Review: ‘Squeaky Wheels: Travels with My Daughter by Train, Plane, Metro, Tuk-tuk and Wheelchair’ by Suzanne Kamata

Much like the Eiffel Tower’s dazzling light show, Paris glimmers in the eyes of many, with countless people dreaming of travel to this alluring French capital. Author Suzanne Kamata did, inspiring her to see Paris as a young woman, and now her teenage daughter Lilia wants her turn (“a girl after her mother’s heart” as Kamata writes).

But Kamata’s memoir Squeaky Wheels, built loosely around how the two eventually realize a once-in-a-lifetime mother-daughter trip to Paris, along with other travels, offers a very unique perspective. It’s one that goes beyond how Kamata is a white American woman married to a Japanese man, raising their bicultural and biracial children in Japan.

That’s because Lilia is deaf, so she communicates primarily through Japanese Sign Language, and also has cerebral palsy, which in her case has meant largely navigating the world in a wheelchair.

Like many mothers, Kamata has a fierce devotion to her daughter and she’s resolved to help Lilia realize her rosy-eyed dreams as much as possible, including travel. Getting there, however, means negotiating the less-than-ideal and even discriminatory accessibility issues that invariably arise when you have a wheelchair and sign language involved.

Kamata’s determination and sense of adventure, combined with honesty, vulnerability and a good dose of humor, make for an endearing narrator. And Lilia’s bright disposition (“She exclaims rapturously over butterflies, heart-shaped pancakes and the first cherry blossoms of spring”) shines throughout the pages. With the two together, Squeaky Wheels delivers a captivating journey that’s also eye-opening, inspiring and a delight to read.

In addition, Kamata effortlessly weaves into the narrative a fascinating look at Japan and Japanese culture, including as it relates to biracial/bicultural families as well as people with disabilities. Artsy readers will also enjoy the visits to museums, from Yayoi Kusama’s polka dot wonders to classic works by Van Gogh, Da Vinci and Rodin. And with France and Paris in starring roles, Squeaky Wheels serves up an irresistible story for anyone besotted with the City of Lights and its nation.

To learn more about Suzanne Kamata and Squeaky Wheels, you can visit Suzanne’s website. Squeaky Wheels is available on Amazon, where your purchases help support this blog.

When East Marries West: When One Wedding Won’t Do

Many years ago, fellow blogger Tianjin Shannon, an American woman, penned a post titled The Most Married, where she wrote about her third wedding ceremony with her husband Haike, from Hunan, China. Yes, you read that right — third. (And in fact, she would go on to later hold a fourth ceremony!)

While Shannon might indeed claim the title of “Most Married,” in fact, many other intercultural and/or international couples straddling the East-West divide have also held more than one wedding ceremony.

Tying the knot across cultures and borders makes it that much harder to have all your family and friends together at one single ceremony. Travel costs and even securing visas can already get in the way of well-intended supporters who would love to watch a couple say “I do”. Plus, every country and culture has its own distinctive wedding customs and foods, often difficult to replicate outside those borders. And what about those of us who, say, grow up with a dream of getting married at home?

For all of these reasons — and more — many East-West couples prefer to organize at least two wedding ceremonies (and yes, sometimes even three or four)!

Whether you’re looking for wedding inspiration, a way to remember your big day, or a delightful diversion, here are two different examples of how East-West couples have chosen to walk down the aisle more than once.

Traditional ceremonies in the East (Japan) and West (Italy) – My Japan Slice

The blogger at My Japan Slice represents the most traditional choice for those who decide to have two wedding ceremonies. Their reasoning would surely resonate with most East-West couples:

Since the beginning we planned a double ceremony. We are both interested in each other’s culture and we like to learn and experience about it so having our wedding ceremony only in one of our countries would have meant missing something.  Besides, we both have aging grandparents who could not travel. A double ceremony, one in Japan and one in Italy, was the perfect solution.

They set their dates in winter with Dec 23, 2016 for the Japanese ceremony in Kyoto:

My husband’s family lives in Kyoto so it was natural for us to get married there. We choose Kamigamo Shrine because the Kamo river had played an important role in our story being the place where we strolled hand in hand for the first time on our first date. Again we were lucky because the shrine was already almost fully booked and we got the 12.45 slot.

For the Italian ceremony, they chose Jan 5, 2017, at a church in a small mountain village in the northern Alps:

I choose this village because it is the place where the priest who celebrated my parent’s wedding lives. He moved there some years ago and we kept in contact. He was overjoyed when I asked him to celebrate our wedding on January 5th 2017. He also helped us a lot because, since my husband is not Catholic, we needed to obtain a special permission from the Catholic Church in order to get married with a Catholic ceremony. My priest is so dear!

The couple also decided to sandwich their honeymoon between the two ceremonies (they went to Norway — Northern Lights and dog sledding!).

This blogger went on to chronicle every moment of each wedding ceremony, with lots of Instagram-worthy photos. In Kyoto, the couple organized the day a little differently to reflect their cultures and also accomodate guests from outside Japan. Here’s my favorite quote about their ceremony:

The ceremony lasts twenty minutes and ends with further blessings and prayers. We leave the wedding hall and walk to the inner shrine where we pay our respect to the god. In the meantime it has stopped raining. My father in law says it is the hare hito hare onna power. Hare hito hare onnameans sunny guy, sunny girl, my father in law likes to say that when me and my husband are together the sun always shines. The funny thing is that it is actually true almost all the time, we have always been lucky with the weather.

And here’s a highlight from their wedding in Italy:

We didn’t exchange rings during the Japanese ceremony because we choose to do it during the Italian ceremony since the rings exchange originally is a western tradition. Our wedding rings are a gift from my parents and our Best Men. Usually inside the wedding rings there is the wedding date engraved but we got married twice and we didn’t want to choose one date over the other so we decided instead to write 二人三脚 (nininsankyaku) that means “two people, three legs”. It is a Japanese proverb and it describes two people cooperating and sharing responsibility to achieve a common goal. To us it is the perfect synthesis of what being a married couple means.

You can read both posts for a vicarious look into the ceremonies in Japan and Italy (and to ooh and ahh over the photos)!

East-West ceremonies in each country (China, USA) – Adventures in Asia

If you’re an East-West couple, then shouldn’t each ceremony truly reflect your cross-cultural relationship? That’s the kind of reasoning that Katie at Adventures in Asia shared about her decision to have a Chinese-style wedding in the US and an American-style wedding in China:

My dream was to have an American-style wedding in China and a Chinese-style wedding in America. I thought this sounded fun and interesting! Until our wedding, none of my family had visited China before, so giving my relatives and friends a taste of my relationship and my life in China at our wedding in the U.S. was very important to me. I felt that doing cross-cultural weddings would express our cross-cultural identity as a couple. Doing our weddings this way would mean sacrificing certain customs – that is, I couldn’t have a truly and completely American wedding in China on a reasonable budget, and we couldn’t do all of the Chinese family traditions in America. That’s reality.

So how did they pull it off?

Here’s a quote about what Katie and her husband did for their Chinese-style wedding in the US:

The Chinese wedding dinner usually includes a Western-style ceremony inserted halfway, complete with the bride dramatically entering in a white dress and the exchanging of rings and simple vows. This is sandwiched between the Chinese traditions of the bride and groom welcoming all the guests at the door (and receiving all the red envelopes of cash money), and the couple toasting each table of guests (after the bride has changed into a red dress or qipao). There is also usually entirely too much food stacked onto the tables, the parents give speeches, someone sings a song or performs a dance, and an emcee entertains with games and prizes. We tried to replicate this dinner at our States-side wedding and got decently close!

She also shared some of the pros and cons of doing an American-style wedding in China, including the following:

+We had our ceremony at the church where we attend, and as such we did not pay anything for the building, the officiant, the pianist, or the sound guy. In China, it’s all about who you know!

