My experience at the 2018 Japan Writers Conference

Last weekend (October 13-14), I attended the 2018 Japan Writers Conference, which was held at the Otaru University of Commerce in Otaru, Hokkaido. Below is a summary of my experience at the event.

The reason

I decided to attend this annual event because writing is a passion of mine, and a craft I am trying to hone. I am at this point a fledgling, part-time writer with only a single published piece to my name (a short essay in a zine that was published this past summer), but I aspire to write professionally at the highest levels, and I figured there was no better way to learn the keys to success than listening to those that already do. So, as soon as this year’s event was announced, I had my sights set on heading up north this fall.

The location

The choice of Otaru as this year’s location was serendipitous to me on a personal level. For certain sentimental reasons, I had for several years wanted to visit this picturesque port town, but had not yet had the chance to. It was in fact one of three cities in Japan that I had shortlisted as domestic bucket list destinations, and the other two had been crossed off earlier this year (Nagasaki and Zushi), leaving me only an Otaru trip away from completing the trifecta. The host city of this conference changes annually, and there are according to one source some 683 cities in Japan, so it really was a fortuitous coincidence that my first attendance at this conference was in the very town I had most wanted to visit.

Hokkaido is known for its long, harsh winters, but the event thankfully took place during a mild patch of weather preceding the winter, with the temperatures hovering in the teens (Celsius). All four days I was in town were mostly sunny, and the chill in the air was palpable but not biting.

On arrival

Once my cab dropped me off at the campus gate after negotiating the mother of all steep hills, I was greeted first by a swarm of yukimushi (“snow bugs”, an endemic species in Hokkaido that has a distinctive fluffy white rear and whose ephemeral appearance heralds the imminent arrival of the snowy season each fall), then at the door of the classroom building where the conference was held by the event organizer, who happened to be heading out and warmly welcomed me to the conference.

The presentations

The presentations varied in content (with topics ranging from finding writing buddies to news reporting in Japan) and approach (some more interactive than others), but were all highly informative and captivating. Being an inexperienced writer, this conference was a rare and valuable opportunity to learn about what it takes to make it in this business from some of the very best. The presentations were well worth the long trip, and my only regret is that I was not able to attend more of them.

The community

I also took advantage of the opportunity to approach and pick the brains of some of the speakers at the event. It was easy to get a little starstruck being around the big names and well-published authors—I might have been the greenest writer in attendance, and technically speaking a non-native writer at that (my dominant language has long been English, but I always respect the true definition of a native speaker)—but everyone I talked to was kind enough to talk to me and answer my questions, and was very supportive. Their cordiality put me at ease, and it was also refreshing to be able to introduce myself and my international background without being judged or feeling alienated. The typical Japanese response to my self-introduction is some variation of “sugoi” or “It’s like you’re from another world” with the person staring at me like I have three heads (I know they probably don’t mean any harm, but the stress of constantly being branded “not one of us” can be hard on the psyche), but at this event I received no such treatment, and I felt welcomed by the speakers and other attendees I talked to, even getting to exchange contact information with them. I may not be at their level of course, but they made me feel like I was part of the community, and that’s all I could ask for.

My takeaway

I returned to my home in Yokohama emotionally rejuvenated and infused with various new writing tips, which in itself made the trip worthwhile. But, most of all I enjoyed the company of fellow English-language writers. The writers at this conference hailed from many different places and genres, but we all shared a common interest in writing, and it was heartening and inspiring to be in the presence of like-minded individuals. It also felt good being back in a multinational, English-speaking environment, which is what I grew up in and where I can feel most at home. As a bit of a lone wolf with a cultural identity crisis, that sense of belonging can often be elusive, and it meant a lot to me to find and be a small part of a group that I can feel comfortable in, if only for a weekend. No matter the level of success I manage to achieve as a writer, I will remember this event as a weekend in which I gained not only the knowledge I had been seeking, but so much more.

All in all, I’m happy to have attended this event, and I’m thankful to everyone who made my experience as enjoyable as it was. If any of you are reading this, I would like to thank the conference organizer for putting together this wonderful event, the presenters for imparting their invaluable knowledge, and everyone I got to talk to for their time. Thanks also for reading this post, and I hope to see you all again next year!

Bio 143

(Note: This is the English version of my account of the events leading up to my hiring as a translator, which I previously posted in Japanese. It is not a translation of the Japanese piece, however.)


My favorite course of all in college was Bio 143: Human Parasitology, an elective I took in the Winter Quarter of my senior year. Being a Bio major, it was only one of many biology courses I would take in college, but it stood out, not only because of its exotic appeal but also due to the clinical nature of the course. Whereas most other courses focused on the cellular-level fundamentals, this course covered practical aspects such as the symptoms of various parasitic diseases and the drugs used to treat them. It had, in short, the feel of a medical school class. Although I elected not to pursue an MD degree or any further studies, I graduated in the summer of 2005 with a profound interest in parasitology.


