September 10, 2012

Under the Osakan Sun by Hamish Beaton

Under the Osakan Sun: A Funny, Intimate, Wonderful Account of Three Years in Japan
Some books change your life. And some books confirm that your life is exactly what you want it to be. This is how I feel about Under the Osakan Sun (Awa Press, 2008) by Hamish Beaton, a New Zealander who spent three years teaching in a school on the outskirts of Osaka as part of the JET programme. I received this book as a prize for a Japanese speech competition when I was 17, and my copy is now thoroughly worn out. I've reached for this book when I've been frustrated with my Japanese study and wonder why I even bother. I've reached for it on the frantic nights before my trips to Japan, when I've been freaking out about leaving. And now that I'm back, I've reached for this book to ease my homesickness for Japan. Under the Osakan Sun never fails to remind me why I love Japan, and I think it would resonate with every foreigner who has ever lived there.

Hamish is a skilful storyteller, and paints a delightful portrait of his life in Kanan Town, and the people who become a part of it. He captures the spirit of the Japanese people - their overwhelming kindness and generosity, as well as some of their eccentricities. Particularly memorable are his lively colleagues at the Board of Education, who quickly enlist him as a popular drinking buddy, and the lovely group of middle aged women who regularly invite him to teach them English and, in return, they help him with his Japanese (with the result that his Japanese takes on a rather feminine vernacular). At the other end of the spectrum is the student's father who asks Hamish what sort of pornography he likes to watch, and the psycho girlfriend who forces him to wear clothes that match hers so they can be 'kawaii' together. Hamish has a great sense of humour, and most importantly, an ability to always make the best of things - which is so necessary when living in a foreign culture.

The fact that this book is set in the Osaka area made it all the more exciting when I went back and read it a couple of weeks ago. I recognised so many of the places that were referred to, and even went to some of the same events that Hamish talks about - Tenjin matsuri, and the PL fireworks event. I never quite made it to Kanan Town, where he lived, but I think I came close, on the night when we went to watch the PL fireworks out in the countryside. Another experience that was uncomfortably close to home was Hamish's introduction to that evil beverage, Chu-hi... but you'll have to read the book to see where that particular anecdote goes.

Hamish, good on ya mate. Under the Osakan Sun is a funny, gutsy piece of travel writing, and I haven't yet managed to find any book on Japan that has inspired me more. I always recommend it to people wanting to do JET, but anyone interested in Japan would love it. In fact, if there's anyone close by (Dunedin) who happens to be reading this and wants to borrow my copy, let me know!

What are some other good travel novels on Japan?


  1. Ahhhh!!! Saw this book a long time ago, forgot the title and have been trying to remember it for ages (including doing things like searching for "Japan" and "Osaka" novels on amazon and not finding anything). Thanks so much!

    Not travel novels per se but really enjoyed "Tokyo Vice" by Jake Adelstein and "People Who Eat Darkness" by Richard Parry, both Japanese crime nonfiction. Not normally something I'm interested in at all o-o Have also heard Hitching Rides with Buddha is good but haven't read it yet.

    1. Oh, that's great! I hope you manage to get hold of it and enjoy it!

      Cheers for those recommendations, I'll definitely try to hunt them down. =)

  2. Well done on your acceptance onto the Kizuna Project. All the best for the travels out to Tohoku. Sounds like a really worthy project.

    I enjoyed reading about your time in Osaka and Tokyo. I was really pleased to hear that my book was a useful reference for you. Japan is a cool place, eh.

    Your photos of Shinsekai are quite natsukashi. Not many people bothered to make the trip out there from Tennoji. Shame you didn't make it to Kanan cho. Although you would have needed a bike or bus to get there from Tondabayshi.

    If I may, might I suggest an addition to your karaoke tune list: "Here I go again" by Whitesnake. Always a good time to be had by all.

    Anyway, all the best with your writing career, and kanji studies. Enjoy Tohuku!


    1. Hello Hamish! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog - your comment made my day. I would love to go to Kanan cho on a future trip to Osaka. I wonder if the town still uses your English tourist pamphlets? Haha. Will continue to recommend your book to everyone I meet, and, in your honour, will consider the inclusion of Whitesnake into my karaoke repertoire. Thanks again, so stoked to hear from you!

  3. HI How are ye?
    I bought the book 2 years ago at Kinokuniya bookstore,Umeda,Osaka!!
    I was born in Suita city but raised mainly in Hyogo pref.
    I don't think I have ever been to the kanan-cho and have ever seen PL fireworks display in Tondabayashi city!!
    Now Ye would see a giant pocky in Spa world in Osaka lol
    I love the book too!! maybe my kiwi mates here also should write books as well!!

    1. Hi Leo! Thanks for your comment. =D That's awesome that you got the book in Japan, it's so good right!