-Finding an officiant to marry us was surprisingly difficult. Most of the people we asked weren’t too keen on the attention of a Chinese-foreigner wedding. (For Chinese, the emcee usually narrates the vows, if they do them.) I wrote the entire script for the wedding myself (mostly inspired by traditional Western ceremony I found online), and my husband translated it.

+We were able to hire a company to handle the reception decorations (as mentioned previously). Our dining tables were outdoors with candles and dangling lights in the trees and dancing under the stars! This definitely would have been outside our budget in the U.S.

-Finding everything from candles to the flower girl basket in white, not red, was a constant struggle, but possible!

I recommend reading Katie’s entire blog post, which details everything from some of the initial challenges to their East-West engagements and both of the ceremonies.

For East-West couples who are considering two wedding ceremonies, what do you think is the best solution?

9 Awesome Olympic Moments from Asian Figure Skaters Around the World

If there’s one thing I love about the Winter Olympics, it’s figure skating. And at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Asian figure skaters from around the world have delivered some incredible Olympic moments in figure skating, even making and breaking records.

Here are 9 awesome Olympic moments from Asian figure skaters from around the world:

Vincent Zhou becomes first to land quadruple lutz at the Olympics

While American figure skater Vincent Zhou ultimately ended up in sixth place, he created a golden moment at the Olympics with his pioneering quadruple lutz, becoming the first person to complete the jump at the Games.

Boyang Jin pulls off record fourth-place performance for China

Never mind that Chinese figure skater Boyang Jin came in fourth place, just shy of a medal. He’s now beloved in China for becoming the country’s highest-ranked Olympic athlete in men’s figure skating. Besides, his choice of Star Wars music won plenty of applause from audiences, so maybe the force will be with him next time around.

Nathan Chen lands a record six quadruple jumps in his free program

While American figure skater Nathan Chen couldn’t bring home a medal in men’s figure skating, he stunned audiences by landing a record six quadruple jumps during his free program, with a score that even topped Yuzuru Hanyu’s free skating performance. Wow! He’s proven he’s worthy of a medal, and at 18 he still has Olympic chances ahead of him.

Mirai Nagasu thrills as first American woman to nail a triple axel

Despite her inconsistency on the ice, Mirai Nagasu still delivered one of the most thrilling moments of the Olympic Games when she successfully landed a triple axel during the ladies free skating event in the team figure skating competition — a first for American women. Mirai Nagasu also became the third woman to do so in any competition after Tonya Harding and Kimmie Meissner, and her performance helped America walk away with a team bronze.

Alex Shibutani and Maia Shibutani become first ice dancers of Asian descent to receive Olympic medals

American ice dancers Alex Shibutani and Maia Shibutani (the “Shib Sibs”) didn’t just wow audiences with stunning performances in ice dancing. They also made history as the first ice dancers of Asian decent to win Olympic medals — a bronze as part of team USA and a bronze in ice dancing. Alex Shibutani also shared an inspiring thread of tweets, noting “Our differences are what make us unique.”

China’s silver medalists Han Cong and Sui Wenjing dazzle with near-perfect short program

While this duo ultimately took the silver in figure skating pairs, Chinese figure skaters Han Cong and Sui Wenjing will be remembered for a powerful short program performance — one that judges considered the second strongest the world has ever witnessed.

“Pocket rocket” Shoma Uno delivers silver for Japan

Though Japanese figure skater Shoma Uno was invariably overshadowed by Olympic champion and fellow compatriot Yuzuru Hanyu, Uno — also known as the “pocket rocket” for his superlative jumping skills — secured a silver medal in his first Olympic appearance, allowing Japan to occupy two positions on the podium.

Hallelujah! Patrick Chan finally gets Olympic gold through Canada’s team medal

The Canadian figure skater’s song for his free skate program — Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” — turned out to be apropos. After years of chasing Olympic gold, Patrick Chan finally secured the medal through Canada’s team win in figure skating.

Yuzuru Hanyu clinches a second consecutive Olympic gold in men’s figure skating — and gets showered with Winnie-the-Pooh bears

Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu’s consummate run in the men’s figure skating competition earned him a second consecutive Olympic gold, and legendary status as the second person to accomplish this after Dick Button. Some are calling him the greatest figure skater of all time. But he’s also famous for his love of Winnie the Pooh, leading his entourage of fans to rain down stuffed Pooh bears after his performances. It’s quite a phenomenon to behold at the Olympics, much like Yuzuru Hanyu himself.

What are your favorite Olympic moments?

Interview with Tracy Slater on Her New Memoir “The Good Shufu”

The Good Shufu

Some of the people who knew me growing up still can’t believe that I ended up in China as a writer and blogger who is also fluent in Chinese. I spent most of my adolescence and college preparing for a career in field biology. Nothing about my life pointed straight to China. But here I am.

When I look back on how much I’ve evolved and grown here – how I’ve carved out a totally different life that, in the end, fits me perfectly – I’m grateful for having been lost after graduation and making that last-minute decision to come to China. I’m grateful that I’ve created a home for myself in this country, right down to finding a wonderful Chinese husband.

Still, my story is nothing compared to what Tracy Slater details in her new memoir, The Good Shufu.

The Good Shufu

An independent feminist, Tracy was living her dream in Boston. She was an academic with a PhD in English teaching writing to graduate students, just as she always wanted. She had a nice apartment of her own in the city. She belonged to a supportive circle of friends who shared her values. And most of all, she resided in the one city she adored most.

Everything was just as it should be.

But then she met Toru, a Japanese salaryman who was one of her students in an EFL program in Asia, and unexpectedly fell deeply in love with him. For the first time, she was willing to step away from her life in Boston to try building a life with him in Japan, where her world is turned completely upside down.

The Good Shufu is a heartfelt story that captures all of the wonder and frustrations of creating a new life abroad with someone you love, and proves how those unexpected detours sometimes lead to more joy than we could ever imagine. It’s one of the best memoirs I’ve picked up in 2015 and I strongly recommend it to everyone reading this blog.

It is my pleasure and honor to introduce you to Tracy Slater and The Good Shufu.

Tracy Slater

Here’s Tracy Slater’s bio from Penguin Random House:

Tracy Slater is the founder of Four Stories, a global literary series in Boston, Osaka, and Tokyo, for which she was awarded the PEN New England’s Friend to Writers Award in 2008. An essay on her bi-continental life was published in Best Women’s Travel Writing 2008, and her writing has appeared in The Boston GlobeBoston MagazineThe Chronicle Review, and the New York Times Motherlode blog.

You can learn more about Tracy Slater at her website and her blog and also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

For those of you who are in Japan or will be heading there soon, why not catch Tracy Slater in person – along with Grace of Texan in Tokyo and Leza Lowitz (author of Here Comes The Sun) – on September 27 for a special Four Stories evening in Tokyo called “Married to the Mob: Love, Travel & Life as a Gaijin Wife”. See this post for more details.

I asked Tracy about everything from the New York Times article that kickstarted the memoir and what drew her to Toru to the close relationship she ended up forming with her father-in-law in Japan.


Your book came about because of a New York Times article you wrote titled “Why I Won’t Adopt.” Could you tell us a little more about how you came to write that article and then how it ended up inspiring an entire memoir?

I was almost 45 and almost at the tail end of 4+ years of fertility treatments and 2 pretty heart-rending pregnancy losses, all undergone in Japan, where I speak very little of the language. I hadn’t written anything—I mean anything—in a few years because of all of this, but then one day, just off the cuff, I sent a pitch to the editor of the New York Times Motherlode blog about the difference between the desire to have a biological child and the desire to be a parent.

She published the piece (although it originally had a less explosive title), and a few days later, an editor at Putnam emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in submitting a memoir proposal. I was shocked! And delighted! And still totally infertile! So while all I wanted to do was crawl under the covers and hide from the world and my twice-daily-in-the-stomach-blood-thinner shots that my clinic in Osaka thought I needed to have any chance of sustaining a pregnancy, I signed up for a course on nonfiction proposal writing through MediaBistro, wrote a proposal and four sample chapters, submitted it to Putnam, and they offered me a deal.

