(Book Review) ‘Eiko’s Forest’ by Aoko Matsuda / 「英子の森」松田青子

by Miki
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‘English is like magic, it opens up doors to a different world’. People in Japan tend to blindly believe this saying while learning English as a foreign language. I myself believed it to be true, until the day I was told ‘there are so many great English speakers already, just being able to speak in English doesn’t make you special at all’. Language study involves tremendous amounts of endurance and hardship, yet many language-related businesses continue to ‘sell’ the dream of a ‘successful global person’. I have seen so many Japanese end up believing these myths, becoming obsessed with jobs related to English, but ultimately offering themselves up as sacrifices within the wider society around them…

「英語ができると、いいことがある。英語は、違う世界に連れて行ってくれる魔法」日本で英語を学んだ私も、そんな考えを信じて英語の勉強をしていた時期があります。でもある日、「英語ができる人なんて、大勢いるのだ」と言われ、ただ英語を学ぶことが良いことだと、英語さえできればいいのだという考え方が間違いで、幻想でしかなかったことに気づく… 言語習得は時間がかかるし、忍耐と努力が必要だからこそ、語学教材や語学教室の広告は「英語」を「夢物語」のように、「英語こそが、グローバル時代の成功の鍵なのだ」という考えを植え付ける。この幻想を信じ込み、振り回される人がどれだけいることか。

The protagonist of this book – Eiko – suffers in exactly this way. Learning English since childhood in Japan, she still cannot find a stable job using English. At one point, she is looking for part-time work and is told that a role using English will pay her just 50 Yen (50p) per hour more than a role that doesn’t require the language. This really hammers home just how much society ‘values’ her skills.


Jobs related to English in Japan: teachers, receptionists, translators etc… these are generally badly paid, and mostly non-permanent jobs, unless you are successful enough to be in the top 1-2% percent of these occupations. Moreover, even the lowest level or most tiny of roles in these categories are hard to find and hard to get. Comprehending this reality shocked me when I was an English learner in Japan. The realisation that even some five year olds could speak in English – sometimes even multiple languages! – much more fluently than a long-term English learner like myself was such a humiliating moment of truth. It felt almost like a kind of ‘birth lottery’, even.

日本で英語を使う仕事、例えば先生、受付、翻訳…調べてみると、そのほとんどがかなりの薄給で、これを本職として生活を養っていける人はほんの一握りのエリートだけ。私が日本で英語学習者だった頃、この気付きを受け止めるのはつらかった。そして、言語の面だけ見れば、育つ環境によって英語なんて5歳児でも流暢に話せてしまうこと、何なら数言語操ってしまうこと… 長年英語を学んでいる身にとって、信じたくない現実と向き合うこと。もうほんと、生まれながらにして自分は「恵まれていなかったのだ」なんて思ってしまうくらいに、ただただつらい。

‘English’, ultimately, is just a tool. This applies to any language. Just being able to use the language does not necessarily make you a super hero, it is all about ‘what you want to do’ and ‘what can you do’ in best utilising that tool. On the global stage, there is a socially overwhelming stigmatisation toward a perceived Japanese inability in speaking English well (eg. Japanese politicians always seem to be particularly ashamed of this). Because of this, Japanese society tends to be ‘fooled’ by adverts from English study related corporations, who sell the dream that ‘English is magic’, ingraining these myths even deeper in the subconscious. This book critically and effectively utilises the format of the fictional short story to point out these ironies.


Lastly, it’s worth saying that this story is written as a homage of ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ by Virginia Wolf – making it all the more interesting to explore if you are a fan of English literature!



  • An English translation is not currently available.
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