Japanese Racism

Japanese Racism

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

“Flolida,” he said.

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

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

“Can you say ‘Miami’?

“Miami.

“Perfect. From now on, just say that.”

The first time I had a black kid in class, it was pretty much the same thing. I stared like I’d never seen a black person before.

“What sport?” I asked intently, holding up a picture card.

“Hockey?

“Almost. Table tennis. How ‘bout this?

“Pool!” he said with confidence.

“Well, swimming, but, uh, nice effort.”

Yet since then, I’ve had dozens of white, black, brown, and miscellaneous Asian students, who were all Japanese. And over the years, it brought me to a stunningly obvious conclusion:

“Japanese” is a nationality, not a race or ethnicity.

This is the “Who’s gay?” of the new millennium, a secret seemingly too terrible to utter, and one the world’s not ready to hear. Can’t we just stay in that simpler time, when being Japanese meant, you know, looking Japaneeese? You know what I mean, like Bruce Lee and David Carradine.

Turning Japanese? Not quite

So I was at this izakaya in Hiroshima with Hiroshima girlfriend. She’s the one from Hiroshima, in case that’s not clear. And we were sitting at the counter having ice cold sake and fiery hot agedashi tofu which, aside from immediately sticking to the roof of your mouth and scorching it with blistering pain, is pretty tasty. Anyway, next to us were three very approachable college girls from Gunma prefecture, so naturally we started talking with them. Okay, naturally I started talking with them, whatever. Then after a few minutes where the five us conversed in Japanese between bites of chicken skewers and grilled mountain yam, I heard a familiar refrain:

“Wow, your Japanese is so good.

I sighed. I hear this all day, every day. And just as I was about to grimace through the awkwardness and offer a “Gee, thanks,” Hiroshima girlfriend said, “You mean me?”

I looked up, chicken skewer hanging out of my mouth. They weren’t looking at me, but her.

“Yeah,” they said, “you sound almost like a Japanese.

“I am Japanese,” she said indignantly.

With long, jet-black hair and almond-shaped eyes, you’d be hard-pressed to find an individual more “Japanese”-looking than Hiroshima girlfriend. The Gunma girls just laughed. ”Oh,” they said. That’s what passes for a Japanese apology.

I’ve seen this on several occasions. The first time was when an old man in front of me at the 100-yen shop turned to the cashier and said, apropos of absolutely nothing, “Your Japanese is so good.”

“I am Japanese,” the cashier replied. I looked at him. Old Japanese guy. Then at her, young Japanese gal.

“Ooh, that’s very good,” he continued, and my brain tried to make sense of what I was seeing—-two Japanese people having an argument about who’s really Japanese.

“I am Japanese!” she said.

Japan’s Most Empty Phrase

“Your Japanese is so good” echoes through the valleys of the nation thousands of times each day, and it doesn’t seem much of a compliment. Rather, it reflects the pair of deep-seated beliefs all Japanese people are born with: one Truth and one Fear.

The Truth is that there’s such a thing as the “pure” Japanese person. Japanese folks love this notion, and cling to it with a tenaciousness that would make the Aryan Nations cringe. The Fear is simply the flip-side—-that they might not be one of them.

Everyone runs around constantly assessing how “Japanese” everybody else is, because they clearly don’t look alike. Certainly no more than, say, white Americans do. Maybe Japanese folks think all white people look the same, I don’t know. Okay, actually I do, but I’m gonna let it go. At any rate, white people certainly know they aren’t all the same. Some families came from Italy, others from Poland, or Switzerland, Ireland, Israel, Greece, wherever. Get over it. For Japanese people, it’s no different. After a while, you can see it too, faces that reflect heritage: Filipino, Mongolian, Korean, Portuguese, Brazilian, Russian. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Sorry, did I say that twenty years too soon? Apparently. Sure, in the U.S., it’s no longer publicly acceptable to say that “American” is a race or ethnicity. That just sounds, well, racist. But it’s fine to call a person “Japanese.” Hey, nothing wrong with that. Everyone knows “Japanese” means one homogeneous race living on, uh, six thousand different islands.

Draw the Map. Great, Now Draw it Again

Did you know Guam’s part of the U.S.? Japanese people do. I asked Yamanashi girlfriend if she’d ever been to the U.S. She’s the one from Yamanashi, just to be clear. And she said, “Sure, I went to Guam last year.” I had to Wikipedia it. Freaking true. Anybody can be American, for real.

But then who else might be “Japanese”? Taiwanese people? Well, they were in the past, but now they’re not. North and South Koreans? Okay, they were Japanese too, and then they weren’t, like magic. Chinese? Japanese. Then not again, presto. Okinawans? Not Japanese. Then were, then weren’t. Now are. So it’s all pretty clear, is what we can conclude.

Dealing with Gaijin

Look, I get it. It’s not easy dealing with “you people.” Whenever I meet a white person, I don’t know what to do either. Should I shake hands? Speak Japanese? What if I’m asked a question in English? The whole thing’s terrifying, to be honest.

There’s a white guy who works at my local convenience store, and we don’t know what the hell to do with each other. I laid out a six-pack of beer, two hard-boiled eggs, and a seafood salad on the counter. Welcome to Ken Seeroi’s balanced lunch. He looked at me, then at the balanced lunch. I looked back, like What? We didn’t say anything. Then he rang me up in Japanese, and asked if he should put the beer in a separate bag. Oh, his Japanese was very good. I wanted to say that. But instead I just mumbled No in Japanese, then took my stuff and ran out. I try to go when he’s not working.

Japanese Secret or Secret Japanese?

Over the years, one after another, Japanese people have approached me privately to confess, as though a “foreign” person were the only one with whom they could share their shameful truth:

“My mother’s British.

“My great-grandmother came from Korea.

“They say my grandfather was an American soldier.

“I have Russian blood.

“My family’s from the Philippines.

“I was born in Germany.”

One thing’s for sure: Japanese folks are terrified of revealing their backgrounds. It is something to be ashamed of. If you look overly un-“Japanese,” then you’re labeled a “half.” Otherwise, you keep your mouth shut. But the fact is, nobody has any idea how mixed or pure anybody is, since the government census doesn’t track race. It’s pretty obvious that there’s a been lot of mixing, and even more covering it up. But if there’s no way to tell who’s absolutely “Japanese,” then at least there are convenient methods to establish who’s relatively more Japanese: false hospitality and backhanded compliments.

Welcome to Japan

So I found myself at a yatai in Fukuoka last weekend, sitting on a wobbly stool and trying not to let my new purple shirt come in contact with anything greasy. They have really good gyoza, filled with cod roe. Quite crispy and delicious. The guy who runs the stand is from Korea, although you might assume he’s Japanese. The customers too. Because everyone’s Asian, although most were from China, a few from Korea, and one couple from Japan. I sat down and ordered the gyoza and a bowl of ramen, extra onions. Hey, I’m on vacation; I don’t care how my breath smells. And out of all those people, I’m the only one whose order was met with,

“Wow, your Japanese is so good.”

And this coming from the Korean guy. Everyone turned and stared at me. Damn, I wish I’d said it first. But, beaten to the punch, I simply replied,

“Plus one bottle of Asahi.”

And everybody laughed. Oh, such friendly people, those Japanese. Honestly, I don’t know how I’d survive in this country if the snacks and booze weren’t so amazing. Anyway, I’m just glad fall is finally coming to Japan. The days are getting shorter, the north wind a bit colder, and the leaves turning a lovely red and gold, perfectly complementing my ramen-stained shirt. God knows we’re well overdue for a change of seasons.



Pay it forward

Like NPR, your donations help keep Ken Seeroi on the air.


Tags :
Previous post link
Next post link

About Ken Seeroi

103 Comments

  1. Have you written a book yet? ‘Cause you should :)]

    This was so spot on it was spooky.

  2. Yo Homie Ken,

    So I always hear you complaining about being told your Japanese is good, and I can fully understand that. But have you not poured thousands of hours of hard work into becoming that good? Even if it is said to you so often because you are clearly not Asian to them, all those other Koreans, Indians, etc. hardly ever get told it as often as you, simply because you are special to average Joe of J-World. They see plenty of other people speak the language that aren’t Japanese, but you my friend have impressed them. I can’t fully understand why you do complain about it, but I can clearly see why it would bother you and me. But even then, why would you not appreciate being constantly applauded for those years of work? Not many people can do it, remember what you said about the drop out rate of learning Japanese from your friends and people you know. You are that 1% homie (or was it 10%?), and I think you deserve to be bugged the hell out of for your accomplishment. Good job man.

    Keep on keepin’ on

    ~Noah (^~^)v

    • He’s not being complimented for his hard work. He’s being gently reminded that the complimentor is a judge of Japanese-ness and he’s a mere judgee.

      I get the same reminder-compliments around Tokyo, and I’ve never put in a day of hard work in my life.

    • You know, I do appreciate it, kind of. Really, I try not to overthink things. Lots of people say it because A) my Japanese is sometimes, on occasion, not too bad B) they’re just being polite or C) they can’t think of anything else to say.

