February 2018


Despite a slipped disc, snowfall twice in Abiko and ever-mounting work commitments, the show will go on… here are a few links to my latest projects and other stuff worth a click or two.

  1. I’m very pleased to announce the publication of 100 English Phrases for a Trip to the UK. It’s for beginner or intermediate English language students (and their teachers). If you’d like a free paperback review copy, just reply by email and I’ll pop one in the post for you. “Cor Blimey Guv, it’s tipping it down,” isn’t one of the expressions, neither is “I’m awfully sorry old bean.”
  2. In a no-holds-barred interview with me, Baye McNeil answers my questions about writing for the Japan Times, publishing memoirs, oh and his recent campaign against blackface in Japan.
  3. This was the best book I read last month.
  4. And here I am reviewing by video all the books I read last month. Will get the studio ship-shape and properly lit in time for the newsletter next month.
  5. More amusing Japanese haiku about the mysteries of modern life.
  6. Here’s a good article on Van Gogh’s Japan fixation, if you need a primer before seeing his exhibition in Kyoto which runs until March.
  7. This take-off of a Japanese design brief for an advertising campaign could well be fake, but it amused me anyway.
  8. My 100 Phrases for Dental Assistants got a welcome shot in the gums with two new reviews, one in English and one in Japanese.
  9. Hey, what happened to the third Hana Walker mystery novel, you might be wondering? I actually worked on it every day for two straight weeks in January, but I have other deadlines pressing for English language textbooks… try one of these Japan mysteries slated for release in 2018 instead or read along with me one of these books I’ll be diving into this month.
  10. The QOTM is: Which do you enjoy reading more, physical or e-books? I’m curious as for me, the answer keeps changing. The convenience of Kindle is great, but the experience of producing a print-only phrasebook has left me thinking print is not dead by a long way. Your thoughts would be most welcome. You can answer the question just by replying to this email, and I’ll share the responses with subscribers next month.

    Last month, I asked What are your New Year’s reading resolutions?

    Craig Scanlan: I have a pattern of upping a Goodreads yearly quota, failing to make it that year, and then making it the next year. I made it halfway to 50 this past year, shooting for it again this year.  I’m totally moving away from social media to escape all the nonsense, political trash, and BS, so it’s getting easier to just dive into good books, but I also have an addiction to great long-form journalism (across nearly any sphere) that has a propensity to cut into my Goodreads “whole actual book” totals. As such, I should probably just give up on quotas and enjoy just reading, but hitting that mark is somewhat addictive and I want to get to that that 50-book mark while still reading tons of long-form articles on random things like Silicon Valley sex parties, the Olive Garden’s enduring appeal, and what it’s like being a teenage girl (and yes, a few long-form articles on all the political BS, which at least FEEL less like political trash because they’re 15,000 words and only smart, insightful people write 15,000 words, right?

    Maria Godebska: I don’t make resolutions, but the bookcase near my bed has two full, double shelves of books-in-waiting, going back several  years in many cases. Probably about fifty. Every so often I dust off their yellowing tops and sides, sort through them, and retire to the back room (filled with bookcases of read books) those which are a lost cause. The only one that preys and weighs on my mind as still unread is called “Gifts of the Crow :How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans” (when I went to check the complete title, Amazon told me “You purchased this item on September 14, 2014.”) I bought this after I had started forming a relationship with my neighbourhood crows, and I find them to be wonderful birds. This books sounds fascinating, and I would learn a lot from it. But… buying a Kindle has been a blessing in many ways, not least for my lower back. I am unable to be without something to read, so always had to carry a book with me, which added weight to my bags. No more. Kindle has opened up avenues of genres I would never have tried out except that the e-books were cheap or free, and immediately available.  But my physical books have been sorely neglected. This year I have to start carrying a paperback with me again, and I shall start with the crows. I shall learn more about them, so that when they take over the world, I shall be spared in The Final Apocawlypse.

    Anthony Fensom: Hope to read more books in 2018 too – your list looks like a good start.

    Michael Pronko: I want to read with a stronger sense of structure. I read for work, for the seminars and classes I teach, a constant flow of short stories, poetry and novels, as well as watching films. I re-read and outline all the works in detail every time. That takes a lot of time to bore down into those works and pull out a workable outline and notes of the works to prepare for classes. I think outlining is super-helpful to reading deeper, reading better. Structure outlining to me means looking for the flow and patterning of emotions, themes, symbols, images. I want to strengthen that reading/structuring ability. And just the opposite, I like to read broadly about all kinds of topics, happiness, stoicism, politics, visual art, Zen, jazz, work, love, creativity. That keeps the abstract part of my brain stretched out and flexible, I feel. It’s broadening, but also like cherry picking interesting ideas. For me, this kind of reading is very catch as catch can. I pile the books up and when one’s done, I pick the next one that strikes me as interesting. I think it’s not enough just to read to know how to write, that would be like reading about how to play basketball. You must read-then-write right away. This is more of a re-resolution.

    Martin J. Frid: Read more.

    Guy Yates: To finish reading all the le Carre’s. I have three left after I finish my current read The Russia House. Want to read more second in the series books. I have gone through many enjoyable first novels and have a long list of authors to revisit. So rather than actively search out new talent this year I will re-read enjoyable known talent. And start writing reviews. The author spent time creating something I might enjoy. I should at least spend a fraction of that time letting them know how well they did at that.

