Dominic Walker

Jun. 1, 2010, 0:00 No Comments


Bringing us the soundtrack to Fukuoka’s weekend as the host of Love FM’s Top 40, Dominic initially came to Japan to teach English on the JET program. Based in Kumamoto, his career has since taken many interesting turns. Whilst remaining in the field of English education, he has also pursued his other passions of food, wine and communication. He is a reporter for Kumamoto Asahi Broadcasting’s show, Satabura, and loves to introduce viewers to the high quality produce Kumamoto has to offer. Dominic set up the organization “Just Drink Wine” in 2007 with his colleague Tim Beck. Their aim is to teach the basics of wine so people can gain more confidence and enjoyment when drinking wine. Another of his projects has been a book he published called Three Rules for Life, in which 50 famous people from Kumamoto each give three practical keys to their personal success. For his own part, he says his philosophy to life boils down to being grateful – “the more grateful you are, the more opportunities come your way.” Catch Dominic live on air at the Love FM studio (Iwataya 7F), Sat. from 15:00~19:00, and meet him at the Now Lounge “Summer Party” on July 2nd.

With such a diverse and successful career, Dominic is proof of how far you can go in Japanese society as a foreigner with the right attitude. Fukuoka Now caught up with him to discuss how his career has evolved, and his tips for other foreigners trying to make it here.

When did you come to Japan?
I initially came over on the JET program in July 1999 and spent three years on JET in Nishi Haramura in Kumamoto Prefecture.

Did you have a prior interest in Japan?
Not specifically. A friend of mine at university told me about a course teaching English over the summer to students in Italy, so the summer before my final year I taught English through drama for 3 months in Italy. It wasn’t so much the teaching English as the living abroad that really fascinated me. The fact was that I was studying hard at university yet there was only a certain amount of things I could really understand because my vision, my outlook on life, was so narrow because of the way I ‘d been brought up – living in that very small culture of Britain, which is one way of living. I thought, “I really want to live abroad for awhile,” but to live in Europe, it’s all based on the same Judeo- Christian beliefs. I really wanted to live somewhere that wasn’t based on Judeo-Christianity as far as society went, but at the same time I didn’t want to live in a place that had a low standard of living. So non-Western and high standard of living, pretty much the only place that leaves is Japan and a friend of mine was out on JET, and she said it was great.

Tell me about your show on Love FM.
It’s the Love FM Top 40, soundtrack to Fukuoka’s weekend. It’s wonderful but it is hard work. We’re live every Saturday from 15:00-19:00, on the 7th floor of Iwataya, the main building. We’ve got a big window in front of us, come up and write us a message, we have a lot of fun in there!

How are the top 40 decided?
It’s a wonderful system they have here. In the West, it’s all based upon sales but here it’s based upon not only sales, but also on airplay and requests so its a really rounded top 40.

How did you get involved with Love FM?
I initially got involved through friends working in the media in Kumamoto. A friend of mine said, “Hey, do you want to come and co-present on a show called English Garden?”. It was a 30 minute show, pre-recorded, so we’d come up to Fukuoka once or twice a month. It was about British things in general – we’d introduce a topic, something quirky about the British Isles, like afternoon tea or something. I had the most amazing co- presenter, Sakiko, and she actually does the evening show here (on Love FM). She’s so professional, she’s got this amazing calmness about her. I did that for about a year and a half, and then they said, “Dominic, we ‘re going to stop English Garden, but you’re going to do the Top 40.” I was like, “What??”. Instead of half an hour pre-recorded with a very capable co-host, I went to 4 hours live by myself, and that has been a real learning curve.

Tell me about your career path after JET.
I finished JET in 2002, then I worked in an English kindergarten in Kumamoto for one and a half years until April 2004 when I joined the company I’m working for now, Peppy Kids Club. It’s a fantastic organization – it’s the largest non- franchise specialist English kindergarten in Japan and has 1,200 classrooms all over the country. I have to say, unlike when I was on JET, the real focus is on improving teachers and getting to know the students. I would recommend anyone who’s looking to teach English in Japan or to get to know Japan and develop themselves to come and work at Peppy Kids.
I manage teachers now. I don’t go in the classroom so much now, but I try and get in the classroom five or six days a month just to keep my own skills up, so I can help and support teachers to develop. I think that the more we develop as individuals, the more we get to feel a sense of satisfaction because personally I feel we only have a sense of satisfaction when we’re growing. As soon as we’re just staying in the same place and not growing it’s easy to let standards slip – I know because I’ve been in that position.

What have some of your main projects in Japan been?
I guess I’ve always wanted to do things that interest me and I made a book. We donated it to all the schools in Kumamoto Prefecture. It’s called “Three Rules for Life”. We interviewed 50 famous people who have a connection to Kumamoto. The key with this book is they gave three rules for life, but I said “how do you practically do this in your daily life?”. It’s all about being practical, that’s what the book is all about.
This was completed in 2008. I might do a national version depending on my situation in a few months time.

