Virtual Travel with “Essence of Japan”: REVIEW + GIVEAWAY


Part of our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide

In this instalment of the 2020 Holiday Gift Guide, I am introducing you to artist Joyce Yoshihara Will’s two-volume coloring series, Essence of Japan.

I am a proud military “brat”: my father was an officer/navigator in the US Air Force and my parents were stationed in Japan when I was born. All of my life I have been surrounded memories of this time, including traditional clothing, art and decor. One of my prized possessions is a doll my mother made for me when we lived there.

All original images in this post are copyright ArtisticWill Designs.

Memories of Japan!

I have always wanted to return to Japan to visit my birthplace (specifically, Saitama-Ken, a suburb of Tokyo), and was hoping that 2020 might be the year. But, well, COVID….

So I was thrilled to find the Essence of Japan coloring books: they are a wonderful way to learn about and appreciate Japan. And if you have anyone on your gift list whose trips were kiboshed this year, these coloring books would make an awesome gift.

Disclosures: The coloring books in this post were kindly sent to me by Joyce Yoshihara Will; I did not receive any other compensation. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I might earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.


I will let Joyce tell you herself about the origins of her coloring books:

Having a Japanese heritage, I always wanted to visit the land of my ancestors. In 2016, my dream came true when I visited central Japan. I experienced profound beauty of Japanese designs, gardens, nature, ancient cities, wonderful people, delicious food, and incredible “Unesco World Heritage sites”. After returning from my trip, I had a strong desire to draw this magnificent country into coloring book style. I want to help promote Japan’s tourism by showcasing central Japan unlike any other. Experience beauty, culture and traditions. Many people maybe interested in Japan, but unable to make the journey, some can plan a destinations trip they would like to see or others who would like to relive their vacation. In this unique Japanese coloring book, you can explore Japan without leaving the comfort of your home.

Joyce Will

Volume 1 of Essence of Japan covers the areas of Narita, Tokyo, Takayama and Shirakawago. Volume 2 introduces Kyoto, Osaka, Gion, and Nara. Both are wonderful ways to experience Japan’s culture, traditions and history.

Each coloring book opens with a colorable “This Book Belongs To:” page with the standard copyright/publishing details on the reverse. The Color Test Page is next, followed by 30 full-page designs to color.

Following the coloring pages, there are five pages with thumbnails of each design with a description of what it is all about. These thoughtful descriptions elevate the volumes from “just” coloring books to travel guides.

Volume 2 includes additional pages at the end introducing Volume 1, including a colorable design from the cover and a few pages of thumbnails and the travel descriptions. On the last page you will learn more about the artist on an “About” page; you could use the back of this page for color testing.


Each volume of Essence of Japan has 30 beautiful pages filled with detailed illustrations. The designs are Joyce’s personal, hand-drawn creations based on personal photos as reference (no stock images).

Subjects are realistic (as they are from photographs) and include portraits, architecture, landscape, nature and decor.

Illustrations fill the page, with a bold black border and enough margin for handling – nothing runs into the binding. Linework is black and bold, so you will find it easy to stay within the lines (if that is your thing!) with alcohol-based markers that feather. Many designs include patterns, some for differentiating backgrounds and foregrounds and some for texture.

I so enjoyed reading about the subject of each drawing in Joyce’s paragraphs in the back of the book. Although thorough, I was occasionally driven to learn more about the subject: I loved coloring the unique Kyoto drain covers I headed to the “interwebz” to research more. And lo-and-behold, I actually found one of them on a web page dedicated to the subject!


The paper in these books is white, smooth and on the lighter side (similar to a good printer paper). My soft-core Prismacolor Premier pencils and harder-core Staedtler 157s layered and blended beautifully. I recommend finishing your pencil coloring with a burnisher/blender for deeper colors and sheen.

