When Sarah Coomber’s life became complicated after she was divorced at, she went to the only place that made sense to her: Japan.
Coomber, a Moorhead native, was at The Willow Bookstore in Perham on Tuesday, July 23, to discuss her debut memoir, “The Same Moon.”
The book details her experiences living and working in Japan.
“It’s the story of running away from a wrecked life,” she told the bookstore’s visitors. “How can I escape this?”
Coomber was first introduced to Japan when she spent a year there as an exchange student in high school.
When she felt the need to run away from the disappointment, and embarrassment of her life in Minnesota she returned to Japan, where she remembered being “really happy.”
Coomber compared her experience in Japan to the evolution of ancient woodblock printing. First artists worked in black and white, then hand-painted color and subsequently printed color.
Coomber initially felt like a child, being completely immersed in Japan’s culture and traditions. As she spent more time there, she gained more cultural nuance. Eventually seeing the people and places more fully.
Coomber said she used Japan as a floating world, a place that wasn’t quite reality, to make her journey towards redemption.
When she arrived in Japan to teach English, Coomber soon learned she was the town’s first and only English teacher.
“We learned together what it meant to have a foreign English teacher,” she said.
Feeling like an outsider, Coomber learned playing and performing in a koto music club was the only way she could stop seeing herself as different.
When it came time to write about her experience for the book, Coomber relied on journals, as well as letters she had sent home.
With those entries prompting her memory, more and more memories were linked up, one after the after.
One of the biggest challenges Coomber faced living in Japan was serving tea. In her office, women set aside their work to serve tea to their male colleagues four times a day.
Coomber said she felt great pressure to serve tea, when she privately suggested to her supervisor that tea could be self-service, he outed her in front of the entire office. The self-service barely lasted a day, before normal tea serving was resumed.
“The Same Moon” is available in paperback at The Willow Bookstore.