This book contains two separate first-person novels of medium length: Famiri bijinesu (tr. Wasabi for Breakfast), set in Japan, and Sen ippon no hibashira (A Thousand and One Pillars of Flame), set in the United States. Both use humor to portray the baffling traits of Japanese people from the distinctive viewpoint of the main character, a woman reminiscent of the author herself.
In Wasabi for Breakfast, Megumi is a 58-year-old painter living in Los Angeles with her American husband, David, who is Jewish. Their son John, a photojournalist, lives in Japan; Ken, their other son, is severely brain-damaged and lives in a state hospital. One day, just as John is leaving Japan for a while, Megumi goes back to visit her 87-year-old mother, Grandma Oharu. No sooner does she arrive than her mother peremptorily orders her off to Kamakura to attend a Buddhist memorial service marking the third anniversary of an aunt's death. Megumi goes, is reunited with a number of relatives, and is struck by how unfathomable the entire occasion would be to non-Japanese. When a high-school boy―Megumi's nephew―goes missing, this extremely traditional Japanese family is plunged into turmoil, a situation the author depicts with a satirically comic edge.
Megumi admits a longing to "come back to Japan someday" and "speak Kansai dialect to my heart's content," but Ken needs her, and this wish goes unfulfilled. Old age lies just around the corner. With the universal theme of the family as backdrop, a spirit torn between Japan and the U.S. is rendered with a fine, light touch.
In A Thousand and One Pillars of Flame, Yu lives in southern California with Bob, a typical WASP. Having sent her two daughters to college, her mothering duties now at an end, she picks up her career as a designer and signs a contract with an agent. Marriage has brought Yu face to face with the many ways her husband and she differ: their cultural backgrounds, their perspectives based on gender, their views on the appropriateness of a wife's earning money of her own, their religious views. The Rodney King incident touches off a riot in the city where they live. As luck would have it, Bob picks that time to complain of heart pain. Despite the curfew and danger, she drives him to the hospital. The novel successfully portrays the intercultural conflicts and brushes with death that lie just below the surface of daily life.