JK Rowling Ruined My Life

Mark, hard at work on this blog, yesterday

I walk out of the teacher's room at the Tokyo language school where I work, go past reception, and that's when I hear it: 'Harry! Harry!' I look round and see two fourteen-year-old schoolgirls in their blue Prussian-inspired uniforms, beaming and bouncing with excitement. They've just spotted the famous Harry Potter lookalike and their day has been made.

Except I don't look anything like the boy wizard. Okay, so I wear glasses most of the time, but they're not round like Harry's, they're rectangular. And I confess that my hair, which refuses to lie flat and is rather shaggy around my ears, is quite similar to that of Daniel Radcliffe, the star of the movies. And okay, I wear a black duffel coat every day. But I'm 32 years old—old enough to be James Potter, Harry's dad. I don't have any interesting scars (not on my forehead, anyway). And I have never been known to hang out with snowy owls or ride a broomstick to work. I take a crowded train just like everyone else.

Still, every day, at least one student says, as if they've just had an amazing and original revelation, 'You look like Harry Potter!' Or they'll say, 'Ah, I've heard about you—you're the one who looks like Harry Potter.' Even the school staff have been known to call me Potter-san. Watching a World Cup match in an Irish bar in Shibuya last summer, my girlfriend overheard two women giggling and comparing me to you-know-who. After that, I decided to find out more about my doppelganger and read the books. This was a big mistake. Not, I hasten to add, because of the quality of the books, especially the third one, but because the schoolgirls who usually gawp at me on the train found it doubly hilarious—and, no doubt, surreal—to witness the sight of a Harry-alike actually reading a Harry novel. Every time I looked up from the page, there'd be another 13-year-old staring at me, her mates elbowing her and whispering words I couldn't understand.

I used to get it in England too. One memorable day, after work, I went to the pub. Not an unusual event, I confess, but I haven't finished yet. 'Twas the week before Christmas, and the pub was full of blokes dressed up like Santa and drinking like fish. I went to the toilet:

'Christ, look—it's Harry Potter!'

'Ere, can you magic us up a beer?'

'Be careful where you wave your wand, mate.”

I guess I'd get it anywhere, because surely every country in the world has succumbed to the charms of the JK Rowling's creation. He's up there with Coca-Cola and Michael Jackson. The books and films are just as popular here in Japan as they are in the UK. Because the books need to be translated, Japan is almost 18 months behind the English-speaking world. The Goblet of Fire was published here, in hardback, in October 2001, and just like in Britain, where it was the fastest-selling book ever, there were queues outside bookshops and the event was reported heavily on the news. Also, as in England, Rowling's books are published by a relatively small publisher, Sayshanza. The president of Sayshanza, Yuko Matsuoka, is also the translator. She discovered Harry Potter on a visit to London, when a friend lent her a copy of the The Philosopher's Stone and she persuaded Christopher Little, Rowling's agent, to sell her the Japanese rights. The Japanese covers are very interesting and different to the British editions:

So far, the four books have sold over 12 million copies in Japan. As I write this, on January 23 2003, the World Harry Potter Exhibition is being held in a department store in Tokyo. This consists of a mass of merchandise and a mock-up of Moaning Myrtle's toilet, but Japan really is mad about Harry. This may all be part of a wave of Anglophilia which is sweeping the country at the moment. Everybody saw how the Japanese supporters took England to their hearts during the World Cup, and not just because most Japanese women want to take David Beckham into their beds. Beckham is probably Harry's only rival as most famous Englishman, appearing in three separate commercials at the moment. One of these is for J-Phone, Vodaphone's sister company. The others are for Almond chocolates, with David staring longlingly at a choccy nugget, and TBC, a personal grooming brand. The latter ads show David and Victoria lying languidly in what looks like the plush interior of Beckingham Palace, with the slogan 'Just Beauty'. (They got $4 million for these ads.) The number of Japanese people travelling to England has shot up, and not only because they're hoping to glimpse Beckham. Beatrix Potter, Shakespeare, Winnie the Pooh, the Premier League (especially Fulham, for whom Inamoto plays), Sherlock Holmes, Oasis, Hugh Grant . . . they're all Big in Japan.

But back to Harry and me. I've decided not to have plastic surgery. I'm not even going to shave my head or stop wearing specs. In fact, something strange and scary's happened: I've decided I don't mind all the attention. Another teacher started at my school recently. He also wears glasses and has an English accent—and one of the students told him he looked like Harry Potter.

I was outraged. I'm Harry. Not him. If you have any comments, questions, etc, please Email me.

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