Bookish Travels: Dreaming of Japan

So normally at this point in the year, I have already arranged my summer vacation.  As a school librarian, I have limited time off during the year and I must fit my expansive travel desires into a definite period of time.

This year, well, this year stinks.  I can’t even really plan anything when my state still has shelter-in-place orders. 

Part of my dilemma though is that I am very easily influenced about where I want to go by the books I read.  I read about book set in Ireland?  That is where I MUST take my next vacation.  Next book they visit Romania? Forget Ireland, now Romania HAS to be our next vacation destination.  And so on…

(Side note: this happens with food too.  Whenever I read  – or watch TV – and there is a food item that someone is consuming.  That MUST be my next meal. Or snack. Even if I’m not hungry.)

So, in addition to regaling you with my previous bookish travels – kind of sad to do that now – I’m going to inspire your travel and mine (as I always do) by reading (and recommending) books!

This summer’s adventure was supposed to be Japan.  I have wanted to visit for a long time now, and I was so excited to make this dream into reality.  Conveniently, I’ve read a couple of books recently that had Japan in a starring role and has only increased my desire to travel there ASAP! 

Reticence by Gail Carriger – You’ve read me get all fangirl and silly for these books, but this one is especially thrilling. Not only is it a GREAT book, it was completely inspiring.  You see, these books take place in the late 1890s and in this installment, the Spotted Custard and her crew visit Japan.  It takes A LOT to have a historical book entice me to visit – but especially so for an alternate reality, fantastical universe, historical fiction book.  That takes some great skill.  Luckily, Gail Carriger has is it in spades.

In Japan, the Spotted Custard’s crew searches for Rue’s family friend that has gone missing.  When the ship finally docks in Edo (at this point, “ships” are not permitted anywhere else inside Japan and by “ship” were of course referring to dirigibles, not ocean liners) and the crew visit this floating city (since they also are not permitted anywhere else in Japan), they are overwhelmed at all the sights and smells of this exotic locale. 

It makes me want to weep that this place does not, in fact, exist in real life.  I would SO love to visit. The tower made of paper and fabrics – all I could picture was imperial, ethereal beauty.  Through a series of mishaps, several crew members make it outside of Edo and the descriptions of the countryside and their adventures had me jumping Japan back to the top of my must-go-there list.  Cannot wait for views of Mount Fuji and the hot springs. I highly recommend this book (and really the whole series – read my Ode to Gail Carriger here.)    

The Little Teashop in Tokyo by Julie Caplin – I was fortunate enough to get to read this little gem prior to publication (thanks Netgalley).  I selected it solely on the locale.  I wanted to get inspired for Japan and this seemed to fit the bill.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  This book is a delightful little romantic comedy about a woman who won an all-expenses-paid trip to Japan to work with a world-renowned photographer and create a photography exhibit that will be displayed at a posh London gallery upon her return.  Fiona, a blogger and instagrammer, hopes to elevate herself to professional photographer but is completely disappointed when her assigned mentor has to be replaced with Gabe, the photographer she randomly kissed on a lark when she was an eighteen-year old student.  

For me, the absolute joy of this book was the descriptions of all things Japanese.  Fiona lives and learns the culture by staying with a Japanese family with whom she immediately bonds and it left me wondering how to make some Japanese friends (who speak Japanese and English and have some free time on their hands to show me around). 

The descriptions of the tea ceremony, the kimonos, the food, the trains, the scenery, all of it made me immediately start researching my Japan trip.  After I finished, I learned that this book is part of a series.  You can bet I’ll be picking up the others to inspire my other travelling dreams (blurg – 3 of them are locales that I have recently visited… wish I had known about those sooner).

A Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh – I read this book a few years ago, but when I started thinking about Japan, this one popped right into my mind. If there is one thing that is consistent about Renée Ahdieh’s books is that they are so descriptive, almost lyrical in their cadence.  You can hear what the characters hear, see what the characters see, smell what the characters smell.  She is such a great writer in this way and I have loved all of her books because of this talent. 

This duology is the story of Mulan if she had been Japanese instead of Chinese.  Mariko travels through the Japanese countryside from her home to the Imperial Palace where her marriage has already been arranged.  Her transport is attacked along the way and her entourage is murdered. Mariko barely manages to escape and decides to follow her attackers in order to get revenge.  She manages to infiltrate their ranks by dressing up like a peasant boy but quickly finds acceptance as they appreciate her intelligence and her abilities.  As usual in YA, there is political upheaval and romantic relationships that help amp up the drama.  But the descriptions of the countryside of Japan make this a must read to get inspired for a trip to Japan.

Have you been to Japan? Read a great book about Japan? Let me know. I need MORE! But right now, I gotta go!  Gotta get back to googling the best Japanese tea ceremonies and onsens…

Reticence by Gail Carriger (Book 4), published 2019

The Little Teashop in Tokyo by Julie Caplin (Book 6), expected release date: June 19, 2020

The Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh, published 2017

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