Working on the book turnout out to be a kind of godsend, because it helped me cope with coming to terms with turning 45 and abandoning our medical quest to try to have a child, since virtually any doctor will tell you that after 44, your chances of conceiving with your own egg are basically zero. This experience and my immersion into grief because of it is an issue I write about a little bit towards the end of the memoir. My husband and I were still trying to naturally, but I was pretty convinced it wouldn’t work and that we were never going to meet our baby–although he remained hopeful.

In any case, the book was supposed to end with me turning 45 and my husband and I being in a childless but still very meaningful marriage. Then, six months before I was supposed to turn in the whole manuscript, when I was 45 and a half, I became pregnant–naturally, if you can believe it. (I sometimes still cannot!) Needless to say, the ending of the book had to change. I handed in the final manuscript, and two weeks later, at four months past my 46th birthday, I gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby girl. As I write in the acknowledgements of the book, our daughter gave me a happier ending than I could have ever dared to dream.

Your memoir centers around your relationship with Toru, a Japanese salaryman who you met while teaching English in Japan. Even though you write about only dating white men in your hometown of Boston before meeting Toru, had you ever been attracted to Asian men before?

Well, Ken Watanabe, of course! Otherwise, I’m not totally sure—which may sound like a clop-out but is true. I didn’t marry Toru until I was 39, so I’d be dating for a lot of years and must have, at some point, come across Asian men I was attracted to. I’d never officially dated someone Asian before, though.

Regarding your attraction to Toru, you wrote that “I’d finally fallen in love with a man I actually liked.” Could you talk a little more about what drew you to Toru?

Toru was so different from anyone I’d ever met, in some ways. He’s so calm, mainly, and besides how he looked, it was his calmness that drew me to him immediately. I’m not a calm person at all, and I found his quietness, his repose, really soothing to me. As I write in the book, it felt a little like having had a motor running at too high a speed somewhere inside me all my life, and then with Toru, that motor recalibrated to turn at the right pace. Some of that, I’m sure, was just from the security of being in a lasting relationship, but some of it I believe also comes from the equanimity with which he seems to approach the world.

What was your biggest misconception about Japan and/or Japanese men?

I’m still working out some of my biggest misconceptions about Japan, actually! It’s such a foreign cultural in many ways to my native one, and it’s such a closed society too, even if you’re married into a Japanese family, so there is a lot Im still working out—which provides both frustration and a lot of fascination, for me. (This is a dichotomy I also write about a bit in the book.) I think the biggest thing I’m wondering about and working out now concerns women and power. Japan seems like such an unequal place in terms of gender. Women are vastly underrepresented in positions of power in business and government, for instance. But women do seem to wield a fair amount of power in the home. One thing I was shocked to learn is that women control the “family purse.” Most men hand their earnings over to their wives and their wives parcel out money for the family budget.

We don’t work this way in my family b/c 1) Toru is much better at budgeting than me (I’d probably spend our whole budget on shoes in one week…) and 2) my Japanese isn’t nearly good enough to handle tasks like household bills.

I don’t mind this because I feel that we are quite equal in other ways. Also, Toru is pretty unusual and open-minded, despite his traditional-seeming surface of being a salaryman. After all, he did marry a rather mouthy foreigner!

You’ve written about making friends with other expat women, many of whom have married Japanese men. Have you made close friendships with Japanese women?

I haven’t become close friends with any Japanese women. Friendships here seem very different than in the US, and a few of the Japanese women I’ve become friends with have made me realize that friends usually have much different boundaries here. (I do have expat friends who have made close Japanese friends, so I know this can’t be taken as a blanket statement, but it’s true in my case.) In the U.S., and especially in the Northeast, it’s pretty normal to talk about relatively personal stuff without knowing someone very well (or to write a memoir for strangers to read!). Here, there are usually much stricter divisions between public and private.

Now that I have a toddler, though, I meet a lot more Japanese women through our daughter’s daycare or our neighborhood play-spaces, so I’m starting to spend more time with these new friends. It feels hard sometimes because my Japanese is terrible and most people here speak very limited English, and because the boundaries around friendships seem different, but I’m looking forward to learning more about these Japanese womens’ lives.

One of the most touching things in your story is your relationship with Toru’s father, which deepens over the course of the book. Your closeness to him stands in stark contrast to your strained relationship with your father. Why do you think you were able to form such a close relationship with Toru’s father?

I wouldn’t say my relationship with my own father is strained necessarily, especially now that I’m an adult, but it’s true that he’s much less of a typical “family man” than Toru’s father was, or maybe than the average father is. I don’t think he ever really wanted children, and in his generation, I don’t think not having them was much of an option. He’s not an overly involved father, and wasn’t when we were little, but he is a very nice man, and a very funny man, and in his own way I know he loves me and his other children, so I try to remember the limited choices he had as a young man that people in my generation didn’t face.

Toru’s father, though, seemed to have a much less complicated relationship to fatherhood, and there was something in that I found very soothing and wonderful. On the other hand, he didn’t speak much English, and I don’t speak much Japanese, so there as a sort of forced simplicity to our relationship that, perhaps paradoxically, I also found very soothing. I write about this in the book, both in relationship to Toru’s father and to my bond with Toru as well. The idea that I don’t speak the same language fluently—or near fluently—with my husband or his family seems to be one of the hardest for others to accept about my book. But I’ve found it very unexpectedly true, in my case at least, that when you are forced to keep communication to a simpler level, sometimes the bond becomes more pure, less complicated. Especially for someone like me, for whom, analyzing everything sometimes gets me into trouble.

In truth, maybe Toru’s father had a more complicated relationship to fatherhood than I ever knew, but it wasn’t something we discussed, because we didn’t discuss a lot. We just took care of each other—he took care of me when I first moved to Japan and I took care of him when he began to die—and there was a quiet and loveliness in that. It may seems strange—and it was to me at first—but it’s very true, and it’s a truth I feel grateful to have learned and know I wouldn’t have learned had I married someone from my own culture or whose native language was the same as mine.

You’ve always been a fiercely independent feminist who swore she would never be a housewife. Yet as you spend more time in Japan, your life becomes domestic in ways that never would have happened to you in Boston, such as how you prepare dinners for Toru and his father (and enjoy it). Could you talk a little about why you felt more comfortable doing cooking and other housework in a foreign country and culture?

Here’s another paradox I never expected and that some people find surprising (as even I still do sometimes when I stop to think about it!). But the fact that my life as a “shufu” or housewife, or at least my life doing housewifely things, takes place in Japan, in a world so different from my own native one, gives me a sort of remove from what might otherwise be threatening to me, because it feels so circumscribed, so contained, especially by geographical and cultural distances from my native “home.”

Especially with Toru’s father, cooking dinner and serving him tea and bowing to him and cleaning up afterwards, it all felt like a role I was playing out of respect for someone very dear to me, but someone who nevertheless came from a very different place than the one that “made” me. I even feel this sometimes still with Toru (minus the bowing, of course—that would be too much for me, to bow to my own husband, although I do call him “the shogun” sometimes…)

It’s a kind of compartmentalization that perhaps some might question. But it works. And I think all marriages, all close relationships really, work in part because of a certain level of compartmentalization. But even if this isn’t the case, and it’s just me who has welcomed a certain level of compartmentalization into my own home and marriage, I’m ok with that. Because as I said, it works. And i’m very grateful and happy to be in a marriage that works–as well as in one that I know has the strength to change if need be.

What do you hope people come away with after reading your story?

Mostly, I hope people just feel like they’ve gotten caught up in a great love and travel story, because that’s the part of reading I love the best, the getting-caught-up-in-the-story part. And I’d be really happy if I knew I could give that to other people from my own writing.

