Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Interview With Suzanne Kamata, Author of Losing Kei (With Giveaway!!)

I've been interested in Asian cultures since college, where I took Asian American and World literature courses. I'm always looking for new books that provide a glimpse into the Asian culture, and Suzanne Kamata's Losing Kei did just that. (You can read my review here.) I found Losing Kei interesting as a mother, knowing nothing about custody laws in other countries, and as a wife. People have many different ideas about marriage based on culture, religion, personal experience, etc., and Losing Kei shows how conflicts can arise when a man and woman come together with different cultural beliefs and expectations.

I was curious when I read that Suzanne Kamata has a lot in common with Jill, the main character in Losing Kei, in that they both are Americans who moved to Japan and married there. She graciously granted my interview request, and here's what she had to say:

How much research did you conduct for Losing Kei? Could you give a brief explanation of Japan's custody laws, which play a significant role in the story?

I researched legal issues, such as those pertaining to divorce and drug possession. There's also some mention of Philippine cuisine, which I researched in the kitchen by trying out adobo recipes. That was the fun part!

In Japan, when a couple divorces, only one parent gets custody of the children. There are no provisions for joint custody or visitation rights. In the case of an international marriage, if custody is contested, Japanese courts tend to award custody to the Japanese parent. Also, abduction by a non-custodial parent is not considered a crime in Japan. Japan is considered to be a haven for parents who kidnap their children.

What prompted you to write Losing Kei?

About twelve years ago, I read an article in a magazine about foreign parents who'd lost custody of their kids to their Japanese exes. One of the parents interviewed was an American woman, a journalist, who'd basically lost contact with her son. Her son's father effectively turned him against her. I thought that was tragic, and also that it would be an interesting issue to explore in fiction. How would it feel to lose one's child in such a way?

I first wrote it as a short story, in which the mother leaves Japan in the end, resigned to being without her child. But after I had children of my own, I realized that the mother in my story would have fought harder to get her son back. She would have gone to desperate measures.

How long did it take you to finish the book?

It took me about three years to write the first draft. My kids were small at the time, so I could only work when they were sleeping, or if I had a babysitter.

I read on your website that you moved from South Carolina to Japan. I've always wanted to visit Japan, and hopefully I will some day. How long have you lived in Japan?

Twenty years.

Did you experience major culture shock?

Of course at first everything was shiny and new and different, but that's what I wanted. I came in search of an exotic experience. Then again, I think in some ways the culture shock here is gradual. There are many things that appear to be the same as the United States on the surface that turn out to be very different underneath.

What are some of the biggest differences culture-wise between Japan and the United States?

The attitude towards family. In America, the idea is that you raise your children to be independent, and once you've done you're work, your children make decisions on their own. Here, for better or worse, families tend to be much more entwined. For example, I've heard of many people having to give up their great loves because their parents didn't approve. Or mothers who haven't had any say in the naming of their own children because it's the grandparents' privilege. I'm constantly reminded by my mother-in-law that everything I do reflects upon my husband's family. For instance, when I pay the telephone bill late, I am bringing shame upon the Kamata household!

Also, couples tend to lead independent lives. I'm never invited to the many work-related dinners and parties that my husband attends. When I first arrived, I was surprised to meet couples who took vacations separately, but now I guess I'm sort of used to it.

I think the fact that you are an American living in Japan makes Losing Kei more authentic. Do you identify at all with Jill in terms of acclimating to Japanese culture, particularly in the roles of wife and mother?

Yes, of course. I wrote this book shortly before we moved in with my mother-in-law. In some ways, Jill's feelings reflect the dread I had about living with my mother-in-law. I was worried that she would try to take over my children, as I'd heard Japanese grandparents were wont to do, and that she'd be badgering me about my housekeeping.

What is the one thing you'd like readers to take away from Losing Kei?

I think the greatest thing that fiction can do is to help up develop empathy and understanding for people unlike ourselves. So if readers come away with a better understanding of Japan and the characters in my book, I would be happy.

Are you working on another novel?

Yes. The working title is The Baseball Widow. It's a family drama about a Japanese high school baseball coach who dreams of reaching the national baseball tournament and his foreign wife who is trying to decide what's best for their disabled child.

