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At Home in Japan: A Foreign Woman's Journey of Discovery Hardcover – May 10, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Tuttle Publishing; Hardcover with Jacket edition (May 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4805310782
  • ISBN-13: 978-4805310786
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For almost three decades I have been the housewife, custodian, and chatelaine of a 350-year-old farmhouse in rural Japan, writes Otowa in her informative and delightfully illustrated memoir. In 1978, American-born Otowa came to Japan as a university student, filled with an exaggerated confidence in my paltry store of knowledge, undercut with a pervading suspicion that I didn't know as much as I thought I did. Four years later she married into a traditional Japanese family. The short but engaging chapters (none is longer than four pages) explore one aspect of her adopted life. But like any good essayist, Otowa wanders into wider country. In Comfort, she recounts the snuggly family comforts obtained from the continued use of the traditional kotatsu, a low table with a blanket or quilt spread over it and a heating device inside. In Sweets, she delves into the complex obligations attached to the painstakingly shaped, delicately colored, beautifully presented and ritually consumed edible forms. And in Bamboo, Otowa reveals the special spot, exotic as a unicorn, and as common as mud, the plant holds in her heart. Filled with personal insights garnered from years spent learning to fit into a radically different culture, Otowa gently illuminates what it means to discover your identity in a foreign land. (May)
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"Anyone interested in knowing what it is like to become fully immersed in another culture—yet always as an outsider—will enjoy this thoughtful account immensely."—Library Journal

"Pungent with sounds, tastes, colors and village and family lore…Otowa gives us a book of celebration, radiance, and renewal."—Japan Times

"A wonderful book about an old Japanese house, a resourceful American woman, and how they come together to honor the past and forge a bright future. What Frances Mayes did for Tuscany, Rebecca Otowa just might have done for the Japanese countryside. Bravo!"—Leza Lowitz, author of Green Tea to Go: Stories from Tokyo

More About the Author

Rebecca Otowa was born in Southern California and at the age of 12, migrated with her family to Brisbane, Australia. At the time, it was a quiet backwater, but pilot courses in Japanese language were offered at the local high school. Intrigued at first by the idea of writing Japanese characters, she took the course and followed it with a BA (Hons.) in Japanese at University of Queensland. Obtaining a scholarship from the Japanese Government, she arrived in Kyoto April 10, 1978 and has never left since! After getting an MA in Buddhist Studies from Otani University, she married her sweetheart, Toshiro, the 19th generation scion of a 350-year-old farmhouse in the Shiga mountains. The years since then have been a daily challenge, carving her niche in the village, attempting to live up to her mother-in-law's old-fashioned views of housewifehood, and finding beauty and interest in the house and its lovely natural setting. In 2009 she completed At Home in Japan, a collection of essays about her outer and inner life. Her other great love, drawing, is evident in the book, which is extensively illustrated, with a photo insert as well. She continues to draw and paint and write in her spare time, and to grow vegetables and roses, and read many books, including her favorite authors, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, and Ursula LeGuin.

Customer Reviews

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See all 24 customer reviews
This book is perfect for anyone who will live in Japan for any period of time.
Daniel Dorr
A really good book separated into easy to read chapters...felt like I was reading something a friend had written.
This is a story about a community and how Rebecca Otowa navigated it, adapted to it, and made it her own.
L. Schad

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Austin H. Moore on May 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having myself lived for over two decades in Japan, with more than half that period being spent in an environment very similar to the author's, I was struck by the similarity in our experience and the fact that Ms. Otowa has taken note of some many important details that I had already forgotten.

There are many books about Westerners living unique lives in Japan, but this account is different in that it is written by a Western woman who knowingly gave up a great deal of her original self to become a very different and probably far more satisfied person. Certainly the sacrifices that Ms. Otowa made would be impossible for many women or men born in societies placing great importance on individuality. This makes the stories relayed in this book so interesting. Chapter after chapter I was reminded of many of the thigs that I too have given up (knowingly or subconsciously) and then shown how each of those 'losses' have been replaced by at least twice as many gains.

