Forty Stories of Japan
COLLECTION BY OVER THIRTY WRITERS
A colleague at the school we taught at in Tokyo said that everyone has a good story to tell, possibly very true for travellers to the Far East. Recalling this we decided to ask friends there if they would like to write about an experience in Japan. The contributions were sufficient to start work on this book. It was published in March, 2010, a compilation of forty stories by people from other countries who live or have lived in Japan.
The basic idea in producing this kind of book was to give a chance to people to tell their Japan experience in well-crafted story form, a tale that deserves to be recounted but perhaps wouldn’t otherwise find its way into print. With tongue in cheek we gave the book the working title of Tales of Gaijin (playing on the classic work of Japanese literature, Tale of Genji).
It will fascinate anyone interested in how people from foreign lands view Japan and what their unique experiences were. It is hoped that Japanese people will read these stories and reflect on the images and opinions of people who have a deep connection with Japan.
What We Heard About the Japanese, Rachel Rose
1. Wonderful Things, Ingrid Horrocks
2. Reminiscences of Japan, Thom Andrews
Home and Family
3. My House, My Japanese Castle, Emma Bramwell
4. My Japanese Sister, Kathy Lee
5. Living with the Ghost Lady, Tom Bauerle
6. The Not-So-Narrow Road to the Not-So-Deep North I, David Gilbey
7. School Thrill, Curtis Kelly
8. Tomoko, Jim Smiley
9. My Tokyo Interviews, Cliff Harrington
10. Japan Newsletter I, William Matheny
11. My Japanese Home Away From Home, Mitch Goodman
12. Communication at a Crossroads ,Allan Murphy
13. Disturbing the Wa, Adair Linn Nagata
14. The Not-So-Narrow Road to the Not-So-Deep North II, David Gilbey
15. Takarazuka Falls, Robert Ball
16. The Mountain, Wendy Jones Nakanishi
17. The President’s Hand, Stephen Henry Gill
18. Japan Newsletter II, William Matheny
19. Ramble on Bizan, Suzanne Kamata
20. Ohenro, Allan Murphy
21. The Longest Living People in the World, Liane Wakabayashi
22. A Walk Between Worlds, Chris Gladden
23. Chris-mas Story, Naomi Arimura
24. Suzume-san, Vera Robinson
25. Bears in Hokkaido, Mary King
26. Puppy Kindy, Naomi Arimura
27. Rush:A Remembrance and a Love Story, Marc Helgesen
Drama of Life
28. She Might Be Keiko, Paul K. Binford
29. Matchmaking at the Onsen, Annette Greene
30. The Love Hotel, Matt Comeskey
31. Nanohana Rhapsodising, Anna Kunnecke
32. Elvis, Sue Turner-Cray
33. Halloween, Curtis Kelly
34. Wedding Guests, Louise Nakanishi-Lind
35. Otoosan, Wendy Jones Nakanishi
36. The Not-So-Narrow Road to the Not-So-Deep North III, David Gilbey
37. Reminiscences of Japan II, Thom Andrews
38. Not Everything has to be Logical, Thom Simmons
39. A Japanese Xmas, Naomi Arimura
40. Disappointing Things, Ingrid Horrocks
What the Japanese Perhaps Heard, Rachel Rose
From the Introduction
These stories are written, for the most part, by people I know, some of them close friends. To ask acquintances to write was calculated but risky; while I felt strongly that I would have relished someone asking for my story about Japan, there was always some doubt in my mind that I would be able to collect enough stories in this way. However, most of the people I asked not only rose to the request, they also produced beautiful stories of personal experiences and clear revelations, memorable impressions of Japan, all of them heart-felt. These tales are snapshots and insights into real-life Japan produced by people who have a strong connection to Japan, who lived there or, in many cases, still do.
