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Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  810 ratings  ·  125 reviews
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 obs ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published October 31st 2006 by Rodale Books (first published October 12th 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,537)
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Jun 28, 2012 Anya rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one really
Being really interested in Japan and its culture, I was really looking forward to this book. It was disappointing. I haven't seen Muller's documentary, so I'm just going to judge this book as a stand alone, rather than a companion to a movie. This book includes some interesting experiences (I really liked chapter about Osaka), but, unfortunately, it is also extremely self-centered and shows yet another example of a Western person looking for enlightenment without honestly wanting to find it. The ...more
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, f ...more
Aug 15, 2010 Lisa rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: japan
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 ...more
"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 wo
Kevin J. Rogers
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' "almo ...more
Dec 12, 2008 julie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those interested or who have lived in Japan, and those who seek to travel or document their travels
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 qui
Nancy Yamaguchi
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-m ...more
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
Jan 07, 2008 Andrea rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys travel memoirs
Shelves: nonfiction, japan
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, someti ...more
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 si ...more
Rather than an in depth look at a culture in a well rounded manner, this is more a one sided travelogue from an American that seemed to manage only the negatives of the Japanese world. The writing was sharp and focused but the perspective was almost too bitter and one sided. The writer spent one year in Japan and it shows. Her experiences lack diversity, depth and any open mindedness. Written for a self-centered perspective, it isn't hard to understand why she falls out with her host family and ...more
This book recounts an amazing adventure that the author has living in Japan for a year. She participates in the Japanese life and culture to give the reader an idea of what Japan is really like. She begins the book by saying that there is something missing in her New York life and she has decided to travel to Japan to find "wa" which is Japanese for inner peace. I wish that she would have reflected a little bit more at the end of the book because it wasn't really clear to me if she found what sh ...more
May 01, 2014 Nicki added it
Shelves: gave-up
Couldn't get into this, much as I love Japan. It felt too much like a doco, which I guess is understandable, since apparently the author made one. Full of "interesting" things like sumo wrestlers. I would have been more interested in language difficulties and personal experiences. There are not even Japanese words here that would make you feel the author was trying - just petty crap with her "house mum" - A woman gracious enough to allow a stranger into her house without being asked. I read abou ...more
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
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 ma ...more
Donielle Prince
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
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 ...more
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.

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
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
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 thor
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.

Danil Bik.
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 s
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 c
cary hardin
Oct 20, 2007 cary hardin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone visiting japan
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 ...more
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
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 ...more
Jan 28, 2015 Erin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: memoir
I liked this memoir for its straightforwardness, its simplicity, and Muller's writing style. Her experiences throughout Japan were articulated and relate-able, and I could actually feel all her different emotions as she described her struggles and triumphs while living as a foreigner in Japan.
I would recommend this to anyone who likes memoirs has an interest in Japan and Japanese Studies, or is considering living abroad.
Sphinx Feathers
I enjoyed this book a lot because it surprised me. I don't know what I expected from it, but it breaks away from a lot of the memoirs about Asia in that the author is neither a teacher nor in the military. She does have an interest in the martial arts, but that isn't her primary reason for visiting Japan. I found the information she imparted not only to be something very unusual, but something I'd not seen in other books and therefore very enjoyable and I wanted to learn more because it was not ...more
Interesting, and funny at times, it really made me want to see the documentary she was working on during the time she was in Japan. I thought the ending was a little disappointing though; I wanted to know what she did when she came home to the States after a year--how her time in Japan effected her, what she learned, whether she plans on ever going back. The book felt kind of incomplete to me without that. In addition, I guess I was under the impression from the title and introduction that this ...more
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