Thanks for reading, have a good month. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. You can find past issues of this newsletter at Letter from Abiko. If you appreciate this newsletter feel free to forward to a friend, post on social media, or buy one of my books. Abiko salutes your sacrifice!

Next month, I hope to have Thersa Matsuura’s answers collated and ready for public perusal.



January 2018


It must be that time of year again, this was on our front door today.

Happy New Year!

I wanted to say I do hope you have a good 2018, and thank you for subscribing to this newsletter. I wouldn’t do this if it weren’t for you. This may sound trite, but it’s absolutely true. Feel free at any time to drop me a line by replying to this email and I will reply to you. Just saying, ‘preciate ya.

Anyway, on with the show. Here are a few links to my latest projects and other stuff worth a click or two:

  1. I had a great old time being interviewed for Self-Publishing Journeys podcast, which was released on Christmas Day. You can listen to me here talking about self-publishing in Japan, the Quakebook charity project, the Zen of Manchester United and Japanese Christmas traditions involving fast food outlets.
  2. I managed to read 50 books this year. I reviewed all of them here too. Just click on a cover to read the review.
  3. The best of the lot? Probably this one.
  4. I had so much fun reading 50 books, I thought why not double the number in 2018? To keep me focussed, and let you in on what I’m reading, I thought I’d post what I plan to read every month. Here’s my reading list for January.
  5. It’s all part of the publishing plan for 2018.
  6. But enough about me. Here, former newsletter interviewee Kaori Shoji picks (in English) the best of Japanese writing of 2017.
  7. Know next to nothing about Japanese art? That was me too, but not now I have read this great roundup.
  8. I read this article about how Google’s reading voice AI is now indistinguishable from humans and thought. 1. This is the end of civilisation. 2. Can I get them to do me an audiobook of Hana Walker on the cheap?
  9. Oh, and for folks who enjoyed last month’s excellent interview with Alex O. Smith, translator of Keigo Higashino and other Japan crime greats, here he is talking about translating video games. The guy is top banana, as is loyal newsletter subscriber Guy Yates for supplying me with the link.
  10. Question of the month: What are your New Year’s reading resolutions?Last month, I asked “If you do, why do you like to read crime fiction?” Here are the top (all) four replies, as always thoughtful and much appreciated:

    “I think it fair to say that my wife and I don’t read true crime, however we read, or watch on TV, the mystery sort of crime. My wife is interested to see how the foibles of human nature, the same across all times and cultures, lead to the undoing of the baddie. The same passions that caused the crime in the first place usually lead to their discovery. For me, I enjoy matching my wits with the detective’s process. Of course the writer almost always withholds some key detail from me, the reader, while allowing that same detail to the detective, so I know I can’t solve the puzzle first. One writer observed something along the lines of how we, the readers, seek justice in these stories. Much further development along those lines is possible of course. The entire quote eludes me at the moment. Perhaps we do read because we sense that the world needs to have justice done, and the mystery novel most always ends with some kind of justice being done. It satisfies us that the innocent is justified, and the guilty condemned. In real life that is so much messier!”
    William Holiman

    “The annoying answer is escapism, pure and simple. Chewing gum, entertaining, nothing like the life I have, need, or aspire to Pick it up, put it down, come back to it and keep reading, good for a commute, and for a tired, bored, distracted, or annoyed mind.”
    Maria Godebska

    “I agree that for me it’s more about the journey and what we see on the way. There are only a limited number of ways to construct a plot, but an infinite variety of characters/settings/etc that you can hang on that plot, so it’s not the plot that’s going to be unique and interesting. If the resolution of the mystery is disappointing, that does cast a bit of a pall on what went before. But as I get older it’s gotten harder and harder to find books I like to read, so the way I try to look at it is, if I was having a good time for 95% of the book before the solution was revealed, at least I got that 95% of the time enjoying it. I think the main reason I read crime fiction is that unlike “literary” fiction, you can rely on it to have a well structured story. Although crime fiction has gotten more pretentiously literary in some cases, there’s still only so much it can get away with. You can get all the interesting stuff about fiction – character development, insights into society – that you’re supposed to get from fiction but the writer is obligated to maintain a reasonable plot structure and wrap things up coherently.  This might sound like it contradicts my first point but I don’t think it does – the plot structure IS important because it’s necessary to hang the other stuff on, but it’s the other stuff that’s what makes it interesting.”
    Linda Lombardi 

    “I enjoy crime fiction to be entertained primarily. The addition of a puzzle to be solved will always get my attention. But I typically just read the words and not try too hard to be cleverer than those on the page and reach my conclusions as to who dunnit most likely after they have told me. I do tend to stick to certain geographies: Europe and Asia mainly. So another reason for reading is the chance to travel but remain in the comfort of your own armchair. Way more fun that watching it on the idiot’s lantern as my mind can make up much more vivid pictures of the locales. It’s always fun to walk down some of the streets identified in these novels. Being in Copenhagen I’ve been down a few of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q stomping grounds. Currently reading the most recent Peter Hoeg which is also set in Copenhagen.”
    Guy Yates

Thanks for reading, have a good month and year. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review on any of my books on Amazon or Goodreads, email me or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. You can find past issues of this newsletter at Letter from Abiko. If you appreciate this newsletter feel free to forward to a friend, post it on social media, or buy one of my books. Abiko salutes your sacrifice!

