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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Book Review: Outrageous Japanese


 Outrageous Japanese: Slang, Curses, and Epithets by Jack Seward

Originally published in 1991, Outrageous Japanese: Slang, Curses, and Epithets has been brought out in a revised edition for a new generation of Japanese learners. All of whom should be warned: many of the expressions, words, and sayings are not currently in use in Japan circa 2006.

outrageous-japanese Author Jack Seward arrived in Japan with the US Occupation in 1946. He clearly has a very strong grasp of Japanese—language and people—but of the 1950s and 1960s variety. And, unfortunately, it shows.

Having spent more than fifteen years in Japan, I was befuddled by many of the terms, and had that sinking feeling that I had better get back to my slang texts—or, better yet, to a bar.

However, in a preemptive move, before heading out to Shinjuku or Umeda or Kiyamachi--or any other favored locale--I tried out many of the expressions on a wide variety of age groups of Japanese. Those under 40 had heard almost none of them; students at an elite university asked me directly if many of the expressions were really Japanese, or "some kind of Chinese"? People in their 50s reacted with a natsukashi! (a word used to express nostalgia) when they recognized a phrase or two.

In addition, there are typos littered throughout the book. Some are simple misspellings, others are just plain wrong. In a book that advertises itself on the cover as a “revised edition,” one would hope for better editing.

Perhaps the best recommendation one can give the book is that it is a peep into a bygone era—when American soldiers in Japan had great purchasing power and respect, when Japanese women truly were second class citizens, and when few Japanese spoke English. If you want to know the slang of Roppongi bars and its denizens circa 1961, this is the book for you.

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