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Interview with
Boye Lafayette De Mente

Book Beat   Interview: Boye Lafayette De Mente
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Read our exciting Internet Interview with Boye Lafayette De Mente as he tells us about his fascinating writing career......

I read voraciously when I was in my early teens (mostly science fiction and westerns) and knew by the time I was 15 that I was intended to be a writer. As with many embryo writers, my first efforts were poetry and epigrams (Oh, the wisdom of youth!).

     I served one term in the Navy (from the age of 17 to 20) then switched to the Army Security Agency (ASA). While in the Navy I honed my writing skills by writing letters to girls whom I had never met!  I remember one of them ended the correspondence, saying she thought it was getting too deep.

     After switching to the ASA and being assigned to Tokyo, Japan in 1949, I originated a weekly newspaper on my own time. The paper was popular enough that ASA Tokyo reassigned me as the full-time editor/publisher in 1950. I have been earning my keep as a journalist/writer ever since.

     Still in Tokyo in 1954, I was appointed editor of PREVIEW magazine, the second most popular English language magazine in Japan at that time (first was Reader's Digest). Of course, this was during the heyday of the American Occupation of Japan, when there was some 500,000 Americans and other foreigners in the country.

     When the Occupation forces began to dwindle, so did Preview. I then co-founded Today's Japan, a magazine covering Japanese culture.  A year later, I also co-founded the Far East Traveler magazine, aimed at tourists visiting Asia. In 1956, I moved on to The Japan Times (which paid more than struggling new magazines). Left the Times in 1957 to become the editor of The IMPORTER magazine, a trade publication covering consumer products made in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong for export to the U.S. and European markets.

     My first book, "Japanese Etiquette & Ethics in Business," was published during my 2nd year with The IMPORTER (1959).  It was the first book ever on the Japanese way of doing business (and other things!) and was very successful. I followed that a year later with "Bachelor's Japan," on male-female relations in Japan. This was even more successful in a financial sense. My third book, "How to Do Business With the Japanese" (a nuts and bolts guide), came out in 1961. With these three titles earning me more than my job at The IMPORTER, I resigned from salaried employement in 1962, and have been unemployed ever since.

     For the next several years, still in Asia (mostly Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong), I averaged two books a year.  By the 1970s, I had moved back to the U.S. and was doing a book a year.  I had always envisioned myself as a novelist, and tried my hand at fiction, but no takers. I still think the fiction manuscripts I did were good; I just didn't make contact with the right editors! (As you know, unright editors have a habit of turning down books that later become classics!)

     Since moving out of Asia more than 30 years ago, I have continued to spend time there each year, on two to four trips; usually for 4 to 6 weeks per trip, for research and consulting and to spend time with old friends.

     When I first arrived in Japan, much of the destruction of World War II was still visible. The north end of Tokyo Station, for example, was still burned out, and there were open areas where bombed and burned out homes and buildings had not yet been rebuilt.

The changes since, in the rest of Asia as well as Japan,  have, of course, been enormous.  By the 1970s the affluence created by exports (mostly to the unsuspecting U.S.) had made a large number of people in Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong immensely wealth.

     Virtually whole cities were rebuilt, with highrise office buildings and posh boutiques that would put  even L.A.'s Rodeo Drive to shame.  The entertainment industries (bars, cabarets, bath houses, huge night clubs (with as many as a thousand hostesses) boomed, especially  in Japan and Hong Kong.  There was, and still is, nothing like these entertainment districts anywhere in the world.

     Evidence of wealth and affluence even became visible in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing by the 1980s. And new industrial areas near Hong Kong could hardly be distinguished from the glitter and gold that was a hallmark of the former British Crown Colony.

     Anywhooooo(!) , not to write a book, I continue to travel and write; and so far have done books on China, Japan, Korea, Mexico,  Hawaii and Arizona-so far, numbering 44 published works. My latest is a series that I call "cultural code word" books: China's Cultural Code Words; Japan's Cultural Code Words, and so on, in which I selected from 200 to 350 terms in each of the respective langages that are culturally "pregnant" with meanings, and attempted to do definitive essays on their origin, use and importance in business and social relationships. They are, I believe, the summation of all that I know-and think I know-about the countries covered. They will surely outlast me by many decades.

