weather icon Clear

Henderson author brings understanding of U.S. and Japan to his work

Keita Nagano was born in Japan, and his previous writings — which include prize-winning short stories, a novel and several nonfiction business books — were written in Japanese for a Japanese-speaking audience.

Now Nagano, who has lived in Southern Nevada for more than 20 years, has jumped into more unfamiliar literary waters with the release of his latest novel, the first that he wrote in English specifically for English-speaking readers.

“The Sea of Japan” (SparkPress, $16.95) is set in a commercial fishing town in Japan and tells the story of an American woman assigned there as an exchange English teacher. When circumstances force her to change her plans, she becomes enmeshed with the fishing village and a fisherman in it, navigating tricky emotional and business currents while re-creating her life.

“Keita Nagano” is the pen name of Shusuke Ogihara, a Henderson-based consultant who works with Japanese businesses doing, or considering doing, business in America. But, Nagano says, smiling, “Nobody pronounces my name right, nobody spells my name right.”

“Sounds like Shoe-su-kay Oh-gii-hara,” he explains. “Note ‘gii’ is not ‘gee.’ Subtract K from ‘geek.’ ”

Anyway, Nagano devised a name — an allusion to his father’s birthplace and the university Nagano attended — that’s easy to spell and, he says, smiling, “Amazon-compatible.”

A novel of firsts

Nagano says “The Sea of Japan” was inspired by a photo he saw of firefly squid, which have light-emitting organs on their bodies and which each year gather by the millions along the Japan coast to spawn and then die. In writing it, Nagano researched the commercial fishing industries in Japan and Massachusetts.

He says he thought and wrote directly in English, rather than writing in Japanese and then translating into English. That, he says, creates better synchronization and flow for readers.

Still, Nagano did tweak passages that Americans might find perplexing. For example, an early plot point revolves around a disagreement between the American teacher and a Japanese physical education teacher about physically reprimanding a student. Because of cultural differences, Japanese readers might take the notion of corporal punishment in stride, while American readers would be confused.

“(For) purely Japanese readers, I probably shouldn’t take that much time explaining the back and forth between Lindsey and the P.E. teacher, Kong,” he says. But “if I have not spent this much time on this, American readers would probably just give up on me: ‘This guy doesn’t know much about American culture.’ ”

Another first for Nagano: He chose to tell the story from a woman’s first-person perspective.

“Confession time: In fiction publishing today in America, 80 percent of readers are female and 20 percent are male,” he says. So, as a first-time author in America, he chose to “use the female voice.”

Having a woman as protagonist also underscores the sexism the character encounters. Even today, Nagano says, “the fishing industry is a totally male industry.”

Part-time writer

Nagano, 54, was born in Tokyo, raised in Tokyo and Yokohama, and lived in Tokyo until age 32. Although he took English classes in middle and high school, “linguistic-wise, I’m 100 percent a Japanese product,” he says.

His father was a successful businessman who often entertained American friends and was “a big fan” of America, Nagano says. “He always was talking about positive stuff about America, which really influenced me.”

At age 12, Nagano visited America for the first time on a trip with his father. The trip took them to “Los Angeles, Oxnard and San Francisco,” Nagano says, smiling, and his memories of the trip include the larger Coke cans here, seeing what was then the world’s only Disneyland, and the friendliness of Americans.

In 1997, Nagano — by then 32 and working in banking in Tokyo — came to Las Vegas for a yearlong job as an interpreter for a Las Vegas law firm. When the job was finished, he decided to stay in Las Vegas and co-founded a small consulting practice assisting Japanese investors coming to America.

That’s still his day job, but Nagano hopes to someday devote all of his time to writing. He began writing at 13, when he won a middle school writing contest, and his first published book, in 1998, “was a business book promoting Las Vegas.”

Other nonfiction business books followed, but “my heart was always going to fiction,” Nagano says. “I always wanted to do creative writing, and in 2011 I got my first award for creative writing.”

That was for a short story set in an office. The following year, he won a fiction award for a short story about a child who vanishes after passing through a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport.

