Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Japanland by Karin Muller (31/81)

Category: Travelogue
C2005 307pgs 3.5stars

Lately my Netflix queue has been full to the brim with anime and J-Horror movies. I find myself with an insatiable curiosity about most things Japanese (if it's small, fuzzy and saccharine sweet I can usually resist). I dream of packing my bags and heading off to the island 'someday'. So when Amazon recommended this book to me, I felt it was the perfect venue for some armchair travel. And indeed, Muller does give you a sense of what being an outsider, a Gaijin, is like: at the home of her host family, at the market, asking directions on the street, in the public baths, etc.
Japanland, as described by Muller, is "an alternate reality", "the mask Japan wears in public". She spent a year documenting various Japanese citizens: monks, sumo wrestlers, drummers, judo practitioners, sword makers, business men, immigrants, geisha, even the homeless, with the purpose of assimilating their true culture. The marketing blurb on the front flap says the book has 'broad scope' and I do agree with that. But it also feels quite shallow, as if Muller never penetrated the 'mask' she speaks of. It's a light, easy read but ultimately I was left somewhat unsatisfied with it and will probably look for another book on the same subject.

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