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Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa by Karin…

Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa

by Karin Muller

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In 'Japanland', filmmaker Karen Muller travels to Japan for a year to immerse herself in the culture, and to make a documentary. She is honest and funny, relating her experiences and relationships, her hardships and triumphs. The reader gets a personal insight and access unlikely to be available to the casual visitor, and in these experiences finds connections and obligations have both a price and a reward. ( )
  orkydd | Feb 2, 2017 |
Fascinating. really caught me up. I went in search of the documentary that she was making. It too was interesting. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
Strange, having read through the reviews here before beginning mine, I feel a strong impulse to defend the author. Japan is a difficult place for Americans because the language and the behavioral patterns are subtle and minimalist beyond the typical American ability to perceive (think politeness, tea, zen) AND violent or vivid (think: youth fashions, drinking, sumo). Karin Muller is admirably independent and courageous - without those characteristics she would not have made it through her year - but it is just those characteristics that also seem to block her from fitting in enough to understand the interpersonal messes she made. I really liked her for trying, though, and it is a credit to her writing that her character shines through.

True, this book is not a good source if you want to learn about Japan, but it is not intended as a book about Japan (notice the title - it's about her search). There's a certain argument in cultural anthropology that I picked up in a book by Maya Nadig but is probably derived from older sources, that explores what happens to a person's sense of self when living in a different society. Broadly, because who you are is built up and suspended in a web of social relations and expectations, when these are ripped away or when you land in a completely different web, your own sense of self tends to break up. It's a weird feeling, often frightening, sometimes enraging. I can see some of that happening with Karin Muller, and it's a pity she doesn't seem to have been able to become aware of and analyze her experience.

In the end, what we have here is another book about failing to fit in (oddly, compared to travel writing about other places, the books about Japan seem to admit failure more frequently; look at the first dozen titles in this list, for example). At least this one is energetic and covers a lot of cultural ground.
1 vote Nycticebus | Aug 26, 2012 |
The author spent a year in Japan, for a combination of personal seeking and documentary film (http://www.japanlandonline.com/). The book is written in anecdotal style, each chapter a snippet of culture entwined with stories of individual participants: religious ritual, sumo wrestling match, agricultural harvest, a homeless man collecting aluminum cans, a sword craftsman, a geisha. More interesting to me though were the mundane cultural frictions (e.g. months of ultimately unsuccessful efforts to be accepted by her host family, negotiating a landscape of rules spoken and assumed), and the kind gestures of ordinary people (e.g. when the highest ranking among a group of passing businessman gave incorrect directions, the lowest ranking, who could say nothing publicly in opposition, surreptitiously returned to set her right).

(read 1 Jan 2011)
  qebo | Jul 16, 2011 |
I have what some might call a minor major obsession with Japan. As such, it didn't take much convincing for me to buy this book, which is an account of the author spending a year in Japan in search of harmony and balance for her life.

What this is not, I should say, is a travel guide to Japan. It contains a lot of fantastic insights into the culture, both mainstream and more esoteric, but if you plan to read this book thinking that it will make your trip to Tokyo easier, you'll be disappointed.

On the other hand, if you have an interest in what Japanese culture is like for both an insider and an outsider, then I definitely recommend this book. From her stay with a host family to her Buddhist pilgrimage, Karin Muller weaves a wonderful story with skill, honesty, and respect. She's not ashamed to reveal her own ignorance of some situations, nor is she ashamed to point out when other people are just plain baffling, at least by Western sensibilities.

I have read this book more than once now, and it's one of the few books that I can safely say I take more away from it each time I read it. It's an engrossing book, with plenty to amuse those who nothing about Japanese culture and those who know quite a bit.

By the end of the book, whether the author feels they've achieved a sense of inner peace and harmony is almost irrelevent. She's learned a great deal, experienced more than most people ever dream of, and she's taken away a little piece of another place to keep inside herself. In a sense, her pilgrimage toward the end of her time in Japan was only a fraction of the pilgrimage she embarked upon, and it left an impression that even the reader can feel as they share the journey from beginning to end. ( )
  Bibliotropic | Jul 23, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Does Muller succeed at "unravel[ing] the great ball of Japanese culture" (pp. 190–91)? Her rather anticlimactic conclusion is that conformity "is not a sign of weakness, but rather a great inner strength" (p. 300). In terms of providing accurate, reliable information on Japanese society and culture, Muller's book ultimately suffers from superficiality in its attempts to cover so much territory. . . . [K]nowledge-seekers who want to move beyond stereotypes or another entertaining read will have to look elsewhere.
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I remember turning twenty-one in a squatter's village on a remote island in the Philippines.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159486523X, Paperback)

During a year spent in Japan on a personal quest to deepen her appreciation for such Eastern ideals as commitment and devotion, documentary filmmaker Karin Muller discovered just how maddeningly complicated it is being Japanese. In this book Muller invites the reader along for a uniquely American odyssey into the ancient heart of modern Japan. Broad in scope and deftly observed by an author with a rich visual sense of people and place, Japanland is as beguiling as this colorful country of contradictions.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:15 -0400)

Documentary filmmaker Muller committed to living in Japan for a year in order to deepen her appreciation for Eastern ideals. What she's after--more than understanding tea-serving etiquette or the historical importance of the shogun--is wa: a transcendent state of harmony, of flow, of being in the zone. With only her Western perspective to guide her, though, she discovers in sometimes awkward, sometimes funny interactions just how maddeningly complicated it is to be Japanese. Beginning with a strict code of conduct enforced by her impeccably proper host mother, Muller is initiated in the centuries-old customs that direct everyday interactions and underlie the principles of the sumo, the geisha, Buddhist monks, and now the workaholic, career-track salaryman. At the same time, she observes the relatively decadent behavior of the fast-living youth generation, the so-called New Human Beings, who threaten to ignore the old ways altogether.--From publisher description.… (more)

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