Grateful to the Wall Street Journal‘s Expat Blog for publishing this piece focusing on some of the issues I’m trying to work out about race, privilege, and identity as a white parent married to a native Japanese man and raising a mixed-race child in Japan.
From ‘Blind Spots’ and Other Problems in Globally Blended Families:
As a woman in a multicultural, multinational, and multiracial couple, I’ve sensed how some people assume I must be uniquely open to cultural differences, and thus uniquely equipped to raise a mixed child. But this assumption betrays a flawed logic. Globe-trotting parents in mixed marriages who grew up in the majority may be aware of racism and may even have faced it themselves, but most still lack a deeper understanding of racism during a child’s formative years.
The book exists in hardcover! Here it is on my windowsill at our house in the Tokyo suburbs. I may like my makeup sparkly & my patent leather shiny, but I’m loving the special matte paper Putnam Books has chosen. Thanks so much, Putnam!
PS. It’s not in bookstores in the US (or any other countries) yet until June 30, but it is being offered for pre-order at all of these sellers–and at a discount at many of them, until the book is actually released to the public!
So incredibly touched and honored by Barnes & Noble and their official announcement, through the publishing industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, of The Good Shufuas a Summer 2015 Discover Great New Writers Selection. They write,
The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World by Tracy Slater (Putnam, June 30). “Falling in love can be dizzying, dazzling, and disorienting all at once, but Tracy Slater took things one step farther when she fell in love with a Japanese businessman–whose English was on par with her Japanese–and upended her life as an academic in Boston to become a housewife in Osaka, Japan. Our readers are in love with this delightful, deft memoir about new beginnings and making one’s home.”
I’m also honored to share this distinction with the 11 other books and authors chosen, all listed here!
Big, big thanks to Tokyo Families Magazine for their profile of the The Good Shufu and for their interview with me about being in a cross-cultural, multilingual, and bi-continental marriage.
Even with a great divide among religions and races across the world, love works in wonderful ways. American freelance writer Tracy Slater, found love in Japan with a Japanese husband.
But their story is statistically rare.
According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, interracial marriages make up about 1 in 30 marriages. Of marriages involving Japanese men, only a paltry 1% is with an American wife.
In an interview with Tracy about The Good Shufu (The Good Wife), a book she penned for release next month, she shares some of her personal experiences and views about being in a kokusaikekkon (international marriage).
How did you and your husband cross paths? What would you say the attraction was?
He did an executive MBA at the university in Boston where I taught writing, so that’s why we met. And the attraction, at least for me, was pretty immediate. On his end, he did try to avoid me a little at first, but he now claims that’s because he was scared I was going to make him speak English. So guess how that turned out. I write much more about all of this in the first few chapters of the book, so in the interest of not making my editor mad, I won’t divulge the whole story here! (laughter)
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
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
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.
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?
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?”
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…
Today would be Shogun Sr.’s birthday, and it’s the first one to pass since his death. I miss him a little bit every day, but today the missing comes on a little harder. I wish he were here with us to celebrate.
I think about cooking him his favorite foods for most of the nine birthdays I knew him, and how, after he had eaten, he’d always push back his chair, nod his head earnestly, and say Gochisosamadeshita, “thank you for the meal,” and then in English, he’d sometimes add “Thank you To-ray-shee!”
I think about the little baby inside me now, at almost 27 weeks old, who showed up unexpectedly in the last two months of Shogun Sr.’s life. How, when I told him I was pregnant as he lay weak in his hospital bed, saying “Otōsan, I have a secret; I have a baby inside,” and then I patted my stomach, his eyes went wide with surprise. He thought about it for a moment and then asked, “Does Toru know?”
I laughed and said “Of course!” and then switched into broken Japanese, explaining Watachitachi wa hontoni bikuri shimashita! Onaka ga warui deshita, dakara byoin ni ikimashita, to Isha wa, “Anata wa ninshin desu!” to itaiimashita, “We were both shocked! My stomach was bad so I went to the Dr, and the Dr said ‘You are pregnant!'”
And then Shogun Sr grabbed my hand and kissed it, and then he burst into tears.
I think about how we asked him to name the baby, and he said he would, but then he stopped speaking, and he died before he could tell us what name he had picked.
I think about how once, before he went into the hospital, he fell early in the morning in his kitchen. When the helper-san arrived, she couldn’t lift him, so they called. Toru was on his way to work, and when I answered the phone, Shogun Sr said quietly, To-ray-shee, es-oh-esu “Tracy, S.O.S”
After I got there, two other female helper-sans arrived, and the four of us women fussed around in a frantic rush of lifting, cleaning, tending, changing. Then, when one helper-san wheeled him out of his shower twenty minutes later, he took one look around his living room at the four us of women standing there, and he said Yare, yare, “Oh boy…”
When I feel the little baby kick inside me, I think about how happy we are that our baby finally seems to be making an appearance, and how sad we are that Shogun Sr won’t get to be here for it. I think about how the baby waited quietly through five years of medical treatments and miscarriages and general fertility-specialist fracas before showing up, as if waiting for all the fuss, all the frantic rushing, to quiet down before making a move.
And I think gratefully about how, in this assertion of that quiet, wondrous presence, she is so much like her grandfather.
I think I’m developing a love-hate relationship with the prenatal nurse. The last two times I saw her, she failed to yell at me about gaining weight, even though I looked on the Japanese chart and I’m still a few kilos (now two!) above where I’m supposed to be at this point. I sort of missed her chastising me and her funny comments about Americans and their eating habits.
Still, today, just to disabuse me of any inkling she’s becoming a softie, she dismissed my assurance that we’d be OK after the baby comes, even though we no longer have any family in Osaka to help us. I assured her that the shogun was always really helpful, pitching in with laundry and cleaning, and that he’d do a lot of childcare, too. She shook her head, completely unconvinced. “Japanese husbands. No good!” she said.
But then she smiled hugely, her eyes going all crinkly at their corners, like she used to when she was telling me how fat I was getting and how I shouldn’t enjoy the holidays coming up. I think it’s that combination of harshness and sweetness that gets me, like a lover who’s all push-and-pull, until you fall under their sway even though you know you shouldn’t. I also have an inkling she might make a great interrogator, or hostage-taker.
Is it possible I have some sort of weird Stockholm-Syndrome attachment to her? Does this happen with women and their prenatal nurses?