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George Moise, 2011, Iertai-m c nu sunt japonez

Bucharest: Curtea Veche


246 pp, 24 RON
ISBN 978-606-588-116-7

Tudoric Ioana-Ciliana, JA-EN, Anul II

There have been many books written about Japan and its lifestyle, about the manner in which a
gaijin 1 has been able to find their place in the Land of The Rising Sun; stories about an
experience which has changed their outlook on life, which made them connect with their inner
self, stories about tormented times but with an inevitable happy ending.
Iertai-m c nu sunt japonez2 is a book written by the Romanian author and photographer
George Moise, evoking his experience in Japan, as he was struggling to fit in and live a normal
life with his girlfriend and, later on, wife - Miwako. Unlike other books written in the same
manner, his journey of finding where he belongs does not seem to start from a point in which he
is unsatisfied with his current life and then continue with describing brighter days.
The title is, of course, the first aspect which draws the attention of a possible reader. At first, one
might think that the title is meant to be ironic, expressing the frustration of someone who has
difficulties adapting to a new lifestyle and eventually giving up, blaming everything on his
origins. As they open the book and start reading, a whole new meaning is revealed. The title is a
balanced mixture between irony, frustration and also the necessity of respecting the Japanese
traditions of being polite towards the ones around him.
The title of the book first came to the author during a moment of hindrance, born from the fact
that his soon to be father-in-law would not easily accept a foreigner in his house. The author
thinks that the next time they are going to have a conversation he should firstly apologise for not
being Japanese, this way easing his way into Miwakos fathers heart. Soon after, he
contemplates on the fact that this apology will surely make a good title for a book. On page 135
he affirms: Eu unul, dac a vedea n librrie o carte cu titlul sta, a cumpra-o.3

1 Gaijin means foreigner in Japanese. It comes from the word gaikoku jin which can be literally
translated as person from a foreign country. Nowadays, the word has a pejorative meaning, as it refers
to a foreigner who is unable to adapt to the Japanese lifestyle and makes obvious mistakes or does not
respect the Japanese traditions.
2 Forgive me for not being Japanese

A unique perspective emerges from the way the author percieves this journey. He is not trying to
convey only the positive aspects of Japan to his readers, but also the things which made him feel
uncomfortable, the actions which hurt him and everything that added up to this experience. He
does not choose to present Japan as an idealistic land, but as a country like any other, a place
which has some of the most outsanding aspects in the world. Te touches on the downsides of
living as a foreigner there and the hard work one needs to do in order to have a slight chance of
fitting in.
As it is one of the few books that offers a Romanians insight on the subject, the book is
puzzling; attractive to a lot of people, but repulsive to others. It is a controversial life story
written in a controversial style, because the author prefers to present things as they are without
making efforts to mask things by trying to find positive aspects in places in which they do not
exist.
For a better understanding of the book, there are several relevant facts regardig the writers
background, written in a separate chapter at the beginning of the novel. Tired of working in an
office in publicity, George Moise decides to apply as a photographer on a cruise ship, fact which
will give a whole new perspecitve to his life. Soon thereafter, he meets a Japanese woman. At the
time he promised her they would meet in Japan, however he is not convinced that this would
ever happen. As their love grows stronger, in 2008 he moves to Japan,which is the reason why
the book Iertati-ma ca nu sunt japonez has been written. Since he was so far away from his
family, he started writing letters to his mother which were later to be printed and given to her by
his friends. As time passed, everbody who knew him looked forward to the next letter and so
George Moise got encouraged to publish those them as a book.
The final result is a delightful mixture between what the book is meant to be a travel journal
and the private thoughts of someone who excitedly discovers the depths of a new country.
The novel is structured, as one would expect, in letters. There are thirteen letters, each of them
titled so as to match the content and the main events presented. In addition, there is a chapter
meant to replace the preface, in which the author explains the facts which led him to Japan and
thus to the writing of the novel; a chapter which replaces the epilogue, in which George Moise
says goodbye to all his readers; a chapter which bonds all the stories written in the novel
together. At the end of each chapter, the writer added the date when he wrote the letter.
What is impressive is the last addition to the book, which is not structured as a regular chapter. It
consists of 6 pages written about the biggest earthquake in the history of Japan, which devastated
the country in 2011. The earthquake happened a while after he handed the manuscript to the
publishing house, but as he claims on page 241: S-a ntmplat acel ceva peste care nu se putea
trece fr s fi amintit mcar cteva rnduri.4
3 I, myself, if I saw in a library a book with a title like this, I would buy it.

