Japan, After the Love

Japan, After the Love

And then somehow I ended up in Fukuoka for Golden Week, eating at this yatai along the river.  It all had something to do with a Japanese girl and way too much sake, as I recall.  I mean, assuming I could recall, which actually I can’t.  But anyway, Golden Week is a great holiday time in Japan, since everyone has Friday and Monday off from work, and those two days magically add up to being called “a week.”  That’s some Japanese math for you.  Anyway, it was golden.

Unfortunately, there’s no English word for yatai, probably because no Westerner ever dreamed of serving steaming bowls of ramen noodles or chicken skewers from half a shack cobbled together out of old doors and tattered plastic sheets.  But Fukuoka’s got a string of these little rickety stalls on the banks of its black river, lit up at night with bare lightbulbs and red paper lanterns, full of wobbly customers sitting on folding chairs drinking beer and sake.  And since the night was lovely and warm, I picked a yatai with a friendly orange sign, where folks were being welcomed with small plates of edamame and fish eggs mixed with chopped green onions.  So hospitable, the Japanese.

What’s Japan Really Like?

So last week someone asked me what Japan’s like “once the mystical halo around kanji characters disappears?”  Ah, the halo . . . how I miss mine.  Where’d I put that damn thing, anyway?  Probably under the pile of beer cans on my balcony, along with my last paycheck, is where.  But anyway, yeah, the more of the language you know, the more you understand how Japan works.  That’s like when Adam bit the apple.  I mean, it was great, because he got to eat this delicious apple and all, but also not good because, well hell, I dunno, but there was this snake and some big problem ensued, and some chick got involved too.  There’s always a woman in the middle of things, for some reason.  Remind me to Wikipedia this.

Yeah, now looking back, when I first got to Japan, everything was fabulous, hilarious, marvelous, and if I could think of another word ending in -ous, I’d add that too.  My coworkers liked me, girls wanted to date me, and people on the street couldn’t wait to be my friend.  I was utterly clueless and believed all of it.  What a great time.  And I took pictures of everything.  Look how small my hotel room is!  Where’s my camera?  Look, an old Buddhist temple!  Definitely getting a photo of that.  Whoa, a woman in a kimono.  Freaking geisha.  Geisha, meet my photo album.

But now, well, it’s not easy to take pictures, since all the temples have become as interesting as churches and a kimono is less remarkable than a cool pair of jeans.  I mean, who takes a picture of something they see every day?  It’s all just so insanely normal.  Don’t worry, I know I’m jaded, but it’s only when I’m sober, so you can rest easy.

And maybe that’s the most surprising thing about Japan after all these years:  just how un-surprising it really is.  Once all the stuff you don’t understand wears off, it’s kind of, well, an average place.  Not bad, I mean, but not so different from anywhere else.  Japanese people, for their part, try hard to boost it up, with constant reminders like, You know we eat raw fish—you subsist on hot dogs.  We drink green tea—you like coffee, right?  We’re subtle—you’re not.  Yeah, about that.  Anyway, it’s practically a Japanese hobby to convince people how different they are from you.

And then There’s Kanji

Kanji is the final bastion of Japanese resistance, since it’s the one thing foreigners are almost guaranteed not to understand.  It’s like when I was ten and wanted to write messages in secret code or invisible ink or something.  I didn’t even have anything secret to write—I mean, I was freaking ten—but for some reason it seemed like the best idea ever.  Until I was, uh, eleven.  But sometimes it feels like Japanese people are still at it.  Like, would it kill you to put some furigana over things?  Oh right, your secret language, I forgot.

Anyway, I used to take lots of pictures of Japanese signs.  I was like, Who cares what they say—look at all that kanji!  But now, having studied a bit of Japanese, I’ve been looking back at those photos.  Here’s a sampling, now that I can read them:

“Please don’t spit your gum into the toilet.”

“Let’s not throw our garbage in the river.”

“Please don’t dry your hands on the dish towel.”

“Beware of strangers with sweet words after dark.”

“Don’t abandon your pets by the lake.”

