Japan, Romance, and the “Exotic Backdrop”

The idea of reading YA novels set in countries different from the usual American setting, which is part of the reason why I was so excited to get a copy of Seven Days of You — a contemporary love story set in Tokyo. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan and I’ve spent some time learning a little Japanese, so the prospect of reading about characters immersed in this beautifully cultural country was very exciting. But what I quickly discovered was that the setting played little part in the narrative. This book could have honestly been set in America, or Australia, and you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. The whole culture of Japan was overlooked and basically whitewashed, focussing on a white romance with the country being the “exotic” background to their love story.

Perhaps I would have liked Seven Days of You if the love interest was Japanese, or if Sophia was Japanese or biracial. Basically anything would have been better than portraying Japan as nothing but an exotic holiday destination for white tourists. It was really disrespectful to the rich culture of this country that the author thought the only thing needed to make the setting feel realistic was throwing in some Japanese words here and there. There are enough books out there with straight white protagonists, and Seven Days of You had the perfect opportunity to introduce some diversity into the narrative. But no. It decided to give readers yet another stereotypical love story with an immature protagonist.

Maybe this book would have redeemed itself slightly if it had sensational characters that were interesting and unique, but sadly, that wasn’t something this book excelled at. Our protagonist, Sophia — who was called Sofa for the majority of the novel — was whiney and immature, and seemed to care more about a frankly horrible guy than her best friend. Her friends weren’t much better. Their dynamics seemed to be completely off, and we never actually got to see that they were friends. They spent most of the time bitching about one another with other characters and claiming that everyone was trying to ruin their relationship. Honestly, the protagonist felt more like a twelve year-old who threw tantrums when she didn’t get what she wanted, complete with the feet-stomping and door-slamming of every tween character you hate.

Ultimately, Seven Days of You is a love story that took Japan and erased its culture, leaving it as nothing more than a convenient backdrop for the romance that was trying too hard to be “unique” by dropping in some Japanese words and mentioning Studio Ghibli. The characters were immature and unoriginal, and the author ignored every chance to include some diversity in her narrative. If you’re thinking of reading a YA novel set in a setting other than America, especially an Asian one, I’d suggest picking up a book by an #ownvoices author.


1 Star

Let's Talk

Have you read Seven Days of You yet? What do you think about the idea of the “exotic backdrop”? Have you read any books set in Asia? Can you recommend any YA books with a Japanese protagonist to me? Let’s chat!

Thanks to Hachette Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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16 thoughts on “Japan, Romance, and the “Exotic Backdrop”

  1. I do agree, what a missed opportunity to embrace Japan’s different and diverse culture!
    These days I find it hard to find a book that is set here in Australia, let alone Japan. So when it is in one of these exotic places, I think the author should really spend time on developing the setting, don’t you think? Thanks for this review, as outstanding as usually. I love your blog so much and wish that mine could be as successful…..
    I don’t know how you do it Sarah!

    • Ugh, I know right! There are definitely WAY MORE book set in Australia than Japan 😂 And I’m so disappointed that the author didn’t even attempt to make the setting realistic or as cultural as it is. But thank you so much for reading my post! You’re so lovely 💖

  2. Oh no, so sorry to hear that this was such a missed opportunity! I’ve seen this book around and was intrigued but I’ve heard similar things from other trusted reviewers, i.e. that the book kind of “fetishizes” Japanese culture and if you substitute anything Japanese-sounding with any other word it won’t make much of a difference. I also heard what you said about the protagonist being really immature and prone to tantrums, so I think I won’t be picking this up after all. Hope your next read is better, Sarah. ❤

  3. That’s a bummer, Sarah. I haven’t heard of the book, but I doubt I will look for it now either. I don’t think I could handle a whiny character who values someone horrid over her friends. Also: when there is so much potential for setting and culture to shape story, and for it to discarded bothers me a lot. Hopefully you’ll next read will be fantastic.

    • Absolutely – it’s definitely not worth reading. The half-hearted attempt to set a novel in Japan was enough to make me want to DNF, and the whiney protagonist just made this book even more infuriating. Thank goodness I’m reading QUEENS OF GEEK now! It’s phenomenal, and I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts 🙌🏼❤️

  4. Haha, woo, Studio Ghibli. Yeah, it is really annoying when authors use a country just to make it “exotic” while practically ignoring the actual country and culture itself. Thanks for the review!!

  5. THANK YOU. I was so frustrated with how the author used the Japanese setting poorly. Just adding a bunch of random stereotypical Japanese words does not make a book with a Japanese setting. I thought it was unrealistic how all the characters were white in the book. I agree about the characters too. I was annoyed by most of them. This book was just a mess. I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt the same.

  6. The cover is certainly pretty but ughh at them setting it in Japan only to exclude the culture, why would I want a book set in Japan if there’s no Japan in it? What a mess, the characters also sound like ones I really wouldn’t like.

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