I gave this book, a review copy, four out of five stars solely on the basis of Howard's solid writing skills. He introduces the average salaryman life in a comic, interesting and entertaining way. As far as I know, the information in this book is not available anywhere else, making it a must-read for anyone who is going to work for a company in Japan or who may be transferred to a foreign office in Japan.
The book is an introduction to the daily grind, or the Japanese version of the rat race, for those with office jobs, in particular males. Each chapter introduces one or several Japanese concepts, which are colored by the perspective of a foreigner attempting to fulfill the expected role. I especially enjoyed Chapter 13 on the salaryman's hesokuri because I had only heard about wives squirrelling away money before this! Chapter 11: The Foreign Guest Honey Trap is especially revealing and is a must-read chapter for those visiting Japanese companies.
Even though the author's reactions to Japanese culture were drastically different from my own concerning issues such as sorting garbage, visiting the doctor, or eating Japanese food, I still enjoyed his explorations and accept the occasional exaggerations and over-the-top generalizations as an element of humor writing. The world Howard is cocooned in is a far cry from that of foreigners who have come to Japan to teach English, for example, and should be respected as just that.
This book is not without its disappointments, however, and most of them are related to the mechanics of the book. While "a memoir" fits the dictionary definition (recollections of past experiences), it does not match the book category and niche. There is very little background about the author, his formative years, his early influences, his character and the only reflection (a key ingredient of memoir) is in the final chapter.
While I appreciated the way he linked chapters together so they ran smoothly from one to the next, this order fell apart in the last third of the book where tenuously related content was included, such as the chapters on reverse culture shock when he went back to the US and his observances of the American characteristics of his father. While these chapters are included under a special section called "Advanced Topics," for me, these topics threw the book off-track. It would have been better leave it to the trials and tribulations of the main character in Japan, without introducing extra topics and people near the end of the book. For example, if the father had been introduced earlier in the book, and had proved to have some influence on the author or his decisions, it would have been a more natural segue, but without this, it seemed superfluous, almost like padding a book that needed more pages. Another option might have been to put this material in an "epilogue" where he could have inserted these issues of reverse culture shock that are unrelated to his job.
The one nagging question throughout the book for me was: Where in the hell was his wife during all this? His own small children made cameo appearances in the book, yet we are left wondering where the other progenitor of these children is. You just can't leave these details out in a memoir. The "wife" is an important element to the salaryman's life, as outlined in Chapter 13. Howard spends plenty of time talking about other salarymens' partners, yet any reference to his own is suspiciously, and conspicuously, absent. Needless to say, a salaryman with children cannot exist as a salaryman without someone at home taking care of the children, the laundry, the meals, the home, etc. Was he a single father? The fact that he doesn't get home until very late at night precludes the possibility he put the children into a day-care facility. Did he have a live-in maid to take care of the children? Did he have a same-sex marriage that he didn't want to reveal? All of these ran through my mind. This sorely missed point will surely not bode well with women readers. This lack of mention of wives, or even OL's narrows the niche, and limits the book's appeal, in my opinion.
The wife is, finally, mentioned in one sentence on the second to last page of the book. Yet to me, this is where the memoir should have begun.
We'd like to see this book republished as either a full-fledged memoir with all the warts and revelations about his family, marriage, and the job that seemed to eventually destroy the latter, or alternatively as a collection of articles that can be read independently. In a collection, you need no story, and there is no need to seek an arc and a main character who grows and changes over the course of the book. It could be titled something like: The Essential Guide to being a Salary man in Japan. Or, Essays on Becoming a White-Collar Warrior in Japan.
If you're vacillating between buying the print or e-book version, go for the e-version. The numerous full-color illustrations fill the screen from left to right (which can't be said for the print version, where they are stuck here and there at various sizes and margin distances). In addition, the print version is heavy to carry around due the glossed pages needed to accommodate full-color printing. I also had a quality issue with the cover, which has already, permanently, curled! I do live in a humid climate in Japan, but none of my other books have curled, so this is a quality issue with the printer/publisher.