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

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  344 ratings  ·  62 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
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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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
Lima Reads
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I've always liked Japan and the Japanese culture. It's fascinating how tradition and modern life can blend so well. I like that the japanese are so polite and that they care so deeply for family and education.

If you plan to travel to Japan or move to Japan. You should probably travel there first before you decide to move there ;) Then this is the book you should read. It explains typical Japanese things so that foreigners can understand it.
Amanda Setasha Hall
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: zzz-2018, a-5-stars
I wasn't sure what to expect of this book, and I loved absolutely everything about it.
While it's a little lacking in details, the ones that exist do not disappoint.

It's hard to find books about Japanese society as a whole and traditions in general.
This is an account of a foreigner that moved to Japan with her Japanese husband and about their day to day life and certain events.

It was really eye opening and honestly will probably be a book I look forward to buying in the future.
Sep 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own
This book was given to me by the leader of my Japan trip. It bothered me actually. Very dated; written in the 80s by a woman who gave up get entire existence to marry and live in Japan. Many of the Japanese customs (like the wife of the house bathing last everyone else in the same bath water and then having to clean the bathroom) would not have been ok with me. At all. The book was also very disjointed in terms of the topics the author chose to write about.
Dec 15, 2010 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.
Ria Bridges
May 24, 2020 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
Oct 15, 2017 rated it liked it
I love the structure of the book. It is a memoir of sort, but written in short passages of a particular subject matter. The subject matter could be as tangible as the kimono, but could also be intagible as the concept of mono no aware. It could also be the writer's direct observations, but also her reflections, which sometimes are told from the third person perspective (e.g "The House Speaks").

I like how Rebecca-san, being the woman who runs a traditional farmhouse in rural Kyoto, imparts on int
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
I just couldn't get into this book; I tried, I really did, but I just kept putting-it off, and finally, read it until I could say that I had finished it. I found that most of the book was the author talking about the various traditions of Japan, with many of them being described in elaborate language, which lost me throughout many points of the book. I found that the illustrations were nice, and was impressed by the eloquence of the writing style from time-to-time. However, I guess I was hoping ...more
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
It was really interesting to read these little vignettes on an outsider's impression of Japan. Especially, since she comes in as Japan becomes more westernized. The author is more traditional than other women her age as she tries to fit in with her new family. I love how she finds a balance between her western sensibilities and the traditional way.
Jul 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: asian, people, 2017
This was shelved in the memoir section of the library. However, the author doesn't spend much of the book talking about herself. Instead it is a collection of essays on life in a rural Japanese village. It is a good read for those who are seeking to learn more about Japanese culture. But it falls short in terms of a memoir.
Books on Asia
Nov 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan
This is the most beautiful, eloquently written book on traditional Japan I've ever read. And while this traditional Japanese lifestyle is changing, you can still find it in the countryside today. Otowa values Japanese beauty and arts and she infuses her prose with this appreciation. I hope she writes more like this because she truly has a gift for writing.
Dec 30, 2018 rated it liked it
A quaint, intimate view of rural Japanese life from a foreigner's retrospective. I enjoyed the small ink-wash images and short chapters. As it is written by an "Oba-chan," the author does come across as formal or nostalgic at times. I had expected a more chronological narrative style, but the book being what it is - is enjoyable just the same.
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was lovely and wonderful. A real intimate look into the authors life and her journey through life in Japan. Every chapter is different and reads like a cultural exploration with hints of a memoir sprinkled on top. It was sublime.
Jane G Meyer
A small glimpse into every day life in rural Japan by an American/Australian expat. Quick, easy read. Each chapter is its own little world... Somehow the book lacked depth, or an underlying theme besides something as inert as the actual house...

I learned things, but wasn't inspired.
Joe Palermo
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very deep description of Japanese culture and customs by a non-Japanese that has lived most of her life in Japan. Having lived in Japan for eight years myself, I really appreciated her wealth of knowledge and insights into Japanese culture.
Stephanie Barth
Mar 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is more of a collection of short essays and does not go into much detail but still it was very insightful and enjoyable.
Jul 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved it!
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books on the insides of Japanese life. The part you will almost never ever see or get to know as a tourist! Kind of trip to the depth of Japanese soul.
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 08, 2015 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
May 26, 2010 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
Jun 17, 2010 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
Feb 23, 2011 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
Apr 30, 2014 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
Oct 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan
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
Mar 16, 2010 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
Feb 07, 2011 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
Jun 30, 2013 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
Aug 02, 2011 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
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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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