I want a Japanese Girlfriend

I want a Japanese Girlfriend

Uh, sure you do

I made a lot of mistakes with Saki, my first Japanese girlfriend. The most notable of which was attempting anything resembling a conversation.

“So you said you’ve got a sister, right?” I asked. “Does she live in Tokyo too?”

“I think so, maybe.”

“Well, when did you last see her?” I continued.

“Yesterday.”

“Huh. Okay…well, um, does she live by herself? Does she have a boyfriend?”

“Mmm,” she said, “I’m not sure.”

“So you don’t know where she lives then, your sister?”

“Mnnnn,” replied Saki, “maybe Chiba?”

In the Land of Tiny Cakes

We were sitting upstairs in a tatami room in a cafe in Azabujuban, having tiny cups of green tea and even tinier cakes. My legs were killing me. Why a nation renowned for its technology has yet to embrace the chair, I’ll never understand. And hey, I’d voted for a round of darts with some spicy fries and beer, but somehow that motion got overruled. Now all we were lacking was a Victorian doll house and a couple teddy bears. Care fo’ a spot o’ tea, Mista Pibbles?

But Saki was remarkable for two things. The first was the eye- and lip-liner she’d had tattooed to her face. Hey, that’s time efficiency, which I appreciate. If you still think tattoos are limited to yakuza, you’re living in the 1990’s. Younger Japanese are picking them up like wildflowers, onsen be damned.

Saki also had a wildflower tattooed on her outer thigh. I thought it looked godawful, but that just goes to show what Ken Seeroi knows about fine art.

That wasn’t the second remarkable thing though. That thing was that Saki seemed to possess almost no knowledge of her own family. At the time, I thought this unusual.

“So your father,” I continued, “what does he do?”

“Oh, he works for a company,” she replied proudly.

“Great, and what’s his job?”

“Ummm, he’s a salaryman,” she answered.

“So, uh, you don’t know what your dad actually does? Is it a new job?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Huh. All right, um yeah, does he speak English?”

“May….be…” she said.

And that, right there, is the trouble.

The Trouble with Japanese People

Now, don’t get me wrong. Japanese folks are great. Well, except for the ones who aren’t, but whatever. As a group they’re pretty okay. The challenge, however, is actually knowing them at all.

Here’s what I mean. Particularly if you’re an American, the instant we meet, I start to pick up things about you, like…

  • Republican, Democrat, or one of those crazy Bernie Sanders people
  • Atheist, Muslim, Jew, Sikh, Christian, Scientologist, Pagan, or whatever
  • Hummer, Tesla, or AstroVan
  • Smoker or non-smoker
  • Gun or forgot yours at home
  • Vegetarian, vegan, or just enjoy chewing animals
  • Anti-abortion or anti-choice
  • Pro-marijuana, pro-crystal meth, or pro-martini
  • Went to Columbia, LSU, or failed high school shop class
  • “Support our troops” or want a world overrun with Commies
  • “Build the Wall” or prefer not to pick your own lettuce and strawberries
  • What you think about the stock market, universal health care, food stamps, the World Wildlife Fund, Fox News, fake news, iPhone versus Android, thick crust versus thin, chunky versus smooth, and a thousand other things.

And by the way, this isn’t a shopping list. I’ve got friends both Christian and Muslim, Gay and Straight, supporters of Obama and Trump, and everything in between. Being in one camp or the other doesn’t make you virtuous or deplorable—it just tells me something about you. It’s a start to actually knowing you. Who you are.

And when I meet a Japanese person, here’s what I learn…

  • How hot or cold the weather is
  • How delicious this food is
  • How much you want to speak English with me

Usually, that’s about it.

You can easily see why Japanese folks are so keen to meet “foreigners.” Within one minute—boom!—you know everything about ’em. You don’t even have to ask; it just oozes from the foreigner’s every pore, saturating clothing and car choices, the red trucker hats, college sweatshirts, Jordan high-tops, rainbow bracelets, NRA bumper stickers and NPR bags.

Your Foreign Boyfriend

So I was having lunch with a Japanese colleague, a rather unremarkable mid-30’s unmarried office worker, when she blurted out a familiar refrain: “I want a foreign boyfriend.” So I thought I’d follow this up a bit.

“Does it matter what country he’s from? Like, Spain, New Zealand, Greece?”

“No,” she said, “Probably anywhere’s fine.”

“Jewish, Muslim, Christian…?”

“What’s the real difference?”

“Fair enough. Would you care if he was Democrat or Republican, in the Navy, wore hemp pants, owned a dog or a cat?”

“I just want to meet a nice guy,” she said. “Okay, maybe with a dog.”

“Well, you know,” I said. “Everyone’s nice at first.”

I want a Japanese Girlfriend

On the flip side, I hear this a lot, especially from guys online. And I wonder, does it matter…

  • Region: whether she’s from Gifu or Ginza
  • Religion: Kofuku-no-Kagaku or Souka-gakkai
  • Politics: Jiyu-minshuto or Minshinto
  • Food: tonkotsu ramen or shoyu ramen
  • Booze: shochu or umeshu
  • Fashion: Louis Vuitton or Hideo Wakamatsu
  • Make-up: Gyaru or suppin
  • Language: Osaka-ben or Tohoku-ben
  • Occupation: OL or freeter
  • And what she thinks of immigration, the aging population, China, Korea, whether she speaks English, actually cares about you learning Japanese, wants to move into her parents house after marriage, wants kids or not, will insist you do the laundry and the dishes, and a thousand other things

My sense is no. Just so long as she’s “Japanese,” that’s good enough. Frankly, I’ve seen tons of couples rush to get married without even understanding basic information about each other. Hey, nothing wrong with hooking up for a night or two, but when it comes to shacking up, I mean, you might wanna…I’m just sayin’…ahh, nevermind. I’m sure it’ll all work out just dandy.

