Book Notes


Getting Genki in Japan
The Adventures and Misadventures of an American Family in Tokyo   

By Karen Pond '91   Tuttle Publishing

Getting Genki in Japan is a collection of illustrated essays by Karen Pond '91, a Down East mom having the adventure of a lifetime in Tokyo with her husband, three sons and a border collie named Fergus. Pond, who earned her degree in English literature, shares her tales of charming befuddlement and cultural discoveries-and delivers a helpful book for newcomers, expatriates in Japan and international travelers. We asked Pond to tell us more about her six years (and counting) in Tokyo.

Q   We understand your move from Maine to Japan started with a bottle of shiraz?   

A   In 2001 my husband and I were both working for L.L. Bean in Maine. One night my husband came home with an unexpected favorite bottle of wine ... and unexpected news. He was offered a new position with L.L. Bean, but it included a move. Not across the street. Not across the state line. But across the globe. To Tokyo. TOKYO, JAPAN!

Well, we drank the wine and, although we didn't know the language or anyone who lived here, we decided to go for it. We knew it would be the opportunity and the adventure of a lifetime. I told my husband he is allowed to bring home expensive wine anytime he wants.

Q   Please explain the title of your book, Getting Genki in Japan.

A   Genki is one of my favorite words to say ... and not just because it is easy to pronounce. It literally means "healthy or fine." For instance, if you are asked in Japanese Genki desu ka? (How are you?), the usual answer is Genki desu (I am well. I am fine).

However, genki can also have a deeper meaning-that you are excited, energetic, adventurous. So for me, "getting genki in Japan" means making the most of our time, embracing and enjoying Japan and being excited for the unexpected discoveries.

Q   Your book shares many stories of how you confronted the language barrier in Japan. Had you ever studied another language before?

A   I had never studied Japanese before (I took Spanish at Holy Cross). However, I quickly learned that just a few Japanese phrases go a long way. For me, it was-and still is-hard work to learn a second language. I keep plugging away, though. Most importantly, I didn't give up despite my initial communication misadventures, like when I once mistakenly introduced my husband (shujin) as my prisoner (shuujin) at a cocktail party. ("So sorry, honey," I said to my husband. "It's OK, warden," he answered.)

Q   Did you study abroad while you were at Holy Cross?

A   Yes-I spent my junior year abroad in London. My friend and I were actually in Berlin when the wall came down! At Holy Cross, I remember being very busy and realizing the four years went by too fast. I fondly remember being involved in service organizations such as the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program and the Mustard Seed.

Q   You were in Tokyo during the massive earthquake in March 2011. Can you describe what you experienced?

A   The earthquake was scary. My youngest son and I were home and our apartment intensely shook and swayed. We were on the second floor, so we were able to quickly head to our designated evacuation area. Buildings were swaying; streets were rolling; power lines were swinging. Tremors seemed endless. I was amazed later to see so little damage to our apartment and neighborhood.

My older sons were at school. My husband was at work. Since the cell phone network was down, it was a long, frightening and intense time waiting to hear from them. After a seven-hour school bus ride home (my sons) and a five-hour walk home (my husband), we were finally reunited around midnight. When we went online to email friends and families we were safe, we found out about the tsunami. The news was horrifying. Our thoughts and prayers immediately turned to the families in the tsunami-stricken areas. Two years later, the devastated Tohoku region is still trying to rebuild and recover, so please continue to keep them in your thoughts and prayers or donate, if you can.

The city reaction was unbelievable. Despite the severity of the crisis, I never saw any hoarding, looting or mass panicking. In fact, what we witnessed was kindness, a quiet calm, patience, perseverance, resilience and generosity. My husband experienced a very memorable act of kindness and goodwill during his long walk home. Because the subway was shut down, he and millions of other commuters had to walk. Somehow a barista at his favorite neighborhood coffee shop noticed him in crowd (well, he is 6'2", so he does stand out). She immediately biked over to him and asked him in English where he was going. When she realized he had nearly six hours of walking ahead of him, she earnestly tried to give him her bicycle. It was an amazing and unforgettable gesture. Even in trying times, Japan is incredibly special.  ■


Read more of our interview with Karen Pond '91 in this issue's Web Exclusives at There you'll learn about the strangest question Pond has been asked as an American in Japan, the three things every visitor must eat while in Tokyo, plus a lot more.


