Japanglish & Englinese

These are some of the illustrations for an English Language text book for Japanese readers. I drew them many years ago while I was working and living in Japan.

In the early months, my income was mainly from Teaching English, so freelance illustration jobs were a welcome distraction from my limitations as an English Language teacher…. I didn’t teach at a school (if you can call what I was doing “teaching” at all) instead, I put on a tie and an ill-fitting suit (bought from a shady tailor in Bangkok) and went to teach on-site at several businesses around Tokyo (including National Electronics and Toshiba) that had conversational English classes as part of the training program for their employees. I spent a lot of time travelling around Tokyo by train, going from job to job. Using Google Earth and WikiMapia I was recently able to figure out where some of my old teaching posts were.

This was part of a long period in my life where I rarely participated in a fluent conversation. In the evenings, my students mangled my own language (under my earnest direction) and the for the rest of the day I mangled theirs, as I tried to learn Japanese. Though I was a language-teacher at night, in the mornings I was a language-student myself, attending Japanese language classes. I am sad to say that I never got very fluent, despite my very best efforts (a Japanese friend tells me that I speak Japanese like a little girl) but I managed to pick up enough “survival” Japanese to get around, order food and have limited conversations with anyone patient enough to listen to me shred the verb conjugations of their language.

Thankfully, both for me and the well-being of my English-language students, I soon found a job that I was better qualified for; working in animation (at TOEI Studios, on a Superman TV series) and so I quit being an English teacher. Though the full-time job meant that I unfortunately had to give up my morning Japanese classes, it was a relief to be able to take off the baggy suit and neck-tie and draw all day. I continued to do freelance illustration jobs, in addition to the animation work, right up until I left Japan.

10 thoughts on “Japanglish & Englinese”

  1. How on earth were you able to find freelance work? Without being able to speak, read or write, it seems impossible to be able to take direction from an art director, let alone finding and negotiating for work. Did you have an agent? Friends willing to translate?
    Where you requested to do work in a “manga” or “anime” style? I find it amazing that you did what you did…

  2. Benton>> You are right that it wasn’t easy. I often went around with my portfolio (and my bad Japanese) for interviews at animation studios and magazine companies, but I didn’t get much work because the problems of working with me, that you pointed out, must have been obvious to the art directors also.

    At the animation studios in particular it was hard to even get an interview. They had their own unique way of working and my experience in western animation wasn’t much use to them, especially as I would be hard to communicate with. That attitude changed when the project was in English, for an American client, as was the case at Toei.

    However the magazine art-directors were much more receptive, because they sometimes worked with foreign based illustrators when they were looking for a certain style, and thus were open to working one who lived locally, for the right gig. The jobs tended to have a “gaijin” FLAVA (such as the English text book job) and far from wanting me to draw in an ANIME or MANGA style they specifically hired me to draw in a “western” style.

    My first illustration gig was for an English Language monthly called TOKYO JOURNAL, where the art director spoke English, so it was pretty easy. Then I was contacted by an art director I had met earlier, who worked for MAGAZINE HOUSE, a huge conglomerate of Japanese magazines (I think they assembled about 10 different magazines in that one building) and I did some illustrations for POPEYE and BRUTUS. Communication was definitely an issue but the reason he hired me at all was that he was looking for some “western” cartoon style, so he tended to let me do my own thing.

    The English language text book gig was relatively easy too, because the text was all in English, and the editor spoke some Japanglish, so along with my Englinese we communicated pretty easily. Once again they were looking for a “western” look so they left me to draw in the style that I wanted.

    I never got a lot of work, just a few regular monthly gigs and certainly not enough to live on. Perhaps if I had stayed in Japan a few years longer I would have gained enough contacts to make a living off of illustration? But unfortunately my visa eventually ran out and I had to move on.

    John>> I hear you; The me-of-now is jealous of the me-of-then, too!

  3. Hello from Japan Jamie! You can delete this comment, just wanted to say hi. Some things that puzzle me here are the train conductors doing hand signals while operating the trains. Also, I’ve been seeing a lot of kids showing each other the bottom of their eyelids which i think is like sticking out their tongues. Random i know. see you soon! please delete

  4. Wow, I used to read POPEYE and BRUTUS when I was a teenager! Your Japanese sounded very polite and sort of soft in turms of some choise of words, which made me assume that your Japanese teacher was a female(As you know language difference between genders in Japanese is more distinct than English).
    I think it is quite amazing that you lived and even worked in Japan anyway!

  5. Rhode>> Delete a live broadcast from my Tokyo correspondent? I think NOT! Thanks for adding your impressions of Tokyo to this post. I remember the Train drivers’ hand signals you mention. I guess they are signalling somebody but I could never see who to… OR maybe it is a special train-driver’s POWER-UP move, like Ultraman does before shooting deadly rays out of his hands. And yeah, the eyelid-pulldown is like poking your tongue out or puting your thumbs in your ears and waggling your fingers (or is that an Aussie-kid move you don’t know about?)

    Patrick>> Hey! Thanks for the clarification on my shitty Japanese. SOFT and FEMALE. Got it! By the way, my living in Japan wasn’t “amazing” at all compared to how long you have been living over here, and kicking ass!

    • Hey Arvin! Yeah, spotting blacks is my fave thing in comics. Back then, I was looking at a lot of Wally Wood and Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder. So that is probably their influence.

  6. Yes. I remember when the Japan experiences here recorded were going on in real,1987 time.
    But this is the first time I (or Wendy) have been able admiringly to luxuriate in the various visuals of the whole deal; also in the angelically stylish prose text of more recent times.
    Keep this combo up, please dear boy.

    Love from Wendy and me, Dad

    • Thanks for commenting, Dad. This is an old post from 2007. So there are probably quite a few more posts like this that you can find on here too, if you browse about. I am now in the process of posting childhood stories as you know, but also plan to do a few posts of a career retrospective as well.

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