But I Still Want a Japanese Girlfriend

All rightee. Then you’re facing several hurdles:

  1. It’s not easy to understand a wholly different culture, especially if you don’t speak the language. What do people notice? What do they care about, and why? Will anyone even clue you in to what’s significant? Does it matter if you carry a pocket handkerchief, put your wet umbrella in a plastic bag, or pour beer in your own glass? (Pretty much all yes.)
  2. Then there’s the Japanese language, with at least ten different words for “I” and “you.” Your entire interaction depends upon which you choose. Forget speaking—can you even pick up on the differences when you’re listening? Whether someone refers to you as “dude,” “sir,” “ma’am,” “girl,” “boy,” “fatty,” or “mofo” tells you a lot about who you’re dealing with and how they view you. This happens every day in Japanese, only you’re blissfully unaware. Everyone just seems so polite. They’re laughing with you, not at you, right? Yeah, let’s just go with that.
  3. Japanese folks tend not to talk about themselves much, or at all, even to their close friends and family members. A lot of conversation is mind-bendingly superficial. They’ll reveal surprisingly personal information, yet hide things that you’d think were unimportant. I don’t want to say they keep a lot of secrets, but well, they keep a lot of secrets. Don’t tell anyone I told you.

More than One Kind of Japanese

So if you want a Japanese girlfriend, at least know that there’s Japanese, and then there’s Japanese. Okay, so they look kind of similar. This may be the biggest secret nobody talks about.

Think about it from a Japanese person’s perspective. To them, Americans are just one big group. They don’t know Bakersfield from La Jolla, Chevy from Tesla, Wrangler from Dickies, Italian-American from Mexican-American, shit from Shinola, or the difference between “y’all,” “you,” “yuns,” and “you guys.”

Japanese people know they’re not all the same. And honestly, a lot of the “Japanese” women you’re likely to date or marry aren’t all that Japanese. They’re choosing foreigners because they themselves don’t fit into this society very well. Maybe they look subtly different, like there’s a touch of Korean, Dutch, or Mongolian blood that you don’t notice. Hey, Asian is Asian, right? But everyone around them notices, and lets them know. Maybe they lived overseas for years. Maybe they were even born overseas. Or maybe they just watched a shit-ton of “Sex and the City.” But somehow, in either appearance, thinking, or attitude, they’re not very “Japanese” any more. And that’s why they’re choosing you.

The Right Japanese Girlfriend

So I was having lunch in Ueno Park with a friend of mine recently. And since he’s a “foreigner,” of course we both enjoy sitting outside even though it’s hot as eff, unlike Japanese people who are allergic to sweat. And over a plastic bag full of onigiri and a couple cans of cold coffee, we talked about this stuff.

“Look,” he said, “I get it. But whatever…I want a Japanese girlfriend, what’s wrong with that?”

“Nothin’, man. Okay, so what if she was like Chinese or Vietnamese, but, you know, looked ‘Japanese’?”

“Well, nah, that’s not the same.”

“So ‘Japanese,’ that’s all? That’s the only requirement?” I asked.

“Well, I mean, yeah, as long as she’s not a total bitch.”

“So okay, someone nice,” I said. “What if she’s born in Japan, but raised overseas?”

“Yeah, that’d probably be okay,” he said.

“Born overseas, lived there till she was five, then moved to Japan?”

“Does she look Japanese?”

“Is that all that matters?”

“That and that’s she’s really Japanese. Pretty much, yeah,” he said.

“Man, we are some superficial people,” I said.

“Welcome to the human race.”

“So humans are really all the same?” I mused. “Kind of ironic, isn’t that? Anyway, what time you got?”

He looked at his watch. “Way past beer-thirty,” he replied.

“Thought so,” I said, standing up. “Let’s go get some booze and Japanese girls.”

“Does it matter what kind?”

“Of course it matters,” I laughed. “I only drink Asahi.”

“Seeroi, you’re one picky motherfucker.”

Yeah. Yeah, not very often, but sometimes I am.



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81 Comments

  1. Because I am so happy to see a new post from you my friday is saved now! (and It just started)
    Donated a little bit for you!
    Keep them coming!

    Cheers

    • Ah, thanks much. Wow, you’re fast—I was still editing it when you commented. Hopefully I caught all the typos. I really appreciate the donation!

  2. MotoGP and a new post from Seeroi-san, good day. Also Asahi is THE best beer!
    I would like a Japanese girlfriend, but it’s too late for me now. Which might be for the better all things considered…

  3. To be honest, I would be somewhat afraid to get a Japanese girlfriend, but that is probably I think too far into the future with the chance of her becoming my wife. And then, what about the kid/s? Seems risky. I mean, we could get a Keanu Reeves, but it seems like most results are not so lucky. And if we are living in Japan that kid is definitely not going to be “Japanese” in the eyes of his school mates. It would be a tough and confusing life. Probably would be better to be a full-on blond, blue-eyed, white gaijin kid in Japan than some random mix in Japan. Just a thought.

    • I agree with you and this is also one of my concerns.
      The “you’re not one of us” would be too much for me, i would not want my child to experience something like this.

    • Yeah, you are getting a little ahead of yourself, although you’re probably right.