Next month, I’m intending to have an interview in the bag with gaijin queen of Japanese folk horror, Thersa Matsuura. Until then, all the best,



December, 2017


Tonegawa. This abstract-ish watercolour on B4-size paper was inspired by a bike ride last month along the banks of the river that forms the northern border of Abiko. I was going to chuck it away as a failed painting, but it kinda works.

Hey, it’s only just December, but  I have a few early presents for you

  1. Months in the making, this interview with Keigo Higashino translator Alexander O. Smith that I posted yesterday didn’t disappoint. Getting lots of feedback already from readers that it was really good. And it is. Read it, share it and forgive me for the headline.
  2. Loyal newsletter subscriber Maria Godebska read this article and learned pictures of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima A-bombings, not to mention photos of Japanese Americans in US internment camps in the 1940s were being sold online by Wal-Mart marketed as ideal posters for American children’s playrooms. Agent M promptly rallied her Facebook minions to join her in leaving disparaging online reviews. As far as I’m aware, the pictures have since been removed from sale. Abiko salutes Agent M’s efforts.
  3. Just as the presses were about to roll on this newsletter, author Thersa Matsuura posted this fantastic resource — a list of 100s of links to free quality university-level sources of learning. Check them out. Better than a lame excuse as to why my third Hana Walker novel is still incomplete which was going to be this bullet point. Oops, I may have said too much.
  4. I’d started listening to the 24-hour-long audio book translation of Hideo Yokoyama’s police procedural Six-Four with high hopes. Read my significantly briefer review of the book here.
  5. Fifty years after it was first published, The Master Key by Masako Togawa has been rereleased in English by translator Simon Grove. Looks interesting if you like locked-room mysteries or yarns about post-war Japan.
  6. I heard about the above book from Crime Fiction Lover, as mentioned last month, and loyal newsletter subscriber Guy Yates added that Euro Crime and Shots Mag Confidential are worth keeping tabs on too.
  7. The six arcs of all stories, as identified by AI (and Kurt Vonnegut).
  8. My Hana Walker short stories for Japanese teens got their first ever reviews in Japanese on Amazon here and here. Yay!
  9. Tis the season for middle-aged men to wear silly hats, and I’m no exception to this rule. Watch this two-minute video and learn how I’ll send to the first three folk who email me a real book as a Christmas present. I’ll even sign it for you if you want.
  10. QOTM. Last month I asked “Do you prefer your crime fiction dark or cosy, or somewhere in between?” I got a number of great responses, here are my selections, posted without attributions as I forgot to ask if folks minded being quoted:

    “I honestly feel sometimes like being really dark is a cheap trick, a cheap way to get taken more seriously. Which drives me crazy because I’m willing to bet that violence is a heck of a lot easier to write than, for example, humour.”

    “I had a book idea rattling around in my head for about 2 years. It concerns a serial killer who writes up his exploits in chapter form, and has them delivered to the police. Despite his literary gifts he’s a very sick puppy — so sick I thought he wouldn’t fit in with my usual trio of cheery detectives. But when I started writing the book I recycled those characters, largely out of laziness. The resulting manuscript was — I thought — good. But I worried whether it would be off-putting to (both of) my regular readers. So I sent it to a few friends and asked for an opinion. The widely shared response was that (a) it was the best work I’ve ever done (b) the evil character was fascinating and (c) I’d be mad to consider creating a new series just to accommodate the villain. To be fair, my psycho had a good sense of humor and wrote with tremendous wit; a less charismatic baddy might have had a less welcoming reception.”

    “My honest and unhelpful answer is Both, if written well. I have always loved crime fiction. In the last couple of years I have read cosy cutesy “bed-and-breakfast” or “bakery in a small town” stuff, and extremely descriptive blood’n’guts stuff, and supernatural crime fiction, and historical stuff, and steampunk-based detectives. If it’s good it’s good. However, I am not a fan of books which don’t know if they are a cultural guide to a country / historical guide to a time past.”

    “You need to pen something along the lines of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There’s so much potential with Japan as a backdrop. If you do write the big one, it’s gonna be very big I think, and I hope you get film rights.”

    “I guess I like my crime fiction realistic: so at times it’s gritty and coarse and others it can be cosy. I also appreciate some humour – either dry or comic. Not averse to a little ‘ghostly’ intervention. I’m reading to be entertained and not necessarily hunting for hidden agendas and meanings. I’m also not that fussed if I solve the case before the professionals do.”

    This month’s question: If you do, why do you like to read crime fiction?I only ask as I’ve been trying to nail down what the essential element is to what makes a crime yarn one worth spinning. For me, it’s the journey and the stuff we learn along the way, rather than the mechanics of solving a crime and seeing justice done, but I’m not sure and would appreciate your thoughts, which I’ll naturally share with all subscribers next month.

Thanks for reading, I hope you survive the holidays. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. You can find past issues of this newsletter at Letter from Abiko. If you appreciate this newsletter feel free to forward to a friend, post it on social media, or buy one of my books. Abiko salutes you!

