Read Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa by Karin Muller Online


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 obsDuring 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....

Title : Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781594865237
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa Reviews

  • Julia
    2018-12-19 01:19

    Japanland is a fierce, funny account of a filmmaker's desire to experience the harmony, or "wa," she believes is found in traditional Japanese culture. Muller lives in Japan for one year, staying with a modern host family in suburban Tokyo for five months and in a variety of other locations for the rest of her time in the country. She wrangles with the transportation system, learns about the ancient arts of swordmaking and pottery, encounters "New Human Beings," tries to be a geisha for a day, fails in her attempts to plant a garden and, most hilariously, stays in a monastery before going on a particularly ill-fated Buddhist pilgrimage. It's not a typical travelogue. Japanland reads more like a cross between the candid diary of Lucy Ricardo and the wry social commentary of Cornelia Otis Skinner. I found the narrative hysterically funny, yet touching. Muller is the exact opposite of introspective: trying to cope on a daily basis leaves her no time for philosophizing and she cheerfully admits to her shortcomings, just as I believe I would in her situation. Having just finished reading Claire Dederer's yoga memoir "Poser" I couldn't help making comparisons, and sorry, Dederer comes up short again.

  • Lisa
    2018-12-03 01:19

    Karin Muller has a very nice voice. I liked her. I thought she told her story well. There were chapters and storylines I liked better than others, and some I wasn't too moved by. I liked hearing about her living accomidations and her relationships with the various people she got to know. The last 30 or so pages of the book were kind of a snooze for me. I wasn't too into hearing about her last minute pilgrimage to bring her year to a really amazing zen-like head. I more enjoyed hearing about her attempts to film the last train leaving Shinjuku and then staying at the men's capsule hotel. At the end, she kind of goes for that classic college thesis wrap-up, like, oh everyone meant so much to me and are with me and each one was so great and meaningful. Well, I have to say, I would have been happier to hear her say something like, Yukiko, sorry I would occasionally chat with your husband, who INVITED me to stay here, and by doing so I sometimes got in the way of your vegetable chopping, but Japanese customs-shumstoms, COME ON. There is a decent way to treat people and then there is absurdity. Throwing your vegetable garden onto the lawn and keeping it there so when your mother comes to visit she can she the train wreck that you created and be asshamed and dissappionted? No babe, that is not Japanese customs and poiteness and whatever. That is just out-of-control bitchiness. I was so relieved when you got out of there!

  • Kevin J. Rogers
    2018-11-24 23:12

    Humorous, insightful, entertaining, at times even poignant, this companion volume to Karin Muller's multi-part PBS documentary of the same name was a fascinating read. At the beginning of the story Ms. Muller makes a decision to leave her stale and unfulfilling life in Washington D.C. for a year in Japan, ostensibly to study judo (she's a black belt) and film a documentary about the experience, but really to to find "wa"--a state of focus and harmony that she found in her judo instructors' "almost ethereal calm and inner strength". ("Wa" literally translates as "circle" or "ring".) Her judo contacts in the United States find her a host family, the Tanakas, in Fugisawa, about an hour from downtown Tokyo. Genji is a sixth-degree black belt and a highly successful businessman; his wife, Yukiko, is the model of the perfect Japanese wife; their daughter, Junko, is rapidly approaching an age where marriage is literally mandatory, lest she lose both her job and her place in the social order. For six months Ms. Muller enjoys the hospitality of the Tanakas--with mixed results--and in so doing finds part of the essence of Japan. To find the rest, she leaves their prosperous home (under difficult circumstances) and settles into a run-down apartment on a crowded alley in Osaka maintained by a gay American expatriate who, like many of the "gaijin", earns his living by teaching English. Capitalizing on her new-found freedom from the strict social restraints of the Tanaka home, Ms. Muller sets out on a variety of adventures throughout the Japanese countryside, making friends, exploring, and occasionally pressing herself to the very limits of her physical endurance, all the while searching for the elusive Wa. She tracks down an obscure mountain cult, attends a variety of local festivals, and finally sets out on a 700-mile pilgrimage to some 88 Buddhist temples in honor of Kobo Daishi, the patron saint of Japan, in a final, desperate quest for that "elusive inner peace . . . (t)his pilgrimage is my last hope." That she finds it in a completely unexpected place and in a completely accidental manner is a fitting and appropriate ending to this joyous and absorbing tale. I highly recommend this book, and the documentary film as well.

