August 28, 2008

An Interview with Author Holly Thompson

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Holly Thompson (left) is the author of the picture book The Wakame Gatherers illustrated by Kazumi Wilds (right). It was published by Shen's Books. Holly also wrote the young adult novel, Ash, published by Stonebridge Press.

Holly Thompson is the regional advisor for the Tokyo chapter of the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI. She and the other volunteers work very hard to organize events for us. She is also a university instructor of creative writing. Thanks, Holly, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions about your life in Japan.

Do you have any early childhood memories of Japan? What did you know about Japan when you were a child?

I knew almost nothing of Japan when I was a child. I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and didn’t have much chance to travel outside of New England until I was in college.

What was something that surprised you when you first came to Japan?

I was surprised by the cockroaches. They are huge and fast and hard to kill. I became good at whacking them.

How often do you go back to your home country? Do you have culture shock when you go back?

I return to the U.S. once or twice a year. Yes, I certainly have culture shock. People seem loud and noisy and boastful. It always takes a while for me to get used to communicating in such a casual way again. I also get frustrated because, compared to Japan, there isn’t very good public transportation (trains, subways, buses) in the U.S.; everyone relies on cars. And I am shocked when I see how little people recycle. Here in Japan we recycle in so many different categories—plastics, cans and bottles, PET bottles, corrugated cardboard, gray cardboard, mixed paper, milk cartons, burnables, non-burnables, and on and on. I hope that more towns and cities in the U.S. will become better at recycling.

Do you bring anything (food, clothing, etc.) back to Japan?

Shoes! Always lots of shoes. The shoe sizes in Japan are not large enough for me. And tortillas—they are hard to find in Japan.

Is there anything you miss about your home country/state?

I grew up in New England, and I miss the old houses and the small farms (though these are disappearing). I especially miss New England apples.

Has your family visited you in Japan?

Yes, my family members have all come to visit. They were happy when I moved back to Japan ten years ago because they wanted an excuse to visit again.

You just moved from Kamakura to Yokohama. What do you miss about Kamakura? What do you like about Yokohama?

I miss the sea air of Kamakura and I miss being able to get on my bicycle to ride down to the beach in any season. Yokohama is a huge city of 3.6 million people, so it is quite different from Kamakura. In Yokohama I like the houses and buildings that are left from the early twentieth century, when it was a newly international city.

Do you live in a house or an apartment?

We live in a house. We used to live in an old house with small rooms and tatami-mat floors, but a typhoon last year tore off part of the roof. Now we live in a newer house. The roof is stronger and the house is designed to survive earthquakes better than our other house. But it still wiggles and rattles during quakes!

Do you have any pets?

No, not now because we rent our house. But in the past we have had cats, goldfish and, for a time, crayfish (not recommended).

What is your favorite season in Japan?

Hmm. I love February along the coasts when wakame seaweed is hung to dry. And April during the “new green” when all the trees are putting out different shades of new green leaves. And June when the rains make the greens intense and the hues of hydrangeas change day by day. And August when there are fireworks displays up and down the coasts. And October when the mikan and persimmons are ripe. And November when the air is clear and the campgrounds are empty. And…

What is your favorite snack in Japan?

Kaki-no-tane. Literally this translates as “persimmon seeds” but they are actually just crescent-shaped spicy rice crackers mixed with peanuts. A staple food in our house.

What is your favorite beverage?

Mugicha—cold barley tea. Perfect in summer!

Who is your favorite Japanese singer?

Well, does a Hawaiian in Japan count? The former sumo wrestler Konishik.

What is your favorite Japanese anime character?

Suihanki-kun (rice-cooker boy) and his many electrical appliance friends. Whoever thought them up???

What is/are your favorite children’s book(s) set in Japan?

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say, because it is set in two cultures and shows so well what it is like to feel at home both in Japan and the U.S.

What place in Japan would you suggest for visitors to see?

Kamakura, where I lived for 10 years. The Big Buddha and many temples and shrines are there and there’s great bicycling along the beach and narrow back lanes and good hiking in the hills. The other place I recommend is the west coast of the Izu Peninsula—the mountains, cliffs, seaside villages, mikan groves and beaches are spectacular.

What is something you would take with you if you had to leave Japan?

Well, I guess that’s not possible. So maybe a Japanese style bathtub—nice and deep.

What is something you would miss about Japan if you left?


The sound of cicadas. I actually have made recordings. Apparently there are some 30 species of cicadas in Japan, and when they emerge from underground and climb up the trees in mid-summer the noise is astounding! There are so many different calls and whines and clicks.

Can you tell us a funny story about something that happened to you in Japan? When I first moved to Japan, years ago, in a little clothing store I went to the dressing room to try on some clothes. I was changing behind the curtain when the clerk called to me and said, “Yoroshii desu ka?” which loosely translates as “Is it ok?” Thinking I was so smart with my Japanese, I called out, “Hai,”—yes! not realizing that what she meant was “Is it ok if I open the curtain?” The curtain was flung open on a half-dressed foreigner; she screamed, I screamed, the curtain was flung closed again, and I waited a long while before emerging. I learned to think carefully before answering questions in Japanese!

1 comment:

John said...

Oh how I miss the sound of Cicadas!

John