The Good Wife’s Guide

From Housekeeping Monthly Magazine, 1955

A friend sent me this recently, and I thought it was very appropriate given the forthcoming Good Shufu (housewife). My favorite line: “Remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.” Although I have to admit, “Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him” is pretty hilarious, too.

GoodWife

My mother tries to find the book on Amazon

My mother: What’s happening with your book?

Me: Actually, they put it up on Amazon a little while ago and it’s even gotten some nice pre-release reviews.

(The next night) My mother: Well, I looked everywhere on Amazon and couldn’t find the book. Not a single thing about The Good Snafu.

What Expats Like Best about Japan

Recently, someone asked the members of a group I belong to, KA International Mothers in Japan, about their favorite aspects of this country. Here’s what these expats said:

The hand signals train drivers do as they reach the station, and how the dudes on the platform hold lanterns in the evening

Knowing exactly where the train door is going to be on the platform, and which side the doors will open when getting off

Getting whiffs of incense while walking around town

A Jizo statue

A Jizo statue: Photo from KA International Mothers in Japan

Hats on jizo statues (little statues meant to commemorate children who have died or were miscarried; the hats are meant to keep them warm)

The music from street vendors. I only kind of love the fact that they have fire in the back of their trucks. It just seems so wrong that it’s kind of right.

The baggy pants worn by construction workers

Shoes with split toes

The elevator ladies at department stores

Hazard lights saying thank you to drivers behind

When I must pull over for a service vehicle, such as an ambulance, then receive a thank you over their loudspeaker. So civilized!

The way bus, streetcar and taxi drivers wave at each other when the pass each other on the road/tracks, as if they are sharing a joke

The “smalltalk” on the street with the older people I meet

The obasan tachi (elderly women) and when they stop me on the street just to tell my half-baby is cute!

The ability to say nothing and still be understood as saying “no” without upsetting anyone

How if you leave something behind someone will drape it from a fence, hang it on a pole, or leave it on a ledge and nobody touches it, knowing it’s a lost thing waiting for someone to reclaim it. I once, drunkenly, lost a pair of earnings and found them hung on an evergreen tree by my house. It looked like Christmas, and I felt bad taking them off.

Umbrella condoms (those umbrella-shaped plastic bags available at stores to put over your umbrella when it’s wet, so you don’t get water on other people or the store’s goods)

Warm toilet seats!

When you shop and the staff put the item in a bag and tape the bag and fold over the edge of the tape so it will be easier to open

Clean bathrooms at most stores, especially department stores and the big shopping plazas

The nursing rooms/baby rooms in stores and malls

Onsen (natural hotsprings)

Napping on tatami (straw mats)

Vending machines with warm drinks

The cans and containers used to hold snacks and sweets. They are great to use for a nice storage place afterwards, too!

The elaborate gift wrapping at many stores. Sometimes I tell them it’s a present when it’s really for me.

The sound of wind-chimes in summer

Japanese lunch sets and all the freebie add-ons like salads, coffee, desert, etc.

The total attention to detail. Everything is just-so and beautifully presented.

Trains and buses that are always on time

The hundreds of soda flavors and seasonal foods

Amazon delivering next day and sometimes the same day

Beautifully designed cakes, even from cheap shops

The little strings inside the bed covers to hold the futon in place

Baths that fill up automatically at the perfect temperature just by pressing a button

Affordable child care

Affordable health care

The general safety and cleanliness

Karaoke! And plastic food samples

The takkyubin package service. So easy to mail a package anytime, from almost anywhere, and reasonable cost. Logistics heaven!

The actual convenience of convenience stores (paying bills, picking up food for dinner, and buying tickets for a show all in one stop)

Construction road barriers shaped like cartoon characters

No guns

Thanks, KA International Mothers in Japan, for reminding us why, even on our hardest days, Japan will never fail to intrigue and even delight us.

Early Readers’ Reviews

I feel a little out of it, since someone else had to tell me that The Good Shufu is now actually up on both Amazon US and Amazon Japan in both hardcover and Kindle versions. The book will be released officially on June 30, 2015, although it’s available for pre-order now.