  • Suzanne
    2018-12-08 01:32

    "Our differences are obvious from the very first day. Yukiko is very traditional. I am not. She is quite sure, for example, that all these newfangled cooking devices, like microwaves, break down food. I've done nothing to disabuse her of this notion because there is only one microwave in the house, and it is now conveniently located on my kitchen counter."This is a story of about the author, Karin Muller's, attempt to ingratiate herself into the world of Japan. Not the touristy, superficial world - but the real, get to know the people, Japan. Muller does a marvelous job in this witty and well-written account of her year in the land of Nippon. "Her ceaseless vigilance is making an impression. For the first time in my life I feel guilty about putting the toilet paper roll on backward. Until now, I never even knew that toilet paper had a front and back. I resent feeling guilty, so I refuse - on principle - to turn it facing forward. Then I worry that Yukiko will see it, so I use it up as quickly as I can and hope the next one will end up the right way around."What I really loved about this book, is that I learned so much. I always prided myself on my knowledge of the world, and like Karin, I approached this journey (although mine was the written kind) certain that I had a good foundation on which to set out. She quickly came to discover how little she really knew, and how much her own cultural values stood in her way of living a Japanese way of life.Muller is brave, optimistic and doesn't give up. I really enjoyed traveling across Japan with her!

  • julie
    2018-11-21 01:12

    Most first-hand accounts of being a foreigner in Japan are annoying. One is beaten over the head with first impressions, the futile attempt to describe in minute detail what was seen, heard, smelled, felt. There's also the soul searching ending with profound realizations. If you've ever been to Japan or traveled to a foreign country yourself it's almost certainly contrary to your experience and entirely nauseating. Karin Muller's memoir is none of these offensive things. Her writing style is quick - it's hard to even fathom the different experiences she describes in under three hundred pages. Even one of them would be a rare experience for even the most seasoned tourist. She doesn't beat you over the head with her profound realizations and even if she's not describing MY Japan I'm content with her assessments and not rolling my eyes. If anything, I find Muller's book inspirational - assured that if she could survive in Japan for a year I can, too, anywhere.

  • Nancy
    2018-12-19 20:24

    My friend Sara, also on goodreads, lent me this one, and even the preface had me laughing. The author, Karin Muller, is bravely daring a year in Japan, seeking to understand what makes Japan so interesting yet so foreign. She seeks "wa", a type of focus or harmony. Is it possible for a foreigner to learn this? Muller is using herself as the test subject, and already having a rough time subjugating her own desire for independence and her own sense of self in order to please Yukiko-san, her host-mother--an exacting and imperious Japanese lady of the house. Although I just started this one, it does not seem it will be possible to please Yukiko-san, nor will it really be possible to become Japanese unless the author is willing and able to shed a great deal of her own character. Does that seem likely or desirable? Nah.

  • Becca
    2018-12-08 21:25

    yikes! This story (non-Japanese woman goes to Japan to learn about the culture and language by immersing herself in it) was all too familiar: the oppressive weight of being a barbarian gaijin in Japan, the terror of the everyday "yuubaba-san"-- the older woman who rules every detail of your life with a brutal iron fist ("there was a stain on your cutting board! You caused me to lose face!") And also the lovely things about Japan-- the real unstinting generosity you find with strangers, the baths, the food, the attention to detail, the minute-by-minute training in good manners and sensitivity to others' feelings. For a film equivalent, see "Fear and Trembling."

  • Andrea
    2018-12-03 01:16

    A travel memoir about a 30-something documentary filmmaker from DC who picks up and moves to Japan for one year. Muller's storytelling is effortless to read--I'd tell myself I would stop at the next page and before I realized I was already into the next chapter. The book cover boasts that her experiences are "...hilarious, puzzling, sexy, frustrating, elegant..." and I agree. She offers great suggestions about places to see and provides readers with many examples (sometimes stereotypical, sometimes quirky) of Japanese culture. A fun read.

  • Crystal
    2018-11-29 18:31

    A captivating travel memoir about a year the author, a judo practitioner, spends in Japan with a strict host family and a camera for her travel videography. I really appreciated how much she dug into her surroundings to learn more about homeless people in Japan, sumo, Buddhist pilgrimages, a "mountain cult", and she even interviews with a geisha. She is down-to-earth and quite intelligent and outspoken, and I finished the book with a much more realistic view of Japan.

