Interview: Benjamin Martin – More Things Japanese
Today I want to introduce Benjamin Martin who’s a fellow blogger and an author, living on a small island in Okinawa.
In his blog he shares information about Okinawa, daily life in Japan, but also presents how to cook typical Japanese food.
Zooming Japan: Hi, Ben! Please introduce yourself.
Ben: Hi! I’m Benjamin Martin, aka, Tsutomu (勉) aka… we probably shouldn’t go there. Too many kanji for ‘ben.’ I’m originally from Arizona in the USA where I studied Japanese history, culture, and language while working on my degree in business.
Zooming Japan: You live on Kumejima, a very small island in Okinawa Prefecture. How come?
Ben: I joined the JET programme back in 2008 and was placed on Kitadaito Island in Okinawa. After three years there I transferred to Kume Island. Kitadaito had a three-year limit and Kume Island wanted an experienced ALT. The planets aligned (the small islands are well connected) and I was offered a position teaching elementary and junior high English at eight schools. Since arriving on Kume I’ve felt a very close connection to the people and culture here, so when my time with the JET programme ended last July I stayed on in a new position. I now work with the Okinawa Prefecture Ocean Thermal Energy Demonstration Facility and Kumejima Town.
Zooming Japan: In your blog “More Things Japanese” you write about your daily life on Kume Island, but also provide delicious and traditional Japanese food recipes. Have you always been interested in cooking?
Ben: I grew up cooking alongside my mother for the holidays. When I left for school, it was either make my own food or order takeout. I had always enjoyed food shows, but it wasn’t until I ended up on Kitadaito Island (there were only two restaurants, no convenience stores, and limited frozen goods) and I had to cook that I found a real interest in expanding my cooking skills and trying new dishes. One of my guilty pleasures is now watching Masterchef, Top Chef, and their ilk.
Zooming Japan: You’re not only maintaining your blog, the English guide for Kume Island and providing cooking videos, but you are also a writer. Your first book “Samurai Awakening” was published in 2012. What made you want to write a book and what is it about?
Ben: Samurai Awakening started out as part boredom, part sprained ankle. I’ve loved reading since junior high, and generally devour several books every month. When a badminton injury, winter break, and a lack of reading material came upon me at the same time, I started plotting out what became the Samurai Awakening series. Along the way I realized that there were a lot of other factors that had led me to the point where I actually started writing a book. The story is meant to be an entertaining, but at the same time provide a window into life in Japan. When I started writing, I was an English teacher in Japan teaching kids about America, but there was no reciprocal program in the States. True cultural exchange requires interest on both sides, so I hope my work also acts as a compliment to the JET programme.
Samurai Awakening tells the story of David Matthews, a boy who comes to Japan on an exchange program and soon finds himself possessed by a Japanese god. Thrust into a world of monsters and myth, David must learn about himself and his connection with Japan in order to save his friends. Booklist called it, “An imaginative take on the triumph of the underdog.” It recently won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Asia/Middle East/ India area.
Zooming Japan: Wow, Ben, that’s really great! Congratulations!
There’s a lot of detailed knowledge in your book about not only Japanese culture, history, and martial arts, but also fiction. I know that some things are based on your personal experience in Japan, but how about the rest? Do you have any source of inspiration?
Ben: Though my major in school was business, I took every East Asian course I could fit into my curriculum. One of the biggest influences on me was my modern history teacher Gail Bernstein. Her books “Haruko’s World” and “Isami’s House” were non-fiction but provided a view of Japan through the author’s experiences living with two different families. In college I practiced Shorin Ryu karate which became the basis for most of the martial arts in the series. Practicing Okinawa Sumo has also given me more material to work with. Overall, the idea for the series came from a series of questions I asked myself. What if Japanese mythology as set forth in the Kojiki was real? How would it interact with modern Japan? From that I developed many of the fictional aspects of the work.
Zooming Japan: This year your second book “Revenge of the Akuma Clan” – a sequel to your first book – will be released (November 2013). Were you planning to write a sequel right from the start?
Ben: I always intended Samurai Awakening to be a series. In fact I wrote the first draft of Revenge before I sold Awakening. Though I was not sure Samurai Awakening would become a book until I had the first copy in my hand, I had intended to finish the series for my own enjoyment if nothing else. It’s been extremely gratifying to know enough people have enjoyed Samurai Awakening to justify the continuation of the series.
Zooming Japan: Will we only be able to follow the story if we’ve also read “Samurai Awakening”?
Ben: Though Revenge of the Akuma Clan is a sequel, and you’ll likely have a much better understanding of what is going on if you read the first book, I think you’ll still enjoy Revenge on its own. I learned a lot from writing Awakening and I’ve put a lot of that into the second book. Here’s a bit from the jacket:
“It’s time for Revenge. Benjamin Martin, author of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semi-finalist Samurai Awakening, returns with another masterpiece of young adult fiction and the next installment in his riveting shapeshifter saga.
American teenager David Matthews has more to deal with than the average exchange student living in Japan — a lot more. In Samurai Awakening, David woke one morning to discover that he’d been empowered and possessed by the tiger god Kou. Now a Jitsugen Samurai in Revenge of the Akuma Clan and able to take on Kou’s form, David must use his new abilities to protect Japan from the terrifying evil creeping across the land — and waiting for him to fail.
As his relationships, especially with Rie his host sister, grow uncertain, he must forge deeper connections with Kou, the tiger god that resides with him, and form new alliances if he hopes to hold back the return of Japan’s ancient enemies. It is up to David to stop the powerful and vengeful Akuma Clan — and time is running out.”
Zooming Japan: You’ve also published an e-book called “The Tanner’s Daughter“. How does this relate to the other books?
Ben: Writing takes a LOT of time, but publishing takes even longer. As a reader I’ve always hated having to wait for the next book in a series, yet as a writer there’s no way to speed up the process. Instead, I decided to write short stories to release in between the major works. The Jitsugen Samurai Diaries will be short bits to hold my readers over, and allow me to play with different styles and content. At the same time, they will tie into the overall Samurai Awakening series as well. I’ll let you guess how.
Zooming Japan: Do you plan to extend the “Samurai Awakening” series?
Ben: Right now I’m in the midst of finishing up the third book and plan at least two more. Whether or not those books ever see the light of day will depend on support from my readers and friends! I hope to have a much better answer in the next few months.
Zooming Japan: Ben, thank you so much! We all wish you good luck with your newest book!
If you’re planning a trip to Okinawa, especially to the smaller islands, Ben is the man to ask, as he knows a lot more about Okinawa than I do.
Where to find and how to connect with Benjamin Martin:
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Events in Jan/Feb 2017:
- Jan 15: Matobakai (Kumamoto)
- Jan 15: Toh-shiya (Kyoto)
- Jan 17: Bonden-sai (Akita)
- Jan 28: Yamayaki (Nara)
- Feb 3: Setsubun (nationwide)
- Feb 3-12: Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi
- Feb 6-12: Sapporo Snow Festival
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- Feb 18: Naked Festival at Saidai-ji (Okayama)