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At Home in Japan: A Foreign Woman's Journey of Discovery
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At Home in Japan: A Foreign Woman's Journey of Discovery

3.57  ·  Rating Details  ·  212 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
"This portrait of Japanese country life reminds us that at its core, a happy and healthy life is based on the bonds of food, family, tradition, community, and the richness of nature" —John Einarsen, Founding Editor and Art Director of Kyoto Journal

What would it be like to move to Japan, leaving everyone you know behind, to become part of a traditional Japanese household? A
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published May 10th 2010 by Tuttle Publishing (first published 2010)
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AnHeC the Paperback Obliterator
word count: 60 000 (only? or is my maths that much off?)

rating: in high doses results in overwhelming feelings of 'meh'

This book was OK. Just fine. Nothing exceedingly good or exceptionally bad about it. Don't get me wrong, I did have some fun with it, but only some.

It was a Christmas gift, so I promptly proceeded to read it. That was a mistake. First 60 pages (out of the whooping 187) enthralled me. I should have stopped then. The book is divided into ultra short (2-3 page long) chapters. Nice,
Blake Baguley
Jan 15, 2015 Blake Baguley rated it really liked it
This is a lovely, mellow, relaxing and well-written book. There's little nuggets of trivia and history that most hardcore Japanese aficionados won't know, and it strikes a good balance between criticism and praise of Japan, although at times there is a definite strand of "poor me" running through the writing. In fact, it seems to me to be less a series of essays to an external readership than it is a public counting of blessings and reaffirmation of love for her family, house and adopted country ...more
Dec 15, 2010 Nancy rated it it was amazing
I'm sad to have finished this. It felt like sitting, talking with a good friend who knows the country and the culture as only a gaijin allowed into the inner chambers could. Beautiful, personal.
May 19, 2014 Nicole rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
A nice collection of essays about one expat's life in Japan. Otowa was born in the States, moved to Australia as a child and then moved to and married in Japan where she lives today. Interesting view on her attempt to fit in to her husband's family and their expectations. Striking the balance between being true to herself and wanting to be at home in Japan is a thread that runs through the essays. Some of the essays were not as interesting as the others, but all are short and easy to read. Otowa ...more
Nov 17, 2015 Judith rated it really liked it
It's a beautiful book.

I felt that I was on the outside, looking in, which is probably a lot like it feels to live in Japan as a foreigner. There is sense of privacy to the writing. What you get is vignettes on life in Japan, on customs that shape life in the country in a small community.

What I feel is not quite clear from the title - this is not a straightforward introduction to life in Japan. It's anecdotes, thoughts, remembrances that give glimpses of Mrs Otowa's life, but no topic is treated
Rebecca was a young woman living in Australia when she decided to focus on Asian Studies at university. Her educational interests led her to Japan where she met her future husband, Toshiro – who was interested in Australia. When they married, he brought her home to his family’s very rural and traditional house where she was expected by her in-laws and the community to transform herself into a proper housewife. It was a difficult transition for Rebecca, who was accustomed to speaking her mind, to ...more
Jan 20, 2011 Bibliotropic rated it liked it
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
May 26, 2010 Catherine rated it really liked it
Otowa has spent the last thirty years living in a traditional Japanese household with her husband, two sons, and for a time his family in a 350-year-old farmhouse in a small village. She delves into numerous facets of Japanese life including her wedding, raising her sons, her attempts at fitting in, village life, festivals and rituals, and finding appreciation and genuine affection for the life that she chose for herself three decades ago. She has a delicate, almost nurturing nature to her writi ...more
Mar 20, 2011 Judy rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, japan
This is a rather sedate read as the book has no plot. Rather, it consists of vignettes about Ms. Otowa's life in Japan. She uses a 350 year-old house as a centerpiece for some of the discussion.

Although you don't get the feeling that Ms. Otowa regrets her decision to marry a Japanese man and spend her life there, rather than in the USA, you do feel somewhat sorry for her as he age-group peers in Japan continue to treat her like an outsider even after ~30 years. She clearly seems to regret what f
Victoria Ferauge
Feb 25, 2015 Victoria Ferauge rated it really liked it
Shelves: americans-abroad
A series of well-crafted essays about the expat experience in Japan. The first half of the book was not to my taste - the second was exactly what I was looking for. It's rare to find an honest exploration of how identity mutates in the face of a new country/culture. She is unusual in that she talks about the struggles, conflicts and ambivalence she felt and still feels. Definitely worth the read.
Feb 27, 2011 John rated it really liked it
The short essay format works well here in keeping the memoir aspect "fresh", as opposed to a traditional chronological narrative ("I came, I married, I adapted"). Entries are varied enough so that I never felt the author was re-hashing covered ground, yet are presented in an organized manner; it never seemed to me that the story was jumping around.

