Pover was born in the UK in 1971. After spending one year
as a primary school teacher in her hometown of Plymouth, England,
a desire to seek adventure led her to Japan in August 1996. When she arrived,
Caroline found work teaching English at a technical college.
Six months later, she founded and published
Being A Broad, a monthly magazine, the purpose
of which was to connect and support English-speaking women
in Japan. The magazine sparked the growth of an extensive
network of predominantly Western women all over Japan, and
inspired Caroline to write her book Being A Broad in Japan:
Everything a Western woman needs to survive and thrive.
Ms. Pover attended Exeter University and graduated with a
First Class Honors degree in Mathematics and Education.
Interview: November 2001
In your own words, can you tell us a little bit about your
book and why you wrote it?
After six months of being in Japan I started a magazine called
Being a Broad that I published for about a year and half.
From the magazine grew an extensive network of mostly foreign
women all over Japan. When the magazine stopped the network continued,
and so did the requests for information. As a result, I decided
to put together the information in a book and interview foreign
women about their experiences. Being a Broad started because
I felt there was a real need amongst foreign women here to get
information and support.
Do Japanese men read this book? Is there curiosity from the
A lot of curiosity. The book is definitely written from a western
woman's perspective as a "girlfriend's guide," but that
doesn't mean that the information is not useful to other people.
For some Japanese, reading the very personal information on western
women's experiences helps them get some sort of understanding
of their own lives. Curiosity is a factor, but it may be they
work with western women, or a Japanese man is married to a western
woman, or they employ western women, or somebody is thinking of
working in America and they want to understand a bit more of the
Why did you choose to self publish?
I published a magazine myself so I thought I had enough experience
to know a bit about publishing. The main reason, however, was
that I wanted complete editorial control over the book as I felt
a great loyalty to the women I had interviewed. Traditional book
publishers might feel uncomfortable with some of the things covered
in the book or would prefer them written in another way. I didn't
want to change anything that the women said or change any element
of their experience here to make the book a safer bet. A publisher
may not want to be associated with certain controversial issues
that these women talk about.
The section on abortion goes into detail on its history in
Japan, and some publishers may not have been comfortable with
that. Some of the experiences and feelings foreign women have
can be quite negative. They're quite natural and I thought it
was really important to include those in the book. I didn't want
to hide anything from the readers.
And it was fun! Self-publishing was fun. Really.
What's the most rewarding aspect?
One way in which it was summed up was when I gave a speech
and a woman approached me afterwards. She shook my hand and said
"After reading your book, I know that I am normal."
I get that feeling a lot, but for her to put it in those words
with that look in her eyes, I could just tell the difference the
book had made in her confidence, her life, everything. That was
the most rewarding thing.
And the most frustrating?
I tend not to see things as frustrations. More like challenges.
Then what particularly challenges you?
It's hard to say. There are a few things, but they are not
big enough to say they were really frustrating or really big challenges.
Design maybe. I did it myself, and it was all wrong the first
time around. I wasted a month doing that. So maybe that would
be it. Another thing may be unloading all the books into my apartment.
It took two and half-hours with my best friend in the middle of
July. Maybe that was a challenge. Then again, that was fun.
If you ever leave Japan do you think you would run the same
type of business?
If I leave Japan in the future? I don't want to be an old
lady here, but I don't have any immediate plans to leave permanently.
Do you have any other projects besides that?
I will spend next year in and out of Japan setting up Being
a Broad in other countries. I hope to make a whole series
of them. I'm also hoping to re-write my book for a Japanese audience.
I'm also starting a new on-line business that is connected with
Being a Broad. I try to stay open to new ideas and opportunities,
but they are usually media related or community related.
What did you do before Being a Broad?
I was a primary school teacher. My degree is in mathematics
but you teach everything in school. It was all I wanted to do
since the age of five. I never considered doing anything else.
I was teaching in England, and it had been my dream for nineteen
There I was in the classroom having a wonderful time but I felt
really restless. I couldn't put my finger on it. Then a friend
of mine suggested I might just come to Japan. I taught for most
of my time here, and so I've been a teacher as well as doing all
the other stuff. It's only in the last year and half that I have
not done any full time teaching.
Aside from the business expat who is essentially assigned to
come here, why do you think women come to Japan, especially given
the state of this economy?
Some women come here because their partners relocate and others
still because of company assignments. About half come independently
- just a desire to do something, be some place different. A lot
of women come here because they somehow felt an unexplainable
affinity to Japan and really want to learn Japanese. For some,
maybe their family is Japanese although they themselves might
have grown up in another country.
I don't think money is a big factor in coming here, although it
may well have been a long time ago. I don't know about men, but
I don't think money is the major factor.
What sort of personality do you think thrives as an expat woman
For foreign women, I think the first couple of years in Japan
can be quite difficult. It's the willingness to go beyond those
few years that is key. It's important to stay open minded, not
to make snap judgments, but at the same time, to realize that
its OK, that it's natural to go through a phase where you do make
snap judgments feel very negative about Japan. I think that it's
all part of a natural process. What isn't good is to stay in that
phase for too long. I think the kind of women who thrives is are
those who don't blame their environment on negative feelings.
Did you ever wake up one morning and think, "I want to
Never. But that is not to say I was never unhappy in Japan.
And that's not say that I have been through some very difficult
experiences in Japan. There have been phases in which I blamed
my unhappiness on Japan.
I've been here for five and a half years and I would say the first
three months were amazing—I felt like I was on holiday every
day. The following three months were very difficult. Then there
was a slow period—it took a year of working out who I was
and what my place was in Japan. But now I can't remember when
I last had a "I hate Japan" day.
Why do expat women leave Japan? When is it "time to go?"
This probably isn't a politically correct thing to say, but
for single women, I found through my research that women leave
because they feel they can't meet a partner here. That's not a
very cool thing to say nowadays, but that's the main reason.
Is Japan a more sexist country than the US or UK?
I think one of the things that helped me feel more comfortable
in Japan is trying not to compare countries—to stop looking
at a country as better or worse; accepting that some things are
just different—traditional gender roles, for example. I
got to a mind state, if you will, of trying not to compare.
What are you reading right now? What do you like to read?
I picked up and read The Unquiet Mind [by Kay Redfield
Jaminson] last night. I've read it a number of times—it's
an amazing book: she tells the story of her mental illness [manic
depression] all the while she is a professional in that field.
That's such a brave thing to do. I don't read many books on Japan—the
last thing I read in any great detail was Ms Magazine
Do you feel you need language ability to understand Japanese
I don't speak Japanese-I can get by. But I think you can understand
the culture without understanding the language, especially if
you remain sensitive. People communicate in a lot of different
ways—as long as you are sensitive to that, there is no reason
you can't get a pretty good idea of the culture. I've met people
who are fluent in Japanese—their grammar is perfect—but
they can't really have a decent conversation—a real honest
open conversation with a Japanese person because somehow they
are not really willing to communicate. To them it's just about
That would suggest that you don't really need it.
Well, it may be because a lot of what I've done is with foreigners
or English-speaking Japanese. I got so busy when I came to Japan
that I had all these things to do that learning Japanese was not
at the top of the list. But it was never a reason for me to come
here either. It was about experiencing something different. I
have a pretty well balanced and healthy attitude toward Japan
and Japanese people. It's my home, although I can't fluently converse
with the majority of people living here.
What is home to you?
Home is here now. I love what I do, I have very good friends
here now, male and female, and life continues to be exciting and
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