Somehow I thought Japan was way more zen than that, like all the signs would be something profound, or at least interesting, but mostly it’s the same stuff you’d find anywhere, prohibitions and warnings, telling you not to do whatever you were just about to do.  Japan’s a lot less Karate Kid than it seems at first, is what I mean.  Guess I’ll have to do something else with my puppy.

Japan’s Pretty Okay

There’s a lot of good stuff about Japan.  It’s generally clean, the trains run on time, and the food’s fantastic.  Plus you’re probably not going to get shot to death, so that’s a small plus.  Although you could get nuclear bombed my North Korea, so okay, let’s just call it even.  So there’s some stuff that’s not so great, but whatever.  That’s anywhere.  Water finds its own level.  That is the right aphorism, isn’t it?  I’ll take your silence as a yes.

Anyway, the yatai with the orange sign was going off, with people pouring in and out.  I mean, as much as a wooden shack can “go off” without toppling over.  I watched this wrinkly old couple behind the counter shout a Japanese “Welcome!” as a businessman walked in.  Then “Welcome!” they sang out as a couple walked in.  A pair of girls went in, and—“Welcome!”  Just my kind of spot, so in I went.  The wrinkly old man looked up.  The whole place fell silent.  “No English menu,” he said.

Bit of a rough start, but whatever.  “Japanese is fine,” I said in Japanese.  He pointed to a folding chair, and I sat down.  People started talking again, but a bit quieter than before.

“Beer, please,” I said, “and a grilled sardine.”

He stared at me.  Then said, in English, “Fish okay?”

“Uhhh, fish okay,” I replied.

The wrinkly woman handed me a bottle of beer and a diminutive glass that might have been clean about a decade ago.  But then this random chick to my left toasted with me, and we launched into a conversation in Japanese and I felt considerably better.  Beer helps.  She had on a brightly colored shawl and over-sized glasses that made her face look like a squirrel.  It turned out she’d just come down from Tokyo, where she worked in a boutique.  “Me too,” I said.  I meant about Tokyo, not the boutique, and so we laughed.  I’m funny like that.  Then she noticed I didn’t have an appetizer, so she pointed this out to the wrinkly woman.  That’s when I noticed all the other customers had small plates of edamame and fish eggs with green onions.

“We don’t give them to foreigners,” said Wrinkly Woman to Woman-like-Squirrel.

“Oh,” said the squirrel.

“This happens,” I explained.  “Foreigners come, have one beer, and leave.  Then when they get the bill, they complain that they only ordered a beer.  It’s okay.”

“They don’t understand the system,” said Wrinkles to the squirrel, without looking at me.

“That’s true,” I said.  “The appetizer is an extra charge.  But for Japanese people, who typically stay for a while, it works out fine.”

“But foreigners don’t get appetizers?” Asked the squirrel to Wrinkles.  She glanced over at me.

“They complain about the charge, the foreigners,” said Wrinkles.

“It’s okay with me,” I said.  “I actually like fish eggs, and edamame.”

Wrinkles walked to the other end of the counter.  I thought maybe she was going to get my appetizers, but they never materialized.

“I’m sorry,” said the squirrel.

“That’s okay” I said.  “Happens all the time.”

We sat there and chatted for a couple hours, had a bunch more beer, then some sake, a few skewers of grilled shrimp and mushrooms, and then some more beer.  And some more sake, until the squirrel suddenly started to look a whole lot more attractive.  The night was warm and pleasant.  More customers came in, were welcomed, got appetizers, and pretty soon we were all drinking together, almost as though I fit in.

And that’s kind of the way it is.  Nice people, and not-so-nice people.  Stuff that’s fun, and stuff that’s not.  When I first got to Japan, it felt like I’d left real life behind.  But it was here all along, just below the surface.  It just didn’t get it.  But then, I don’t get a lot of things.

 



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36 Comments

  1. An interesting article! Especially to someone like me who is working to get to Japan. I like how you don’t talk only about the negatives like most people do. I guess when you live anywhere long enough it becomes normal right? You just don’t realize because you don’t have a constant reference to base normal on. Also sounds like you’re quite the player, always with the girls ay?

