sign-1I think “March 11th, 2011”, that day was the turning point of people inJapan. “What is the most valuable and precious thing?”
Not only a few people ask themselves this question.

Some of them might have changed their way of living, such as
where they work and live to find the answer. They might have alreadyfound it.
The person, who is reading this interview program, may be one of them.

We, Japanese people have kept having our own original mind;“Heart is more important than things we own.” The mind might have been put away from us before that day, but many of us may start toregain this kind of mindset to know ourselves.

In the meantime, depressing news towards Japan and Japanesepeople’s futures keep occurring against our will, but “The TokyoOlympics” will be held in 2020 despite situations like this.
With retrospection, we are facing the future with both anxietyand anticipation.

4 years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and 5 years are left to the Olympics. Now, the timing, which is getting a bigpicture view of “Japan” and “Japanese people”, has come.
This may lead the answer to the question.

From those things, I came up with this program which is to interviewpeople from overseas about Japan.
I hope these interviews provide the awareness of something special to you.

〜What does Japan mean to you?〜
Vol.1 Geoff Tozer from England
teaching at the University of Tokyo and University of Tsukuba, publishing books for IELTS and TOEIC.

G(Geoff Tozer/Interviewee)
H(Yohei Hayakawa / Interviewer )

H:    I would like to tell you about this content. As you know, we have experienced the big earthquake in Sendai. Since then, some of us have lost confidence. Some still find it hard to be optimistic about the future. So, I would be happy if I could share some positive aspects about Japanese life and ask you about the charm of Japan with you. In the near future, I would like this content to grow. Hopefully, it will grow fast because the Tokyo Olympics are coming in 2020!

You are going to be the first interviewee. I would like to start a question by asking about you. Where are you from?

G:    It would be my pleasure. I am from England near Manchester, which is 180 miles northwest of London. I grew up in the countryside about 20 minutes on the train from Manchester called Macclesfield. It is a town used that used to be famous for silk manufacture in the 19th century. Of course, the techniques came from Japan.

H:     How was your life in Macclesfield?

G:     Well, growing up in the countryside was a little boring but going back now, I think it is a very nice place to visit. People like hiking and each little village has a very nice pub. So, on a nice typical Sunday, you might go hiking over the hills to a beautiful village, have lunch in the pub, and hike back.

H:     Is there a similar place to Japan like Macclesfield?

G:     Well…. let me see. Yamanashi? If you go towards Sendai it is very flat, but if you go towards Yamanashi there are many mountains. So, probably it is more like Yamanashi. But I think things are very different. The attitude to the countryside is very different. In England, if you’ve got a little bit of money, you want to live in the countryside. People who’ve got less money will live in the center of Manchester. So, near Macclesfield there are a lot of Manchester United Footballers. Whereas in Japan, if you’ve got money you live in the city. I think in England we tend to go to the countryside.

H:     What is your favorite team?

G:     I should say Manchester United but none of the players come from Manchester. We got our own team called ‘The Silkmen’ because it used to be a silk manufacturing town.

H:     When and why did you come to Japan?

G:    A long time ago, I did a course in English and went to Greece for a while. When I went back, I didn’t really have any role in England. So, my friend who came to Japan earlier told me that I would have great fun in Japan. I wanted to study a different culture and language that nobody spoke because everybody studied French and nobody studied Japanese in England. So, I decided to come to Japan. It was not really a deeply thought decision. I just thought-out I could try.

When I arrived in Tokyo, I found a very friendly place to live called ‘English village’. The deal was, a lot of foreigners will live there for free and you will have evening meal, breakfast and a place to stay. For that you have to teach English one hour a day. The Japanese and the foreigners will live there. We had four people per room and there were lots of cockroaches. I’d never seen any cockroaches until than. Never seen one in England. We had fungus growing on the wall. It wasn’t luxurious but it was a very friendly place. The first night everyone went to the Izakaya. So, my first learning experience was the Izakaya.

H:     How was it? What kind of food did you have?

G:    It was very good. It is one of the favorite things for me in Japan. We had some basic Japanese food. It was cheap and had a very nice atmosphere. I love Izakayas. I like it that you can have some private room with a little screen that you could close. This was during the late 1980’s.

