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THE ONLY GAIJIN IN THE VILLAGE: A Year Living in Rural Japan by Iain Maloney book review

THE ONLY GAIJIN IN THE VILLAGE: A Year Living in Rural Japan by Iain Maloney book review
23 Apr
by Iain Maloney • Polygon • Paperback £12.00

‘Moving to rural Japan has changed me,’ concludes Iain Maloney. ‘Things happen at a slower pace here, or not at all. Mike Jagger could very well have been thinking about the lack of convenience stores in rural Gifu when he penned “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.’ If you want a taste of The Only Gaijin In the Village (gaijin meaning foreigner) this sentence will do it. Maloney isn’t one to let his knowledge of 20th century rock bands go to waste, not  when it could be put good comedic use.

Scottish writer Iain Maloney moved to Japan aged 35 with his wife Minori (‘For the UK government, marrying a foreigner is tantamount to a crime against the state,’ he writes, not shy with political views). A decade later, harbouring a desire to grow his own veg, the couple de-camp to a half-acre plot in the countryside. The ensuing struggles are broadly familiar, though their distinctly Japanese edge makes them both fascinating and funny. Nature, in particular is a little tougher than this Scot bargained for, with typhoons and 20cm-long centipedes to contend with – giants that only come out at night ‘like the undead or the Smashing Pumpkins circa 1995’.

Then of course there’s the people. Often grumpy, garrulous and argumentative, once warmed-up the locals are both funny and welcoming – as locals all over the world so often are once the shock of newcomers wears off. As Iain and Minori dutifully take part in town clean-up events (pointless because the village is spotless), and as Iain perfects his fire-pit, they gradually assimilate – though several relationships never fail to provoke a laugh. Minori’s father, a man’s man who persuades Iain to kill his own wild boar and eat home-skinned snakes, is the sort of father-in-law not everyone can handle. 

Iain though, with his many geeky references, dad jokes and up-beat determination is obviously the right sort for the challenge, and beneath his many trials is a warmth for this once-alien culture. In a world fascinated by the bright lights of Tokyo, The Only Gaijin In the Village offers a new and welcome perspective of life in Japan.

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