Every year, I like to play a little game called “Could I Ever Live in America Again?” That’s where I board a plane in Tokyo, have about ten tiny in-flight wines, watch every movie ever made, then get off in sunny California and ask myself, “Well, how ’bout it, Seeroi?” It’s a pretty self-explanatory game, I guess, but I enjoy it.
Japanese refer to the country as either “The U.S.A.,” which is cute, or simply “America,” since anything south of San Diego clearly doesn’t count. Nothing but fish tacos and cactus there anyway. And you’re not fooling anyone with your donkeys painted like zebras, you know. Going north, of course, there’s Canada, but any country that speaks French and thinks hockey’s a sport hardly qualifies as America. Still, props for discovering that maple trees can be milked.
So after I landed at LAX, I was pretty hungry, and headed out for some fish tacos. Of course we have them in Japan too, but I wanted to compare. That’s when I learned that Yup, fish and cabbage taste pretty much exactly the same no matter where you are. Afterwards I walked around the corner and got some waffles. They’re quite the rage in Tokyo these days, but I thought American ones might be better, since they’re cooked by a people who understand pancake culture, namely Mexicans. Americans must really love Mexican folks, since there are so many everywhere. Anyway, the waffles tasted just like Japanese ones, although Japanese maple syrup tastes better, probably because it’s not just colored corn syrup. Work harder, Canada.
Then once I was full, I went in search of The U.S.A. Here are a few random observations:
Americans are Polite
I know, I was pretty surprised too. Because I’d always heard that Japanese people are polite. But everywhere I went, Americans were saying “excuse me” and “sorry,” for minor things that no Japanese person would even acknowledge, like bumping into someone or taking the last two-liter bottle of Coke. Americans drink a lot of Coke. And they hold doors for one another other and even smile. Amazing. I figure everyone’s worried someone else is gonna shoot them if they’re not super nice, so they’re motivated. That’s like an unexpected bonus of the Second Amendment. Good looking out, founding fathers.
America is Loud
I knew from previous trips to expect the citizens to be loud, tattooed, and reeking of cologne. All of which proved true. It’s apparently important to Americans that everyone else hears, sees, and smells them from afar. But I’d forgotten just how noisy everyday life is: lawn mowers, car stereos, 18-wheelers on city streets. Everything’s about a billion decibels louder than necessary. So people are polite, but loud, even in restaurants and coffee shops. Want some cultural anthropology? You can completely sum up the two countries by saying, American Starbucks: loud. Japanese Starbucks: quiet. Boom, done.
Health clubs, sporting goods stores, and yoga pants are everywhere. America appears to be a nation of athletes. Lots of people were running, apparently out of choice. In Japan, we only do that if we’re late for the train. Exercise as a hobby? Are you kidding? Try work. Now there’s a hobby.
And yet, despite the vast amount of exercise they do, Americans are enormously fat. It’s a nation of chubsters. So the only logical conclusion is that exercise makes you fat. I’d suggest working fifteen hours a day for a few years, and seeing what effect that has.
America is Post-Racial
Is “post-racial” even a real term? I feel like maybe I just invented it. Anyway, here’s what I mean. I stopped off at a bar to sample what you Americans call “beer.” It’s super sweet and much too dark. Maybe it’s made out of maple syrup, by Mexicans in Canada. Well, whatever. So then an Asian guy walked up to the counter and asked the Hispanic bartender for some potato chips. There was a brief conversation about the merits of salt and vinegar, during which none of the following was said:
“Where are you from?” didn’t ask the Hispanic bartender.
“Me? Where are you from?
“I mean, you speak English so well.
“The hell I do,” didn’t say the Asian guy. “Your English is amazing.
“Thanks for the backhanded compliment. Wow, can you eat potato chips?
“Can you use chopsticks?
“Of course not. I’m American.
“Yeah me too. Never heard of ‘em.”
So none of that happened. Instead they just talked about snacks. Two people of different races, behaving as normal adults on equal footing in society. That’d never happen in Japan.
Now, I don’t mean to say that America has rid itself of racism. No doubt there are still dudes who sit around their living rooms in pointy white hats and king-sized sheets calling each other Grand Wizards. Maybe it’s a Harry Potter thing, I dunno. Here in Japan, that’s known as cosplay.
But there’s an awareness of racism. It doesn’t mean everyone likes each other, but maybe they’ve thought about it. Right or wrong, people seem to have reasons for their positions, and they’ll be happy to tell you all about them. In Japan, there’s no conversation. It’s a simple fact that there are only two races: Japanese and Everybody Else. Maybe the only other place in the world people think that way is Texas. Don’t mess with Texans; they’re a race apart.