I suppose I could see some readers coming away frustrated that it's not enough of a memoir, though it's not intended as such, but an overview of (or
Easy to read memoir about an Austrailian woman who marries a Japanese man and moves to a 100 year old country home in Japan. Very informative about Japanese culture and a lot of interesting tid-bits to learn.
Feb 12, 2011 Maria rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, japan
I enjoyed the easy pace and sincerity of the author's voice in this book, but what I really appreciated the most was that she managed to strike a balance between praise and criticism of her adopted home. The narrative never felt phony. You can easily feel her love for her house and home as well as how much effort it must have taken to adjust to a foreign lifestyle with all it's quirks and customs. The topics were well-chosen, poetically written, and so beautifully illustrated, but I consistently ...more
Mar 16, 2010 Jacqie rated it liked it
I'm reading books about Japan in preparation for my trip to Tokyo and Kyoto. This book is by an American who marries into a Japanese family and becomes the caretaker of a centuries-old farmhouse. There are nice nuggets in the book- pictures of ancestors to give life to the family history, a description of the family sitting around the central table wrapped in quilts during the winter. However, enjoyable as some pieces were, the book felt a bit light. It might have been interesting to hear more a ...more
Sep 08, 2013 Tami rated it liked it
It was a beautiful look into a unique way of life. I loved that this woman embraced the Japanese way of life. She was given so many guidelines by her mother-in-law, she became more like a traditional farmhouse wife than her neighbors.
And when she eventually became the woman of the house instead of her mother-in-law, she opted to keep it just the way it way, with paper walls and poor insulation and all. She has an amazing house.
That said, her tale and views on life are almost too gentle and drea
Sep 07, 2015 Emma rated it liked it
Not my style of writing but found the history of the house really interesting.
Most of the book is "how I feel" stuff, not too much about how it works.
Dec 10, 2012 Monica rated it really liked it
Not many people could choose the path Rebecca Otowa chose to take. For over 30 years, she has been in the process of assimilating into one of the most ethnically homogeneous cultures in the world.
I can't imagine the hardships she must have gone through in the first few years of her marriage. This book is a small, peeping window into the world of Japanese village life. Reading her struggles through her eyes, I grew to admire this woman very much. Great read for those interested in the Japanese c
Sep 06, 2012 Lauren rated it liked it
A book of meditations on living in the Japanese countryside, from an American woman who married into a family who has lived on the same farm for more than 15 generations. She has some sharp insights into the Japanese psyche and a keen sense of her own role in her adopted society. I think this book is helpful in understanding the cultural differences between Japan and Western society. As a woman and an "outsider" Otowa is a well-suited guide. It is quite lovingly and honestly written. A shorter b ...more
Katie B
Jan 12, 2016 Katie B rated it it was ok
If you're interested in Japanese culture you will learn some fun facts, otherwise it's not a very engaging read.
Aug 15, 2011 Laura rated it liked it
A gentle read about an American/Australian woman's experience marrying a Japanese man, settling in the rural countryside in his family's 350-year-old house, and raising a family. Like many readers, I enjoyed learning about her world, but was troubled by the fact that she is not accepted by people in her community and her feelings on how much she has lost by moving to Japan. I am not much for "accepting your fate" patiently, so perhaps this is more my issue than hers, but she certainly seems torn ...more
There's no way I would have ever put up with the abuse that this woman's mother-in-law heaped on her, and the majority of American women would agree with me in that. There are sweet, tender encounters with townspeople and shy questions from new friends that lighten up the story. The house itself is a 300-year-old compound that I would love to spend some time getting to know. But the householders, especially that mother-in-law, would do me in.
S.J. Pajonas
Jun 22, 2012 S.J. Pajonas rated it really liked it
I jumped around in this book, but it's one of those books where you can do that, so I feel I can give it a proper review. Very sweet and well-written accounts of a Western woman married to a Japanese man and living in a Japanese country estate. To be honest, I'm jealous :) She leads the kind of life I feel I led in a previous life. Her descriptions are rich and vibrant, and her stories were both fun and unique. I'm sure I'll read this one again!
The Casual Librarian
Dec 13, 2011 The Casual Librarian rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful book! Written with such elegance, eloquence and sincerity, you feel as if the author was taking you into her confidence. The short chapters and line drawings add to this intimate tone. I love this book; and you have to admire Otowa's patient persistence and serene acceptance in the face of the unfamiliarity and isolation of trying to assimilate to such a vastly different culture.
Oct 06, 2011 Stephanie rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I was hoping for some insight on how a foreigner can cope with Japanese culture, since I am in the same situation myself. No such luck. She mentions that she's had difficulty adjusting to some things, especially her relationship with her mother-in-law, but doesn't elaborate on what those difficulties were or how she resolved them.

If you want some nice essays about Japanese culture, it's fine.
Jan 18, 2011 Aliasknitter rated it really liked it
A touching, mellow read: the memoir of an American/Australian woman living in rural Japan, describing how she keeps the house which her husband's family has lived in for 350 years. She meditates on Japanese architecture and daily life, and the negotiations and compromises she makes as an expat in her husband's country.
Nov 29, 2010 Amy rated it really liked it
This is an excellent description of 30-plus years of expatriate experience in rural Japan. Otawa's humor and frankness combines well with homey imagery, and her addition of drawings and photos from her husband's family albums makes reading the book feel like a long conversation with a friend.
Feb 11, 2013 Kathryn rated it really liked it
What a sweet book! It's short, informational, and revealing. I have wondered what it would be like to live as part of a Japanese family and this little book answered many of my questions. It is respectful of her new country instead of derisive too which I was also hoping for.
Apr 07, 2012 Mari rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the loveliest books I've read in awhile. Beautiful writing. It's a tiny book, one you could read in one sitting if you wished, but it's very informative about Japanese customs and culture. I lived vicariously through her writings and I wish it had never ended.
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Rebecca Otowa has been the chatelaine of a 350-year-old farmhouse in rural Japan. She left her original home in California in 1967, and her adopted home of Australia in 1978, to strike out in a radically new life direction. She and her husband Toshiro have raised two sons and now live in a rural village near Kyoto, in a farmhouse that has been in the family since it was built in the 1600s. As well ...more
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