My house, like the Otowa Family's has a very long history and though I bought mine (rather than marrying into it), the descriptions and care shown by Ms. Otowa for her 'new' home and surroundings ring true. Readers who have never spent time in rural Japan may find some of the stories a bit hard to visualize through text alone. However, the author's hand-drawn illustrations and personal photographs go a long way to filling any gaps in perception.

Hopefully a Japanese translation will follow in the near future in order that Japanese who are so quickly losing touch with their cultural heritage can realize what is being lost before it is too late.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Erica Bell on June 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Like many reasonably educated women secretly would, I suppose, I picked up this book thinking, "Why would a Western woman consciously DO this to herself, move to a country where she is effectively effaced? Where she'll be gaijin forever?" And in several dozen vignettes, Rebecca Otowa never quite answers me.

Instead, her small gem-like meditations hint at a vast transformation based on seasons and rhythms of existence that even I, who live in the country, can only guess at. While we American women were creating prickly self-identities and fighting (we think) for our own place, Rebecca has been busy voluntarily subsuming herself into a graceful and very difficult stasis with a culture entirely antithetical to American sensibilities. That she's even half-succeeded is a miracle.

From her hard-won perch she observes this war--a war within herself. We know very little about Toshiro, her husband, or her two boys, and we don't need to. Unlike most Westerners, Rebecca knows her failings are her own. The book's beauty is--perhaps a little self-consciously--like "wabi sabi", the Japanese aesthetic of the irregular, impoverished or plain.

Interestingly, the result of her undated pieces--almost wholly without reference to the outside past, without a narrative chronological order--is a strange suspension: like a Japanese garden, her life could have been built yesterday, or 500 years ago. This beautiful antiquity is buttressed by Otowa's language: OUR ancestors, OUR house, OUR garden. I found myself shocked a little, and thrilled--in America, to claim ancestry of a race or group you patently are not of is....rude, disrespectful. But there I go again, thinking of the individual experience. See? I wouldn't last one day in Japan!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Cha on May 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Rebecca has managed to accurately and honestly describe the nuances on life in japan. Being a foreign-born person living in a small Japanese country town gives her a unique insight.

Anyone who has spent time in Japan and who appreciates both its good and bad points will identify strongly, at some point or another, with Rebecca's account.

Her illustrations really bring the book to life--I only wish I could see the original full-color versions. (Hmmm, is there a web site, perhaps?)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Rockin' Oldey on July 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This woman is an absolute trooper for crossing into a complex culture, taking the most traditional role of a village housewife and mother. Few people would be comfortable in a small Japanese farm village where social customs stretch back hundreds of years, complete with communal plots, ancient festivals and obligatory religious and familial duties.

The simplicity of this book's language and serial, "short story" style of organization give it a grace and pace that echos the nature and depth of this author's journey. It is a fascinating personal account written with frank dignity, love and understanding.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ria (Bibliotropic) on March 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I wanted to rate this book higher, I really did. Really, it doesn't have any faults or flaws that I can point out as such, at least not that can leigitmately extend beyond the matter of personal taste. I found the prose a bit dry at home, but stylistically, that isn't enough to condemn a book entirely.

It took me longer than it ought to have to get through this book, and I think ultimately the reason lies in the fact that it wasn't what I was expecting. From the description online, I had expected something written in the style of a person's memoirs, details of their life in a different culture. What I got instead was a collection of short articles.

Now, this is where opinions can easily differ. Reading short articles or stories can make a book easy to get through for some, because each section requires only a small amount of committment. For others, such as myself, constantly stopping and started makes me feel disjointed, thrown out of the groove, and I find myself quick to put the book down quite often. It drags out the reading time, and makes the book seem longer and more tedious than perhaps it really was.

It did, I will admit, have some interesting information on Japanese culture, history, and language, and for that, I'm glad I bought it. It's rare now that I come across a book written about Japan that contains information that I haven't read a hundred times elsewhere. This book accomplished what few others have in that it presented new information to me, which I greatly enjoyed absorbing.

I can't say I'd recommend this book to many people. If you enjoy your information coming at you in the form of articles, then by all means, pick up a copy. If you simply must have any and all books on Japanese life and culture, then order it. But otherwise, I'd say that most people can give this book a miss without losing out on too much.
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