      I should mention I’m not discouraging anyone from dating Japanese women. Rather, I’m encouraging folks to actually try to know them. The same goes for men, and all relationships in Japan.

      The U.S. is so open, on a variety of levels. Every person on earth knows who the President is (for better or worse). The values and behaviors of the society are thrown wide open in movies and music. Japan’s the polar opposite.

      Most people—including visitors to Japan—would struggle to name the five major islands, not to mention the political parties or even half a dozen actors or singers. So there’s a lot of homework, just learning the basics of the nation.

      Then when it comes to personal relationships, there’s a whole other set of values and beliefs that come into play. It takes me years to know a Japanese person as well as I know an American in five minutes.

  4. Ken.
    More GOLD.That first paragraph had me and my (no longer Japanese)Japanese wife on the floor in stiches.
    I know it’s a huge call but can you somehow explain the thought processes that result in answers that we non Japanese find incredible.
    Is it an inability or reclutance to tell us what your father does? who he works for? Where your sister lives? Or as my wife loves to say..Is your arse on fire?
    My favorite is….
    I’m at (name your place,bar,izakyua etc) OK we’ll come and meet you,where is it?
    I’m not sure.
    But your there now aren’t you?
    Yes.
    Well where is it? How did you get there?
    I’m not sure.
    Beer tickets on the way,thanks many.Ken.

    • Hey, thanks for the donation—I really appreciate that.

      So I had a couple friends come to visit me. I was in LA at the time. They took a taxi from the airport to their hotel, dropped off their luggage, then took another taxi to meet me for dinner.

      At the end of the night, I said, I’ll drive you back to your hotel—where is it?

      And they’re like, We don’t know.

      Okay, what street’s it on?

      No idea.

      New city, fair enough. What’s the name of your hotel?

      The guy takes the room card key out of his pocket, and guess what? No hotel name on it. I guess that’s for security reasons or something. Now, this is before the age of smartphones, so we can’t just search through email for some reservation. We literally spent two hours driving in circles through LA in the middle of the night, while they were like, I think this looks familiar…maybe if we make a left…no…okay, let’s try a right…

      These were two successful Japanese adults, and as you noted, this particular incompetence is common among Japanese folks. Try this out: ask for simple directions to a place you both know. I’ve done this hundreds of times in language classes, in both English and Japanese. The typical Japanese person is absolutely incapable of simply saying, “Go down two blocks, make a left, and it’s on your right.”

      I believe I can provide an explanation for this phenomenon, so let me know if you really want to hear it.

  5. I can’t get a Japanese girlfriend, my wife would kill me…

    Thank you, I’ll be here all night (and probably the rest of my life).

    • A guy complains of a headache. Another guy says, “Do what I do. I put my head on my wife’s bosom, and the headache goes away.” The next day, the man says, “Did you do what I told you to?” “Yes, I sure did. By the way, you have a nice house!”

  6. Man, you’re legendary!

  7. You accurately summed up why I dislike Americans so much. I had to sit next to one guy from New York on a bus from Nari ta to Haneda and before we had got to the expressway I had heard about his traumatic experience with a spider when he was five years old. By the time we got out of Chiba I knew more about him than my own brother.

    On a flight from Chicago to Dallas I was surrounded by total strangers having the most intimate conversations imaginable.

    • Yeah, that’s a weird thing about Americans. They just won’t shut up. I sit down next to a guy in a bar, and within two minutes, he’s showing me pictures of his family and cats. I’m like, I think I need to go stand over there now…

      But yeah, every strength is a drawback and every drawback a strength. I just wish there was some place on earth a little more balanced that the extremes of Japan and the U.S. Maybe Finland…

      • Thought of you in Finland. A bit felt more Eastern European/Russian (maybe tourists from St Petersburg) than Scandinavian. Nevertheless, thought of you when reading this:

        One time Finland Män ko tu bar. Finland Män sit ät kounter, entshoi trink, look onli mopile phone. Is kuud silense.

        Then kam womän nekst tu Finland Män. She äsk: “Do you kam hiör often?”

        Finland Män pärälised. Is horror. Why she äsk tis? Is häv tu reäkt samhau?
        Finland Män luuk onli mopile phone. Tsek emails. Kiip luuking mopile phone. Then änssör: “Why you äsk? Is you kondukting sam sörvey?”

        Womän not say enitink. She ko öwei. Is kuud silense.

        Finland Män not kän underständ smalltalk. Rememper eksämppel of Krändfather. When Krändfather kam päk from thö war, he say: “Soviet Union vin.” Nekst time Krändfather open mouth in Kristmös 1991. Krändfather wotsh televishön njews. Krändfather say: “Nau Soviet Union luus.”

        One time Finland Män ko tu restorant pikos hunkry. Finland Män sit ät teipul, entshoi moose, luuk onli mopile phone. Is kuud silense.

        Then kam waitter nekst tu Finland Män. He äsk: “Is everitink okei?”

        Finland Män pärälised. Is horror. Why he äsk tis? Is häv tu reäkt samhau?

        Finland Män luuk onli mopile phone. Tsek emails. Kiip luuking mopile phone. Then änssör: “Not is everitink okei. Ekonomi is proplem. Näshiönal produkt not krow.”

        Waitter not say enitink. He ko öwei. Is kuud silense.

        Finland Män not kän underständ smalltalk. Wörds is like karbon dioksid. Everipadi tudei put polluusshön in air. Is klimate tsheintsh.