    • That’s the funny thing about “normal,” right. Like, the only reason Japan wouldn’t seem normal is if you were born elsewhere. But then the longer you’re here, the more it’s going to become your new normal. I don’t see Japan in terms of positive and negatives much any more; mostly how I see the way in which they’re two sides of the same coin. Like, the trains stop running around midnight, so that’s a negative. But that ensures people working late have a solid time they must leave the office, which is a plus. But the fact they’re working so late is a negative. But they’re working so late because . . . So it’s all interrelated, somehow. And that’s what makes up a culture, all those connections.

      As for the ladies, well, I have some friends. But if you’re looking for that player’s paradise, Japan wouldn’t be my first choice.

      • Haha, “normal” is definitely relative. Also culture is complex in any case but I guess it is related to what you said. Some good observations.

        Haha, I’m not looking for a player’s paradise but I’ll be sure to keep that in mind anyways. I know that some people do go there just so they can hit it off with the girls which is a little weird to me to be honest.

  2. Thank you very much for your article. All the effort in studying a new language and understanding the culture (anti-)climaxing in acceptance and contentment. Maybe Japan is more zen than we give it credit for :).

    But seriously, thank you. It’s nice to know that despite the naysayers, this is a place where it is possible to have a nice, normal life. And if you are the kind of person who’s into the (very) unique pluses that Japanese society has to offer and doesn’t mind the minuses, it’s quite a sweet deal.

    I experienced the yatai in Fukuoka last month and the yakitori and nama combo is enough for me to wish to be buried there. I’m simple like that. If I do manage to move to Kagoshima next year I owe you a beer big time. Cheers!

    • Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that the key to happiness with anything—job, partner, country—lies with appreciating the good parts and finding a way to ignore the minor annoyances.

      A lot of ex-pats in Japan, myself included, fall into the habit of comparing Japan to our home countries. I think that’s unavoidable, but there’s a tendency to focus more on the negatives. After all, it’s really easy to spot the things that could be improved (just like it is with people). But then of course, when I take a trip to the U.S., I do the same thing in reverse. It takes a bit of willpower to keep things in perspective, and remember all the good parts.

      Speaking of which, yeah, it’s pretty hard to beat that beer and yakitori combo. Japan rules for food, no doubt.

  3. Amen!
    Couldn’t agree more on most of the stuff you said! 🙂

    Great writing as always. Very amusing and a pleasure to read! Just keep the stories coming. I always enjoy them!

  4. Thanks for writing this!

    Hmm from the sounds of it, this sort of racism seems to be quite common, e.g. not getting the appetisers because you’re a Westerner? Do you think it was because you were in Fukuoka or does it happen all over in Japan?

    I only have one other question: do you really have a puppy?!

    • No, no puppy. Sad face. It’s pretty hard to find a decent apartment here, and one that accepts pets would be a real additional challenge. So until I’m sure I’ll be in a place for at least a decade, no dogs, cats, or komodo dragons.

      In my experience, this racism happens everywhere in Japan. I get some version of it, honestly, about five times a day, no matter what part of the country I’m in.

      Of course, “racism” is a strong word, and it’s not like a bunch of Japanese people are going to show up in your front yard with pointy white hoods and torches. Mostly, it stems from two sources: One is a lack of education on racial and cultural issues. Schools literally teach Japanese children to treat people differently depending on how they look. The JET program isn’t exactly helping this.

      But the second reason this racism exists lies solely with the foreigners who visit Japan, stumbling down the street talking loudly and drinking cans of beer, oblivious to what’s going on around them. So that responsibility rests with us. If you want equality, then you have to behave appropriately. But my guess is that, honestly, most foreigners don’t want it. The cost-benefit just isn’t there.

      • I could also argue for a third source, although it’s more intuition than anything I could articulately argue for:

        Foreigners don’t fit into the puzzle. It’s as if Japan is some ancient, well-oiled machine where everything has its exact place (or at least, Japan imagines itself to be so–and I suppose they’re right in a lot of ways). Foreigners are like some off-brand accessory that nobody is sure where to install. In America (and in a lot of the West) we call this diversity and either damn it as destroying our core values or celebrate it as cultural enlightenment.