Next month,  there’s going to be a very special interview with a great Japan-based writer… it’s me! No really, I was interviewed by UK author Paul Teague for his Self-Publishing Journeys podcast and it will go out on Christmas Day. I’ll link to it on Facebook and twitter on the day and will post it in January’s newsletter for anyone who wants to hear me trying to sound like someone who knows what he’s talking about.

All the best,



November, 2017


“Nihonbashi” (Watercolour and ink on B4-size paper) Just happened to find myself looking at the famous bridge in Tokyo from the windows of a restaurant last week. The bridge was a little underwhelming since there is a whopping great motorway plonked on top of it. 


I’ve been getting my head down between typhoons and writing a little every day on the third Hana Walker novel, and every day I oscillate from thinking what I’ve written is my best stuff ever, to knowing it’s the worst thing anyone has ever strung together and called writing (outside of Twitter). Twas ever thus.

While I wrestle my self-doubt to the ground, here are a few links to my latest projects and other stuff worth a click or two.

  1. I had a very fun, free and frank discussion about writing books with thriller novelist and screenwriter Simon Lewis. He flits between Japan, China and London, but writes some seriously good stuff in between. My interview with him is here.
  2. Want a worthy (but slightly dull) list of 100 books vital to the understanding of modern Japan? There’s one here. I only have one of the books listed on my shelf, Roland Kelts’ Japanamerica about Japanese culture invading the US, and I haven’t read it yet…
  3. But I did read two stonking books on Japan: Higashi Inoue’s comical but moving Tokyo Seven Roses (as recommended by a loyal newsletter subscriber) set on the Tokyo home front in the final days of the war (my review here), and Keigo Higashino’s more formulaic (but enjoyable) contemporary whodunnit The Salvation of a Saint (my review here).
  4. I didn’t know anything about the banned Japanese feminist magazine from the 1910s, but now I do, you can too.
  5. All of Japan is talking about a gruesome case of nine mutilated bodies found yesterday in a young man’s apartment. Tokyo Vice author Jake Adelstein writes up the case here. I prefer my crime decidedly more fictional. True crime is just too implausible.
  6. I bought a new microphone for doing videos and took it for a spin by reading three poems by Brit-in-Japan Paul Rossiter.
  7. I try not to link to the Gomiuri, but this article on old folks in manga was interesting. And short.
  8. I always enjoy the You Are Not So Smart podcast, and this “Narrative Persuasion” episode was good on using stories to change minds.
  9. I subscribed to Crime Fiction Lover and it looks like a great review site for Brit and US crime fiction. Haven’t searched it for Japan crime, but it’s probably there.
  10. QOTM: Last month, I asked “What is your all-time favourite children’s picture book, or one that you would buy for your or your best friend’s kids?” Books I’d not heard of were recommended by Maria Godebska, who plumped for Eloise, the original, and Linda Lombardi who frequently gifts this featuring pigs. I have an asexual, easy-to-draw grumpy cat in mind who can teach English vocab to preschooler Japanese that I’m testing on kindergarteners next week. It’s a living. This week’s QOTM: Do you prefer your crime fiction dark or cosy, or somewhere in between? I only ask, as I’m thinking of developing a new crime series set in Japan and am toying with going darker, and it would be helpful to know what your take is.

Thanks for reading, if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. You can find past issues of this newsletter at Letter from Abiko.

Next month, if Abiko is still here after Trump’s impending visit to Japan, I’ll post the long-delayed, but almost complete interview with Alexander O. Smith, Keigo Higashino’s translator. Have a good November.



October, 2017


Beauty Salon on Route 356 in Kohoku, Abiko. (Watercolour and ink on A4 paper, September 2017).

Sometime in August or September, I came to the conclusion that my latest Hana Walker novel was causing me no end of jip because I was trying to shoe-horn two plots into one novel. A better novelist could make this work, but I’m not one yet, so I thought I’d split my 40,000 words into two novellas. I’m going to spend this month finishing the first draft of the first, working title How to Kill a Foreigner, and save the subplot for The Yakuza’s English Teacher, to be written sometime in the New Year. The idea is to build a body of work so that when I actually stumble upon a hit, there are other books for readers to buy. That’s the plan anyway.

Here are a few links to my latest projects and other stuff worth a click or two.

  1. I published a couple of books last month, though you’d be forgiven for not noticing. There’s the micro-niche At the Dentist’s: 100 English phrases for dental assistants, hygienists and patients, blog post here, and a little more inclusive textbook for first year Japanese junior high school learners of English, details here. I’m doing nothing more marketing-wise than just the odd blog post or YouTube video until the books have had all the kinks worked out of them through classroom use, and until I have a complete series to offer teachers.
  2. You want access to 213,000 Japanese woodblock prints for free, dontcha? It’s here.
  3. I’m going to attend my first ever literary hoo-hah, the 2017 Japan Writers Conference from October 8th and 9th in Ikebukuro. Looks a bit heavy on trad publishing for my tastes (more about pleasing the gatekeepers than readers), but I’m hoping to bag an interview with the odd writer (they are all odd, ed.) Come along and say hi if you are in Tokyo.
  4. This podcast episode of Criminal, recommended by newsletter Gold Star Deputy Mark Williams, was a fantastic interview with the cantankerous septuagenerian NYT reviewer of crime fiction.
  5. Bored with Haruki Murakami? Discover real Japanese sureality with this great Peter Tasker article on Yasutaka Tsutsui.
  6. Here’s me blathening on about self-publishing on YouTube, using my dentist book as an example of a, er, hole to fill in the market.
  7. Here’s last month’s interviewee, Kaori Shoji, writing about a tearjerker of a film adaptation of a Keigo Higashino novel.
  8. I was chuffed with this reader’s review of my first Hana Walker novel, Half Life.
  9. I didn’t get my ducks in a row this month to do an interview with an author, but you might get as much as I did from reading this WaPo article about children’s author and illustrator Sandra Boynton. Between her interview and this one in The Atlantic with Celeste Ng on the value of Goodnight Moon, I’m ready to write and illustrate my first picture story books for really little kids. In amongst the other stuff on plate of course…
  10. Question of the month: Last time I asked if you found these top 10 lists tedious, to which I received two vaguely positive comments, unless I lost the negative emails behind the sofa cushions. Either you are too shy to tell me the truth, or it’s not something you care all that much about. I’ll take that as a mandate to carry on regardless. But something that would be a great help to me now is this: Apart from Cat in the Hat, The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Where The Wild Things Are, what is your all-time favourite children’s picture book, or one that you would buy for your or your best friend’s kids?I might as well copy, er, I mean “learn” from the best.