If you could own only 5 books, what would they be?

That's a very difficult question, and I'd probably answer differently on another day, but here goes...

The Lover by Marguerite Duras, Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, Birds of America by Lorrie Moore, and Blow Up and Other Stories by Julio Cortazar.

A fun question: I've never had Japanese food, but I'd love to try it. What would you recommend I order as my first Japanese dish? Any table etiquette I should know about? I've always been fascinated with such details.

I'd start with noodles--udon, or soba (buckwheat) noodles. Udon is usually handmade on the premises and is served in a broth with a variety of toppings. Or they're also good cold in summer and dipped in sauce.

If you're eating a bowl of rice in Japan, you should never leave your chopsticks sticking up in the rice! (That's only done with offerings for the dead.) Don't pour your own drinks, but keep the glasses of your dinnermates filled at all times. And if you're in a restaurant and you make a trip to the bathroom during the meal, don't forget to change out of the toilet slippers!! To my horror, I once wore toilet slippers throughout almost an entire meal.

Thanks so much, Suzanne! I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my many questions! I'll be looking for your next book, and I wish you all the best!!

***Readers: Would you like to read Losing Kei? Suzanne has generously offered to give one of my readers a signed copy of the book!! (Thanks again, Suzanne!!)***

Here's what you have to do:

1. Leave a comment on this post and let me know what you found most interesting about my interview with Suzanne. Please make sure you leave your email address. Any entry without an email won't count, as I need a way to contact you if you win.

2. For an extra entry, comment on my review (posted here), and let me know why you want to read Losing Kei. (If you've already commented on my review, just enter here, and your original comment will count for the extra entry. You must let me know in this post that you want to be entered!)

3. For another entry, post the giveaway on your blog, linking to this post, and let me know in the comments here.

The deadline is Midnight EST on Wednesday, October 15!

Good luck!!


Chesh said...

I actually found the Japanese dining experience very interesting. I'm the type of person who would have also worn those slippers throughout the whole meal while leaving my chopsticks sticking out of my rice. LOL!!! Strange, how different we are from other cultures. This books sounds great. Please enter me into this drawing!!!

angelleslament @

Jeannie said...

This book is right up my alley!

I'm Caucasian and married to a 4th generation (Yonsei) Japanese-American. We have almost no cultural differences to speak of. But when I think of the earlier generations in his family, there are distinct differences. And although I really do not know my husband's family that lives in Japan, other relatives do. I can imagine the differences that they must have. I hope to personally find out one day by taking a long trip to Japan.

I really enjoyed the entire interview. To pick one thing out is kind of hard, but I guess I especially got into where Mrs. Kamata was discussing the cultural differences that exist between the U.S. and Japan. And I especially enjoyed learning her reasons for writing the book.

I made a post at my blog about the giveaway:

This is so cool. Thank you thank you!

themiyamas at hotmail dot com

Serena said...

I had no idea they had those toilet slippers! Interesting little tidbit. I am also fascinated by the fact that only one parent gets sole custody. It makes me wonder if the arrangements for visitation etc. are not just more informal.

I would love to be entered into the drawing: savvyverseandwit AT gmail DOT com

Anonymous said...

Great interview. I knew some things about Japanese culture because my son spent some time there when he was in high school. What I found most interesting was that everything she does reflects on her family - including paying the phone bill! I would love to read this book. milou2ster(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks!

Sandra said...

I really like that you asked her "If you could own only 5 books, what would they be?". I'm always keen to know what an author reads herself and she named three writers I've read and enjoyed. In your review you mention woman being in love with their children. We really do fall in love with our own children, don't we? It would be hard making the decisions this character made. I want to read this book because I've always read Japanese literature and good fiction that's set in Japan. I write a Japanese form of poetry and have written articles about Japanese culture. The differences in culture, and legal matters, interests me very much. Please enter me. Thank you.

Darlene said...

I'd love to be entered Anna. Great interview. The parts I find very interesting is the cultural differences like in custody and family relationships. I think this would be a great read. I had already posted on your review the other day.

pamwax said...

I will have to agree with Jeannie that this is going to become a must read. A departure from my usual but since I have developed an interest in Japan I think I would enjoy this book. Thanks for the excellent review.

pamwax said...