Connecting America and Japan

Nagano is a continuing fan of U.S. culture. He estimates that he has been to 70 or 80 percent of our national parks, has visited every major league ballpark in the U.S. and has been in all 50 states.

“My hobby is pursuing the authentic American experience, and for that I’m interested in all American iconic places in all the states,” he says. “If I had one more life, I’d probably go and do more and more.”

Nagano views his writing as a means of fostering understanding between the country of his birth and the country he has adopted.

“What I’m really doing is connecting America and Japan,” Nagano says. “If I could make those two countries one inch closer, my mission is accomplished and I can die tomorrow.”

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Smoked Sazerac at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Las Vegas
Chase Jefferies, a bartender at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Las Vegas, makes a Smoked Sazerac by shaking Hennessy, Bulleit Rye, Pernod Absinthe, maple syrup and Peychaud’s Bitters with ice, then filling a snifter with applewood smoke and pouring the drink over an oversized ice cube. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Red Rock Canyon free to all Monday for Veterans Day - VIDEO
In honor of Veterans Day, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is free to all visitors on Monday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Artist dedicates heart sculpture on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Artist Katy Boynton dedicated her sculpture depicting a giant steel heart to the Las Vegas community Saturday night outside Fashion Show mall. (James Schaeffer /Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Warm Salt-Roasted Beets at La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway in Las Vegas
Chris Yamauchi, sous chef at La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway at Wynn Las Vegas, roasts fresh beets for three hours, peels, cubes and chills them, then sautés them with butter, sherry vinegar and black pepper and tops with goat cheese and pistachios. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
O.J. Simpson files lawsuit against The Cosmopolitan over TMZ story - VIDEO
A lawsuit filed Thursday alleges that The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas defamed O.J. Simpson when hotel employees told TMZ he was kicked out of the casino “for belligerence” in November 2017. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Smith Center will now be charging $5 fee to park - VIDEO
Patrons now have to pay to park to attend events at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown, continuing a recent trend in the Las Vegas Valley. (James Schaeffer / Review-Journal)
Prove you're a local: Try to pronounce these Nevada cities - VIDEO
Try your hand at pronouncing these Nevada cities and watch as other locals from Downtown Summerlin attempt to get the names right along with you. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making Cochinita Pibil Tacos at Santos Guisados Tacos & Beer in Las Vegas
Lola Vasquez, a cook at Santos Guisados Tacos & Beer in Las Vegas, makes Cochinita Pibil Tacos by rubbing a pork shoulder with signature seasoning, marinating it in a mixture of achiote, peppercorns, clove, cumin, salt and fresh lime and orange juices and roasting overnight. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal )
Joey D'Ambrosio talks about playing on "Rock Around the Clock" - VIDEO
Saxophonist Joey D'Ambrosio, who lives in Henderson, was a member of Bill Haley & His Comets. “People were looking for something new,” D’Ambrosio said. "When they heard ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ there was something about that record that turned them on.” (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nation’s Largest Student Farmers Market
600 students participate in massive farmers market, Oct. 23,2019. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giant Student Farmers Market in Las Vegas
The largest student-run farmers market in the country involved 600 kids from more than 50 schools in the Las Vegas area selling fruits and vegetables grown at their schools. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ryan Reaves beer special in the Las Vegas Arts District - VIDEO
James Manos of Able Baker Brewing talks about offering a Golden Knights game-day promotion to celebrate partner Ryan Reaves at its Main Street tasting room. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas native Ethan William Childress of "Mixed-ish" - VIDEO
Interview with Las Vegas native Ethan William Childress, a young star of the new ABC comedy "Mixed-ish." (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review -Journal) @bizutesfaye
Sourdough Cafe at Arizona Charlie’s in Las Vegas makes horseradish potato chips - VIDEO
