The Lake of Dreams: On Japan

When I lived in Odawara, Japan, our house was very near the sea, with mountains rising up behind us, scattered with mandarin orange trees; when the fruit ripened, it stood out against the foliage like bright ornaments.  I loved my two years in Japan, where the streets were beautiful and safe, and life had an underlying order.  Every morning people hung their futons outside to air, and came out to sweep their steps and the streets in front of their houses.  We watched a new house being built by neighbors just a few feet away, and a house-blessing ceremony when it was finished.  Our landlord, a man named Yoshitaka Aioki, lived at the bottom of the street, and took us once to hike in the Japanese Alps, an extraordinary trip.  Another time we climbed Mt. Fuji all night, arriving at the summit at dawn.  In between there were shorter hikes, and trips to the hot springs, and stops at the shop which made fresh tofu of every kind, every day.

One of the first things we learned, though, was about the earthquakes, which trembled the ground frequently, especially the first summer we were there, when there was a great deal of seismic activity in the bay.  People instructed us, calmly, almost as soon as we met them:  we should turn off the gas at the source if we weren’t cooking.  We should stand in doorways or dive under tables when the earth began to shake.  We learned what the tsunami warning sounded like, and we knew the path to take up to the hills if one was about to strike.

The earthquakes were unnerving, but at least I thought I knew how to respond to them.  This practical knowledge made it possible to stay calm when the shelves started swaying.  It gave me some sense of control.

A sense, I see now, that was pure illusion.

You could never be prepared for such a quake, and such a wave.

My heart has been with the people of Japan all week.


  1. I am just a few chapters (1.5 CD’s) from finishing this wonderful, poetic story telling of inside your book. I find myself so engaged; emotionally and intellectually by this story ~ I am anxious to finish and dreading the conclusion as it will mean saying farewell to the wonderful characters and their story as well.
    So beautifully written and wise to the way we are influenced by the past and struggle to become ourselves in the present & creating our futures. Truly wish to thank you for the gift of your writing. I have also read The Memory Keeper’s Daughter – my first of yours and look forward to the next!
    I too grieve for the people of Japan and hope for their eventual restoration to safety and well being.
    With much gratitude and encouragement to “never lay down your pen” ~ Linda

  2. Thank you for this lovely and encouraging note. I have always loved writing, and I think stories are completed all over again each time someone reads one and is moved by it. I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.

  3. Hi Kim – lovely post. It was a truly terrifying event.

    As a budding novelist 85k into my first women’s fiction novel, I read with awe the wonderful interview with you in the Irish Times Magazine from the weekend. ‘The Memory Keepers Daughter’ was recommended to me recently and is on it’s way as I type, so I will be reading that, and The Lake of Dreams, as soon as I can find a suitable cupboard to hide in away from the children!

  4. I am currently listening to your book on CD. It’s fabulous. As an American woman married to a Japanese man, I have been very pleasantly surprised by how authentic your descriptions have been of the experiences of foreign women with their Japanese partners. I also resonated deeply with your descriptions of what it’s like to be in that strange space between the memories of the past in America, current life abroad and the intersection of them both during home visits. Seldom do I find a book that speaks so clearly to my own experiences. By the way, I discovered genealogy when I returned to America to live after 15+ years abroad. It brought me much closer to my grandparents who were in their 90s at the time, and to myself, through unexpected threads of history and family tales.

    I’ll be recommending your book to fellow members of the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese ( Thank you for a wonderful book.

    • Sheila, thanks very much for your note. I lived in Odawara, Japan for two years and loved my time there. Thanks also for recommending The Lake of Dreams to the group–if they have any questions, I would be happy to answer via email or Skype.

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