H:     Did you come to Japan for a trip?

G:    I came to visit on a trip and I got a job teaching, I started learning the language, and I went to school. After staying for a long time, I got married and had a child. I went back to England when my child was 4 years old.

I stayed in England for 5 years. My wife had a difficulty. The change from Tokyo to village life was very difficult. England is a very social place. When you have kids in school, you will know all the parents because they come to pick them up everyday. The kids are invited to each other houses to play. It is a very casual thing. It’s fantastic. We should get to know everyone. But in Japan, that doesn’t really happen very much. I don’t think my wife is really prepared to visit their house casually. So, if someone was coming, it will take a lot of preparations before somebody came. I think constant making friends and socializing was very stressful for her. After 5 years, I came back to Japan because my wife wanted to. My wife is Japanese.

H:     Why did you go back to England than?

G:    I went to England for a number of reasons. I used to be a language teacher ALT. I was a bit shocked at the kind of state of the school. I didn’t really want my kids to go there. I’d rather take them out from the system. But we had a different opinion for that.

H:     What do you do now?

G:     I’ve been writing English books for IELT, TOEFL and TOEIC. I get sent out from the school I work for. So, I teach in various universities. I teach long courses in Tokyo and Tsukuba University, and short courses in Seikei and Ochanomizu University about 2 hours a day in the evening.

After coming back to Japan, I enjoy the time here better. It is good to take a break and then come back again.

H:    What is your professional field in English?

G:     Especially TOEFL and IELTS.

H:    I think TOEIC is not popular in the world isn’t it?

G:    It is popular in Japan and Korea. I think TOEIC was invented because TOEFL was very challenging. But TOEIC doesn’t have any test for speaking and writing. It is only for reading and listening.
But I don’t think TOEIC is very bad. Everyone somehow criticizes it. You still have to understand a good degree of English.

H:    Could you tell me the differences and similarities between Japanese and English students?

G:    They are very different to be honest. When I teach at Tokyo University, the students are extremely good and they think very deeply. I understand that it is a different language but I get the impression that in a number of universities people don’t seem to read so many books. They often don’t refer to books and history so much. So, I think in the west there is more historical idea, thinking of reasons, and concepts. Native Japanese are more concrete in their thinking. Also, it is more teacher-centered here, they expect teachers to talk a lot, whereas, I like the students to talk a lot. They have to get used to discussing things in a group.

I think in England people travels a lot. They bring back a lot of experience. But here, they travel less because it is expensive and they don’t have time. So mostly they have the same experience. On the plus side, people are very polite. Students from good universities are very dedicated. They sleep 5 to 6 hours a day and spend the night studying. They come to English class studying all day is fantastic. There are also students who are very happy but don’t study at all. You’ll see them everywhere.

H:    Do you see any differences in both countries Japan and England?

G:    In a way, they are the same. I think both have an island mentality. To Japanese they think of themselves as Japanese. In England we talk about Europe as if we were not living in Europe. In many ways we are very different. We are not as dedicated as Japanese. 5 o’clock in the evening, we want to go home. We don’t want to stay late at night working. My friend didn’t get home until 8 o’clock. His wife made him give up his work because he didn’t have time to look after the kids. I think we have long vacations, but Japanese don’t. We travel a lot spending less money.

When I was living in England, We drove to France taking the ferry and stayed in the camp side. It was just 1000 yen. You could get a very good deal. Whereas in Japan, people tend to have really good food and a nice place to stay. We don’t have that in focus. We prefer to travel for a long time rather than a few days.

H:    What has been the most difficult thing to get use to since you came to Japan?

G:    I think it is the crowds. Tokyo is very crowded and not very green. I was brought up in the countryside so I need to escape as often as I can. I read somewhere that London is 50% green. Even London has more green than Tokyo. But luckily I teach in Tsukuba, which is fantastic. Tsukuba has a lot of greenery. I have a bicycle to cycle through the park and that is a release. I also teach in the Totsuka countryside, I walk around there. I teach in all these places, which I do get to see a lot of greens. And the crowded train is the usual thing. First thing in the morning it is very difficult to take the train.

