Ash Watson has a degree in Animal Biology and a working history in Veterinary Care, but his world turned upside down when he picked up Japanese classes again.
Ash’s connections with Japan began in 2005 when he started to travel frequently to Tokyo. He lived and worked as a teacher in a reputable private high school in North Tokyo from 2016-2018. He taught 10 different subjects and ran 3 clubs to 13-18 year old Japanese girls, all in English.
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A tell-all memoir of life in Tokyo
"Because Japan" truly is a warts-and-all account of the less publicised side of the life of a British expat in Tokyo.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed pszr.co/OhAgD 2850 views
|Biography & Memoir|
|3 publishers interested|
Because Japan 日本ですから, truly is an unabashed account of the less publicised side of life in Tokyo for a British expat.
The book offers a witty, vivid and honest insight into the daily life of a British Expat over the course of two years. The author narrates stories taken from his “Journal of Firsts” which depict the first struggle, first mental challenge, first exciting moment, he faced living in this strange and fascinating new world.
Through the use of newly learned Japanese phrases whilst travelling the country, themes of soul-searching, overcoming mental health obstacles, sexual orientation, racial discrimination, and culture shock are explored with honesty and candour. With the addition of a train-based mini series of hilarious encounters, Because Japan 日本ですから offers a behind the scenes insight into the ‘real’ Japan.
An introduction into the authors history and why he wrote Because Japan.
An introduction into the authors Journal of firsts, and his first encounter with culture shock.
2. Train Chronicles #1 Standard
The first of 12 mini chapters, this informative chapter details the importance and cultural significance of the rail system.
Three mini stories of the positive and negatives of being approached by strangers in order to practice English.
4. Train Chronicles #2 The Invader
A mini story of the time the author saved a girl on the train from an intruding creature.
5. Tadaima Part One The Hunt
The first in a 5 part mini series, this chapter follows the author around various apartments with a neurotic travel agent in the hunt for the perfect place to live.
6. Odaiji Ni
This chapter discusses the mystique of the face mask as the author is taken ill and is asked to wear one for the first time.
7. Train Chronicles #3 New Species
The author details in great lengths, his disdain at the hygiene levels of the public trains within Tokyo.
8. Tadaima Part Two Nesting
Now settled in his new apartment, this chapter covers each awkward encounter with the authors new neighbours, along with a four month battle with a light bulb.
Nostalgia is the theme of this chapter. The author visits the Pokemon Centre.
10. Train Chronicles #4 New Attraction
The author finds himself drawing attention to an unexpected source on his morning commute.
11. Tadaima Part Three Community
The author discusses his morning commute to work and the characters he encounters along the way.
12. Ki Wo Tsukete
With the theme of 'being careful' the author goes skiing for the first time and experiences his first traumatic encounter with a member of the Yakuza.
13. Train Chronicles #5 Catch ‘Em All
This chapter depicts a huge cultural phenomenon.
14. Tadaima Part Four Best Week
The author details his unfortunate week that reaches a tumultuous climax.
15. A Year in the Life
As the authors one year anniversary in Japan approaches, he takes a look back on the differences between the west and the east and the title of the book is explained.
16. Train Chronicles #6 Rejection
A miscommunication occurs between the author and an elderly train passenger.
17. Hanami Part One Tainted
The author becomes a victim of a crime during the cherry blossom season.
18. Train Chronicles #7 New Beginnings
Mondays on the trains are explained.
19. Tadaima Part Five Changes
This chapter details the various seasonal changes that occur whilst living in a Japanese apartment.
20. Train Chronicles #8 TGIF
The last train home is explained.
21. Best Betsu
Individualism and Japan's homogeneous nature is discussed.
22. Train Chronicles #9 Girl Power?
Gender separation and discrimination is discussed at length in this chapter.
The authors first shot at acting is explained.
24. Train Chronicles #10 Invisible
The author depicts the struggles of overcrowded trains.
25. Hanami Part Two Revived
The author experiences the perfect cherry blossom season.
The second wave of culture shock hits as the author returns home to the UK for the first time.
The author is victim to racial discrimination and discusses at length the impact it has.
The author learns to appreciate the small things in life after a great loss.
29. Train Chronicles #11
A keyring, a stranger and a New York Times article brings clarity to a serious topic.
A zip-lining adventure takes a turn for the worst as the author is forced into an existential crisis.
31. Train Chronicles #12 Ray of Light
The author attends a speech contest and recounts the inspiring ideas presented, followed by some self reflection.
32. Otsukaresama Deshita Mt. Fuji
The author takes his final adventure in Japan.
The author reflects on his experiences after 2 years in Japan.
Visitors to Japan, Tokyo Olympic 2020 visitors, expats living in foreign countries, JET Programme participants and students, people interested in Japan and Japanese culture.
Facebook Followers: 150
Instagram Followers: 700
Email List: 130
Work Colleagues: 300
JET Facebook Groups: 4,000 followers
Japan Facebook Groups: 37,5K followers
Travel Blogger Facebook Groups: 49K followers
Friends YouTube accounts: 150K subscribers
● The Abundance of Less: Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan by Andy Couturier, North Atlantic Books, U.S, 1st August 2017.
