All About Japan

'Yuki Means Happiness'

| Books , Tokyo

British-American writer Alison Jean Lester moved to Tokyo in 1991. It was right after Japan’s economic bubble burst, but she and her then-husband decided to take the plunge, lugging just one suitcase each and a big old-school Mac in a box. With no jobs lined up, they had 10 days in a friend’s vacant apartment to figure out "What next?"

Alison got work as an editor at UBS Securities, also writing freelance articles for business and airline magazines. She then got into narration, doing voices for NHK English-teaching programs, computer games and advertising, and even introduced the band X Japan at the beginning of their New Year’s shows for several years running.

By the time she left Japan for Singapore in 1999, she’d studied taiko drumming, performed stand-up and improvised comedy in Tokyo, and taken her two kids—both born at Tokyo's Seibo Hospital—to meet Hawaiian-born sumo star Konoshiki when their dad had a chance to interview him in his own work as a journalist.

After leaving Japan, Alison found that her memories of Japan popped up in a few short stories, though she ultimately set her first novel, Lillian on Life, in the U.S. and Europe. However, Japan takes center stage in her second novel, Yuki Means Happiness, which revisits the Tokyo Alison knew in the early ‘90s:


"I had expected to feel more at home in the pharmacy, so I was completely unprepared for the riot of firetruck red, royal blue, lime green, fluorescent yellow and hot pink that spilled out onto the sidewalk in bins of bottles, cans and canisters, and racks of make-up sponges and toothbrushes. The large signs advertising the prices were covered in exclamation marks and starbursts. Inside it was the same, even back by the pharmacist himself, where I was accustomed to things being a bit more sedate, a bit more earnest, a bit more white and clean and antiseptic. Sure, he was wearing a white coat, but the drugs on the shelves behind him were much more colourful than the ones we dispensed in the States, and the whole establishment gave the impression that, of all the shops on the street, the pharmacy was really the place to be, and taking medicine was wonderful fun."

Yuki Means Happiness

Published by John Murray on July 27, 2017, Yuki Means Happiness follows Diana, a young American nurse, to Tokyo, where she takes a job as nanny to two-year-old Yuki Yoshimura. She sets about adapting to a routine of English practice, ballet and swimming lessons, and Japanese cooking, but as she becomes increasingly attached to Yuki she also becomes aware that everything in the Yoshimura household isn’t as it first seemed. Before long, she must ask herself if she is brave enough to put everything on the line for the child under her care, confronting her own demons at every step.

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