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Japan Ai: A Tall Girl’s Adventures in Japan
by Aimee Major Steinberger
Landing somewhere between a graphic novel, a travelogue, and a sketchbook, Japan Ai follows artist/animator Aimee and her friends Judy and AJ as they explore Japan. At six feet in height, Aimee literally stands above the crowd, but she doesn’t let that stop her from experiencing all that Japan has to offer, whether she’s people-watching in the shopping district of Harajuku in Tokyo, attending a Takarazuka musical performance, or visiting the VOLKS flagship store. With delightful sketches accompanying the handwritten text, Aimee takes readers with her every step of the way.
I really enjoyed Aimee’s story. Japan is one of the countries I’d most like to visit, because I love the culture and the art, but I have to admit that once I get there I don’t know what to do. While many of her activities were standard tourist recommendations: shopping in Tokyo, visiting a Shinto temple, and eating in a maid café. But she also did a lot of things that I’d consider more obscure, like visiting the all-female performance of a Takarazuka group. I’ve seen these theatrical performances mentioned several times – amongst other things, they’ve staged several Sailor Moon musicals – but I never realized that Takarazuka is a town, not a style of Japanese theater, and the all-female review was originally a gimmick put together in the early 20th century to bring tourists to the area. See? Aimee goes on an adventure, and I learn something new. Win-win!
One of the reasons I found this book better than the average travelogue was the strong sense of fun and joy that pervades every page. Many of the sketches, especially of street fashion, tend to be more realistic, so you do get a strong sense of what she saw on the trip. But when Aimee draws herself, it’s very cartoonish, although not as an “anime-style” girl. It suits the funny “fish outta water” moments really well, like when Aimee is being dressed in a kimono and the Japanese women must stand on chairs to fix her hair. Aimee also includes a lot of useful information, like hand-drawn layouts for the rooms she stayed in, a glossary to explain some of the terms she uses (especially useful for those not steeped in otaku culture) and an appendix with useful websites for planning your own trip to Japan.
5 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: Guest Post: Another Teenage Boy Steals My Heart
2012: Review Status for Books 2012
2011: Closing down for end of year Festivus…
2010: News: Seriously Cool Pop-Up Book
2009: College Girl by Patricia Weitz