Russ Veillard

Russ VeillardOccupation:
Writer / Narrator
Time in Japan:
Eight years


What do you do?

Right now I work for my own company. It' called Russ Hour Limited. I'm a writer, basically. I do all different types of writing, both technical and non-technical. The best and biggest project I've got now is a series of pocket books that have been out in the bookstores throughout Japan for the last year and a half or so. Each one is a collection of popular slang expressions from the west coast of the United States, translated into Japanese. It has a CD in the back, which leads me to the translation and narration work I also do. I now have a daily NHK radio show. It's on three times a day; you can catch it if you'd like to brush up on your ‘slanguage’ expressions.

What brought you here in the first place?
Very simple: basic curiosity. I wanted to see how I would get along in a place so different from my own. I was curious how I would change, how the edges of myself would round or square off after a year or so. So it was just basic magnetic curiosity that pulled me over here. I originally was invited by a Japanese government-sponsored program called the JET program. I was posted in a prefectural office two hours away from Tokyo, beneath Mt. Fuji. At that job it was kind of like cultural fireworks, but I was asked to write and make all these cultural goodies, including publications and smaller magazines, national journals, for the government that sponsored me, and that got me interested in doing writing.

Did you have any preconceptions about what Japan was like?
Nothing outstanding. I think we all have perceptions of Japanese being clever with manufacturing and being very practical-minded, and I wasn't surprised. I saw that basically.

Did you experience any culture shock?
Oh, just being tall! I had culture shock just being tall, and the redundancy. The endless, sheer predictability continues to shock me. I mean it still surprises me today, being able to know what is going to happen if I were to say one thing or the other. But I think at the same time that's Japan's strength, in a way.

You've been here eight years; have you noticed any changes?
Yeah, the girls’ long socks are getting longer and looser all the time. Umm, changes...Every now and then I notice that somebody has not eaten noodles before he barfs his lunch out on the bush at night. Umm, yes I have seen some changes: major changes would be...I have to think about that one.

What do you like best about living here?
I think the variety it allows me in writing and things related to writing. I can go out my door and have two or three opportunities present themselves. I'm not saying it's easier, or less competitive than it would be back in the States–I'm from Seattle–it's just, it's like being in a large amusement park: I can enjoy all the rides and keep going around the circuit if I want.

What's the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you in Japan?
Oh my gosh. I'm sure I don't usually find out till after the fact. One incident stands out in mind, though. I said to a government official o-kani mochi instead of okani mochi. I had mistaken lots of crabs for lots of money. He got a big pinch out of it. He turned red as a lobster with laughter.

Do you get to travel in Japan?
I travel any way I can in Japan, let me tell you. I've bicycled across Japan. I cycled across Hokkaido in torrents of rain in bolts of thunder. And I raced my bicycle from Tokyo to the Sea of Japan in 12 hours 52 minutes.

What's the strangest thing you've ever seen in Japan?
My face in the mirror at Narita Airport after returning to live here a second time. "MMMmmm ... what have I done ... "

Which one thing would you like to take back to your home country from Japan?
I would take back my Love Hotel “Frequent Lyer Mileage Card”.

Do you have a favorite place to eat and drink in Tokyo?
Yes. Starbucks. Lattes are food for me.

You're trapped on the Yamanote line for life. You can take one CD, one book and one luxury item. What would they be?
Trapped on the Yamanote sen for life?! My God. I would have to take Kenkyusha's Expanded Japanese-English Dictionary, SMAP's Greatest Hits CD, and... a rope.
What are your plans for the future? Well, to expand what I'm doing. I'm doing some corporate work, but I would really like to get into the educational field. I'm also trying to export what I'm doing to the States and create a link between the two countries. And, you know, I'd like to see something really different: I'd like to see Maenoumi win the Emperor's Cup, and I'd really like to see someone pull the mask off of the Pepsi Man–just who is that guy?

Russ Veillard spoke to Richard James.

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