Thanks for reading, have an unsurprising October if possible. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and tell a pal about this newsletter, leave a review or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. You can find past issues of this newsletter behind the sofa cushions at Letter from Abiko.

Next month, I hope to have an interview with a British thriller novelist/screenwriter whom Elmore Leonard called “inspired”. We’ll see.



September, 2017


I’ve been framed… ready to make a public exhibition of myself…

  1. Last month, I asked for suggestions for persons of interest to this newsletter to interview, especially persons of the female persuasion, and one of the names that came up (twice) was Tokyo freelance journo and newbie fictionista Kaori Shoji. So I did. And what a frank (and interesting) chat we had. Here it is: Searching for Buddha and Beyonce.
  2. I did a sketch of Ms Shoji too. My youngest took a look and said it was one of my better pictures, but no one would be happy to have that presented as their portrait. Damn the honesty (and clear-headedness) of children. But that hasn’t put me off my very first art exhibition. I’ll be showing 20 of my least terrible watercolours (mostly pictures of things with right angles. Or stuff that doesn’t move much. Like lakes) as part of my family’s celebrations of being self-employed for 10 years and not starving. If you happen to find yourself in Abiko on Sunday, September 24th, come to Abisuta, Abiko’s library (walk out the South exit of Abiko station, go straight down the hill for 10 minutes, turn left when you hit the lakeside park) and go to the main hall. We’ll be there from 10am to 2:30pm. There’s also a Japanese celeb who cycled around the world. He’s giving a talk. And there will be cookies. And aromatherapy-type stuff. I’m not selling this very well, am I? It sounds better in Japanese. Did I mention there will be cookies?
  3. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve endured (or instigated) drunken conversations about wabi sabi, the Japanese art aesthetic that no-one seems able to succinctly translate into English. Here’s a sober article that you can read about it.
  4. Apologies for a broken link in last month’s newsletter about declining Japanese birthrates. It was all a bit of a rush job as I jetted off to the UK for my summer holidays. The girls in the typing pool have been given a stern talking to. While in Blighty, I picked up a copy of Keigo Higashino’s Journey Under the Midnight Sun (translated by newsletter AWOL interviewee Alexander O. Smith) and Content Provider, by the UK’s cerebralist standup comedian, Stewart Lee. My review of Lee’s book is here. Haven’t had time to read the Higashino.
  5. My latest This Abikan Life video is here on why, if you teach English, you might want to consider ditching the company and going self-employed.
  6. This North Korean nuke threat is all a bit overblown. A deputy in nearby Toride was rudely awoken by the city’s sirens and told to take shelter at 6 am. We in Abiko were not woken by any alarms. Just as well, as the missile was 500 km up in space and crashed into the Pacific 1,000km East of Hokkaido. I don’t think imminent threat, I think anti-social neighbour revving his motorbike engine at an ungodly hour. The best response is ignore Lil Kim and make a cup of tea. As this chap did.
  7. Here are six Japanese novels you can read in a day. Presumably not the same day.
  8. A Dutch Tokyo-based architect slags off the appallingly designed Hokusai museum in this entertainingly frank vid that I meant to publish ages ago but forgot.
  9. Rest in Peace Hillel Wright, writer and Tokyo literary organiser.
  10. Thanks again to all who replied to last month’s QOTM about who you’d like me to interview. I had four suggestions, much obliged. Some, like Miyuke Miyabe, are a bit out of my league, but all have been duly noted. Question of the month: Do you enjoy these top 10 lists or find them tedious? Just asking.

Thanks for reading, have a good autumn. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. You can find past issues of this newsletter at Letter from Abiko.

I make no promises about who I’ll be able to bag for an interview next month, as I’ve told myself to focus on making headway on the first draft of the third Hana Walker novel that’s languishing unloved in a dusty hard drive. We’ll see…



August, 2017


Colourful Life: David W. Rudlin by パト (That’s me!)

As you read this, barring acts of international terrorism, natural disasters or alarm clock flat batteries, I’ll be somewhere over Siberia winging it back to Blighty for a fortnight of catching up with friends, family and fish and chips after an absence of three years. But I haven’t forgotten you, dearest newsletter subscriber. Between stuffing knotted hankies in packing trunks, I gathered a few items of interest you might appreciate giving an airing to.