      Of course, I’ve had plenty of people blurt it out reflexively. Like, I walked into a shop, and the guy working there said “konnichiwa,” so I repeated it back to him, and he was like, “Wow, you speak Japanese so well!” I don’t think anybody needs that.

      But here’s the thing, right—how long can you be a foreigner in the place you live? I mean, I get I look different. All right, what else you got? It’s not all that cool to make assumptions based upon physical differences. I mean, sure, we all know Chinese folks are rude and Koreans steal, but is it really fair to say that white people can’t eat rice? ‘Cause that’s going over the line.

      And the you-couldn’t-possibly-speak-Japanese is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. The list of things people assume based upon skin color is almost endless. You really get treated like a second-class citizen. Again, it’s probably best not to overthink this. But it happens every day, all day long. Once in a while, it’d be nice to just be treated like a normal person. Which in Japan is, admittedly, not all that great. Guess you gotta be careful what you wish for, actually.

    • Have you heard of the term “othering”? Being constantly reminded that you are different is tiring. Yes, most people mean nothing by it. Have you known someone who is particularly tall? They get pretty sick of comments about it even though no one is being nasty about it.

  3. This have been a tiring day but I saw there was a new post, and this is rare! So I just had to read it. Nice little bits of the day to day life and the various facets about race in Japan. When you was talking about the convenience store, I thought you would mentally say to the other guy “What, a white guy can’t have an unhealthy diet? ” but right there was another white guy. From all situations, maybe the one with the other white guy is the more complicated one! Also, would be much interesting seeing more about the foreign-looking Japanese on your classes.

    Hope the guy that wanted more about Japanese racism is happy with this post. Now as Ken promised he’ll strive to write three posts per month, right? What, that wasn’t the promise? OK, two then.

  4. Seeroi San,

    Thank you for this.
    It makes me happy to see Rule of 7 in my inbox.

  5. I hear you on this one. I think back to my Japanese high school friend who thought his ancestors might have been from India, my Japanese girlfriend in Hiroshima who had to dye her hair black to meet the school dress code, and I don’t know how many people who have told me they don’t have a “Japanese face”.

    Oh, and my wife’s father was an orphan, who was taken in and raised by Obaachan after the war. We suspect that Obaachan knew something about his origin; but she took the secret to her grave. Little things like my wife’s curiously light-colored eyes, and the color of our children’s hair and eyes make us wonder if there isn’t some Russian blood in there.

    Then there is the issue of sending our mixed-race kids to school in this little town in the country. They are a bit unusual, except that there is the boy with the Palestinian father, and the two other kids with white parents in the same pre-school, and the family nearby with a Romanian mother. Actually, they could probably start a club. Hell, if we got all of the Chinese, Thai, Filipino, etc. women in town on board, we could probably start our own international school.

    Also, I naturalized a while back. The most surprising thing to me has been how nobody bats an eye when I introduce myself as Sakamoto (I’m a big, tall white guy). Check out http://www.turning-japanese.info/p/people.html for a list of famous naturalized Japanese, some of whom even fought for Japan in the war.

    • I’m well-acquainted with that site, having thought about naturalizing for many years. It’s cool that nobody stresses over your name. Taking a Japanese name is something I’ve pondered for a while, and written a bit about here. It seems only natural. If you’re going to be Japanese, then hey, be Japanese.

  6. Amazing Ken, I hope you got an upgrade to the heating system and remember to cover your toilet seat.

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this one Sensei, it was a good read. I wonder… do Japanese people feel any sense of brotherhood or alliance with any other culture or people? America is allied with Japan, but I often wonder if Japan will act as the Philippines recently did and change alliances and become partners with China? Seems like this question of who is more Japanese might also create in the minds of Japanese… Who is most unlike the Japanese and hence the MOST foreign of foreigners? In that case the US and Japan are destined to once again become competitors, if not enemies!

    • That’s an interesting question.

      A friend of mine, married to a Japanese lady, says that “Japanese people believe they’re the master race.” That’s got a ring of truth to it. While Japanese folks recognize they’re similar in many ways to people from Korea and China, they look down on them, and even despise them.

      Strangely enough, the culture many Japanese people feel the closest to is probably American. Americans have a completely different way of living and relating to one another, and Japanese people often idolize this. Sometimes it feels like Japan is just Little America. They adopt American concepts, years later, long after the U.S. has moved beyond them, like drinking whiskey, suits and ties, smoking cigarettes, lots of red meat, playing baseball, drinking milk at lunchtime, and standardized testing in schools.

      So it’s not just Little America, but also America from 50 years ago. And while the Frank Sinatra era might have a nostalgic ring to it, if you think about the good and the bad of that time, I think few people would really want to return. Women’s rights, minority rights, openness about being gay? None of that. Instead it’s war on drugs, white bread, black leather shoes, Daddy works and Mommy cooks. Japan’s stuck there, copying a model that’s long changed.

      • Hi Ken, and thanks for the new post. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I live in an out-of-the way part of Japan where foreigners are very scarce, so it seems to be accepted that if you’re here, it’s speak Japanese or use sign language. I occasionally get a compliment on my Japanese, which I don’t accept, since I know I’m really only about intermediate level (on the struggling side). Actually, people are more likely to be disappointed that I can’t keep up with them, even though I know I’ve put in some serious work just to get this far. As for being a foreigner, I just accept that that will always be the case. Just remember to tell people that it’s always warm and dry in Australia – no seasons – and I get by just fine.

        • Ah, that’s the secret to happiness in Japan, right there: just accept that you’ll always be a foreigner.

          For some reason, I really struggle with it. But maybe for Christmas, Santa’ll bring me a new brain.

      • Ah so,

        Ken, supposing that is the way the people think in Japan, is the Japanese government of the same inclination? I get the impression from your remarks that the Japanese people might still believe in their government (as did Americans of 50 years ago), unlike AmeriKa today, where I feel like most people distrust the government. In the Philippines, they elected a very aggressive leader that has openly showed hatred of Americans and changed their national policy over night; while Japan’s leaders are more subtle in their micro-aggression, like renaming their newest Aircraft Carrier after one of the ships that attacked Pearl Harbor in WWII.

        Do you see a shift in Japanese society/culture to parody the Nippon government’s increased awareness of imminent threats from China/North Korea or are they showing any signs of micro-aggressions towards westerners? Recently Japan has announced very aggressive military postures against Chinese and North Korean military maneuvers, such as threatening to shoot down North Korean missile tests and sinking Chinese vessels that approach the Senkaku Islands.

        The Filipinos seemed to have joined China instead of trying to fight against Chinese encroachment into their off-shore energy deposits and fishing areas. Can you see Abe or other Japanese leaders caving into China? Could militarism (as based on the master race ideology you mentioned) rear up in Japan into a new nationalism (like it did in America 50+ years ago that led to America’s War with Vietnam), would the people of Japan go along with it?

        I would welcome anyone’s views on this, so please feel free to provide your beliefs. FYI, there are rumors of a coup d’état going on in AmeriKa right now and many Americans are wondering WTF is going on:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ov5kvWSz5LM

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdmRdw0PtA0

        More explanation of civilian coup (in the second link) and attempt to manipulate US Presidential election results via electronic voting machines. This was linked on Drudgereport.com, the largest American internet news site… on the face of it, it seems almost unbelievable.

        • Hello Bud,

          Now make sure you get this right. The Kaga. It’s. Not. An. Aircraft. Carrier. It’s just an effing big destroyer with helicopter capability. So many helicopters, in fact, that it looks just like an aircraft carrier …

          As for the name, “Kaga”, the original Kaga was originally laid down as a battleship but converted later on to an aircraft carrier. Perhaps this is an inscrutably Japanese way of saying they are keeping their options open on the present Kaga.

          • Well, there were plans to use the Izumo class Helicopter carriers to launch F35B vertical take-off variants at one time, but the F35 is proving that it is not acceptable as a viable operational plane. These Helicopter carriers are twice as big as an average U.S. Destroyer, and they are designed as a ship that could support Harrier Jump Jets as the U.S. Marine Corps uses, like the USS Iwo Jima, but since they don’t have an amphibious Assault force requirement that includes a giant wet dock inside the ship it has a much narrower Hull and is thus lighter, though it is almost the same length (over 800 ft.) as these US assault carrier ships that launch Harrier jump jets.

            From Wiki:

            On 6 August 2013 JS Izumo was unveiled in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan. The Washington Post noted that this ship, the biggest warship in Japan’s fleet since World War II, “has raised eyebrows in China and elsewhere because it bears a strong resemblance to a conventional aircraft carrier”[3] and has been described by the Chinese, as an “aircraft-carrier in disguise”.[15] Though called a destroyer, some experts believe the new Japanese ship could potentially be used in the future to launch””” fighter jets or other fixed wing aircraft”””.[3][6][15]

            Japanese officials say it will be used in national defense. Specifically, they cited anti-submarine warfare and border-area surveillance missions. Additionally, it is intended to bolster the nation’s ability to transport personnel and supplies in response to large-scale disasters. This unveiling occurred at a time of heightened tensions over several small disputed islands called the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyutai in China. The islands are located between southern Japan and Taiwan.

