A gaijin is an "outside country person", and the term is used of anyone born outside Japan, no matter how many years, or even decades, they've lived in the country. The book makes no pretense at providing an absolute understanding of Japan and is all the better for it. Instead it gives the experiences and enthusiasms of one gaijin who has married into a Japanese family. There are lots of personal anecdotes, many of which provide an insight into Japanese etiquette and faux-pas (with Stevens admitting some he has made himself).
My favourite section was the discussion of what some people call Japlish. Rather than the mocking tone I've sometimes seen, Stevens talks fondly about Japanese English as a distinct dialect and claims that it needs to be incorrect: "Japanese English is Japanese English – it makes the product it's advertising seem 'cool', while also giving an assurance that it is, at heart Japanese. Perfect English would just make a product seem foreign".
The book uses an A-Z format rather than a series of chapters focussing on different aspects. This means the book starts with Abe Sada and continues through a kaleidoscope of Japanese history, pop-culture and tradition, with the mundane and serious side-by-side. Stevens also takes his time over some of his favourite stories, such as that of the warrior monk Benkei or the filmmaker Beat Takeshi.
A Gaijin's Guide to Japan is a fantasic, positive guide to Japan, and the writer's enthusiasm is infectious. I now want to visit Japan more than ever. Meanwhile, where can I find somewhere locally that sells Umeboshi?If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list