        One time Finland Män trävel in träm. Finland Män sit ölone, luuk onli mopile phone, is kuud silense.

        Then Ämerikan turist män say loud: “Wonderful weather you have here!”

        Finland Män pärälised. Is horror. Ämerikan turist män talk tu him. Why he say this? Is häv tu reäkt samhau?

        Finland Män luuk onli mopile phone. Tsek emails. Kiip luuking mopile phone. Then änssör: “It will ket wörse.”

        Finland Män ket out of träm. Wait for next tram, hopefuli no turist. Is kuud silense.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When weik up in mornink, Finland Män först tink öpaut kross näshional produkt. Must wörk lot. Pefore die, häv tu pay haus to pänk. Pänk take 50 prosent ov Finland Män säläry. Kovörment täx ofis take 60 prosent. Must wörk more.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When ket out ov ped, Finland Män kou tu kitshön. Trink kofi. Tsek eemails. Eat one moose. If inaf time, say helou to Womän ät home. Not shou emousshiöns. Then Finland Män kou tu wörk.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When trive out ov karaash, Finland Män look at neipörs kar. If neipörs kar smaller, Finland Män smile. If neipörs kar pikkör, Finland Män not shou emousshiöns.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When ket tu wörk, Finland Män nevö stop. When Finland Män wos littel tshild, not ket milk from Mothör. Ket protestant etik. When Finland Män häv own fiuneral, then daunshift.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When 12 o klok, Finland Män häv luntsh. Eat one moose. Eat älone. Not spiik tu änipadi. If waitter smile, Finland Män tink: why I luk funny? Not shou emousshiöns. Tsek eemails.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When Fraiday, Finland Män kou tu trink piör with othör Finland Män. Not spiik. When trink tuu matsh piör änd pottel ov votka, say tu othör Finland Män: ”You my pest frend.” Then kou tu karaoke. Sing säd song. This häpi moument.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When young, kou tu one parti. Late evenink kou tu spiik Womän. If laki, Womän spiik too. Then puild home. Eat moose tukethör.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When Satördei, Finland Män kou tu sauna. Trow sevön pakets ov watör on roks. Äfter sauna häv äpointment in pedroom with Womän. Not shou emousshiöns.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When Womän ät home äsk öpaut love, Finland Män not änswör. Finland Män say: tis we olredi talk on thö altar. Not shou emousshiöns.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When Womän ät home want divorss änd leave Finland Män, Finland Män sörprised. Not shou emousshiöns. Finland Män kou tu forest änd talk tu tree. Then eat moose älone. Tsek eemails.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When holiday, Finland Män trive kar tu lake. Finland Män is petter triver thän evripadi. Finland Män trive kantri road fäst. If kams moose, tuu päd. Moose die. Finland Män eat.

        Finland män is like tis.

        When with othör piippul, Finland Män want tu be älone. When älone, Finland Män äsk himself, why nopodi like me? Eat one moose. Tsek eemails.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When olmost retire, Finland Män häv hart ätäk. Not tel enipadi, pekoos is shame. Tsek eemails. Then die. Tis wos Finland Män.

  8. Please keep writing about culture shock. It fascinates me so much. Thank you Ken for your intriguing articles.

    What’s your take on Japanese passive aggressiveness? You know, being allergic to saying no, etc

    • I’ve frequently read that Japanese people have trouble saying no, which I really can’t understand, because they say it to me all the time. Maybe says something about the women I choose to approach.

      I hear Japanese folks say no and chigau—that’s wrong—all the time. While Americans, for all their seeming forthrightness, are often quite vague and non-committal when it comes to plans and schedules. “Yeah, I’ll call you; we’ll do lunch sometime.”

      Maybe the two cultures are just vague and direct about different things.

      As for passive-agressiveness, absolutely. Japanese people are masters of that.

  9. Yo!

    Just a quick question Ken, next year I’m going to Korea for about a week and then I might hit up Japan. I’m not really into touristy travel? If that makes sense, I like to see monuments and pretty stuff but I much rather would enjoy experiencing the culture and good food.
    If I come for about a week, any place you recommend I go to see in Japan for the first time? (Also, my plan won’t be as flexible for Korea because I’m staying with a Korean friend but any places you like?)

    Thanks as always man,
    enjoy some black pepper chips and Asahi on me!

    ~Noah

    • Hey there Noah,

      So first trip to Japan, only here for a short time…

      I’m going to give you a surprising choice, and I’ll tell you why. Sounds like want a place that’s got both nature and a few attractions, somewhere not too touristy, but also not so “real” that you just spend all day long on the dock of a tiny fishing village or staring at a rice paddy.

      I’d suggest Kyoto. You can dial in the “tourist” level pretty easily, by going to big name temples or ones nobody’s paying attention to. It’s a physically beautiful city, and it looks like “Japan.” The food’s good. You’ll like it.

      Mostly though, it’s obvious. You can go to a lot of cities, get off the train and then say, “Okay, now what?” But with Kyoto, there’s so much stuff to see and do that you’ll be enthralled.

      By the way, if you go, use taxis to get around, not the city bus. The convenience and time saving is well worth the extra money.

      • Thanks a ton Ken!

        I’ve actually always favored the old capital and wanted to go but was willing to take your choice over that. So somehow it ended up being both! lol

        Thanks for the extra advice too. Promise to take a taxi rather than city bus.

        • I think you’re seriously going to love Kyoto. If there’s a city you could visit that would make you fall in love with Japan, Kyoto would be it. I’d suggest going to Ginkakuji, then walking down Philosopher’s Path to Nanzenji. Kind of hard to go wrong with that program.