The one-side-only designs mean you don’t have to decide which pages to color and which to sacrifice if you want to use markers (alcohol-based markers do bleed through the paper and water-based ones did shadow). There are no perforations, so use care (and scissors or a craft knife) if you wish to remove them for coloring, or afterwards for display or gifting. Regardless of the medium you use, do put a protective piece of cardstock behind the page; this will keep bleeding off the next design, and prevent pressure marks when using a firm hand with colored pencils.

The glued binding is strong, so you can easily fold the book over for coloring without breaking it. The card-stock covers are a bit light, and I found it easier to color in the book with some support, like my clipboard.


The designs in the Essence of Japan coloring books would be great for most colorists. The bold line-work makes elements easy to see and color. Colorists who want more of a challenge will enjoy coloring-in individual smaller details such as fabric patterns and individual leaves and flowers; beginners can “group” these elements while coloring and still have beautiful results.

Therapeutic Value

For many of us, thinking about a trip – whether reminiscing about a past voyage or planning one in the future – is so positive. Coloring in Essence of Japan is a virtual trip full of optimism.

I also loved the sense of calm and distraction I achieved when coloring in the Essence of Japan books. Coloring in each page, and learning about the subjects depicted, was a refreshing relief from being practically house-bound.

My Take…

I so enjoyed coloring in the Essence of Japan coloring books, and would recommend them as wonderful gifts for any travel fan, armchair traveler, or lover of Japan or Eastern culture in general. The artwork is beautiful, and the addition of the descriptions in the back of the books makes me feel that I have actually traveled there – from my recliner!

Check out The Essence of Japan, Volume 1 and Volume 2 on Amazon.

You can purchase all of the ArtisticWill Designs products, including coloring books, on Etsy.

From Nov 26- Dec 1, 2020 during the virtual Hana craft show special event, use coupon code HANA10 for a 10% discount.

Learn more about Joyce Will on her Website and on Facebook.

Giveaway Time!

We are giving away one (1) copy of Essence of Japan, Volume 1 by Joyce Yoshihara Will.

This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada unless otherwise restricted. The giveaway begins at 12:00am on November 15, 2020 and closes at 12:00am on November 30, 2020.

And don’t forget to check out our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide for more reviews, giveaways and gift ideas!

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18 thoughts on “Virtual Travel with “Essence of Japan”: REVIEW + GIVEAWAY”

  1. Debbie N. says:

    I would love to go to Massachusetts in the summertime. I want to go visit my family and the summers are really beautiful(especially near the ocean).

  2. Heather K says:

    There are so many places I want to go! My daughter and I missed a six week camping, snorkeling, and cruise vacation this past summer.

  3. I’d love to go to Australia because my husband told me how beautiful it is there.

  4. jenny stratton says:

    I want to go to San Diego and see my new grandbaby.

  5. I would like to see my grandchildren in New Mexico. I miss those little cuties.

  6. YOLANDA DAVIS says:

    I’ve recently got back in touch with my Dad after 30 years, but he’s in America. So that’s where I’d like to go.

  7. I would love to go to New Zealand to visit friends there.

  8. My first trip will probably be to Texas next summer, as my son and his wife are expecting a baby next year.

  9. I would love to take my kids out West on a National Park road trip.

  10. Megan Cromes says:

    i wanna go visit my fam ty 🙂

  11. Viv Sluys says:

    When we can travel again I would love to go to Peru. I would do mountain climbing there and meet my sister-in-law’s family.

  12. Dynal Roberson says:

    I would like to go to Iceland.

  13. I would love to travel to the west coast of Canada where a lot of my family lives.

  14. kelly Woods says:

    I want to go to Florida with family to the beach. thank you

  15. Catrina Pomerleau says:

    I would love to go to Greece… it’s on my bucket list.

  16. I’d love to visit Boston to see some friends, once all of this is over!

  17. Nicole Jubleew says:

    I would like to go to Europe

  18. Laura Harrison says:

    Who won this giveaway?

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