But on a deeper level, I hope people who are facing paths very different from the ones they ever planned on following, find some level of comfort or hope in my story, some level of assurance that sometimes we can give up or swerve off of our strict plan and end up right where we are supposed to be.

Marrying a Japanese salaryman, moving to his country, giving up much of my life as a fiercely independent Boston academic, and becoming essentially an illiterate housewife in Japan—these were all pretty much diametrically opposed to what I’d always planned and even hoped for myself. But this is the path where I found the greatest love, security, and even sense of rootedness I’ve ever known.

As I write in the book, I learned that you can’t properly find yourself until you let yourself get lost in the first place. I spent much of my adult life, before Toru, doing everything I could not to get lost. And in the end, getting lost was what I needed most in order to find the life that fit me the best (or a life that fits me really well, at least). This is a lesson I’m still relying on, actually, as I navigate new motherhood i my late 40s in a foreign land! But more on that in the next book, I hope!


Thank you so much to Tracy Slater for this interview! The Good Shufu is available at, where your purchase helps support this site. You can learn more about Tracy Slater at her website and her blog and also follow her on Twitter and Facebook. And if you’d like to meet her in person in Japan, don’t miss her special Four Stories event in Tokyo on September 27.

Interview with Yuta Aoki on “There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Mixed Dating in Japan”

Exploring cultural differences in my intercultural and international marriage has long been at the heart of my blog. Which is why, when Yuta Aoki contacted me about his new book exploring cultural differences for mixed couples dating in Japan, I jumped at the chance to do an interview.


There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Mixed Dating in Japan profiles 15 different people (spanning eight nationalities, both straight and LGBT) dating across racial and cultural borders in the country. Yuta’s deeply personal interviews touch some of the most private and intimate details of their love lives. He follows up each of the stories with a discussion of the cultural dynamics going on between the couples, which makes the book even more valuable. Whether you’re curious about intercultural dating in Japan or already in an intercultural relationship, you’ll find this a fascinating addition to your library.

I’m excited to introduce you to Yuta Aoki and There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Mixed Dating in Japan through this interview.


Here’s Yuta’s bio from

Yuta Aoki is a Japanese author, blogger, and YouTuber. He writes about Japanese culture, multi-cultural communication, and dating.

He is a chronic traveler. He has been to more than thirty countries, from Eastern Europe all the way across to Southeast Asia. He enjoys talking to local people and listening to their stories. His desire to share the best of these stories inspired him to write There’s Something I Want to Tell You – True Stories of Mixed Dating in Japan.

He dates internationally, although he’s slightly worried that he might end up spending more time writing about dating than actually doing it.

He was born and raised in Japan.

You can learn more about Yuta at his blog at

I asked Yuta about everything from how he was able to get people to speak so candidly about their love lives, to his response to people who think culture doesn’t matter in intercultural dating:


Tell us about the inspiration for writing this book.

One huge inspiration was my friend’s story about how she met her husband. She is African-American and her husband is Japanese.

One day, she was walking down the street of Gunma, a Japanese prefecture where she liked at that time. A car approached behind her and pulled up.

‘What’s up?’ the man inside shouted in English. He was Japanese.

‘Uh… good evening,’ she replied in Japanese, hesitantly.

He smiled, wanting to continue the conversation.

But she wasn’t up for a random chat. It was already getting dark. The sun was going down. She walked away.

She would have forgotten him, had it not been for the birthday party she was going to the same night. The party took place on the 2nd floor of a building where there were several bars.

During the party, her phone rang. It was her friend.

‘Hey, can you come downstairs? There’s someone I want to introduce you to,’ her friend said.

When she came downstairs, she noticed a familiar-looking man.

‘Hey, you are the guy from the car!’ she exclaimed.

That was how she met her husband.

This story made me realize that people had unusual dating stories. I also remembered a friend who had made countless crazy boyfriend, one of which had run 40 kilometers (25 miles) just to see her. I wanted to know more.

You share a variety of stories about dating in Japan from people of different nationalities, racial backgrounds and sexual orientations — many of them diving into very intimate and personal details about the relationships. How did you find the people to interview for this book? And how were you able to get them to speak so candidly on the record?

Finding people to interview was quite easy as I already knew very diverse people who lived in Japan. All I had to do was ask around. Then some of them introduced me to other people.

I think the reason why those people opened up was that most people actually want to talk about their relationships. Often, we are afraid of being judged. But once someone stars actively listening to you, you can’t stop.

I think being interviewed is a very interesting experience. I encourage you to try it if there’s an opportunity. If you have an interesting dating story, contact me!

What’s your favorite story from this book and why?

Every time people ask that question, I come up with a different answer because there are so many interesting stories.

There’s an American girl called Lily, and I loved her quasi-relationship with a dorky, smart, obsessive Japanese guy called Aiba-kun. Lily wants to be his friends because he’s a smart guy and likes Japanese literature which she likes a lot. He’s also one of few friends Lily made back in university in Nagoya. But Aiba-kun doesn’t seem to be able to shake off his romantic obsession. There have been countless misunderstandings—both personal and cultural—between them.

Once, Lily decided to go on a “date” with him. She knew he hadn’t dated any girl before, so she wanted him to experience what it was like to go out with a girl. She was always clear that she wasn’t interested in him, but it was difficult for him to hold back his feelings.

Lily had to go back to the States, but they continued exchange emails even though she found it difficult to write long messages in Japanese.

Eventually, she came back to Japan and started living in Tokyo, quite far from Nagoya. One day, Aiba-kun showed up in her house unnoticed. It was an awkward meeting. Lily had to take him to a nearby café and convince him to leave because he kept insisting on dating her.

But their (sort of) friendship still continues. Lily thinks that once he gets over his infatuation, they can be really good friends.

I like this story because it has several layers of misunderstanding. On one hand, there is American dating culture that tends to be more casual and relaxed. On the other hand, there is an awkward boy who is not experienced with women. I find their friendship kind of cute.

Was there anything you learned about dating in Japan in the process of writing this book that surprised or shocked you?

It’s not so much surprising as curious, but so many Japanese people in those stories are, well, Japanese, in their way of thinking.

Western women who date Japanese men often find it confusing that Japanese men don’t always express their emotions and thoughts verbally.

Michelle, a Finnish girl, says her Japanese ex-boyfriend didn’t want to talk about bad things because he didn’t like confrontations. He wasn’t a talkative guy, and when they went on a date, he didn’t have much to say. She wanted him to talk more.

Kala, another African-American woman, talks about the ‘automatic translator’ that she invented to decode her Japanese husband’s non-verbal messages. When her husband is hungry, he comes around the kitchen, where she is cooking, and asks, ‘Do you need any help?’ But Kala knows he is not really offering help. It’s his indirect way of saying, ‘I’m hungry.’

Lack of verbal, direct communication is just one thing. There are a lot of recurring themes about dating in Japan: mind-reading, passiveness in bed, accommodating personalities, private nature of dating, etc. It was interesting to re-discovering my own culture.

What would you say to people who claim that culture doesn’t matter in intercultural dating?

I think what they really mean is that cultural differences can be overcome, which isn’t false.

But some people overlook or simply don’t notice cultural differences and that can be a problem. I remember Andre, a Jamaican man, who dated a Japanese girl who had a completely different communication style.

When she wanted to stop seeing him, she simply stopped answering his text, which confused Andre a great deal because he needed a verbal, explicit explanation. The more he pushed, the more irritated she was. It wasn’t necessarily his fault because from her part, she was unable to communicate with him effectively. Instead, she just became angry and passive-aggressive, which confused him even more.

It turned out their relationship had been fraught with misunderstandings, which neither of them fully understood. I think a little understanding of cultural and personal differences would have made their relationship much more pleasant.

What do you hope people come away with after reading your book?