          • Just remember, if you’re taking a taxi, then Ginkakuji sounds a lot like Kinkakuji. With a foreign accent, the taxi driver may just assume you meant the place all the tourists want to go for pictures of the pretty gold building and you’ll end up someplace completely different from where you intended to go.

            • That’s a good tip. The last time I was there, I told the taxi driver “ginkakuji” and he spun around and proudly said “silver!” Apparently just to prove he could.

  10. Ken..To quote you…”I believe I can provide an explanation for this phenomenon, so let me know if you really want to hear it.”

    On behalf of all and sundry,please give it to us,we want to hear it.

    • Well all right. It’s gonna be a bit long. Sorry about that.

      So I had this Japanese girlfriend who was really into food, even beyond how crazy most Japanese folks are about it. Like for example, looking at a sushi roll, did you know there’s an “inside” and an “outside” to the seaweed—nori? (There is, ask your wife.) Then she’d note how thick or thin the seaweed was, whether it was old, making it dry, or too chewy, meaning it had been exposed to moisture. Then how did it taste? Was it roasted, flavored seaweed, and if so, with what, or simply plain? Where was it from? Did the restaurant know the farmer?

      And that was just the seaweed. Then she’d do the same thing with the rice, fish, soy sauce, wasabi…I was like, Can we just eat food?

      Nope, she’d examine every single thing in excruciating detail. She had exceptionally good eyesight. We once went to a Chinese restaurant and she was like, What’s in the sauce? And I said, Uh, it’s Szechuan sauce. And she was like, No, what in it? What’s it made from? We called the waitress over. She had no idea. Took us like 20 minutes to order something.

      She was constantly finding moldy lettuce on our plates, even little bugs and stones. It’s all there, you just have to look. And she’d look, at everything, and think about it. If you watch Gordon Ramsey, you’d get some idea. And she was about 10 times more critical and knowledgeable than that guy.

      Okay, now let’s look at how typical “Americans” eat food. In a word, they just shovel it down. A meal in Japan could easily last three hours. Try that in an American restaurant and they’ll be heaving you bodily out the door. There’s a lot of focus in America on things that aren’t food—tablecloths, silverware, lighting, conversation, the waitstaff’s attitude. Nobody’s asking, Where did the grain for this pasta come from? Was this shrimp flown in from Thailand? Was the lettuce washed with preservative to keep it fresh? I never noticed how much beer glasses tasted of sanitizer until we dated. I learned a lot from her, really.

      Okay, now what does any of that have to do with why Japanese people can’t explain the simplest things? I’m sure you’ve already surmised that it has to do with focus and practice. Take navigation—most stuff in Japan is near the train station, so all you have to do is remember the station name and the exit and you’re about 90% there.

      If you are lost—and in the days before smartphones this happened plenty—you don’t ask a person. You ask many people. You’re like, “Where’s the Waldorf Astoria?” And they don’t say, “Two blocks down, make a left, and it’s on your right.” They say, “See that fruit stand? It’s past there.” So you go to the fruit stand, then ask somebody else. Japan’s very communal in that way. That’s a good thing.

      So if somebody calls you and asks, “What restaurant are you in?” and you don’t know, well, you don’t have to know. Any more than an American has to know what the salad dressing’s made from. You just call the waiter/waitress over and hand them your phone. Knowing the name of the restaurant is their job, and they should be able to guide the other party to the nearest fruit stand, whereupon they can ask somebody else.

      Japanese people don’t practice giving detailed directions because it doesn’t come up very much. It’s just not that important. Looking at food, oh man, that’s every day. If you couldn’t tell the difference between katsuo dashi and kombu dashi people’d think you were retarded.

      Let me point out one more way in which Americans are clueless, and it’s not a trivial matter: money. I’ve got a Chinese friend who frequently asks me, Why isn’t anyone in the U.S. worried money? Do they even know how much they spend every month on food, clothing, coffee, or alcohol? How can they just charge things they don’t need on credit cards? And I’m like, Hmmm, good question. Then when I ask my friends and family about it, they’re like, Eh, don’t worry, everything’ll work out. And now Asian me is like, Work out?! What the fuck is that? You just spent three thousand dollars on a bicycle! Even the helmet was like two hundred bucks! How’re you gonna pay that off? Do you not understand interest? Work out? Money doesn’t just “work out,” it’s math! And they’re like, Jeez dude, you worry too much. Everything’ll be fine. Drink a beer. Here, I’ll put it on my credit card.

      That optimism, wow. But thanks for the beer.

      I guess it comes down to a society’s values and culture. Different nations seem good and bad at different things. So the conclusion is, if you’re going out to eat, you want an American find the restaurant, a Japanese person to order the food, and a Chinese person to split the bill. That’s what I’ve learned. Thanks for asking.

      • Wow — great bonus article, thanks! 🙂

      • The mindset of “go to a recognizable landmark close to your destination and then ask someone there for further directions, and repeat as necessary” is well ingrained in the Japanese psyche. But giving directions is very difficult in Japan. Most streets don’t have names, buildings aren’t numbered consecutively along a street, and once off a main road, neighbourhoods often devolve into a maze of tiny lanes. Over millennia, this is the method that has evolved that works best for getting where you want to go. As an aside, I haven’t tried it, but is there foreigner-friendly satnav in Japan (with both Japanese and English/romaji)?

  11. Professional Gaijin

    Ah, yes. Japanese passive-aggressiveness. Which would bring you to the myth of the submissive Japanese woman.