This narrative depicts the daily lives of individuals who moved from urban to rural Japan and their journey. Ash’s book goes more into detail about the language and lessons he has gleaned from his encounters in a more urban setting.
● For Fukui’s Sake: Two Years in Rural Japan by Sam Baldwin, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 19th November 2012.
This author was on the same teaching programme as Ash, and had very similar experiences to him except in a very rural setting. Instead, Ash’s book will act as a polar opposite, showing the urban side of Japan.
● The Distance Between: A Travel Memoir by Mike McIntyre, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2nd January 2014.
This book described witty and real interactions and travel anecdotes from many countries over a lifetime. Ash’s book focuses on how he studied the Japanese language through his encounters and experiences whilst traveling around the country and commuting on the train each day.
●Tune in Tokyo - The Gaijin Diaries by Tim Anderson, Lake Union Publishing, 24th August 2011.
While the themes of Tim’s book are similar to Because Japan, the overall execution is very different. Ash focuses more on living in the moment and how these moments helped shape his confidence and mental wellbeing through the use of language and cultural exchange. Tim’s book offers more of a focus on his background and his teaching.
●Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan by Bruce Feiler, Non Basic Stock Line, 11th May 2004.
Although set in the early 90’s, Bruce’s story still rings true to life in Japan today. His book focuses more on life in Rural Japan and the education system, and still manages to capture life as an expat pretty well. Although he teaches in Japan, Ash’s book focuses less on the educational system and more on how the language and his encounters help to shape him as a person.
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Too many beautifully written books are rejected on a regular basis because the submitting author doesn’t have a strong enough author platform.
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出る釘は打たれる。`The nail that stands out must be hammered down.’ This blunt expression is one that lies at the basis of Japanese life and culture. It is carefully and suggestively woven into society to the point where when questioned about its presence, most are oblivious or confounded by the notion.
I have queried the proverb with both Japanese colleagues and friends, and each usually acknowledges the expression in an unassuming or humbled nature; neither denying nor commenting on the phrase with negative connotation.
Way of life in Japan is paired with enforced and unquestioned rules and regulations that detail each aspect of one’s daily routines. Both religion and culture play a part in this carefully set of unspoken lifestyle conditions.
Individuality and individualism as a concept are a strange and bewildering attribute that is subliminally suppressed by the masses as one goes about one’s day. I have borne witness to several incidences where the individual was publicly denoted as a rebel and quickly forced to repress all spontaneity for fear of further shame.
In essence, people in Japan are taught from infancy that the needs of the group hugely outweigh that of the individual. It is therefore intrinsically gleaned and practiced into adolescence and adulthood alike to the point where this trait has become common behaviour within social construct.
I have been visiting Japan regularly over the past fourteen years and my initial reaction to the plethora of rules where rules simply don’t exist in the west was always that of humour and curiosity, but after living here for over a year, I seem to find my patience and common sense tested daily. Simple yes/no questions extend into lengthy debates, basic requests to an individual enter hierarchical realms, and complete nonsensical actions are justified with “but it’s the rules.”
There are several situations and examples I observe every day; some of which frustrate me like no other but most of which entertain me. I will therefore try to go through each in as much detail as possible.
The first instance of following-and-acting-with-the-masses has to be the excessive amount of queuing that takes place. At first, I thought that it was just part and parcel of living in Tokyo, but after travelling all over Japan, I have come to realise that it is in fact a custom in itself. As briefly touched on before, you will find people queuing for literally anything: a new food item that signs state is the best thing since sliced bread, an event of any kind, any type of exclusive item, shop or arcade machine, a premiere to a movie, show or play, anything remotely famous or idol group related (don’t even get me started on idol groups!), escalators or just another queue that looks exciting.
I have genuinely been standing in the street with friends at one point, and people began to line up behind us taking our ‘queue’ as a good sign that something was worth seeing (only to be disappointed when it leads nowhere). Theme parks are also interesting places where you will encounter lengthy queues. Playing the single-rider game is always fun because no-one wants to stand out and skip the entire queue only to ride alone, so you will quite often find yourself in luck there.
Escalators are where people are at their worst. Going about life at a steady and easy pace seems to be the way of life here, so walking up an escalator is seen to represent someone rushing in an emergent fashion. This has led way to the insanity and chaos that transpires at each train station and department store where flocks of people will stand blindly unaware of the masses around them, all calmly awaiting their turn to ride the stairs to the top. These people will subsequently all gather around the tiny connecting floor leading to the next escalator, not realising that by collecting in said area is limiting people’s ability to dismount the first escalator.
You are then left with a piling group of confused and bewildered individuals, all refusing to use an ounce of energy to move or take any kind of action in order to solve the issue. This then repeats itself at each floor of the train station or department store.
Each time I witness this, a mini rage builds inside of me and each time I approach an escalator, move swiftly into the right-hand lane and ascend the space next to the snake of squished individuals riding patiently. Of course, riders will stare blankly; confused as to why I have selected to walk instead of queue for five minutes then ride awkwardly to the top. Naturally I’m always the first to the ticket gate and skip yet another pending line awaiting the masses.