  1. I enjoyed interviewing fellow Japan-based indie author David W. Rudlin. Our conversation covered everything from self-publishing, Japanese idol groups, the difficulties of writing in English about people who don’t speak it, and murder. Actually, not much about murder, I meant Hollywood scriptwriting.
  2. What? Didn’t I promise you last month an interview with Alexander O. Smith, the accomplished translator of Keigo Higashino and a whole bunch of other popular Japanese crime novelists? Yes, I did, but he’s only answered one question in two months. Something about being a little busy jetting off to LA to talk movie rights, and trips to Holland and Paris and, well, the guy’s in demand from folk who pay infinitely better than yours truly. I hope to pin him down perhaps next month and shake my tin at him until he succumbs. In the meantime, here’s another interview with him. He only went and translated mega popular computer game Final Fantasy. Evidently, he’s in demand.
  3. Here’s a list of 10 lesser-known Japanese classics in translation that apparently are must-reads. I have no idea if they are truly lesser known, classics or must-reads, but I can’t pass up a list of 10 Japan books without sharing it with you.
  4. Alana Samuels at The Atlantic gives a more plausible explanation for Japan’s declining birthrate than a lack of machismo from Japanese men, which is the usual answer trotted out. Spoiler alert: It’s the economy, stupid.
  5. By day Kaori Shoji s a Japan Times journalist, by night she’s a short story writer. Here’s her latest about the perks and perils of international marriages.
  6. I’m just in the foothills of one of my next projects, a definitive guide on how to teach English in Japan from your kitchen table for people allergic to working for others. That’s a working title, btw. I just started playing around with things to say, and thought I’d make a series of practical videos as I feel my way forward for folk interested in sticking it to the man and teaching for themselves. The first of three videos is here on YouTube.
  7. Hey look, here’s another list of Japan related books, this time the best-selling Japanese literature in translation. Abroad or something.
  8. I loved this: Japanese Illustrator Turns Life’s Awkward Yet Totally Relatable Moments Into Ukiyoe-Style Drawings
  9. In Chicago? Silver Star Deputy Daniel Fath recommends an exhibition of pictures of US wartime internment camps of ethnic Japanese. It’s free. The exhibition, that is.
  10. Question of the month: Last month I asked if readers would prefer I set Hana Walker novels in Tokyo or Abiko. Interviewee David W. Rudlin had the best (and coincidentally only) answer which was to set her exploits firmly in the Abiko Hood. Tokyo is overrun by sleuths, but Abiko is fresh for the taking. OK, makes sense to me, I will put her back in the Greater Abiko Co-Prosperity Sphere for novel no. 3.

    OK, We need a question of the month. How about, who would you like me to interview next? Bonus points if you can name a person of interest to this newsletter who is female (the last three interviewees have been chaps, and as lovely as they are, it would be nice to hear a few other voices.)

Thanks for reading, have a good August. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. You can find past issues of this newsletter at Letter from Abiko. I have actually updated it today.

Next month, I’ll feature an interview with Alexander O. Smith. Probably. May your days be cool and your nights hot, or something.image.png


July, 2017

Our man in Matsumoto: Paul Murphy

Good evening, here is the news from soggy Abiko…

I’ve got a soft spot for journos. That may be a self-centred thing to say seeing as I was a newspaper reporter and sub-editor for 13 years in a previous life, but I’d like to think there is something noble about the daily struggles of the first drafters of truth. On a good day, there can be. Anyway, with that in mind, here are a few links to my latest projects and other stuff worth a click or two.

  1. If you are into Japan, journalism or justice (of course you are, that’s why you subscribe to this newsletter), you will get something of value from my interview with True Crime Japan author  Paul Murphy. It’s long, but really good.
  2.  The Library of Congress has made 2,500 Japanese woodblock prints available to download for free. They are top banana, as they say in the Abiko art world, and immediately had me thinking which ones would make good background art for book covers. Speaking of art, I was moved by this article about a chap who set up a gallery to showcase the art of young Japanese artists who were drafted and subsequently mown down in the Second World War.
  3.  I was chuffed for my Hana Walker series to be listed in Asian YA Books worth checking out. And Hana Walker’s debut, Half Life, received this great reviewon Goodreads by reader Akikana.
  4. This Japan Times article on behind-the-scenes drama on the set of You Only Live Twice was really good. Hopefully the JT’s sale to a corporate PR firm, announced this month, won’t adversely affect their output.
  5. Indie author Thersa Matsuura gives a great interview to Metropolis Magazine about her attraction to Japanese folklore.
  6. Ever fancied teaching English and publishing your own textbook? Here’s a 10-minute video on how I went about writing and publishing my 10th one. Filmed on location from my classroom bunker a couple of days ago.
  7. The English translation of The Great Passage, a story of publishing, Japan and office politics by Shion Miura is reviewed by J.C. Greenway, a fellow book-loving Brit in Japan.
  8. Japan finding that it can’t have its Mario Kart cake and eat it, according to this article in the Wall Street Journal. But the country is enjoying a new dawn in the golden age of amine according to The Guardian. Dawns and dusks often look the same, no matter how you paint them.
  9. I really enjoyed this interview with Mark Schilling, who’s been reviewing Japanese movies for Variety and the Japan Times since the 1980s.
  10. Question of the month: Last month’s question was “.What do you recommend I read to get a handle on modern Japanese history?” Guy Yates suggested Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan by Robert Whiting, which I’ve got (but haven’t read); and Craig Scanlan suggested The Making of Modern Japan by Marius B. Jansen. Craig said, “This is basically the bible of 1600 to present(ish), and biblical in length as well. It’s fairly linear, so if you were perhaps not interested in the early stuff, you could skip it. But no one really lays out the whole damn thing like Jansen did.”

