Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa - Karin Muller

The Basics: Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa, Karin Muller, 2005, 307 pages, hardcover, a documentary of the same name aired on American Public TV in late 2005 - I can't find it on the internet for sale or for viewing :(.

How I found it: Random browsing in the new non-fiction section at the Halifax Public Library. The cover called to me because I had recently watched Memoirs of a Geisha, and I have had a fascination with Japan and Japanese culture for years.

What's it about?: A woman in her mid-thirties moves to Japan for a year to "find herself", immerse herself in Japanese culture, and make a documentary film. She lives with a Japanese host family, and attempts to learn the Japanese language and mannerisms while taking part in or observing 'traditional' Japanese cultural activities. "Wa" is harmony: harmony with oneself, harmony in relations with others, etc. and this is what Muller seeks.

Did I like it?: Oh yes! This is the best travel book I have read in a long time. It is a Westerner's honest reaction to another culture; Muller puts enough of herself and her thoughts and feelings into the book to make it read almost like a novel at times. Perhaps that is why I liked it so much. As well, it manages to show the unique ways in which traditional and modern Japan are juxtaposed in behaviour and culture. I also learned a multitude of new things about Japanese culture from this book, which was something I did not expect.

Would you like it?: Yes. You should read this book. Muller writes well and from the heart. The book has a plot, if that is something you require, and it also has lots of fascinating tidbits about Japanese culture presented in an interesting manner. If you've read Liza Dalby's Geisha, it's a bit like that: Muller tries to fit into an alien culture, but unlike Dalby, she does not fare so well. Her failures make this book fabulous as they are the heart of her story.

But don't' take my word for it: Some editorial reviews. A review from someone's blog and one from a travel book review site.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you liked that book. I agree that her failures are what make it so interesting. Thanks for the link. :)