I had the grades to go on to professional school (the path taken by most of my classmates), but by the time senior year rolled around, I had my mind firmly made up on a different goal: to find a job after graduating from college and make my own living. For certain personal reasons, I wanted above all to support myself and get my own place, where I could live peacefully by myself. My resolve was so strong that any other option was simply out of the question. So, after graduating at 22, I forwent any further education and set out to get a full-time job. It would be many months, however, before I landed one, as companies passed on me by the dozen. Looking back, I didn’t do myself any favors by trying to enter the real world at that age. I may have had a respectable skill set, but on a personal level I was green as grass, and also ill-equipped to handle the psychological damage of being rejected by every single company I had done my utmost to join, let alone 60 of them. By the time my ordeal came to a merciful end, I was broken down both mentally and physically.


In the fall of 2005, however, I was still in the early stages of my job hunt, and in good spirits. Finding a lull in my schedule on November 2, I decided to visit the Meguro Parasitological Museum (MPM) to rekindle my fond memories of Bio 143.


The museum was home to everything a parasitology enthusiast could dream of, from the formaldehyde-soaked specimens of roundworms to wall displays detailing their life cycles, not to mention the pinworm key chains on sale at the merchandise store. It was missing one important feature, however: the exhibit labels were all in Japanese, with no accompanying English translations. That to me, given my deep-seated global-mindedness, was not acceptable. This was a reasonably popular museum, in a major city, that attracted visitors from abroad as well (as was attested by the visitor log), and it could only be fully enjoyed by Japanese speakers? I wasn’t having that. So, I picked up the internal phone, asked to see a staff member, and right then and there, without having any translation experience whatsoever, offered to translate the labels into English, gratis. Now that’s a pretty audacious proposal, especially coming from a reserved twenty-something dressed in street clothes who didn’t even have his own meishi, but that’s how strongly I felt about the need to make bilingual labels. Not surprisingly, the man shot down my offer. Before leaving, however, I snapped pictures of some of the labels, and, in the days that followed, tried my hand at translating them at home. The resulting pieces would become the first translations of my life.


Those translations would hibernate on my computer until one cold winter day in early 2006. On this day, I’m scheduled to interview with a Tokyo-based translation company. Having been rejected over 50 times by this point, however, I hardly have any hope or confidence left. As I make my final preparations for seemingly another doomed interview, an idea pops up in my head: What if I brought my MPM translations with me as samples? I realize it may be strange and unsolicited, but, left to grasp at straws, I decide to take a chance. I show up, and, finding an opportune window during my interview, show the interviewer my work. “. . . Did you really do this yourself?” he asks, half-amazed and half-incredulously. With that reaction the tide turned, and the rest is history. The course of my adult life thus far was shaped, in large part, by the course I most liked in college.


(Note: Earlier this year, I shared on twitter my self-arranged cover of a well-known Japanese pop song on the 20th anniversary of its release. Though it may be unrelated to the theme of this blog, the recording carries a special meaning in my life, so, just as a one-off, I wanted to share the story behind it.)



“Kaede” (「楓」) was released by Spitz as the band’s 19th single on July 7, 1998. The rare Spitz number with a melancholy tune, it became a timeless classic that has since been covered by many artists, both professional and amateur. If you had told me at the time of the release that I too would someday cover it, however, I would not have believed it.

Music never was my strong suit at school. Throughout my childhood, I fared much better in the sciences than in artistic subjects such as music, in which I would often rank near the bottom of the class. I have family members who can tickle the ivories with graceful skill, but it was evident from an early point in my life that I likely did not inherit the same genes.

Nevertheless, the glory years of Britpop and alternative rock in the mid-‘90s inevitably drew my attention to music, and I would listen to songs on the radio every night and my Walkman on my way to school each morning as a schoolkid. I was a huge Oasis fan, and I would even go so far as to say that Noel Gallagher was the single biggest influence on me during my teenage years. Just about everything he was known for, from the crafty songwriting to the epic guitar solos to the venomous zingers, I revered and wanted to emulate. It was due in large part to my desire to learn to play Oasis songs that at around age 17, I picked up my first guitar, a Yamaha folk acoustic, and started teaching it to myself. For the better part of the next decade, however, my playing was embarrassingly poor. I enjoyed playing, especially in college where I had a guitarist roommate and we would write songs together and play live in the dorm and at bonfires on the beach, but without any training or apparent talent, you can only go so far. Until when, in my mid-20s, something clicked.

Finding that I wasn’t cut out for the textbook style of playing, I forged my own style of fingerstyle guitar, which, while more technically challenging and decidedly unorthodox, obviated the need for singing, and which leaned heavily on playing by ear—something I had a knack for. I found that I could cover songs instrumentally by listening to the song, deciphering the chords and notes, and playing both the guitar and vocal parts on guitar. In layman’s terms (not that I could give you a technical explanation; to this day I have never taken a lesson, and I still can’t read music), it may be best described as playing the guitar like a piano. It was under this style that I was able to have something of a breakout on YouTube, where my homemade recordings of cover songs garnered tens of thousands of views—a feat that in my youth would have been utterly inconceivable.