  • Amelia Laughlan
    2018-11-30 01:13

    An interesting recount of a writer and documentarian's year in Japan. While there were scenes and conversations captured in this memoir that I found insightful, I also found that this book was written from a very America-centric perspective. Which was surprising, coming from someone as well-travelled as Muller. Her cultural analysis of Japan often takes the 'us vs them' approach, which I find populist and boring. Muller's witty and imaginative recounts were enough to keep me reading, but I can't imagine ever going back to her writing if I was looking to read something about Japan. Muller's frequent complaints of getting up early and feeling hungry constantly irked me. Convenience stores are so common in Japan and the quality and nutrition of the meals you can buy there is amazing. I don't know how she managed to miss them.

  • Yumiko Hansen
    2018-12-08 22:39

    I enjoyed Muller's witty observations and self-deprecating humour.She never stood by as an observer, she was always leaping, head first, right in to learn and help-sometimes to her own charging or detriment.I'd happily recommend it to anyone who has a thirst for knowledge or curiosity about Japan.

  • Adriana Martínez González
    2018-11-28 02:25

    Couldn't finish it. Found it repetitive and with no plot. The only thing I got was that if you suffer from insomnia running and practicing Martial arts really helps.

  • Josephine
    2018-11-24 00:36

    What I love about certain travel memoirs is that, the really well-written ones give you a good sense of what it might be like to live in that part of the world.Karin Muller’s account of living in Japan for a year falls into that category.A freelance documentary filmmaker, she wakes up one morning and realizes that her life needs changing. From years of judo practice, she knew that the Japanese had a word for the seemingly effortless state of harmony that she longed for: wa.What follows is a thoroughly readable account of how she spent a year filming her interactions with local Japanese while also trying endlessly to please her host mother and nemesis, Yukiko, who finds fault with almost everything Muller does.In an effort to make amends with her host mother, Yukiko, Muller sets about doing all the domestic chores to perfection.Genji, her beloved host father, is a sixth degree black belt judo instructor and runs one of Japan’s largest corporations — but even he knows better than to cross Yukiko.Meanwhile, her host sister, Junko, is one of Japan’s “New Human Beings” — a woman who’s aggressively modern and dismissive of her parents yet utterly dependent on them (at 28, she parties every night, but must get married in the next two years or lost her job).Muller also meets Roberto, a young Brazilian who went to Japan to become a lowly apprentice with the sword maker, Masamune.Armed with encounters with sumo wrestlers, Buddhist monks, geishas and even laid-off, homeless former corporate executives who now roam the streets, Muller paints a portrait of Japan that you might not necessarily see by merely visiting for a week or two.Muller seeks out the Yamabushi, who are Japanese mountain ascetic hermits. With permission to film their eight-day fall training, she slowly starts to understand the power of this cryptic cult.“It’s the silence. The time away from their web of obligation, from the voices that have ruled their lives and influenced their every thought. For some, its the first full week in forty years that they’ve had nothing to do but think about their future: to imagine possibilities, to find out who they are, and to talk to others who share their situation. They may not have discovered the truth about the universe, but they’re finally discovering themselves.” (p.151-152)The one traditional Japanese community that Muller most eagerly tries to gain access to from the day she arrives is with the geisha.She is introduced to Koubai-san, who is the embodiment of iki.“Iki. It is neither the bland modesty of a housewife nor the infantile mannerisms of a teenage girl. Iki is sophisticated but not jaded. It is innocent but not naive. It is naturally elegant, never forced or contrived. It has subtle undertones of sensuality but never flaunts itself. True iki is daring and unconventional. And it implies sincerity — not the tumbling emotions of infatuation nor the bitterness of the world-weary.” (p.264)I really enjoyed “Japanland” and out of the books I’ve read in the last couple of weeks, it’s probably one of the better ones (and one worth noting in this blog as something I’d like to remember).

