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Celebrity Travel: Go Away With Min Jin Lee

By Jae-Ha Kim, Tribune Content Agency on

New York Times best-selling author Min Jin Lee spent four years in Japan doing research on her sweeping novel, "Pachinko" (Grand Central Publishing, $27), which was a National Book Award finalist. The time spent overseas provided valuable insight for the New Yorker, who "was based in Tokyo, but I traveled often to Kyoto and Osaka. I had to research Osaka extensively, because so much of 'Pachinko' was set there."

For more information about her books, check out Lee's website ( Fans may stay in touch with her on Twitter ( and Facebook (

Q. Had you traveled to Japan prior to living there for a few years?

A. I'd never been to Japan before. I had thought that Tokyo would be like New York City, but it wasn't. I'd imagined that they'd be similar in their bustle and noise level but, in fact, Tokyo is a very calm metropolis. The bright lights and hectic night-life images so often found in advertisements and Western media do not reflect every day Japan. For example, the subways in Japan are much quieter than most American libraries.

Q. Much is made of the historical animosity between Koreans and Japanese. What was your experience in Japan as a Korean-American?

A. My husband is half Japanese and half white European-American, and our son is half Korean, quarter Japanese and a quarter white European-American. We have family in Japan and in both South and North Korea. The tragic history of the Japanese annexation and colonization of the peninsula of Korea informs the present day, post-colonial relationship among the three nations. Terrible misunderstandings remain unresolved. Much of this history is not taught in Japan, which makes the situation more difficult for its people. Many people in neighboring Asian countries still recall the Pacific War with righteous indignation for the harms they suffered. Present-day Japanese are not responsible for the aggressive behavior of their past generations. However, we modern people are all responsible for historical transparency and accountability. As for my personal experience as an expatriate, there were several instances in which some Japanese people said some nutty things about Koreans, which I found bizarre and illogical more than offensive. By many -- not all -- Japanese, I was seen more as a Korean rather than as an American, even though I'm a naturalized American citizen and had spent nearly all of my life in America.

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Q. What's the most important thing you've learned from your travels?

A. Researching my book, I spent a lot of time in open markets in Asian countries, where I observed the lives of working-class women. Around the world, working-class women lack legal protections, social status, access to capital, educational opportunities, safe housing, health care and affordable child care. The state of global feminism is very undeveloped and poor.

Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?

A. Martha's Vineyard. (Get) blueberry pie from Morning Glory Farms, ice cream at Mad Martha's and hot apple fritters at midnight from Back Door Donuts. My favorite bookstore is Bunches of Grapes. The beaches are nice, too.


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