: Arudou Debito
: Author, Columnist, University Prof
1. What first brought you to Japan?
A woman. Hey, I was only 21.
2. What's keeping you here?
A woman. Kids. Steady job. And oh yeah, Japanese citizenship.
3. Who in Japan do you most admire? Why?
There are too many people to mention. And I cannot narrow it down
to one person because none of them are saints. To be
expected. Any decent study of history and biography reveals dark
sides and shames in anyone. Guess the best thing to say is:
I hope to become a composite of the best parts of people I admire.
4. Why did you decide to base yourself in Hokkaido and not, say, central Tokyo?
Again, cherche la femme
Hokkaido was the first place I visited in Japan, and it was
summertime. Anyone who's ever been up to Sapporo in summer will
know what I mean. Inertia did the rest.
5. Where do you go to escape Hokkaido? Why?
Down south. Speeches, academic conferences, beers and homestays
with friends. Japan is incredibly easy to travel around--if you
have money and can read a map.
6. What's your favorite Japanese word or phrase? Why?
"Keizoku wa chikara nari"
"Continuation becomes its own strength." It demonstrates the
power of patience, precedence, and tenacity. Because the longer
you keep on the path, fortifying a life's work, the more likely that
people are going to take you seriously. Then they will hopefully
acquiesce, help out, or just plain get out of the way.
7. What's your favorite phrase in any language? Why?
"Somebody's gotta do it. It might as well be me." Think I'll make that my epitaph.
8. What makes you laugh?
The way the Japanese language uses onomatopoeia and twists foreign loanwords. Who says Japanese aren't creative?!
9. What makes you cry?
The way I watch people around here treat every tree like it's a
bonsai. Chop them to shreds because branches might get tangled in
phone lines, or poke somebody in the eye! I'm serious--that's an
actual reason once given me by zealous bureaucrats with pruning
shears! It's called tree growth, honey. It's not something
to stunt at the expense of shade and oxygen.
10. If you had to
live by yourself on a deserted Okinawan island for a year, what three
items would you make sure you packed in your suitcase?
My computer with internet access, so I could keep sending out my newsletters.
If I have to be alone on the island, that one item should do, really. As long as I have my iPod and Skype as well.
It's kinda like my lifestyle anyway when I'm in the middle of writing a book.
11. What's the most useful product/gadget you have bought in Japan?
My Japanese electronic dictionary. Keeps me plugging away at
kanji. Thanks to many a boring faculty meeting, I now even know
the characters for metric units!
12. What's the most exciting/outrageous thing you have ever done?
My summer cycle trips around Hokkaido are supremely exciting.
Done three so far, last one August 2006 totalling 940 kms. The
fact that I can still cycle more than 100 kms a day even at the age of
forty is a confounding certification of health. 200 kms in one
day is my best. People who see the size of my stomach are amazed
I haven't keeled over as roadkill yet.
Okay, something more outrageous and dishier, then. Out boozing
one night with a friend from Finland. Overimbibed some evil
80-proof Suomi aniseed brew. Wound up getting sick all over the
front steps of Hokkaido Jingu, the capital of Shintoism up here.
Er, on second thought, let's keep that incident between you and me...
13. What's the strangest request you've ever been asked in your line of work?
Probably the time I was asked to join in the okama-kon festival at my
university. By that I mean, where all the guys dress up like
girls and act feminine for prizes. Dressing in drag has got quite
a history over here, thanks to Kabuki.
Anyway, my supervisor stuffed me into a dress and covered me in
otherwise unusable make-up she bought in Russia. I went up on
stage with my eight-month-old daughter sleeping in the crook of one
arm, as proof of my obvious fertility. Nobody got the joke, and I
didn't even place in the top three. Surprisingly enough, this is
NOT the most embarrassing thing I've ever done in Japan...
14. Describe your most embarrassing moment in Japan.
I was once asked to interpret at an international wedding, where a
drunk old fart decided to go on a gabbing bender. Then he blabbed
about the breezy day when he got lucky--an upskirt view of one of the
women in the audience. Pity that woman happened to be the
bride! I bunted and refused to translate it.
I later asked professional translators how they would have handled this
situation. They said I should have compared her to Marilyn Monroe
standing over a subway grating. Naruhodo
. Interpreters deserve every penny.
15. When you
became a naturalized Japanese citizen, why did you choose the name
Arudou Debito and not, say, Watanabe Ken or Ishihara Shintaro?
Wouldn't want to be confused with them. Or with anyone
else. I wish to be a Japanese on my own terms, and that starts
with my name.
Anyway, my name was once Dave Aldwinckle, and that comes out as
Arudouinkuru Debito in katakana. Shortened the last name and
picked the kanji to fit.
16. What is the best part about being a naturalized Japanese citizen?
How surprisingly accepting people are of it. Seriously. It opens so many doors and settles so many arguments.
17. What is the worst part about being a naturalized Japanese citizen?
The fact that you'd better speak Japanese pretty naturally before
people accept you as one. Most people still equate nationality
with face and race. And foreigners are the nastiest about it.
18. As a long-term
resident of Japan, if there's one piece of advice you would like to
offer someone who has just stepped off the plane at Narita, what would
Learn Japanese. If you want to do anything at all with a degree
of comfort and control in Japanese society, you must learn how to
speak, read, and write. More advice in a "GUIDEBOOK TO LIVING IN
JAPAN" a lawyer friend and I will be publishing next year.
19. What's the best action to take when confronted with a sign that says "Japanese Only"?
Take a photo of it with time and place and send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you're really daring, ask the management why they have that sign
up. Then ask them calmly to take it down, since it invites
misunderstandings--the biggest of all being that "foreigners" can be
excluded with impunity. This situation must not be left alone,
because it'll only get worse.
20. In your opinion, what's the single biggest myth that has been perpetuated about Japan? Briefly set the record straight.
The myth that Japanese laborers are workaholics. Leave the mania
of Tokyo for a while and you'll see just how laid back people
get. Even in many Japanese companies, learning how to look busy
is a fine art. Kinda like tax evasion. That said, the
generally high commitment in Japan to a job well done more than makes
up for any secret skiving.
21. Who would win a fight between a lion and tiger? Why?
Saw a computer simulation of that on the Discovery Channel once.
The lion won. Don't remember why. I wound up thinking
afterwards, there are some bored venture capitalists out there...
22. What do you want to be when you grow up?
A person who can make the best decision at all times. Hopefully sagacious without cynicism.
23. Do you have any words of advice for young people?
Enjoy your youth for as long as possible, since you should have many
twilight years to enjoy your age. Still, Japan is a society which
largely wastes the energy of its youth. But the upside is that
life gets easier as you get older in Japan. If you learn the
rules of getting along, that is.