at considerable personal expense, certainly, but I felt it was of great importance that a fair and accurate portrayal of Japan be available), mainstream newspapers and journals refused to review it, even after I sent them copies.
Admittedly frustrated by this cold response, I sent a number of copies to university newspapers, figuring that since the majority of foreigners working in Japan tend to be recent graduates of higher education, the information I could provide would be welcomed. Here I was in a sense more successful, in that a scattering of reviews began to emerge, but as I soon discovered, even at the university level, a work that offered a truthful description of Japanese society was certain to be met with criticism. “The conclusions the author reaches concerning Japan are so outlandish, so ridiculous, in fact, that this reviewer has to wonder if he has actually ever set foot in the country,” wrote one reviewer. “The author offers nothing other than anecdotal evidence to support his often bizarre claims; there is no indication that any research was done at all,” offered another. Numerous other reviews were also written in a similar condescendingly disparaging tone.
It was disappointing, but in retrospect, not surprising, to see the negative reviews from the university newspapers. University students are among those most transfixed with the idea that everything and everyone should strive to work together in peaceful harmony. Additionally, they are quick to embrace the idea that the “other” is superior to what they consider the norm. The amount of “America bashing” that occurs on campuses in the United States is so staggering that one would think the students are ashamed of their country, and would rather live in a more “enlightened” country such as Japan. For this reason, the reviews written by these naïve students should not have been unexpected. Sadly, in addition to the general nastiness in which they were written, they also reflected the inattentiveness that is so prevalent among the current generation of university students. One such instance of this is in regard to the lack of references in The Land Beyond. As it were, I did not cite the works of others simply because I did not use the works of others. As I explained earlier, they are not credible, so there was no reason the false information presented in them should have appeared in my own book. The conclusions reached in The Land Beyond came from field experience—my two years living in Japan—and not erroneous theories that do not hold water in the context of reality. Sadly, although I explained this clearly in the book’s introduction, the reviewers apparently missed this explanation in their rush to criticize the work for its lack of references, seemingly believing that a book without hundreds of citations could not possibly be credible.
Far from being discouraged by the disparaging remarks, however, I understand that it is now of even greater importance that my fight to reveal the true Japan be continued. It is because of my critics that I have revamped and reworked The Land Beyond and offer it to you now as a new edition. The ideas from the original remain the same, but I have expanded upon many sections in the updated version. It is my hope that you read this with an open mind, and are not swayed by the considerable pressure from so-called experts to dismiss it as a piece of “Japan-bashing.” It is not bashing, after all, to tell the truth, and that is what I have striven to do in this work.