Thursday, August 21, 2014

Armchair Travel: A Trip to Japan Starts at Your Library

Greetings! Elizabeth here, Catalogue Librarian at the Fauquier County Public Library.

This past March I got to travel abroad to the #1 destination on my list of places I want to visit: Japan.
The blogger @ Matsumoto Castle 
I am very fortunate to have close friends—an English teacher and her freelance translator husband—who are living in Nagano prefecture and offered me a home base for the two weeks I was there. While in Japan I got to see (and eat!) so many wonderful things and had experiences I will never forget. 

  • Riding the shinkansen (that’s the bullet train) to Tokyo and Kyoto. 
  • Feeding the deer that roam around Nara Park. 
  • Looking out over Kyoto from Kiyomizudera (that’s a Buddhist temple that has a particularly spectacular view; the name means Pure Water Temple). 
  • Getting a strawberry-filled crepe while walking through Harajuku (that’s an artist, fashionable neighborhood in Tokyo). 
  • Staying at a ryokan (that’s a Japanese inn) with onsen (that’s hot spring baths).

It truly was the time of my life!

But even if you can’t make it all the way to the other side of the planet, there are plenty of ways to explore Japan right here at the library.

The travel section is a logical first stop. Even if you aren't planning a trip, travel guidebooks are a great source of information, from geography to history to culture. The books about Japan can be found under Dewey Decimal 915.2. For armchair travel, I recommend the books from DK Eyewitness Travel and National Geographic - they are so full of beautiful color photographs. Check out temples and shrines, mossy green vistas, and the largest city in the world.

If it’s Japanese style homes you wish you could see, head on over to 720.95 for books on architecture and home design. What is Japanese Architecture? by Kazuo Nishi and Kazuo Hozumi is a historical overview. Japanese Style: Designing With Nature's Beauty by Sunamita Lim focuses on aesthetics. Or go to 747.0952 for the interior design side. The Wabi-Sabi House: The Japanese Art of Imperfect Beauty by Robyn Griggs Lawrence describes a particular Japanese aesthetic, wabi-sabi, which an appreciation of objects that are withered and forlorn or austere, quietive, and humble. 

But maybe you’re more interested in outdoor settings; Japan is known for its gorgeous gardens and landscaping. Check out The World of the Japanese Garden: From Chinese Origins to Modern Landscape Art by Loraine Kuck or The Art of the Japanese Garden by David and Michiko Young .

One of the most pleasurable ways to experience another culture is through its food and Japan has a well-deserved reputation in this department. I can honestly say that I didn't eat a single thing I didn't like in Japan; whether it was conveyor belt sushi or kaiseki (a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner), everything was delicious.  Thank goodness for cookbooks! If you are in the mood for a culinary getaway, you can find Japanese cookbooks in 641.5952. Perhaps you’d like to take on the oeuvre of an Iron Chef with Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking by Masaharu Morimoto. I like Japanese Cooking: The Traditions, Techniques, Ingredients and Recipes by Emi Kazuko because it contains not only recipes, but also a plethora of background information about ingredients and cooking techniques used in Japanese cuisine, and is fully illustrated with color photos.

Perhaps you would like to be transported to an animated version of Japan, in which case, you can’t go wrong with a DVD of one of Studio Ghibli’s movies. Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke were all directed by Hayao Miyazaki—often called the Walt Disney of Japan—and showcase breathtaking visuals of Japanese countryside and folklore. If you've never watched a Ghibli movie, don’t let the fact that they are animated deter you; they are excellent! My Neighbor Totoro is appropriate for all ages and Spirited Away for grade school and up, but Princess Mononoke contains some violence and is more suited for teens and adults.

Before I wind up this blog post, there is one more book that I have to recommend to anyone who is interested in Japan, especially those curious about what it is like to travel there. Japan Ai: A Tall Girl’s Adventures in Japan by Aimee Major Steinberger is an illustrated account of the author’s trip to Japan with her friends. I have a copy of this one in my own personal collection and enjoyed it well before I knew I would get the chance to go to Japan myself. Like the author, I am a geek: interested in the pop-cultural products of Japan—anime, manga, and toys—as well as its history, aesthetics, traditions, and language. So a lot of the things Ms. Steinberger wrote and drew about were things I wanted to do as well (and some of them I did). Anyone who has traveled to another country and felt a little out of place can relate to her experiences. They also provide a loving glimpse of Japan from a visitor’s point of view.

Well, that will do for me today. I hope you enjoyed this blog post and will come and see us at the library (even if you aren't looking for any and all things Japanese). Oh, and don’t forget the Japanese language resources, especially if you plan to make the trip in the future; you can find them at 495.6 in both the book section and the CD book section.

Sayonara for now!

Elizabeth @ Warrenton Library 

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