5 Questions

Iain Maloney

16 May 2020

What's it like to be the only foreigner in a Japanese village? Expat Scot Iain Maloney, author of The Only Gaijin in the Village, answers 5 Questions before his #WigtownWednesdays event on 20 May



1) How did you end up in Japan?

Almost by accident. I got my masters in creative writing from Glasgow University and set off to become a writer, but had no idea what to do to actually make money. I knew a few people who had taught English abroad, so I applied for teaching jobs in a few different countries. Japan just happened to be the first place to offer me employment. I thought I'd go for a year then move on. I fell in love with the country, fell in love with my wife, and 15 years later, here I am. 

2) What do you miss most about Scotland when you are in Japan and vice-versa?

From Scotland, people. Initially it was things like Irn-Bru or a good ale but over time these memories fade and you start to miss things less. People you never stop missing. Social media helps but it isn't the same. When I leave Japan I miss the fact that everything is so well run, that people take pride in doing their jobs as well as they can. After riding a Japanese train, going back to British rail networks is depressing. 

3) What's the funniest cross-cultural misunderstanding you had?

I once told my (then) future father-in-law that I wasn't very happy about marrying his daughter because I misunderstood his question. That was funny in hindsight, but mortifying at the time. I make mistakes come back to Scotland now. In Japan, the left rear door of a taxi is semi-automatic, operated by the driver, so the passenger doesn't have to open or close the door. When I ride a taxi in Scotland I forget that it isn't automatic and just walk away - many is the time I've had a taxi driver shouting "close the fucking door, mate!"

4) What qualities in Japanese society do you most admire and can we learn from?

Consideration for and awareness of others around you. Here you'd never get people on public transport eating, or playing music from their phones. It's not about politeness, though it's often described that way, it's just about being aware that you are not any more special than any of the other people around you, and that just because you want to do something doesn't mean you should if it negatively impacts on others. It's just basic common sense about how to behave in public spaces.

5)  Tell us a Japanese joke.

There's a saying in Japan that I find funny, though as with all jokes it belies some deeper truth about the culture: "Japanese people are only scared of four things: Earthquakes, tsunami, lightning and their fathers."