  12. hi Ken and everybody!

    I just read the blog today.
    It is so entertaining I read for hours and started building up a little rant in my head. excuse me if I explode here:

    I have been living here for more than ten years and trying to make something for myself.
    I have to say that most of my friends are foreigners and all my colleagues are Japanese.
    I keep my personal life away from my colleagues to avoid anybody spreading words about the money I make.
    I do not know if I would do the same back in Italy but I may not have the same work and business opportunities I found here.
    like most of us the spirit of adventure brought me here to Japan and my new family kept me here.

    don’t know if I would be happier anywhere else but I think I will fight my way through what I started and see what comes out of it.

    I will teach some school kids (and my kids) about electricity at the kominkan close to where I live and the people I met are helping me out with the project.
    I do not have any close Japanese friend yet but that could be part of my character. I guess that in my life I am looking for some special people that click with me and that may not be easy.

    would love to hear some more stories or meet more people that shared my experience. could be fun!

    • Welcome, Misserotti!

      Ten years is a long time. Honestly, I can’t believe it myself. I’m glad you’re here and enjoying life in Japan. It reminds me to appreciate the good things more. Thanks for the breath of fresh air.

  13. thank you Ken for your answer.

    I live in fukuoka and I was about to ask you if you think that people that decide to stay for a longer period of time would kind of try to justify the fact that they are there in the first place. I think this would be called a confirmation bias burt I am not sure.

    it’s like starting to like the person that asked you a favor for the first time. the loss of energy due to doing them a favor has to be justified inside yourself somehow. You end up “convincing” yourself that you like them.

    I think president Benjamin Franklin was famous for leveraging on this judgement fallacy.

    • Seems to me that people often try to rationalize the situations they find themselves in. I guess it rather colors reality, but then truth and happiness never did get along all that fabulously.

      So yeah, living in Japan long-term seems like a textbook case for making the best of a challenging situation. There’s a lot of good things about living here—no doubt about that. But you give up plenty as well, and I think that’s the hard part. But hey, that’s life, in Japan.

  14. Hiroshima style Okinomiyaki!!! Can’t go with a girl who likes Osaka style……..

    • This is 100% correct.

      Also watch out for the Souka-gakkai ones. You’ll have English-language pamphlets and magazines in your hands by the second date. Haven’t met a Happy Science cultist yet.

    • Funny ’cause it’s true. Although maybe what’s most amazing is what a large role food plays in the Japanese consciousness. Apparently you can tell a lot about people by how they like their pancakes.

  15. Great article! Funny and insightful, as usual. 🙂

    I’m kind of curious about this part, though:
    “They’ll reveal surprisingly personal information, yet hide things that you’d think were unimportant. I don’t want to say they keep a lot of secrets, but well, they keep a lot of secrets. ”

    So, any moments that you heard “surprisingly personal information” that you could share?

    Also, on the “keeping secrets” part, I’d be interested on hearing more about on relationships (actually dating; not just wanting to), things between couples that would be obvious to talk about elsewhere, but not in Japan.

    • So I met these two girls in the train station. Long story short, they invited me to a party at the one girl’s house (she was married). I hadn’t been there half an hour before she told me about cheating on her husband, who happened to be in the next room.

      Now, if this sounds like some sort of come on, I can assure you it wasn’t. Sigh. Rather, it was just a random factoid, like “Last Saturday day I went to the dentist, then bought cheese at the supermarket, and oh yeah, slept with my old boyfriend.”

      So I’ve heard people reveal all kinds of things about themselves. Particularly when it comes to infidelity, it’s not nearly as big a deal in Japan as it is in the U.S. To be really honest, Japan’s just way less sexual than the West, and for that reason (in my opinion), cheating on your partner doesn’t mean all that much. Japanese folks just don’t care that much about sex. Again, sigh.

      As for what couples do share between themselves, in comparison to the West, I’d venture to say damn near nothing. You’d be lucky if you knew the first names of your partner’s parents. It’s pretty taboo to ask personal questions, even of your closest friends and lovers. If asked, not answering is also a popular option.

      Though, strangely enough, Japanese people seem to share more with foreigners, speaking English, than they do with other Japanese. Perhaps it just seems safer, or less real.

      • I had been wondering about the cavalier view toward infidelity. In a country where seemingly meaningless ‘rules’ such as ‘brush your teeth after lunch’ are almost universally followed, why is something that is ostensibly written in the marriage contract regarded as (far) less sacred than tooth brushing ?

        The converse of course also applies, i.e. why do Americans consider fidelity to be such a big deal ? Christianity or other … ? At least to me though, I didn’t quite see how that written rule is softer than other unwritten ones.

        Sex is not very important ? Maybe, but I imagine you’ve heard the same stories about high school girls that I have …

        • When I read that I was like, Let’s see, stories about Japanese high school girls…

          and you know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any, at least in real life. I’m sure there are some, but most of the stuff seems to be online from guys overseas. After working in a Japanese high school, I can’t say I came away with anything particularly titillating. Certainly nothing sexy by U.S. high school standards.

          Your other points are really good, on both counts. I also don’t know why infidelity is such a big deal to Americans. Japanese folks are way less concerned, and even tacitly allow it. Now why they don’t worry about infidelity as much as dental hygiene—I dunno—maybe they’re more worried about cavities than STD’s. I mean, our dental care’s not all that great.