            End Wiki.

            As Roosevelt reminded us in WWII, the Pearl Harbor attack went down in history as a day of infamy and it was the U.S. Navy’s sworn objective in WWII to sink all of the Japanese Carriers that launched that attack, including the Kaga. I think Abe was insulting the U.S. by renaming that ship Kaga after Obama slighted Japan in his speech about how America would stay neutral in the Japanese/Chinese spat over the Senkaku Islands. Don’t forget Abe also made a very public appearance at the Japanese WWII memorial at that same time (the one that includes WWII war criminals and is considered an insult to the allied nations of WWII). FYI, Obama later was forced to reverse his position on the Islands. I know of a WWII vet that retired as a Lt. General in the Army (he was in charge of cleaning up the radioactive materials from Hiroshima and Nagasaki after WWII) and he was highly insulted that the Japanese and the Prime minister have insulted the US military by this action. He also was once head of the retired US Generals association, so I think he can speak for almost all senior American military commanders.

            So I believe that the term “Aircraft Carrier” can span several ship types smaller than the U.S. super nuclear powered aircraft carriers like the Nimitz class that are 3 times heavier and 200 ft. longer than the Kaga. The Essex class fleet carriers (largest of WWII) of 1945 were smaller than the modern Izumo class Helicopter carriers of Japan. There were at least 4 smaller class aircraft carriers in the Japanese and US Navies of that era also.

          • Hi Bud,

            Don’t tell the Australian government about problems with the the F-35s! Australia is contracted to buy 72 F-35As, starting from 2018. Many of them will be stationed at the Royal Australian Air Force air base that is close to my home town in Australia. Actually, there are quite a few critics of the Australia-US F-35 deal, but I suspect the Australian government will not back down, due to the US-Australia military alliance.

            As for the modern-day Kaga, I was somewhat tongue-in-cheekingly quoting the Japanese government’s line about it being a “helicopter-enabled destroyer”, and not an aircraft carrier. If it looks like a duck, etc. Actually, I suspect many in the Japanese government and military would love to build a whopping big aircraft carrier, bigger than the Nimitz-class – but that would imply offensive capability, which would test the country’s “self-defence only” constitution. It must be said that the helicopters on the Kaga could have a significant peace-time capability if a major earthquake hit the Kanto region, which fixed-wing aircraft would not have.

            Also, I’m surprised that no-one has mentioned the much-debated Ospreys. These could possibly also land on the Kaga’s deck.

            As for naming a modern-day Japanese warship after one of the ships that attacked Pearl Harbor, a Japanese politician would have to be bonkers not to realise that that would have many in the US military and others who know their history absolutely bristling (to say the least). I can also say that the Kaga was also involved in air raids on the largely unprotected city of Darwin in northern Australia in February, 1942 – although by then Australia was officially at war with Japan, and had been at war with Axis powers in Europe and North Africa since 1939.

            But if the naming of the Kaga is micro-aggression, it may be aimed not at the West, but more at China and North Korea. During the 1930s, the first Kaga supported Japan’s invasion of China, so I suspect “Kaga” is an in-your-face name for the Chinese. Also, Kaga was a province on the west coast of Japan facing North Korea, so I suspect a bit of in-your-face for the North Koreans. The province was a gift to the family of a highly respected general of Oda Nobunaga, so there’s lots of history to boot.

          • Veejay,

            Those were all great points and I can agree with all of them. The part I’m not seeing is what do the Japanese politician’s believe? Do they intend to re-interpret that “defense only” constitution or do they plan to scrap it and re-write it? I have read that recent re-interpretation of the Japanese constitution has led Japan to begin to include Japanese troops in international military maneuvers and peace keeping forces for the first time. What I’m curious about is whether that is enough to get Japan ready to take over its own defense, because I’m certain that the US political and economic situation will prevent the United States from doing that job in the near future. Many Asians and Americans are still very worried about the Japanese racist past and WWII militarist proclivities that made Japan into one of the most dangerous empires in world history.

            I have come to admire many of Japan’s past traditions and history, but unlike Germany that re-educated its populace against racial hatred after WWII in their attempt to rid its populace of its master race thinking, Japan has instead engaged in revisionist historical practices in its educational system that excused, mitigated or entirely covered up Japan’s involvement in crimes against humanity during WWII; such that many or most of the current generation of citizens know very little about Japan’s past atrocities.

            I think of the current generation of Japanese as mainly pacifists, but I really don’t know the Japanese people that well. SO, I’m interested in what kind of Japan will be created when America is forced to pull out and Japan has to fend for itself; hence all my questions about these racist attitudes that still seem to prevail in Japanese culture. America really needs a strong ally right now and some nation that can act as a counter balance to China and its aggressive ambitions to take over other nations energy resources and territory. Japan might be that ally, but until they develop a full military capable of offensive actions, that can’t happen.

            Years ago, when the Berlin wall fell, there was a panic in Europe (and with American military leaders) about the re-integration of Germany and what threats it might eventually pose to world peace. Just before that happened, I was at the barber shop and happened to meet an old family friend and chess sparring partner, Dr. Walter Haeussermann, a member of the Von Braun Science team that had come to America after WWII. We discussed the possible re-integration of Germany and he said emphatically that Germany would never be allowed to become one nation again because of its past atrocities.

            I argued that Germany must be re-integrated to fill the void in Europe as the Soviet Union begins to collapse because of the cold war economic difficulties. I bet him a steak dinner that the wall would fall and that Germany would once again be one nation and that the USSR would fall apart. I won that bet, but to this day Germany still has done little to become the military power to counter balance Russian dreams of European dominance /conquest. Putin still says to this day that Russian forces could take back Eastern Europe and the former republics of the USSR in a matter of weeks. It is time that the rest of the world begins the process of preparing for a future without an American super-power military to protect their national defense.

            I can only hope that this transition will occur without the creation of a new Japanese military power fueled by master race ideology and driven by vengeance against all those that defeated Japan in WWII. Instead, it would be nice for the US to have an equal partner in East where Japan masters technology to become one of the most advanced military powers… to protect the East against Chinese aggression. Silly me always conjures up visions of a Gundam-like future for Japan where giant robots/mechas lead the defense of a technological super power… LOL!

          • Hi Bud,

            Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is on record as wanting to scrap the clause in the constitution limiting Japan to self-defence only. He also has the numbers (with allied parties in government) to pass the changes in the Diet. However, it would then need to go to a national referendum, with a much more uncertain outcome.

            My take is that many military strategists in the US regard allied countries like Japan, South Korea and Australia as buffer states for the US. Rather than defending them, they act more as an outer line of defence for the US.

          • Veejay,

            Then all Abe needs to pass such a referendum is a military incident between China and Japan where shots are fired and Japanese casualties are incurred? Right… Pfft, no problem…, since China has been threatening to take out some JDF units for some time now. I’m sure someone in the Japanese government could arrange the sinking of a Chinese fishing vessel that would egg the Chinese into attacking the JDF (j/k maybe).

            I don’t think you understand why America defends Japan and Southeast Asia at all if you think the US needs a buffer since the Pacific Ocean is a good enough buffer…LOL). The real reason we defend those countries is probably because of GUILT… over things like the dropping of the atomic bomb, allowing the Russians to take North Korea, turning Southeast Asia back over to French colonial rule after WWII (even though we swore we wouldn’t) and not helping to defend China from Communism (all done by the mental midget Harry S. Truman), among a few things. Plus the next several Presidents were trying to stop the advance of communism after we did those stupid things right after WWII as a way of preventing them from taking over the rest of the world.

            But now, things are slightly different as Communism is not trying so hard to take over the world. Plus, I think we are so far in debt that we can’t afford to be the world’s policeman any more. America is being overrun by illegal aliens right now (rising crime and using resources here we can’t afford to give away) and our economy is starting to buckle. A full third of the US work force can’t find work and has given up and wages are going down while less and less full time jobs are available. Employers are hiring more part time employees so they won’t have to pay benefits to full time workers AND Health care has become too expensive to provide.

            Corporate and business taxes (as well as the cost of overhead and red tape) for all the people that aren’t connected to the rich and powerful is so high that starting and keeping a business going are damn near impossible. Since the US has signed NAFTA in 1993, we have closed over 70,000 manufacturing facilities in the United States and had some 70-75 million jobs shipped out of the country. Now they’re even allowing Visa holders to come into the US and replace technical white collar workers en masse at some US companies. For example: Disney replaced all of their IT workers this year with H1B visa holders and Dell did the same for some 5000 employees.

