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East Meets West

It all started with Richard Lloyd Parry’s The People Who Eat Darkness. Parry, as a foreign correspondent for the London Times, gives a thorough account about the disappearance of a British National in the famous pleasure district of Japan: Roppongi. He weaves the main narrative with facts about post-war Japan and the modern Japanese criminal system. But, through it all, the focus was on the 20 year-old girl who vanished without a trace. I wanted to know more and read more about Westerns in Asia. How would you adjust? What would it be like to be so far from home in a completely foreign land?

The answer came to me from Peter Hessler, who has written a series of books about his experiences in a rapidly changing China. His first book, River Town, recounts his experience as a member of the Peace Corps, teaching English at a small provincial college. Over the course of the book, he begins to learn the language and experiences the changes sweeping the country partly through interaction with his students. Hessler followed River Town with Oracle Bones which weaves together the tumultuous past and the exploding future of China. In Country Driving, Hessler gets a Chinese driver’s license and drives the length of the Great Wall as well as a newly rising boomtown in the south. All three of Hessler’s books are masterful, funny and informative. In short, they are perfect.

There is an amazing range of stories by and from Westerners in Asia. You can read about a Missouri native who learns Japanese well enough to work as a crime reporter at a Japanese language newspaper (Tokyo Vice) or an Italian-American G.I. who, during the post WWII occupation, opens the first pizza restaurant in Japan with the help of certain underworld connections (Tokyo Underworld).

Maybe you’d like to read idiosyncratic travelogues created by graphic artists who sketch their way through Japanese cities and towns (Tokyo on Foot and A Year in Japan).

Or you can always try one of the books listed below.


Amazon Says: An incisive and compelling account of the case of Lucie Blackman. Lucie Blackman -- tall, blonde, and 21 years old -- stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo in the summer of 2 more...
Amazon Says: An incisive and compelling account of the case of Lucie Blackman. Lucie Blackman -- tall, blonde, and 21 years old -- stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo in the summer of 2000, and disappeared forever. The following winter, her dismembered remains were found buried in a seaside cave. The seven months inbetween had seen a massive search for the missing girl, involving Japanese policemen, British private detectives, Australian dowsers and Lucie's desperate, but bitterly divided, parents. As the case unfolded, it drew the attention of prime ministers and sado-masochists, ambassadors and con-men, and reporters from across the world. Had Lucie been abducted by a religious cult, or snatched by human traffickers? Who was the mysterious man she had gone to meet? And what did her work, as a 'hostess' in the notorious Roppongi district of Tokyo, really involve? Richard Lloyd Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, has followed the case since Lucie's disappearance. Over the course of a decade, he has travelled to four continents to interview those caught up in the story, fought off a legal attack in the Japanese courts, and worked undercover as a barman in a Roppongi strip club. He has talked exhaustively to Lucie's friends and family and won unique access to the Japanese detectives who investigated the case. And he has delved into the mind and background of the man accused of the crime -- Joji Obara, described by the judge as 'unprecedented and extremely evil'. With the finesse of a novelist, he reveals the astonishing truth about Lucie and her fate. People Who Eat Darkness is, by turns, a non-fiction thriller, a courtroom drama and the biography of both a victim and a killer. It is the story of a young woman who fell prey to unspeakable evil, and of a loving family torn apart by grief. And it is a fascinating insight into one of the world's most baffling and mysterious societies, a light shone into dark corners of Japan that the rest of the world has never glimpsed before. less...
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Amazon Says: A New York Times Notable BookWinner of the Kiriyama Book PrizeIn the heart of China's Sichuan province, amid the terraced hills of the Yangtze River valley, lies the remote to more...
Amazon Says: A New York Times Notable BookWinner of the Kiriyama Book PrizeIn the heart of China's Sichuan province, amid the terraced hills of the Yangtze River valley, lies the remote town of Fuling. Like many other small cities in this ever-evolving country, Fuling is heading down a new path of change and growth, which came into remarkably sharp focus when Peter Hessler arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer, marking the first time in more than half a century that the city had an American resident. Hessler taught English and American literature at the local college, but it was his students who taught him about the complex processes of understanding that take place when one is immersed in a radically different society.Poignant, thoughtful, funny, and enormously compelling, River Town is an unforgettable portrait of a city that is seeking to understand both what it was and what it someday will be. less...
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Amazon Says: From the acclaimed author of River Town comes a rare portrait, both intimate and epic, of twenty-first-century China as it opens its doors to the outside world.A century ago, more...
Amazon Says: From the acclaimed author of River Town comes a rare portrait, both intimate and epic, of twenty-first-century China as it opens its doors to the outside world.A century ago, outsiders saw Chinaas a place where nothing ever changes. Today the coun-try has become one of the most dynamic regions on earth. That sense of time—the contrast between past and present, and the rhythms that emerge in a vast, ever-evolving country—is brilliantly illuminated by Peter Hessler in Oracle Bones, a book that explores the human side of China's transformation. Hessler tells the story of modern-day China and its growing links to the Western world as seen through the lives of a handful of ordinary people. In addition to the author, an American writer living in Beijing, the narrative follows Polat, a member of a forgotten ethnic minority, who moves to the United States in searchof freedom; William Jefferson Foster, who grew up in an illiterate family and becomes a teacher; Emily,a migrant factory worker in a city without a past; and Chen Mengjia, a scholar of oracle-bone inscriptions, the earliest known writing in East Asia, and a man whosetragic story has been lost since the Cultural Revolution. All are migrants, emigrants, or wanderers who find themselves far from home, their lives dramatically changed by historical forces they are struggling to understand.Peter Hessler excavates the past and puts a remarkable human face on the history he uncovers. In a narrative that gracefully moves between the ancient and the present, the East and the West, Hessler captures the soul of a country that is undergoing a momentous change before our eyes. less...
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Amazon Says: “Hessler has a marvelous sense of the intonations and gestures that give life to the moment.” —The New York Times Book Review From Peter Hessler, the New York Times best more...
Amazon Says: “Hessler has a marvelous sense of the intonations and gestures that give life to the moment.” —The New York Times Book Review From Peter Hessler, the New York Times bestselling author of Oracle Bones and River Town, comes Country Driving, the third and final book in his award-winning China trilogy. Country Driving addresses the human side of the economic revolution in China, focusing on economics and development, and shows how the auto boom helps China shift from rural to urban, from farming to business. less...
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Amazon Says: From the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club: a unique, firsthand, revelatory look at Japanese culture from more...
Amazon Says: From the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club: a unique, firsthand, revelatory look at Japanese culture from the underbelly up. At nineteen, Jake Adelstein went to Japan in search of peace and tranquility. What he got was a life of crime . . . crime reporting, that is, at the prestigious Yomiuri Shinbun. For twelve years of eighty-hour workweeks, he covered the seedy side of Japan, where extortion, murder, human trafficking, and corruption are as familiar as ramen noodles and sake. But when his final scoop brought him face to face with Japan’s most infamous yakuza boss—and the threat of death for him and his family—Adelstein decided to step down . . . momentarily. Then, he fought back. In Tokyo Vice, Adelstein tells the riveting, often humorous tale of his journey from an inexperienced cub reporter—who made rookie mistakes like getting into a martial-arts battle with a senior editor—to a daring, investigative journalist with a price on his head. With its vivid, visceral descriptions of crime in Japan and an exploration of the world of modern-day yakuza that even few Japanese ever see, Tokyo Vice is a fascination, and an education, from first to last. less...
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Peter Hessler - Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip
Jake D. Says: Peter Hessler at a bookstore event
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