SRB: Drunken Escapades and a Hapless Love Life
Under The Osakan Sun by Hamish Beaton
Awa Press, $35. Reviewed by LYNDON HOOD for the Scoop Review of Books
It is, according to the overloaded subtitle, a "Funny Intimate Wonderful Account" of the three years Hamish Beaton spent as an assistant English teacher in a Japanese school. If you're thinking Under the Osakan Sun is likely to be the yarns he told friends and family about his stay turned into a book, you won't have to read all the way to the acknowledgements to have that confirmed. The book has all the benefits you might expect from such anecdotes – and few of the drawbacks.
Beaton is charmingly open. He recounts his various drunken escapades, his hapless love life and rule-bending holiday much as frankly as he does his work experiences or the novel situations and 'Characters' ranging from the merely Japanese (or English) to the just bonkers. He clearly wasn't shy about new experiences and they do make good stories.
It also makes for a fascinating snapshot of Japanese culture, from its deference to authority and emotional control to its harvest festivals and porn vending machines. Many incidents wouldn't make sense without the background historical or cultural information that Beaton supplies so the whole is something of an education.
In its comedy – and not all of the tales are happy – the storytelling was more often amiable than hilarious. Though this is partly because some gags don't quite come off as well as they might, the overall tone reflects Beaton's affection for the people he met in Japan.
While the book contains any amount detail on what Beaton got up to, and a definite self-depreciation in some of his choices of highlights, there's not much self-examination. If you want to know about Mr Beaton, there's some reading between the lines to be done. Perhaps it's just being young and male. I found this an ongoing lack in the book; others might consider the absence of Bryson-esqe self-parody a relief.
Lyndon Hood is a Wellington journalist and reviewer.