  • Kelsey
    2018-12-14 20:24

    To those who walk away from reading this book and wonder, "How could anyone like it when Karin Muller is so self-centered? Typical Westerner." I pose my own question: Did you read the book in its entirety? There is quite a contrast from the start to the end. The author's primary motivation was for growth and self discovery, and it would be impossible for her to start out completely understanding and accepting of the Japanese at the very beginning."Typical Westerner." There is, my dears, no such thing. For, if you were to say that there is a standard type of person that represents all westerners, then you make the very same mistake Karin Muller is accused of doing: generalizing the Japanese. You would understand someone from the west no more than you believe Karin Muller understands the Japanese. If you do not like the book for other reasons, that is natural. It is natural to not like some things, but to do it based off of one's own generalizations is a mistake. I hope that people will not be deterred from reading this book because it was written by a "typical westerner." In the beginning, Ms. Muller struggles to adapt to Japanese life. Living with a host family that values cleanliness, obedience, and conformity far more than she, Muller feels isolated. Despite this, her book manages to be lighthearted and funny. Her style of writing is easy to read and to follow, and is, in my opinion, written in a way to grab the largest western audience possible. She can be critical and unfair in her opinions, but the longer she spends in Japan, the more she grows and begins to understand that merely because someone does things differently than her does not make it wrong, and her right. I liked reading about her adventures, because she does things I know I would never dare to do. She has sad moments, exciting moments, and learning moments. The best part about this book was that I was not once bored reading it. I don't believe it gives a good overview of the entire country of Japan, because she visits places and people that are often minority groups, like the geisha, who are not the norm. Despite this, she does make an attempt in her travels to meet all types of people so that she doesn't generalize Japanese as being one certain way. Even though she is critical at times, she is also very gracious. There are numerous passages where Muller expresses her appreciation to her host family for taking her in. She even puts herself at fault for a falling out with one person she meets in Japan, even though she didn't like them. She was, at that moment, beginning to understand that her way of doing things isn't always right.I recommend this book to individuals who want a good laugh and adventure. I know several people who spent years in Japan who also liked the book, including natives, indicating that despite its possible faults, it is not horribly inaccurate, and some have been led to believe. Give Karin Muller a chance and she'll give you something greater in return.

  • Victoria
    2018-11-28 21:18

    I haven't read many travel memoirs, but I find myself hoping that all of them are as engaging as this one.Of course, it helps to have an interest in the places the author writes about. My best friend first got me interested in Japan, and there's something about its cultural differences from the West, its contradictory values, and its unique way of blending the past and the present so seamlessly that fascinates me. Karin Muller's journey into this country only deepened my knowledge and wonder. In easy, conversational language, Muller jumps among the people and places she meets, from her up-and-down relations with her host family to various strangers, professionals, roommates, homeless, monks, and pilgrims she interacts with. Sometimes she is met with incredible acts of kindness and understanding, other times with coldness and even cruelty. It serves to underscore the kind of experience a foreigner can have in Japan; either welcomed or shunned, or sometimes both. Muller's style makes it easy to get to know not only Japan, but also her as a person. I found myself admiring and sympathizing with her; she is honest about her fear, anger, and hopelessness in some situations, and yet she never grows self-pitying or gives up, although I might have many times. She tries her best to understand Japan and its culture, going to sometimes unimaginable lengths to fit in and accept its laws and values. She never judges the culture as right or wrong, instead musing over it, a fact I found very refreshing. She is honest about the good and the bad facets.All in all, I want to read more of Karin's adventures, if she handles them all with such engaging and unwavering curiosity and aplomb.

  • Bibliotropic
    2018-11-26 19:27

    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.

  • Danil Bik.
    2018-12-01 23:37

    Being quite curious about Japan and its' culture I really wanted to read this book. While I enjoyed it at some parts, I only can give this book 3 - 3.5 stars.'Problems' with the book are mentioned here in other reviews, so I'll just sum some relevant of those.It still feels like travel log, even though Muller puts a lot of interesting information. It's definitely not the book that kept me interested. It might've benefited from some addition of fiction element, maybe. Might be more of a general story-line, that would keep all those little pieces together. But then it would be completely different book, and that doesn't suit this travel log style and, probably, goals Muller wanted to achieve.I was reading book in Russian translation, and understand that book is written in 'simple' language, which might be good (say, I really enjoyed reading Erlend Loe), but didn't quite work for me in that case. But again, that particular point might be purely due to translation.But there's still a lot of interesting information about Japan, its' people and culture (conveyed mostly in simple stories and observations from everyday life). How hard it is to understand all those for a foreigner, and how even more harder (almost impossible? Author provides few examples) to become part of the Japan.P.S. I also watched the 2-parts Japanland video. It's a compressed version, and there's more details in the book, and sometimes those would be quite important or interesting ones, in my opinion (like if 2 stories were actually connected, but there's nothing about it in video). So if you're in doubt whether to read the book, maybe just watch the video.