Sean Gassaway, room chef at the Sourdough Cafe at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur in Las Vegas, makes horseradish potato chips by heating prepared horseradish to remove some of the moisture, mixing it with kosher salt and further dehydrating it, tossing it with house-made chips and serving it as a monthly special with a bratwurst on a roll, sauerkraut, spicy mustard and a cup of cheese dip. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Central Perk coffee shop opens for business
As part of Saturday’s “Friends” Fan Experience at New York-New York hotel-casino, the artist Nathan Sawaya debuts his life-size, 700-square-foot re-creation of the show’s Central Perk coffee shop that’s constructed entirely out of Lego bricks. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Binion's debuts a spinning bar overlooking Fremont Street Experience - VIDEO
Binion's debuted its spinning bar inside the Whiskey Licker Up Saloon. The Rotating bar only goes at one full rotation per 15 minutes overlooking the Fremont Street Experience. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Green Eggs and Ham at Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas
Scott Simon, executive chef at Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas, makes a Green Eggs and Ham Flatbread with pistou, smoked mozzarella, tasso ham and eggs. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Lemon Semifreddo Dessert at Vetri Cucina in Las Vegas
Ashley Costa, pastry chef at Vetri Cucina at the Palms in Las Vegas, freezes lemon curd with whipped cream, sandwiches it between polenta-based crumiri cookies, sprinkles it with powdered sugar and drizzles it with argrumato, a lemon olive oil. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Las Vegas supermarket has a full-service wine and beer bar - VIDEO
Smith’s Marketplace on Skye Canyon Park Drive draws 300 people a day to socialize in what has become a neighborhood gathering spot. (James Schaeffer/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hard Rock Memorabilia Exhibition
The 2,600-square-foot exhibit, which is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays to Mondays through Jan. 31, spans eras and genres alike. There are numerous rare and never-before-seen items here, featuring artists from ZZ Top to Nine Inch Nails, Bo Diddley to Britney Spears. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Museum of Selfies coming to Las Vegas - VIDEO
The interactive attraction offers several new selfie opportunities. (Museum of Selfies)
Show of Strength in 'A Choreographers Showcase' - VIDEO
"A Choreographers Showcase" pairs artists from Nevada Ballet Theater and staff from all facets of Cirque du Soleil to design an annual show. (Elizabeth Page Brumleyy/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
David Chang talks about what to expect at his new restaurant, Majordomo Meat & Fish - VIDEO
David Chang tells fans what to expect at his new restaurant, Majordomo Meat & Fish, at The Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pink Lady and Rosey Mary cocktails at Therapy in Las Vegas
Terence Beach, bartender at Therapy restaurant in Las Vegas, makes original pink cocktails to benefit breast cancer research. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Torrijas dessert served at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Las Vegas
Chef Christian Lee of Sugarcane at The Venetian in Las Vegas makes a dessert of torrijas, a Latin French toast, serving it with a caramelized-apple sauce and cinnamon ice cream. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
David Chang to sell Tasty Patties at Palazzo in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Chef David Chang has announced a casual concept that will accompany his new Majordomo Meat & Fish at Palazzo on the Las Vegas Strip. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Latkes, tzimmes at Market Place Buffet in Las Vegas for Rosh Hashanah
Ryan Swanson, Market Place Buffet room chef at the JW Marriott/Rampart Casino in Las Vegas, makes potato dishes as part of the resort’s Rosh Hashanah buffet. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
How Elphaba In "Wicked" turns green - VIDEO
Mariand Torres gets "painted" by makeup supervisor Joyce McGilberry for her role as Elphaba in "Wicked" at The Smith Center. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Hangover is served at The Crack Shack in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Khine Moore, executive chef at The Crack Shack at Park MGM in Las Vegas, makes The Hangover with a fried chicken breast or thigh dipped in honey-butter, sprinkled with Crack Seasoning and topped with an egg. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dessert Before Dinner winner Becky Quan
Nine of Las Vegas’ top women pastry chefs offered original creations built around Girl Scouts Trefoils shortbread cookies Saturday night at Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada’s annual Desserts Before Dinner Gala. The top dessert, as voted on by the audience, was an homage to Good Humor’s old-fashioned Strawberry Shortcake ice cream bars created by NoMad’s Becky Quan. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)