I hope that people come away with a good understanding of what to expect in dating in Japan. At the same time, I hope people notice that there are many Japanese people who don’t fit the Japanese stereotypes. I included very diverse people in my book, so I you can understand dating in Japan from different angles.


Thanks so much to Yuta Aoki for this interview! Learn more about Yuta at his blog at You can find There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Mixed Dating on, where your purchase helps support this blog.

Things I’ve Learned from My Chinese Husband: Asia Is Not That United

(Photo by U.S. Army via
(Photo by U.S. Army via

Years ago, a fellow blogger with a Chinese husband wrote to me, “I follow some blogs by Western women married to Japanese men. You’d probably like them too.” It was the kind of friendly recommendation that you often get from other bloggers – except it came with a warning. “But shhh, don’t tell our husbands!”

Why did a suggestion to read someone’s blog suddenly get slapped with a cautionary note, as if all blogs written by Western women with Japanese husbands might be hazardous to our health? Simple. Like most Chinese men, her husband didn’t care for Japan – and neither did mine:

“Japan? I never want to visit Japan,”[John] hissed. “I’m anti-Japanese.” He launched into a brief history of Japanese aggression in China, from the first territorial swipes at China during the Sino-Japanese War, to the Second Sino-Japanese War, with Holocaust-like atrocities that Japan had yet to acknowledge publicly.

Yes, my marriage to a Chinese man has taught me a valuable lesson — that Asia is not the great, united, happy family (as some Americans might believe). That “Asians” don’t necessarily like being lumped together.

I didn’t realize the extent to our cultural amnesia about the true state of affairs in Asia until I met and married a man from China. A self-proclaimed “military fan” whose interest went deeper than tanks, submarines and aircraft carriers. A husband who schooled me in the many disagreements, wars and massacres between China and its Asian neighbors.

I’ve learned that Japan has yet to fully acknowledge the “Asian holocaust” it perpetrated against China and others, from the gruesome horrors of Unit 731 to the “comfort women” forced into prostitution. I’ve learned of the skirmish between Vietnam and China that led to a short war. I’ve learned about the border disputes between China and India, serious enough to lead my Lonely Planet guidebooks to print “The external boundaries of India on this map have not been authenticated and may not be correct” on their maps. And now I’ve learned everything there is to know about the emerging military alliance between Japan and the Philippines, especially how it affects China.

In America, we speak of “Asian” cuisine like it’s all the same – as if you could substitute one country for another – never realizing the countries here wouldn’t agree. That the Thai restaurant down the street from my father’s home serving Chinese delicacies alongside a sushi menu would look totally blasphemous to people in China, who still haven’t forgotten what Japan did to them.

I’m reminded of what Alex Tizon wrote about in his memoir Big Little Man:

As a journalist in my twenties and thirties, I wrote extensively about these [Asian] communities. No surprise, I found each group exuberantly complex and instinct, and perceiving themselves as separate from — and often antipathetic to — other Asian ethnicities. The parents and grandparents clove to their countrymen, the Vietnamese with other Vietnamese, Koreans with Koreans, Cambodians with Cambodians.

It was the children and grandchildren, the ones growing up in America, who would find — or be coerced into — common ground. Years of checking “Asian” on countless forms, of being subjected to the same epithets and compliments, of living in the same neighborhoods and housing projects, and sharing similar challenges and aspirations — the most important to become Americanized — all of these would compel young Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Filipinos to accept their belonging to the category known as Asians.

Perhaps the most unifying force was the perception that everyday Americans saw them as the same, and what made them the same was their “racial uniform,” to use a term coined by sociologist Robert Park. The uniform was thought to consist of a certain eye and nose shape, hair and skin color, and body type, usually shorter and skinnier — identifiers of the Yellow or Mongoloid or Oriental and finally now the Asian race.

…We Asians were now in the same boat. Our uniform did not lie. Like Lisa said on the Grand Concourse: Japanese, Chinese, Filipino — same thing!

Yep, this is what happened in America – we just clustered everything from Asia together, and assumed that it was one great unified map. Never realizing that it was one great lie.

Asia isn’t that great, united land where countries always peacefully coexist. But that doesn’t mean friendships don’t happen to cross unlikely borders. After all, even if he still dislikes Japan’s government, my husband has actually changed his feelings towards the country as a whole. He has Japanese friends. Still, there is one thing though:

“So, does this mean I can buy you a Toshiba someday?” I prodded him, with a grin.

“Not really. I still have standards, you know,” he smiled.

Hmmm. Best not to tell his new Japanese friends.

Interview with Leza Lowitz on Her Memoir “Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras”

Here Comes the Sun by Leza Lowitz

China taught me how to love.

This might sound like a crazy thing to write, but it’s true on many levels. It was here in China that I first experienced what it was really like to love another person, to depend on them and know that they would be there for you. It was also in China that I learned to gradually love myself and, by extension, learned to open my heart to the possibility of writing incredibly personal stuff about my life. So yes, when I get right down to it, my journey here in this country has been about love.

That’s why I found Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras, a new memoir by Leza Lowitz, so touching.

Here Comes the Sun by Leza Lowitz

Leza arrived in Japan years ago in search of adventure, never expecting the country would teach her how to open her heart and soul up to new possibilities. Like marriage and yoga, most of all, motherhood itself. For Leza, who grew up watching her mother’s unhappy marriage collapse before her, it was hard to imagine any happiness from saying “I do” to someone or even having children. Yet living in Japan gradually helps her break through the barriers within herself to heal from the past and courageously move into a new future (a future that includes opening her own successful yoga studio in Tokyo). Leza invites you along for this emotional ride, sharing her story with honesty and lots of heart – a story that follows her marriage to a Japanese man named Shogo and, later, her quest to become a mother in Japan.

For anyone who has ever struggled or felt “stuck” in life, Here Comes the Sun stands as a reminder that you’re not alone – and that sometimes, miracles really can happen in the most delightfully unexpected ways.

I’m honored to introduce you to Leza Lowitz and Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras through this interview.

Leza Lowitz
Leza Lowitz

Here’s Leza Lowitz’s official bio from Stone Bridge Press:

Leza Lowitz lives in Tokyo with her husband, the writer Shogo Oketani, and their ten-year-old son. She has edited and published over seventeen books, many on Japan, and has run her own yoga studio in Tokyo for a decade. She travels throughout Japan and Asia to teach yoga and write. Her debut YA novel, Jet Black and the Ninja Wind, won the 2013–2014 Asian/Pacific American Award in Young Adult Literature.

You can learn more about Leza at her author website and read an excerpt from her memoir at Stone Bridge Press.

I asked Leza about everything from the book’s fascinating subtitle to her husband’s take on the story and also her thoughts on marriage and family.


What inspired you to write this memoir?

Joan Didion, one of my favorite writers (whom I mention in the memoir), famously said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” I wrote this book to write my way out of the struggle, to put things in perspective, and to let it go.

It’s been a long process. I’ve always kept a journal; writing has been my lifesaver. During my infertility struggles, I journaled. With the advent of the Internet and the explosion of blogs, I soon found many other women in the same boat. Their stories helped me find hope and gave me a community, which was also a lifesaver.

After we adopted our son, I published an excerpt from this memoir-in-progress in Shambhala Sun in 2010. The response was so positive that I decided to try to write a book. This was not as easy as it might sound–I was a big “starter,” and not a big “finisher.” Subsequent excerpts appeared in Best Buddhist Writing 2011, Yoga Journal, the New York Times Motherlode blog, and the popular blog Manifest-Station, which kept me on track. Women wrote to thank me for sharing my story, and to share their stories with me, and this gave me the courage to keep going.

Your book is subtitled “A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras.” Could you talk about why you chose this unique structure for your memoir?

