My buddy Mickey Acorn has just published an ESL textbook here in Japan and I couldn’t be happier for him. Aside from being an English teacher, a fiction writer, and a fellow Japan-lover, he’s also a great songwriter and does a bang-up rendition of Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl.’ I was psyched to hear about his book and thought it would be cool to interview him about publishing in Japan.
Greg: First of all, Mickey, please introduce yourself and tell us how long you’ve been in Japan.
Mickey: I’m Mickey Acorn, I’m from Prince Edward Island in Canada (known for the story “Anne of Green Gables” –> 赤毛のアン). I came to Japan for one year on a Working Holiday visa and decided to stay once I realized how amazing the quality of life was in Japan. I’ve been here for just over three and a half years and I don’t intend to leave anytime soon.
Greg: What’s the book all about? What makes it unique?
Mickey: The book is special. Most textbooks like it have used previously published materials to test the reading comprehension of Japanese students. The content is usually pretty boring. Topics such as Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and cultural differences between the West and Japan are very popular.
Yasukochi Tetsuya wanted to created a textbook used for the same reason, but with original content that was both fresh and interesting to the reader. After reading a story I wrote he became very excited to use it as a way to help people not only improve their reading skills but also let them enjoy English. The book is my short story translated and annotated.
My job was to write the story and 5 comprension questions for every chapter, similar to ones found on the “Centre University Exam” and other tests. My story, “The 11th,” follows a high school boy who is hit by a car while riding his bicycle. He is rushed to the hospital. He keeps waking up in different times and places. He keeps witnessing people die and then wakes up again. All together he sees 10 people die. Then he meets the 11th, who may have answers for him.
Greg: Will it be the one English textbook that finally teaches the nation of Japan to speak English confidently?
Mickey: Short answer – No.
I think the confidence level of Japanese speakers can only be improved by two ways. One, the students need to forget their ideals of perfection used to study and write Kanji and accept that English isn’t perfect and neither are they.
Secondly, a lot of schools are guided by marketing departments and not educational departments. The way English is sold in Japan is often very unrealistic. For example, many of my students state that watching movies without subtitles is their goal. That goal could take 10 years, not 20 lessons. I think the students and the industry need to be more realistic.
Greg: How did the book deal come about?
Mickey: I think I answered that. But I’ll elaborate.
I happened to teach Yasukochi Tetsuya while teaching at small conversation school in his neighborhood. When I told him I was passionate about writing he became interested. He also shares my opinions about English education in Japan. He is a very well respected juku teacher and has sold over 3.5 million copies of his own books. It has been a great honor to work with him. He has become my mentor.
Greg: What was it like to publish a book in Japan?
Mickey: It’s my first time to be published so I don’t have much to relate it to. However, one big difference between Japan and North America is that my royalties in Japan are guaranteed and are only determined by books printed, not sold. That makes the publisher take a big risk, not the writer. I was very happy to hear that.
Greg: Is it weird to see a cartoon image of yourself in bookstores?
Mickey: It was awesome. Being a published auther has been a lifelong goal. The only thing I can compare it to was the first time seeing one my plays performed on a stage.
Greg: How far and wide is the book’s distribution?
Mickey: It’s available in most bookstores that have an “English education” section. It’s also available on all the major online stores in Japan.
Greg: Are there plans for any kind of follow up, like an animated series or DS game?
Mickey: I’m currently revising 12 short stories which will hopefully be used for a second installment with a very similar format. Although, instead of a serial (to be continued) type of story, these are 12 unique short stories. I really think the story itself has potential for a comic or movie, but there are no plans so far.