When Lisa joins her teacher husband in holy matrimony, they have a few blissful days before embarking on a whole new life — across an ocean. After Peter accepts a job in Nagoya, Japan, high maintenance Lisa must adapt to a new culture. Kicking and screaming, perhaps, but adapt nonetheless.
Lisa Fineberg Cook’s Japan Took The J.A.P. Out of Me is an entertaining look at one Type-A woman’s quest to make the most of a foreign experience. Peter’s new teaching post means Lisa must leave behind her L.A.-based friendships, family and work for the year they’re abroad. As someone addicted to her regular primping sessions, lunch dates and hob-nobbing, Lisa’s introduction to Japanese culture is a little rocky. She doesn’t speak the language, for one, and as a tall, blonde American? Well, let’s just say attracts her fair share of attention. Cook isn’t prepared for the onslaught of changes, but eventually attempts to make the most of her time away outside the U.S.
Despite the skewering it’s taken, I have to tell you: I really liked this book. It was my constant companion in the days until I finished it, and I loved Cook’s glimpses at a culture so entirely different from my American way of life. Broken down into chapters regarding seemingly “simple” tasks, like laundry and eating out, Cook’s battles to master things that came naturally in the U.S. really got me thinking. I’ve traveled a bit in other countries and love peeking at how others live, but to actually move there? It was brave. And bold. And really cool.
Does Lisa occasionally act like a spoiled brat? Sure. Does her pinched-nose annoyance with foreign culture become grating? Sometimes. It’s hard to believe someone so averse to living abroad actually moves abroad, but hey — we all do crazy things for love. And Lisa makes no bones about the way she feels for Peter, even getting into the nitty-gritty of doing “dirty” American things in their Japanese living arrangements. We know they’re in love and they’re going to thrive or fall together. I liked the vulnerable parts of their nacent marriage she let us see, and I loved that she never tried to be perfect — or describe it that way.
And here’s what makes Lisa a likable heroine: she’s aware of her faults and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Though deemed “shallow” by other reviewers, I gently beg to differ: Cook is a self-proclaimed J.A.P. (Jewish American Princess), so her misadventures on public transportation and fending for herself in a world where everything is foreign takes on extra meaning. She admits she’s been spoiled and sheltered. And she’s trying to change that. Maybe it takes a while, but that was all right with me. I was invested — and along for the ride.
If you’re looking for a deep look at life for expatriates doin’ their thing in Nagoya, this probably isn’t for you. Lisa is often more interested in finding a good hairdresser and manicurist than becoming culturally enriched, but that didn’t bother me. She does offer insights into Japanese culture through an American lens, though they were pretty superficial. Still, I found her hilarious and charming, and Japan Took The J.A.P. Out of Me was a delightful read.
For chick lit lovers and armchair travelers, this is one delicious bento box of fun. (Mmmm, bento.)
4 out of 5!