A European's sixty-day stay in Japan: sixty days in a country where every year the cherry blossom season brings on a child-like enthusiasm among the entire population (what's so special about cherry blossoms?), where subways and trains are always exactly on time and brightly polished (but also devoid of any smell, even pleasant ones), where children go to school by themselves even when they are very young (but don't dare abandon the mandatory road, kept under surveillance). One cannot help but wonder: how much does all of this cost? What is the negative side of so much perfection? Everything cannot be so spotless, well-oiled, and fully functional; not everyone can be so polite and happy at the same time. "The Dumbest Country in the World" is a book about Japan as seen by a European, in which nothing particularly profound or original is said about the Land of the Rising Sun. If you want to achieve a deeper understanding of the Japanese soul, look elsewhere (the author tells you where). But this book does offer amusing and keen thoughts on the feelings of detachment experienced by a traveller and the superficial but overwhelming outlook that we all share when we judge other countries and cultures.
Claudio Giunta teaches Italian Literature at the University of Trento.