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A Year in Japan

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  916 ratings  ·  143 reviews
The Land of the Rising Sun is shining brightly across the American cultural landscape. Recent films such as Lost in Translation and Memoirs of a Geisha seem to have made everyone an expert on Japan, even if they've never been there. But the only way for a Westerner to get to know the real Japan is to become a part of it. Kate T. Williamson did just that, spending a year ex ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published February 2nd 2006 by Princeton Architectural Press
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What a gorgeous travelogue! Kate Williamson is an artist who spent a year in Kyoto. This beautiful book is filled with her colorful sketches of Japanese life and culture and descriptions of her experiences. The text is printed in a font that looks handwritten, and that script combined with the sturdy paperback binding made it feel like a real travel journal and sketchbook.

I especially liked Williamson's explanations of the different customs she saw:

"As soon as I walked out of the train station
I was somewhat surprised by this book for when I opened it for it was full of illustrations and not very much text. The illustrations are very nice indeed, but I was expecting a narrative of her year in Japan as a type of travelogue, but this came nowhere near my expectations. Nice to look at but unfortunately not for me.
If you want to find out what one more American woman did in Japan post-college, with some twee illustrations, this is for you. If you want to find out about Japan, go there instead.
Nice illustrations, mediocre information.
Kate Williamson spent a year living in Kyoto, Japan. She went there to study, and kept a journal – both of her thoughts and experiences, and of artwork she created to capture some of those experiences. The result is very Japanese. It combines watercolors and sketches with prose that enriches both. In spare language, almost like haiku, and simple paintings of everyday Japanese objects and life, Williamson manages to convey a real sense of place and culture.



“One of my favorit
This was a recommendation on goodreads. I was a bit hesitant at first as it's not actually a written account, but notes with watercolour pictures. This is a book that is more for those who like art/drawings than for those who want an account of life in Japan.

However, the composition of it is beautiful. It's not an account, just a collection impressions, but the water colours are gorgeous and Williamson manages to capture so much life and substance in them.

This isn't a book to read, it's a book
Really, really pretty book. Lovely watercolors that are simple and occasionally gorgeous. Certain pictures were unmemorable, but there were MANY that I sat and looked at for a long time.

Cute stories too, never too long, just little tastes of Japan.

If I had a complaint, it would be that sometimes a two-page illustration hides something interesting or pretty in the middle and it gets eaten by the page divide. I don't want to crack the spine to see the pretty pictures!

The book promises nothing in
I really enjoyed this. Reading it is like visiting Japan with an artist friend who helps you notice all the small, beautiful details you might otherwise miss. I loved the socks drawings as much as the Washi (paper) patterns. I loved how the detailed illustrations of humble objects alternated with full-page paintings (the moon-viewing pages were a particular favorite). There's no grand theme or point being made - it is simply a lovely book of "here's what I noticed & here's what I love." It g ...more
Ended up mostly just skimming this book, it was a bit of a disappointment. The illustrations to go with it were lovely, and sometimes said more than the short descriptive passages of Japanese life. It's really just a collection of short snippets of life from Japan. There's no real detail about everyday living, just bits and pieces that anime fans may or may not already know.
Chris Gould
Great artwork, of course, but text-wise... Guys, come on! In the 21st century are we still at the stage where we marvel at a foreigner experiencing Japan? This has been done so many times and does readers a complete disservice. My advice: come to Japan and make up your own mind. I'll gladly be your non-biased tour guide.
3,5-4 stars. Can't decide.
More thoughts in the morning. I need sleep. Zzzzz

O.K., update, here's a review from my blog (with few pics and stuff):
I loved the watercolors used to illustrate this book. It is a great introduction to many aspects of Japanese culture.
A good read if you're looking for something simple. It reads more like a journal (which makes sense since it's based on her notes while in Japan) with short, little blurbs. The illustrations were a nice touch, as well. This book is good for those not looking for a lot of info on Japanese culture. However, it is unique as a cultural book because the author stays away from subjects that are commonly written about. There are plenty of other books that discuss those things in detail. Definitely a go ...more
This is more of an illustrated journal than the paneled, sequential art you think of when you think of a graphic novel. Whatever you call it though, it is certainly unique and intriguing. Rather than writing and illustrating a general summary of Japanese culture from her American perspective, Kate T. Williamson hones in on the lesser-known, smaller perplexities and observations of the place she called home for a year. Things like heated rugs and other creative devices used to warm homes with no ...more
A beautiful, beautiful book.

That's right, beautiful *twice*. Writer, illustrator, and sock designer Kate Williamson gives a unique perspective I've never even come close to reading from any other Japan-observer. She proves that you really and truly can READ pictures. Her paintings are simple, yet delightfully expressive and filled with enthusiasm. I felt an infectious joy from experiencing them.

The charm comes from the lens dial of Williamson's scope being turned up to " and now you can see ti
Eustacia Tan
First reaction: This book so pretty! <3!

A Year in Japan (or 日本の一年nihon no ichinen) is no ordinary travelogue. It's not in chronological order. It doesn't even tell you the major attractions (in this case, Kyoto) or how Ms Williamson lived and so on. What it is, is a gorgeous book featuring snapshots of life in Japan.

