Japan as a source to write: Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

This week’s interview is with Wendy Nelson Tokunaga an author of the novels, “Love in translation” and “Midori by Moonlight” (published by St. Martin’s Press). Although she is living outside of Japan in the San Francisco Bay Area, for sure Japan and Japanese culture have been major influences on Wendy’s life and this is reflected in much of her writing. Wendy also does private manuscript consulting and teaches writing workshops.

Sibylle Ito: From my point of view, outside of Japan if you find someone interested in Japan it is either related to Manga or then Japanese history/Buddhism related. You have published now two novels in regard to either a foreign women in Japan or a Japanese woman abroad. You do not cover the typical topics. Therefore, I am curious, is there really a market abroad for novels related to Japan?
Wendy Tokunaga: I’m not sure if there’s a particular “market” abroad for novels related to Japan. I wrote these novels because I felt compelled to write about the subject, and not with any marketing strategy involved! When I first started writing fiction the topics of my experiences and relationships with Japanese culture poured out of me without even thinking about it. I’ve been into Japan for many years, way before manga and anime became popular, and I’m not particularly interested in historical Japan or Buddhism (though I have to admit that reading the book “Zen and Japanese Culture” by D.T. Suzuki in a college class was one of the factors that propelled me toward an interest in Japanese culture). I studied the Japanese language in college and my first trip to Japan was as a prize in a songwriting contest sponsored by a Japanese record company. So my background is varied. Along with being married to a Japanese from Osaka, Japan has had a huge impact on my life; I couldn’t help but write about it.

SI: You have worked related to Japan through the bubble years. Now I guess since the global financial crisis you are facing a complete different environment. What was your experience from your outside of Japan location?
WT: My novels were published in 2007 and 2009, way after the bubble years, but I have been involved with Japan and Japanese culture in different ways for many years, though I’ve never worked for a Japanese company or had any business experience dealing with Japan. When I lived in Tokyo in the early 1980s I played music, taught English, and did narration work. Later I worked in Silicon Valley as a technical writer and web producer, but not related at all to Japan. There was a Japanese culture boom in the U.S. in the 1980s during Japan’s big economic bubble when it seemed that everyone was learning Japanese and heading over there to work. My interest in Japan predates that. Things have changed and currently China seems to be the destination country and Mandarin the popular language to study. Still, the upsurge in the popularity of Japanese pop culture in the U.S. in the last 20 years via mainly manga and anime and, to a lesser extent, J-pop music, is impressive and ever-growing. It’s all good.

SI: Your books are closely related to Japan. Apart from being married to a Japanese, why is it important for you to stay so connected to Japan with your work?
WT: As I mentioned, Japan and Japanese culture have been important influences in my life since I was in college so that has been a big connection that will last through my whole life, I suppose. But the novel I’m currently working on is a departure for me. It’s about a congressman’s political sex scandal from twenty years ago and the effects it has on his wife and two grown daughters in the present day. There’s a tiny bit about Japan in it, but it’s not a Japan book at all.

SI: Have you considered publishing your books as well in Japan?
WT: My novels, “Love in Translation” and “Midori by Moonlight” are published by St. Martin’s Press and are available in English in Japan both in bookstores and online. I would love to have them translated into Japanese and published by a Japanese press. If anyone knows of a publisher that would be interested, have them contact me!

Wendy I do appreciate your honest response, especially as you are an example of being close to Japan although you are now geographically now miles away. For sure Japan has colored your life! I hope that your books will become available in Japanese as well.

Further information on Wendy Nelson Tokunaga: 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.
She also dabbles as a jazz vocalist and Japanese karaoke singer. She lives with her surfer-dude/musician husband Manabu and their cat Meow in the San Francisco Bay Area, a short walk from the Pacific Ocean.

Japanese Culture Blog:

Literary Blog:

Website: http;//www.WendyNelsonTokunaga.com
Follow on Twitter: @Wendy_Tokunaga
Facebook Fan Page: http://ow.ly/1q5PF
Love in Translation Book Trailer: http://ow.ly/1p50k
Love in Translation Music Video: http://ow.ly/1p4ZZ – See Wendy sing the Love in Translation theme song, Nozomi no Hoshi (The Wishing Star)
Midori by Moonlight Book Trailer: http://ow.ly/1p4Yq

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

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