Bird talks 'Naked as the Day'
Laura Koch, Gleaner Intern
After completing his university studies in the United States, Jamaican writer Marcus Bird didn't feel like returning home.
Instead, he took a radical step and chose Japan as his next place of abode for an indefinite period. That was in 2009.
Bird had no idea what he would face or the experiences he would gain in the two years he ended up staying there. Bird's impressions built the foundation of his latest novel, Naked as the Day, which took him only 17 days to write.
Meanwhile, he has returned to Jamaica and told Outlook about his experiences. "Tokyo and Jamaica are so different, it's like two different planets," said Bird.
The now 31-year-old first became curious about Japan after he was exposed to Japanese anime. Later, he read more about the culture and even took a Japanese language course in college. But he found all the strange signs and grammar very problematic.
"I went there not speaking Japanese at all and I am a very talkative and outgoing person, so the first couple of months, I just tried very hard to have conversations", Bird remembered. "But it was not until I left Japan that my Japanese improved."
While in Japan, Bird started a blog - JamaicanJapan.com - to document his experiences. After spending one year in the small town of Hamamatsu on the south coast, teaching English to make a living, Bird moved to Tokyo.
His experiences there were vastly different. He told Outlook it was like night and day. "In my first month in Tokyo, I met all these DJs and these cool people," Bird recalls. "I had a brand with my videos and my website, so some people knew me." He characterises life in Tokyo as "crazy stressful" and that people work around the clock in Japan.
Bird describes himself as a 'journeyman writer' who gets inspiration for his short stories and novels during his travels. After seven months in the dynamic city of Tokyo, he decided to write a novel which takes place there.
The protagonist in the novel travels a path similar to Bird's, but feels extremely uncomfortable with his life.
In his mid-20s, the main character, like Bird, teaches English in a small town in Japan. Stocked in a boring routine of work and seeing the same things every day, the young man develops some signs of sickness. His chest hurts; he has a constant feeling of nausea, and a deep need for love that he doesn't get.
"His environment is having an adverse effect on him", Bird explained. The protagonist doesn't know what to do and leaves the small town. He ends up in Tokyo and his life seems to change. "He goes to Tokyo and interacts with people in different areas, like fashion and advertising, and he meets people doing what they want in Tokyo. They inspire him to think creatively about what he could do."
Similar to Bird's life story
Sounds familiar to Bird's own life story? "My story is kind of similar to the story of the guy in the book", the author admits, but adds that there is a bigger plot behind it. "The meta level of the book is just the fact that this guy just took a step into the unknown."
That would mean to take a risk, Bird explained. "I think, one of the biggest fears of people is to become one of the broken people." In the book, Bird takes the reader on a dark but exciting journey of human psyche and human needs. Written in very clear and precise language, Bird's novel seems like a river - constantly flowing with some rough streams and edges, but also smooth and refreshing.
With a degree in film production, books have always been a part of Bird's life. "I was reading novels from a young age, like nine or 10 years old", Bird recalled. "But you need a certain level of maturity to write a novel." Bird has already published another book -
In 2011, he left Japan when the catastrophe of Fukushima bulldozed the country and Bird found himself confused as the nuclear power reactor in the eastern part of Japan was damaged after the earthquake. "It was kind of chaotic", Bird recalls. "There was this threat that radiation would swamp Tokyo."
It was difficult to leave all the people he had gotten to know, and back in Jamaica, he completed Naked as the Day in record time. "I would like to write faster," he tells Outlook, adding, "I have a lot of ideas, not only for one more book, but for like 10."
Bird is excited to get working on his next novel that takes place in the German capital of Berlin, which he has already visited.