Japanland : a year in search of wa

by Karin Müller

Paper Book, 2005




Emmaus, Pa. : Rodale, c2005.


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)

Media reviews

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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member illecanom
I am fascinated by Japan and the motives of her people - this book chronicles Karin's experiences living in Japan for a year and give wonderful insights into the values of a wide variety of Japanese people. I'm also planning to watch the accompanying video.
LibraryThing member sean101
this book is a cespool of flawed information. i am a american, caucasion male, who happened to be born and raised in kobe, japan. i read this book as a school assign ment, and am disguisted by it. this book is not a portrayal of a culture, it is the selfish ravingsofa woman unwilling to take of the blindfold of american society, and truely expierance the japanese culture. culturally, i am japanese. and i can assure you taht this book is no better that fashion advice to denis rodman.

for any other information, mail me at cafergyxl@hotmail.com
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LibraryThing member cameling
I felt the author didn't really get to the essence of the Japanese wa. Her interest, while sincere, was also at the same time, a little superficial. She wasn't ready to really let go of her American-ness and absorb the rich subtleties of the Japanese culture.
LibraryThing member debnance
Who can fathom the ways of readers? Here I was, smack-dab in the middle of a book about a person who travels to China, and I suddenly find myself drawn to a book about a person who travels to Japan. This one. Go figure.Nevertheless, a compelling read. Japan is not all it appears, it seems. In fact, that's the central theme of the book, the mask that Japan and the Japanese wear for the rest of the world. All is well, the mask says, while underneath the person dies for another day. This take on Japan has altered the appeal Japan has always had for me. Appearance as more important than essence. Hiding sadness and pain with stoic masks. Just an Eastern version of my deep South America.… (more)
LibraryThing member orkydd
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member Bibliotropic
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.
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