The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World
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The brave, wry, irresistible journey of a fiercely independent American woman who finds everything she ever wanted in the most unexpected place.
Shufu: in Japanese it means “housewife,” and it’s the last thing Tracy Slater ever thought she’d call herself. A writer and academic, Tracy carefully constructed a life she loved in her hometown of Boston. But everything is upended when she falls head over heels for the most unlikely mate: a Japanese salary-man based in Osaka, who barely speaks her language.
Deciding to give fate a chance, Tracy builds a life and marriage in Japan, a country both fascinating and profoundly alienating, where she can read neither the language nor the simplest social cues. There, she finds herself dependent on her husband to order her food, answer the phone, and give her money. When she begins to learn Japanese, she discovers the language is inextricably connected with nuanced cultural dynamics that would take a lifetime to absorb. Finally, when Tracy longs for a child, she ends up trying to grow her family with a Petri dish and an army of doctors with whom she can barely communicate.
And yet, despite the challenges, Tracy is sustained by her husband’s quiet love, and being with him feels more like “home” than anything ever has. Steadily and surely, she fills her life in Japan with meaningful connections, a loving marriage, and wonder at her adopted country, a place that will never feel natural or easy, but which provides endless opportunities for growth, insight, and sometimes humor. A memoir of travel and romance, The Good Shufu is a celebration of the life least expected: messy, overwhelming, and deeply enriching in its complications.
funneled into a “global culinary vision” using creative flavors from around the world. “So,” Toru relayed, “this is why all world’s citizens enjoy and . . . and feel at home with his food.” Another mini-monologue followed, and Toru nodded. “He say he has many dreams.” Toru paused, struggling for English. “He say something like ‘But my final dream is to journey into black hole, into new universe, and make okonomiyaki in another world.’” I looked up at the chef standing over our table. He
Square, then past Symphony Hall and finally into the South End, I couldn’t shake the anxiety his words had stoked inside me, pricking at me like a pin. Now not only my family, but even the take-out Indian guy is predicting the failure of our bihemispheric marriage, I brooded. And he’s even from another country, so he must know what he’s talking about. After a hasty dinner, I waited impatiently for eleven p.m., when it would be noon in Osaka and Toru’s lunch break would begin. We talked three
of optimistic stretch—or most likely a wild leap of faith—to sustain itself across two hemispheres. Am I just fooling myself here, I wondered, just inviting some messy, bicontinental breakup? Then suddenly, Toru began to stir. I turned toward him, ready for him to cry out while I guessed about his own nightmares. The outlines of shapes—a wooden dresser, an aging TV, a book on the nightstand—ghosted softly in the dark. As Toru tossed beside me, then began to murmur quietly, I paused, weighing
father with a change of pajamas or another shower while I scrubbed the rug, praying Otosan wouldn’t notice. On these nights, I didn’t feel consoled at all; I felt as overwhelmed and sad and guilty as I knew Toru felt all the time. One morning, just after Toru left for work, the phone rang at seven-thirty. “To-ray-shee,” I heard Otosan say, “SOS!” Then the helper-san took the phone. She spoke fast in Japanese, and I had no idea what she was saying. I hung up and called Toru, who was on the train.
we’d still been trying, although without medical intervention, and we both felt racked with stress from his father’s illness. Then we discussed telling Otosan, even though with my history of miscarriage and my age, we knew the situation was precarious. “But maybe it might give him some happiness, some hope,” I urged, and Toru agreed. His father might not even remember the pregnancy in a few days, so if I miscarried, we wouldn’t have to tell him that. Yet the echo of hearing happy news now might