I was introduced to meditation as a teenager, as I explain in this memoir, and mindfulness helped me deal with the violence around me. Yoga came into my life a decade later, and it has been a huge factor in helping me overcome many of the things that held me back in life. I became a yoga teacher in 2000, and opened my own yoga studio in Tokyo in 2004. I continued writing, marrying my spiritual quest with my literary one. I also moved abroad and married a Japanese man. My life was complicated, as I am sure the reader will understand.

I found that since outer life was so chaotic, I was drawn to poetic forms and structures like haiku and sonnets, which I felt could somehow help to “contain” the chaos. Content-wise, all of my books deal with notions of finding home. As an Expat, this issue was particularly important to me. We all long to belong somewhere.

So, chaos and structure=balance.

One of my first books, Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By deals with finding a home in one’s body and takes the Eight Limbs of Yoga as its structure. Yoga Heart: Lines on the Six Perfections, uses the Buddha’s six-tiered blueprint for happiness to chart the path to finding a home in the spirit. In Here Comes the Sun, I’ve taken the chakra system as a metaphor and roadmap for personal growth and transformation, charting the movement from “me” to “we.”

In the yogic system, there are seven major wheels of energy–or chakras–in the human body. The eighth chakra is believed to be our auric field. Each chakra has a particular function. Put simply, when we practice yoga, we awaken energy at the base of the spine, which rises up the central channel and unblocks the chakras along the way. Ultimately, female and male energy meet, and we become awakened, unified, whole.

Some chapters of the memoir deal directly with a particular chakra and the yogic practices that helped to balance it. In others, the work is more symbolic.

Throughout the process of becoming a mother, I had to ask myself questions many mothers never consider, like why did I want to be a mother?  This question led me on a pilgrimage from the U.S. to Japan and to India. It led me to yoga, to Buddhism, and back to my birth religion of Judaism. Across inner and outer oceans, the chakras helped me stitch the crazy quilt of life into a pattern that made sense. They helped me to find myself, and ultimately, to find my family.

You explore many painful experiences in your story — from witnessing the breakdown of your parents’ marriage as a child to struggling with infertility. How did it feel to revisit these painful memories in writing the book?

Life is full of pain, and it’s full of joy, and the two often inform each other. If we don’t write authentically from our own deepest experience, the writing won’t have power. So, while it was painful to revist some of those past experiences, writing helped me to overcome them and let them go. Of all the books I’ve written, Here Comes The Sun was definitely the most difficult to write, being so personal. But going through the pain was necessary to be able to come out to joy on the other side. Here Comes The Sun is ultimately about forgiveness, about finding a home in each other and in the world, making choices and owning them. It’s about loving our deeply flawed selves, and loving the lives we have–and make.

Your husband Shogo is one of the most important characters in your memoir. How does he feel about your memoir and his role in helping to open up your heart?

If you read the memoir, you can see that Shogo is very much a person who doesn’t waste energy on things that aren’t worth it. I’ve learned a lot from him. He has always been completely supportive of my experiences, and was totally supportive of me writing this memoir. In fact I think he wanted me to write it, to let the past go and move on! He’s the reason I am who I am today, because he just quietly gets the work done from behind the scenes. He’s incredibly wise, disciplined, and patient. I want to be like him in my next life.

You detail your experience with international adoption in your memoir, something that turns out to be challenging for you and your husband. What would you say to readers out there considering international adoption?

Since we live abroad, we had no choice but to pursue an international adoption. Actually, since we adopted in Japan and live in Japan, it was not really an “international adoption.” But, to anyone considering adoption, I would say do your research, talk to others who have done it, and make sure you are 100% in it for the long haul. Family is family.

So, if you are contemplating adoption, consider what the psychic Dietmar says in my book: “Think of so many women who give birth but have no real heart connection to their children. You see, it’s not always about giving birth from your body.”

Then he says, ”…this child is not going to come from your womb. But it will come from your heart. Which is more important?”   The answer is clear. Keep cracking open your heart.

The idea of marriage and family — and whether it can wait — is one of the themes in your memoir. After everything that you’ve experienced, how do you feel about it now?

I think everyone has their own path, their own journey. This has been mine. All the struggles have made the triumphs all the more sweet, and to be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. As the saying goes, “Smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors.” I feel very blessed to have learned the lessons I needed to learn, and to have the beautiful family I now have.

What do you hope readers take away from your story?

If you have a dream, listen to it. The dream is yours for a reason. Do whatever it takes to make it happen. Start now. Stop at nothing to make it come true. And then help others make their dreams come true in whatever way you can.


Thanks so much to Leza Lowitz for doing this interview about Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras. You can learn more about Leza at her author website and read an excerpt from her memoir at Stone Bridge Press. Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras is available on, where your purchase helps support this blog.

Interview with Texan in Tokyo on “My Japanese Husband (Still) Thinks I’m Crazy”

Grace Mineta of Texan in Tokyo has once again wowed us with her delightful comics about navigating life in Japan as the white Texan wife of a Japanese man – this time with her latest book My Japanese Husband (Still) Thinks I’m Crazy.

My Japanese Husband (Still) Thinks I'm Crazy_

As I’ve written before, I’m a big fan of the popular Texan in Tokyo blog. Her posts and comics inspired by her daily life in Japan are at once charming, insightful and funny, capturing the joys and frustrations of what it’s like to be an expat. If you love what she’s publishing on Texan in Tokyo, you’ll definitely want to pick up My Japanese Husband (Still) Thinks I’m Crazy (not to mention her first book, My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy).

Grace and Ryosuke Mineta

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 previously interviewed Grace about her first book My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy and am thrilled to feature her latest book My Japanese Husband (Still) Thinks I’m Crazy through this interview!


What inspired you to write this second book?

It’s not so much that I set out to write another book – I just kept drawing comics for my blog and before I knew it, I had enough comics for another book! I really enjoy drawing comics and I’m thrilled that so many people want to read them.

I had to keep that in mind when I was going through all the stress of formatting the book. I like to say that I have no problem writing the comics, but getting them “print ready” is surprisingly difficult.

Texan in Tokyo comics

The comics cover your life with Ryosuke in Japan over the course of the year, with articles interspersed throughout that expound upon Japanese culture or provide some insight into international and interracial relationships. Why did you decide to structure the book like this?

Some of my blog readers love my comics and dislike my “regular blog posts.” Some love my “regular blog posts” but dislike my comics. Most seem to like both pretty equally, though, so I figured why not?

I started my blog back in 2012 because I wanted to help people. Some of my first couple blog posts were “how to pay your utility bills in Japan” and “how to use a coin locker laundry place in Japan.” Of course, I also write personal musings, but my main goal has always been to help (and entertain) people. I wanted my book to be an accurate representation of my blog.

You just came out with your first book in the middle of November and only three months later you released your second book, which is extraordinarily fast! What’s your secret for being so productive?

When you say it like that, it does kind of sound like I have some sort of super-secret method for staying on track. Sadly, I don’t. While my first book did come out in November of 2014, the final draft of the book was ready by early September of 2014. I had the final draft for my second book finished in early February of 2015.

So really, I had a bit over 5 months between books.

I also legitimately enjoy the work I do. I love drawing comics, I love blogging, and I somewhat enjoy marketing. It’s easy to stay motivated when the work excites you, I think.

Texan in Tokyo comic about the telephone

People have had a huge response to your work so far, including this second book. Could you give us an example of some of the positive comments you consistently hear from fans?

I’m always excited when people relate to my comics. That’s all I really want, I guess. I touch on a variety of subjects, from being a newlywed to working from home. A lot of my comics also talk about what it’s like living in a foreign country. Or what it is like to struggle with anxiety.

It’s kind of nice to know that people from all walks of life, with different ages, experiences, and stories can find something relatable in the comics I draw.

As I’m writing this, there are almost 200 reviews on for both of my books – nearly all of them wonderfully supportive. When I’m feeling down, I like to read through those.

Texan in Tokyo comic about the beach

What do you hope people come away with after reading this book?