        In Japan, they just ignore it. The funny thing about Japan is there’s a correct way to do literally everything, from writing the number 8 to planning a vacation in Hokkaido to handing someone a business card. And when Japanese are confronted with a situation where there is no clear-cut, undeniably proper way to proceed (e.g., a white dude walks into the yatai) many Japanese just shut down.

        This isn’t purely negative, either. Although I’ve been turned down for apartments and even denied entry to restaurants based purely on my ethnicity (or rather foreignness), I’ve also been able to party with complete strangers and bring together half the people in the izakaya–a bridge most Japanese could never place (nor would they even think to). Although we don’t fit into the system, it also means that most of those little rules and conventions don’t apply to us. For better or worse, we’re free to forge our own path.

  5. The title “After love” can actually help drawing parallels with other things in life that can go through the same cycle – after any honeymoon phase, things settle down, and we see them as normal. But if love was true, it will survive, right? 😀

    I haven’t been in the situation like this, but I’m sure it happens fairly often. Profiling (let me use that instead of racism) is everywhere in Japan, and even though most of time it’s in foreigner’s favor, sometimes we have to shrug off a situation like the one you wrote about.

    Some call it xenophobia too. Maybe that’s right. I have to say that I experienced it myself, towards other foreigners, while in Japan. Here’s an example:

    Small town, temple, heavy gates with demons, small sign “No pictures, please”. I enter, look around the garden in the courtyard, enjoy the view, approach the temple itself where I see a priest cleaning the premises. He offered tea, and was visibly humbled by a visitor. Until a couple of german-speaking tourists came it, clicking their cameras, and talking loudly. Serenity was ruined. They then saw me inside the temple, and figured they will check it out. Stepping with their shoes inside. Priest rushed, gesturing pleadingly. Tourists complied, and proceeded taking off their shoes in the following manner – they approached the side of the “shoes-off” wooden stairs, put one foot with ON the stair, untied the laces, turned, left the dirty shoe on the clean wood, managed to take another one off, and put another dirty show on the wood again.
    Now, I’m not the one to say we are obligated to learn all the nuances of Japanese culture. But entering a holy place in any culture implies some reverence. Those guys were interested in pictures, I don’t think those tourists were bad guys at all. They just didn’t know, and had no one to tell them. But the emotion “Ah, foreighners…” was there, I can’t deny it.
    They probably loved Japan though!

    • Ah, tourism. Is there anything better than traveling to a foreign country, witnessing its natural splendor and ancient architecture, and trampling the hell out of its customs? Nothing beats that.

      A lot of electrons have been spilled in writing about how to properly conduct oneself in Japan, observing manners and protocol. Forget that—how ’bout this for a rule: Get a freaking clue. Just take one effing second to think about what you’re doing. That’s it. You’re going to get in a communal bath. Do you think you should wash you butt first? Like, look around. Maybe you’re in a restaurant, or a temple, or someone’s house. Is everybody else wearing their shoes? coats? hats? pants? If not, then maybe you shouldn’t either. Now take off those trousers.

      The “profiling” (based upon, uh, race, I guess) isn’t completely inaccurate. A lot of foreign-looking people here are clueless. We could probably profile minorities in many countries and be right, some of the time. And when we’re wrong, er, well, best not to think about that. As long as I’m above 50%, I’m happy.

      So does it happen in Japan? Sure. People will always say how jyozu our Japanese or chopsticking skills are, or the 7-11 cashier won’t ask if we want a bag, or the gal at McDonald’s won’t greet us in the same way. But does this bother us? No way! We don’t even notice it. Then when it happens again, okay, we notice it, but its funny, or a sign of friendship, or trying to be helpful. Then it happens again, and it’s mildly amusing. Then again. And now its getting a bit annoying. And after about the ten-thousandth time, that’s when its time to find an Irish bar and bunch of dudes who’ve been here for years and spend all night drinking pints and bitching about Japan. That’s the only known cure. So the “racism” or whatever we’re gonna call it isn’t really a big deal. It just adds up. Little by little.

