An Ingram Premier Pick!

The Good Shufu has been named an Ingram Premier Pick! This means that in May, Ingram, one of the largest book and media distributors in the world, will send advanced reading copies of the memoir to 200 libraries across the country.

Hugely honored! Thanks so much to Ingram and to Putnam!

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The Cover Arrives!

So excited that the book cover has arrived–and so thankful to the wonderful design team at Putnam and to my editor for making it so great.

When I first saw it, I had a moment of pause, thinking: Oh, the disheveled hair! The drooping waistline!

Now, after two+ weeks of the mini not sleeping, not eating, and not sitting still for a moment, I realize: Swap the kimono for some frayed yoga clothes, and it’s the spitting image of me–on a good day.

But seriously, I’m thrilled with how seamlessly Putnam has captured both the Japan theme and the fish-out-of-water sensibility of the book.

SHUFUJacketFinal3.20.15

Thank you Putnam; Sara, my editor; and Rachel, my agent, for all your help and guidance during the design process! Feeling proud to have my name on such a lovely cover.

Does Being in a Mixed Partnership Make You More Open-Minded?

For those in mixed-marriages/partnerships: Do you think being in a multicultural union makes you more open-minded about race/ethnicity?

It seems from how the media covers mixed partnerships, the assumption is that those of us who are in one are somehow less influenced by racial stereotypes, but I’m interested in the ways this both is and isn’t true. For instance, of course I love the shogun and see him first and foremost as a man and not a Japanese person, but I still hold certain beliefs about him based on his ethnicity and know he does the same about me (don’t get me started on his theories about ear wax, sweat glands, and westerners…), and my guess is that anyone growing up in this world is never fully outside of cultural beliefs about race and/or ethnicity.

Would love to know your thoughts and experiences!

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.

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 Draconian Midwife

Before I got pregnant, I’d heard from my Western friends in Osaka that Japanese midwives and doctors are very strict about weight-gain for expectant mothers. Pregnant women in America are told that “normal weight gain” falls between 25 – 35 pounds. In Japan, it tops out at 10kg, or 22 pounds.

At 5’5″ and 118lbs when I conceived, I figured weight-gain in pregnancy wouldn’t be a big concern for me. After-all, I’ll be 46 next month and had gotten pregnant naturally at 45 and 1/2, against all expectations. Weight gain, when I learned I was actually knocked up and not sick with the stomach flu, was the last thing on my mind.

Apparently, the midwife at my maternity hospital here would like to disabuse me of my laissez-faire attitude towards my growing belly.

At my last appointment, I was about 1.5 kg over target. In addition, the baby’s heart was still beating and the chromosomal screenings came back all-clear. I couldn’t have been happier. Until that draconian midwife beckoned my husband and me into her office.

In Japanese with my husband translating, she informed us that I was already entirely too fat. She admonished that Americans like juice, and I needed to stop drinking juice right away. Although I asked my husband to explain that I don’t drink juice, she remained unmoved. She encouraged me to weigh myself every night and every morning, so I could remember how fat I was getting. Then, despite it still being late summer, she brought up the holidays. December was around the corner, she warned, and then she switched into broken English, seemingly for emphasis: “So please don’t enjoy!”

In my own broken Japanese, I tried to explain that I didn’t celebrate the holidays. “Why not?” she wanted to know.

I couldn’t remember the Japanese word for Jewish, so I asked my husband to translate again. A brief conversation between the two of them ensued about what “Jewish” meant, and it seemed to distract her for a moment. Veering off course from my apparently egregiously ample belly, she inquired about what I celebrated in December, if not Christmas.  Next followed a rough explanation of Chanukah, although, I explained, adults don’t usually celebrate it, since it’s mostly a holiday for kids.

She mulled this information over for a few moments, uncharacteristically silent. “Well,” she finally told me in Japanese, “You’ll still probably be too fat in December!”

After my husband translated this last bit for me, we both couldn’t help but giggle. And I still can’t get worked up about her distress. If I end up becoming much more than 1.5 kilos over the Japanese target, if I develop high-blood pressure or gestational diabetes, if I stop being able to eat healthily and start scarfing down sweets, then I’ll start taking her diatribes more seriously. As I said, I’m still in shock over my luck that, if all continues to go well, I’ll turn 46 in about 3 weeks and be 24 weeks pregnant. I don’t have any room in my psyche for distress over 1.5 extra kilos. In fact, as I reach the 21-week mark now, I think I’ll celebrate with a fresh glass of juice.