PORTLAND NEEDS WILLAMETTE WEEK.
NOW WILLAMETTE WEEK NEEDS YOU.

The need for strong, independent local journalism
is more urgent than ever. Please support the city we
love by joining Friends of Willamette Week.

Musician Michelle Zauner, aka Japanese Breakfast, Didn’t Much Like Growing Up in Eugene. In Her New Memoir, She Explores Her Oregon Roots.

“Crying in H Mart” links Zauner's grief over the death of her mother with her love of Korean food and the isolation of growing up Korean American in a small, overwhelmingly white Oregon town.

WW presents "Distant Voices," a video interview series for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.


Michelle Zauner has a complicated relationship with her hometown of Eugene.

Take Japanese Breakfast, the moniker under which Zauner releases music—the name was partially inspired by Zauner's childhood growing up with a white father and Korean mother outside the Oregon college town, where many of her peers assumed she was Japanese. Some didn't even know Korea was a country.

"Being in Eugene as a teenager kind of sucks," says Zauner. "It wasn't an incredibly diverse town, especially then."

After moving to Pennsylvania for college, Zauner moved back to Eugene in 2014 to care for her mom, who was dying of cancer. She wrote her first album as Japanese Breakfast in Oregon while dealing with the loss of her mother.

In Crying in H Mart, her upcoming memoir, Zauner links together that grief with her love of Korean food, and the isolation of growing up Korean American in a small, overwhelmingly white Oregon town. In a way, it's the culmination of the loss and grief that Zauner has been processing as Japanese Breakfast for years.

"There was so much to unpack," she says. "I spent so many years of my life really living in that and exploring every avenue I could to get a better, more comprehensive understating of that grief."

So it's fitting that, after writing 80,000-plus words on her relationship with her late mom and her Korean heritage, Zauner's next album as Japanese Breakfast—due later this year—is mostly about joy.

"[Writing the book] was definitely a cathartic process, and I don't know if I want to do it again," she says. "But I'm glad that I did it. I'm ready to explore other things in my life."

WW talked to Zauner about her upcoming album, the newfound popularity of Korean food and The New Yorker article that led to her first book.

Related: An Oregon Indie Musician Wrote an Emotional New Yorker Essay About H Mart, Which Will Open Its First Portland Location Soon.