JULY 2019 (VOL.143)
July 2019 (VOL.143)
From Bournemouth, UK
Can you talk about your activities in Japan?
Aside from my day job, I founded and run a group called the ‘Knights in White Lycra’ in 2012. KIWL is now a large group of international men and women of all ages and abilities, getting fit and giving back through sport and leisure, to support disadvantaged children in Japan. We organize various events including distance cycling, marathons & fun runs, walks, golf, Futsal, and social get-togethers.
Why did you start the charity cycling and sports team in Japan?
A handful of British men were sitting in a Tokyo pub staring at our beer bellies and wondering how we were going to get fit. Recent memories of the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 were still fresh in our minds so we devised a 200-mile bicycle ride from Tokyo to Tohoku to raise funds for displaced surviving families in Fukushima. Get fit and give back simultaneously.
How is it going?
We thought it would be just a one-off but our cycle ride is now our annual flagship event attracting over 40 amateur cyclists from a host of different countries, most living in Japan. Realizing that non-cyclists also wanted to ‘get fit and give back’ too, we created other sporting events, and for those who just wanted to exercise their grey matter, a pub quiz night! Since we started in 2013, we have raised Y57 million (about US$520,000) for local grassroot charities working with abused, neglected, and orphaned children living in the institutional care system in Japan. Our chosen charity is YouMeWe, a local NPO educating care home kids in IT, giving them sustainable and employable lifetime skills which in turn gives them better prospects in adult life.
What is the distinctive difference between your country’s and Japanese lifestyle?
Tokyo is a fast-paced city much like London, but I find Japanese people able to dealing with stressful challenges with stoicism and calmness. Never was that more evident than in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami. Tokyo also feels like a safer place especially for my children so I can let them off the leash more than I would back in the UK. Personally speaking, I am allergic to seafood so Japan is a challenge for me! I might be the only ‘Gaijin’ who has never set foot in a sushi restaurant!
What do you miss about your maternal country living in Japan?
It would have to be certain foods, but the longer I have lived here, the more have become available in Japan. Baked beans and decent bread for example, but British sandwiches are still far superior! I mean who puts strawberries and kiwi fruit in their sandwiches??!! Naturally, I miss friends and family but Japan’s lifestyle, cleanliness, and efficiency suit me. I can honestly say I have never been homesick in 20 years of living here!
What parts of Japanese culture do you recommend that foreign people try to experience?
The unrivaled customer service and politeness which is everywhere here, but are in much fewer places in western countries these days. Kyoto is an obvious destination for culture but is very crowded. Go to a Sumo ‘Dojo’ and watch the wrestlers train and learn their trade.
Are there any aspects of the Japanese culture or its people that you find bizarre or unique?
I love the office chair race held every year, a more bizarre sight you will rarely see anywhere!! The dancing Elvis’s in Yoyogi Park, the chanting ‘Washoi’ shrine carriers of the summer festivals, the ‘Penis’ festival in Kawasaki. Quite frankly, there are just too many ‘Only in Japan’ moments to mention, you will just have to come and see for yourself!
After moving to Japan did you have any funny experiences?
Yes. Initially staying in a hotel and saying ‘hi’ to the staff every morning then eventually being told I was considered as some crazy Gaijin on the loose walking around saying ‘yes’ to everyone!!! Another was the famous mechanical toilet with bidet. Goodness me, how accurate they are! They must have been made by an Archer because it has such amazing precision!