I’m so touched by, and eternally grateful to, the early reviewers, who have written:

“A thoughtful, involving examination of what happens when a thoroughly American woman says “I do” not just to a man, but to a new culture, country, and way of life. Filled with fascinating tidbits about Japan’s quirks and customs, this debut is as informative as it is entertaining.” —Sarah Pekkanen, internationally bestselling author of Catching Air

“From Boston to Osaka, Tracy Slater writes about the intersection of romance and culture shock with great sensitivity. The Good Shufu is a story about how people communicate and love each other in unexpected ways and places, a fish-out-of-water tale that illustrates the ever-expanding definition of family.”—Ann Mah, author of Mastering the Art of French Eating

“Tracy Slater is one of those great women who refused to give up when so many people said she should. (She’s my kind of woman.) Honest, brave, and moving, this is the perfect book for someone who needs to believe big dreams can come true.” —Amy Cohen, New York Times–bestselling author of The Late Bloomer’s Revolution

Sarah, Ann, Amy, you’ve made my decade.

Which “Multi-” Matters Most in Love?

I’ve been trying to figure out which community I’ve joined since marrying the shogun, which “label” matters most. Which way would I categorize our relationship if I had to pick the most relevant descriptor? Multilingual, multinational, multicultural, multi-ethnic?

I asked the shogun about our mixed marriage, about what he thought was the most significant difference between us. “Man and woman,” he said–which illustrates where the multilingual part comes in. Since I made no headway at the source, I’ll ask here what people in similar relationships think.

I rarely think of myself in a multicultural marriage in the American sense, because when I research what others are writing and thinking about it in the U.S., it seems like the focus is on people from different ethnic groups. But if the shogun were Japanese American, not Japanese Japanese, I think our marriage would be vastly different.

So that makes the think the multinational aspect is the most significant. It’s certainly the one I focus on the most, on a daily basis, but that’s because I live in his country, half a globe away from my home, where I barely speak the language and can only read the nonverbal signs correctly about a quarter of the time. Maybe it’s the mix of expat and non-expat, then? That he’s the one who navigates fluidly through our life and community, while I need to rely on him for almost everything practical and social? (Never thought I’d be in a marriage when I needed to ask my husband for money, but then again I never thought I’d be in a marriage where the ATM machines play cartoon pictures of uniformed bank tellers bowing at me).

So I wonder, if you’re in a similar partnership, or imagining being in one, what multi matters most?

Japanese Faux-Pas and the New Parent

One nice thing about being a new parent in a country like Japan, where the people are famously reticent and usually even avoid eye contact, is that you have the rare chance to chat with strangers. Walking down the sidewalk with the little shogunette in the baby carrier, I frequently pass parents with their little ones strapped to their chests too, and we’ll smile at each other and do a little head-bow and sometimes we will even stop to talk.

There is a downside to this however if, like me, you are terrible at Japanese. Frequently, instead of asking “And how old is your baby?” (nan sai, desuka?) I end up asking “What floor are you going to?” (nan kai desuka?).

Of course, this is somewhat better than what used to happen before I had a baby and we moved to a house in the suburbs of Yokohama, back when we lived in an apartment in the center of Osaka city. Then, frequently one of my elderly neighbnors would get in the elevator after me and instead of asking “What floor?” I’d ask them “And how old are you?”

The Facebook Author Page

Love my editor at Putnam. Have loved basically every suggestion she’s made about the book (and how great is that to get in an editor?). But I didn’t love her suggestion that I make a Facebook author page. Because really, who needs another author page, or any page, on Facebook?

Anyway, I put one up. Because really, who am I to say “no” to Putnam?

It’s here, if you’re interested: http://www.facebook.com/TheWriterTracySlater

Can’t say I blame you if you aren’t. But in my first post on that page, I wrote that, in an effort to make the page as interesting or useful as possible, I’m going to use it, at least for now, to post funny/weird things about Japan (of which there are no shortage) or useful information for other writers or expats. If anyone has any other ideas about how to make the page a useful or pleasing source of information, please let me know! What would you want to see on an author page? Or which authors do you think really nail the Facebook Author Page?

Galley Pages Arrive! But I’m Unsure About the Title.

Galley Pages

The galley pages arrived today at our new house in Yokohama, where we moved a month ago.