          • I should have been more specific about ‘stories’: I mean, experience ( number of partners ) that can go into triple digits before high school graduation. This was told to me by the girls themselves, and not just one or two – it doesn’t seem they would have particular motivation to inflate their own statistics. Or maybe I’m projecting my own less interesting high school experience as representative of the US … ?

            I heard an alternative perspective, which was that it’s actually that infidelity is indeed a huge deal, therefore gives proportional thrill in violating that particular rule … skipping the tooth brushing just isn’t much of a guilty pleasure.

            Thanks for your insights and articles, and of course, your time in replying to everyone. Very interesting that after all this time, there is still so many unknown unknowns in this country

            • Triple digits? That’s just silly talk. zero to three people, not digits, would be more realistic.

              I mean, I get the whole Catholic schoolgirl fantasy, the Japanese schoolgirl fantasy, the some-shool-other-than-mine fantasy. And certainly no one wants to believe it more than me. But what you’re describing doesn’t exist in this universe.

              Japan’s a pretty conservative country, which is one reason so many young adults are anxious to go overseas. Parents, teachers, and neighbors constantly monitor their every motion. So when you see schoolchildren walking or riding the train “alone,” they’re not really alone. Add to that the fact that high school kids are in school literally from morning till night, in class, doing club activities, or in cram school. They’re working desperately to pass college entrance exams under pressure from, well, everybody.

              And frankly, it’s just not a sexual culture. Japan’s good at looking sexy, not being sexy. It’s hood-rich.

            • “triple digits before high school graduation. This was told to me by the girls themselves, and not just one or two”

              So, three or more girls told you about their sexual encounters, that each number in the 100’s????

              Hahahahaahaha!!!!!!!!! How old are you?

  16. Hey! I’ve been loving the blog and am still in the process of finishing my degree to come teach. In the meantime I have saved up the money to come for a visit and was thinking of Osaka / Kyoto area. I was hoping to be able to buy you a beer(maybe a few if you don’t break the bank) but I have no idea what area you are in.

    • Thanks much. I’ve moved around a surprising lot in Japan–I’m on my seventh apartment , plus interim weeks crashing with friends around the nation–so I’m never sure what part I should say I’m currently in. Also just for reasons of privacy, I tend not to broadcast it too loudly. Although the lure of beer is admittedly strong.

  17. Seeroi-dono

    What will change Japan? Can Japan even change to begin with? I think that it all begins in the workplace. But how can a country’s work ethic change when the sheer amount of unproductive companies dictates a culture of overwork and everything that accompanies it. Certainly not exclusively a problem of Japan but in many ways the magnitude of dedication’s second to none. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-12/zombie-hordes-thousands-of-japanese-firms-dodging-bankruptcy

    Cheers

    • It kind of seems like a chicken-and-egg problem. The companies won’t change because they’re set up by Japanese people and serve Japanese people. And Japanese people won’t change because their companies require them to behave in established ways. Probably why foreign companies are so sought after in Japan.

      Perhaps that’s ultimately what will change Japan: internationalism and trade. That and immigration. Japan won’t be the same, of course, but it’ll be better in some ways and worse in others. But either way, we move forward. There’s no stopping change.

  18. I remember 25 years ago chatting to my Japanese girlfriend about families. She more-or-less said: There’s my mother and father and I’ve got a sister… and that was it. She was amazed when I reeled off my brothers, my parents, my paternal uncle and cousins and their children, my maternal aunts and uncles, my paternal grandparents and my great-aunts and uncles, my maternal grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great aunts – all alive at that time, and then continued describing relatives further back.

    • Just out of curiosity, did you marry this girlfriend?

    • Heh, my favorite thing is asking people about their family histories, the stories passed down from generation to generation. I can go back to at least my great-grandparents on both sides. With Japanese people, sometimes they don’t seem to even know anything about their own generation, such as where their siblings live, whether they’re married, or what they do. It’s disturbing.

      • When I entered my wife’s family home in, hanging there in the main room, were the pictures of her family and ancestor’s and to my great surprise a photo of my mother and father.

  19. Just out of curiosity, did you marry this girlfriend?

  20. Off Topic Here:

    As I’m typing this it’s Monday 6:50am in Tokyo. I’m assuming you (Ken) are waking up to a hangover with some “mystery girl” lying next to you and scrambling for clean clothes in an attempt to get ready for another work week.

    But hark to the great news that the Japanese Little League has won the LLWS, beating the Texas USA team by a stomping of 12-2. That has to be an awesome way to start the day off in the Land of the Rising Sun. Or is it? Will this go unnoticed by the media and locals? You had mentioned that the news of Takuma Sato winning the Indy 500 car race was not major news. Could this make the NHK and The Japanese Times front page? Or will anyone at work talk about it at the water cooler? I can’t imagine this not being big news in Japan.

    I’ll have to admit I was rooting for Japan even though I live in the US. I feel like an expat and I haven’t even left the country. I wonder if this is how the process of becoming an expat starts…

    • Yep, that’s pretty much how it starts. Then you start eating the food, learning the language, and before you know it, you’re on a plane to Haneda.

      As for the Little League World Series, I believe these are the corresponding articles in today’s Asahi Shinbun:

      Japanese: http://www.asahi.com/articles/GCO2017082801001209.html

      English: http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201708270012.html

      The English, an Associated Press article, provides a somewhat detailed account of the game, along with a celebratory picture. But in Japanese, on the day of the championship, no pic and just a couple dozen words. Make of that what you will.

