Texan in Tokyo remains one of my favorite blogs for a number of reasons – especially the delightful comics. Grace Buchele Mineta loves to poke fun at her own misunderstandings and missteps in Japan as she navigates life as the white American wife of a Japanese businessman. I consider her comics one of the best and most addictive things about her blog.
That’s why I was excited about her Kickstarter project earlier this year to self-publish an autobiographical comic book titled My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy, an amusing look into her life in Tokyo with Ryosuke through many new comics and articles you won’t find on her blog. She was wildly successful in funding her efforts and now her book is now available for purchase on Amazon.com.
If you’re a fan of graphic novels and you’re curious about Japan, you don’t want to miss My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy. Grace’s comics capture the joys and pitfalls of living abroad with wonderful humor and wisdom, and the articles included in the book will provide you with a fascinating introduction to different aspects of daily life in Japan.
For those of you new to Grace and her blog, she’s a native Texan who moved to Tokyo with her college sweetheart, where she now writes and blogs about interracial and intercultural relationships, daily life in Japan, and the life of a freelancer. You can also find her writing on The Huffington Post and countless other blogs (including her guest posts my site, which you can read here and here). Grace is an alumnus of Ursinus College in Pennsylvania and received the Boren Scholarship to spend a year in Tokyo.
I interviewed Grace about My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy, including the inspiration for her book and how she decided on the title.
Tell us about the inspiration for your book. Why did you decide to write it?
I think anyone who has been blogging for at least a year entertains the idea of writing a memoir or book. I wasn’t any different. I started the ‘first draft’ of this book just for fun while my husband and I were on vacation a couple months before the wedding. Back then, I wasn’t drawing comics – it was a regular, run-of-the-mill book about my life in Japan.
The book didn’t become a real possibility until May of this year. I was struggling to find a non-English teaching job in Tokyo with reasonable working hours (my best offer had a 15 hour work-day, with four of those hours unpaid overtime). I knew my biggest passion was blogging, but it is ridiculously difficult to monetize a blog. What I was making from ads and affiliate sales was just enough to cover hosting costs and a couple cups of coffee a month.
Everyone recommends writing a book or selling a product, instead of hosting ads on your blog. By the end of June, I had decided to write a book. It was an all-or-nothing last attempt at becoming a professional blogger. If I was successful, I would do this full-time. If I failed, I would throw myself into job hunting and put my blog on the back-burner.
Needless to say, it went better than I ever could have imagined.
Picking a topic was simple. I always knew I wanted to do some sort of book that could illustrate the joys and wonders of being in an intercultural relationship and living abroad. I’m a huge proponent of the idea that everyone should travel/live/work abroad at least once in their life, preferably while they’re young. You can learn so much about yourself, when you’re completely out of your element.
By early July, I decided I would write a comic book. My comics were getting more and more popular – and I was in the zone. Plus, it’s much easier to explain Japanese culture through illustrations, rather than trying to put complex ideas into words.
I launched a Kickstarter (crowd funding campaign) to fund the book in late July. When I hit “publish” on the campaign, the book was less than 20% completed, I hadn’t finished the cover illustration, and I didn’t even know how many pages I could/would draw. However, I figured I needed to start ‘now,’ or I would keep putting it off for the next couple months, waiting until everything was “perfect.”
I have to ask you about the title. How did you come up with it?
I have my husband to thank for the title. He tells me I’m crazy on a fairly regular basis (but he says it with love, don’t worry).
Also, as lame as this sounds, I needed the title to be practical. Since I self-published the book, I don’t have a publishing company behind me to help with marketing. It’s just me. The only way people are going to find my book is through my blog or through the Amazon search feature.
Right now, there is only one other book with the keywords “Japanese husband” in the title, so I figured I could easily compete in that field. In fact, if you type in “Japanese husband” in Amazon, my book is the second thing to pop up.
However, I didn’t want to do something like “My husband is Japanese” or “I have a Japanese husband” because, really, the book isn’t about him being Japanese. It’s about me adapting to living in Japan and being in an intercultural relationship. The book is told from my point of view.
In the end, I came up with My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy because:
- It’s true. He does think I’m crazy.
- It has good keywords
- It’s an intriguing title – that also tells you exactly what the book is going to be about.
I think all three elements are essential for a book title.
Your book offers a view into your everyday life – and moments – as the wife of a Japanese man living in Japan. Why did you choose this focus for your work?
