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Openness is key, bookseller says

Briton's passion for English language, Japanese culture are passports to lasting success

by Minoru Matsutani

Alastair Lamond, a 47-year-old Briton, is like many English-speaking foreigners. He began working in Japan as a teacher of his native tongue.

He later landed a job selling English-language educational materials.

“I liked teaching very much and was satisfied when I helped students, encouraging them to expand their life opportunities. But I didn’t necessarily want to teach English. I was always interested in business,” said Lamond, sales director at englishbooks.jp, which offers the learning materials mainly online.

“There are so many books, and it is sometimes overwhelming for teachers to choose what books to use. So I assist teachers in (their) book choice by understanding their teaching situation,” he said.

Lamond first came to Japan in 1988 and taught English for seven years at four different schools in Tokyo.

Then he landed a position as sales manager with International Thomson Publishing in October 1995. He has since been involved with English education sales and marketing with several publishers in Tokyo.

Lamond, who majored in Russian and Soviet studies in college, was first drawn to Japanese culture by the film “Sayonara,” which he saw when he was 8 or 9 years old.

“The movie was made in 1957, and the story was based in Kobe and about (the) experience of two U.S. Air Force officers. I was fascinated by (the) culture, kimono . . . and presentation of food in the movie,” he said.

While still in college, Lamond had planned to stay in Japan for a year, in China for a year, and then go to the U.S. to get a doctorate in international relations, he said.

After graduating, he went to Pyatigorsk, in southern Russia, on a one-year teaching scholarship. Then he moved to Japan.

“But soon after I came to Japan, the Tiananmen Square incident broke out, so I stayed in Japan longer. Then, perestroika happened, so my specializing in (the) Soviet Union wasn’t as marketable anymore. So, I decided to continue to live in Japan,” he said.

While he enjoyed teaching English, his interest in business grew. His chance came when he learned International Thomson Publishing was hiring.

“I think Thomson was looking for somebody who had been a teacher to understand (the) material-choosing process,” and someone who understood business, he said. “I was glad I got the job.”

While working as an assistant sales manager at Pearson Longman, an English textbook publisher in 2004, he met his future wife, Kanako, at an Australian bar in Shinjuku. She was working there after coming back from a working holiday in Australia.

Lamond proposed to her when he took her to meet his brother and sister and their families in Scotland in December 2006. His parents were deceased.

“I told her she was very important to me, I couldn’t imagine my future without her, I hoped she felt the same, so I would be happy if she married me. Her reply was, ‘Do I have to answer now?’ and I said, ‘Yes’ because she is not fast in making decisions. Then she said, ‘Yes.’ “

His next step was facing Kanako’s non-English-speaking parents at her home on Valentine’s Day 2007.

“We had dinner and at the end of the dinner, I asked their permission to marry her in Japanese. They gave me a short speech on responsibility that comes with marriage,” he said. “We said we are willing to accept the responsibility and they gave us their blessing.”

Lamond and his wife, who converse in both English and Japanese, married in Edinburgh in June 2007 and had their reception in Tokyo the following month.

Lamond and his wife have a son, Kai, who was born Feb. 6. Lamond said he plans to speak as much English as possible and his wife as much Japanese as possible to their child.

“But if he speaks to us in the other language, we’ll reply in that language. We don’t want him to think we are one-language people,” said Lamond, who still remembers some Russian. “I want our son to understand language is a beautiful communication instrument that helps us talk with people all over the world.”

Lamond’s Japanese skills allow him to enjoy Japanese dramas, including the 2004 Fuji TV series “At Home Dad,” which starred Hiroshi Abe, and “Ohitorisama,” starring Arisa Mizuki, which ran on TBS from last October to December.

As a longtime Tokyo resident, Lamond advises foreigners in Japan not to be afraid of new experiences.

“One thing that can change your life positively is experience. Never be afraid of getting new experience,” he said. “Fear stops you from doing many things, but when (it is) controlled, it helps you so much.

“Since childhood, I have always tried to have (a) positive mental attitude.”

That attitude has seen Lamond through tough times, including a period of unemployment. He was “made redundant” by Macmillan LanguageHouse in December 2008 when he was a senior sales manager at the publisher.

He used that as an opportunity to further his studies, completing an online MBA program with Anaheim University’s Akio Morita School of Business. After getting his degree last May, Lamond took his wife to the U.K. for three months, landing his current job last December as sales director for englishbooks.jp, an online bookstore that is part of Travelman Ltd., based in Miyazaki Prefecture.