Strange English I can’t Understand

Living in Japan, you’re basically trapped in a tiny spaceship, peering down through clouds and picking up intermittent snippets of news floating skyward from earth. I first heard “Poker Face” in a smoky Shinjuku karaoke bar, when some girl belted out Mum mum mum mah. Some complicated lyrics, those. And I learned the results of the U.S. election in a similar joint in Oita prefecture. Okay, so I do a lot of karaoke. Beer helps. Anyway, what I mean is that it’s not easy keeping touch with Western culture, and even harder understanding why singers are now called Gaga and Presidents Trump.  It’s like the world’s gone crazy, and English with it. For example: Continue reading “Strange English I can’t Understand”

Japanese Racism

The first time I had a white kid in my English class, I couldn’t stop staring at him. He was floating among a sea of Asian faces in our sweaty, countryside classroom. I rattled my head and gazed briefly out the window. Steam was rising from the mountains in the distance, and in the foreground a line of wild monkeys dashed across the schoolyard, heading for the pool. Japan’s a weird place. I looked back at Keita, with his curly blonde hair, struggling to pronounce the U.S. states.

“Flolida,” he said.

“Florida,” I repeated, like Please tell me you’re joking.

“Folida?” he said earnestly, his little eyes welling with tears.

“Can you say ‘Miami’?

“Miami.

“Perfect. From now on, just say that.” Continue reading “Japanese Racism”

How Americans get Shot by the Police

It’s a funny feeling, being surrounded by a gang of cops, what with the yelling and pointing of guns and all. My first thought was, being shot to death on vacation’s gonna suck.

It’d started off well enough. Hidemi and I had breezed in from Haneda two days before. She’d wanted to go to California, but I was insistent we spend our vacation in Thailand, lounging on the white sand with a frosty Singha in one hand and a papaya salad in the other. Which would explain why we were lost in the suburbs of Los Angeles with a car full of McDonald’s wrappers, driving in circles.

“I told you to take the next exit,” she said. Continue reading “How Americans get Shot by the Police”

Renting an Apartment in Japan

I recently moved to a new apartment, my sixth since coming to Japan, and I couldn’t be happier. My first place left a wee bit to be desired, consisting of a dreary, small box with alternating views of a machine shop and a cinder-block wall. Well, at least it had two windows, so that was something. In the mornings, the smell of machine oil would mix deliciously with my scrambled eggs. Since then, I’ve been on a mission to consistently upgrade my living quarters.

So when I saw this latest spot, a corner room with a view of a park, I made a snap decision to move. Because Ken Seeroi’s a dude who believes in proactivity. Not that I ever actually get off my ass and do anything, but more in the sense that yep, proactivity does exist. Continue reading “Renting an Apartment in Japan”

7 Rules for Karaoke in Japan

If you happen to find yourself in Tokyo, then Shibuya’s a great place to start an evening. So we were there at Starbucks, just Aki and me slamming back steaming black grandes and Hitomi sipping some kind of whipped cream desert marketed to her as a coffee. I swear I don’t know how she stays so thin.

Then after a while, probably because we’d had a ton of caffeine, somebody said, “We should go get some beers. We really should.”

Probably I said that. But still, it was an excellent idea. So we left, but not before I stuffed a handful of Starbucks napkins into my pocket. They’re high-quality paper, and it’s not stealing if they’re free. I haven’t bought tissues or paper towels in years. Continue reading “7 Rules for Karaoke in Japan”