H:     When you came to Japan the first time, how did you feel?

G:    I enjoyed the difference. I like friends who get to go to the Izakaya together. It was just interesting to see different cultures. Like the crowded train and handing out the tissues at the stations, everything was just interesting.

H:     Did you experience another cultural shock?

G:    Well, I will be disappointed if there is no cultural shock. I was expecting it all the time. I remember seeing my friend at the temple. I walked onto the tatami with the shoes on. There were lots of things to learn.

When I got to get my first apartment, the landlady told me ‘No Foreigners!’ That was a nasty cultural shock. I had a lot of this ‘No Foreigners!’ And, when I tried to use my credit card nobody gave me a credit card even though I had a job. That was a bit of discrimination. I think it is better now.

On the good side, there isn’t any violence. People are nice. Nobody pointed at me and said violent words.

H:    How did you get to know your wife?

G:     I met her in one of the international parties in Japan. She was a very nice person. We had a lot of differences and our relationship developed very slowly.

H:    Did you travel a lot in Japan?

G:    Yes, I did. I traveled a lot. Shikoku, Kyushu, Hokkaido, once you get out of Tokyo it is very attractive. I like the Hidetakayama area. Recently, I went to Fukuoka and the people were very friendly. You don’t get it in Sendai, Sapporo and Tokyo. I realize that people in the west are friendlier.

But the natural disaster is the scariest thing. In England we don’t have it. My first experience was in Greece. I didn’t know what it was. I was in bed at night at my friend’s house. The bed started shaking. The biggest earthquake I experienced was in Sendai. Another good thing about Japan is, in such situation we don’t have stealing things.

H:    How is your life in Mitaka?

G:    We’ve been living there for about 3 years. People in Japan worship convenience but we live about 30 minutes walk from the station. It is cheaper and surrounded by parks. Before Mitaka, we lived in Yamanashi because my wife’s family live there. I liked it very much and it is a good place to live but all the work is in Tokyo. That is why many people come to Tokyo.

H:    What do you do on your holidays?

G:    I go cycling along the Nogawa from Futagotamagawa all the way to Jindaiji, Kokubunji about 2 hours. Usually I cycle alone.

H:    What do you usually talk about with your friends?

G:    Well, just ordinary topics. We don’t spend all day talking about differences about the west the east because we are used to it.

H:    What do you think is the best to improve our English skills?

G:    I think the schools have to take it more seriously. On the surface, I think they seem to put a lot of effort in teaching English because they have a lot of foreign teachers in the schools. But I notice that at my daughter’s school, the foreign teacher will pronounce something and the Japanese teacher would repeat it in Japanese English and they all copy the Japanese teacher.

There is not enough ambition. They are learning just a few words every lessons. They should be learning about 20 words every lesson. It’s as if they don’t want the students to progress very quickly. For mathematics they practice and practice many times to get better but for English they don’t do that. You could say that, subconsciously among the members of the government there is this idea that to be very good in English is unpatriotic. If you are very good at English does that mean you are somehow not truly Japanese? I wonder why it is they are so lacking in ambition in the textbooks. I think they should have more difficult textbooks. We need to push them to learn more, introducing new textbooks and new teaching methods. Instead of teachers talking, we should have a lot of focus group work. These days you can use your smartphone to practice your pronunciation. There is so much online media now. The schools need to become 21st century.

H:    I would like to ask you about Japan. What are you attracted to about Japan and Japanese people? Could you give me some examples?

G:    I thought people were very friendly and helpful. Especially the days I couldn’t speak any Japanese, people will go out the way to help me when I was lost. The nightlife is fun. There are a lot of place to eat and drink in Tokyo and it’s easy to talk to people.

People are quite reserved aren’t they? So it is not easy to get to know the Japanese people except within the English context. The interactions do tend to be limited to people who speak very good English unless you get to speak better Japanese.

People are very serious. They like to commit themselves and dedicate themselves to whatever they are doing, so you’ll find people experts in their field. I think it is very interesting to talk to people who are interested in what they do.

