Interview with John Middleton

What inspires you to get out of bed each morning?
The burning desire to know what has been going on in the world while I was away in the Land of Nod. The very first thing I do is switch on the computer in my study to check my email and scan the local and international news. It is also the best time to review with clarity whatever I have written late the night before and pondered over in my sleep. Believe me, I have some very strange dreams!

The wide variety of topics I address in the "Tokyo, From One to Infinity" series is in fact a direct reflection of my curiosity about all manner of things, both serious and trivial. Every essay is multifaceted and goes beyond the topic mentioned in the blurb.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The thought that I am speaking directly to the hearts and minds of readers and moving them in some positive way. If what I have written provides readers with food for thought, makes them laugh or cry, or inspires them in some small way, then I will have accomplished everything I set out to achieve.

My hope in writing "Tokyo, From One to Infinity" is that the universal nature of many of the stories I tell will lead readers to reflect on various aspects of their own lives, in their part of world, as well. Although I am the vessel or constant for many of the earlier stories, the series is not just about me, Tokyo, or Japan. You could say I am writing about the human condition in general.
How would you describe the concept of the "Tokyo, From One to Infinity" series?
The series is a unique mixture of memoir, humour, travel, and social commentary and includes numerous references to popular culture, both familiar and exotic. Every essay is designed to hold the reader’s attention and include something amusing, something thought-provoking, some reference to Japan, and one surprise after another. The concept is such that any topic is permissible, whether directly related to Japan or not.

My aim is to create the same sense of anticipation among readers that we all feel toward the work of our favourite columnists. Readers may not always agree with me, and will probably find some of the subtopics I discuss a little too edgy for comfort, but should nonetheless feel enriched or enlightened by the experience.
What is the meaning of the title?
The title is intended to convey two possible meanings. The first is that the contents represent the perspective of one man, based in Tokyo, writing for an infinite number of readers. The second is that the series is intended to be open-ended, with a potentially infinite number of instalments.
Is the series just about Japan?
No, not at all! The world is my oyster! In fact, the first fifty essays contain numerous references to America, Australia, Britain, France, Taiwan, and other countries. Nowhere is off-limits.
What are you working on next?
First of all, I am committed to writing an initial 50-100 essays in this series -- for posterity as much as anything. If the series proves to be popular, then it is something I could continue to write spasmodically for the rest of my life. It all depends on my readers.

Once I have finished the first fifty or so essays, I plan to resume work on a novel I felt obliged to put aside half a lifetime ago. (See "How I Came to Be Here" for details.) The plot will be significantly different from what I originally conceived because I myself have changed, but the beginning, end, principal characters, and themes will be the same.

As a law professor, I am also constantly writing academic works in the area of comparative media law for publication in the Japanese and English-speaking worlds.

My life is one big juggling act. If I sound like a clown at times, it's because I belong in a circus!
What is your writing process for this series?
As with academic writing, the process basically entails choosing a topic, gathering together a mass of potentially relevant information, sifting through it, and then determining how best to present the pertinent facts accurately and precisely in the most interesting way. Of course, that is easier said than done. In such a diverse work, the challenge is to make the constant changes in direction and subject matter appear as natural in print as they have sounded in my head. Unlike authors of fiction, I am constrained by the facts and there is little scope for creative licence, though I do take some obvious liberties along the way! Needless to say, I end up deleting much of what I have written and tweak the rest extensively.

Although I begin each essay with a tentative topic and title in mind, I have little idea where my own stream of consciousness might lead. There is no plan as such. If you are surprised by some of the twists and turns along the way, let me assure you that you are not alone, for this is proving to be a journey of discovery for me as well!

As for the overall structure of the series, I did first devise a tentative table of contents for a collection of fifty essays, together with a list of possible topics for another fifty, and have since been writing whatever parts have come most naturally to me at the time. As a result, there is a bias in the first essays published in favour of certain topics, whereas the series as a whole will be much more balanced. In other words, please bear with me and resist the temptation to come to any hasty conclusions!

Some topics, such as the opinion piece about same-sex marriage ("Love Is All That Matters"), have been brought forward on account of their topicality.
Why did you choose to begin "What's a Man Like You..." in that way? Aren't professors in Japan expected to be more conservative?
Well, the theme of the first several essays is self-introduction, and I wanted to dispel from the outset the notion that we academics are boring or live in ivory towers. I think I have succeeded in doing that, and my colleagues would be quietly supportive. In any event, I was writing about an aspect of my private life, not my work.

More importantly, that kind of approach is true to my own personality. The child within still likes to startle the grownups, and my students love me for it! As I explain in "Reef Beach", so-called "conservative" attitudes are much too radical for me anyway, so people will just have to accept me for what I am.