            Remember that Lt. General I mentioned that had been in charge of cleaning up Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he later became the head of U.S. MICOM missile command; he would tell you the reason why the Russians and Chinese over the last 50 years have been unable to threaten the US militarily. It’s because we are capable of being MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) at them where no one can win a nuclear war. The Chinese only just got fully MAD capable last year… meaning they finally have nuclear weapons that could survive first strike capability by deploying Nuclear capable submarines for the first time. Oh, I know ABM systems are being developed that can change that equation, but they still can’t stop sub, ship or air launched cruise missiles (yet) from reaching their targets even if ABMs could take out all of the orbital Nukes that get outside he Atmosphere.

            Whew, wrote all this to get it off my chest and was going to delete it, but since it opens up another can of worms (strategic nuclear weapons… I’m gonna let it ride)…LOL. Wow, I really felt sad that you would think that the US treats countries as buffer states, but then I thought about it… and I’m sure there probably are some strategists that do exactly that! Though it really makes me feel bad since all my life I really believed that America was trying to save as many innocent people around the world as they could. Pffft, can’t pretend that any more I guess after seeing how corrupt our politicians have become, sorry!

          • Hi Bud,

            I’m glad you read me right when I said I thought there were military strategists who believed in the buffer state theory – it’s not necessarily my own view. A US commitment to defence does not necessarily have to involve any cost to the US. Australia has a mutual defence pact with the US, but otherwise funds its own defence (including co-funding F-35 development costs!). The Philippines successfully closed down its US military bases, but is still regarded as a close ally of the US, regardless of recent overtures to China.

            I don’t know how the Japanese public would vote in a referendum. I’m sure the government does its own polling. I hope no government would even consider manufacturing or provoking an incident to get a political result at home.

        • Hi Bud,

          Filipinos love America, even more than the Japanese. They didn’t elect Duterte because Duterte hates America. They elected Duterte because he promised to make the country safe and bring justice to the ones who hurt or killed their loves ones – Philippines is the most criminalised country in Asia. Therefore, Filipinos support Duterte in spite of his hatred for America, not because of it. Of course, USA’s heavy criticism of Duterte’s war on drugs may end up putting more and more Filipinos against the USA, but this also depends on how the “war on drugs” will be successful, I guess.

          As for your theory that Japanese are starting to hate America, I don’t think this go beyond a conspiracy theory. Besides, the typical Japanese isn’t a staunch supporter of Shinzo Abe – in fact, with exception of a few hardcore nationalists, Japanese, like most Asians and unlike Americans, aren’t particularly excited about elections, politics, or even democracy. The younger people are basically politically apathetic, and the older people only know to vote to keep things as they are, not to vote to change things.’

          The more the population of Japan ages, the more the young generation loses interest in politics, the more scarce is the budget of Japanese government (all of these are happening right now), the likelihood of Japan going to war with another countries goes down, not up. So yeah, I would say that you Americans have a much higher likelihood of being killed by another American than by a Japanese invasion.

          • I agree with your assessment. It’s particularly hard to imagine a new Japanese militancy. I’d be impressed if the average Japanese male could muster the motivation to leave his apartment.

          • It’s not my theory that Japanese are starting to Hate Americans, but I am asking for others opinions on whether this might be starting to happen in Japan, since I have read many posts in the past of Japanese micro aggressions towards westerners; OR maybe these international slights made by Abe regarding the Kaga and the visit to the memorial I mentioned earlier is just a government position against America that was based on a perceived insult that might have been made by American politicians?

            So in fact, I am very interested in others opinions that are closer to the situation in Japan and might have some more detailed information about how the politician’s think about this matter. I can’t really access much information about the inner working of Japanese politics from where I’m at and I very seldom see any Japanese news source that describes in English what their politician’s think of the US. SO, any insight someone has about this issue is something I’d be very grateful to hear about; especially since the Japanese racism discussed in this post don’t include national political positions of statements made by Japanese politicians.

            I know several Filipinos here in the US and I agree with you about the sentiment of the majority of the Philippines population towards Americans, but Duterte has decided to break with the US and announced a new relationship with China. More importantly, I am only speculating and wondering if Japan’s leaders could also do the same thing as Duterte did? I hear Duterte has 76% approval rating and that is far above what any American leader can expect to get!! I wonder what Abe’s approval rating is?

          • Ken, I might note that politicians in Japan can enact a draft like that done in South Korea and Taiwan that will force all Japanese citizens into the military as a part of national service requirement. I don’t know what must happen in order for Japan to attempt to create such legislation, but I wonder what the people of Japan would do if that was the case?? Many Koreans and Taiwanese come to America to escape the draft… hmmmmm.

          • Japanese politicians’ position on the relationship with the USA is crystal-clear. The USA is Japan’s most important ally, and the military alliance with the USA is fundamental for Japan’s security. Japan is one of the main supporters of the TPP. Shinzo Abe went forward with the plan of building a new American base in Okinawa despite all the anger and protests of the locals. Japan aligns with the USA on all major international issues including the South China Sea disputes and navigation, North Korea’s nuclear program, war against terror, etc. Japan and the USA were the only World’s major economies that didn’t become signatories of China’s AIIB bank.

            Hence, for every “micro-agression” and “questionable ship naming” that you mention, the Japanese government has shown more than 10 solid, impactful actions that demonstrate the seriousness of their alignment with the USA. In fact, from the point of view of the Japanese, the reluctant side of the alliance does not seem to be Japan, but the USA, as the recent overwhelming anti-TPP rhetorics among Americans show.

          • Demo G,

            That was a great reply and just the type of information I wanted to know about. I am happy to see that there is some information out there to promote that position that Japan still wants to be a strong ally because depending on the next election the US could be a very different country over night. Ya know, next Tuesday is America’s Presidential election, one of the most tumultuous elections we have ever had. There is an air of change going on and a possible constitutional crisis that might shake the US to its very foundation, so I’m not sure what kind of US will emerge from all of this. We might end up being weaker or possibly stronger as a nation, who knows… I honestly am going to wait until after the dust settles to make that assessment, as it just is too complicated to predict. Thank you for that insightful reply Demo as it was reassuring to have more information regarding Japan’s likely intentions as a future US ally!

      • 50 years ago I was 7 years old. Dad worked, mom was at home raising us 6 kids. 1966 was a great time to be a kid in America. Most of what you describe about Japan being like America 50 years ago seems mostly positive to me. Even better since there’s no Vietnam war, and it seems there’s may be little infiltration of Marxism in the universities and none of the toxic feminazi-ism and SJW (social justice warriors) waging war against men. America has been in a pitched battle in this regard for decades and it’s only getting worse.

        In spite of the fact that people in Japan are overworked, occasionally to the point of suicide, from what I’ve seen (not having visited, but only through sources such as this site and other media), I’d have to say that Japan overall has a much saner culture than America, which has become increasingly toxic and is rapidly abandoning all the values that in better times made it the country I loved.

        • I hear you, and yes, Japan probably is saner. Although comparing with modern-day America isn’t much of a high bar. Although I do wonder how you would have felt if you weren’t 7 years old. Because it’s always great to be 7. But what if you were the mother or father raising 6 kids…I wonder how that would have felt? My sense is that it would’ve been pretty darn hard.

          We always say, Oh, the past was so great. But I don’t see anybody trading in their reliable Toyota for a 1966 Dodge Dart, using a black-and-white TV, a phone connected to the wall, and cancelling the internet. Because you could do that.

          And look, I agree with you. I feel the same way. But I recognize that I’m choosing to live in this era. A lot of these problems are just problems because I’m aware of them, i.e., because I read the news twenty times a day on the internet.

          A few years ago—and this is a whole other story—I unplugged from everything for about two years. Maybe three. I didn’t have a watch. No cell phone, no Facebook, no internet, no car, no bills, really no possessions. Just a cup and a spoon and a sleeping bag. And the world was essentially indistinguishable from your 1966. Everything was slow, and beautiful. I just walked around and talked to people, or rode a bike.

          Come to think of it, I should probably do that again.

          • The recall of that time would make an interesting post as well

          • Ken,

            You have a point. My parents both passed away at age 69, three years apart. I only have two children so maybe I’ll keep the reaper at bay a little longer, hopefully. You know the old saying: Parents inherit their grey hair from their children. And yeah, sometimes I feel that I know “too much,” thanks to the internet.

            We had a black and white TV until I was nearly a teenager. And probably six channels with decent reception. But pretty good programming in those six channels. Now we have hundreds of high definition color channels via satellite, but 95% of it is absolute garbage. So I rarely watch TV anymore. So back to the internet for some Japanese TV, I guess. (Not that J-TV is much better, granted).

            A few days backpacking in the wilderness helps make the world seem all right again, until I come back home and log in to any news site. You name it, it doesn’t matter which one. The less I watch or read news, the better I feel.

            Right now I’m in the home stretch of building a small sailboat to learn how to sail. Many years ago I had a power boat and getting out on the water was great therapy. With the stresses of living and working in the western world, I think the tranquility of sailing will be an even better balm. Retirement is looming in about 5 years so this small sailboat is a first step. Later, when I’ve gained enough sailing experience I plan to buy and fit out a larger sailboat for ocean passages. That will probably be the way I end up in Japan someday: via Mexico, Galapagos, Polynesia, New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia, and finally Japan. All at a fast walking pace, about 5 knots. That’s about 100 times slower than modern air travel. Plenty of time away from civilization to get my head right.

