Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Interview with TOMO Contributor Liza Dalby

Liza Dalby (author of the Tomo story “Shuya’s Commute”) is a cultural anthropologist and writer whose career has focused on Japan in non-fiction (Geisha, Kimono), fiction (The Tale of Murasaki, Hidden Buddhas) and a memoir (East Wind Melts the Ice). Visit her website:

You first lived in Japan as a teenager. How did that experience affect your future?
The chance to go to Japan was something of a fluke for me, but I took it for the adventure, not knowing at all where it would lead. As it happened, that experience completely changed my life, and I have been going back and forth to Japan for my work and writing since that time.

"Shuya’s Commute" features cellphone or keitai novels. What inspired you to make keitai stories key to this story’s structure?

Keitai novels burst on the Japanese literary scene just in the past decade. They became so popular that for a while, many things on the best seller lists in Japan had originally been cellphone novels. I was very taken with the idea of reading in small screenfuls, and thought this was a really creative use of a new medium. I guess I wanted to try writing keitai stories myself, and inserting them in the structure of "Shuya's Commute" was a way of doing that.

You have a remarkable background—you have worked as a geisha and studied the history of kimono and you wrote a fictional biography of Lady Murasaki...much of your work has focused on women. What or who inspired the male character of Shuya in your story?

Last summer I was talking with a Japanese friend who has a young teenaged son--named Shuya, as it happens. She mentioned that Shuya was into reading the short science fiction stories of the Japanese writer Hoshi Shin'ichi, whose work, curiously enough, I had recently discovered and had been reading as well. I tried to incorporate the sensibility of Hoshi's micro-short stories into my selection--and the image of the Shuya I knew was in my mind.

You have lived and conducted research in various parts of Japan—Saga, Kyoto, an island in the Inland Sea, Tokyo... Do you return to Japan often and what are some of your favorite places?

I usually manage to get back to Japan about once a year. Saga in Kyushu is like my home town, although I feel Kyoto is probably my spiritual home. Last summer I journeyed in search of fireflies deep in the mountains of Shikoku, traveling with my daughter Chloe. I love riding trains in Japan, and especially going new places by train.

You write fiction and nonfiction. What’s next in the works?

Right now I am taking a break from writing and learning how to mount hanging scrolls.

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?

You have survived the unthinkable, and this will make you strong.

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