Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT (St. Martin's, Available Now) and the forthcoming LOVE IN TRANSLATION (St. Martin's, November 2009). Japan and Japanese culture have been major influences on her life and this is reflected in much of her writing. Her novel, NO KIDDING, won the Literary/Mainstream Fiction category in Writer’s Digest’s Best Self-Published Book Awards in 2002. She is also the author of two children's non-fiction books, and has had short stories published in various literary journals. Wendy signed her two-book deal with St. Martin’s just as she was beginning the MFA in Writing program at the University of San Francisco in 2006. Along with her MFA, she also holds a BA in Psychology from San Francisco State University.
You can learn more about Wendy through her website, blog, Chirashi: A Japan Culture Blog, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, and RedRoom.
Midori Saito, a young woman, fresh from Japan and too independent for Japanese society, refuses to heed her mother’s advice that marrying a foreigner will bring her nothing but trouble. Turns out Mom was right and Midori is now suddenly on her own in San Francisco. Will she be able to find her American Dream and the perfect dessert?
After receiving a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysteries, 33-year-old fledgling singer Celeste Duncan is off to Japan to search for a long, lost relative who could hold the key to the identity of the father she never knew. Once there she stumbles head first into a weird, wonderful world where nothing is quite as it seems; a land of gaijin worshippers, karaoke boxes, and sushi fortune tellers. But it is when she learns a Japanese song called “The Wishing Star” that everything changes. She not only has to battle with the unbearably perky queen of Japanese reality TV, but also must navigate the rocky road to finding real love, the true meaning of family, and the discovery of her own voice.
How important is it for you to integrate your cultural experiences into your writing?
As you can probably tell from my photograph, I am not Japanese. I’m Caucasian, was born in San Francisco, and my Japanese last name comes from my husband. Both my novels are about Japan and Japanese culture. When I took my first creative writing class many years ago, the teacher required us to complete three short stories in a semester. And all three that sprang out of me were about some aspect of Japanese culture. I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s what happened, and it made me realize how important this culture has been in my life.
In viewing media - TV, movies, books, radio, etc., how do you see Japanese culture being conveyed?
Although things have improved, I still see a lot of stereotypes in the media, mainly of subservient, geisha-like women or samurai types. Many novels written in English that deal with Japan are historical fiction so they are not dealing with a very up-to-date image. In contrast are Japanese animation and manga (comics), which can run the gamut from sci-fi/fantasy to porn to everyday life in Japan, and which are growing increasingly popular with young Americans.
I hope to shed light on modern life in Japan as well as show those Japanese who struggle with the straitjacket society that Japan can be, especially when it comes to gender roles. As an American who has lived in Japan, there are many things I love about the place, but I have never felt the need or desire to escape from American culture into Japanese. But there is a saying in Japan that the nail that sticks out always gets hammered down. Some Japanese people cannot tolerate this kind of conformity requirement and, in turn, escape to the West. This is my husband’s experience and what I write about in Midori by Moonlight, though I’ve certainly fictionalized it, and also turned the protagonist into a woman.
I have always been fascinated by people who feel the need to trade in their native culture for a new one. I’m also interested in culture shock and feeling like a stranger in a strange land when living in another culture. I explore this theme in Love in Translation, which is about an American woman who finds herself unexpectedly living in Tokyo with a Japanese family.
Do you think writers are (or can be) spokespersons for their culture?
I think sometimes they become spokespersons unwittingly or because they are presented that way in the media. But I think you’re asking for trouble if you believe that you can speak for all people of a particular culture.
If you are a writer who writes outside your culture, talk to us about that experience. What have you learned about yourself during the process?
Japan and Japanese culture have been such a big part of my life that I don’t even notice it anymore. A lot of it is ingrained by now, but I will never be Japanese nor is that my goal. I like to think that my husband and I take the best parts of both of our cultures the way we live our lives, with a healthy combination of American “me-centric” individualism and the Japanese way of “ki ga tsuku” -- making sure to anticipate another’s needs over our own.