When Charley, the twelve-year-old son of Booker Prize-winning author Peter Carey, announces that someday he wants to live in Japan, Carey decides the time is right for a father-son trip to Tokyo. Charley is a passionate fan of Japanese manga and anime film, and he has recently become an internet friend of Takashi, a fifteen-year-old Japanese "visualist" who is as committed to these arts as Charley--and who plans to to meet him in Tokyo. As Charley goes to Japan to experience the youthful cartoon culture (making his father promise that there will be no museums or temples on their itinerary), Peter Carey goes to Japan full of expectations and preconceived ideas for a book--most of which, he tells us in the title, prove to be wrong.
Using contacts made by his literary agent in Tokyo, Carey sets up appointments for himself and Charley to meet some of the great Japanese directors, authors, anime creators, and traditional artists (including a sword-maker, a sculptor, an architect). Charley, on the other hand, sets up meetings with Takashi for Sega World in Akihabara--"Electric Town"--the gaudy, neon shopping area filled with electronic magic--robots, video games, miniaturized washing machines, solar-powered pogo sticks, and wild new inventions to meet needs you didn't know you had.
As Carey works to see connections between manga illustrations and old ukiyoe prints, he also looks at the heroes of manga and anime to see if they connect with the samurai tradition and the bushido code of honor. He examines contemporary Japanese culture for echoes of the A-bomb, the firebombing of Tokyo, and the American occupation, hoping to discover "the way a proud and isolated society has waged war, suffered war, and emerged from war." And he discovers that in almost every case he is wrong in his assumptions.
A charming story of a father's attempt to connect with his son, the book provides a very basic introduction to manga, anime, and contemporary Japanese film, along with brief notations about the history of Japanese cultural traditions. Not a book for the already committed fan of manga and anime or a student already familiar with Japanese culture, the book, nevertheless, provides some fascinating glimpses into the lives of the Japanese creators of film and other arts. An excellent, easy introduction to some aspects of Japan which tourists may find helpful, the book's biggest limitation is that while Carey admits that his assumptions are wrong, he does not leave the reader with any other useful framework for better understanding this fascinating culture. Mary Whipple