Anna I posted about this book on my blog. Thanks again for inspiring me to branch out in my reading.

Keyo said...

What i found intresting from the interview is that after a divorce, in japan only one parent gets the child's custody! Now that is soo werid.!! I would love to read this book. Please count me in!! And for the 3rd enter, i am linking you on my blog!


Alyce said...

I would like to be entered. It was interesting to read about the acceptable customs of eating. My husband and I went to a Japanese restaurant last year in San Francisco, and it was our first time eating Japanese food. I think the only thing we goofed on was pouring our own tea.

Sandra said...

I didn't leave my email in my comment, although it's available easily through my blog. But to make sure my entries are valid my email is:
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I'm posting about this on my blog tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

I love how much research and thought was put into this book. I'm of Chinese descent, and I like knowing about my heritage and that of that part of the world. It's always cool to know that writers want to be worldly and all that. =)

Please enter me in the contest. I would love a chance to read this novel. Thanks.

- Carmen T

Corinne said...

So, I already commented on your review post, but I want to comment again.

I like the idea of learning about other cultures so much. The toilet slippers thing was entertaining to me, only because it so perfectly illustrates how easily we become children in foreign cultures - having to learn all the rules. This one sounds like a great read.

darbyscloset said...

I found the amount of research that was done of interest and what intices me to read this book is to learn more about Japan.
Thank you for this opportunity!
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

Alyce said...

I blogged about it here:

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Yep, I got this posted between e-mails with you. I'm sneaky...

No need to enter me, even though this sounds fascinating.

Susan said...

I love hearing about the different dining rituals. I can't even remember which fork to use when I've got a choice, so I think I would be a total wreck if I had to eat out in Japan.

Please enter me in the giveaway. This book sounds fascinating.

Anna said...

Ruby: I really enjoyed Suzanne's comments on table etiquette as well. I agree that I'd probably make those mistakes too!

Jeannie: Thanks for sharing your story! I hope you get to go to Japan some day! I think it would be a great experience meeting Mike's family. Thanks so much for blogging about the giveaway!

Serena: I had no idea about toilet slippers either! At least in this book, visitation was not an option for her. Thanks for putting the giveaway in your sidebar!

Bermudaonion: I laughed when I read the part about the phone bill, but it really is a big deal in that culture. I bet your son learned a lot on his trip to Japan.

Sandra: Sounds like you know a lot about Japanese culture already! I think you'd really enjoy this book! And yes, as much as my daughter drives me crazy, I'm completely in love with her! But I'm sure she'd roll her eyes if I told her that! I also love learning what authors like to read. I find that fascinating.

Dar: I found the custody laws interesting also. It made me realize how little I know about other cultures.

Pam: When I was reading this book, I knew right away that my friends from the Sasuke site probably would find it enjoyable! Thanks for blogging about the giveaway!

Keyomi: Thanks for linking to the giveaway! I found the custody laws difficult to understand, too, but our culture is so different when it comes to family.

Alyce: I've never been to a Japanese restaurant, but I bet I'd do something "wrong," too. Thanks for blogging about the giveaway!

J. Kaye: Thanks for blogging about the giveaway! It's much appreciated!

Carmen: I'm always amazed to see how much research writers conduct before beginning their stories and how sometimes a news story will become so much more!

Corinne: I guess it is sort of like being a child, learning the rules of different cultures! Never thought about it that way before, but I agree.

Darby: If you want to learn about Japan from an "outsider's" point of view, I'd definitely recommend this book!

Susan G.: Thanks so much for posting my giveaway! It's much appreciated! (You ARE sneaky! LOL)

Susan: I always forget the no elbows on the table rule! LOL If I can't even get that down, I'm doomed if I one day go to Japan!

Keyo said...

hey it was my pleasure to mention your give-away! :) for sure i will keep coming back to read more from your pages!! very interesting blog full of good info! :)

Keyo said...

and thank you for replying. You are too sweet! :)

Anna said...

Keyomi: Thanks for your kind words. They mean a lot to me!

kamewh said...