I like the history as well. It is interesting to travel and see the castles and historical things. A lot of people don’t have much sense of history. Again, in the countryside is more interesting.

H:    Did any Japanese influence you?

G:    My favorite writer is Kazuo Ishiguro who wrote the book ‘Remains of the day’. I used to like Junichiro Tanizaki, Shiga Naoya, Abe Kobo, Sei Shonagon. I like Sei Shonagon’s mean sense of humor. I enjoyed reading the classics and the historical stuff is great. I like the past more than the present. Many writers influenced me

In the everyday life, I get strongly influenced by people with strong personalities. I haven’t met a lot…. There was one person who used to work with me at the school but he moved into publishing.  He introduced me to some publishers and he got me to do some writing work. Everything went on from there. He was a great guy, very fair, very honest, not to concerned with money. We always used to meet up and chat. He is now a Buddhist. He has given up his job. He was very nice. He was somebody to admire.

H:    Could you describe Japan in one word?

G:     When my daughter came to Japan, she got the pressure from the school to say positive things. In England, they will encourage you to say what you think. But in Japan, saying negative things is a taboo. She always had to write positive things. And the good thing about Japan is that everyone is so committed. People are really committed to their work or their field of studies.

I like the attitude as well. My friend was in the university in Manchester. He was working in general affairs. They close at 4:30 in the afternoon. If somebody walks in at 4:25 wanting something, you can tell by the body language of the staff that they want them to go away. But in Japan it is not like that. People will not turn you away. So if you are in the store and the store is closing you can stay a bit longer.

In the classroom, the teachers will stay a bit longer to help you out. I think it is a sort of professionalism. In England we prioritize our fun and private time. If your work finishes at 5 o’clock you will go home at 5 o’clock. You won’t stay to help somebody. I notice that when I go back to England.

Experience of arriving in Narita and coming into Tokyo is quite pleasant. People have a good attitude. I remember, when I was flying back to Heathrow in London, it is not so smooth. The information desk is not helpful. Everything in Japan functions quite well.

H:     What do you think is the most important thing to be successful for the Olympic 2020 being a profitable tourist event?

G:    I don’t think it will be profitable in the short term. It has to be the long term, having people coming back again and again as a tourist.
When we had the Olympics in London, they decided to have the Olympics but discovered that they didn’t have enough money. So, they did it very cheaply using a lot of volunteers. I think that is the best way for Japan too. I think if they have the personal touch where people come and stay in people houses. I wonder, are there enough hotels in Tokyo for the whole world coming? I don’t think so. If they could stay with the families it makes the long-term effects. It is also a good opportunity to renovate the cities. It needs updating like the train systems.

H:    If you were the special ambassador for the Tokyo Olympics what would you like to do?

G:    I would reduce the traffic. That’s the single biggest thing to make Tokyo a really pleasant place to live. I would plant trees down the middle of the road.

And, when you live in Japan for a long time you forget but when you first arrive, it will hit you, ‘overhead power lines!’ They look horrible. I will spend the money to bury the power lines. Otherwise you are overwhelmed by the busyness. I will get people volunteering to come and stay with the families. That will be very nice.

H:     How would you like your life to develop?

G:    I would like to start my own little school. I have been working for people for a long time, so I would like to start my own classes teaching IELTS and TOEFL. That will be nice in the future. Every year I think about it but I get very busy.

H:     Will you go back to your country some day?

G:     I think it is difficult to live here if you are not working very hard. If I stop doing that we will sink. Once I get to my 60’s I can’t afford to live here. Also, I would love to go back to my countryside.

H:     Some people have lost some confidence after the big earthquake in Sendai. Would you like to give us some messages?

G:     Maybe in the short term Japan will go through a hard time. But in the long run, I think it will be okay. Tokyo is very crowded but the population is falling. So, maybe one generation or so will be less crowded. I think people could change the policies. If you reverse the way to live in the countryside, people will see the beauty. The government could move to the countryside. If Japan can develop in many regions, people can have lots of space with a brighter future.

H:     Thank you so much. That will be the end of the interview.