While in Japan, Nothomb attended a local school and learned Japanese. When she was five, the family moved to China. "Quitter le Japon fut pour moi un arrachement" ("Leaving Japan was a wrenching separation for me"), she wrote in Fear and Trembling. Nothomb moved often, and she did not live in Europe until she was 17, when she moved to Brussels. There, she felt as much a stranger as everywhere else. She studied philology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. After some family tensions, she returned to Japan to work in a Japanese company in Tokyo. Her experience of this time is told in Fear and Trembling.