#AsianLitBingo – Turning Japanese by MariNaomi

My elder son is finishing kindergarten next month and I’ve been reflecting on this great year he’s had. Such a different one for us – a first year in a public school in the US. All I had known about American schools I learnt from TV and the movies! Of course my boy’s class is not your typical one as he attends a Mandarin immersion programme that starts with a 90-10 ratio (that is, Mandarin is the 90%) and gradually decreases by 10% each year until it’s 50-50.

Perhaps I should backtrack. Our main language at home is English. Growing up in Singapore, it was the same. My parents spoke to me and my sister in English. Our main language in school was English except in Chinese class everyday. My grandmothers didn’t speak much Mandarin and instead spoke the Chinese dialects of Hokkien or Teochew. My paternal grandfather did speak Mandarin whereas my maternal grandfather would sometimes speak to us in English. My mother never formally learnt Mandarin and instead learnt Malay in school.

It’s rather confusing isn’t it. I suppose sticking to English was probably the easiest for everyone. Mandarin/Chinese classes were a requirement in Singapore, all the way from primary school to junior college (high school). So while I have studied it for many years, not using it on a regular basis since starting university meant that I’m really rusty at Chinese.

But with my boy in Mandarin immersion Kindergarten, I’ve been forced to refresh my memory. Sometimes I even speak to his classmates’ mums in Mandarin!

This is my very convoluted way of explaining my interest in this graphic memoir.

Mari is “hafu” that is, biracial. Her mom is Japanese, but Mari was born and raised in America and doesn’t speak a word of Japanese. It seems like her mom didn’t want her to learn Japanese.  Mari meets someone who works at a Japanese bar in San Jose, a “home away from home for expat Japanese businessmen in bland Silicon Valley”, and it’s her “dream job” – paid to drink, sing and where smoking is allowed. Oh well, she’s 22.

She also reckons it’s a good opportunity to finally learn Japanese.

She and her boyfriend also take a long vacation in Japan where she finds work as a hostess in a bar.

I preferred when Mari talked about her family, like her relationship with her mother, who never taught her any Japanese at all. (And gave her some BS reason for doing so!)

And when she visits her grandparents and aunt in Japan.

I really enjoyed her illustration style and wished there could be more about her family. But it was still an interesting and fun graphic memoir read.

I’m using this book for “Graphic Novel with Asian MC” for #AsianLitBingo but it would also work for “multiracial/multiethnic Asian MC”


  1. “I preferred when Mari talked about her family, like her relationship with her mother” — Me reading most books, tbh.

    Sounds like a good book. I’ll add it to the TBR.


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