Stephen Carter – The unofficial “Mayor of Osu” answers our version of the Proust Questionnaire

Well known as the unofficial gaijin “Mayor of Osu” Stephen Carter was born in a small town in southern New Mexico not far from the Mexican border. When he was small his family moved around a lot, so growing up he also lived in northern California, Virginia, western New York, West Virginia, the western tip of Texas, and the Seattle area.

His first stay in Japan was a year as a high-school exchange student in Sapporo from El Paso, Texas. He tried to maintain his language skills after returning to the US. In 1985, Stephen came to Nagoya and has been here ever since.

He initially worked as an in-house translator at a design office, but for the past 25 years he has run his own document-production company, High-Tech Information Center. His company can provide translations in just about all language pairs, and for most jurisdictions, they can also provide certified translations for visa applications and other types official documents. If you need his services he is always happy to provide an estimate.

Stephen also helps out with organizing festivals and other events in his neighborhood of Osu, and volunteers as a guide in the local shopping arcade on weekend afternoons two or three times a month. Feel free to go by and say hi!

We asked Stephen to answer our version of the Proust Questionnaire. Here are his answers:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Living is never easy and happiness is always transient, but I think it’s sensible to put some effort into setting up conditions that maximize your chances of finding happiness and holding onto it. If you find a job (or at least a pastime) that you enjoy, surround yourself with good people who have your back (and know you have theirs), and take reasonable care of yourself physically, there’s a better chance that the happiness will take care of itself more than it might otherwise.

What is your greatest fear?
Extrapolating from current trends, I fear for what kind of world my grandchildren will be living in.

What historical figure do you most identify with?
I don’t identify with anyone in particular, though I do enjoy reading biographies and autobiographies of nonconformists and iconoclasts. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Richard Feynman. Frida Kaahlo. Salvador Dali. Mary Wollstonecraft. People like that.

Which living person do you most admire?
Several of my relatives and friends have horrible chronic diseases, and are suffering in ways I can’t even imagine. Conditions like multiple sclerosis and complications from Lyme disease. They deserve their privacy so I won’t name names, but am in awe of their courage and grace.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I’m pretty sure I have a sense of humor, but sometimes I have trouble locating it. Which is to say I occasionally have to remind myself to lighten up and not overthink things.

What trait do you most deplore in gaijin?
We probably all know a few people who live here but make no effort to learn the language or get to know their neighbors or other locals. It’s one thing to be that way when you’re here on a short-term expat rotation, but quite another, it seems to me, when you’ve lived here for years or even decades. Learning a bit of the language, getting involved in neighborhood events, and engaging with all kinds of people doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’re *not* going to end up a twice-divorced alcoholic, bitter and alone, but it’s certainly a step in a better direction.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Lately, I guess it’s going to too many live music shows. Even though I don’t see half as many as I’d like to, I’m trying to cut back.

On what occasion do you lie?
I do make an effort to be tactful but honest rather than lie outright, but I am guilty of the occasional social white lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, or of eating something I don’t like so as not to offend my host. (“Peanut butter and spinach stew? What an unusual flavor combination!”)

What is your favorite journey?
One of the most memorable ones was coming back to Japan after my sister’s wedding in New Mexico. Our flight west to Nagoya via Los Angeles was canceled because of mechanical problems, but I had an important meeting I had to get to and pleaded with the airline ground staff to help me out. They ended up rerouting us east through Cincinnati and Zurich, Switzerland to Kansai International Airport, from where I got to the Shinkansen station to Nagoya and made it to the meeting with less than ten minutes to spare.

While at the airport in Zurich for a four-hour layover, Rumi flashed the immigration agent a megawatt smile and persuaded him to let us leave the airport. We took a taxi downtown and had a quick coffee at an open cafe and walked around the block once, then rushed back to the airport, where SwissAir bumped us up to first class. What was supposed to be a quick home visit ended up being a trip around the world.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Frugality, when it’s taken to extremes. Financial responsibility is a good thing, of course, but I also think it’s fine sometimes to splurge a little. I like how the Japanese constitution says “All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living” — recognizing that merely subsisting is not really living. Moderation in everything, including moderation!

Which living person do you most despise?
Dick Cheney. I’m still disappointed that the subsequent administration never held him and his crew accountable for their actions.

What is your greatest regret?
My first marriage. Huge horrible trainwreck of a mistake for all involved.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I never learned to type properly. When I was about eight I began fooling around on an old mechanical typewriter my parents let me use, and got pretty fast at my pecking using three fingers on each hand. I took a typing class in high school, but even after passing it with high grades, my speed when typing correctly was still slower than the six-fingered way, and I soon reverted. Now I make my living poking keyboards…but I still type like a self-taught eight-year-old.

What is your most treasured possession?
My marriage.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Oh, man. Dying slowly of some painful degenerative disease?

What is your most marked characteristic?
People tell me that my jungly white hair makes me recognizable from way off. (One consequence of that is that I have to be on my best behavior when I’m out in my neighborhood.) About eight years ago I hacked it all off for the first time in twenty years, but the resulting look creeped out a lot of people, including myself, so I let it grow right back.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Integrity.

What is the quality you most admire in a woman?
Self-confident competence is tremendously attractive. I greatly admire women who demonstrate that kind of strength.

What do you most value in your friends?
Compassion and tolerance. Our friends — Rumi and mine — are a pretty mixed group in terms of nationalities and political beliefs, and when we get together with different sets of them it sometimes makes for lively and amazing discussions, but no real clashes. I’m proud to know so many forthright but open-minded people.

Name one thing about yourself that would surprise most people.
I’m quite hard of hearing.

How would you like to die?
If I can’t die quietly in my sleep, then I’d hope to go out in as spectacular and memorable a way as possible. Hit by a meteorite, say.

For more information about Stephen’s Company check out their website at:
www.hticn.com

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