Classics are meant to be read. Although reading is a very subjective matter in its essence, it is always safer to go with classics--at least, that would earn you some reputation over the dinner table.
Japan has a fascinating culture and we Chinese take special interest in it--surprising but reasonable. They are so close to us, but yet not exactly like us. They could be just unfathomable as another species. We have much in common, the ideography, Confucianism, Zen/Chan Buddhism, family values, and the hierarchy of society. However, there are certain things that we do not understand--the profound loneliness and ennui in its literature, the contradictory coexistence of an aesthetic and a fascist as well as a Zen Buddhist and a Jingoist, and their prevalent cultural xenophobia. In short, this is a culture full of dilemma, that cannot be resolved by reason not even imagination.
If there is such a thing called national character (of course, its validity remains a big concern given the within-group variance is much larger than the between-group variance), the best word that I could come up with for Japanese would be “dilemma”, with the presence of enormous homogeneity.
Here I would name a few differences between Chinese and Japanese. 1. Chinese are both optimist and pessimist, the dominance of which depends on their circumstances, while Japanese are generally pessimist. 2. Chinese are both introvert and extrovert, again, the society as a whole rarely determines one’s approach to the external world, but this is not the case for Japanese--they are bound by rules and resort to suppression. Hence, they are more introvert than extrovert. 3. Chinese have Confucianism and Taoism, they are Confucianist when things are going well and Taoist when life goes down. However, Japanese are more Confucianist than Chinese. They are deeply shaped by Zen Buddhism, but they lack a sense of humor and they are not easy-going, unlike Taoists. 4. Chinese are more tolerant of diversity, while Japanese appreciate simplicity and homogeneity. Chinese recognize the world as utterly complex, while Japanese endeavor to make the world manageable. 5. Chinese, despite suffering through the “century of humiliation”, still hold onto their superiority complex, in a sense that they consider themselves as the best civilization on earth. On the contrary, Japanese have an inferiority complex deep in their souls, which comes with both benefits and costs--they are flexible and motivated to learn from outside, but they are also subject to depression. 6. After all, Chinese prefer the middle way, while Japanese choose not to because they are more serious about life and therefore perfectionistic.
Interestingly, I found this book slightly biased and I doubt how valid it is to understand Japanese culture from the perspective of a “cultural anthropologist”, let alone he is an American. He did not speak Japanese, neither did he every stay in Japan. Many of the differences are not specific to Japanese, but could equally apply to other Asian cultures. As I did fall asleep while reading this book, I recommend it to insomniacs.