English Newspapers: Being Interviewed

An excerpt from Igirisu-nippon iwasete moraimasse イギリス・ニッポン言わせてもらいまっせ (“Let me tell you about England and Japan”) by Takao Keiko 高尾慶子.  All rights held by Takao Keiko, 2004.

I got a phone call from Simon, the Englishman who translated my book, The English are Weird (イギリス人はおかしい).

“Keiko, the Sunday Times is going to publish an article about Japan in an upcoming issue.   It’s written by an Englishman who has written about his impressions of Japan after spending about a week there.  He’s negative about Japan from start to finish.  It’s utterly worthless.  I got a call asking if I could recommend any Japanese people who would counterbalance the article.  I thought of you, so how about it?  It would be in an interview format. It’s a great opportunity.”

“What sort of things does he say?”

“That men in Japan are all childish and stupid.   For example, they openly read comics on the train, and adults aren’t embarrassed to read the pornographic kind in public.  That Japanese women are just like playthings to Japanese men.  That kind of thing.”

While I didn’t think that the things Simon had told me the Englishman had written were altogether incorrect, I thought that someone should still respond saying so.  Someone should fire back about how England’s the same and render him speechless.  So I decided to do the interview.  Shortly afterward, an acquaintance who had been the head of the London branch office of a Japanese company called, and I told her this story.

“Aha, it’s that kind of article…  Well, as your response, will you mention how English men don’t think twice about opening their tabloids to Page Three in the middle of the Underground and looking at full-color pictures of breasts?”

I chuckled and said, “That’s a good one.”

About a week after that, a woman called me.  I had thought that we would meet up somewhere to do the interview, because for whatever reason I hate the telephone.  She suddenly said in Japanese (she said she had been visiting Japan for over 15 years, but her Japanese was terribly bad), “What do you think of English food?”

“I think English food is only meant for English people.”

“But these days there are more and more English restaurants, and far better choices,” she said.

“Yes, yes, there are lots more nouvelle anglaise restaurants these days, and they all look so very modern, but underneath it all the food is still English.  Compared to anywhere in Europe, I still don’t think the food is any good.  Say, compared to restaurants in France or Belgium, English restaurants are just awful,” I replied, just as reflexively as breathing out.

“What do you think about transportation in England?” she asked.

“Have you ridden the trains, buses, or the tube here?” I responded.

“I take the tube to work everyday,” she said.

“Then isn’t that kind of a silly question?” I said.  “Especially if you lived in Japan for 15 years.”

Her next question, as Simon had told me, was about how some Japanese people read pornographic comics on the train, so I said:

“Yes, I thought it was strange when I lived in Japan, too.  I was surprised to see fully-grown men pulling Shonen Jump or some other comic out of their briefcases to read.  And now it seems they do this with pornographic comics, too.  I can’t imagine there’s a woman alive who would marry the kind of man who reads that, whether on the train or at home.  But the men here look at Page 3 of The Sun (published by the same company as the Times) on the tube.  To a Japanese person who thinks English men are gentlemen, this is a very strange sight.  But English men don’t seem to find this embarrassing at all,” I replied, to which she said:

“Foreigners who live in Japan are always complaining but they never leave.  I think you are quite like them.”

“You’re the one who has been asking me for my comments about England.  I’ve just been joking with you.  My jokes aren’t just my own, though; they’re what every foreigner in England is thinking.  Perhaps it angers you to hear a foreigner say these things, but you spent a long time in Japan and then came back to your own country– when you compare it to Japan, with our delicious food and our high-speed, reliable transportation, don’t you think England is dire?  If you don’t, you must be quite dim.  It’s because everyone thinks that way that this country will never improve.”

In a very quiet voice she said, “I’ll borrow the manuscript of Simon’s translation of your book and give it a read.”

“Yes, please do,” I said and hung up.

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