      • Yeah, Ken, but at the same time ain’t no Japanese buying strangers in Japan a beer, unless of course they’re white and can sing Lennon (because all white people can sing Lennon, of course). Ain’t nobody getting no special interaction at the cash register, either. It’s 100% scripted 100% of the time–unless you’re white. In that case you may not get a bag, but it may also happen that you’ll get a smile and a modest, half-confident little English “Thank you!” Japanese people out for a night on the town making friends with each other? Yeah right–give me my private room, and don’t you dare even look at me. Gaijin? Let’s get this party started, entire bar full of random folks.

        But I definitely feel you. Japanese have long since stopped looking particularly “Japanese” to me–that fresh off the boat, ‘holy shit look at all these Asians everywhere’ feeling went away a long time ago. Now everyone just looks like normal, everyday people. But me? I’ll never look or be treated like an everyday, normal person to them. When I first got here I was okay with being stared at, I even liked the attention. But now that Japan feels like home? Jesus people, I work and sleep and eat just like you do, hell I probably teach your kids–do you really need to look me up and down for walking into your restaurant/post office/grocery store/country?

        • Also I see you just said everything I did in the last post.

          • Yeah, I think we’re having that Irish-bar conversation at this point.

            But really, what a place we’re living in. Japan, where, even when it sucks to be a gaijin, it’s still better than being Japanese. What kind country is that, where it’s better to be an immigrant than a national? Man, Japan’s a crazy nation, but I love it. Some of the time.

            Anyway, the food’s really good.

  6. You would make a great greeter to other foreigners in Narita/Haneda.
    You would meet them with a big sign “Mr/Mrs Non-japanese”, and once they are trapped, you will give them a crash-course “How To Not Be A Bad Gaijin” 🙂

    I feel you. I only travel to Japan once a year or so, but I’m sure the point after which I will start feeling jaded by the possibly-even-positive profiling, I hope to retain the love for Japan still.

    Also, kanji aura is retained if you study artistic calligraphy, I’m told. I don’t know for myself, though – I’m terrible at writing even in kana 🙁

    • Yeah, I used to travel back and forth to Japan a lot, and the profiling/racism/discrimination never bothered me at all. I certainly enjoyed the perks of being a foreigner. As you say, there’s a lot of good things that come from not being Japanese. But somehow living here changes that.

      Because, after a few years, you really start to feel like this isn’t a foreign place, it’s just a place. A place where you live. I guess there’s no way around that. For one thing, as time goes by, you’re held to more of the same rules everybody else is. You can’t get to work late, or blow your nose at the ramen shop, or drink your beer before everyone kanpai‘s together. Because once you know better, to do otherwise would just be dickish. And then speaking the language, well, that really changes things. You’ll go weeks with friends, just talking and living like an ordinary person, and then one day, by yourself, walk into a rice cracker shop and—bam! they suddenly quit handing out free samples. Or alternately, some guy runs up and starts shaking your hand and welcoming you to Japan. At those times I’m like, What the hell? Oh right, now I remember, I’m white. Thanks for that reminder.

      But it’s all about keeping things in perspective. I mean, un-great things happened in the U.S. all the time, and I was born there. And so maybe I didn’t get my freaking rice cracker. Well, life goes on. Nobody threw rocks or jacked me for my iPhone, so I can’t really complain. But I sure would have liked a rice cracker though.

  7. Ken,

    I really enjoyed it, except that I sense you’re a little tired or at least not feeling well and that’s not good. Sounds like you need to go on a vacation or find true love (maybe both). How about going to Okinawa, where they think people from the main Islands are foreigners and pretend to be some Gaijin and don’t speak any Japanese at all. Me thinks you need to change something in your life, you’re sounding a teenie bit depressed. Best of Luck to you and “DO your Best” (required Japanese idiom)!

    • You’re right, what I really need is to go somewhere completely new, speak a different language, and have dinner and drinks with some folks I’ve never met before. Maybe meet a pretty girl in a foreign land. That would be great. Waaait a minute . . .

