Sometimes you have to run far, far away to find your way home.
by Sarah Coomber
Camphor Press / 378 pages / paperback $17.99 / hardcover $29.99 / e-book $7.99
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-78869-205-2
Hardcover ISBN 978-1-78869-206-9
e-book ISBN: 978-1-78869-204-5
Publication date: June 18, 2020
The Same Moon story
Recently wed—and quickly divorced—twenty-four-year-old Sarah Coomber escapes the disappointments of her Minnesota life for a job teaching English in Japan. Her plan is to use the year to reflect, heal and figure out what to do with her wrecked life while enjoying the culture of the country where she had previously spent a life-changing summer that included a romance with a young baseball player.
Sarah finds herself the lone English speaker in an isolated rural area, where she is drawn into serving tea to her male coworkers, performing with a koto (zither) group, advocating for her female students and colleagues, and embarking on a controversial romance with a local salaryman.
This isn’t the Japan Sarah was seeking, but it just might be the Japan she needs.
Praise for The Same Moon
Charming … a journey through Japanese culture and a journey toward self-understanding, security and faith.
—Scott Hewitt, The (Vancouver) Columbian
Sarah Coomber has written an insightful story about her journey to Japan and a journey to find herself. Readers will enjoy an entertaining and honest account of a young woman’s self-discovery in a foreign land.
—Laura Kriska, author of The Accidental Office Lady: An American Woman in Corporate Japan, and cross-cultural consultant
With sensitivity and humility, exploring no one’s story but her own, Coomber addresses the question of this American hour: how to honor—even cherish—fellow humans regardless of divergent cultural, political or spiritual convictions. The Same Moon injects hope into the current American climate of intolerance.
—Natalie Kusz, award-winning memoirist and author of Road Song
Sarah captures in great detail many things unique to Japan in nature, daily life and relationships.
—Yukari Sakamoto, author of Food Sake Tokyo, and Tokyo-based chef, sommelier and shōchū adviser
VoiceAmerica — “StarStyle” (June 24, 2020) For just The Same Moon segment, click the play button, below.
Prairie Public Radio — “Main Street” — “‘The Same Moon’ ~ Antiques Roadshow ~ Mark Trahant ~ NY Kammermusiker” (July 22, 2019)
The Forum — “Far East yet close to home: Moorhead native’s book highlights hitting reset button in Japan” (July 21, 2019)
Perham Focus — “Author shares experience of living in Japan” (July 31, 2019)
The Columbian — “Memoir a trip back to healing: Two years teaching in Japan brings growth and a Japanese zither” (June 6, 2019)
Spiritual Media Blog — “Chat with Sarah Coomber, author of The Same Moon” (May 21, 2019)
Asian Review of Books — New Book Announcement (May 7, 2019)
Select publications from The Same Moon
“Summer Fling,” The Light, Fall 2014 (pp. 16-17).
“Love on the Line,” Memoir Journal, Issue 12, 2013.
“Zithering Away,” Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Issue 18, September 2012.
“Snow Angels,” The Font: A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, September 2013.
“A Quiet Drama in Japanese Skies,” The Christian Science Monitor, February 15, 1996.
Ryota gave me the moon the summer I turned seventeen.
I had just repacked my suitcases when I heard his voice in the entryway of the home where I had spent the previous two months. I hurried downstairs, my host family gathered, and we all shed our slippers, stepped into our shoes, and meandered through a labyrinth of stone-and-plaster-walled streets to the neighborhood udon shop. There we shared our last supper together, slurping long fat noodles out of steaming bowls of broth, Ryota and my family visiting in their vexing language, I struggling not to weep for missing all of them already, imagining myself running away, disappearing for a few days so my flight would leave without me and I could remain in their quiet city by the Sea of Japan.
Later, ambling home, Ryota and I lagged behind my family. He reached for my hand and held it. This was our second time. The other, captured weeks earlier in a photo taken by my same-age host sister, Miho, had occurred before Ryota’s baseball practice. In it, he wears his crisp white uniform and I am in a blue T-shirt and blue-and-white-print skirt, what the high school principal allowed me to wear in lieu of the traditional sailor-style school uniform they would have had to special order to fit my five-foot, seven-inch frame. Ryota’s left hand linked with my right, we flashed shy grins and made Vs — peace signs — with our free fingers, I wondering by what miracle I was clasping the hand of the most beautiful boy at Hagi High School. The last time I had held hands had been two years earlier in the back of a bus rolling across the dark North Dakota prairie.
