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Humans of Frome: Tony McNicol

Tony McNichols by Ciara Poot

Tony McNichol by Ciara Poot

When Bath-raised Tony McNicol graduated from Cambridge University with a Classics degree he took the unexpected step of moving to Japan. 

As someone with a natural affinity for languages he explains that he wanted to experience a completely different culture.  He moved to central Japan where he taught English for a year, then worked for a Japanese company for another two years.  Returning to London with a decent grasp of the Japanese language, arguably one of the most difficult languages to learn, he landed a job working as an assistant to a UK correspondent for a Japanese broadsheet.  Taking up his new role just a month before 9/11 he was thrown in at the proverbial deep end.  Hitting the ground running with the news event of the century, Tony learned the art of fact finding, checking and the ability to think on his feet in a fast moving news world.

Japan had cast its spell over the adventurous young journalist however and Tony eventually secured a scholarship to complete his language studies in Tokyo.  He returned there hot on the heels of his Japanese girlfriend and future wife Yoshie. Despite living in separate cities at first, they went on to marry in 2004 and are now the proud parents of  sons Dan (9) and Joe (7).  A career in journalism continued as he became the editor of ‘Eurobiz Japan’ (a magazine for the members of the European Chambers of Commerce in Japan) and he freelanced for 8 years writing for airline, science and business magazines.  His final job in Japan was as an in-house speechwriter at Nissan HQ in Yokohama.

The earlier experience of working in journalism around the tragic circumstances of 9/11 had gone some distance to teaching Tony how to deal with world events of a catastrophic magnitude. However, nothing could have prepared him for what unfolded in the spring of 2011.  On March 11th 2011, at 2.46pm, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake took place 231 miles northeast of Tokyo.  The earthquake caused a tsunami with 30-foot waves; waves which catastrophically damaged a nuclear reactor in Fukushima.  The earthquake was the fourth largest on record since 1900 and the largest to hit Japan.  15,891 people died as a result of the earthquake, most deaths were caused by drowning in tsunami waters, today 2,500 people are still reported missing.

Tokyo itself remained relatively unscathed but suffered continuous aftershocks, 900 of which were recorded, 60 over a 6.0 magnitude and 3 over 7.0.   Life in one of the largest cities in the world (population over 20 million) attempted to continue as usual, despite the fact that from time to time the whole city shook.   Tony explains that there was a nervousness about the city then, he informs me that the people of Tokyo and Japan are prepared for natural events from an early age  (he describes young children in kindergarten school being trained to climb under desks to protect themselves in earthquake drills) and yet the unknown nature and consequent effects of the nuclear fallout set everyone on edge.    The women and children left the city in droves, his own small family departing by train, leaving him alone in the city to continue at work in a subdued and fearful city.  A brave yet necessary decision, a decision made by so many others when a reaction of mass hysteria could have proven catastrophic.

Tony visited the tsunami-affected area just months after it had struck, the initial emergency had ended by then but the mass devastation was still very much in evidence.  He explains that the realisation he had been in survival mode hit him when the country marked the first year anniversary of the earthquake.  Then, with a little distance, the full impact of what Japan, his neighbours, friends and countrymen had suffered hit him like a ton of bricks.

In 2015, Tony and his family moved to Frome.   An annual month’s visit back from Japan to visit his West Country-based family and a full 2 year stint back in Bath  had acclimatised his two young sons to the ways of  English  life before they hit the relative calm of Frome life.  Now settled into their schools, Tony explains that his sons speak mostly English even at home, but that he and his wife speak as much Japanese as possible to the boys to keep the language for them.  They return to Japan regularly to visit Yoshie’s family, and 9-year old-Dan has already started his countdown to this year’s festive holiday.

Today, Tony and Yoshie run a translation agency called WeDoJapan. Yoshie translates from English to Japanese and Tony translates from Japanese to English.  Tony continues as a freelance journalist and is also busy with his photographic tours of Bath where he helps photographers take original and different photos of well known Bath locations.  He explains that most of these locations have been photographed many times before but that with a fresh perspective, everyday scenes can look new and exciting – ‘fresh perspective’ being the gift to those who return to their roots after many years spent living far away, immersed in a very different culture experiencing a world that we West Country folk can only imagine.  I might have to sign up for one of his photographic tours and take a fresh look at Bath and its surrounding areas myself.

If you are interested in checking out Tony’s work here are some useful links
• www.tonymcnicolphotography.com • www.bathphototour.com