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Review: Cool Japan Guide

Updated on July 17, 2016
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Cool Japan Guide by Abby Denson is aptly subtitled ‘Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen’. The comic artist and author (and illustrator and musician) has structured the book as an entertaining and enticing yet low-key immersion into the optimal way of embedding oneself in the Japan of today.

The book is unpretentiously structured, beginning with ‘Prepare for Takeoff’ and continuing through when to travel, arrival in Japan, where to stay, what to eat, hygiene traditions, what to see, and so on. Throughout, the reader accompanies Abby and her husband, Matt Loux, on their many varied perambulations through the sights, sounds, food and culture of The Land of the Rising Sun. A helpful pronunciation guide is offered to novice linguists, as are chapter dividers that sequentially supplement one’s pertinent Japanese vocabulary.

The charm of the book lies in the author’s unforced, almost casual styling of layout, design and use of color. As is common in much of manga, illustrated pages consist of simple blocky layouts filled with areas of flat but bright and varied colors. While most objects — buildings, displays, furniture, foods, household items, etc. — are very simply rendered in cartoon style, human figures are given subtle inflections of posture, movement and emotion. They are thus immediately endearing and relatable, pulling the reader along from setting to setting. The book never becomes ponderous or intimidating, and is easily a single-sitting read from cover to cover.

One complete chapter of the book, certain to appeal to many other like-minded millennials, dwells on the author’s loves of manga, anime and video games. Coupled with the books other asides on bunraku, karaoke, Japanese festivals, onsen hot baths, Maneki Neko, ramen, gashapon machines, and helpful apps and websites, these make the book a truly fun adventure for those visiting the Far East. In sum, Ms. Denson’s creation has this reviewer saying ‘Arigatou gozaimasu!’.

A frequent and experienced traveler to Japan, author/illustrator Abby Denson migrated from Illinois to New York City, by way of a childhood in West Hartford, CT. She has been self-publishing her comics since 1996, and her collected comics Tough Love: High School Confidential were released in graphic novel form 1n 2006. Throughout the following years, Ms. Denson garnered both a Bronze International Manga Award and the 2010 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for her graphic novel Dolltopia. Her current blog, The City Sweet Tooth (citysweettooth.com), is a popular survey of the best of NYC purveyors of sweets.

Cool Japan Guide is a flexible cover book in vertical (portrait) format, 7.5” w x 10” h x ½” thk, consisting of 128 pages. The comic manga-inspired drawings occupy all pages, and are rendered in bright flat colors sprinkled with sensitive black-ink drawings of people, places and objects.

The book is published by Tuttle Publishing, an imprint of Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd., of North Clarendon, VT, and Tokyo, and is available in North America, Latin America, Europe, South Asia and japan from Tuttle Publishing and its affiliates. A brief history of Tuttle Publishing and its origins occupies the book’s rear flyleaf.

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