            I’m finding modern western consumerist society to be increasingly stressful and toxic. And oppressive, as in the opposite of freedom. The propaganda is that we live in the “free world” or a “free society” but I think it’s the opposite. Most people are wage slaves. They get deeply in debt with mortgages and multiple car loans, and run up a lot of consumer debt as well, buying all manner of stuff they don’t really need. So they have to work and work, not for themselves, but for the banks they’re indebted to. Not only that but the “system” is set up to discourage part time work, so that even if you manage to eliminate debt and choose a minimalist lifestyle, you still might have to work full time if you want gainful employment in your chosen field. And building codes are set up to prevent construction of more affordable housing with smaller units. Try getting a permit for a 500 SF house.

            I used to love driving. Especially a sporty car with a 5-speed manual transmission. But for years now I’ve found the congestion and traffic of the metropolis I live in to be so stressful that it takes all the joy out of driving. And my region isn’t even a huge city like New York or Los Angeles, but the suburban greater Seattle area. But taking public transportation to work is a non-starter. It would probably take three times as long and double my commute cost. (You may have noticed I’m stuck in the same wage-slave rut as I ranted about above.)

            But I agree with you that from the care-free perspective of a seven year old kid in an intact family, the world can be pretty great, compared to the harried perspective of adulthood, no matter the era.

            I’ll add one final bit to this rant: Smart phones. They’re a bane. Even kids have them now, and as ubiquitous as they are, we as a society are losing our ability to interact with each other on a personal level. I dunno, it may be even more so in Japan, but if you look around at people in public places, on the street, on the bus, at Starbucks, nearly everyone is glued to the little screens on their smart phones. Especially young women. Striking up a conversation is becoming a lost art.

            And the fatties. Back in the day people were more active. When I was a kid we’d always be outside playing. Inside play was for rainy days. Now it’s TV and video games. Fat kids used to be objects of ridicule. Nowadays a skinny kid is the unusual one.

            Jeez, I could go on and on but I think I’d better end my rant here.

            • I’m ranting in time with you, as I’m sure many others are.

              You brought up a couple of points that I’d like to add to. First, I agree wholeheartedly that cellphones, 24-hour news, and constantly being tethered to media like dogs to a tree contributes to much unhappiness, not to mention fatness. Building a boat with your own hands and then sailing away is the best idea I’ve heard in a while.

              I’ll also add that the “consumerist society” is certainly not limited to the West. If you retain any illusions of Japan being some pristine, zen, or natural environment, please let me dispel them right now. “Shopping” is a Japanese person’s favorite hobby, and as for nature, well, unfortunately it got paved over in the name of progress. Sorry about that.

              But what really resonated is that we don’t live in a “free world” or a “free society,” due to the fact that people get “deeply in debt with mortgages and multiple car loans, and run up a lot of consumer debt as well.” I think you’re a hundred-percent right about the second half, but, well, a little off-base with the first.

              You’re right that we get lured into buying all manner of stuff we don’t need—marketing and social pressure are powerful. I’m certainly not immune either. But we do have freedom. We don’t have to sign up for mortgages, or buy cars, fancy clothing, TVs, electronics, or even have children, for that matter. It’s hard to keep sight of the fact that if you simply buy less stuff, you don’t have to work as much.

              So my story, for what it’s worth: I was working in an office in the U.S. several years ago, and I hated my job. Nothing new there, I’m sure. Then one day, I decided, The hell, I’m just going to quit. But I thought, well okay, what if I just waited one hour. I made like $15 an hour at the time, after taxes. So I did that. It sucked, but I had $15, which I knew I’d need after I was unemployed. So then I waited another hour. And by the end of the day, I’d made $120.

              Now, we know how this goes. You make $120, and you spend, oh, about $150. But since I knew I was going to quit the very next day, I spent none of that money. Then since I’d made it through Monday, I thought I’d see if I could suffer through Tuesday. By the end of the week, I actually had some cash. Then I sold my car, which I still owed money on. Of course, I had to walk, but I didn’t care, because boy, I really hated that job. Then I worked for another day, and another. And after a lot of days, I’d paid off the car, and all my debts. Then I kept going. And suddenly it dawned on me that if I didn’t spend any money, I’d have thousands in the bank by the end of the year. Which is what I did. Then I had the freedom to move to Japan.

              So you know how they say that people in developing nations live on like pennies a day? Well, what I learned is that we can to; we just choose not to. Don’t spend, and you don’t have to work. It’s that simple. If we’re wage slaves, it’s only because we’re selling ourselves into slavery.

              These days, I don’t live at either extreme. I have no debt, a modest used car, and some decent clothes. But I don’t buy anything I don’t need, and I save whatever I can. It’s not the American way, or even the Japanese way, but if Frank Sinatra were alive, I’d recommend it to him. And then he’d claim he’d invented it, and say it was his way. Which is good enough for me.

            • Ah, the tranquility of beating off of a reef bound lee shore in a typhoon, with 25 meter visibility. I remember it well. There are two seasons for sailing to Japan from the south – typhoon season and winter storm season.

          • Ken,
            I think the idea that we’re free as you suggest is an illusion for most people, at least in America. To quote a “Trumpism,” the system is rigged. Unless you go completely off the grid, way out in the boonies, there are certain expenses you’re forced to pay. Like the choice between rent or mortgage. For most there is no third option of “neither.” The system says you can’t park a low-cost RV anywhere in a city and live in it, even on your own property.

            The system even forces you to buy a product you may not want. I refer to the Affordable Care Act, where the gov’t forces you to buy a product (health insurance) or be fined.

            Suburban development is platted such that you’re forced to buy, insure, maintain and operate a car. Public transportation is subsidized so that even if you choose not to use it, you are forced to pay for it with increased taxes. As I mentioned previously, building codes force you into more expensive housing than you might otherwise choose. You likely can’t build a 500 SF house.

            Don’t like the public school system? Too bad if you own real estate. Most of your property taxes fund public schools whether or not you have school-aged children. You can’t opt out. If you decline to pay your property tax the state will confiscate your property. Which of course means you don’t really own it in the first place. You’re only renting it from the state.

            Want to live on a boat? Too bad. Environmental regulations limit expansion of marina facilities, causing long waiting lists and municipal codes often forbid or limit liveaboards. In areas close to cities, it’s even forbidden to anchor out. It’s gotten so bad in some cities that moorage for a boat over 30ft costs nearly as much as an apartment.

            Want to opt out of the retirement fund the government makes you pay for (SSI) and direct your own retirement investing? Too bad. The government takes a cut of your paycheck before you even get it. Just try not paying your Social Security taxes and investing the funds independently instead. That’ll get you three hots and a cot at Club Ironbars.

            The government is FORCE. The police are law enFORCEment. Try doing anything the government forbids, or not doing anything the government says you must do, and the government will FORCE its will upon you. FORCE is VIOLENCE, ergo, Government is violence. That goes for taxes too, since the government forces you to pay them. The money you pay in taxes is the storehouse of value for your hours worked, ergo, the government forces you to work a certain number of hours per year for free, since you keep none of the value of those hours. Forced labor is slavery, ergo, taxation is slavery. To that extent alone, we are not free.

            There are even taxes for which you’re disenfranchised. Ever stay in a hotel in a different jurisdiction than you live and vote in? You’re charged a room tax, and probably a sales tax if you buy anything. Since you don’t live or vote there, that’s taxation without representation. (I heard somewhere that a revolutionary war was fought over this, sometime around 1776.)

            Speaking of representation, even that is an illusion to a large extent. Do you think your congressman represents you? Well maybe, if you have millions of dollars for lobbyists or campaign contributions. But who has those kinds of funds? Oh wait. Large corporations, unions and industry associations, plus a few billionaires here and there. And foreign governments. Just ask the Clinton Foundation. Must be why laws are passed that benefit corporations, unions, industries, billionaires and foreign governments, rather than the citizens.

            If you’re a man, it gets even worse if you marry and the marriage falls apart. Again, the system is rigged, in this case to benefit women at the expense of men. Women get the kids, the house, most of the other property, child support and alimony in the vast majority of cases, leaving countess men destitute. So even if a man agrees to give everything in a divorce to the woman, he’s still enslaved to child support and alimony obligations.

            Really, it’s all about the money. Follow the money and you’ll see why everything is set up the way it is, why at every turn people are lured, cajoled, encouraged and even forced to work and spend, work and spend.

            Which is why I’m doing my best to eventually exit the system altogether. The boat I’m building won’t take me offshore, but will serve as a learning experience that I can apply to the next boat. But the irony is not lost on me that boating is in itself a consumerist enterprise. Boating is freakin’ expensive. I’m building a boat similar to this one:
            http://www.stevproj.com/SSkipTxSl1SailPage.jpg

            • No doubt. There are things we can’t avoid paying for, for one reason or another. But all that aside, what I’m talking about is frugality. Look around and see how much stuff you own. Everything came from you spending the money that you worked for.

