From Berkeley to Tokyo (and beyond)

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Leza Lowitz’s luminous memoir Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras (published in 2015), does not begin early in her life (which started in 1962). I found what she did write about her early environs a not very multicultural Berkeley, although she attended Malcolm X Elementary School, and remembers Maya Angelou speaking there (her voice rather than anything she said). Having lived in Berkeley while she was in high school, and been a postdoc at UCB while she was an undergraduate there, I know that there were many Asians both in Berkeley the city and in Berkeley the university. I don’t know that Lowitz did not notice that, but her memoir doesn’t include Bay Area Asians (or, if Japanese are “Pacific Islanders,” no Pacific Islanders, either).

Her parents were Jewish but incompatible and split while Leza was young. There isn’t much in the book about Lowitz’s life before she moved to Japan (she graduated from Berkeley High in 1980, the University of California Berkeley (B.A. in English Literature, 1984)), and nothing about her time at San Francisco State (M.A. in Creative Writing, 1988) or a clear explanation of why she chose to try living in Japan. With two Japanese women, she selected and translated an anthology of poetry by Japanese women: A Long Rainy Season: Contemporary Japanese Women’s Poetry (1994) and Other Side River: Free Verse (1995). She also co-edited Towards a Literature of the Periphery and edited Silence to Light: Japan and the Shadows of War (2001). She was a frequent contributor to The Japan Times and (back in the San Francisco Bay Area, a regular book reviewer for KQED Radio.

The memoir does not go into detail about her (many!) accomplishments, focusing on the stresses of making a living as an American in Tokyo from 1989-1994. In 1993, in a jazz club she met her soulmate, Oketani Shogo, a sometimes poet. Very put off marriage by her parents’ debacle of one, she was hesitant, but he was laid-back and very supportive. Still, there were multiple obstacles posed by Japanese bureaucracies, such as keeping her name, and the expectations on the son.

They moved back to Northern California (Mill Valley) for a while, but family duty called Shogo back, and Leza went with them. They have been trying to have a baby. The middle of the book recalls the many remedies proffered by friends from various cultures to overcome infertility, and the humiliations involved. It is not a plot spoiler to record that they eventually opted to adopt (“adoption” is in the subtitle and the cover photo shows their so, Shinji). There are not a lot of Japanese children available for adoption. Whether the mother being an alien made agencies more reluctant is not clear, but there was a stated preference for younger parents (Levitz was 44 when she gave up on getting pregnant).

There are also comic recollections on the obstacles to a foreigner starting a business (a yoga studio)

The book made me consider trying yoga and stimulated me to ordering the translation Lowitz and Oketani made of Ayukawa Nobuo’s America and Other Poems (he was a pacifist Japanese soldier who never visited the US; the book won the Donald Keene Center’s award for translation of Japanese literature). Their ninja trilogy, I’m less motivated to check out…

I admire her tenacity and her husband’s supportiveness, her account of living in Japan, surviving the very difficult process of adoption in Japan, and starting to raise a Japanese son. Though, for me, the middle dragged a bit, there is much in the first and last thirds that I found illuminating and I was engaged by the wry authorial voice throughout the book.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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