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At a point where it appeared that tensions between Japan and the United States could get worse, Random House decided to dispatch Dave Barry to Tokyo. The resulting report is the most skillful diplomatic stroke since George Bush lost his cookies in the Japanese prime minister's lap. We thought that encouraging Dave to take his wife and son might be a civilizing influence on our roving correspondent - but when this book appears, we may have found the best use for a relocated Berlin Wall. Dave found qualities to like but little to love in the land of the Japanese Ecomic Miracle, plastic squid, and the elderly geisha. His take on Japanese baseball, a sport for which the yawn was a necessary invention, or on sumo wrestlers, each of whom seemed built like five Tommy Lasordas before SlimFast, hardly exhausts his commentary on their culture (or his lack of it). Barry's interpretation of kabuki theater and of Japanese rock music or humor are long overdue. He had to wait till the end of each performance. But never underestimate Barry, the keen-eyed reporter. Dave steals the secrets of the Japanese auto industry, here revealed for the first time - for example: they use steel! - and his unsought interview with the head of a powerful governmental organization propels him, despite Dave's disclaimer, headlong into the ranks of today's top investigative journalists (the kind who, as he might say, sometimes physically leave their offices). He admires Japanese manners and subtlety, similar in spirit to his own; remarks on their attitudes toward sex, as expressed in weird comic books; and singles out their attitude toward service, which contrasts neatly with American sales clerks who becomeoffended if you break their concentration - or into their conversation. All in all, for a thoughtful, balanced account of the life and culture of a nation that is ermously significant to Americans, you'll have to turn to ather book. But to discover what happens when you turn Barry l