    Thanks deputies.

    Here’s this month’s question that would be a great help to me. I’m back writing my third Hana Walker novel, but I find I’m in two minds about setting. Should I set her adventures primarily in Abiko (as I did in Half Life) or use a neighbourhood of Tokyo as the backdrop (as I diid in Year of the Talking Dog)? The advantage of Abiko is I know it well, but Tokyo, I hate to admit, is a little better known to new readers. What do you think? Where would you like to see Hana galavanting around? Your opinions would be invaluable to me (and Hana) as I’m at the stage where I can easily incorporate big changes to the novel (aka only halfway through the first draft). Just hit reply to this email and I’ll share your (and my reconsidered) thoughts on setting with you next month.

Thanks for reading, have a good rainy season. And if you’ve enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and leave a review on one of my books on Amazon or Goodreads, or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. You can find past issues of this newsletter in the morgue at Letter from Abiko. And if you know anyone who would like this newsletter, feel free to forward ’em a copy.

Next month, I should have an interview in the bag to tell you all about with Alexander O. Smith, the translator of Japanese crime giants Keigo Higashino and Miyuki Miyabe, among others.



June, 2017

Michael Pronko at large


I want to thank all members of the Sherriff posse (that means you) for recommending books and movies and just generally keeping me up to date with things I should know, but don’t. Anything I learn, I’ll share with you. A gold star goes to Deputy Nancy Crudts, who recommended Michael Pronko as a person of interest to this newsletter. I made contact with him and came back with a 2,000-word interrogation. It was a lot of fun to do, and I learnt a lot. You might too…

  1. And here it is, my interview with Michael Pronko, Tokyo essayist, American culture professor, and now novelist –– he only went and published his first crime novel on Wednesday. Read all about it and my review of his book, The Last Train.
  2. Fancy a trip round Jimbocho, Tokyo’s booktown? Spend two minutes with me on YouTube as I scout bookstores for good reads.
  3. How many of these nine “must read” books on Japanese history have you read? I’ve read zero, I hate to admit, although I might have Embracing Defeat on a shelf somewhere.
  4.  Speaking of ancient history, I completely missed the Ghost in the Shell movie phenomenon/flop of last month (year? Who can remember?) but Peter Tasker said it was good, and James Hadfield said it was bad. (I may be Trumping down their positions a bit).
  5. If you want to know what on earth is going on with Japanese politics, may I recommend blogger and politics professor Michael Cucek. He doesn’t blog much anymore, but he’s active on Twitter, and he’s still as sharp as ever.
  6. The Economist has discovered shochu. I’m on a shochu diet… there is no punchline to this, it’s just a lot lower in calories than beer, wine or whiskey.
  7. Why Japanese babies are upending the world of linguistics, according to Amanda Alvarez. It’s not that Japanese is particularly exceptional, just that English is not that universal.
  8. Photographer Martin Bailey conducts a great video interview with Lee Chapman, the best street photographer-blogger in Tokyo that I know of.
  9. This true tale of Australian convict pirates making it al the way to Japan in 1830 is great, made all the greater by being proven by an amateur historian.
  10.  Question of the month: What do you recommend I read to get a handle on modern Japanese history? I’ve read Alex Kerr’s Dogs and Demons and Mizuki Shigeru’s excellent Showa manga series, but what else should I be reading to help me understand recent Japanese history? As ever, email me your picks, I’ll share any recommendations with all next month. Which reminds me, last month’s question was “What Japanese movies or directors do you recommend I watch?” And once again, I was deluged with great suggestions from subscribers that I’ll share with you here. The picks and comments are from you all, not me, I knew next to nothing about Japanese cinema until you told me. Thank you…

    From Linda Lombardi:
    Animated: Tokyo Godfathers.  A trio of homeless people in Tokyo spend the Christmas season saving an abandoned baby. Much better than that sounds… Not sure that if you like this one you will want to watch all of the late Satoshi Kon’s other movies as they are rather different in my opinion, but he’s someone everyone should know about.
    Live-action, but more unreleastic than the animated suggestion: Thermae Romae. A fantasy about baths in Japan and ancient Rome, need I say more?

    From Maria Godebska
    Koreeda Hirokazu is a most excellent director. You may remember a movie he made a few years back that did well internaitonally – better than in Japan I imagine, due to the story – called Daremo Shiranai. His films, even if drama, often have a documentary-like feel – He makes films which are either focussed on everyday life in its normalcy, ups and downs; and fantasy (allegorical I guess).
    The first film by him that I saw is called “After Life” in English, and either Wandaafuru Raifu or Byuutifurur Raifu in Japanese, I forget which. It is, for me, a remarkable low-budget film, and I love it dearly. But honestly, anything by him is great. The most recent ones by him that I saw were “Our Little Sister”, or “Umimachi Diary”, and “I Wish” / Kiseki. “Like Father Like Son”/Soshite chichi ni naru got a lot of press because of the content, I haven’t seen it but am sure it is great!

