Raising children can be either wonderful or hair-raising, depending on the occasion, and sometimes both things at the same time. If you happen to be living abroad, it becomes even more challenging and exciting. As such, many expats welcome any advice or practical help and are attracted to stories by those who share their experiences. Tuttle has recently published two such books.
Japanese Nursery Rhymes is a large-sized, colorful collection of 15 songs that author Danielle Wright began to gather in 2005, together with other worldwide tunes, for her son. Some of them are warabe uta rhymes that Japanese children traditionally learn from their moms or, in this age of busy parents, from the TV. The rest are modern doyo usually sung in primary schools. Each verse is presented in interlinear format, alternating Japanese text, its alphabetic pronunciation, and English translation. Since it’s a family book, I asked my tribe to help with the review.
They all liked Helen Acraman’s graphics, and the old-style feeling of her illustrations—though my wife found them a little un-Japanese. To be sure, they look more Pan-Asian: a mix of Japanese and Chinese, with a touch of South-East Asia thrown in for good measure. The songs, all very short and accessible, are first performed in Japanese, then in English. The Japanese versions sound a little strange, since a native English speaker sings them. A foreigner might not notice the difference, but my two children, who are more Japanese than gaijin, laughed all the way, and enjoyed picking on the girl’s accent. All in all, though, this book has the potential to appeal to children worldwide. Recommended for children 4–8 years old.
Japanese Nursery Rhymes: Carp Streamers, Falling Rain And Other Traditional Favorites, by Danielle Wright (illus. by Helen Acraman). (Tuttle Publishing, 2011, 34 pp., ¥1,600 hardcover, audio CD included). Buy here.
Getting Genki in Japan chronicles the culture shock experienced by American Karen Pond after moving to Tokyo with her husband and three sons. From the language barrier to everyday problems newcomers have while shopping or visiting the ward office, fellow expats can read about all the typical embarrassing situations experienced by new arrivals in Japan—or any other unfamiliar country, for that matter—and found funny only when they happen to someone else. The problem is, this kind of humor works best when based on plausible situations. This is where Pond’s jokes fall short more often than not.
To give just some examples, problems communicating with the pizza delivery boy in Japanese are understandable; but it’s harder to believe she could confuse ¥5,000 with $5,000. When hunting for meat in the supermarket, she wonders, “How many thin slices of Metric Meat do you need to be able to smoosh together to make a hamburger patty?” More enlightened readers might have noticed the minced meat which was surely less than a couple of meters away. In other words, the readers are asked to choose between two things: constantly suspending disbelief or just thinking that Pond is two verbs short of a phrasebook.
Stylistically, the titular genki characteristic of the book extends to Pond’s writing, and the chirpy enthusiasm and repetitive use of adjectives might be a little wearing.
Getting Genki In Japan: The Adventures And Misadventures Of An American Family In Tokyo, by Karen Pond (illus. by Akiko Saito). Tuttle Publishing, 2012, 192 pp., ¥1,700 (hardcover). Buy here.