I found the differences culture-wise between Japan and the United States to be interesting! Sounds like a wonderful book!

kerin0874 (at) yahoo (dot) com

Wendi said...

I thought it was interesting to learn about the laws (or lack-of) surrounding custody and divorce. I guess I've always simply thought that most other countries would see custody the same way we do, in that if the parents are both responsible, they share! We have a family friend who married an Iranian a LONG time ago, and the custody/family issues are similar there - she has always said that when her husband goes home to visit, she and the kids won't go with - the risk of them being unable to come home is too great because of the laws there.

I've posted your giveaway on the giveaway section of my blog (thanks for stopping by there and letting me know about your giveaway!!).

I've also left a comment on your book review, which I really enjoyed reading!

~ Wendi
wbarker (at)

Darlene said...

Hi Anna, just popping by to say I also blogged about this here:

Amy said...

I found it interested that Suzanne mentioned some of the big cultural taboos I remember from my time in Japan...helps me to remember I was really there. :)

tanabata said...

I can certainly relate to some of the cultural differences that Suzanne mentions and how things may appear similar on the surface but you find out that they're in fact quite different.
And I think we've all had toilet slipper mishaps! ;)
Here is some more chopsticks etiquette if you're interested.

As for the family duty, I'm married to a second son and it makes all the difference! I don't think I could've married a first son with all their responsibilities, and frankly my husband's family probably wouldn't have approved a marriage of their first son with a foreigner anyway. Even young Japanese women these days prefer to not marry first sons!

I've mentioned the giveaway here.

(tanabata2000 at gmail dot com)

Anonymous said...

Suzanne and Anna, what a completely fascinating interview!

I loved reading all the anecdotes about living in Japan, and the culture of the country.

I wondered when reading Anna's review if the author had an intimate knowledge of Japan and now that question has been answered.

No need to enter me in the giveaway. I truly enjoyed the interview though.

Anonymous said...

What I found interesting was Kamata's knowledge about Japanese culture. I have been wanting to read more books on Japan. This sounds fine. Count me in!


I have blogged about it Here!

Unknown said...

I found it interesting that in Japan only one parent can get custody and that they don't do joint custody of any sort! And the part about the rice/chopsticks and slippers was a neat tidbit

Madeleine said...

What impressed me most is the answer to how Japanese lives differ from American lives.

It surprised me that Japanese wives in the 21st century still bow down to their in-laws, I was under the impression that this was in the past. I would have a difficult time with this also separate lives, vacations and a lack of closness.

LOSING KEI is a book I would like to read.
have a nice week-end

Madeleine said...

I forgot to give you my address:

Anna said...

Kamewh: Thanks for entering! I agree that the cultural difference are intriguing.

Wendi B.: Thanks for posting the giveway. I can't imagine being afraid to travel because you might not be allowed to go home. That's scary.

Dar: Thanks for posting the giveaway!

Amy: That's great you've had a chance to visit Japan. Maybe I'll go some day. Sigh.

Tanabata: Thanks for posting the giveaway and sharing your story. It's interesting that there's a big difference between marrying the first son and the second son.

Shana: I'm glad you enjoyed the interview!! Thanks for stopping by!

Gautami: Thanks for posting the giveaway!

AmandaSue: Glad you enjoyed the interview. I'm always fascinated by etiquette rules in other countries.

Madeleine: I was surprised as well. It would be interesting to get a more in-depth look at the subject.

Anonymous said...

I love reading author's top five books, it's so interesting!

sundaygirl at gmail dot com

Becca said...

Wow, this book sounds fascinating! And I can't believe she's been in Japan for 20 years. I'd have such a hard time leaving my family and friends for that long of a time. I've always wanted to go to Japan though. I'm fascinated by their culture. And thanks to Suzanne for the toilet slippers tip! I'll add it to my list of things not to forget when I finally get to go there.

Becca said...

yikes! I forgot my e-mail address: bexadler at yahoo dot com


Unknown said...