I write really crappy fiction.
Like, I know some people say “I’m bad at creative writing” to be humble and stuff, but I’m not being humble. I generally suck at writing stories. I can’t craft characters, I don’t understand plot, and my dialogue is cheesy and awkward. It’s actually borderline hilarious how bad my fiction writing skills are. And then the other half is just plain sad, because I typically digest 2-3 fiction books a week and still can’t seem to make any of my own.
I can only write what I know. I know what it’s like to move to grow up in a rural part of Texas, where a lot of the girls were pregnant/had a child before graduation and most students never went to college. I know what it’s like to move to Africa at 13; start boarding school in a foreign country at 14; get married at 21; and try to immerse myself in Japanese culture as the white wife of a Japanese man.
It’s ok if I write really crappy fiction, because I’m lucky enough to not need to write fiction. I can just write about my own life, and people read it.
I picked this genre because honestly, it’s the only thing I can do. And I love doing it.
Do you have a favorite comic (or favorite comics) you would like to mention?
I love all my children/comics. I think good “representations” of my work and book are these four comics:
(Japanese women typically want to look pale, so many will wear long sleeved shirts, layers, and hats to the beach instead of a swimsuit)
(I work from home and Ryosuke drives around as a sales rep. We often call each other over the phone to chat/sign together)
(Marvin is my imaginary rabbit – a figment of my imagination that I talk to when I get lonely freelancing)
(I’ve slowly gotten used to earthquakes in Japan)
Throughout the book, you break up the comics with short articles – some essays you’ve published previously, and others informative pieces about living in Japan. How did you decide to structure the book in this way?
This is going to sound like a really bad answer, but I actually never planned on including essays in the book. After my Kickstarter (crowd funding) campaign ended, I sent off a couple sample copies of the book to my sister and two other regular readers of my blog. Back then, the book was about 150 pages of just comics.
All three bounced back the book saying a lot of the comics didn’t make sense. While two of the three readers had spent the summer in Japan, things like how to separate your moldy tofu containers by Japanese standards or the “salaryman lifestyle” never came up in daily conversation.
Long story short, I panicked. At the last minute, I decided to include about 40 pages of essays, summaries, and vocabulary lists – and removed about 25 of the comics that didn’t make sense without a background in Japanese culture.
It was all spur of the moment. Looking back, I’m glad I did that, because I think the essays really tie the book together.
One of the unique things about your comics is a bunny named Marvin (who you describe as “a figment of my imagination – a combination of stress, coffee, and loneliness from being a freelancer in Tokyo.”). Where did you get the idea for Marvin?
Wow, I’m sounding pretty lame in this interview. I got the idea from my mother. She speed-reads my blog 1-2 times a month from the not-so-great internet in Ghana. I drew this comic back in June (the month before I launched my Kickstarter), about some pillow talk Ryosuke and I had. I wondered what rabbits would say, if they could talk. He said they would be stupid and silly; I thought they would be sassy fashionistas.
In late June, my mom called and said the idea for a talking bunny was gold – and I should totally run with it. I drew a couple sample comics just for fun (that never ended up getting posted) but I couldn’t seem to flesh out the character.
I was Skyping with my brother in Texas a bit later (after I had launched the Kickstarter) and mentioned the rabbit thing. He was just like “scrap your earlier comics and draw up 60 new comics for the book using the talking rabbit.”
I mean, how do you argue with that? Both of them loved the idea for a sassy, bossy, imaginary talking rabbit. I put a small poll on my blog’s Facebook page and also go a resounding “Yes!” for the talking rabbit.
Thus, Marvin was born.
What do you hope people come away with after reading your book?
Living abroad can be fun.
I have always been a firm believer in the idea that it is beneficial to be routinely out of your element. I try to put myself in uncomfortable situations (travelling through Peru without speaking Spanish, spending two months living alone with my Japanese in-laws while my husband is on a business trip, freelancing regularly with a company where no one speaks English, networking with people way above my level, etc) on a fairly regular basis.
It’s awkward… but when you’re faced with your greatest fears, they usually end up being not as bad as you imagined.
I’ve been able to grow quite a bit by taking (manageable) risks.
I want people to know that risks aren’t scary. And that being in an interracial and intercultural relationship is fun. And that living abroad at least once in your life can be incredibly personally rewarding.