First things first, what’s it about?
Haruka and Takashi are devoted to shopping and going out in Tokyo. She loves her Louis Vuitton handbags, Hermès scarves and Louboutin shoes. He enjoys eating out and looking through the department stores in Ginza and Shibuya. Together they make a cute couple but love is never easy.
Takashi’s world starts to turn upside down when he realises Haruka has started seeing Jun, her wealthy ex-boyfriend from Kyoto. When Haruka travels to Kyoto to meet up with Jun and his mother, a series of earthquakes hit Tokyo and Takashi is injured. Haruka is unable to contact him and it looks like she’ll never see Takashi again, the boy who truly loves her.
In a way, I’d say Renae and I are almost kindred spirits! We both love writing and… well, Japan. I came across Renae on Twitter (I can’t remember who followed who first!) and she came across my Send Sophie to Japan competition video. I was incredibly surprised when I got a message from Renae offering to send me a copy of her book because she liked the video so much!
I normally don’t read modern romances but I absolutely loved Tokyo Hearts. So, let’s get to the good part – the interview!
Yoroshiku! Please introduce yourself.
My name is Renae Lucas-Hall. I am an Australian-born British novelist and writer of Japanese fiction and non-fiction. I studied a major in Japanese language and culture at university which I completed when I was twenty-one. I later studied an Advanced Diploma of Business at another university in Australia. I lived in Japan for several years and taught English in Tokyo in my twenties. I’ve also worked in other sectors such as retail, customer service and business with the Japanese over the past twenty years. I’ve always loved reading and writing about Japan and I’m now working on my second novel Tokyo Dreams. I have a website dedicated to my writing at renaelucashall.com. I live in Gloucestershire in the United Kingdom with my husband.
What sparked your interest in Japan?
I always wanted to be an interpreter or a teacher when I was a child, so I studied French and Italian in high school. I really enjoyed learning languages so when I started at university I decided to learn Japanese as well. I enjoyed a six week homestay in Japan when I was seventeen and I quickly became fascinated with the Japanese culture.
What kind of teaching jobs did you have when you were in Japan? What advice would you give to people who want to teach or study over there?
I worked for both private schools and large, well-known English language schools when I lived in Tokyo and although the experiences were very different, they were equally enjoyable. I would highly recommend teaching in Japan as it is a very respectable profession and it can pay very well if you’re prepared to work hard. Teaching English also gives you a better grasp of the English language and this can help a lot if you want to be a writer. It is always better to speak the language if you plan to live in Japan but a strong understanding of the Japanese culture is also very important. I think you can learn a lot about the Japanese culture just from reading my book, Tokyo Hearts: A Japanese Love Story.
Which do you miss more – Japan or Australia?
I went to Australia for a few weeks not so long ago so right now I’m thinking about spending a few weeks in Japan in 2013.
How did you go from dreaming up the plot of Tokyo Hearts to getting it published?
It was a labour of love but it also took a lot of perseverance. I know a lot about Japan and its culture so I had to learn more about plot, characterization etc. and generally how to write a book. There is a lot of method involved in writing a book and it is very different to writing non-fiction.
Was Tokyo Hearts based on any personal experiences of yours?
A few of the experiences in Tokyo Hearts are based on personal observation, such as the way young Japanese couples behave when they are dating. In regards to characterization, I enjoy writing about people who I’d like to meet rather than people I know.
There are a lot of amusing minor observations about Japanese behaviours throughout the book. Did you spend a lot of time people-watching in Tokyo when you were writing?
I’m always watching people and looking at the way they behave, how they deal with different situations and whether they have any interesting physical or emotional characteristics. Whether I’m in Australia or London or Tokyo, I think the best place to observe others unobtrusively is on public transport.
Earthquakes feature prominently throughout Tokyo Hearts. What was the strongest earthquake you experienced when you lived in Japan?
Eight years ago, I visited Japan for about a week before coming to the UK. I stayed in a hotel for a couple of days before flying out. My room at the hotel was very high up and there was a major earthquake in the middle of the night that scared me quite a lot. It only lasted a few minutes but it really frightened me.
Shopping is a common theme in Tokyo Hearts. What is your favourite shopping district in Tokyo?
Everyone loves Shibuya, Ginza and Harajuku, but I love shopping in Daikanyama because it’s a very pretty area, a lot quieter and a very relaxing place to shop.
I’d readily recommend this book to anyone who is interested in modern Japan and loves a sweet story. You really warm to a lot of the characters and empathise with them. If you’ve been to Japan before or seen footage of Tokyo, you’ll also recognise a lot of the little details about the city. As a Japanophile and attention-to-detail kind of girl, Tokyo Hearts struck a chord with me. I strongly encourage you all to get your copy today!
You should also check out Renae’s Guide to Tokyo on her website, which will give you a lot of ideas for your own trip.
Next week: there’s another competition coming your way! I ran a poll on Facebook recently asking what prize everyone wanted to see and, although the winner was Japanese sweets, I wasn’t able to get anything in time. I think you’ll be very pleased with what’s up for grabs though, so check back next Monday….