If you are yearning for a travel read that will transport you to somewhere beautiful without making you feel too jealous, Canned Coffee and Kimonos should be at the top of your reading list. 

The hilarious first book by Salisbury author Tom Fitzmaurice transports us from rural ‘Smallsbury’ to Tokyo, the biggest city in the world. 

Fitzmaurice undertook this jarring shift himself in 2007 when, almost on a whim, he interviewed to be an English teacher abroad, got the job, and within three weeks was on the plane to the other side of the world having scarcely left Wiltshire before.

"Well, I don't think we're in Wiltshire anymore Toto" - From Chapter 1, How Do I Get To Kokubunji?

Being only 23-years-old on arrival in Tokyo, knowing one word of Japanese that he’d picked up from ‘Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles’, Fitzmaurice recalls that “The phrase ‘culture shock’ didn’t quite cut it”.

In a series of epic anecdotes that will have even the most stoic readers spitting out their tea, the novel whisks us through the, now 38-year-old's, memories of four years of living, working, and finding love in Japan.

The author is never afraid to over-share in vibrant detail or crack a joke— even if it is at his own expense.

Faux pas and missteps aside, in many way this work is also a romance as it is dedicated to Ai, which is both the name of Fitzmaurice’s wife who he meets for the first time in Chapter 1 and the Japanese word for love.

Fitzmaurice masterfully employs his childhood memories in the rural, rolling hills of England and juxtaposes them with moments in Japan to allow us to both relate (and sometimes cringe) with him.

He also covers serious topics such as xenophobia, attitudes towards Japanese women, the intense working culture, and the catastrophic 2011 Tohoku earthquake in a sensitive manner, sharing the highs and lows.

"It felt as if a giant had picked up the building and was gyrating the entire thing" - From Chapter 19, Bad Things Come in Threes

My one quibble with the work is that some tangents can get a bit too much attention, leading to a couple of tangles in the timeline, but it never took too long to get back on course. 

If anyone has found themselves wanting to learn more about Japan, or Tokyo, a city once again launched into the spotlight after the postponed Olympics in 2021, I recommend this work endlessly. 

On what encouraged him to write about his experience, Fitzmaurice said it was a combination of his family and lockdown. 

After his fathers death some years ago, he found himself wishing that all the interesting stories that ‘went to the grave’ had been written down. 

Fitzmaurice told the Journal: “I didn’t start writing to write a book for the public to read, I started writing because my brothers or my nephews or nieces might now or in the future be interested.

“Then it came together and I thought, maybe...”

When the pandemic started, and Fitzmaurice found himself out of work as a supply teacher, he made time to make writing his own memories a new day job to do something ‘constructive’. 

"As I emerged from the water everyone had stopped and was looking my way." From Chapter 13, 'Get out of the Pool!'

Fitzmaurice encourages anyone else who finds time on their hands to try writing down their stories.

He told the Journal that after publishing he at first had doubts but was delighted that he had positive feedback from readers online.

He said: “I’m really happy, because you never know when you write something how it is going to be received.” 

"You can sit there on dark evenings sometimes and think, am I the only one who thinks this is an interesting anecdote? I might think this is funny, but other people really might not, so that’s nice.”

“And they’re all people I don’t know, which is great, because when its your mum or your neighbour you think, well, they’re going to be nice.

"But somebody from Yorkshire, or Canada, who I’ve never met will send me a message on social media and you feel vindicated."

On what advice he'd give to others thinking of writing down a memoir, he said: “I came to realise as I was writing it that it's the way that you bring your stories to life… it's far more about that than the manner in which you write or what actually happened."

He is currently working on his next book, which may be slightly closer to home... although I can't give too much away. 

As a reader who was also an ‘incongruous slug’ on arrival in Japan's capital in September 2018 for a whirlwind of a year, I was surprised by how much Fitzmaurice’s account matched my own experiences nearly a decade later. 

But whether you are familiar with Japan before picking up the novel or not it doesn’t matter, by the end, you will find yourself sharing the author’s bittersweet feeling of saying goodbye to a place he loves in the form of putting down an excellent book.

Review of Canned Coffee and Kimonos by Tom Fitzmaurice (2021). 

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