Reviewed by Bridget Beaver, Japanese Language Teacher, North Carolina Virtual Public School
As a teacher who instructs solely online, using materials with strong imagery tend to be fantastic teaching tools. Hurling only text at students, with no visual aides, is sometimes completely counterproductive to learning in the online environment, which is what initially attracted me to this book.
The cute pictures provide the reader with a perspective on Japan as “an outsider looking in” but do little to build a bridge between cultures or help to experience the culture within the context of language. Some of the illustrations are on the verge of being stereotypical, such as geisha, zen gardens, sumo wrestlers, etc.
One part of the book I did find to be insightful toward Japanese culture were Williamson’s sock illustrations. She posits a theory that colorful and varied sock designs found in stores commonly found in Japan that are completely dedicated to selling only socks may be due to the custom of removing one’s shoes upon entering a home. This proved perhaps a bit silly, but also may have some truth to it!
There is very little target language used in the book, which is understandable, again, within the context of how this book was written. However, beyond illustrations, there are small vignettes written about some the items depicted. It is definitely helpful to put each item in a specific context with a small paragraph or two, so that the reader, not familiar with Japan or its culture, can understand what they are looking at.
My feeling is that this book might be useful to introduce cultural artifacts perhaps in a novice-level class, especially since many of my own students have never visited Japan, encountering artifacts in this way might be a good way to start conversation using language they already know.
However, beyond the drawings, there was no real content to the book. It was more of a pictographic travel diary, if anything. I would definitely share it with students to introduce some cultural artifacts that may be unfamiliar to them, if they were directly related to our thematic content for our lesson.