Brett Hanavan
La Jolla Village News: Memoirs of an American Housewife in Japan

Hager dissects culture shock

Interview with Brett Hanavan

She started writing short mystery stories, influenced in great part by Nancy Drew books, when she was 10 years old.

Through the years, her love for the written word has not diminished. She majored in English in college and wrote a prodigious number of papers. Finally, her dream of being published has come to fruition.

She is La Jolla-based writer Pauline Hager, and she has published a new 223-page book called "Memoirs of an American Housewife in Japan."

The premise of the story is based on experience. During the 1990s, Hager's husband Randy was offered a position working on a multinational project in Japan. After much soul-searching, the couple accepted the new challenge and their lives were never the same.

The two relocated to Japan to a countryside area that featured housing specifically designed for Westerners. They were surrounded by neighbors from the European Union, Canada, Russia and the United States. But even with this social structure, daily life and the adaptation to Japanese culture was a constant challenge.

"Living in Japan was an experience I knew I would never forget," Hager continued. "I have five photo albums filled with pictures of life in Japan. But they don't necessarily tell the whole story, such as my impressions, my fears and anxieties, and the many faux pas I committed living in this strange and fascinating country."

Her relatives, friends and acquaintances would often ask, "What was it really like living in Japan?" She was asked so many times that she was motivated to write the book.

"One day I simply sat down at my computer and started typing," Hager said. "It took me a year. I poured my heart out. I did not keep a diary or take notes when I lived there. It was all seared in my memory."

In a funny but informational way, Hager shares her experiences. She describes overcoming culture shock while attempting to make a home in Japan. Several adjustments had to be made. She had to relearn actions as simple as opening the front door. Her book tells how she gingerly maneuvered through complicated rules of Japanese social customs.

"Life in Japan was, at times, confusing, impossible and challenging," Hager said. "Things like driving on the left side (of the road) on narrow, open-trenched roads were my biggest challenges. Japan may have a first-class economy, but it has Third World roads."

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"In spite of the many obstacles, I found a warm, supportive circle of Japanese and fellow expatriate friends," she continued. "I was fully entrenched in our new community, and I enjoyed Japanese living to its fullest. In no time, I conquered my fear of driving, navigated the public transportation system with ease and was not only learning the language, but I went on to teach English."

In between her husband's heavy workload, the Hagers traveled to other Asian countries. Their first trip was to Hong Kong, and then to Lantau Island and mainland China.

Later they visited Singapore, Malaysia and what Hager described as "most exotic Thailand."

They visited an elephant work farm and took a hair-raising ride on a pachyderm.

Elephant Ride

Elephant Ride

They witnessed the king of Thailand celebrate his 50th year on the throne, riding in a royal barge in a parade on the Chao Phraya River in a driving monsoon rain storm. Although the cost of driving, riding the train or flying in Japan was, as she described, exorbitant, they managed to make trips to the venerated national park of Nikko that dates back to the eighth century, and to the distant island of Hokkaido on a car ferry.

Hager chronicled her two-and-a- half years in Japan with a distinct perspective and a wry sense of humor, describing her Japanese friends and places with fondness. She covers topics such as her Japanese friends' homes, their religion, customs, food, school, Sumo wrestling and Japanese toilets.

"I never thought I would get so many phone calls and e-mails from readers and friends across the country informing me how much they laughed reading the book," Hager said.

Sumo Wrestling

Sumo Wrestling

From one former Japanese neighbor, Tomoko, she received this: "Dearest Pauline, I have come to the place where you tried a Japanese toilet and pushed the button without knowing which is which," the neighbor wrote to her. "Oh! Pauline, how I laughed! I am regretting starting to read it. Do not you remember? I am 46 years now and I do not want to get wrinkles with reading your book. But it is too late. It is just too funny to stop it now."