  • Kelley Cortright
    2018-12-11 23:14

    EDIT: I also wanted to note that, while this book was first published in 2005, based on some of the ages and birthdates listed in the book, it appears that Muller's year in Japan was actually spent in 2001. Japan has changed a lot in the past decade and a half, and this should be kept in mind for those who would read this book for a window into modern Japan.Muller had a very different experience in Japan than I did when I was living there. Where she found Tokyoites to be among the more demanding in terms of tradition and manners than the small mountain communities she visited, I found it to be the opposite. Also, I did not enjoy Muller's tone towards Japan's customs in the first half of book; she seemed to be criticizing the "Japanese way" far too much for my taste. In my mind, there are people who visit a foreign country and think, "That custom is weird to me, but it's their culture and I'll adapt." Then there are people who visit a foreign country and think, "That custom is weird to me, so I think it's bad, and this is why and how it should change." I felt like the first half of the book strayed toward the latter mindset, which, as a Japanophile and respecter of cultures, bothered me. However, once Muller leaves the Tanaka's house and explores more areas of Japan on her own, the dialogue gets much better in my opinion. I give Muller full credit for her ability to delve into a huge spectrum of Japan's hundreds, if not thousands, of unique cultural pockets, and make the reader truly feel the thousands of years of history and isolation that have made the Japanese culture as special as it is today.

  • Harris
    2018-11-30 23:41

    I read Karin Muller’s humorous, awkward memoir depicting her year long sojourn in Japan, to continue her judo training and direct a documentary about the country a few years ago and revisited it recently after a trip to Japan.I was impressed by Muller’s witty writing and ability to find ways to get into just about any sort of situation. On the other hand, I wondered about her desire to to completely “understand” Japan, even “become” Japanese even as she feels she is a very confrontational person, not, in her mind, a very Japanese personality trait. Muller travels to Japan originally to perfect her Judo skills, coming to the idea that in order to truly understand this martial art, she would have to totally understand the Japanese culture as well. I find this conceit a little difficult to understand, I mean, I don’t even understand my own culture completely.Watching the companion PBS documentary after my return, I felt this to be an interesting dichotomy; her direct, combative nature and her desire to “blend in.” In this, she did detail a lot of interesting people and ideas throughout her trip, and it was definitely fun to revisit Japan with her, even as Muller finds herself unsatisfied, if inspired, by her trip.This review also appears on my BookLikes blog where I discuss some of my thoughts on the travelogs I read before and during my trip to Japan.

  • Ashley
    2018-12-13 20:38

    This book offers an interesting glimpse into Japanese culture via the eyes of a foreigner. At times it is critical, at other times complimentary, as the author spends a year in Japan and experiences things the average tourist likely is not even aware exist. Throughout the story, the author transforms from a "culturally unaware" foreigner, to a person who, while not even close to becoming Japanese, has a deeper understanding of the idiosyncrasies and inner workings of the culture. At times I felt that the author's views are rather ethnocentric in the fact that, at times, it seems as if she is portraying Japanese culture as "backward," particularly in reference to the culture's collectivist attitudes. However, this tone does eventually change as her story progresses, and at the end of her year in Japan, though she hasn't even come close to "becoming Japanese," we can see that the author has a deeper understanding and appreciation for the culture, collectivism included. This book definitely is not a travel guide for Japan, nor is it an entirely unbiased look into Japanese culture, but it is definitely a good read and offers a glimpse into the "good" and the "bad" (if you will) of the culture. It is neither a glowing, gushy recount, nor is it a shocking expose - it is just an account of one foreigner's experiences during a year abroad, including the good and the bad, the awesome and the ordinary.

