Postcards from Japan: Writing a Japan-inspired debut novel, Hiroshima's gems, and Japan's best spots for cat lovers, with Nick Bradley

© Nick Bradley

Nick found his passion for Japan while teaching and exploring Hiroshima as a part of the JET Programme. He was so adamant on staying on after that he passed the most difficult Japanese exam, and moved to Tokyo where he worked as a translator, writer, and photographer!

Always wondering about the lives of his fellow commuters, he was inspired by his daily train journey through the city and the knowing gaze of the cats around him! "The Cat and The City" is his debut novel and a BBC 2 Book Club Pick, which is currently awaiting translations into ten languages! Nick shared with us which places he visitied while researching for his book and his favourite spot to revisit every time he comes to Japan (and trust us when we say he's been EVERYWHERE)!


© Nick Bradley

Hi, thanks for talking to us today. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I'm an author who wrote a novel called "The Cat and The City", which is set in Tokyo, and was a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick. It is also currently being translated into many other languages. I lived in Japan three different times throughout my life, and I speak Japanese, hence my love of Japanese culture and literature. But I like books from all over the world. I now live in Norwich, UK with my cat, Pansy.

© Nick Bradley

How did you end up working in Japan and what was it like?

I first went to Japan on the JET Programme, and I taught in four different junior high schools in Hiroshima prefecture. It was while I was there that I fell in love with Japan, and the Japanese language. I studied very hard during my time there, and managed to pass N1 of the JLPT and a course on Translation & Interpretation, and from there went on to working for a number of different Japanese organizations, using my Japanese language – often as a translator. While living in Tokyo, I worked for a Japanese travel agency as a translator, as well as a writer and photographer.

© Nick Bradley

What’s your favourite memory from living in Japan?

Gosh... It was such a long time living there that it’s difficult to distill down to just one memory. I have so many incredible memories of my time living in Japan. I suppose one that immediately springs to mind was seeing the sunrise coming up over the clouds from the top of Mount Fuji. I also got to attend (and photograph) a private geisha performance once, which was quite cool. But I just have so many incredible memories of my time spent in Japan, it’s difficult to single out just one memory.

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© Nick Bradley

Can you give us any travel tips for visiting Hiroshima prefecture to experience an authentic Japan trip? 

There’s so much to do in Hiroshima that it’s difficult to know where to begin... Aside from visiting Hiroshima city, I would thoroughly recommend taking some time to explore Onomichi, to the east of Hiroshima prefecture. You can even cycle across bridges all the way to Shikoku from Onomichi. I’d also recommend going to Okunoshima (Bunny Island), although I imagine it’s a lot more crowded and busier than it used to be when I went. There’s so much to do in Hiroshima city, but I always recommend visiting a garden called Shukkeien, as well as visiting the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Peace Park. There’s a cool coffee shop called Coffee Teranishi’s that’s worth a visit. In the evening, if you’re looking for a beer and music there’s Mac Bar (now in a new location).

Oh, and if you’re in Hiroshima, you must try okonomiyaki!

© Nick Bradley

You have recently published your first book "The Cat and The City" which has been incredibly popular, with translations into other languages on their way. What inspired you to write a book revolving around a cat in Tokyo?

That’s a difficult one to answer, because a lot of factors go into inspiring writing, and it’s difficult to pinpoint and put into words that one thing. 

I suppose one answer would simply be from walking the streets in Tokyo (and other towns and cities in Japan) and seeing all of the stray cats. I always wondered what they were thinking about when they were looking at me. I began to imagine what kind of human dramas some of them might have witnessed, when people didn’t know they were being watched. Also, when I lived in Tokyo, I spent a lot of time commuting to and from my job, and I would notice people getting on and off the trains, or walking along certain streets at certain times. I’d see them every day, and I’d wonder what their lives were like. I’ve always loved Sherlock Holmes, and I suppose I started to look for clues to tell me what kinds of lives each person was living.

Another answer would be all of the great Japanese literature I read which contained cats. I ended up writing my PhD thesis on cats in Japanese literature at the same time as writing my novel, so it was obviously something that had really caught my attention.

© Nick Bradley

Which parts of Japan did you visit while planning your book and what has made the most lasting impression?

Well... this is a REALLY tough question to answer, because when I lived in Tokyo, I worked for a Japanese travel agency, I got to travel around the whole of Japan as part of my job. So as of right now, I’ve visited every single prefecture in Japan, either through work, or for fun.

I suppose one of the places which left the biggest impression on me from all of my travels was a group of islands off the coast of Shimane prefecture called the Oki Islands. I fell in love with those islands, the people living there, and the more relaxed and old-fashioned way of life you can still find on these small islands.

In terms of my book though, it’s pretty much all set in Tokyo, and is based upon my life living and working there. Although, characters do make some trips to other places. Off the top of my head – Kyoto, Fukuoka, and Yufuin. But the book is mostly about Tokyo.

© Nick Bradley

© Nick Bradley

What places would you recommend to cat-lovers visiting Japan?

While writing my book I visited two cat islands in Japan for “research”. One was Ainoshima, Shingu, Fukuoka prefecture, the other was Tashirojima, Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture. Both were extremely interesting trips.

Tashirojima even has a neko jinja (cat shrine) at the top of the mountain, where I prayed to the cat gods that my book would be published. I guess they took pity on me!

© Nick Bradley

How have you been keeping in touch with Japanese culture, whilst we’re currently unable to get there?

The most obvious thing I do is read Japanese literature either in English, or in Japanese (when I can get hold of original novels here in England). As well as that, I try to watch as many Japanese films as I can. I used to watch Terrace House on Netflix, but sadly that has come to an end.

I’ve also been cooking myself a lot of okonomiyaki recently (can you see a theme developing?)

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© Nick Bradley

Where are you hoping to visit next?

So many places I still need to visit. I’d like to get back to Hokkaido again, and explore there more. There are still lots of hitou (hidden onsen) that I’d like to visit in Tohoku. But I also love to go back to my favourite places and retrace my steps, too. Kanazawa is a city that I adore and always love to revisit. I wouldn’t mind walking the Kumano Kodo once more, because I really enjoyed that.

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© Nick Bradley

This month we’re focusing on the word ‘kuidaore’, meaning eating until you drop. Winter is the time of hibernation and great festive food after all. What Japanese food could you eat till you drop?

Honest answer? All of it! I definitely recommend nabe, Japanese hot pot, in the winters.

But having Hiroshima so close to my heart, I have to say okonomiyaki!

If you are interested in checking what Nick has been up to, take a check out his Instagram, Twitter, and Website

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