The idea for this chapter came from the term ベツベツ(betsu betsu). I first encountered this phrase at a restaurant when it came to paying the bill and a friend asked the waiter “Betsu betsu dekimasuka?” (Can we pay separately?).
I thought this term most useful and added it to the ‘Useful Japanese’ file on my phone. It would later occur to me that although betsu betsu is welcomed when paying (in some cases), the betsu betsu culture doesn’t really extend any further than this. This really made me think about how things work back home in the U.K and how life there compares to here.
Individualism and separation from the masses is encouraged and embraced, yet there is more social segregation and less of a community spirit back home. Perhaps the lack of this in Japan does in fact subliminally aid and expand the feeling of unity, as well as the sense of belonging and togetherness that takes place. It is one that is ever present in that overwhelming feeling you experience when you first travel here. It’s a feeling that’s difficult to depict, yet it’s one of joy and it leaves you wanting more; quite like that unexplainable addictive pain synonymous with getting a tattoo.
The next topic on my list of observations comes from witnessing instances where people need help from others and do not receive it. It’s very difficult for me to ignore my instinct to help those in need, and to understand how people can lack such an important innate characteristic.
My first example took place on the train whilst I was on my way to meet friends. An elderly lady stepped on the carriage and in doing so, tripped and fell head first into the seats opposite.
Everyone on board simply sat or stood there and stared at the poor woman. I was about to stand up to help when the only other foreigner, a young twenty something lad beat me to her aid. The woman initially refused assistance, but after realising she was in more pain than she first thought, accepted this offer. He struggled to help her stand and still onlookers continued to stare. Eventually she made it to her feet and he offered her his own seat. The whole time I could not believe how obviously people were staring and yet ignoring the entire situation. If this were to happen in the U.K, multiple people would be rushing to assist where possible.
The second instance again involves an elderly lady on the train who was struggling to stand in the swaying and moving carriage. She was using a walking stick to steady herself but was still stumbling around in difficulty. All this was happening next to the Priority Seats that are clearly labelled in Japanese, Chinese, English and in picture form, stating that these chairs are for the pregnant, ill and elderly.
Each seat was occupied by persons under the age of thirty playing on their phones or sleeping. It made me mad, so I rose from my seat halfway down the carriage (leaving my bag in place to prevent any other vultures from grabbing it) and walked over to the woman to offer her my seat. The look of shock on her face told me this rarely happens and as she gratefully accepted my seat, the thanks and bows were plentiful. A few stops later a spare seat became available and she signalled for me to occupy it. I, in turn gratefully accepted the offer, as I felt like this kind of generosity would go amiss in most places back home, and for this reason, she became the latest in my string of train buddies made overtime.
The third occurrence comes from a friend’s anecdote told to me recently. It is one that takes place many years ago when they were on their way out one morning. They arrived at a busy station and entered the packed train. Whilst standing at the edge of the door, waiting for it to close, they slipped and fell through the gap between the platform and the train. Shouting for help and hanging on for dear life, nobody came to their help and it took them all their strength to clamber onto the platform with bloodied knees and a shaken demeanour. This story in particular shocked me because I could only imagine how frightful and helpless they must have felt and cannot comprehend how people could just stand there and observe.
The final case is one that I have seen a few times, each time different but with the same results; a fight taking place, passers-by stopping to watch and ultimately a foreigner stepping in to break things up. The example I have chosen to depict comes from an article I read about a traveller in Japan. It took place at the West Exit of Ikebukuro station. Two guys had entered a brawl and one was exceedingly larger than the other. The latter ended up unconscious and bleeding on the floor with the former continuing to attack him at full force. A crowd collected and encircled the pair whilst nobody called for help. It took the foreign traveller to stop, drop his luggage, jump in between the two and shock the attacker for him to consider stopping. Even after the police arrived to the scene and the traveller tried to offer his assistance, the police refused his help and sent him on his way.
This of course all stems from my own personal opinions and thoughts, and I only seek to make light of these instances; offering a thrilling account of situations that have made me think and question life here. There is also of course a wide expression of individualism found in Japanese culture, music, fashion and in particular in places like Harajuku and Shimo-Kitazawa. There you will find vintage and hipster shops lining the labyrinthine streets, where men dress as women, and where girls don their favourite coloured contacts and wacky anime outfits.
I could speak for hours or write an entire separate novel on how amazing this country is and how its people are incredibly kind, thoughtful and welcoming. This country will always be my home away from home and I will always cherish my time and memories here. It is for this reason that I chose to write this critical piece to offer an insight into a part of Japan that perhaps people are unaware of, albeit in the extreme minority of cases.
Queues will always continue to annoy me; especially when they’re seen as a good sign rather than a deterrent, the ovine traits of some no longer frustrates, but amuses me, and I will forever sacrifice my seat on the train for the elderly because that is just the way of my inner British gentleman (which according to some people is another debate in itself!).
Thank you to all those who have preordered your copy of Because Japan. I’ve just reached the 50 milestone which is ever so exciting ...