  • Jim
    2018-12-19 18:27

    Not a travelogue, except perhaps in the inner sense. The story contains a series of struggles based on sets of oppositions: Existential despair and the need for harmony; individualism and conformity; youth/age; guest/host; West/East; teacher/student, to name a few. The author, a black belt, is told that to master judo she must understand the philosophy and to do that you must understand Japan--to become Japanese. And that takes a lifetime. All the seasoned pros say it is impossible for her, a single woman in her thirties. Nevertheless, she decides to immerse herself in the search for "wa" for one year. "You are going to do it anyway?" one asks. "Of course." "Then you are not Japanese." In her dogged individual quest she creates many problems for herself. But in the course of telling about each struggle we learn more about Japanese culture and behavior, and the social stresses of a changing Japan. And she learns more about her weaknesses, biases and strengths. The reader is taken to some behind the scenes places and locales that no tourist will ever see.The story is well told and I liked the narrator, although I found her behavior to be frustrating at times. There is plenty of humor and some appropriate self-deprecation. Does she find wa? Maybe a hint of it, by the end.

  • Arminzerella
    2018-11-25 18:42

    Karin Muller went to Japan to reassess her life and film a documentary about the people and culture and something called “wa” – existing in a state of effortless harmony with one’s environment. She spent a year among the Japanese and several months with a host family that tried her sanity as they sought to teach her what it is to be Japanese, a good woman, a good wife, part of something larger than herself. They found her a rather difficult pupil. Through their connections and others that she made, Karin was able to see and experience things about Japan that remain a mystery to most Westerners. She spent time with geisha, with farmers (harvesting rice), with the homeless. She watched kabuki, studied judo, and even made a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Buddhist Saint, Kobo Daishi. Japanland is Karin’s diary and a catalogue of her travels in Japan – it’s an intimate look at a fascinating country and people through the lens of Karin’s experience. She obviously has a lot of courage and personal strength to set out on her own to live for a year among people she doesn’t know in a culture that’s unfamiliar to her speaking a language she doesn’t fully understand. She travels with grace – by the seat of her pants. Karin’s words are mesmerizing, and her story is full of emotion. Highly recommended.

  • Brendan
    2018-12-04 20:19

    As someone living in Japan, I have very, very mixed feelings about this book and Karin Muller's interpretation of her year long journey "in pursuit of wa." I liked and hated this book in equal measures, and am kind of at a loss in terms of assessing my experience with it. Let's start with the positive: Muller is an extremely talented writer! Her prose are hilariously entertaining and strike a nice balance between being accessible and concurrently intelligent. I have to admit that I was genuinely curious about her story- she is, after all, a great story-teller. However, I feel that many of her observations don't go deeper than surface level in terms of her cultural understanding of Japan. I feel that her book doesn't make Japan any more relatable, and the grand promise of 'great understanding' that Muller assures her readers at the beginning of her journey is not much deeper than a Lonely Planet travel guide. On the other hand, her book is unabashedly honest. This is what she saw, this is what she felt... Can I really criticize her? I'm not really sure, but I do think that despite what I believe to be gaping problems in this book, it is worth a read, if anything for the humor.

  • Marsha
    2018-11-22 00:14

    Muller decides to explore Japan as a response to her discontent on how she was living her life in the US. A long time student of judo, she selects Japan to learn more about the concept of "wa," loosely translated as flow, or harmony.The book chronicles the relationships Muller has with the people she meets and the places she visits. She's an engaging, and descriptive writer, and she has a way of picking the meat of the story, so the travel-log doesn't lag, or feel too banal. She focuses on the complexity of the Japanese social system, which is so different to almost be at odds with American social culture. Fitting in is what Japanese culture is all about; obvious racial difference cause Caucasian Americans to stick out no matter how integrated they are with Japanese manners. Muller makes gaff after gaff, her best intentions apparent, but often unproductive in this culture. Muller never tries to save face, or whitewash her feelings about her experience, and most refreshing, she keeps trying, keeps exploring, even when she is entirely intimidated. Even with her struggles, it's plain that she enjoys the experience tremendously. I found that her descriptions and discussion of the social order also gave me a larger understanding to apply to Japanese film.

  • cary hardin
    2018-12-15 19:38

    though this book was riddled with editing errors---i felt as though i was reading an advanced reader's copy---it was a good book, nonetheless. karin muller clearly is the gregarious, overbearing, mannerless American in Japan. i just came back from Japan and was very aware of their culture prior to setting foot in their country. it doesn't seem as though karin was. but her info and insight were great and invaluable. if you're heading off to Japan, i highly recommend you start reading this before the trip, continuing the read during your trip. write down muller's tips of where to go, what to eat, and where to stay. i actually wrote down a few things she suggested (Asakusa in Tokyo! GO! a watashi store! GO!) and loved everything she suggested. she also adds a ton of great tidbits of the history of japan, to explain the prefecture she's visiting or the samurai practice she's witnessing. i am incredibly grateful that i accidentally came across this book a few days before i left for Japan!