I had been something of a dateless wonder at my little Lutheran high school, the sum of my own carefully cultivated reputation plus a gender-skewed grade — sixteen boys to twenty-nine girls. A budding perfectionist, I gunned for honors — valedictorian, piano performance awards, scholarships, and any other prize that would prove my academic and musical prowess. I also sought out volunteer opportunities to demonstrate my very goodness — Sunday school teacher, hotline answerer for latchkey children, Key Club president. I looked askance at the class clowns, those I saw as wasting valuable time. By the time I realized there was more to life than an impressive college entrance application, anyone I might have wanted to date was already enmeshed with a girlfriend. And those girls would not have released their prom escorts without a fight.
Arriving in Japan, I recognized that aiming for any type of perfection would be foolish, as I had to all but start over in the life-skills department, learning how to eat with chopsticks, how to use an Asian toilet, and how to manage a new language. Suddenly I had no reputation, no tests to take, and no piano to practice, but I did have lots of time on my hands.
And sheen. As the first international exchange student at Hagi High School, everyone knew me immediately. One of few foreigners who visited or had even heard of the little city of Hagi in those pre-Internet days, I was an object of curiosity: my blue eyes, my brown hair, my fair skin, my height (at five foot seven, I was taller than nearly all of the girls), my ability to drive a car back home, my cultural connection to American music and movies. It did not matter that I was less well versed in American pop culture than most American teenage girls, not to mention the pop-culture-savvy Miho, who was a cheerleader and fashion aficionado, because in Hagi I embodied American pop culture, triggering memories of Hollywood teen movies. When I went to the beach and met younger schoolgirls, they told me I was sexy in my swimsuit. With my modest chest and sturdy legs, I knew this was sexiness by association.
By some miracle, though, I was, for the second time, holding the hand of the handsome baseball player who had decided to spend the evening with me. And he was in no apparent rush to go home. Ryota and I lingered in the dark shadows of centuries-old stone walls in my adopted neighborhood as my host family walked ahead and disappeared around the corner. High above us, stars glistened in crystal constellations, like mobiles stilled by the falling summer night.
“Mite — Hokuto Shichisei,” he pointed to the sky.
“The Big Dipper? I see it,” I replied, scanning for another formation, something, anything, that would prolong the delicious moment that had my heart spinning in my chest, but my knowledge of the stars was scant.
Then Ryota pointed at the slim crescent glowing above us. “The moon,” he said, alternating between Japanese and English. “It is the same, here and in America. We can think of one another when it shines down on us, you in America, me in Japan.”
It was the most romantic thing I had ever heard, on the big screen or off. I nodded yes, I would think of him every time I saw the moon. Untouchable though it was, it was the perfect souvenir of this moment, this boy, this summer on the other side of the world, of this place where I had learned that I was more than a studying and practicing machine, where I had learned that people could accept me even if I wasn’t perfect. It was a place I found myself feeling almost more at home than I did … at home.
Our evening did not end with a kiss — but so what? I had not yet been kissed by any boy, and I had heard a rumor that kissing was not such a big deal in Japan. Besides, he had held my hand and given me the moon. It was enough.
About Sarah Coomber
Sarah Coomber grew up on the Minnesota/North Dakota border, where she was fascinated by the stories of local refugees, international students and her grandfather, who spent years in Tanzania.
She grew up to tell stories of her own cross-cultural adventures, including The Same Moon, her book-length memoir of Japan, and essays about Japan that have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Japan Times, the Star Tribune, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal; Memoir Journal; the Font: A Literary Journal for Language Teachers and others.
Sarah also has shared the stories of hundreds of other people in her work as a newspaper reporter, public relations professional, science writer and communications consultant.
Sarah earned her BA in biology at St. Olaf College, MA in mass communication from the University of Minnesota and MFA in creative nonfiction from Eastern Washington University. She has taught English in Japan and writing at the college level, and currently teaches yoga, integrating prayer, meditation and movement. She also works as a communications/writing consultant and coach.
After spending nineteen years in Washington state, she now lives … and tries to remember to breathe deeply … with her family in Minnesota.