Monday, February 20, 2012

Interview with TOMO Contributor Marji Napper

Marji Napper (author of the Tomo story “The Lost Property Office”) is a teacher and language consultant for businesses in Tokyo. She has a deep interest in children’s literature. She has worked in high schools and colleges in the UK, and in language schools in Italy and Japan. 

Tell us a bit about your connection to Japan and how you came to live in Japan. 
I came to Japan because I wanted to continue teaching but I wanted to work somewhere completely different. Teaching in Europe would have seemed like cheating, because it’s so close to the UK, where I come from. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could live and work abroad for a year. 

I stayed for three and then went to Italy for a year. But at the end of that year, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do more than come back to Japan. 

What was the seed, or inspiration, for this short story? 
One Friday morning, on my way to work, I’d got off the train at Kasumigaseki Station in Tokyo and I was walking through the tunnels that led to the exit I wanted. This particular morning I noticed that one of the sections in the left-hand wall had been changed and there was a door set into it with a notice (in English and Japanese) above the door. And I misread it.  I read “Temporal Lost Property Office.” I was astonished, so I read it again and it actually said, “Temporary Lost Property Office.” 

My mistake actually made me laugh out loud. A temporal lost property office!  A place where time didn’t matter! A place you could go to find anything you had lost, however long ago and however far from Tokyo! And that set me thinking. What if there were a lost property office you could go to and the people there could travel in time and find something you had lost, even if it was something impossible like a toy you had lost when you were a child or a photo you hadn’t been able to find for years? 

Did you ever lose something in Japan and have to visit a train station’s lost property office? 
What I usually lose is my sense of direction! Honestly, I can get lost anywhere. But I did lose my favorite muffler when I was going home one cold December day.  Unfortunately I couldn’t remember where I might have left it or dropped it. So I tried my local station’s lost property office as the most likely place to find it. 

The man in the lost property office was nothing like Mr Motomeru, except in his friendliness and kindness. He asked me about the muffler and I managed to tell him, in stumbling Japanese, that it was a long, black one. He looked incredibly pleased and shot off, returning with two. Sadly, neither was mine.  He looked so disappointed that I almost pretended to recognize one of them after all. 

Have you explored some of Tokyo’s underground world—the many tunnels, shops and restaurants? 
Yes, I have. Frankly, with my hopeless sense of direction, it’s more or less inevitable. I often have to explore Tokyo’s underground world simply in an effort to get back above ground.

Long tunnel in a Tokyo metro station
That happened to me in Shinjuku Station (another of Tokyo’s huge stations with a zillion exits). One of my friends had given me instructions for getting from the train station to the bus station but they were complicated. I kept following the instructions and finding myself wandering out of the station and on to the basement floor of a big department store—in the umbrella department. I must have ended up there three times before I decided to ask for help. 

I wandered back into the station and a really nice assistant, in the first shop that I tried, showed me to the exit I wanted. She was exceptionally happy, giggling all the way. 

After I’d bought the bus tickets, I happened to pass the shop on the way back to catch my train home. I gave the assistant a smile and a cheery wave. I realized then why she thought it was so funny. The shop I’d chosen (without realizing it) was a travel agent’s. 

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku? 
Everybody I know who has been to Tohoku has been amazed by the courage and resilience of the young people who live there. They think that you are remarkable. Lots of us, who don’t know you personally, think that you are amazing and we admire your courage and care about you.

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