Next Monday, November 23rd Wendy Tokunaga’s second novel, Love in Translation, will be presented here and the following day it will be released to bookstores and online retailers. Although likely to be shelved with “chick lit” or women’s fiction, this book is filled with much more than categorizes either genre. Therefore, with the hope of providing fascinating and lovely glimpses of this coming attraction, The Divining Wand is delighted to welcome author Wendy Tokunaga as today’s guest blogger.
It’s not surprising that I am often asked about how my relationship with Japan and Japanese culture came to be. It seems peculiar since I don’t look Japanese, but have a Japanese last name. My spoken Japanese is half-way decent and I have a penchant for singing in Japanese. And the culture of Japan has had a major impact on my writing.
My debut novel, MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT, is the story of a Japanese woman who escapes Japan by coming to California. My current novel, LOVE IN TRANSLATION, is about a Californian, Celeste Duncan who, after receiving a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysterious family heirlooms, 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. At first Celeste is overwhelmed by Japan, where nothing is quite as it seems, but when she discovers and learns to sing a Japanese song called “The Wishing Star (Nozomi no Hoshi)” things begin to fall into place in ways she never expected. And it is in Japan that she actually discovers who she is.
And maybe that’s what happened to me in some ways, though my story is far different from Celeste’s. Unlike her I became a Japanophile starting in college when I stumbled upon a course called Japanese American Personality, which filled a general studies requirement. Taught by a dynamic Japanese-American professor, he fueled my interest in all things Japanese—the literature, the tea ceremony, the language, etc. It didn’t hurt that he was also good looking as I’d always been attracted to Asian men instead of big, blond football types. I also greatly admired the politeness, order and ritual of the Japanese language and culture, which is generally much more reserved and refined, as opposed to in-your-face. Being a Caucasian-American without a prominent heritage or religious identity I liked the idea of embracing a new culture for myself.
Friends were saying that I must have been Japanese in a past life because it was such a good fit. My other passion had been music and this was a match too when my first trip to Japan was as a winner in a songwriting contest sponsored by a Japanese record company.
Eventually I lived in Tokyo for a year. I taught English, did recorded narration work for language tapes, and sang with some rock bands. I even appeared on a wacky TV singing contest for foreigners, which is part of the inspiration for the television show Celeste appears on in the book. And when I returned home I continued to participate in Japanese karaoke contests in San Francisco’s Japantown and won a number of prizes. And it was in San Francisco that I met and married my husband Manabu Tokunaga, an expatriate who had moved to the United States from Osaka when he was eighteen.
So when I decided to take up fiction writing many years later, it seemed natural that the stories that poured forth were all about Japan and Japanese culture.
And it also seemed natural for my writing and musical pursuits to eventually come full circle.The fictional song from LOVE IN TRANSLATION has become a reality with the release of my version of “The Wishing Star (Nozomi no Hoshi),” with music written by Manabu and lyrics by myself and our friend Hiro Akashi. You can download the song for free on iTunes here or at my website here.
I think Celeste Duncan would approve of my rendition of the song that changed her life.