As humans we are designed to gravitate to story telling and it is an excellent way to remember facts and details.
This was proven to me recently on a tour of Japan. I collected books to read on and before the trip to go with my guidebooks and picked up this collection of short stories at Gleebooks out of luck.
The material in this book is well sorted into categories and covers the full gamut of the Japanese experience seen through the eyes of a foreigner. It wasn't long before I was wanting to experience for myself an electric bath, being buried up to my neck in hot sand, the tuna auctions at the Tsukiji fish market, high tide at Miyajima Island, and more than anything, the people.
More than any guidebook this book shows rather than tells. These short stories do far more than any guide to illustrate the absurd and quirky as well as the peaceful and elegant.
A nice touch used in this book is the random placement of little boxes of anecdotal or factual bits and pieces (in the style used by Lonely Planet) and the end of each story has another thematically related small piece by a different author illustrating a different aspect or experience. Fragments like this make the book very easy to pick up and put down - essential for travel reading when you're on the go!
The other bonus that comes with this book is a bundle of leads to new authors and books. Most of the authors chosen for representation (almost all Japanese speakers) have not taken a simple passing interest in the country; in many cases they are non-Japanese who have chosen to live much of their lives there, including some internationally respected experts in fields such as language and antiques. Thanks to this book I have now also read Alan Booth's The Roads to Sata and Alex Kerr's Lost Japan.
This book is one of a series, so if the others are consistent with the quality and structure of this one I will definitely be on the lookout for more.