Can you tell me your three rules for life?
Aisatsu – Which is greeting, the importance of greeting and the idea that you don’t greet for other people, you greet for yourself. You don’t say “Ohayo gozaimasu”And hope that the other person comes back and says”Ohayo gozaimasu”. You say”Ohayo gozaimasu”Because you’re greeting the world. It comes from yourself and you greet for yourself and that’s why you don’t hide.
Kansha – Everyday I take some time, some would call it to pray, but to reflect on the things that I’ve been fortunate with today and that I’ve been blessed with and what I want to achieve on the following day.
Egao – Smiling. Once again, it’s not so much forcing yourself to smile for other people, it’s for yourself because the very physical act of smiling makes you happier, it can break a mood.

Fukuoka Now understands you’re also involved with a wine business?
Yes. A guy I’ve met through working with Peppy Kids, Tim Beck, is a fully qualified wine maker – his family is in the wine business in Australia – and he started telling me about wine. I sort of started getting more confident about wine from what he was telling me and I thought “I really want to share this information with other people”, because wine is such an adventure, and from wine you get to have an appreciation of so much more than just wine. You get an appreciation for quality because with wine you’re always searching for quality and the relationship between quality and price.
We set up an organization called “Just Drink Wine” in 2007. What we’re aiming to do is enlighten people about wine and open up wine to a whole new group of consumers. People don’t have the confidence to make their own judgments about wine, and so in order to do that, you need to have a very basic, limited understanding – know a little about the grape types, about the regions and how that effects the grape types, a little about the aging process and how that will effect the quality of the wine, how price effects the wine. Just a little bit of knowledge will help you go out and do the most important thing, which is to go out and experience wine for yourself. We want people to have the confidence to find their own taste and enjoy wine because if people enjoy it they’re going to buy more of it. Our bases are of course Tim’s knowledge of wine, both of our knowledge about teaching (like now we ‘re not teaching directly, we’re teaching people how to teach, so in order to teach people how to teach you have to understand how people learn) and my background now in media.

Tell me about your work as a gourmet reporter.
I do gourmet reporting for KAB, Kumamoto Asahi Broadcasting, on a Saturday morning magazine program. They’ve been so good with me about tutoring me about how to express myself, how to appreciate tastes. I’ve got to understand just how amazing the areas of Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Kyushu are for wonderful, quality produce. We go to farms, we go pretty much anywhere to find the highest quality foods – we’ll go fishing on boats, we’ll climb mountains, we’ll do all sorts. We have a truly unique opportunity living here in Kyushu with the amazing quality of air, phenomenal water, which has an impact on the quality of the produce. It’s such a truly wonderful place to live if you’re interested in food.

The show is called “Satabura”. It starts at 10 am on a Saturday, its about an hour long. They have different reporters every week so I come on once a month and do my corner. I’d love to do more gourmet reporting , if anyone’s interested here in Fukuoka please let me know!

Has gourmet reporting influenced your everyday eating habits?
Definitely. I’m now prepared to spend more money on basic ingredients, I’ll buy quality over quantity. I’d rather eat something of premium quality as opposed to lots of something cheap.

What have you learned as a foreigner working in the Japanese media?
From my radio and TV work, the most important thing I’ve learned is the Hanseikai – Reflection. After every radio program we’ll sit down for about half an hour to an hour and write down what we thought went well. Every week we make improvements. That’s what’s great about working with the people in the industry in Kumamoto and Fukuoka , they give time to develop you, they don’t expect you be be on the ball from the start. If you’re willing to work, they ‘re willing to work with you and that’s a genuine message to everyone who’s trying to do something in Japan – keep at it, keep working but ask for feedback, don’t make the same mistake time and time again. It’s the idea in Japan of the Do, The path, of always growing and developing – the top teachers will practice as much as the enthusiastic beginner because as soon as you stop you lose the path. These ideas permeate through all of Japanese society.

What do you miss most about England when you’re in Japan and vice versa?
Like everyone, I miss my family, being around my nieces and nephews as they grow up. When I go home, I miss the convenience stores – you can’t buy an onigiri or a bento at the convenience stores in England.

Any advice for foreigners in Japan?
The most wonderful thing about Japan is you never know what’s going to happen, you can find yourself in the craziest situations. My advice to people in Japan is take those times, take a step back, think where you are and be grateful for it. My philosophy is be grateful, because the more grateful you are, the more opportunities will come your way. I strongly believe that. We have a unique opportunity here in Fukuoka, in Kyushu, it’s not like Tokyo, it’s more open and less developed here . You need to have the guts to go out and take opportunities – alright some will come to you but you need to go out and find them. You need to put yourself out there and that doesn’t mean by going to the gaijin bar and hanging out with foreigners. Make the effort, the rewards will come. And that’s why I’m still here, it’s an amazing quality of life.

Finally tell me about your fabulous pink shoes, where did you get them?
I got them upstairs here at Iwataya. I was delighted by this purchase! I saw these Spanish moccasins and I fell in love with them at first sight. I was like Cinderella’s ugly sister, they were going to fit! They’re a size 27, I’m a 27.5, but with a little bit of leverage here they are today! That’s what I love about Japan, it’s the only place in the world you can go around confidently wearing pink suede shoes.

Hometown: Guilford, England
In Japan: 11 years
Identity: Radio host / gourmet reporter / wine promoter

Interview and text by Una Geary

Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn138, Jun. 2010)

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