      But anyway, yeah, maybe anything you do long enough gets a bit played out. I try to hit a balance between Japan: God-This-is-Fun and Japan: Why’s-Everyone-so-Uptight? So I just call it like I see it. Only problem is I see it differently from day to day, so you never know what you’re gonna get. I’ll try to have more coffee next time. That usually helps.

      • Agreeing with Bud, you should seek counsel form happily married people. They experience similar problems – how do you enjoy a date with a woman you’ve seen every day for the last 10 years?
        At least Japan doesn’t gain weight! Still as beautiful as ever!

        • Marriage seems like the slam-dunk metaphor for anything you’ve gotta do for a really long time, including living in a foreign country. I guess then I need to spice up our relationship. Maybe take Japan out for a romantic dinner or buy it a sexy new outfit or something. Or as Bud suggested, a quick trip to a strange land. I wonder if its okay to cheat on a country?

          • I have another idea. You could intellectually bond with Japan. Go to a Karuta tournament and talk about the 100 poets love poems. Go to a political event and find out about the New Nationalism:

            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20312325

            BTW, can you figure out why they haven’t modified their constitution since WWII? That constitution was only meant as a temporary beginning and they need to take out the stipulations that prohibit Japan from controlling their own affairs and do away with the prohibitions on the Japanese military and get rid of the US military bases.

            I think Japan needs to stand on its own again and be strong. You see, she isn’t an equal with other world powers and that might have given her an inferiority complex.

            Think of Japan as Glen Close in “Fatal Attraction”, you really can’t gain her trust until you give her your heart, soul and groin and then you lose your freedom and your mind. She needs to be a normal country that has to be responsible for all that life throws at her.

            OR:

            You could just buy a Filipino bride (Russian internet brides are too hard core) over the internet and have her do all the little things in life for you!

  8. “She had on a brightly colored shawl and over-sized glasses that made her face look like a squirrel.”

    It sounds like she might look like Pilz-e the squirrel from Foamy The Squirrel videos on YouTube.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIHlplOampA

    I still don’t understand why you didn’t get the edamame and fish eggs and were still charged for it. WTF?

    • That squirrel is perfect . . . That’s exactly the woman I was sitting next to, both in appearance and intelligibility.

      As for the appetizers, yeah, no, I wasn’t charged. So that’s good. But I wasn’t charged because of my incredible whiteness, so maybe that’s bad. But I guess it’s all in how you look at it. But then everything always is.

  9. Wow, your writing is so funny and spot on about what it’s like living in Japan… I’ve spent around 2 1/2 years on and off living in Japan since I was 17 and I’m there at the moment studying at a uni and attempting to find work for next year that will sponsor me for a visa.

    Basically your blog is the only thing I read in English anymore and it a fantastic distraction from studying Japanese..

    I just wanted to share an experience I had recently because it was freaking terrifying and I figured it related to various of your posts about what it’s like to be a white person in Japan.

    So I have this Japanese boyfriend who invited me to come and stay at his home town for a week. His home town is in the country in this really tiny town where everyone seems to know each other and I’ve never met his parents or six siblings before so I was really nervous. Plus we’ve only been going out for like three months or so…

    Anyways I wish I could explain with the same wit how strange it was for me. Because I lived in Japan when I was 17 for a year and I’m kind of a shy and quite and follow what others do a lot (人見知りするような、気を使って、遠慮するタイプ) I often get the comment that I’m ‘so Japanese’ and ‘Just like Japanese girls used to be’ and ‘Just the kind of girl Japanese guys like’ and a number of other not-really-all-that-flattering-things.

    So on the first night I got there his dad had quite a few beers and began to tell me why I chose the right country because ‘although we might look the same’ those Chinese people aren’t kind like Japanese people and they’re greedy etc. etc. Then I got asked about what I think about Whaling (I’m from Australia so… so apparently it was the obvious question…) cause ‘you know, recently the whale population has grown hugely’ and what about Green Peace what do I think of them?
    I don’t even know why Japanese people care about this, no one even likes whale…

    Anyway on the second day when me and my boyfriend got home from swimming where I was promptly stung by a jelly-fish till my arm was all red and bumpy (ahh Japanese beaches…) half the town was over for dinner for some reason and by boyfriends dad called me out to show all the townspeople and every said I looked like a doll and then they drank some more and he called me back again so that they could look at me again. Then about 50 of his brothers friends came over to practice their English on me and as soon as they saw me were instantly like ‘you guys are gonna have a half baby!’