              And by the way, I really don’t mean “you” personally. I’m speaking to everyone who lives within the modern consumerist culture, and particularly those starting out, whose purchases, or not, can shape the course of their lives.

              One good thing about living in Japan is that we can’t have too much stuff, because we just don’t have the room for it. If you’ve got a fridge, or a washing machine, or a stove, or lights, be grateful. For years, I didn’t have enough space to own a bed. Last year, I finally picked up a $20 folding chair. See ya later, floor. Now I live in luxury.

              So I’m only concerned with the things you can control, not those you can’t. Stop buying stuff, that’s what I’d say.

          • I love these long posts, makes me feel warm and fuzzy…LOL!

          • Mark S,

            There are lots of places on this planet where the government is not as intrusive as in the US. If you’re willing to live in another country, you’d be surprised how inexpensive your life can get while remaining comfortable. The US is definitely not the land of the free 🙂

  8. This isn’t just a Japanese thing though. Go to any country in Asia and no matter how long you live there, if you look non-asian, and speak their mother-tongue well, you’ll be greeted with the exact same compliment.

    • Yeah, I’m pretty sure this happens the world over. The whole “globalization” thing is brand new, and apparently we’ve still got a ways to go.

  9. Ahahaha. This is timely for me, as I saw that my Japanese friend had used some website to do a gender-swap using her Facebook profile photo. The website was in Japanese. I wanted to see what I looked like as a boy too, so I clicked over. I never looked to see if the website had an English setting, and left it Japanese. It turned me into an Asian man (I’m a blonde, white woman). I was amused and posted it to Facebook. She commented “Oh, it was because your language setting was Japanese. That’s why it made you Asian.” What the hell does language setting have to do with anything!?

    • I love that. If you change it to French, does it put a little beret on your head? If you change to Indian, does it put a red dot on your forehead? Then if you go back to American English, does it make you fatter?

  10. New to your blog. Really loving it – and your wry take on life. As a new learner of Japanese I take your emphasis on the negatives as a challenge to persevere!

    • Thank you. That’s absolutely the right approach.

      I’ve only ever tried to write the truth about learning Japanese, as best I can. It’s like raising a child. People are like, Whoa, it costs a million dollars and it takes the rest of your life? How come nobody told me this before I had twins?

      So I just lay out some of the pros and cons you might want to know about. If you choose to keep going, as I did, then that’s great. But at least you know.

  11. It’s the first time that I write a comment and probably will be the last time since I don’t have much to say or what could be for interest anyway… Just very good work as usual, very well writen (love your writing style). But please can’t you just post like 2 times a month? There was a time where I didn’t care that there is no new post since I had enough to catch up with your old ones…but now I’ve read them all (sometimes even more than once) and I check your site several times a month in hope there is something new…c’mon hurry up Seeroi and give me more!

    P.s. In July 2017 I will move to Japan. I’m very excited to see if I will make similar or even same experiences as you. hehe

    • Hey, congrats on your decision to move to Japan! And thanks for the comment and the props. I really want to write more often. It’s just that I’ve got this darn job that takes up all my time. It’s not easy, drinking beer and picking up women. Plus I have to go to work sometimes too.

      But I’ll do my best to write when I can.

  12. Hey, guys, stop asking Ken to write a book and donate him a beer via PayPal, so he can keep going blog. Link at the top left. I just give a whole dollar. I hope you can buy a lot of beer with this money, Ken.

    • Seriously, can I say how much that means to me? I really appreciate when people donate even a small amount. That encouragement is powerful.

    • Thanks for pointing this out, Leandro. I hadn’t been aware of that donation button — just tried it, and it worked great. Everybody, chip in, let’s see how drunk we can get Ken! Let’s just hope we won’t knock him out until spring, or we’ll sorely miss his posts.. ^^

  13. Thanks for another great post!
    I just wanted to chime in on the “your japanese is so good!” phrase. Let me just illustrate how a similar language situation would play out in France (from my own experience).

    Dutch guy in France (me), speaking textbook french to a French person. (We learn some French in highschool, although, admittedly it is pretty bad).

    The French guy who is listening to me, listens the same way he would listen to a barking dog. Somewhat amused, somewhat annoyed and apart from that totally uninterested in the fact that I am perhaps trying to ask or say something. This happens even in restaurants where a waiter is supposed to serve you.

    I think I’d prefer “Oh, your french is so good!” even if I know it’s a lie.

  14. Great blog, I can stop reading all your stuff since your blog came up when I was looking at the best way to learn Japanese on Google.

    Not sure why I wanted to learn Japanese but I guess I just like all the things who drive me mental.
    Started 2 months ago and now learnt around 500 Kanjis including all the Kana, still a total mess to write or read but hopefully I won’t give up. I’m thinking about buying ‘Remember the Kanji 1-3’ from Heisig but I’m not too sure.

    Anyway, keep going writing man.

  15. Ken, great piece. Just wanted to say thanks for the pic of ohori park (right?) at the top of the post – it’s been way too long since I went to Fukuoka last time and I forgot how happy that place makes me. If only I could find a job there….

  16. First time poster here. I just wanted to offer some observations from my own personal experiences in a recent visit to Japan. First, I’m a Japanese-American, born and raised in the US. Secondly, I have been taking Japanese lessons in a language school for the past 1 1/2 years. So my Japanese is at the “beginning to intermediate” level. In other words, it sucks. I’m not even going to talk about my Kanji.

    Anyways, I visited Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto a couple of weeks ago for a short ten day visit. I was very self conscious about my Japanese-speaking ability, not knowing what kind of reception I would receive from the native speakers. Well, I can honestly say everyone, and I mean everyone, spoke Japanese to me. Hey, it only takes one sentence out of my mouth to discern I’m not a native speaker. But the Japanese people invariably spoke the language to me. Many times, although it was not necessary, I started by saying, “私はアメリカの日経さんせいさんせいですから、日本語をとても悪いんです。ごめんなさい。” People responded by speaking Japanese to me. In fact, a couple of times, when I had to ask a JR employee a question about the trains, the JR worker asked if it would be easier if I spoke English. And when I gratefully did, the JR worker answered me in Japanese.

    No one ever asked me if I liked Natto. No one ever complimented me of my ability to use chopsticks. Most people asked me about the political climate in the US, American taxes, what American women are like, the crime rate, and, interestingly, the Grand Canyon. Only one person told me that my Japanese was good (日本語を上手ですね). But she was a waitress that I was flirting with, and I think she was trying to be polite (or, more likely, she was brushing me off).

    It should be noted that I pretty much remained within the tourist infrastructure. Nonetheless, I learned very quickly that knowledge of Japanese is essential when visiting Japan. I wasn’t off the plane for more than 30 minutes when I found myself having to communicate with someone who simply did not speak English. Anyone who says “there’s English everywhere”, and “you don’t need to speak/read/write Japanese in Japan” is simply not reporting the facts. Hey, stuff happens. Well within the tourist infrastructure, I was at a tonkatsu restaurant when suddenly the waitress started to speaking to me in non-stop Japanese. Apparently there was a problem with my order, they ran out of an ingredient. I never really understood what she was trying to say, but I resolved the matter by ordering something else. Taxi drivers, hotel employees, waiters/waitresses, department store clerk, and Starbuck baristas all present you with “speaking opportunities/challenges”. But I never encountered anyone who insisted on speaking English with me.

    So from my little corner of the world, the Rule of 7 didn’t apply to me. I’m not trying to be smug about it. I’m just reporting factual observations.

    Interesting blog. Keep up the good work.

    • Wow, great comment. I’ll just add a couple of yen.

      If you look “Japanese”—even remooootely Japanese—then people will treat you way differently than if you look “European.” Even some South Americans get this. So that’s one thing. And if you look vaguely Japanese and try to speak Japanese, there’s a lot less chance anybody’s going to speak English with you.

      As for needing Japanese in Japan, honestly, no. You don’t. I completely agree, there’s not much English; that’s true. But once you learn the system, it’s remarkably language-independent. I know plenty of folks who’ve lived here for years and speak no Japanese. Amazing, but true. A lot of initial confusion is not a result of language.

      I’ll give you an example. The first time I went to Texas, I bought a cup of coffee at a convenience store, and the clerk asked, “Ya wanna sack widdat?” I was frozen with fear. A sack? What the hell’s a sack? Did he mean a paper bag? Why would anyone put a cup of coffee in a bag? I just muttered “yes” because it seemed like it had a greater-than-50% chance of success, and that’s exactly what happened. He put the coffee in a paper sack. Which apparently is what Texans call a bag. Weirdest way to carry a cup I’ve ever imagined, but hey, foreign country, so there you go.

      Moving on. The first few times I traveled to Japan—before I started studying the language—I spoke zero Japanese. Did I have difficulties? Eh, sure, a few. But I managed to travel throughout the country for several weeks. I mistook a $300-a-night hotel in Kyoto for a $30 one. That was pretty embarrassing, screwing up numbers, not even words. But I managed to eat, drink, and have a pretty effing merry time. Actually, it was the best time by far. Think twice before you learn more Japanese—just sayin’.