     The SUBWAY EXIT GUIDE TO TOKYO that you asked me about was a little something that I had been threatening to do for nearly 30 years. Because Tokyo's addressing system has nothing to do with streets (most streets are not named), and until very recent years there was absolutely no recognizable structure to the numbering system used to identify buildings, it is extremely difficult to locate new addresses in the city-a problem that plagues the Japanese almost as much as it does foreign visitors.

     The city's subway system is great. But there are 12 intersecting lines, over 250 stations and more than a thousand exits. If you don't know which exit to use from some of the stations you can be a long, long way from your destination. I simplified the challenge of using the system effectively by listing over 1,000 destinations by subway line, station, and precise exit number (or letter).

     I must confess that I'm getting a little tired of traveling to Asia. I've cross the Pacific more than a hundred times in the past 50 years, and have come to hate planes and baggage (fortunately, I like airports!).  And, of course, now that I'm approaching 70, the old bod can't  take it the way it used to.

     I've written much of many of my books on planes, in hotels and at airports waiting to get on planes, until recent years lugging around a heavy typewriter. I then carried an IBM laptop computer until last year. Now I'm down to a note pad. I've relied on computers in the press clubs in Tokyo, Seoul, etc., in hotels,  and elsewhere to keep up on my email. Am waiting for new technology to come up with an email device that will go in my shirt pocket.

     For anyone traveling to China and other less wired places in Asia, it is a good idea to take adapters and other such connecting devices. Among other things, the electric power varies in regions (including in east and west Japan).

     Traveling to Asia has not been a real challenge since the introduction of jet plane service in the late 1950s. For the longest time, most planes were not full and you could get two, three or more seats to bed down in. Now, most of them are full, often with lots of noisy children. Seats and aisles in economy class have become progressively smaller as the cost of fuel and competition went up.

     As for advice to anyone wanting to travel to Asia, the best I can do is to suggest that you buy and read several of the best books on each of the areas you intend to visit. There are now even travel books that tell it like it really is, and they can help you avoid much of the frustration and pain that you might otherwise encounter because of unfamiliar languages and customs.

     It should go without saying that one of the reasons for traveling is to experience new foods, new drinks, new things, new ways; and this requires an adventurous mindset and a good sense of humor.

I forgot to mention one of the defining experiences of my life...! On May 3, 1957 I left Tokyo aboard an amphibious jeep called "Half-Safe" (named after a famous deoderant slogan of the day "Don't be half-safe, use....!"), with Ben Carlin, the Australian skipper of the jeep, and crossed the North Pacific Ocean, arriving in Anchorage, Alaska, on September 3, exactly four months later. The voyage, of which over 7,000 miles was on water, was reported worldwide and is in the Guiness Book of World Records. I later published my version of this extraordinary experience in a book called "Once A Fool From Japan to Alaska by Amphibious Jeep." The trip, very, very dangerous and filled with wild experiences, was my one great adventure. (It was while recuperating in Phoenix, Arizona from the rigors of the voyage that I met my soon-to-be wife, Margaret Warren, who shortly afterward joined me back in Tokyo.)

     As for businesspeople planning a trip to the Orient, I recommend the following books:
     Chinese Etiquette & Ethics in Business
     China's Cultural Code Words
     Chinese in Plain English
      Japanese Etiquette & Ethics in Business (6th edition)
      Japan's Cultulral Code Words
      Japan's Business Code Words
      How to Do Business in Japan (5th edition)
      Behind the Japanese Bow
      Japanese in Plain English
      Instant Japanese
      Survival Japanese
      Japan Made Easy (for businesspeople and tourists)
      Korean Etiquette & Ethics in Business
      Korea's Business & Cultural Code Words
      Korean in Plain English

Available from the author's web site!      All of the above books are by-guess who!  (And the same author has similar books on Mexico!)

     O'genki de!

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