    By the end of the week I’d managed to get into his parent’s good books in such a good way that they were now quizing me on how long I was planning on living in Japan, whether I wanted to stay at home when I got married or work, what my parent’s would think if I lived in Japan forever…whether my mother was a housewife, what he cooking was like, what kind of things I liked to cook, what kind of work I would like my boyfriend to do when he graduates…

    Then his dad decided to teach me some niftly Japanese words for daily conversational use like ‘良妻賢母 (りょうさいけんぼ)’鬼妻’ and ’悪妻’…

    My boyfriend had to go to work at a home for disabled people for a few days as part of his education degree and so his mum asked me to make his lunchbox for him, which was fine cause I like cooking and also I was kind of in pain from watching how much housework she did single handedly every day from dawn until night. Then when we were at the supermarket buying stuff to put in it, every second person came bounding up to us to say they had heard that my boyfriend had a foreign girlfriend or that they had seen me around town and wanted to know where I was from and the first word out of every single persons mouth was 国際結婚!

    I think the worst part was my boyfriend saying things like ‘isn’t it nice you can learn cooking from my mum’ and ‘you should ask my mum what she does to keep her stomach so flat, she exercises in the morning every day’…

    Then I got a job interview to work at the check in of a hotel so I decided to leave a day early and my boyfriend was like ‘you don’t need a job’ and I was like ‘yes I do cause otherwise I won’t have enough money to live here next year’ and he was like ‘you can stay here at my families house!’ and I kindly refused the offer…

    Sorry about the long rant.. I made everyone sound horrible cause I only mentioned the bad parts and I was hoping to explain things in a more entertaining fashion rather than just a rant but that’s how it came out…

    • Can I tell you something? And I mean this honestly—what you wrote is the single most real thing I’ve ever read about Japan—in books, blogs, anywhere. When I read it, I was like, Yep, now that’s real Japan. You pretty much nailed the perils of getting into a relationship in this country, something that’s sorely overlooked in all the literature about how awesome it is to date someone in Japan.

      I’ve gotta run and catch a train now, but I just wanted to say thanks for a superb comment.

      Ken

    • Great story Sophie. A week of this sounds like a long time! I am very curious to know if the family has ever been to Tokyo or outside of Japan. I don’t find the wanderlust in this country like I do in other countries, particularly Australia.

      This reminds me of my wife’s experience when she went to the Los Angeles area umpteen years ago as an exchange student. Now, I get a bit of the reverse here in Japan being the white half of our relationship. Personally, I think the experiences have shaped us as people but it doesn’t diminish how incredibly frustrating they can be. I work at a foreign company in Japan that’s populated with 99% Japanese. If I earned a yen for every time someone in the office said “Japan is different so we must do this a different way”, I could retire to my favorite spot in Katsuura.

      Hang in there!

  10. Ken, I’m in Fukuoka for the long weekend. Discovered the yatai. Bury me here. This city is spectacular. Thanks

    • Yeah, Fukuoka is one of my favorite cities in Japan. Actually, all of Kyushu is pretty great. If you get a chance, try to get out into the countryside too. Nature and all.

  11. :S
    I’m a little confused. Foreigners aren’t served an appetizer because they complain about having to pay for it? Is that because they presume it’s free?
    I guess that makes sense. Westerners can have a tendency to be rude in a foreign situation they don’t understand. It’s easier to be outraged than to be perceived as naive or culturally ignorant.
    Good to know though. I’ll watch out for that 🙂

  12. I have travelled extensively in Japan (living here for 17years), and Fukuoka
    is the only city where I did not receive otohshi (apetizer).
    This makes Fukuoka the most racist city in Japan for me.

    PS: I really like you blog, keep on!

  13. Sophie- I felt you were treated very well and kindly by your boyfriend’s family and friends.

    Not sure what was terrifying about that situation….other than that you obviously didn’t want to live with his family permanently.

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