Vignettes in Japan - book review

by Ernie Yap, Nov 25, 2007 | Destinations: Japan

Title: Vignettes in Japan

Author: Celeste Heiter

Celeste Heiter is the author of the must-have ‘Ganbatte Means Go For it! Or...How To Become an English Teacher in Japan'. In ‘Vignettes of Japan', she once again translates her powers of observation and her ability to tell simple things in beautiful ways of her life in Japan.


            She began her adventures after having made the decision to transplant her life completely from California to being an English teacher in Japan. And in 175 pages, she attempts to summarize the highs and lows of her whole experience there, with marvelous results.


            Kimonos, sushi, sumo wrestling, tea arts...there are many things that brings the word ‘Japan' to one's mind when mentioned. Then there are the singing cicadas, Emperor Hirohito, men in parading the streets in mawashi (white loincloths), astronomical real estate, amazing hospitality and excellent healthcare that strike a chord only with those who've been there. Then there's also giving birth and having a haircut, which strikes a chord with Ms Heiter herself. This book is not only about Japan; it is about Celeste Heiter; English teacher, adventurer, journalist, tourist, admirer and self-confessed people-watcher.


            I thoroughly enjoyed the casual way Japan is presented; much like chatting with a friend about it over coffee. Why, even her son young Will wrote a paragraph of his experience there. From uptown Tokyo to the heart of rural Honshu, Ms. Heiter has travelled the length and breadth of Japan; and she tells it as she saw it; in good old fashioned day to day accounts. For example, how she ended up going to the zoo all alone on a Sunday morning or undergoing the excruciating process of wearing a kimono.


            Pictorial and mesmerizing, I find the author's narrative just as descriptive as the fascinating pictures she took.


            Japan is a fascinating place with traditions that is seemingly indecipherable for the foreigner. In spite of its amazing progress and modernization, old traditions still hold sway in many aspects of life. And it is this unique collage that the author encountered and was impressed with. She saw a place where kimono-clad women ride in bullet trains and abacuses lying next to computers.


            You might realize by now that Vignettes in Japan is not exactly a travel guide. It pays homage to Japan as a place; not a mere destination. I especially appreciate the various anecdotes, folk tales and stories behind the traditions that are included in this book. It gives a homely feel to the reading experience.


            And if you have some vague plans about visiting Japan in the future, having this book now is the next best thing.