FROM BONSAI TO LEVI'S: When West Meets East: An Insider's Surprising Account of How the Japanese Live by George Fields

FROM BONSAI TO LEVI'S: When West Meets East: An Insider's Surprising Account of How the Japanese Live

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Why the Japanese spurn baby powder, stay loyal to name brands, and other telltale signs of cultural differences--by a bicultural market researcher. Fields, the son of a Japanese father and an Australian mother, was raised in Japan and returned there, sublimely confident, in 1965. The lesson--at every level, in every realm: modernization is not Westernization. Fields relates the cake-mix story for which he's best known (some readers will have heard it second-hand). The Japanese were purchasing Western-type cakes, every home had an automatic rice cooker, General Mills adapted its mix successfully to the cooker; but Japanese housewives weren't buying the idea. Why? Like many of Fields explanations, the answer isn't so simple. Because rice is central to the diet, the cooker was in constant use; because of the considerable time spent shopping, there wasn't much left for baking a cake; because rice is supposed to be pure, the cake mix (chocolate? vanilla?) was seen as a contaminant. What does the daily shopping mean, and the fact that housewives shop without a list? What are the implications of living in ""rabbit hutches"" (a term the Japanese don't resent)? In the latter case, a greater attachment to consumer durables than in the West--since, with the fridge in the living room, ""they live in such close proximity to them."" The negative response to baby powder had to do with the cramped quarters and the messy shaker-dispenser. The major brand name attachment follows from the status of major corporations. (Not dissimilarly, Johnnie Walker Red was a flop. ""To be seen drinking Red was a clear reminder that one was not at the status of Black."") Some of Fields' forays--into advertising, and the language--exhibit a specialist's insights; others, into common subjects--the bath, even negotiation--still manage to remain fresh and casual. He does ultimately say a fair number of concrete things about doing business in Japan--and he's infinitely more knowledgeable than Deutsch, above--but most of the book can be read with pleasure and rueful amusement by the average voyeur.

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 1983
Publisher: Macmillan