    From Rochelle Kopp
    Tasogare Seibei (I think English title is Twilight Samurai).
    Anything by Ozu, Late Spring and Early Fall particularly good.
    Anything by Kurosawa, besides the usual suspects, try High and Low.
    Minbo no Onna
    Untama Giru
    Not quite as highbrow as the ones above but I liked Bakayaro a lot.
    Another director I quite like is Miike Takashi, and though he dabbles in horror and dark drama, a comedy he did, called The Happiness of the Katakuris / Katakurike no kofuku was a giggle.

    From Guy Yates:
    Baburu e go!! Taimu mashin wa doramu-shiki
    Suna no utsuwa
    Kon Ichikawa’s kagi
    The Always sanchome series are fun to watch too
    Tokyo biyori
    Anything by Ozu.
    Anything by Juzo Itami though one that sometimes slips by is Daibyonin

Have a good June, all. Hope you get something of value from this newsletter. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and tell a pal, leave a review on one of my books on Amazon or Goodreads or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook. If you want to read any back issues of this newsletter, they all eventually find their way to the morgue, otherwise known as Letter from Abiko.

Next month, I’ll post an interview I’m looking forward to doing with True Crime Japan author Paul Murphy.

Thanks for reading,



May, 2017

House on the Hill, Kounoyama.

I was taken aback by how many good author recommendations I got in response to last month’s question (“What Japanese or Japan-based authors would you recommend I read?”) Some of the authors I’ve heard of (and even read!) but most I hadn’t, so I really appreciate the picks, and I think you will too, so here they are, taking pride of place at no. 1 on this month’s link list.

  1. Need a good Japan author to read? Here’s what newsletter readers recommended:
    Alan Booth – non-fiction
    Osamu Dazai – anything
    Shusaku Endo – anything
    Tetsuya Honda – The Silent Dead
    Hisashi Inoue – Tokyo Seven Roses (featuring a fantastically nefarious postwar American plot to remove kanji from the Japanese language)
    Pico Iyer – non-fiction
    Yasunari Kawabata – anything, but start with The Sound of the Mountain
    Hiromi Kawakami – The Briefcase
    Alex Kerr – non-fiction
    Natsuo Kirino – Out 
    Mariko Koike – The Graveyard Apartment
    Seicho Matsumoto – Quiet Place
    Kanae Minato – Confessions
    Miyuki Miyabe – (“Crime novels with a social streak”) Reason, R.P.G, All She Was Worth
    Paul Murphy True Crime Japan (“non-fiction and not a Japanese author, but I found it fascinating to see how different Japan’s approach to justice is from the west.”)
    Fuminori Nakamura – The Kingdom
    Michael Pronko – (“He does some wonderful short essays.”) Beauty and Chaos, Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens and Motions and Moments.
    Donald Richie – non-fiction
    Kazuki Sakuraba – Red Girls
    Akimitsu Takagi  – Tattoo Murder Case
    Hideo Yokoyama  – SixFour
    Shuichi Yoshida – Villain
  2. I thought an antidote to fake news and instant irrelevance that is the age we live in is a depository of knowledge, a news morgue, a memory library, or more accurately, a blog featuring past issues of this newsletter. Behold: Letter from Abiko, guaranteed to be at least a few months out of date, and therefore free from the inanities of the instant. Time is the best editor, after all.
  3. Everything I know about Hoksai is because of this BBC podcast.
  4. Here’s this month’s freebie: Chairman Mouse, a 5,000-word essay I wrote in 2013 comparing North Korea and Tokyo Disneyland. It’s free now.
  5. I don’t know much about anime. But Matt Alt does and he wrote this great piece about Your Name for the New Yorker.
  6. Walk with me as I stumble to work through the cherry blossoms in my latest This Abikan Life video.
  7. Phil Brasor is consistently the best columnist at the Japan TimesHere’s his blog and a link to a great article he wrote on the stereotypes of Japan that Japanese are eager to promote.
  8. This is the twitter feed of a chap who does fantastic miniaturama calendar photos for every day of the year.
  9.  If you happen to find yourself in Tokyo this month, may I heartily recommend visiting the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park, as I did yesterday (to mark my 20th wedding anniversary). For a mere ¥430 you can see some fantastic turn of the century oil paintings and sketches from the artists’ colony at Skagen, Denmark. Get a taste of the pics from my Instagram post here, or sample the full wholesome nuttiness that is Skagen Museums from their twitter feed here. The Tokyo exhibition closes May 28th and moves on to  Hekinan City Tatsukichi Fujii Museum of Contemporary Art in Aichi Prefecture in June and July.
  10. Question of the week. Thanks again for the wonderful author recommendations. Now, what Japanese movies or directors do you recommend I watch? I’ve seen and enjoyed Tampopo. know of Kurosawa, Tokyo Story, and the Tora-san series. But there are so many others I’m just ignorant of. Email me your picks and I’ll post them next month to all the subscribers.

Thanks for reading, have a good month. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my stuff, be a sport and share this newsletter with a pal, leave a review on one of my books or drop me a line on Twitter or Facebook.