What I’ve Learned About Japanese Customs

Rirakkuma - Japanese Rule of 7

It rained last week. And as I walked into the lobby of my Japanese office building, there was my coworker in front of me, the strawberry-blonde gal who speaks pretty good Japanese. And perhaps because she’d mostly mastered the language, it was surprising to note she’d failed to successfully navigate the entire minefield of Japanese customs: she hadn’t wrapped up her umbrella. You know that little strap you wind around to hold the umbrella closed? Yeah, she hadn’t done that. This is the Japanese equivalent of not zipping up your fly.

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Cheating in Japan

Kyoto - Ken Seeroi

“Hi Ken,

What do you think of cheating as a subject in Japan? I recently watched this video and it says over 80% of women here cheat. How true is that?”

Okay, so several years ago I met a dude in Osaka, who’d just moved there for work. We were standing in an empty shell of a building, drinking shochu and eating dried daikon with bits of cream cheese. Who says Japanese bars aren’t the best?

Me? Oh, right. Well, anyway, he mentioned a wife and daughter back in Chiba, so I replied, “Must be hard being away.”

“Nah,” he answered, “my wife said I can have a girlfriend.”

And I was like, “Whaaa? She said whaaa?” Probably should work on sounding out my consonants a bit more.

Cheating in Japan

Then fast-forward a couple of years, when I told my girlfriend at the time I was moving out of Tokyo.

“I’m leaving,” I said.

“Yeah, okay,” she said. Really thought she’d take it a bit harder, to be honest.

“I don’t mind if you have another girlfriend,” she added.

“Will you have another boyfriend?” I asked.

“No guarantees,” she replied.

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Permanent Residency in Japan

Permanent Residency in Japan

The Monday after submitting my application for Permanent Residency in Japan, I started checking the mailbox.

Yeah, I knew it was a bit soon. The woman at the Immigration Office with the mismatched eyes said it’d take months, and I believed her. Still, I couldn’t resist the pull; every evening checking for a postcard from Immigration, walking past my dear friend Ato-san dying of lymphoma and the weird kid who shot me with the pellet gun. Ah, Japanese neighbors, you are my new countrymen. But of course the mailbox was always empty and somehow I was always disappointed. Such is the pitfall of my perpetual optimism.

And then one day out of the blue, I got a phone call. It was almost three months from the day I submitted my application.

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Getting Japanese Permanent Residency

Cute dog. (c) Japanese Rule of 7

After Japan’s lukewarm reception to my halfhearted proposal of becoming a Japanese citizen, I decided to re-think the whole strange project. Would citizenship even change anything? Certainly not as much as a quick trip to Korea for plastic surgery and coming back looking like a Japanese 18 year-old. Would it help to invest another ten years improving my already awesome Japanese? Or should I just scotch the whole thing and hang out with topless ladies on the beach in Polynesia like Paul Gauguin? Wow, so many good options.

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Applying for Japanese Citizenship

Step One of the Japanese citizenship process is apparently sitting on a blue plastic bench in a frigid concrete government building staring at the number in your hand. Mine was 12. This was a semi big deal, not the number but the whole procedure, since it meant renouncing U.S. citizenship and basically scotching my chances of ever living or working again in the greatest country on earth. But since I’d been in Japan this long and it was looking like I’d eventually die here, I figured Hell, might as well go all the way. I mean, people get face tattoos, undergo plastic surgery, get married, have kids…maybe I needed to put an end to this hedonistic Peter Pan existence and start screwing up my life too. Can’t just keep on having fun forever, right?

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