Sometimes you have to run far, far away to find your way home.
by Sarah Coomber
TouchPoint Press / 260 pages / paper $17.99
Print ISBN: 978-1-946920-62-1
E-book ASIN: B07PFQNQPK
Publication date: March 18, 2019
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
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
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, slipped on 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 on film—this was 1986 after all—had occurred before Ryota’s baseball practice. The photo, taken by my same-age host sister, Miho, shows him wearing his crisp white uniform and me in a blue t-shirt and blue-and-white-print skirt, what the high school principal allowed me to wear in lieu of a traditional sailor-style school uniform that 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 Lutheran high school, the sum of my own carefully cultivated reputation plus a small, gender-skewed class—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 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 feet 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 seen, dubbed, on VHS. 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 shichi sei,” 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. Maybe in the Japanese dating schema, or in Hagi’s framework, we had just gone all the way. I doubted it, but he had held my hand and given me the moon. It was enough.
About Sarah Coomber
Sarah Coomber has three hometowns: Moorhead, Minnesota—where she grew up; Vancouver, Washington—where she lives now; and Hagi-shi, Yamaguchi-ken—where at age sixteen she spent a summer with the Maeda family. They treated her like their third daughter and welcomed her into an on-again, off-again Japanese life.
That life has included spending summers sharing Japanese language and dance with children at a Japanese immersion camp in Minnesota, where she was known by the Japanese name “Michi”; teaching English in Yamaguchi-ken; studying the koto—Japanese zither—in Yamaguchi and Portland, Oregon, where she achieved her level four Seiha School certification; and turning stories about her experiences with Japan into final projects for an M.A. in mass communications/print journalism (University of Minnesota) and an M.F.A. in creative writing/nonfiction (Eastern Washington University). Along the way her stories and essays 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.
After working as a reporter, science writer, college English teacher and communications consultant, Sarah is an award-winning communications manager for school districts in Washington state and teaches yoga. She lives … and tries to remember to breathe deeply … with her family in Vancouver, where the topography, climate and people’s temperaments remind her of her hometown on the other side of the ocean.