More Books to Enjoy

How Lucky You Are 
By Kristyn Kusek Lewis '96   Grand Central Publishing
Through the stories of three women struggling to keep their longstanding friendship alive, while going through personal obstacles themselves, Lewis exposes how the lines between loyalty and betrayal can become blurred, that happy endings aren't always straightforward and how at times one has to risk everything to achieve the life he or she deserves.

100 Natural Remedies for Your Child    
By Jared M. Skowron, N.D., '96   Rodale Books
Skowron, a naturopathic pediatric expert, identifies ways to prevent and treat children's illnesses, from common ailments such as upset stomach to more serious issues like food allergies, diabetes and asthma. He offers foods that heal, strategies for toxic detox, supplementation and alternative remedies as natural solutions that can replace more conventional medicine.

Words Before Dawn  
By William Wenthe '79   Louisiana State University Press
In his third collection of poems, Wenthe shares some of the richest yet simplest moments of family life (an infant wriggling as she is carried to see roses in the garden), but also enters the worlds of language, global art, history and nature. Experience the poem Wenthe selected for HCM readers in this issue's Web Exclusives:

As opportunities to self-publish books expand, many more Holy Cross alumni are sharing their voices and stories with books of their own. Here is a sampling of recent work by members of Classes spanning from 1945 to 1986:

John R. Kilsheimer '45 reveals a sparkling story in One Chance in a Lifetime: The Life Story of an Irish Orphan Girl and How She Enriched the Lives of a Family of Eight-a tribute to his wife and the couple's 60+ years together. As a young Naval officer recruit, Kilsheimer met Betts, an Irish orphan girl, on a blind date. Love ensued, as did the large family Betts-who had spent so much of her life alone-deeply wanted.

In Dr. K: A Surgeon's Life, Richard F. Kempczinski, M.D., '62 offers an illuminating account of his path to a career in medicine, starting from a small Polish ghetto in Brooklyn to the ivy-covered walls of Holy Cross and Harvard, and later to some of the most prestigious academic surgical centers in the country. In the book's early chapters, Kempczinski reminisces about working in Kimball Dining Hall and how he devised a plan to propose to his future wife, Ann, during one last drive around campus after Commencement.

The Landmark School Outreach Program in Beverly, Mass., provides professional development for teachers working with students who have language-based learning disabilities. Teacher and associate director of Landmark, Patricia Newhall '86, has written the program's latest teaching book, Language-Based Learning Disabilities.

From the Lab

"The expected location of an air plasma produced by a focused YAG laser pulse has been found to be influenced by the acoustics of the surrounding environment. In open air, the expected location of a laser-induced air plasma is centered close to the focal point of the lens focusing the laser beam. When confining the same beam coaxially along the interior of a quartz tube, the expected location of the air plasma shifts away from the focal point, to a region of less laser fluence."
- Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jude Kelley, from "The Effect of Standing Acoustic Waves on the Formation of Laser Induced Air Plasmas," in the journal Applied Spectroscopy,
Volume 67, Issue No. 3, March 2013


Kelley, whose research centers on new ways of detecting chemicals using various ionization techniques, worked with student researchers Stephanie Craig '13 (a Clare Booth Luce scholar and lead author of the paper), Kara Brownell '12, Brendon O'Leary '10 and Christopher Malfitano '13 on this article about the formation of laser-induced air plasmas, which are small, superheated balls of ionized gas. "A powerful lens can focus laser light to create plasma-superheated matter, the stuff of lightning bolts and the sun," Kelley explains. "My group discovered that the reaction that turns a laser pulse and air into a plasma is sensitive to the acoustics of the surrounding environment. Flutists rely upon the acoustic environment within their flutes to create standing waves of air (areas of periodic high and low air pressure), which we hear as notes." The team found that laser-induced plasma formation is favored in the high pressure regions of such standing acoustic waves.