Attentive readers will also find that the same nightclub later becomes the setting for a chance encounter with a certain delightful Hollywood actress in "Kiss and Tell". There is a reason for every single thing I wrote in that first instalment, and it should all make sense once the first fifty essays are finished and have magically appeared online.
What do you like most about the series?
From my perspective, the beauty of this series is in its authenticity. Apart from those sentences which are obviously tongue-in-cheek, every word is true, and as I say in "Billy Idol Gone Wrong", there is nothing nobler or more powerful than the truth.

I believe my stories will resonate with many readers and be fascinating to others partly because the author is, like them, just an ordinary person and not a celebrity or member of a privileged class. Whatever successes I have enjoyed have been the result of hard work and perseverance, and I rise and fall on my merits. Celebrities do make an appearance from time to time, but I'm not one of them!
Why haven't you uploaded a picture of yourself?
In a world of selfies, I have made a conscious decision not to reveal my face at this moment in time. As I mention my appearance in several essays -- most notably, "Billy Idol Gone Wrong", "My Plastic Face", "Bathing with the Locals", and "The Secrets of My Success" -- I figure it is better to maintain some semblance of mystique at this stage and let my readers' imaginations run wild!
When do you expect to complete the first fifty essays?
Who knows?! As soon as my day job and other commitments allow. Watch this space and count the ever-increasing number of entries!

Now that I have begun to publish here, I will continue to upload new content progressively, and the more passionate my readers become, the more inclined I will be to push myself harder. We all need encouragement!
What do your fans mean to you?
The world! I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to each and every person who has chosen to spend his/her precious time and money seeking out and reading my work.

My only regret is that I am not in a position to engage directly with readers at this stage of my life due to the heavy demands of my day job. I am already burning the candle at both ends just trying to find the time and energy to write this series at night and on weekends, and need to concentrate on completing the task at hand. However, I do relish the thought of someday being able to go out and meet my fans and hear the many stories they will undoubtedly have to tell. This should be a two-way street, where we inspire, inform, and entertain each other.

And finally, to everyone who has read this far: "Thank you!"
Published 2014-06-17.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