It’s so exciting to see them! But it now brings up a twist on an issue I’ve been struggling with: the title. I was thinking that we should change the title to the book before it actually comes out and hits bookstores. The Good Shufu seems a little too obscure to me sometimes, like, who the hell knows what a shufu is unless they’ve lived in Japan? My editor at Putnam likes the existing title but isn’t opposed to changing it, either. My agent and I are thinking of The Japanese Housewife, because then, with my name (which is obviously not Japanese, since I didn’t take the shogun’s name when I married him) on the cover, there will still be some sense of mystery, like how does someone named Tracy Slater become a Japanese Housewife? (which in a sense is the subtext of the whole book, anyway). Then the shogun–with his Japanese sensibility of prizing literalness and exactness above all else–weighed in, pointing out that calling me a Japanese housewife is technically not correct, since I’m not Japanese. I countered with the fact that our house is Japanese, and that part of the significance of the term housewife is that it’s sort of like being married to the actual house. But then I had the idea of using The Japan Housewife, sort of like a twist on the book title The Paris Wife.

But now that I see the actual galley pages as Putnam has designed them, I’m back to kind of liking The Good Shufu again. Maybe because the galley pages actually make the book seem real after all this time, so I’m feeling attached to them exactly as they are.

Anyone have any thoughts, ideas, or title preferences?

On Delivering My 1st Child at 46 and a Half

After more than 4 years of IVF and other fertility treatments in Japan, a country where I barely speak the language, I turned 45, and my Japanese doctors turned down the corners of their mouths when I asked about continuing to try to get pregnant.

They pointed not just to my age but my high FSH as a procreative non-starter, as well as a luteal phase defect, a blood-clotting disorder, low progesterone, and inconsistent ovulation. I tried natural approaches to fertility enhancement, cutting out coffee, wine, milk, soy milk, meat from non-organic farms, even water without ice-cubes and exercise at certain times of the month (to, I was urged, “nourish my blood”–whatever that means). I tried acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. I subscribed to podcasts about “positive thinking.” I felt guilty that nothing I did was working because I must not have been doing any of it well or strict enough.

On my 45th birthday, my changes of getting pregnant, according to the popular statistics, reached zero. I cried, and my husband assured me we could keep trying naturally. I said “ok,” but I thought he was being foolishly optimistic.  We stopped all medical treatments, and I gave up all the alternative approaches to boosting fertility I’d been using too, like acupuncture and herbs.

There Go All the Theories about What To Do and What Not to Do

Six months later, just after mother’s day and just after I wrote this post, we learned I was almost seven weeks pregnant. At the time, my beloved father-in-law was dying, and I’d been spending 4-6 hours a day in a Japanese hospital with him, where once again, I couldn’t understand any of the nurses or doctors. So there goes the theory that we just have to relax or not be stressed and we’ll get pregnant.

My husband and I were still trying naturally every month, although sometimes we were so tired from his father’s illness that we could barely make it past 9pm. But still, we were still trying, so there goes the theory that we just have to stop trying to get pregnant.

After my 45th birthday, I’d started drinking wine and coffee again. I ate what I wanted to eat and worked out when and how I wanted to. I tried to monitor my body with OPKS and other physical signs of ovulation, but that’s it. So there go the theories that we have to monitor what we eat or how we exercise to get pregnant.

My husband and I had also decided not to adopt if we couldn’t conceive, as I’d written about in the New York Times online. So there goes the theory that you’ll get pregnant if you just adopt and start to love a child (which I found the most insulting of all theories, actually).

In February of 2014, I was 4 months past my 46th birthday when I gave birth to a healthy, perfect little girl. She is lying beside me right now as I write this (sleeping  as usual with her arms thrown out over her head like a combination of Jesus Christ and some nebbishy old guy exclaiming oy vey).

I post this now in the hope it gives some comfort and encouragement to anyone who reads this is struggling to get pregnant or feels guilt about whether they are too stressed or doing the wrong thing to conceive.

Radio Interview with NPR’s KCRW: On Xmas, KFC, Being Jewish, & Eating Chinese in Japan

Last week, I got to talk to the lovely radio host Evan Kleiman, of the show Good Food on Southern California’s NPR station KCRW, about the strange trend of eating Kentucky Friend Chicken in Japan on Christmas. I originally wrote about this topic a few years ago for CNN, which is how the KCRW people found me, I assume.

Evan and I did talk Chicken, although somehow we ended up veering off into also discussing being the Jewish wife of a Japanese man in Osaka and following my family’s cultural tradition of going out for Chinese food on Christmas. And also the one thing that’s even better about doing this in Osaka, rather than Boston…

You can listen to the radio clip of just my interview or go to the whole KCRW Good Food Christmas episode here, “This Week On Good Food: Christmas Means KFC in Japan, Cooking Goose, Pig Ear Cheetos.” Enjoy!