A Ride in the Neon Sun: A Gaijin in Japan is a travelogue of Japan by Josie Dew that chronicles Dew’s experiences cycling throughout Japan, after arriving in the country unexpectedly. Dew comes into Japan knowing extremely little and has to rely on a few acquaintances, and mostly just herself to navigate the country. A Ride in the Neon Sun is extremely well written and enjoyable to read. It appears to just be a chronicle of Dew’s trip to Japan and is successful in doing so, but it is also more than that. Dew attempts and appears to succeed in explaining various aspects of Japanese culture, both broad and general. The book is broken down into shorter sections chronicling her experiences with one aspect of Japanese culture. There is never any focus on one particular topic or city for too long. I would describe Dew’s sections as being made up of disparate parts that, when put together, paint a more holistic picture of Dew’s trip throughout Japan, and of Japan itself.
Sections in the book contain three main aspects. First, there is factual information on the places Dew visits or things she sees. For example, when Dew arrives in Tokyo she first gives information like “the area is so massively industrial and so hugely productive that, if it were an independent nation, it would produce more goods and services than the whole of Great Britain” (48). Second, there is what Dew herself sees or does. Third, there is analysis from Dew on Japanese culture that relates to whatever she is talking about in the section. This analysis about Japanese culture is presented as factual, rather than opinionated. The formula is quite engaging and successful, however it becomes a bit deviating at times, and makes it difficult to fully focus what she is actually experiencing in Japan.
When Dew does focus on what she is seeing and doing in Japan, it is presented with an innocent curiosity that makes you want to read more about whatever she is experiencing. And in describing an experience, she does it with a level of detail that immerses you into her travels. For example, when taking a train to Tokyo, Dew describes the girls she sees on the train as wearing “navy-blue sailor suits, sensible ‘matronly’ black shoes and spotless white socks hoisted to the knee” (32). Dew seems to be immersed and enthusiastic in whatever she is seeing or doing, and it definitely comes across that way to the reader, and draws you into her experiences.
But the most interesting part of Dew’s sections is when she explains Japanese culture. An example of this is when Dew just arrives in Japan and is in a hotel room that she describes as “the simple and the ugly; the silence and the noise. These two opposites standing paradoxically beside each other were to appear to me time and time again as a stark epitome of Japan” (17). It seems rash when Dew judges the culture that in the context of the book she is just experiencing. This is especially true in beginning, like in her hotel room. She posits her thoughts not as theories, but as facts deemed by her. But they do seem accurate, and paint a vivid picture of Japan. There are stereotypes I have heard that are rehashed, but there are also new ideas about Japan are presented too.
Of the cultural aspects that Dew runs into in Japan, she expects some while others seem surprising to her. Examples of both can be found on the train I mentioned earlier. Dew knows on that train that “to blow, or even wipe, one’s nose in public is the height of bad manners” (34). These things she comes in knowing are reinforced by her experiences, like when she needs to sneeze on the train. But there are also unexpected things like when she notices on the train, “the choice of reading material for most salarymen took me by surprise. Comics” (32). Dew’s current voice is then replaced by what seems like her looking back and explaining the culture of manga in Japan. Both of these explanation methods of Japanese culture are frequent throughout the book, and both are effective in portraying and elucidating Japanese culture.
The combination of these three aspects of each passage in the book makes all of the passages interesting and keeps your attention. In addition, the combination allows you to be immersed in her journey, while also learning about and “experiencing” Japan. The use of the shorter passages themselves is probably representative of Dew’s journey: she experiences many things and her attention is often diverted into some other new occurrence.
Overall, A Ride in the Neon Sun: A Gaijin in Japan provides a great picture of Japan for those visiting, or who just want to read about a far off land. It’s expertly written and is about the journey of a woman who is so open and enthusiastic about what she experiences, that she makes you want to experience Japan for yourself.