This book sounds so interesting! I have a bit of an interest in Japan, but I don't know a whole lot about the custody laws. The little I do know is basically gossip I had heard about the ex-wife of Koizumi (a popular ex-prime minister); from what I heard, he got custody of the already-born kids, who the mother was never able to see again, and his wife got custody of an as yet unborn child (they divorced while she was pregnant) who he refused to ever see, even having him kicked out of a speech he (Koizumi) was giving at his alma mater, which was also the university the son was attending. Of course, this is just gossip with all attendant disclaimers. Anyway, all this is just a very long way to say that my favorite part about the interview was learning about Japan's custody laws.


Anna said...

Jessica: Thanks for stopping by my blog! It's always interesting to peek inside an author's library!

Becca: Thanks for visiting my blog! I agree that 20 years is a long time, but it makes me curious about the beauty of the country that one would go there and not leave.

Anna said...

Ashley: Thanks for stopping by my blog. I just found out about Koizumi from the link Tanabata provided in her comment. Interesting story.

mrs.mommyy said...

wow you make this book look interesting

Literary Feline said...

What a wonderful interview! It is always so interesting to learn about other cultures, including their laws about custody. I hadn't realized how one-sided Japan's custody laws were--not even granting visitation to the other parent. Please enter me in the drawing!


Ronnica said...

I think that it's neat that she's actually lived in Japan and is writing this book. I imagine that increased the accuracy!

Anonymous said...

I guess trepidation of living with your mother-in-law is universal! I enjoy reading about the different cultures and the family relationships are interesting in this book. My friend's husband in Japanese--she would enjoy this (after I've read it, of course).

Jackie B. said...

If you're eating a bowl of rice in Japan, you should never leave your chopsticks sticking up in the rice! I also like her advice about the toilet slippers! HA! I doubt I will ever make it to Japan, but it is good to know just in case.

Kanoko said...

I found a lot of things interesting, maybe because of the fact that I am Asian and am fascinated by the Japanese culture.

One of those that stood out is the differences between Japan and the US, culture-wise. I can very well relate to Japan's attitude towards family. In the Philippines, families are the basic foundation of the society, and one of the hardest to break, in fact. Most of the time, the only time one leaves his or her family is when s/he gets married. Sometimes this isn't even true, like in my neighbor's case. They're a household that spans 4 generations, and I don't even know how they manage to get through when only about 2 of them are working.

And I love Japanese food! I'm also familiar with some of the table etiquette mentioned. It's fun reading her experience with the toilet slippers though. :D

PS: I do a mean adobo. It's one of the easiest Philippine cuisines to make. Or maybe that's just me. ;)

Anonymous said...

I didn't realise that in Japan only one parent has custody of the children. How very sad!
Elaine R

bison61 said...

under the Japanese food, about the toilet slippers-that was funny

tiramisu392 (at)

Anonymous said...

That was a completely fascinating interview. I really enjoyed it. I particularly liked the part about leaving the chopsticks in the rice being a big no-no. I never would have thought something like that could have such great significance. I would very much love to read her book!

Anonymous said...

I love to read about other countries. Your interview sounds awesome! Thank you so much!

natatheangel AT yahoo DOT com

Anna said...

Mrs.mommyy: Thanks so much!

Literary Feline: I agree about the custody laws. Visitation rights would have made things so much easier for the mother in the story.

Ronnica: That's one of the things that really intrigued me when I picked up the book.

Carolsue: I guess I'm lucky that my MIL is a sweetheart. Still wouldn't want to live with her though. ;)

Jackie B.: It's always good to be prepared. :)

Shari: Thanks for sharing a bit about the Philippines. I've never had adobo and don't even know what it is. I must google it! ;)

Elaine: I agree. That is sad. :(

Bison61: I'm glad I'm not the only one who got a kick out of the toilet slipper story.

Blueviolet: Glad you enjoyed the interview. It's amazing the things that different cultures deem important.

Natalia: Thanks so much! I love to travel through books!

Florinda said...

Great interview - very enlightening. As both a divorced mother and a stepparent, I found the differences in custody laws particularly interesting and unsettling, and the cultural differences related to marriage also intrigued me.

Please enter me in the giveaway! 3.rsblog AT gmail DOT com - thanks!

Wendi said...

This book sounds SO interesting!!

:) Wendi

Your interview has been added to

About the Author - An Author Interview Index

Anna said...

Wendi: Thanks for adding the interview! This book was great; I bet you'd like it!