I never dated Andy Raskin. Given the content of this book, and the fact that I’ve known him since freshman year in college, just thought I’d get that out on the table right away.

About halfway through reading his book
The Ramen King and I, I started to wonder whether I should be offended, or perhaps somehow flattered, by the fact that Andy never tried to ask me out, since according to this memoir apparently he has spent most of his adult life chasing after every beautiful woman in his vicinity. It seems I was lucky, because he didn’t treat the gals he caught very well.  He was the classic bad boyfriend, and a lot of this book is about his attempts to escape from his “toxic bachelor” status. 

So what does this have to do with Japan?  Andy like myself is a Japan expert, and for the past 20 plus years we’ve been leading somewhat parallel lives in the “doing business with Japan” world.  He started Japanese classes the year after me, and after college we worked at the same company in Chicago.  He left a year before I did to go study at ICU in Tokyo, and the letters he sent back that were posted on the lunchroom bulletin board describing how much fun he was having in Japan helped convince me that I really ought to go back too.  Later he worked for a consulting firm that put him on a project working with a department store in Fukuoka, and that same consulting firm hired me to take some of the department store’s staff on a study tour of cutting-edge retailers in the U.S.  He got a gig writing for AERA, while I got one writing for the Nikkei. We didn’t really keep in touch that much but I would run into him every few years or so in unlikely places – at a restaurant in Tokyo or a Broadway play or a sake tasting in San Francisco.

Now having read this book, I know perhaps a little more than I needed to about what he was really doing all that time.  Such as reading stacks of food-related manga (in the original Japanese of course) and watching lots of Japanese TV shows and samurai movies.  Ingratiating himself with irascible sushi chefs and ramen shop owners.  Trying every means possible to meet Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen.  And making a real mess of his love life.  

You’re now probably wondering, how could this possibly all add up to a book worth reading?  Because Andy is really a gifted writer, and he puts all these themes together into a memoir that is both funny and compelling.  I for one read the whole thing in one sitting (it was the perfect absorbing book to read on a long plane ride).  And it’s been getting great reviews all over, which means you don’t need to be one of his old friends to like it.

If you’re still skeptical, just read the first page.  Andy had gone to a writer’s conference, and an agent who spoke there challenged the 100 plus attendees to write the first page of a book and submit it to him.  The agent would then work with the person who wrote the best one.  Andy’s won, and that page is now the prologue of this book.  Just like the first whiff of a steaming bowl of ramen, it’s sure to whet your taste buds.

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