Last Updated: December 21, 2017, 3:52 pm

Cover to Cover: ‘A Year in Japan’ short, sweet book of illustrations


I know I’ve been bitten by the travel bug when I find myself reading travel diaries on the floor of Barnes and Noble for six hours straight.

That isn’t all true. I was reading other books — not just travel diaries.

But I’ll admit it: A couple of hours by the pool on a sunny Saturday afternoon was all I needed to finish Kate T. Williamson’s travel diary titled “A Year in Japan.” A few pages in and I could already feel my stomach aching with the pain and desire to jump ship and head for Japan.

My fascination for Japan goes back to when I was very young when I begged my mom to make paper lanterns for my bedroom. Williamson portrays the same fascination with her vibrant illustrations within each diary entry. Turning the pages is like looking at a Hayao Miyazaki-esque gallery. So, in addition to having interest in filmmaking, this woman renders an extraordinary talent for hand-drawn art.

Many people have done the same as Williamson: broken the routine of normal life and busted the bank to get across the ocean and experience making a life in a new country. The reasons people do this obviously vary, but for Williamson, cute and radiant as she is, Japan was the place where she went to study filmmaking and Japanese visual culture.

In her first entry, she describes what it was like to step off the train in Kyoto and walk by a shop window where elegant, embroidered hand napkins were being sold. She explains it’s normal for someone to buy one and use it to dry his or her hands in public bathrooms. I turned the page to see these fancy hand napkins drawn out with intricate patterns and color pallets. Williamson literally paints her readers a picture of what she saw and experienced in Japan.

“A Year in Japan” is seducing because it’s not written out like a chronicle of events. “June 7th, I visited a Buddhist temple today.” No, no, no. It’s much less dull than that. Rather, Williamson will tell a little story about a particular experience she had, or she will explain some part of her Japanese life that outsiders would not understand.

One of my favorite aspects of Japanese culture is the combination of nature appreciation and social events. So, of course, my favorite story Williamson tells is about the Japanese moon-viewing tradition. She explains how every August the Japanese people have a celebration of the coming autumn season. People gather around this time to cook traditional moon-viewing foods and to simply admire the beauty of the moon.

Williamson’s illustration shows the moon-lit sky as it would look to someone gazing up through the trees. My big question: why can’t America have a holiday just to celebrate how amazing nature is?

I can see how this book isn’t for everyone and is more likely to be a picture book to others. But we all get bit by the travel bug at least once in our lives. Williamson craftily puts the feelings of traveling abroad into perfect context through her short-told tales of Japanese life and illustrations.

I got a small taste of Japan, and it was very delicious.