The idea for this collection was inspired by the letter writing of Naomi Arimura. It was the vitality of one of her letters recounting the adopting and training of a puppy that started the project. I suggested she could send it to the Guardian Weekly to publish in their column of letters from different countries. Then I began to think that other people living in Japan may have equally enjoyable and insightful tales to tell …
This is a varied collection, unified by the writers’ admiration for Japan and roughly classified for convenience. There are stories conveying a fine feeling for the country in a simple way, others are of a more literary style that are beautifully crafted – all of them can make the heart sing. They are divided into themes: first impressions of Japan, home and family life, the cross-cultural experience, work, nature, modern life, celebrations and even pets, an important part of life in Japan today. There is a visit to a love hotel (The Love Hotel), a pilgrimage in the Inland Sea (Ohenro), climbing hills (A Ramble on Bizan, The Mountain, A Walk Between Worlds), going on a date (Matchmaking at the Onsen), going to a wedding (Wedding Guests), the funeral of a family member (Otoosan), meeting the Chinese President in a rice field (The President’s Hand), the world of modelling in Osaka (Elvis), celebrity interviews (My Tokyo Interviews), island longevity (Okinawa), an encounter with bears (Bears in Hokkaido), teaching ten- year-old terrors (School Thrill), touring Japan with a troupe of players (Nanohana Rhapsodising), living with a ghost (Living with the Ghost Lady), cross-cultural experiences (Disturbing the Wa, Communication at a Crossroads, The Not-so-Narrow Road…, Reminiscences of Japan) and the story that started it all – Puppy Kindy, taking a dog for training …
In conclusion, I would like to invite anyone reading this book who feels that they, too, have a story to tell, especially about Japan, to write to email@example.com. Perhaps another forty stories of the land of silken threads are waiting in the wings.
Graham Bathgate, FineLine Press January, 2010
Sample stories from Forty Stories of Japan
CLIFF HARRINGTON: MY TOKYO INTERVIEWS (PDF, 94KB)
Elvis by Sue Turner-Cray (This will also be in Sue’s collection, “Tokyo Daze” to be produced in 2021)
The hypnotic buzz of the bullet train would have lulled me to sleep if I hadn’t been so jacked up on diet pills. At high speed I headed out of the throbbing metropolis of Tokyo, rain splattering across the train’s window as I strained my neck for one last glimpse of this electric place I had called home for the past four months.
Strangely, I longed to be out there, caught in the middle of the swarming pedestrians, rushing across the Shinjuku crosswalk, under their blanket of psychedelic umbrellas, their collective urban sigh awakening to the excitement of another Friday night and the weekend that lay ahead. I imagined running among them, dodging the sharp spikes of the umbrellas, peculiarly level with my gaze. I felt the acid rain kissing my cheeks as I made my way to the nightclub called Tokios, my home away from home, the international models’ playschool. Soon to be feeding on free food, consuming alcoholic beverages, and flirting with exotic handsome men, while gyrating carelessly to the pounding disco thud …
“Darling, there is no such thing as a fat model!” The voice of my Tokyo modelling agent bellowed in my head as we zoomed through another black tunnel. Slowly chewing on a toffee-covered chocolate amid the phone-ringing chaos of her modeling agency, this agent from hell levelled her fierce brown eyes on mine and licked her sticky fingers as I anxiously awaited the needle coming to land on the almighty scale beneath me. Seventeen and desperate to get out of Industrial England, I had found my Japan niche through a Northern modelling agent who frequently sent leggy, teenage “fresh faces” to Doreen, the rotund British modelling maven in Japan’s booming 1980s’ fashion market.
Now wearing only underwear, poised nervously centre-stage among the chattering Japanese bookers, I watched the needle on the scales wavering below me as I shifted my weight, trying to ease the outcome.
“One hundred and thirteen pounds” she declared triumphantly! “You’re fat darling, I can’t sell you like that!”
The agency hum quickly subsided as the audience took their seats.
“That’s a ten-pound gain!” she pronounced.
A Walk Between Worlds by Chris Gladden
As the rickety bus clambers up from the valley town of Kisofukishima, I sip a hot can of Boss coffee and watch the patchwork hills of bamboo and sugi pine lurch by. We are ascending through a narrow ravine towards Ontake-san, on the border of Nagano and Gifu Prefectures, right in the middle of Honshu, Japan’s main island. The lumbering bulk of the mountain looms, shrouded in early morning mist. My natural inclination when climbing is to want to see where I am heading, but at times like this I can only suspend the inquisitive faculty and plunge into the fog with faith that boots and the power of breakfast will carry me through. This particular mountain could well have her own designs though. Ontake is even today considered a god.
The Japanese have always thought of their rugged islands as alive. Oddly placed boulders, ancient ragged trees, ridge lines, glades, hilltops and bodies of water are all the domain of kami, powers that humans can relate to for boons and blessings … or neglect at their own risk. Some of these objects are themselves deities, others inhabited by one, or more gods. The boundary between these is rarely sharply defined, the sacred and profane in Japan always a matter of emphasis rather than a line in the sand. Of course the features that dominate the natural landscape are also paid homage.
You can hardly take a step in Japan without walking into a mountain. They soar and dive virtually the entire length of the country and are commonly represented in place and family names: Yamada (山田、mountain rice field), Yamaoka (山岡、mountains and hills), and Takayama (高山、high 140 g Forty Stories of Japan mountain) are just a few of thousands.