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Niki Collins-Queen

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Member Since: Before 2003

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Featured Book
A Distant Bell
by Kate Saundby

The sequel to A Circle of Arcs, this fast-moving historical time travel has been likened to riding a kayak through the rapids. If you were blind and could only see in..  
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Earth, the Forgotten Temple, A Spirit Quest

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Blogs by Niki Collins-Queen

A great story about spending a year in Japan
10/6/2010 2:01:43 PM
Karin Muller, at age 34, wanted to improve her Judo and get a fresh perspective on the meaning of life. Most of her Judo instructors, who seem to glow with an almost ethereal calm and inner strength, made it clear she needed to understand the philosophy behind Judo to master the sport. To better understand the transcendent state of harmony, of flow, of being in the zone called “Wa” Karin learned to speak Japanese and spent twelve months traveling in Japan. Her memoir, “Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa” is a brave and passionate attempt, as a westerner, to immerse herself in an eastern Japanese culture.
Her four-month stay with the Tonakas, her host family, was both challenging and painful. Yukiko, her host mother is very traditional. Karin is not. Karin said Yukiko took it upon herself in the nicest possible way to turn her from an uncivilized barbarian into a proper Japanese homemaker, and if she's very lucky, a wife. Karin admits she's afraid of Yukiko as she cannot tell the difference between her smile and her grimace. Genji, her six-foot tall host father and judo instructor is gracious and catlike in his agility. Until recently he ran one of Tokyo's largest corporations. Both were in their 60s. Their wish was to find a husband for Junco their daughter who must get married in two years or loose her job. Most Japanese companies only hire females till age 30 as women are expected to marry and have children.
When Kerin's relationship with her host family became strained she traveled from one end of the country to the other. Her brilliant story telling, honesty and entertaining vignettes bring to life a colorful cast of characters. She participates in the traditions of sword-making, fire-walking, sumo, geishas, samurai, taiko drummers, pachinko parlors, criminal yakuza and the challenges of the gay and the homeless communities.
She also made a 900-mile pilgrimage to 88 sacred Buddhist temples, attended an eight-day Yamabushie training in the mountains, joined a samurai mounted archery team, learned how to handle a longbow on a galloping horse and helped to light ten thousand floating lanterns during Obon, the Festival of the Dead.
What I love most about all of Karin's books is her amazing humor. My favorites in “Japanland” are when Roberto introduces her to Kaneko-san, the thirty-fifth Yabusame master. Karin says she knows just how low to bow because Roberto's hand is pressing discreetly on the small of her back. With her face on her knees, she suddenly notices how muddy it is. She also notices that, despite slogging around in the mud, Kaneko's socks are still snow-white. “What is it about the samurai arts that makes these men impervious to dirt?” she wonders. When the pressure eases off she bobs back up. Kaneko nods and clicks his teeth. Later Karin's face is stinging from a long day under the relentless sun and her legs are rubber. Roberto pokes his face over the horse's withers and tells Karin Kaneko-san has invited them to his home to see the saddles. Her muscles go mushy with dread. “Great!” she says and pastes a smile on her face.
While sharing a meal of boiled crickets with sugar, soy sauce and sake with friends Karin's quipped, “Japanese may not use much pesticide, but at least they get to eat the pests.”
I also loved Karin's story while staying with a crab-fishing family in Shimoda. After several days of rain Karin was down to her last set of clothes. After washing her laundry in the shower and not finding a nail or line in her room she pinned a damp pair of socks and some underwear to the inside of her ankle-length skirt and headed down to dinner. Once she was safely tucked under the table-blanket she discreetly flipped up the skirt to let her laundry dry under the heating lamp. When she finally climbed the stairs to bed, she heard a burst of laughter from the living room. She looked down to see a long white sock trailing behind her like a puffy tail. After that the family took her in like the daughter they never had.


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More Blogs by Niki Collins-Queen
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