Longtime readers will know our star writer, Dr. Michael Gillan Peckitt. Dr. Peckitt and I first crossed paths in early 2015 when we were both on the NHK program “Barrier-free Variety” about foreigners with disabilities living in Japan. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet as Dr. Peckitt was in England and his interview had been pre-recorded. Later in the year we both happened to be guests on the BBC Ouch! podcast – again, about foreigners with disabilities living in Japan. Dr. Peckitt was gracious enough to start sharing his thoughts on Japan, disability, and life in general with us on the Accessible Japan blog in his series “Notes from the Obstacle Course”.
This is a bit overdue, but here is an interview with Dr. Peckitt!
Dr. Peckitt, tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from originally? What did you do there before coming to Japan?
I am from Britain, specifically Rotherham in the county of Yorkshire. Before moving to Japan, I was a philosophy student, and did my PhD from the University of Hull in 2010, and briefly a philosophy tutor at the same university.
Tell us about your disability. How does it affect your daily life?
I have mild left sided spastic hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy. In essence I walk with a limp and my left hand cannot do much beyond grabbing things. In terms of its effect on my daily life, I sometimes have trouble walking down stairs.
What brought you to Japan? How long have you been here?
I moved to Japan in August 2012. My wife, Minae Inahara, is also a philosophy academic also has cerebral palsy and is Japanese. We married in Britain in 2007. A combination of Britain’s immigrations laws – you need to have a minimum income to get a visa for a non-European Union national – and the global recession meant Minae had to return to Japan. In 2012 she got a job at The University of Tokyo and I could join her, short stays in Japan and Britain aside though we separated for almost five years. We live in the Kansai region now though, not Tokyo.
Compared to your home country, how do you feel Japan stacks up with regards to disability and accessibility?
Japan on the whole is much better than the UK when it comes to disability. Physical access is much better; many train stations for example have escalators and elevators, although there are some areas, especially out of the major cities that have poorer access.
Besides moonlighting at Accessible Japan, what do you do for work?
I work mainly in the University system. I currently teach at class titled ‘Ethics in English’ at Osaka University on a part time basis. I also proof read for Japanese academic colleagues. Occasionally I do get paid for writing, I have written for The Japan Times.
You have published two eBooks on Amazon. What are they about and what inspired you to start writing?
‘Gaijin Story’ and ‘The Chrysanthemum and the Stick’ are my two ebooks. I’ve always liked reading and writing, and as boy I loved reading writers who would write observational work, I loved for example Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter from America’, a BBC radio programme and writers like Bill Bryson with his ‘Notes from a Small Island’. The late Donald Richie is my model when it comes to writing about Japan, he wrote wonderful short form essays about Japan, essentially an attempt to answer the most difficult yet eminently sensible question: What’s Japan like?
Do you feel your disability gives you a unique view on Japan?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say unique, but certainly my disability, I feel gives me a specific experience and perspective. A person with a disability is often treated as an outsider in any society, so in Japan, where I am a gaikokujin or gaijin – literally an outside land person, outside person or foreigner, I kind of feel strangely at home. I may still be viewed as an oddity, from to time, being a foreigner but less so because of my disability, and there is a kind of freedom in that. I often feel that whilst one should of course attempt to learn the language and culture, attempt to integrate, it is equally important sometimes to enjoy being a foreigner, especially if you are interested in writing about Japan. Your readership will likely be non-Japanese. You have to be able to describe and explain Japan to a non-Japanese reader, although I am trying to learn to write Japanese, as I start writing fiction it would be nice to be able to write in Japanese.
Do you have any plans to write more? If so, what is your next project?
Yes I have just begun my first long work of fiction, a novella provisionally entitled ‘Foreigner.’ I was inspired by both the Japanese ‘I novel’ style, where the entire novel is a kind of first personal confession seen from the point of view of the narrator; such as in Osamu Dazai’s ‘Schoolgirl’ and the philosophical novels of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Andre Gide.
Thanks for agreeing to this interview! Any final thoughts for our readers?
Dr. Peckitt runs the Japan and disability related website ‘The Limping Philosopher’ (https://thelimpingphilosopher.wordpress.com) and you can find him on Twitter @Peckitt. Check out his ebooks on Amazon.