Okay, America’s never going to win the Best Toilet contest. In Japan, there are toilets in most convenience stores, department stores, and train stations. It’s like the society figured that humans might actually need to go pee pee. Planning, now there’s a concept. And most bathrooms are clean. Sure, maybe in a park they’re not pristine, but at least you’ve got them. America? You’re lucky if your kidneys don’t explode before you can find a restroom, and once you do it looks like the last person who used it was Jimmy the retarded five-year old.
And look, I get the whole Puritanical thing. You don’t want to make a toilet stall that comes all the way to the ground because give people privacy and they might do something sinful. Like, I dunno, masturbate. God forbid. Seriously. Because that’s what this is about, right? But does anyone really want to see another guy’s pants around his ankles? The whole thing seems a little freaky. Not trying to judge, though.
Fashion is Back
Here’s a brief history of American fashion. So first there were the native Americans, who were really into leather, which was cool, because they were riding buffalo and eating bald eagles and it was a super macho time. The Village People were popular during this era, literally. And then later a bunch of white folks invented tie-dying and marijuana and nobody bathed for a decade and everyone just reeked of patchouli. Then sometime later flannel actually became a look and the nation went grunge and it killed Kurt Kobain. After that, it became lucrative to arrest black men for smoking pot and wearing huge pants that kept falling down. America weathered some challenging storms, fashion wise.
But now, thankfully, gay people have rescued the U.S. and men are getting decent haircuts and wearing skinny trousers with tailored shirts and it’s impossible to tell who’s homosexual anymore. So basically, life’s now about a thousand times harder for gay guys, since they can’t just be like, Oh, you gay? Me too! Let’s go. Now it’s more like, Hmmm, is he gay, or just well-dressed? It’d be like a Japanese person trying to figure out if someone’s Korean or not. That’s gotta be frustrating. Anyway, men are looking better, is what I’m saying.
And women? Well, they’re all wearing yoga pants. Girlfriend, you are not that skinny. That’s a trend that can’t go away fast enough.
Hamburgers, fried chicken, waffles, fish tacos—-that’s all real stuff. But what’s “baked cannelloni with braised wild boar, capers, and pecorino cheese in a rosemary-infused wine sauce”?
It’s clear that chefs are just throwing a bunch of stuff together and saying it’s a dish. Now, if you’re the restaurant, that’s woo hoo for you, because you can charge a fortune, and customers can’t call you on the fact that you’re doing it wrong. “Well, I find this boar to be slightly gamey.” Like, who’s gonna say that? But you still have to know how to cook.
Case in point: I ordered tamagoyaki at a “Japanese” restaurant. This is a simple, standard dish that every Japanese person knows. For reference, here’s what it’s supposed to look like:
And this is the mess that retarded Jimmy grilled up and served me after he finished peeing on the toilet seat:
If you were a bakery and made a cake that looked like that, you’d be shot dead. Especially in Texas. Because everyone knows what cakes are supposed to look and taste like. But apparently for other cuisines, anything goes. Is it too much to ask that the customers know shit from Shinola? How about the cooks? Okay, I’ll just quit asking.
Now here was a real surprise. I guess after a few years in Japan, I’d just come to assume that all women were pouty, snooty, and stared at their shoes a lot. But American women were actually friendly, intelligent, and funny. They had something to say other than “my hobby is shopping,” “Sugoi, everything amazes me,” and “Look at my kawaii eyelashes.”
Okay, there were a lot of plus-sized ladies, I’m not gonna lie. Again, enough with your yoga pants; your ass is killing me. But there were also some hot chicks too, and many were flirty and open. They might even take an active role in love-making, and not just lay there like a tuna. That’d be a change. It’s easy to see why so many Japanese guys have an American girl fetish.
I like to use my free time effectively, which usually involves lying in bed and watching TV. Gotta get proper rest, you know. But anyway, I figured I’d learn something, and watch the History Channel. Well apparently they’ve given up on the whole history thing, which is good to see. Who wants to learn about the boring Roman Empire when you can watch Mountain Men? That’s history in the making.
It’s this program about guys who leave the comfort of home to go and live in a foreign, hostile environment. It’s an adventure, sure, but who’d want to really do that? The live in these tiny, cold places, eat gross stuff like raw fish, and have hardly anybody to talk to. Man, you’d have to be some kind of idiot to choose a lifestyle like that. Good thing it’s only a TV show.
Who won? You Decide
Look, everything’s great on vacation. But living in a place, you gotta deal with both the good and the bad. Like I went to 7-11 tonight, and they were out of fish sausage. Such are the hardships you might face, so be prepared. I guess it’s important to decide what’s best based upon one’s values. Now if only I had some. Well anyway, I do enjoy the U.S. It’s got a lot of nice trees and grass and squirrels and stuff. On the other hand, the food’s great in Japan, and I like the beer, plus I’m already here, so maybe I’ll stay a bit longer. I just gotta remember to get to 7-11 a little earlier. Stock up, before winter rolls in over the mountains.