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

Tuttle, 2010. ISBN 978-4-805-31078-6.
Reviewed by Susan M. Andrus
Posted on 09/15/2010

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus

Rebecca Otowa moved to Australia when she was twelve; here she met a Japanese man whom she eventually married, settling in his ancestral home in Japan. I can guess how challenging that must have been. I have many Japanese friends who moved to the US after marrying American servicemen; and, through their experiences, I know how difficult it has been for them to learn English, American traditions, and driving a car. I thoroughly respect Otowa's efforts to do the same in Japan. She tried diligently to learn Japanese traditions, ways of gardening, cooking, reading, writing, and speaking. She learned the art of wearing kimono while taking a course in the tea ceremony as well as how to behave while wearing it; later she wore one at her wedding.

This memoir, filled with poetic writing and descriptions, chronicles Otowa's progress in assimilating into Japanese society. About cherry blossoms in spring, she says, "The sweet five-petaled, papery whitish flowers, sewn together in the center with a cross-stitch of pink, nod and shimmer on long, fragile green bunches of stems standing out against the rough and flaky bark with its characteristic horizontal bands." Without cynicism, criticism, or whining, Otowa embarks on a journey of discovery, raising two sons in the process. She includes lovely pencil sketches of her home, gardens, tea sets, Japanese written characters with translations, flowers, and friends. In addition, there are photographs of Otowa's environment, family, wedding, and children.

Otawa writes about how she volunteers to help others adjust to Japanese life and compares it to the bed of seedlings that she transplanted from a small crowded flat to the big field: "I like to think that I have helped some of them too, as they put down their roots. Now, decades later, I am a strong tree, my roots are deep. I love the taste of Japanese air and water, the particular angle and strength of Japanese sunlight, the changes of Japanese seasons."

Now that her sons have entered adulthood, Otowa celebrates her transition to Japanese life in this memoir. But she is still American in many ways. Finally after observing other younger women wearing kimono, Otowa says, "I'll never be Japanese, and now I can see that truth clearly and without regret. I've decided not to wear kimono any more—it's a kind of symbol of my self-acceptance." For anyone who is looking for that kind of peace and security, At Home in Japan shows one path to that goal.

Rebecca Otowa was born in Southern California, and migrated with her family to Brisbane, Australia. Pilot courses in Japanese language were offered at the local high school; intrigued by the idea of writing Japanese characters, she took the course and followed it with a BA in Japanese at University of Queensland. Obtaining a scholarship from the Japanese government, she arrived in Kyoto and never left. After getting an MA in Buddhist Studies from Otani University, she married her sweetheart, Toshiro, the nineteenth generation scion of a 350-year-old farmhouse in the Shiga Mountains. The years since then have been challenging—carving her niche in the village, attempting to live up to her mother-in-law's old-fashioned views of a Japanese housewife, and finding beauty and interest in the house and its lovely natural setting. She continues to draw, paint, and write in her spare time, grow vegetables and roses, and read.

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