      • Maybe “Sports in Japan” could be a future topic. Obviously here in the States it’s a big deal…and big money. Do Japanese citizens care much about sports related items? Do they even have time for attending sports events? Do they even care? God forbid they serve hot dogs at a baseball game or garlic fries. I hope American influence hasn’t caused them to eat that badly. What events have you attended? What food can you find, say, at a sumo wrestling event? The list of possibilities is endless and could make for an interesting read about an expats view of something Americans treasure so greatly.

        Just a thought, hope you give it a go. I think your Japanese Rule of 7 Groupies would find it of interest.

        • Hmmm, now that you mention it, I don’t think there has been a JR7 post on sports in Japan…particularly baseball, both of the professional and high school varieties.

          Whenever anyone asks me what they should do when they visit Japan, since they’ll already get all the stereotypical stuff, I say they should go to a Japanese baseball game. It’s like a playoff atmosphere at every game, the fans are like European or South American fans at soccer games, and cute girls in costumes with keg backpacks filling up your beer!

          Anyway, hopefully the JR7 wordsmith can put something together about sports…

      • By the way Seeroi-san, here’s the English article on the Championship, you linked the semi-final recap.

        http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201708280014.html

  21. As I finished reading this a few times (I always read your articles a minimum of three times to fully grasp it) it immediately reminded me of a story about dating and marriage. I’ll try to keep it short:

    I was on break from work and happened to meet a person (male) from another company. I believe (I didn’t ask, thought it might be rude) he was from India or Pakistan. As we talked about various items the subject of marriage came up. He mentioned he was married via an arranged marriage. I asked him (politely, not trying to be judgemental or rude) what it was like being married to a person he had never met and knew nothing about. I said (something to the sort) that I couldn’t picture settling down with a person that I didn’t even know. Once again, I tried my best to be diplomatic, it’s not my intention to piss off total strangers off for a tradition I’m not familiar with. His reply scrambled my brain as I hadn’t even thought of such a concept:

    “I couldn’t imagine marrying someone I know. We have so much to talk about and discuss, every day we learn new things about each other. We have an entire lifetime to both learn and love.”

    To this day I remember that conversation, it’s been over 10 years since it took place. So anyway, maybe (just maybe) settling down with someone you really don’t know might not be (and that’s a big “might be”) such a bad idea after all. I obviously have serious doubts about such an arrangement but in utter truth from my own experiences, you really don’t know a person until you have lived with them. You might think you know someone but until you live with them on a day by day basis, you really don’t know jack squat about them.

    I know of many couples who lived with each other before getting married, is that done in Japan? Oh, it seems like the divorce rate of the couples mentioned above was pretty much the same as those who didn’t move in together prior to making it official.

    Okay, that’s my cheesy story, thanks for letting me share.

  22. Been married to a Japanese man for 20+ years, and I know very little about him.
    He gets very defensive when I ask him about what he was like in high school (never ask that question to an American guy), who was his first crush, or, whether he likes cats better than dogs…
    He’s an expert on weather or BOJ’s current market outlook.
    According to his parents, he has become “really gregarious” since he married me…
    I guess I am practicing zen.

    • Yeah…yeah. I know. In Japanese, one option when responding to a question is simply not to respond. (Which doesn’t make learning the language any easier either.) I suspect one reason it’s so hard to ask people to describe their past is because they don’t have much to say. Not that they didn’t have a rich past—that’s not what I mean—but rather that they’ve never spent any time discussing it with others. So instead of painting a complete picture, reflection, or analysis, all they can say is, “this happened.”

      And you reply, “Okay great, tell me about it.”

      And they’re like, “I just did.”

      Consider yourself lucky if you address your husband by his first name. I know more than a few women who don’t. I’m not even sure they know it.

  23. Well sometimes ignorance is bliss…I still find out new things about my wife, including how the guy she went out with before me was some K-1 MMA champion and they broke up in not very clear terms. So I still walk around Tokyo thinking I’m going to get randomly roundhouse kicked in the back of the head…;/

    • Eh, you could take him.

      Still, kind of a big thing not to know about the gal you married.

      • Pretty sure it’d end up worse than Mayweather vs. MacGregor…but I appreciate the vote of confidence.

        • Did you not discuss each others past relationships while you were dating? Or was it something you brought up and she side stepped.?

          But hey, if he hasn’t found you yet, he’s probably not looking, and with a pop. of 13.5 million you got nothing to worry about.

          Unless he’s also a procrastinator.

          On a side note: Is there a word for procrastinator, procrastination in Japanese?

          • So, a couple of ways you could express “procrastination” in Japanese:

            口先ばかり kuchi saki bakari : Someone who talks about doing stuff, but never does

            or

            先延ばしにする saki nobashi ni suru : to put something off

            No doubt there are other ways of saying it as well. I’ll get around to looking them up one of these days.

            • Thanks! In as much a language also depicts the attitudes and perimeters of the culture/speaker, I wasn’t sure if there was a word for it.

              Would you consider the two phrases you mentioned to be common or just used in a specific context?

              Thanks again!!

          • why would anyone discuss past relationships?
            i would never do so unless im asked… and of course i would also never ask…
            people are living in the present and not in the past…
            also, i still think japanese people behave like everybody else, unless they dont want to…
            they might be a little more specific about whom they want to talk to, but i also dont find that too much out of the norm….

            • The past informs the present. Some people “enjoy” learning about their partners past, even their past partners because it gives a more complete picture of that person.

              I’m older and married now but I wasn’t always, It’s also a way to not deny your own past (the good and the bad.)

            • I forgot to mention. It’s also a great way, early in a relationship, to weed out the crazies!!

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