This debut memoir recounts how an American woman’s planned sojourn in Japan becomes a tense bureaucratic nightmare after her husband’s drug bust.
In 1992, Miller was 51 and trying to discover herself. Following her husband, Steven Solomon, to Kyoto, where he would be researching anthropology at the university, was an easy decision. She wanted to pursue her interest in Japanese aesthetics, Zen, and playing the shakuhachi, or bamboo flute, as both music and meditation. But, she writes, “I didn’t know that our dream and my personal quest would all smash into a thousand shards, like a dropped teapot.” In January 1993, Solomon was arrested for having marijuana (taken very seriously in Japan) mailed to him from the United States, beginning an excruciating two-month anxiety dream as the Japanese legal system painstakingly investigated and made its decisions. Meanwhile, Solomon lost his job and apartment, presenting logistical hassles in finding affordable places to live that that would accept them and that complied with the system’s rigid rules. As Miller dealt with the blow to her marriage—she’d believed Solomon was clean—she seized opportunities to visit beautiful places and study Japanese arts. Her need to break the silence about this experience led to earning an MFA in creative writing and this book. Miller writes with honesty, clarity, and insight about her dilemma: “I want to love Japan in spite of all it has put me through,” a sentiment applicable to Solomon also. But characterizing Japan’s legal system and cultural imperative to save face as its “dark side” comes off as alarmist, especially because the country has much darker sides. Miller’s view of Japan is somewhat rarified, but she renders well her personal growth through speaking up, letting go, and attending to beauty. After a tense police station visit, for example, the couple decided to follow a canal—“Maybe it’ll take us home”—where Miller noticed a strong, graceful egret appearing to walk in meditation, “searching in the water for shadows.” Looking for home, occupied in mystery: a powerful image for Miller’s quest.
A well-written, sensitive portrayal of coming to terms with a disrupted Asian idyll.