By 2011 I was recording songs at a private studio, a converted bedroom in a detached house on the sloping streets of Yoyogi-Uehara. After completing a couple of collaboration projects at the studio, I returned on April 24, 2011 with my Yamaha silent guitar for my first-ever solo recording: one of “Kaede”, which by that point had taken on a special meaning in my life and which I therefore wanted to cover as a personal memento. 

I have a tendency to get the jitters when recording at the studio, which often led me during recording sessions to request take after take being ever the perfectionist, but on this day I was in the zone from the beginning. I was able to play even better than when practicing at home—so well, in fact, that when the audio engineers were done mixing the track and played it back to me that day, I could hardly believe what I was hearing on my headphones. Is this really me playing? I thought. I was just filled with wonder; everything from the tone to the timing to the harmony of the timbres turned out better than I could have imagined. I had needed only one take for the piano and just a few for the guitar parts, all completed in an afternoon’s work. Not that this recording was going to chart anywhere or even be iTunes-bound of course, but considering my skill level and time allotment, I really outdid myself that day.

Most gratifying to me, however, was the pure feeling with which I was able to render this song. Poured from the heart with a warm yet wistful touch, the recording is of an emotional transparency I have not since been able to match. The track therefore occupies a special place in my heart, and is arguably the most defining three minutes and five seconds of my music career.


1. 新語

どの言語でも新しい言葉が常に生まれていますが、英語で近年使われるようになった言葉の例を挙げますと、selfie, gifable, millennial などですね。


2. 意味の変化



Gay: 「嬉しい」→「同性愛者」

Computer: 「計算をする人」→「コンピューター(機械)」


また、これは変化というよりも誤用ですが、最近は literally という言葉が変な意味で多用されています。これは本来は「文字通り」という意味の言葉なのですが、最近は(特に若者が)「マジで」みたいな意味で使うようになっています。

例:My jaw literally hit the floor.

この one’s jaw hit the floor というのは「驚いた」という意味の比喩的な表現ですが、もし literally を使うと「顎が本当に床に落ちた」という物理的に不可能な意味になってしまいます。でも最近は「マジでびっくりした」という意味で使われたりします。(とはいえ、本当は間違いなので使うのはお勧めしません!)



3. 最近のトレンド

・ 単語レベルでは、ハイフンや大文字・小文字などの面でも変化が見られます。

・ スタイル的には、例えば gender-neutral language (性別を区別しない言葉)が好まれるようになってきています。


Steward/Stewardess→Flight attendant


・Singular they: 対象が一人だけで性別が不明な場合などは、he/she の代わりに複数形の they が使われるようになってきています。






















ちょっと上手く表現できませんが、当時はアメリカの誰もが 9.11 で同じ悲しみを感じ、そして前を向いて同じ未来を信じていた、という状況でしたし、その共通の気持ちから生まれたような一体感があったのを覚えています。



(ちなみに最近のアメリカは対照的にとても divided な印象を受けるので、残念に思います。)


最後にちょっと余談ですが、僕はこの時期と連想する曲があるのですが、Enrique Iglesiasさんの Hero という曲です。

この曲は2001年8月にリリースされたもので、テロ事件後の benefit concert でも演奏され、当時のアメリカではラジオなどでよく流れていました。なので、今でも僕はこの曲を聴くと2001年の出来事や雰囲気を思い出しますし、毎年この時期はこの曲を思い出します。







- 初めての大学生活。

- 初めての寮生活。

- 初めてのアメリカ生活。

- 初めての一人での海外生活。

























これをある和英辞書で引くと、 be coquettish という英語表現が出てきます。


自然な言い回しは to give (someone) a flirty/seductive smile などです。






例えば「猪突猛進」は和英辞書で reckless と訳されていますが、これでは日本語のニュアンスが十分に反映されていなく、訳としてはイマイチですね。本当はもっとぴったりな英語表現があります。


この単語はほとんどの和英辞書で breaking ball と訳されていますが、これははっきり言って間違っています。正しい訳は off-speed pitch です。Breaking ball はスライダーやカーブ系の「曲がる系」の球種(breakとは「曲がる」を意味します)を意味し、他の種類の変化球(「落ちる系」のフォークやチェンジアップなど)は含まれません。





  • 英→日

例えば It was crickets. という英文の意味を知りたくて cricket の意味を辞書で調べても、この文脈での意味(「沈黙」)は出てこないでしょう。

他にも “weigh… soaking wet”“kick away” などの表現も辞書には載っていないので、理解するには辞書以上の知識が必要です。 

  • 日→英