The Japanese tea ceremony is a traditional art in which actual consumption takes a backseat to process and presentation. It’s also an activity for the privileged, one in which people can enjoy only if they have spare time to devote to classes. But Noriko Morishita has shown how a modern woman can embrace a fading art and the calmness it can bring. Morishita’s The Wisdom of Tea: Life Lessons from the Japanese Tea Ceremony was so successful in Japan that it was adapted into a 2018 film.
Korean American K-pop star Jessica Jung may have gotten her start as a singer and performer with the hit band Girls’ Generation, but now also has a fashion line and has modeled for make-up lines and magazine covers around the world. Her branding is reaching into film and television. And now she has a debut young adult novel, Shine.
With the exception of Singapore and Malaysia, where English is relatively widely used, and with the further exception of so-called “expat fiction” featuring foreign protagonists, Southeast Asia seemingly generates fewer novels in English—whether in translation or written directly in the language—than other regions of South and East Asia. This situation has ameliorated somewhat in recent years, a period that has coincided with the rise of a regional Southeast Asian culture and media market. Southeast Asian publishers are increasing sourcing and marketing books regionally.
Graphic novels, which less generous souls might call comic books, rarely feature middle-aged women and certainly not as the main characters. Not until, that is, Yeong-shin Ma wrote Moms, a graphic novel based on his mother and her friends. First published in Korea in 2015, it’s now available in an English translation by Janet Hong, whose name will be familiar to those in the know.
Lucy Tosch regrets her decision to relocate to Okinawa even before she leaves the United States. She applies on a whim for a reporting job at a newspaper catering to the American community in Okinawa after Owen, her Japanese college boyfriend, suddenly ups and leaves without so mu ch as a by-your-leave. Sarah Z Sleeper’s debut novel, Gaijin, brings Lucy—and the reader—to Okinawa, a road less traveled in English-language fiction.
Novelists are often admonished to “write what you know”; Christina Chiu instead decided to know what she wrote. The Asian-American writer now has a sideline as shoe designer, something she learned as an integral part of writing her most recent novel set in and around the fashion industry.
A Korean nonagenarian learns on the news that the last remaining “comfort woman” is on her deathbed. The narrator, unnamed until the end of the book, is determined to meet this last victim: she wants to know if she knew the woman from 70 years earlier. She also wants to assure her that she’s not in fact the last one left. The narrator has never told anyone about her past—not even her siblings and their children; it’s finally a chance to talk about it.