A Case Study of the Operations of an Australian Bank in Japan
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 20,760. Language: English. Published: July 13, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Business & Economics » Banks & banking
As mentioned in “How I Came to Be Here”, the text of a First-Class Honours thesis written by Professor John Middleton in a previous life. This dissertation discusses the operations of the Tokyo Branch of Westpac Banking Corporation as they existed in 1987, focusing on the dynamics of the relationships between the expatriate and Japanese staff from a sociolinguistic perspective.
In the Words of a Song
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,950. Language: English. Published: May 29, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues, Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
“I’ve heard many bad stories about you, and you must admit that most of them are true!” Or were they just the product of a fertile imagination? Either way, I will love you and leave you for the fiftieth time with this…
Borrowed Expressions
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,170. Language: English. Published: May 29, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues
The English language owes much of its richness to the countless expressions borrowed from other tongues, and Japan has made some notable contributions to the lexicon. Very few native speakers of English are aware, however, of the etymology of some of the Japanese words they use. How many people would have realised, for example, that “karaoke” is partly a corruption of English?
Dining Out
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 3,080. Language: English. Published: May 28, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues, Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
Move over, Paris! An introduction to Tokyo, the official gourmet capital of the world, ranging from the Michelin Diet of my imagination to the real-life American supermodel peanut butter diet and everything in between. Includes some practical advice for tourists visiting Japan and Taiwan on a budget and some irreverent comments about Japanese “obatarian” (battleaxes) and Starbucks.
Tea Leaves in Coffee Cups
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,290. Language: English. Published: May 26, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues
Just when you thought it was safe to dine out… Sometimes it is better not to know those secret ingredients in the food and drinks we consume, but in some circumstances, such lack of knowledge could kill us. When it comes to food poisoning, no one is immune and nowhere is safe! My first job in Japan leads to me question some aspects of food safety and hygiene in advanced countries.
Billy Idol Gone Wrong
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,540. Language: English. Published: May 26, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues, Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
I have been called many things in my time, but "Billy Idol gone wrong" surely takes the cake! Look beyond the differences in fashion sense and demeanour, however, and his fans might be surprised to discover that my supposed antithesis and I actually have some things in common. A reflection on how we expatriates come to assimilate physically in our adopted countries either by accident or design.
Love Is All That Matters
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 3,140. Language: English. Published: May 24, 2014. Categories: Essay » Legal, Nonfiction » Law » Civil rights
In this essay, I discuss, with empathy, the concept of same-sex marriage from the perspective of someone who has both religious faith and a legal mind. In my view, opposition to marriage equality is not only misguided, but also morally, ethically, and legally wrong, and undermines the very institution of marriage. As the Bible says, "Love is happy with the truth," and love is all that matters.
Naked Communication
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 5,510. Language: English. Published: May 23, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues, Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
Japanese naked communication was once too much for prudish American sailors to take, but attitudes had changed significantly by the time Marilyn Monroe arrived in Tokyo on her honeymoon. Today, people come from all over the world to engage in the practice, often unaware that there is more to it than just hot water. Here, I discuss the dynamics of communal bathing from a multicultural perspective.
Reef Beach
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,980. Language: English. Published: May 22, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues, Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
My late aunt and uncle enriched the lives of countless Australians and instilled in me a greater appreciation of opera, conservation, and religion. They also introduced me to the delights of Reef Beach, a haven for nudists on Sydney Harbour, before it fell victim to a misinformation campaign by some "moralistic" local residents. This is our story, plus some off-the-wall revelations from Japan.
City Walks
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,040. Language: English. Published: May 20, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues
Whenever I visit another country on business or for pleasure, I always make a point of seeing how the local people live and picturing how different my life would be if I lived among them. Part of my routine is to explore entire neighbourhoods on foot, but sometimes travelling as a semi-respectable, law-abiding male can present challenges of its own…
Ilha Formosa
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,370. Language: English. Published: May 20, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues
Japan has been my home for such a long time now that it has become second nature, but sometimes I just want to escape the harsh, mundane realities of my everyday life by running away to somewhere safe but exotic, where I cannot speak the language and every moment of the day brings some new discovery. For me, that place has become the “beautiful island” of Taiwan, and the attractions are many.
Lawyerly Behaviour
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,830. Language: English. Published: May 20, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
When I was a mischievous tyke in Melbourne, no one imagined I would grow up to be an Australian lawyer, let alone a New York attorney or law professor in Japan. If my family had only been paying attention, however, they would have seen the signs when I dutifully removed my pyjamas at the door at the age of three. Naughty, but nice!
How I Came to Be Here
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 10,590. Language: English. Published: May 19, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues, Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
Take an ordinary Australian boy, add some breakfast cereal, send him to school, and see what happens… Was it fate that led me to become a permanent resident of Japan, or am I simply another example of permissive parenting gone wrong? One man’s story of how he became a pioneering, expatriate law professor in Japan despite having no family connections to this country.
Kiss and Tell
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 3,050. Language: English. Published: May 17, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
Discretion may be my middle name, but it would be a disservice to some of my younger and more impressionable readers not to share at least one celebrity kiss-and-tell story of my own. Although the contents will almost certainly not be what you expect, they should still leave you feeling warm and fuzzy in a Hollywood sort of way. The lesson to be learned is that a single kiss can change a life.
Thirty Days Hath September
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,230. Language: English. Published: May 17, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues
No matter where we hail from or where we have chosen to live, we long-term expatriates tend to kid ourselves that we are men of the world. Without the benefit of a local education, however, we will always be at a disadvantage compared to that tiny first-grader who lives next door. In this essay, a Taiwanese pop song inspires me to remedy one of the many gaps in my own knowledge.
My Plastic Face
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,510. Language: English. Published: May 11, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
Most people are loath to admit they have had work done, but I positively embrace my plastic! In fact, my life would have been quite different had I not agreed to go under the knife…
Poor Kitty Kitty
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,350. Language: English. Published: May 11, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues
In East Asia, there is no escaping the many charms of Hello Kitty. Although the real Kitty White lives just down the road from me at Sanrio Puroland and has officially made her presence known at the campus where I work, she still remains very much a woman of mystery in some important respects...
Cousin Kate
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,530. Language: English. Published: May 11, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
There goes my knighthood! I am probably no more closely related to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge than you are, but that has not prevented her from unwittingly encroaching upon some of my territory here in Japan or me from discovering a tenuous link between our families that is sure to impress the literati. Some Middletons really sparkle!
What's in a Name?
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,400. Language: English. Published: May 11, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues, Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
If your name is John or you have ever known someone called John, then you will be well aware of the persecution we suffer in supposedly politically-correct countries such as America. Even in Japan, I am sometimes treated like a dog! Is this fair? We Johns of the world do not expect sympathy, but surely we deserve some respect?
What's a Man Like You...
Series: Tokyo, From One to Infinity. Price: Free! Words: 1,630. Language: English. Published: May 11, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » Essays & Travelogues, Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
Like moths to a flame! Normally, I would be flattered to be approached by some pretty young thing at a nightclub, but have been known to take exception to some lines of questioning… An introduction to the "Tokyo, From One to Infinity" series.