  1. Life is fun.
  2. Living abroad is a wonderful adventure (albeit sometimes stressful and lonely).
  3. Marriage is great.
  4. Follow your dreams, no matter how silly they may seem. When I was growing up, I never even allowed myself to dream about being a comic artist living in Tokyo. But here I am. Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than just thinking it – it requires a lot of hard work, motivation, and luck. But the first step is believing in yourself.

What are you working on next?

Book 3, of course! I haven’t figured out a title yet. Or a cover design. But I’m slowly working through the outline right now – and I think it’s going to be a fun book. I’m hoping to get that out in June of 2015, as long as nothing terrible happens between now and then.

I’m also working on a “Studying Abroad in Japan: Everything you need to know (and more)” book (title still in process). This book will be a fun, informative guide for studying abroad in Japan. It might have a couple comics, but it will probably just be more like a “regular” book (whatever that means).

After that… I have no idea. Plans are always changing, so I try not to schedule things for more than a couple months in advance.


Thanks so much to Grace for doing this interview! You can learn more about My Japanese Husband (Still) Thinks I’m Crazy (as well as My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy) and get a taste of her comics and writing by visiting her website Texan in Tokyo.

Guest Post: The “Dark Side” to Moving Across the World for Love

I’m excited to run this guest post from Grace Mineta of the fantastic blog Texan in Tokyo (if you haven’t discovered her insightful and entertaining blog yet, you’re missing out). Grace just successfully funded a kickstarter project for her book “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” in only three days!

Today she reflects on something that many of us know all too well, but are often afraid to write about (myself included) — the dark side of moving across the world for someone you love. 

Have something to say (and share) on Speaking of China, just like Grace? Check out my submit a post page for details on how to get your guest post published here.


Interracial relationships are complicated. So are intercultural relationships. I don’t think I fully understood the complexity until I entered my own – and it’s a bit difficult trying to explain to other American friends with absolutely no knowledge of Asian culture why no, we can’t just “put my husband’s parents in an old-folks home once they lose mobility.”

Or when my husband has to try to explain to his coworkers that “no, my wife probably will not quit her job when she gets pregnant. She loves working. I might transition to part-time work and be a stay-at-home dad instead.”

Grace and Ryosuke Mineta

You see, as wonderful, exciting, and educational an intercultural relationship is, there is also a deep, dark side to moving across the world, for the sake of love. It can be isolating. You have to compromise about subjects you didn’t even think were ‘on the table,’ so to speak. You will both make mistakes.

After reading Susan’s recent memoir “The Good Chinese Wife,” I decided I wanted to write a guest post for Speaking of China about the dark side to moving across the world for love.

And, of course, if you’re really interested in daily life in Japan as a foreigner, you should check out my book “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book.”

It is an autobiographical memoir about my life as a white, Texan freelancer married to a Japanese businessman, living in Tokyo. It covers intercultural and interracial relationships, in a funny, light-hearted way.

Texan in Tokyo comics

Enough of the good, let’s talk about bad.

Here are the top 6 elements that make up the “dark side” of moving across the world for love:

1. You can become almost pathetically dependent on your spouse

My husband and I have lived in both Japan and Texas, with a vast majority of our time spent in Tokyo. We spent two months in America together before the wedding, and another month and a half in Texas after the wedding.

We had a wonderful time, but we also had some problems. Ryosuke couldn’t drive a car in America. He was completely dependent on me and, on days when I had a freelance project due, he was left walking my sister’s dog, Bo, around the neighborhood for hours, since he had nowhere else to go.

Thankfully, in Tokyo I can get anywhere by train/bus. However, there are times, like when I’m trying to open a bank account, file a health insurance form, or figure out some obscure Japanese law when I am completely dependent on my husband.

I’m lucky that I have my own job and can speak Japanese pretty fluently… but even so, I still get frustrated.

2. Visas, bureaucracy, and a lot of red tape

I went to the immigration office seven times to get a visa. Seven times. My visa was rejected for all sorts of stupid and illogical reasons (Not enough time left on my tourist visa, one form was improperly dated, the visa I was applying for didn’t exist, “waiting to apply for a spouse visa” was not a valid reason to extend my current tourist visa… the list goes on).

One incredibly unhelpful lady at the Tachikawa immigration office told me “Go back to America, wait a couple of months, and apply for a visa there.” When I told her I couldn’t afford to just ‘go back to America,’ she suggested I go to Korea instead (since it’s “cheaper”) and then called up the next person in line.

Now I have a valid, working visa in Japan.

However, I know other women who are not able to work on their spousal visas in their husband’s countries… and it’s hard.

3. Finding a good career “in your field” is incredibly difficult

I love writing, but I never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to work for local government. Or at an NGO.

Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to find a job in my field in Japan. I either don’t have enough experience, can’t make the proper time commitment, can’t speak Japanese well enough, or can’t afford to commit to 40 hours of work (unpaid, no stipend for food/travel) for at least 16 months at my dream NGO.

Hence the reason I am a freelance writer, blogger, and English teacher.

I don’t love the work, but it pays the bills and gives me something to do. In my spare time, I get to blog, draw comics, and volunteer at a local orphanage.

I can’t count the number of women I know who moved abroad with their husband, expecting to find a career in their field in a couple of months… only to wind up frustrated, disappointed, and underemployed.

4. Insecurity is normal

On one of our larger fights a couple months ago, I asked my husband why he didn’t just marry a nice Japanese girl. “She would be able to talk to your family without any problems,” I told him, “and she would be better at housework (or, like, actually agree to do housework. I’ve met so many Japanese girls who love cleaning. I hate it. Ugh.)”

“I don’t want to marry a ‘Japanese girl!'” he shouted back. “Or an ‘American girl!’ I just want to be married to you!”

A lot of our friends are Japanese. When we have house parties or go on double dates, I often find myself toning out what the other people are saying. Speaking in Japanese all day makes my head hurt… and I start to feel out of depth.

Texan in Tokyo comic about the telephone

When nearly all of our friend’s wives quit their jobs after marriage, clean the house every day, wake up early in the morning to cook their husband breakfast, do laundry every day, and always keep the house presentable, clean, and well-stocked with food, it’s hard not to get insecure.

I still stand by everything I wrote in my last guest post on Speaking of China, “7 of the Best Things about Being Married to a Non-Native English Speaker.”

And thankfully, my husband doesn’t expect me to be a “Good Japanese Wife.” If he did… well, I would probably go crazy. And we would yell at each other more.

5. You might have to re-evaluate your priorities and compromise on some tough issues

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

Just remember that arguments are an essential part of any healthy relationship and they provide a great way to broaden your horizons and re-evaluate your priorities.

6. You will be isolated

When we first moved back to Tokyo, we spent the first couple months living with his parents in Ibaraki, an incredibly rural prefecture next to Tokyo.

In the first couple months I had no job (I was still battling the immigration office), no English speaking friends, and no connection to the ‘outside world.’

I fell into a deep, dark depression that lasted for several months. I cried a lot. I started losing weight (not in the good way). I watched my friends from college go off and get amazing jobs… and just felt worse about myself.

Then we moved out. We saved enough to get out own place, in central Tokyo. I got a visa and picked up a couple part-time jobs. I made a bunch of new friends.

Texan in Tokyo comic about the beach

I still had cultural problems from time-to-time, but instead of being a sad reminder of how “foreign” I was, they started being kind of funny.

I wrote a comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy,” that ended up being wildly successful.

I have a ‘sort of’ career now.

Of course, I still feel isolated from time-to-time. But I’m learning how to deal with it. 

Grace Mineta

Author Bio:

Grace Buchele Mineta is a native Texan, founder of the blog “Texan in Tokyo,” and author of the autobiographical comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy.” She lives in Tokyo with her husband, Ryosuke, where she blogs and draws comics about their daily life.