      Now, when I go out with friends who are Chinese-American, Taiwanese-American, or anything other than Chocolate and Vanilla, they get spoken to in Japanese. People look past me and speak with them. Typically, they make an immediate point of saying, “I’m American.” And still people speak Japanese with them. I’d bet that’s what’s happening with you.

      • I agree that most visitors to Japan can quickly adapt to the minimal signage etc in written English (or any recognizable script, as it would be travelling through most of Europe), and to having few people around who are fluent in English. A person can get about just fine once they learn the subway system and the fact that they can get good takeout food at convenience stores just about anywhere (plus the stores have clean toilets, and one brand has ATMs where you can withdraw cash in English, etc).

        But as for long term non-Japanese speakers – they do need Japanese from time to time. There are all sorts of horrible official–looking documents that regularly arrive – some with up to 15 kanji in a row in their headings – enough to defeat Google translate (and they are often on paper, anyway). I suspect those people rely on a native Japanese-speaking spouse, good friend or co-worker who will help smooth things out for them.

        • That’s exactly right. 99.9% of the foreign population here relies on native speakers to solve those problems.

          You could puzzle over a document for half an hour, or just ask a native speaker and have your issue resolved in 30 seconds. Hell, it’s bad enough negotiating a cell phone contract or buying a car in English. I’ve done both in Japanese, and honestly, eh, not a great idea.

          It’s worth considering efficiency. Now there’s a concept.

  17. Nitpicking here: “Then were, then weren’t.” Looks like you may have meant “They” at the beginning of the sentence.

    Your writing is so good that I feel like a thief reading it for free. Make a book, dude. Even if it were just all your blogs crammed into a physical publication, sandwiched with a prologue and epilogue, I’d buy it.

    …or I could just donate to your site. I guess I’ll do that. On payday. If I can manage to make it to then. Your beer is coming!! Eventually. No really, it is.

    • Thanks much. I’ll try to control my thirst till then.

      I also appreciate the editing. I meant, “Then [they] were. Then [they] weren’t.” Sometimes I omit words on purpose, for some strange reason. I don’t know why. Maybe I just retarded. Please let me know if still looks strange. If so, I’ll edit it.

  18. Ken Seeroi!

    Glad to see you’re still keeping up with the blog posts! I had posted here way back when and have now been in Japan for about 9 months.

    You were pretty much right about everything. Work in the countryside but try to live in the city. Shame dispatch companies truly give you little to no wiggle room deciding that.

    So l’m looking to prayhaps move to a city where I don’t scare the general farming population, however I cannot seem to find anything online regarding finding the new gig. Any sage advice for me as you did back then?

    Also so much of this blog prepared me for my time here. The constant reminder of how “good” my Japanese is and the etiquette as a whole. I’m coming to love the country though, l just think l’d like it better if there were some people around my age (mid 20’s) instead of children and people in their late 40’s and above.

    • Glad you’re thriving and surviving in the inaka. Congrats on making a successful transition to Japan. Now it’s time to get serious.

      It’s easy to treat Japan as an extended vacation. Years can go by where you’re working some crap job, eating cup ramen, and sleeping on the floor. Don’t ask me how I know this. As soon as possible, you want to start thinking about actually building a life here.

      That means finding a real profession with a good salary, getting a decent apartment with real furnishings, participating in civic activities, and having the things any normal adult would have, like a driver’s license and a credit card. It’s astonishing how much “gaijin” exist as children in Japanese society.

      So it sounds like you’re thinking, I just want to get another job. But I’m suggesting that you think a bit bigger and longer term. Aggressively search for new positions, take them, and then search for others. Keep moving up and don’t settle. I’ve had, well, a lot of jobs here, easily over a dozen, until I finally found one that’s better than The Foot Locker, and can begin feeling like an actual member of the nation. But it’s taken years, which is why I say to start early.

      The first year and a half, that’s the honeymoon. Enjoy it. But also start making plans for living here longer-term, and assimilating into society.

      • Hi Ken,

        You mentioned you found a job that’s giving you opportunity to feel like an actual member of the nation. May I ask what job is it ?

        Thanks again for sharing your experiences.

        • That’s a good question. Allow me to side-step it. My experience in life has been that whenever I find something good, somebody else comes along and tries to take it away from me. Heh, humans have made a lot of progress since the caveman days. Anyway, so I’m cautious not to diverge too much about the thing that allows me to stay in the country and have nice things like heat and food.

          So I’ll just say that I work in an Education-y job. When Japanese people meet me, they usually say, “Oh, you must be an English teacher,” on account of my being white, and, well, close enough on both points.

          • Ahaha that’s alright but you just raised my curiosity even higher 🙂 I won’t make a point regarding the value of openness as your experience seems to have proven the contrary 🙂 I’ll make a point begging you to privately drop me a line to satisfy this consuming curiosity without leaving any online public trace. I’m glad sharing my good findings in South America 😉

            • Well, to be honest, there’s nothing special about where I work. It simply meets the three requirements I have for a decent job, anywhere.

              First, it gives me adequate compensation relative to the amount of effort expended and BS tolerated. Secondly, I get some personal satisfaction out of the work I perform. Thirdly, I’m treated well enough by those above, below, and beside me.

              It’s pretty hard to find all three in a job, and even if you do, they usually don’t last forever. But I’m happy today, and that’s enough for now.

          • Sounds good Ken, enjoy this satisfying time of your life and we’ll enjoy reading your blog.

      • That’s damn good advise!

  19. i know this is kind of an “America is the centre of the universe” question, but how are people in Japan reacting to the new president? I saw that the stock market took a hit but beyond that does anybody care?

    • A few folks remarked to me, “What were Americans thinking?” “America let the world down,” and “Trump hates Japan.” There were a lot of stunned, sad looks after the news broke. I’ve yet to meet anyone who thought it was a positive development.

      That being said, you’re right—Japanese folks don’t really spend much time thinking about the U.S. They only have the vaguest notion of the differences between Republicans and Democrats, and the social implications of backing one party or the other.

      • The Japanese that I know in NYC are truly worried about the racists attitudes of the pres. elect and his supporters. As for myself, my concern is for my Japanese/American daughter re: the racism that is after only days becoming more prevalent.

        What are the consequences of this backward turn in the US for people who are not white like myself? We are lucky enough to live in NYC where diversity is the valued norm and many different people get along, even if only because we have to.

        Many Japanese here (including my wife) are participating in the protests and organizing to fight the racist, anti-immigrant bigotry openly encouraged by our new reality tv pres.

        • Stephen,

          If your Japanese friends are in NYC, then remember Dec, 19, 2016; as that’s the date the electoral college votes to officially determine the next US President. There is a rumored effort that Clinton, the DNC and George Soros are trying to get electors (those that cast votes for the states in the electoral college) to vote against their state’s results and instead vote for Hillary. Make sure your friends and relatives are aware that demonstrations could get violent on that day so tell them to stay safe in case bad things happen.

          • Hi Bud,

            What you say might be rumoured on certain echo chambers/bubbles/silos you are in contact with, but maybe less so outside. After getting information from a biased source on-line, always check around with unbiased sources to see whether it is corroborated.

            By the way, have you been following the news on South Korea lately – now those folk really know how to organise a public demonstration, with a population a fraction that of the US?

          • I believe that rumor to be false but “hey, what do I know.” I do know many Japanese and Koreans through my profession and my wife. And they are all mostly worried over two topics; racism against Japanese/Asians and lack of affordable healthcare. My wife mentioned that during her participation in the protest last Saturday, there were many different people, including families. But yes, I’ve let them know to be careful and to watch for the trouble makers, thanks you for your concern.

      • Well, glad that you’ve decided to breach this subject of politics after all Sensei. I for one can’t wait to see what happens with a new American administration, because it can’t get any worse than the last 30 years of Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama. So, I’m hopeful that all the professional BS politicians will be sorry and regretful for all their past lies: trying to deceive all of the people in this country and will change their ways… hmmmm, Nahhh. I really don’t think that’s going to happen at all, is it?

        It’s more likely that they’re just going to blame it all on racist whites and white privilege (this time – since the media is liberal); isn’t that the progressive socialist way to deal with life! Politician’s always find somebody to blame. Who knows who they’ll blame next if that doesn’t work? Of course, the power brokers behind the scenes like George Soros and Warren Buffet, as well as the hi-tech globalists like Gates, Bezos, Zuckerberg and the Google Hive mind will go back to taking over the world’s economy and battling to see who gets to control the NSA Big Brother network; But probably not before they try to find a way to make a lot of money out of it first… of course. All the while they’ll be trying to foment and whip up more racial conflict and tension in the US through hate groups like Black Lives Matter and the KKK, just to prevent anyone from really working together and figuring out what the Hell is going on in this country of ours.