  • Donielle Prince
    2018-12-07 01:33

    Muller's greatest strength as a memoirist draws from her talent and skill as a documentarian. For the most part, she writes about the details of Japanese life in a "news-reporter" style- very clear and factual. At times she veered into a narrative style, at which I think she is frankly less successful. During passages in which she offers opinions and cultural analysis, or where she uses metaphor to describe her observations and experiences, I found myself getting bored. On the other hand, where she wrote factually about Japanese history, traditions, and lifestyles, I was intrigued and felt informed. I was in Japan visiting my brother who has lived there for three years, and found that many of Muller's reports on Japanese society gelled well with my brother's experience. Muller is excellent at reporting the facts: she wrote a wonderful travellogue. However, I think needs to focus on this aspect in her writing. The whole book would be stronger if she left alone her attempts to create a dramatic storyline!

  • Sophia
    2018-11-21 01:14

    Japanland: a year in search of wa did not live up to its title and should be regarded only as a travelogue kept by an American documentary filmmaker. The author Karin Muller was in her mid-thirties when wanderlust returned into her life, along with a desire to seek some wa or inner harmony she observed in her Japanese judo instructors for herself. Reaching the conclusion that one needed to “become Japanese” in this quest, she decides to live in Japan for one year. However, I would argue that she takes up this task half-heartedly, as witnessed by her reactions to her deteriorating relationship with her initial host family, especially its matriarch Yukiko. Instead, this book is a hodge-podge of her day-to-day life and attempts to shoot footage about various aspects of Japanese life and culture. As implied by the choice of title—with its similarity to Disneyland, Graceland, and Legoland—Muller portrays Japan as a distant, somewhat mysterious and caricaturized place, albeit one filled with kind people.

  • Kaylee
    2018-12-17 23:40

    Maybe it was the timing of reading this book that made me enjoy it so much, but I really, really liked it. I started it just after returning to the States from my first solo vacation, which is, admittedly, a bit of a cheesy time to start a book about a woman who takes a solo journey to Japan.Unlike Eat, Pray, Love, Japanland doesn't try to be anything life-changing or preachy. Karin Muller writes with an amazing wit and real-life tone that makes you think she could be your best friend telling you about her trip over an afternoon coffee. There's none of this woe-is-my-old-life thrown in; the bulk of the book is in the present, and the few times she writes about the past, it's in one of those reflective-because-of-the-current-situation ways, not the annoying, "this is how I got here" way [if that makes sense].

  • Constance
    2018-12-01 18:18

    A nice glimpse into life in modern day Japan. Muller comes off as a bit neurotic in regards to her host family, and has trouble meeting the exacting standards of her housemother--which kind of slows the book down at the beginning. It would behoove us to remember that one family's dynamic mostly reflects its' own values rather than those of an entire culture. Her restless search for the "Wa" is something I think a lot of us can relate to---she finds it in the lives of the people she meets on her journey---from a Brazilian expat sword maker to a homeless man, in these people she finds the essence of what she is searching for. I was particularly fascinated with the chapter on Geisha, and had to laugh when she was made up in Gion in Geisha garb and realized how heavy and uncomfortable the whole thing really is, which gives her a whole new respect for the profession. A decent read for anyone interested in Japan.

  • David
    2018-12-11 00:42

    As a Japanophile I couldn't pass this up, even though I found the author/narrator a little tiresome: she comes bulling into intimate Japanese situations (homes, neighborhoods, ceremonies) with little to no regard for cultural (especially gender) norms, and then acts shocked at how she is rejected, and condemns Japanese culture. That all said, some of her condemnations happen to be dead-on accurate. In the final analysis, I found her more pitiable than dislikeable...she presents herself as a rootless traveler searching for meaning and in the end judges as good only those other souls she meets who seem displaced and culture-confused. Make no mistake, though, her writing style is engaging and she is extremely observant, even if her insight into herself seems less well-honed.