May 13

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘A Girls’ Guide to the Islands’

“While the book is largely a ‘what we did from beginning to end’ odyssey, Kamata’s vivid accounts of her journey with her daughter put you alongside them as they soak up culture.” (Gemma Open Door)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia SubChapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a masters degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at

Exploring local wonders with loved ones can conjure up magical memories—and an enormous sense of satisfaction upon overcoming numerous obstacles.

JET alumna Suzanne Kamata (Tokushima-ken, 1988-90) lived through such experiences, which are recounted in her nonfiction debut, A Girls’ Guide to the Islands. Such a title would indicate a guidebook for female travelers. But a scan of its second paragraph reveals the book is a first person travelogue of the author and her daughter Lilia’s exploration of their corner of Japan. Despite spending most of her life in the countryside, Kamata (author of Gadget Girl and The Beautiful One Has Come) has not just visited some nearby landmarks; she figures playing tourist in several locations would serve as good mother-daughter bonding experiences.

This treats the reader to a journey of art exploration. Lilia loves art and she wants to make a career out of it. Kamata also shares an affinity for art, which makes them perfect travel partners. A Girls’ Guide to the Islands is enhanced by the author’s illumination of the art she sees—such as Yayoi Kusama’s My Eternal Soul, which is painted in vivid colors that are considered unsettling in Japan (the artist’s iconic pumpkin sculpture in the island town of Naoshima also graces the book’s cover)—as well as the works that enthrall her daughter. Fortunately for them (and possibly surprising to some), foreign art from renowned artists was easy to locate in the rural museums they visited. Kamata and Lilia find one of Monet’s most famous paintings and Andy Warhol’s Flowers in Naoshima, as well as other works from other non-Japanese artists.

Turning to obstacles, a reoccurring theme of A Girls’ Guide to the Islands is the challenges Kamata faces when traveling with Lilia. The young girl is unable to hear without a cochlear implant and can only move around with the assistance of a wheelchair. Kamata doesn’t hide the difficulties she faces when traveling with a disabled child, which range from a museum not offering a discount for visitors for special needs to a hotel lacking barrier-free accommodations.

Interestingly enough, Kamata views her daughter’s world as an opportunity to create a link with the artwork she sees. After Lilia remarks that Monet used cataracts, Kamata explains that since her daughter’s school merging with the School for the Blind, the young girl has become more cognizant of issues pertaining to sight. The author then elucidates how Monet’s diminished vision affected his artwork.

If you’re not into the art exploration expounded by Kamata, the write-up of her and her daughter’s travels might conjure up some not-so-fun memories for those who have traveled around Japan (like being unable to board a ferry due to fog) and introduce some new places (such as Shodo Island, a major olive-producing region). A Girls’ Guide to the Islands also contains informative descriptions of various forms of Japanese culture that mother and daughter experience throughout their journey. In the end, the book seems to lend itself perfectly well to a sequel—as Kamata puts it, all of the world’s beauty is seemingly within their reach.

While the book is largely a “what we did from beginning to end” odyssey, Kamata’s vivid accounts of her journey with her daughter put you alongside them as they soak up culture.

Visit Suzanne Kamata online at

For more JQ magazine book reviews, click here.

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