        Maybe one day all these millennials will realize that the crap that’s been spoon fed to them from the corrupt media, entertainment (especially TV and movies), the socialist education system and progressive colleges that they’ve attended is all a bunch of illogical nonsense that’s designed to deceive them and make them “uninformed and compliant citizens”… Naahhhh, that’s not gonna happen either ’cause these crying clingy children can’t think for themselves any more, they’re too dependent on someone telling them what to think and how to feel.

        Would you believe that progressives are being told by “Moveon.org” to protest and prepare for a civil war (someone is paying professional protesters to lead these demonstrations). Some people in California, Oregon and Washington State are even talking about secession to form a new country called Cascadia. Others are demanding in social media that someone assassinate Trump, as if that would make them feel any better. Seems like all the things the progressives claimed about the Trump supporters (violent nature, desire for a civil war, refusal to accept the election results) are what the progressives are advocating now in the usual hypocritical fashion.

        Fine by me if these uninformed masses riot and ruin all the big metropolitan cities around the US, because then… maybe they’ll be able to overthrow all the corrupt city governments that have been responsible for creating all this misery and poverty in these crime ridden slums that are at the heart of all of these cities; it’s these areas that are destroying this country and bankrupting the wealth and resources of this nation. Well, until January when they swear in the new US President, I guess we’ll all just have to wait and wonder what will become of us and worry about our future.

        BTW, I never liked Ronald Reagan nor Jimmy Carter or any of the Presidents before them, well maybe George Washington… a little bit. So, I guess that I’ll never like any President, including Donald Trump, since they are all imperfect human beings and I want my President to be a perfect Hero; incorruptible and kind/decent… too bad we’re all just a bunch of low life human beings that are incompetent and inhumane to each other. Oh my, am I being too pessimistic? Snap, I think I need my safe space now!

  20. Ken,

    Oh Hell, already feel good about venting, just delete these posts too…LOL, sorry!

  21. Ken-

    I just read all your blog posts in about 3 days. Thanks for the insight. I agree with most everything you have said and gone through. I’m on my 19th year here and am losing passion for all of it however. It was nice, for that reason to read through your posts and come away with a sense of a camaraderie.

    Cheers!

  22. So tell me, do you plan on getting a girlfriend in every prefecture. Sounds like a sound plan to me 😉

    • Yeah, that sounds like a management nightmare, and brings to mind my favorite joke. (Sorry, it’s a little sexist, but there you go): What’s the only problem with two wives? Answer: Two wives.

      • Or the old one … “Why does a sailor have a girl in every port?” “Because there’s a port in ….” No! I didn’t say that.

      • That has to be a lot of work. I seriously do not know how polygamists do it…

        I mean the more than one woman thing.

        Ba dump tsssss……

  23. Japanese women have jet-black hair? I thought it was brown and sometimes yellow.

    • Ahh, good point. And it just goes to underscore the fact that, if there ever was a typical “Japanese” look, that time has passed.

      • Next time you see a Japanese girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, think about how much it costs to maintain that look and why? And quietly hold up your hands and walk out backwards.

  24. I just came back from Japan (yet again).

    Seriously, foreign people stress a lot less about all this than Japanese people.
    Like .. I was standing in line on a crowded Sunday and behind me were two blonde women speaking English.
    As I had asked the guy holding the sign announcing the waiting time something in Japanese, those girls knew I could speak Japanese.
    Later on we had a short conversation and without even thinking about it we all spoke in perfect Japanese with each other.
    I mean, why not? We’re in Japan.
    They didn’t assume I could understand English, but they were able to confirm I can speak Japanese earlier.
    So, they didn’t even try to approach me in English just because I had a Western face.

    I just wish Japanese people could act more like that as well, but oh well.

    As always, great post! 🙂

  25. Stumbled on your website by chance – Only took 2 articles to get me hooked on your writing. I concur with anyone here saying that you should be writing a novel!

    • Ah, thanks much. I’m really glad you found the site and have enjoyed it so far. Yeah who knows, maybe 2017 will be the Year of the Book.

  26. So your astute observations aside, I’m kind of curious as to how you responded to the folks under the “Japanese Secret or Secret Japanese?” segment. If I had to venture a guess, it sounds like they are/were possibly students of yours?

    • Most were students, although I hasten to add that those were just a small sampling. I’ve heard similar things so often I’ve lost count.

      As for a response, I’m pretty flat. Oh, okay. It’s like hearing that someone’s gay or they like craft beer or pizza with pineapple. I don’t think anything good or bad about it, and to make a big deal of it would be a mistake.

  27. I’ve been reading some of the articles and find it rather interesting and real , wonder why there’s no youtube version of this, sometimes it’s good to have some privacy and mystery in life…our lives has become too exposed and seems unauthentic,btw will ken do a movie review of Ghost in the shell by scarlett johansson?
    How you feel about a gaijin playing a japanese anime character?

  28. Ken, I love your writing. I’ve been in Japan for 20 years now. I was able to handle all the bullshit fine when I was on my own but add one Japanese wife then one very bi-racial looking child and suddenly the bullshit I laughed off in the past has become a 300 pound bullshit monster pounding on my door. Anyways, it’s nice to read that I’m not alone.

    These past few days I’ve been neck deep in university application essays. I’ve decided to move the family to Canada and get a teachers license. When I get writers block I’ve been pulling up your site and re-reading some old posts. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Wow, just up and move to Canada, that’s one solution to Japan. Sounds like a pretty reasonable idea, especially since you’ve got a child.

  29. This is my favorite part of the whole story:

    “There’s a white guy who works at my local convenience store, and we don’t know what the hell to do with each other. I laid out a six-pack of beer, two hard-boiled eggs, and a seafood salad on the counter. Welcome to Ken Seeroi’s balanced lunch. He looked at me, then at the balanced lunch. I looked back, like What? We didn’t say anything. Then he rang me up in Japanese, and asked if he should put the beer in a separate bag. Oh, his Japanese was very good. I wanted to say that. But instead I just mumbled No in Japanese, then took my stuff and ran out. I try to go when he’s not working.”

    Ken, you should have busted out with some surfer dude-inese like this surfer dude. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDRNaAxryu8 Practice some surfer speak and try it out on him and watch his reaction. He will not, absolutely will not be expecting it.

    “Just don’t harsh my mellow, brah. The surf was epic today, fully macking double overhead corduroy to the horizon. Now it’s all buggery. Think I’ll jet to the food hut and grab a burrito and some sweet nectar. I knew it was piping out there when I got totally shacked on my first few waves. Latronic, dude.”

  30. We took my Japanese daughter-in-law to “Tokyo House,” and ordered California rolls. She said, “They’re Korean – they put the sesame seeds on the outside of the rolls.” In Japan, descendants of Koreans are considered Korean.
    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/05/07/national/media-national/japans-resident-koreans-endure-climate-hate/#.WLZPnSnGN8E

    • Well, not exactly. In Japan, Koreans and descendants of Koreans who lived in Japan prior to 1945 were allowed to live in Japan without acquiring Japanese citizenship, as either South Korean citizens or stateless residents. At that time, getting Japanese citizenship was extremely hard for them, but nowadays it is practically a matter of choice.

      Yet, most of Korean descendants who acquired Japanese citizenship were culturally assimilated into Japan; i.e. they adopted Japanese names, married Japanese citizens and speak in Japanese with their children.

      It is likely that a Korean who adopts Japanese citizenship but still retain strong links to their Korean heritage (i.e. name, language spoken at home, marriage preferences as so on) would still be considered to be “Korean” rather than “Japanese”. Such cases are not that common, however.

  31. Master Ken Seeroi. You see, I’ve never left any residue anywhere here but because you mentioned Fil+Phil+Hiroshima–then please @ me the next time you come to town. Promise, I won’t blow your cover.

  32. Canadian-Costa Rican, born and raised in Canada.
    When I lived on Vancouver Island, every single person I met would, at some point, and without fail ask me where I was from. I would always answer with the town I lived, adding “I’m also half Costa Rican, if that’s what you meant”, depending on the level of terror their face wore.
    Now it’s important to mention that this is the west coast. Where people are scared of not just losing their jobs, but also the real prospect of being crucified for the utterance of anything “racist”. Which is all rather silly since it’s always assumed everyone is Canadian now anyways. If you based being Canadian off of race, or even the ability to speak English or French Vancouver wouldn’t even make the 40% mark.
    In Alberta (our Texas/gods country) people would simply give me a firm, “So what country you from?”. I actually quite liked that, easy to rectify, and being 50% English and native born was an acceptable answer for them.
    Thought I would share, figured that was a nice contrast, as no one ever doubted my citizenship or English ability. And now living in Costa Rica all the Gringos compliment my English. To which I usually respond with a “Muchas gracias”, or “Thank you, I pride myself on it”. I like the unearned satisfaction. Anyhow I always just figured that people are assuming what I was off visuals, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Speaking of maybe buy a shirt that reads “I speak Japanese”, in english of course so they could understand.
    Also try to think of adults like children, “He’s probably tired”, “She’s just curious”, and so forth. Certainly makes me a lot more patient.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*

Scroll To Top