Today’s book review is about At Home in Japan by Rebecca Otowa.
This book is about a woman’s adjustment into a completely different culture and lessons learned from years of humbling introspection.
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AT HOME IN JAPAN BOOK NOTES
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rebecca Otowa is a writer, painter and teacher from California, who lived in Japan for over 30 years.
She and her husband Toshiro have raised two sons and live in a family-owned 350-year-old farmhouse in rural Japan, close to Kyoto.
In ‘At Home in Japan’, Rebecca describes her personal story of moving to Japan, getting accustomed to daily life there and her bond with the house and the culture of the country.
ABOUT TUTTLE PUBLISHING
Since 1948, Tuttle Publishing has been a leader in publishing books on the culture, arts, cuisines, languages and literature of Asia, so if there is one place to start your research, it’s with them.
Most of their books go deep into the country’s traditions, customs and etiquette. Super interesting and useful to know when you’re visiting or going to live in there!
ABOUT THE BOOK
In this book, Rebecca describes a circular path from the basic details of life in her house and village, through relationships with family, neighbors and all the natural and supernatural entities in her world.
From that, she zooms in on her inner life, sharing her memories of moving to Japan, meeting her husband and adjusting to the Japanese culture, her husband’s family and married life, as well as all the lessons these events have taught her.
At the end of the book, she examines the ways she has changed as a person by living in Japan, as well as the ways she has resisted that change to remain her own person.
TRAVEL WITHOUT LEAVING HOME?
You don’t always need to be physically on the road to enjoy the beauty of destinations from all around the world!
From vintage travel posters to beautifully displayed souvenirs and home decor items inspired by your favourite places and from travel journals and crafts to exploring world recipes, music and dance.
With our creative articles you’ll get some fresh ideas on how to bring the world closer to the comforts of your own home.
DESIGN & ILLUSTRATIONS
With Rebecca being an artist, it might be no surprise that this book is full of wonderful little pen drawings of items in and around the house, as well as some of the more complex concepts she talks about in the book.
The drawings really suit the charm of the book well and it’s almost a shame that the book has also has additional full-coloured pictures in the middle of the book, because it takes a bit of the mystery of the story away.
But, I understand this is not a fairytale book, it’s very real and the people in it actually exist, so the photos also give a bit of realization that somewhere in this world, this house can be found and the people in the book live their lives in and around it as described, which is kind of interesting as well.
While this book is mostly inspirational and definitely not a practical travel guide (even though you learn a lot about parts of the Japanese culture), I do think that if you’re an expat in a foreign country, or considering to become one, this book is a great read for you.
Rebecca writes that she hopes that anyone who dreams of making their home in another land and culture can find a bit of courage from her stories.
Personally, there were so many things Rebecca describes that resonated with me. Like how she’d never considered it strange to be alone somewhere, until people started asking her if she wasn’t feeling lonely away from her family and friends and she gradually realized that she was ‘indeed alone in a sea of Japanese’.
Or how she asks herself how she is different from what she would have been had she’d never come to Japan.
That her behaviour seems clumsy and too direct to the Japanese, but equally inappropriate to relatives and friends abroad and how that results in coming across as a bit strange in both cultures. And that she realized that it’s alright to not like everything about her new home country.
That she has the right to decide ‘which elements I would love, which I could live without, and which I would have to keep to a minimum in my personal life.’
Being an expat perhaps is really about finding your own boundaries in a new place.
I loved this quote she gave about expat life, which I can totally relate to, even though my culture shock moving to the United Kingdom from The Netherlands wasn’t even half as intrusive as her move from the USA to Japan, of course:
“Probably only those who have elected to be similarly transplanted could fully understand the pain, the difficulty, the complexity of the period of acclimatization which followed. And we are a small band, we transplants, a very small percentage of humanity as a whole.”
“Growth always and only results from a willingness to change one’s thinking and entertain a different point of view.”
“In our modern world, there are many ways to experience life, and human beings are much more free to choose a life direction than at other times in history.”
“I now see that fitting it has to include all the parts of myself, and this has to be based on my own acceptance of all those parts. I also see that the people around me are ordinary human beings, just like me, full of fears and flaws, just wanting to feel good and to belong.”
“What supports us, for a short or long time as measured on this earth, is life itself. The grand outpouring of life, its seamless and abundant flow from moment to moment, is a force so strong we are unaware of it, as the fish is unaware of water. It is this force that overrides the problems and hardships and carries us, strong and true and sure, in the direction of our destiny.”
“For my identity to be honest, my acceptance of myself must include both the learning and the standing tall: it must be total.”
WHICH BOOK TO READ?
The Travel Tester loves to review books that teach you something about yourself or the world around us.
From travel guides and stories to books about business and self-development and from cultural stories to cook books from kitchens around the world… if it looks interesting to us, we’ll test it!
No matter where you’re going, with our reviews you’ll know exactly what to read next!
Rebecca Otowa has written the book solely from her own experience (okay, one chapter is written from the viewpoint of the house, which is actually really cool), which makes her observations about Japanese life just so much more alive, so much more interesting to read.
People are what make a good story and it’s through personal stories that we can truly transport ourselves to another place in the world.
I loved how every chapter of the book was a short story on it’s own. The pace of each story was slow, but gripping, and with a lot of eye for detail. She even made her kitchenware sound interesting:
“No matter how mundane their function may be, many household items effortlessly display that essentially Japanese touch of evocative, stylized beauty in color, shape, and design.“
Another thing I really liked about the book was how Rebecca drew me into her world of trying to understand and cope with the Japanese culture and its many (unspoken) rules and symbols and how she grew as a person and found a way to fit in, in her own way.
From how Rebecca basically had no say in her own wedding and had to live with her mother-in-law who wanted her to be a perfect Japanese wife (a.k.a. mission impossible), to be brave enough to adjust parts of the ancient family home to suit her modern living standards and educating her own sons that they are unique individuals, even withing the strict Japanese group-oriented society.
In this book, you can really get a good glimpse into her adjustment into a completely different culture and learn so much from her years of humbling introspection:
“As usual, the ordinary life that followed the wedding was a jarring descent to reality -but the sense of being swept up and carried away by my life persisted for years. It’s taken me a long time to own my life here in Japan. I’ve had to learn how to manage the otherness of my surroundings, and how to acknowledge, even to make friends with, the persistent specter of my own ignorance.“
I would definitely recommend ‘At Home in Japan if you’re interested to feel a bit of the soul of the country instead of just the facts. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!
Look & Feel: 8/10
Practical Use: 7/10
Contribution to Self-Development: 8/10
Value for Money: 8/10
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Title: At Home in Japan
Subtitle: A Foreign Woman’s Journey of Discovery
Author: Rebecca Otowa
Illustrations: Rebecca Otowa
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing
Number of Pages: 176
First Release: 2017
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