Before some people, especially Japanophiles, are offended by the term J.A.P., Cook uses the term to describe herself -- a Jewish American Princess--one who is used to having things her own way, to driving her red Jetta around town, to having her weekly pedicure/manicure and to meeting her girlfriends for drinks and fun. However, this entertaining memoir is of a year that changes Cook's life as she becomes a newlywed and less than a week later moves to Nagoya, Japan with her new husband who ha a job waiting for him there.
I knew I would be both amused and annoyed by this book, as I could tell from the first paragraph that Cook was going to be in for a major culture shock. During her first year in Japan, her attitude is so Ameri-centric and selfish, it borders on being hysterical (from this expat's point of view anyway). Her husband's contract is for two years which Cook at first doesn't consider a long time until she gets a wake-up call when she arrives in Japan on a blistering hot day. Unlike the bustling metropolis of Tokyo or the history-filled city of Kyoto, the city she finds herself in is Nagoya.
Cook does not speak the Japanese language. Does not have a job. And although the school her husband works for provides them with housing, she has to learn to do things she never imagined herself doing.
Her first transition into domesticity is doing the laundry. In her first attempt it takes her almost four hours to do a light load. The machine becomes her only friend-- and adversary--for the first few months. But sitting around doing nothing aside from the laundry can lead to stress and Cook takes up a habit she hasn’t had in a long time – smoking.
Through some of her husband’s contacts, Cook is introduced to a woman who offers her a teaching job at a local school. As Cook has taught in the States, she’s happy to accept the job which gives her another taste of culture shock.
In Los Angeles, Cook got from one place to another in her red Jetta which she loved. In Nagoya she has to use something she thought she would never experience –public transportation. To get from her house to the school, she has to take a bus to the train station, make two transfers, then take a short walk to where the school is located. It is here that she learns what crowded really means! She also learns how it feels to be different and strange.
Cook spends two years in Japan but writes only about her first year. In an interview included at the end of the book, she mentions that in her second year, things weren’t as challenging and she fell into a familiar routine. It’s a great story about change--maturing from a single life in Los Angeles to married life in a foreign country and the experiences that come with it.
As an expat who moved to Japan from the States myself, I could laugh at--and relate to-- a lot of Cook’s stories Unlike her, I had knowledge of the language as well as experience living here before moving here permanently I was hoping she was going to write about her second year as well, but the story of this first year is enough to keep you entertained and will put a smile on your face.~by Ernie Hoyt, Tokyo resident