The book consists of mainly hand drawn pictures with some text. Sometimes they're captions and sometimes they're as much as a page (and a page and a half is the longest it gets).
Princeton Architectural
The Land of the Rising Sun is shining brightly across the American cultural landscape. Recent films such as Lost in Translation and Memoirs of a Geisha seem to have made everyone an expert on Japan, even if they've never been there. But the only way for a Westerner to get to know the real Japan is to become a part of it. Kate T. Williamson did just that, spending a year experiencing, studying, and reflecting on her adopted home. She brings her keen observations to us in A Year in Japan, a dramat ...more
Think of a scrapbook, blog, artist's notebook, traveller's journal, all tied into one. Kate T. Williamson's A Year in Japan is a colorful, yet quaint documentary of one woman's experience as a foreigner entering into the beauty & quirkiness of Japanese culture.

The author takes us past the forest to look at the trees: red school backpacks, rice balls, sequinned shirts, heated carpets, Christmas cakes, argyle socks, bento lunches... all the minute details that captivate a foreigner in Japan.
I can't remember where I found out about this book, but I'm glad I did.

This chronicles some tidbits of life during a year that Kate spent in Japan for some kind of learning about textile making. There are fragments and slivers of her life, ranging from the sock varieties available in Japan (many) to cold floors and the changing of the seasons. There's a gesture toward a story, but not much of a narrative. The book is mostly pictures and sparse words, and the stories are told with watercolor pai
Kate T. Williamson's visual diary account of her year spent in Kyoto studying sock design is a lush, intricately designed graphic journal that highlights everyday beauty and intricate watercolor renderings of life in Japan. Williamson's interest in Zen seems to have had an effect upon her design of this book, which has a spare simplicity that really makes flipping through this short a lovely experience. Describing interesting facts of Japanese culture such as souvenir stamps, electric carpets fo ...more
May 02, 2007 Kate rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Someone who has lived in Japan
This is a series of beautiful watercolors and short text blurbs, created by a woman who lived in Japan for a year. It's not a travelogue, but rather tiny portraits of random things that capture what it's like to live in Japan. This is a book written by a person who knows what Japan is like for the long-term ex-pat, but who doesn't get trapped by the tendency to define the country with all the usual cliches. Living in Japan for an extended period of time is so much more down-to-earth than treatis ...more
What a beautiful little book - even the cover feels like soft satin and the book is easy to hold. Very simple yet attractive watercolors. When I write a book someday I hope it's as beautiful as this.

Williamson makes some effort to dig deeper than your typical Japan travelog but maintains a strong focus on the traditional, from temples to tofu to traditional dance, and sometimes falls into the cliche, writing on cherry blossoms, geisha, and sumo wrestlers... Modern experiences like fancy toilets
I don't really consider this a book in the traditional sense. The writing isn't anything special and it says very little. I would have like more opinions and stories, and just generally more writing. However, it has some great art. It introduces some of the more traditional or typical aspects of Japan, so it is a good introduction. I know more about Japan than what was introduced in this book, and I don't know that much. I've never been to Japan myself, but I like to read about it and the like. ...more
A very charming book -- part graphic memoir, part travelogue. Williamson's illustrations reminded me of Maira Kalman's work (a complimentary comparison, coming from me!). Her watercolor illustrations feel a bit more polished than Kalman's drawings, but they share that endearing openness to the world and its minute details.

Although A Year in Japan isn't filled with facts or historical information, Williamson's observations made me feel like I understood a little more about Japanese culture and w
In the first few pages it seemed like it was going to be disappointingly touristy. Then you get a better, though unwritten, sense of the author's solitary personality and her affinity for Japan and it gets better. It seems like it would have been more accurate to title it "A Year in Kyoto," though.
Meaghan Steeves
This was really great and I learned a lot, I just wish there had been more of it! It wasn't a very personal memoir at all. Observations are key, yes, but it was more like an impersonal guidebook than anything. That said, it did make me want to go live there all the more. :)
Lovely drawn vignettes, unobtrusive text. As I read more illustrated travelogues and comics this is one I'm keeping in mind to come back to for reference.

Reread as of 3/28/11: Revisited the book as a reference on how to color and ink my own travel journals. Reminded again of how lovely her watercolor is, simple and to the point, used as a complement to her strong, clear line work. I also have a renewed appreciation for how, for the most part, Williamson avoids centering her voice and her experie
Ariel Caldwell
Beautiful, calming. Williamson illustrates the details of her year in Japan: there is a two page spread of socks, a woman whose dress and umbrella match exactly, plum blossoms, and the garden Koke-dera.
Unfortunately, this is a quick read book. But then you have to go back again and look at the wonderful artwork. Then you go back and read again because now you want to take a trip to Japan.
Annabelle Brittle
This travelogue is simply beautiful. The illustrations are so wonderful, my favourite being the image of a maiko and geisha, and the anecdotal snippets of cultural information were warm and amusing. A must read if journeying to Japan as it offers a charming and unusual insight into aspects of life there.
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“Odoru aho ni
miru aho
onaji aho nara
odorana son son!

You're a fool to dance,
A fool to watch,
Well, if you're a fool either way,
What a loss not to dance, a loss, a loss!”
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