As far as the structure of the novel is concerned, in the chapter that stands for a preface, the
author gives us some details regarding his life and the events which led him to travel to Japan,
learn the language and struggle to find a place where he belongs. This chapter, as the one written
at the end of the book instead of an epilogue, has an extremely important role, as it manages to
unite all the letters which sometimes seem like they are not necessarily related to one another.
This way, he manages to explain things which have not been insisted upon and describe events
which took place in between two letters.
There are cases in which chapters begin with a short summary of what is to be explained later on
or maybe some notes added to what happened lately in his life. These notes smoothen the course
of the story and prepare the reader for a new adventure.
The main body of the book, the thirteen letters which were supposed to be read only by George
Moises mother, unravel the story of the writers adaptation or inadaptation in his first year in
Japan. It is a sum of all the experiences of a culture completely different from what he was used
to. Everything is a bizarre mixture between failure and the path to finding oneself.
The first chapters focus on the arrival in Japan and the impressions the school in which he was to
study Japanese left upon him. It is mainly a summary of his difficulties with the language and the
everyday lifestyle. Even though it might seem from time to time that he is constantly
complaining, if one keeps an open mind, they will discover that in fact all these mixed feelings
are born from his fascination with the culture. He slowly starts meeting Miwakos friends and
family, and from that point on a captivating endeavour to understand and integrate in the
traditional Japanese family emerges.
The everyday Japanese life, as it results from the novel, can be quite shocking for a gaijin who is
not used to working so much with so little reward. George Moise first works at a vegetable
factory, a job which is promoted by his school, but soon discovers that it is not really worth the
effort. As time passes, he moves from his schools dorms in a regular apartment and even though
Miwakos father is still not convinced a foreigner is best suited for his daughter, he accepts
Moise as a chefs help in the familys business.
This is a great opportunity for the writer to observe not only the Japanese family, but also their
culinary traditions. These chapters are extremely pleasant for the readers, as they discover the
author first as a person who is confused by his own duties, then as someone completely charmed
by the cultural differences and later on, as someone who feels as if he found a place where he
belongs.
The most delightful chapter is chapter XIII, entitled suggestively i-am nclecat pe-o a5 in
which after all the strife, the hero of the story finally has his moment of happiness. It is the
4 And then that something over which one cannot be ignored without writing a few
lines happened.

chapter in which Moise obtains his first major victory, as he tells his reader the story of his and
Miwakos wedding. The overall feeling which emanates from his words is happiness, but this
merry feeling is shadowed by a trace of nostalgia, as he has to say goodbye to his readers and the
readers have to say goodbye to him. The speech which the groom gives to the audience is
especially significant, as it covers all his feelings, his fears and more important, his joy. At the
end of the speech, Mirele a rsuflat uurat. A dus discursul pn la capt fr s leine.6
Sometimes the author refers to himself in the third person, as if he wanted to detach himself from
all the powerful feelings that contradicted him.
A unique perspective emerges from the manner in which the author decides to use language. The
language used in the book is not sophisticated, nor terminological, but the language of common
men, as if the writer is speaking directly to the reader. In order to properly mirror the life of
Japanese people, George Moise uses the same vocabulary and expressions as the ones he is
exposed to everyday. One of his finest achievements is that his simple manner of presenting the
facts and his lack of need to express his thoughts using complex phrases reflects the human
nature with all its merits and imperfections.
However, this open manner of writing his book attracted mixed reactions from critics. On
www.bookaholic.ro Alina Purcaru deeply disapproved with George Moises writing style, as she
found it immature and extremely racist. She was completely dissatisfied with the fact that
sometimes the author seemed to try too hard to make jokes and offer a positive outlook on the
life events he presented in the book. Overall, the critic confesses: chiar mi-a venit s dau cu
cartea de pmnt i s-mi cer banii i timpul napoi. Asta e, n-am fcut-o.7
Maybe the book is, indeed, as Alina Purcaru suggests: mediocre. However, it is the tale of human
nature with all its flaws, even at the risk of calling the writer racist. It is not the story of a hero
who left Romania to become a legend, it is the story of an ordinary person who tries to fit in,
facing failure. It is the naked truth about a nation which has been perhaps too idolized. Maybe
some people expected George Moise to praise Japan as many other writers have done before and
this is the reason why so much negative critique has appeared, but perhaps if he had done so, the
whole story would have lost its charm.
All in all, I would strongly recommend the book to anyone who is willing to keep an open mind
and accept the fact that no nation is perfect, not even Japan. Understanding the flaws of the
country can lead to a better perception of the nation as a whole and in the end, George Moise
5 I go around the bend, I see a fence to mend, on it is hung my story end.
6 The groom sighed relieved. He finished his speech without fainting.
7 I really felt like smashing the book to the ground and asking for my money and my time to be refunded.
Too bad, I didnt do it.

manages to create a prospect with all the aspects a foreigner might find either shocking, upsetting
or fascinating.
References:

http://www.bookaholic.ro/et-in-japonia.html#more-11916 (9/11/2014)
http://www.ziare.com/diaspora/romani-strainatate/iertati-ma-ca-nu-sunt-japonezincredibila-poveste-a-lui-george-moise-interviu-1234116 (9/11/2014)

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