My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” is the autobiographical misadventures of a native Texan freelancer and her Japanese “salaryman” husband – in comic book form. From earthquakes and crowded trains, to hilarious cultural faux pas, this comic explores the joys of living and working abroad, intercultural marriages, and trying to make a decent pot roast on Thanksgiving.


Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

12 reasons you should read “Dragonfruit” anthology of true stories of expat women in Asia

Last week, I shared a photo essay as a companion to “Huangshan Honeymoon“, my own true story of the honeymoon vacation where my husband and I brought his father along to view one of China’s most breathtaking mountains. (Well, thanks to the lousy weather, I’ll have to take someone else’s word for just how breathtaking Huangshan can be.)

Yet that’s not the only reason you should pick up a copy of How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asiaa collection I can’t stop raving about because of how personal and soulful every single essay is.

For me, this is the rarest of all anthologies. I actually devoured it from cover to cover in record time, and found something to love in all the essays — regardless of the story. But if you’re looking for the sort of stories that drew you to this blog, well, you’re in luck.

Love reading about cross-cultural relationships? Or dating and marriages and families in Asia? Or just want some great stories from AMWF writers? This anthology is also for you! Specifically, you’ll enjoy these 12 other essays I’d like to introduce to you. Think of them as 12 more reasons (besides, of course, “Huangshan Honeymoon“) why you should buy How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia.

Here they are in order of appearance:

(photo by Giorgio Minguzzi via

1. “The Weight of Beauty” by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas instantly became one of my favorite writers when I discovered her funny and moving essay last summer titled How to be Mistaken for a Prostitute in China. Her contribution to this anthology is yet another exploration of her experience as the Chinese-American wife of a white American guy in China, but it also delves into issues all-too-familiar to many of us — how we view our bodies and ourselves. You can actually read it in the sample chapters featured — and chances are, you’ll love her writing as much as I did.

(photo by LeeAnn Adams via

2. “Finding Yuanfen on a Chinese Bus” by Kaitlin Solimine

When Kaitlin steps onto that rickety, sleeper bus for a two-day journey from Kunming to Guangzhou, she ends up finding the ultimate road buddy (or should I say, “road gal”?). In the process, she ends up reflecting on her dating experiences in China with expats and locals alike. Kaitlin’s essay is so refreshingly honest, delving into all of the off-and-on madness, the one-night stands, the “just for sex” experiences…things most of us would rather keep locked away in our journals and minds. It’s this, plus her beautiful writing, that makes you fall in love with her essay — and long for more.

(photo by Shoko Muraguchi via

3. “Love and Polka Dots” by Suzanne Kamata

Suzanne  has a different kind of AMWF family experience in Japan because of her special needs daughter Lilia, who is deaf and uses a wheelchair. Suzanne promised to take Lilia to an exhibition of artwork from the internationally renowned artist Yayoi Kusama in Osaka (which requires a two and a half-hour bus ride), and you can imagine the challenges involved in taking out a wheelchair-bound child and communicating in a language (signing) that, for Suzanne, can be tiring. Ultimately, they make the journey together to appreciate what Suzanne describes as Kusama’s “playful and whimsical” works of art (with, you guessed it, polka dots) and come away feeling stronger, inspired and even hopeful.

(By the way, many fans of this blog will enjoy Suzanne’s anthology Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering.)

(photo by Jo Schmaltz via

4. “Happy Anniversary” by Stephanie Han

While this essay tells the story of how one Korean American woman happens to fall in love with a white British man in Hong Kong on the eve of the turnover, it’s also an excellent meditation on the peripatetic nature of expat life (especially in an international family). It’s the details that make Stephanie’s essay a joy, from screaming “Kill it!” to the cobra coiled before her door (which challenges her identity as an “animal-lover”) to the $5 gold ring she got as a freebie from a Turkish rug salesman (which she subsequently uses when she gets married).

(photo by Jonathan E. Shaw via

5. “Giving in to Mongolia” by Michelle Borok

A lifelong horseback riding enthusiast, Michelle once again returns to the saddle in her thirties and ultimately her passion draws her to Mongolia for a solo vacation. There she discovers a braver, stronger side of herself and finds herself gradually falling for “a man with golden eyes, a gentle voice, broad shoulders, and close-cropped salt- and-pepper hair” who speaks no English. It’s an epic story of love and personal transformation, and it stars an incredibly handsome Asian guy. What’s not to like?

(photo by Vanessa Berry via

6. “An Awkward Phone Call” by Christine Tan

When she used to blog at Shanghai Shiok, Christine dished out some of the smartest (and most addictive) essays I’ve ever encountered about the experience of being an Asian woman dating a White man. And this contribution doesn’t disappoint, as she continues that conversation and deepens it with completely new and unexpected layers (including the shocking comment that drove her to abandon Shanghai Shiok). It’s moving, confessional and incredibly brave — and personally, I hope we’ll hear much more from Christine (such as finishing the memoir she alludes to in her essay).

(photo by Sarah Kim via

7. “How to Marry a Moonie” by Catherine Rose Torres

Stereotypes about cross-cultural relationships don’t end with “yellow fever”, as Catherine reminds us. “…the term moonie came to mean all Korean men seeking mail-order brides from poor countries like the Philippines. But I expected my friends to know the difference—to know I wasn’t mail-order bride material.” She’s Filipino, Jay is Korean, and the challenges they face go far beyond stereotypes. A terrific essay for anyone who has ever had the bride-to-be jitters (like me!) or managed to survive the kind of “our family will handle everything”, big, fat wedding I had in China.

(photo by Eric Hunt via

8. “The Rainiest Season” by India Harris

As longtime readers know, I’ve railed against the whole “Asian women are stealing our husbands” stereotype that makes its rounds in the expat world. Still, you’ve heard the stories — how some white guy relocates to Asia with his wife in tow, only to toss her aside for a local woman. For anyone wondering what could happen when a marriage blows up this way (and for that matter, how the woman comes to reclaim her own life) here’s your essay. If you’re anything like me, you’ll keep turning the pages and thinking, “Oh. My. God.”

(photo by Jose Javier Martin Espartosa via

9. “Moving to the Tropic of Cancer” by Philippa Ramsden

Living abroad doesn’t make you immune to the ravages of life, such as a potentially life threatening illness. That’s not what Philippa, who hails from Scotland, expected when she moved to Burma with her Himalayan Tamang husband. But suddenly, she’s forced to navigate hospitals, appointments and tests in a completely foreign world — and must find the courage to face one frightening diagnosis. A moving essay from an AMWF sister.

(photo by Sarah Joy via

10. “Ninety Minutes in Tsim Sha Tsui” by Susan Blumberg-Kason

A stroll through this neighborhood in Hong Kong transports Susan right back to the days when she was still the “Good Chinese Wife” to her husband from Wuhan, and all of the challenges she faced back then. While you’re waiting for Susan’s book to come out in late July (titled, of course, Good Chinese Wife), this essay is the perfect introduction to what I’m calling the AMWF memoir of the year.

(photo by Boff Hiroshi via

11. “Here Comes the Sun” by Leza Lowitz

Not every country and culture encourages adoption, including China…and Japan. That’s where Leza and Shogo, her Japanese husband, decide pursue this unconventional pathway to parenthood. It’s a tale of determination, silver linings, and what happens when a little boy suddenly becomes a new ray of sunshine in your life. And if you enjoy this essay, watch for Leza’s forthcoming memoir which covers her adoption experience.

Guo Jian and Ember Swift (photo by Luna Zhang)

12. “Chinese Stonewalls” by Ember Swift

Going abroad has a way of teaching us new things about ourselves. For Ember, who had only ever been with women, falling for a man (Guo Jian, the lead singer of Long Shen Dao) takes her by surprise in Beijing, and eventually pulls her into a life she never imagined for herself. Anyone who has followed Ember’s writing will enjoy the beautiful and life-changing story of how she came to be the queer girl who got married in China.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up your copy of How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? today and get swept away by these and the many other outstanding stories!

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How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit?