Who Wears the Pants in Japan?

Who Wears the Pants in Japan?

“Ken? Ken! Wake the hell up! Meet me at the station.”

I sat up in bed, and realized it was not my bed. Words like this are why Ken Seeroi does not answer his iPhone after 11 p.m. The dreaded Yoko was on the line, and I was in her bed. Well, at least she had a bed, and not a horrible futon like I do. Either way, I really gotta remember to turn off that ringer.

“Ah baby, I’m kind of asleep,” I mumbled, “and it’s pouring down rain.”

“I forgot my umbrella,” she said. “Bring me one.

“Yeah, just stop at 7-11. They’re like five bucks.

“Never mind,” she said. “I’ll just get wet. Forget I asked you. Don’t worry about me.

I could see where this was going, so I tried to use my sweet voice.

“Ah baby, jeez. I’ll give you the 500 yen. Just pick up a little umbrella, okay? Maybe they have a cute one,” I added, helpfully. Ken Seeroi has the voice of an angel, I tell you.

“They don’t. I hate their umbrellas. Never mind,” she said, then, “I’ve had a cold all week, but don’t worry. I worked all day, and I can walk through the rain too.

“Who hates umbrellas?” I said. “Ah jeez, when does your train get in?

“I’m boarding now. Six minutes. You should run.”

“Ah jeez,” I said, holding the phone and trying to put on my pants. I say that a lot.

“And I wanna eat grilled chicken,” she said.

“I made pasta.”

“Too many carbohydrates, and it’s late. I want chicken. Bring money,” she said, and hung up.

Two Australians Walk Into a Bar

Running to the station in the rain with two umbrellas, I wondered when my life came to be ruled by Japanese women. It’s like the Australian guys I met over Japanese beers at an Irish bar a month ago. Men with Japanese wives spend inordinate amounts of time in Irish bars, I don’t know why. Probably it’s just an Aussie thing.

“Look, they’re really sweet at first,” said the one guy to me.

“But once you’ve got married, mate, that’s it,” said the other. I wondered when they’d started completing each other’s sentences.

“Yeah, wait till they take your entire paycheck and give you an allowance.

“And good luck getting sex ever again.

“Sounds great,” I said, “where do I sign up?

“Anyway, I gotta go,” said the first guy, downing half a pint of beer in one gulp. “Wife’s gonna be mad.

“Yeah, me too,” said the second guy. “Mine’s been angry since the day we got married.” And they both laughed nervously.

They stood up to leave, when suddenly the first guy turned toward me and leaned in, like he had something vitally important to say. “You’re working for her,” he said desperately, “for the rest of your life. Remember.”

“It’s worse once you have a kid,” said the other, then they ran out the door giggling like schoolgirls.

So that was a bit unsettling. I thought maybe I’d order a gin and tonic, just to calm the old nerves, but then I remembered Yoko might be at her apartment waiting for me, so I decided to just grab a can of chu-hi and hurry to the station.

So last week, I was talking to a couple of schoolgirls who were students of mine at the junior high.

“Ken Sensei,” they chuckled, “do you like Japanese girls?

“Sure,” I said. “And Russian girls, and Kenyan girls, and girls from Antarctica. Seeroi Sensei does not discriminate.” It’s true, I’ll take anything.

“But Japanese girls are spoiled,” said the first girl.

“I thought you were supposed to be sweet and loving.

“Oh, we’re neko kaburi,” said the other girl.

“What’s that?” I asked.

And they tried to think of how to say this in English.

“Cats over?

“Putting on cats?

“Maybe, cat costume?”

The thought of hot Japanese girls in cat costumes was sounding pretty excellent, until they explained it further.

“Ah, you mean a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” I said.

“That’s right,” replied the first girl. “You should be careful, Ken Sensei. We can lie to you, you know.”

“Honestly?” I asked.

“It’s true,” they laughed, and ran away, giggling like Australian men.

The Most Surprising Thing About Japan

People often ask me, What’s the most surprising thing about Japan? It’s a good question too, since there’s a lot of strangeness in a country where a businessman drinking a can of miso soup while weaving a pink mini clown bicycle through a crowd of pedestrians isn’t remarkable. But after a few years, everything—-eating raw horse meat, that dude polishing his doorknob in the men’s room, a girl puking into a plastic bag on the express train—-came to seem quite ordinary. But above all that, one thing came to stand out as truly surprising:

Japanese women are a lot stronger than they appear. I mean, a lot.

Everything I’d read prior to coming to Japan, and continue to read in the foreign press, is that Japanese women are docile, subservient, second to men. So this was confusing. Though to be fair, I find a lot of things confusing, so maybe it’s just me.

Life in a Japanese Family

Here’s a story I hear from half a dozen girlfriends. I mean, not that I have half a dozen girlfriends. Maybe they’re just friends of friends. There, that sounds a bit better. Anyway, Mom gets up early, makes breakfast and lunch for the family, then hustles everyone out the door with their lunchboxes. After that, she washes the sheets, scrubs the bathtub, and hangs out the towels. We’re talking real 1950’s, Leave-it-to-Beaver stuff here. Later maybe she’ll go off to a part-time job, take an English class, have an affair with her English teacher, or just meet some housewife friends for coffee and cakes. In the evening, her daughter will help her make dinner while her son lays around in his underwear with a Sony Playstation doing not a damn thing. He won’t cook, wash dishes, or do his laundry. All he has to do is pass grueling entrance exams, get into some college, and go off to work in an office for the rest of his life. The mother just tells him what to do, and he does it.

After dinner, they take their baths, and go to bed. The son maybe can’t even be bothered to take a bath, except about once a week. Around midnight, Father comes home after work, having done the usual six hours of overtime and an hour commute to find everyone asleep and dinner covered in Saran Wrap. He eats alone in front of the TV, falls asleep on the sofa, then takes his bath and goes to bed for five hours before it starts all over again the next day, often six or seven days a week.

On the surface, it might look like he’s The Man in Charge, since he’s the one wearing a suit, and gets meals and laundry done. But it comes at the exchange of his paycheck, so you gotta wonder—-who’s working for whom? Personally, between staying home doing housework or driving a desk in a sweaty Japanese office, I’d opt for the apron. Plus I’m a whiz with a feather duster, really. Here, it looks like if you’re young and reasonably attractive, you just wear painfully high heels and fake eyelashes for for a few years, then never have to work again. Retired at 22. Apparently, I missed my chance. Well, a guy can dream, at least.

Now, I don’t mean to say that women have it great in Japanese society. They don’t. Because nobody has it great. People work eighty hours a week at a diminutive table with ten other people and live in apartments that wouldn’t make a decent dorm room. Clearly, women aren’t in positions of power in companies or the government, but there’s one place they call the shots, and that’s in the home. They control the money, decide what to buy, and tell their husbands and sons what to wear, think, and how to behave.

Again, you know, I’m not trying to say this is right, only that the notion of “equality” hasn’t exactly caught on in Japan just yet. Everybody’s got a different part to play. Men bring home the money, women take care of the house, and white people teach English. Yeah, don’t get me started. So equality—-who’s got time for that? Women don’t have opportunities to pursue fulfilling careers, because Guess what? nobody does. If women are prevented from advancing in the workplace, many simply choose to opt out of that miserable situation, because, unlike men, they can.

Life on a Japanese Farm

This was all very perplexing to me until I went to the farm. I spent all day thinking about it while planting onions and digging up potatoes. Nothing like a little fresh air and dirt to get your mind right. Remind me never to do that again. All that dirt, yuck. Completely ruins your nails. Whatever. So that night I was in the farmhouse drinking beer with The Tanuki and Somebody Sensei. I call The Tanuki The Tanuki because he has giant balls. Like nuts that hang down for days, but that’s a long story, so some other time. And I call Somebody Sensei Somebody Sensei because he used to be a teacher and I can never remember his damn name, so I just gesture in his general direction whenever I need to refer to him.

Anyway, as men do, we were talking about women in between slugs of beer and supermarket sashimi. You know, Japan has amazing sashimi in every grocery store, and for cheap too. The beer’s not too shabby either. What a great country, really. Anyway, I was telling them about the half-dozen girlfriend issue.

“Know the only problem with having two wives?” asked The Tanuki.

“What?” I said.

“Two wives.

“Very funny. Well, try multiplying that by three. And they all expect me to do everything,

“Women,” said Somebody Sensei. “Can’t live with ‘em.

“Pass the beer nuts, would you?” I said, gesturing in his general direction. “And if I don’t do what they say, they either yell or pout. Is it possible to have a conversation that doesn’t devolve into passive-aggressiveness? It’s like having an argument with Gandhi.

“What’re American girls like?

“Ah, all kinds, really. But they might actually resolve issues through, you know, discussion.

“Well, Japan’s a matriarchal society.

“Say what? I thought it was the opposite. Don’t you mean ‘patriarchal’?”

The Tanuki shook his head. “Women are in charge,” he said.

“You gotta get your mind right,” said Somebody Sensei.

Rather than right, this straight blew my mind, since it was counter to everything I’d read about Japan. Thanks internet. But here were two well-respected, successful men, who also happened to be Japanese, rather than some 17 year-old Wikipedia contributor from Canada. And what they said made a lot of sense, so I asked Akiko about it.

 Japan as a Matriarchal Society

Akiko’s my go-to girlfriend whenever I need to know something, since she’s smart because she’s a doctor. Plus she’s sophisticated because she drinks wine and can pronounce things like Sauvignon Blanc.

So when she came to my place for a little wine, I asked her, “Is Japan a matriarchal society?”

“I’ve never thought about it,” she said. “But baby, can you run to the store for some Sauvignon Blanc?”

“Let’s drink Chardonnay instead,” I suggested, “since I’ve got that in the fridge.”

“I don’t want Chardonnay,” she said. “Too oaky. Never mind. I’ll just drink tap water.

“It’s gotta be Sauvignon Blanc?” I can never pronounce that, actually.

“And if it has a cork, make sure you’ve got a corkscrew.

“That I have,” I said.

“Hurry back,” she said.

I hurried back. Picked up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with a screw top anyway, so there. Plus a bag of the delicious Calbee black pepper potato chips that I love. No one says Ken Seeroi isn’t a savvy shopper. Seriously, no one says that.

“Anyway,” I continued as I unscrewed the wine, “let’s say your parents were going to buy a new house. Who’d make the ultimate decision, your mom or dad?

“My mom. And you better not eat those Calbee chips. They’ll make you fat.

“But they’re delicious. They’re black pepper. I love them. And I thought your dad brings home the paycheck?

“True, but it’s not his; it’s the family’s.

“Does your mom give him an allowance?

“She does,” she said with a smile, and this seemed to make her happy.

“Okay,” I continued. “So if they were going to buy a car, who would decide?

“Mom.

“Furniture? Sofas and tables and stuff?

“Mom, of course.

“Washing machine? TV? Fridge? Sony Playstation?

“Probably my mom,” she said, then added, as if surprised, “Huh, Japan is matriarchal!”

“I’m having a moment of clarity,” I said.

“You should’ve bought a bottle with a cork,” she said.

Japanese Arranged Marriage

I recently ran into a couple at a sakura flower-viewing party. They’d met through a matchmaker, and told me they were planning to get married.

“I just got tired of being alone,” said the guy.

“I made up my mind to get married,” said the girl.

“So you decided to get married,” I asked, “and then you met each other?

They both nodded.

“I think we do it the other way around in the U.S.,” I said.

In talking to them, it was clear they weren’t even on a first-name basis, literally, but they understood the arrangement well enough. He’d go off and make money, and in exchange she’d provide a sort of laundry and food service. It was financial security for her, and he wouldn’t have to come home at midnight to an apartment reeking of dirty clothes and eat bowls of instant noodles until he died. It wasn’t “equality,” it wasn’t even love, but maybe it would develop into that. Anyway, it was better than nothing, and that seemed like the best deal they could make.

“Well, congratulations on your upcoming marriage,” I said.

“Yes, we’re excited,” the woman beamed. The man looked away.

“No doubt you are,” I said. “No doubt.” I repeat myself like that sometimes.

Japan, seriously. What a country. Anyway, I had a lot more to say on this subject, like about how not all women are alike and the dangers of overgeneralizing, but I’m on the train to Yoko’s house now, so I gotta slam down this chu-hi, buy some breath mints, and get running. Maybe I’ll edit it later, once I finish cooking dinner and she’s in the tub. Jeez, I should’ve picked up some flowers too. She’s gonna be mad. Well, that’s probably not gonna change anytime soon, unless I marry her like she keeps asking me to. Then I guess that’d solve all my problems. Ah jeez.

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About Ken Seeroi

102 Comments

  1. I’m the kind of person that would hold someone to their threat of, “Never mind. I’ll just drink tap water. ” There is no way I could put up with that sort of thing on a regular basis.

    I don’t know if that makes me a reasonable person who doesn’t make knee-jerk reactions, or a prick.

    • Yeah, I was the same way when I came to Japan. What I came to realize is that, far from being an aberration, this is a common communication style here. If you look for it in Japanese dramas, you’ll see it everywhere.

      What’s really being communicated is: “There’s something wrong, and I need your help/understanding/love/cooperation.”

      To say, “Well, suit yourself, drink tap water if you like,” is to say that you don’t care about the other person.

      This is part of that “indirect Japanese communication” that people talk so much about. Japanese folks often won’t state (or don’t realize themselves) what the real issue is, so this is how it comes out.

      I’ve no doubt that this difference in communication styles is one of the issues with international marriage in Japan.

      The other thing is that, and I hate to say this but, some Japanese people like to make things difficult. The concept of “let’s make things as easy as possible” doesn’t really exist here. People value hard work, and if it’s not hard, they make it hard. There’s no reason anybody’d have to work until midnight, just like there’s no reason to wash the sheets and towels every day. But they value doing things the hard way. Again, there’s no shortage of examples of this (three different slippers for different rooms of the house, eating with sticks instead of a spoon, cooking dinner that requires fifteen separate tiny plates).

      And this extends to relationships. Sometimes one person will make things difficult, create some little drama, just to enable the other person to show how much they care by helping to solve the problem.

      Hey, it’s a complicated country. Anyone wanting to find a Japanese partner—particularly one who speaks only Japanese and holds Japanese values—would be well-advised to tread carefully.

      • That’s a really good point that I honestly didn’t consider, cultural/language differences. I guess that would make me a reasonable person in the west, and a prick in Japan. :P

        Have you ever encountered Japanese folk who had spent a lot of time in the US? It would be interesting to know if you noticed any differences in their values, communication, etc.

        • “Have you ever encountered Japanese folk who had spent a lot of time in the US? It would be interesting to know if you noticed any differences in their values, communication, etc.”

          I know many Japanese people like that, some of whom are close friends. And I’d have to say that yes, they’re completely different. Living abroad for a few years utterly changes them. They communicate much more openly, and are frequently critical of the “Japanese” way of doing things. They seem to have a really hard time re-assimilating back into Japanese society and work-life.

          I’d say that the average Japanese person loves Japan and never wants to leave. But the folks who live abroad often don’t want to come back.

  2. This sucks. Really, poor people- I mean… so sad that men and women will probably lead unfulfiling lives… and they know it, but can’t do anything about it.

    I can only imagine this troubles you more than you’d like to admit. I know it surely troubles me. But hey… at least we can hope they’ll find happiness in the future.

    I can only wish you best of luck in your future with women. I’m pretty sure you are not looking to get married, now do you?

    I’ll prob be a bachelor 4 life- That thing about women getting angry as soon as they get married also occurs worldwide ;)

    • Honestly, I’m divided on the subject of marriage.

      On the one hand, it certainly presents some challenges, even if you’re from the same culture and have the same values. Money management and decision making are difficult even for couples who are closely aligned in their beliefs.

      On the other hand, it’s hard to conceive of living here as a “foreigner” for the rest of my life as a single person. Having a Japanese spouse to help with taxes, retirement, hospital visits, all that complex stuff, would be a great help. I mean, it’s all fun and games when you’re twenty, but what’re you gonna do once you reach 65? Ah jeez, is what I’m saying.

  3. Wow, the more I read about Japanese society from first hand experiences, the more I realize I never ever want to live there ( maybe not even visit). I think I really dodged the killer bullet a while ago. I can’t think of any reason I’d want to live there now… ok, so that’s a half truth. There’s obviously one, but I’d rather if one of those “reasons” came this side of the pond.

    • Well, it’s just a very different culture, and that comes with both good and bad. A lot of people are enthralled with Japan when they first arrive, while long-term ex-pats often grow bitter. But both ways of thinking are overly polarized. Interestingly, I’ve seen Japanese people have the same reaction to the U.S.—it’s great at first, and then later they love it a lot less.

      I guess it’s important is to remember that all places, and people, have both pros and cons. By moving, you gain some, but you also lose some. Things have a way of naturally balancing out.

      And P.S., importing one of those “reasons” does not necessarily solve this problem. Just sayin.

      • Seems to me like you can’t even enjoy the pros of the society because you’d be working from 6 am to midnight 7 days a week until the day you die. Maybe it’s just me but I can’t imagine a life like that being too enjoyable. For what percentage of the male population does that fate hold true? Is there any way to have a job or career in Japan that sufficiently provides for a family while at the same time not requiring you to sell every waking moment of your life?

        As for importing, now that I think of it you’re right. It would be worse. She’d probably expect the married life to be as it is in Japan. At least if I was there every other guy would be in the same boat as me. Need an import model that’s been assembled domestically I guess.

        • As far as work goes in Japan, the norm is from about 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., officially. After that, most people work several, possibly many, hours of overtime. So on average, it’s probably something like 11 hours most days. But it’s not uncommon to meet folks (particularly company men trying to get ahead) who regularly work until midnight, and on the weekends as well. It’s also extremely common for workers to eat at their desks during lunchtime, so it wouldn’t be outrageous to meet someone doing 14-hour days, five days a week, plus eight or ten hours on the weekend. I’ve known people who did more, honestly. Add onto that a 1-hour commute each way, and yeah, you’re pretty busy.

          In terms of percentages, I think you’d need to first separate the office workers from the farmers, delivery truck drivers, and auto mechanics. You’d also need to make a distinction between those working in Tokyo and, say, Sapporo. But for salarymen in Tokyo, I’d venture to say that most are putting in 70-hour-plus weeks on a regular basis.

          And just to clarify, this really isn’t about “providing for a family.” Overtime is frequently unpaid. It’s simply done because it’s expected to be done. Going home on time is like wearing a Speedo on the beach. There’s no law against it, but you probably don’t want to be the only guy doing it.

          So can you enjoy life like that? Well, I’ve read that people are happiest when others around them are doing the same or worse, regardless of what the situation actually is. So in that sense, maybe it’s okay.

          Also, as an aside, you cracked me up with the “assembled domestically” comment—that was awesome. Remind me to use that.

          • Ok, so yourself, how many hours do you put in per day? And in the cities what kind of jobs are there that would NOT be 70+/week? Seems like everyone in a city is a suit-wearing salraryman. You mentioned the farmers and the mechanics and truck drivers; are they worse or better off than the salarymen? Specifically, any idea what hours a railway worker (like a signal or track maintainer for the JR) would be putting in? Just for interest sakes, as I am one myself.

            Oh, and glad you liked that one.

          • Me? Well, I currently work three jobs, so probably about 50 hours a week. Maybe a bit more. But I could work less if I wanted to. As a “non-Japanese” (as they say), I’m not expected to contribute like that. Also being unmarried, I don’t have to answer to anyone. That’s by design.

            As for other members of this society, well, here’s a little snippet of conversation I had recently with a middle-school teacher:

            Me: How are you today?

            Teacher: Ahh, tired. Very tired.

            Me: Oh yeah, what time’d you get here this morning?

            Teacher: Seven-thirty. I had to grade tests.

            Me: Wow, that’s early! …By the way, what time’d you go home last night?

            Teacher (sighing): one a.m.

            This person isn’t a fire-fighter or an emergency-room surgeon—they’re a freaking middle-school teacher. And this isn’t an isolated incident. I can’t conceive of what’s so critical that teachers need to put in that kind of time. Certainly, you’d be hard-pressed to find an American teacher working those hours. If they did, they’re probably end up suing someone. Americans love that.

            But let me back up and answer your question. In general, there are two paths people take towards employment. One is to do non-corporate jobs, like restaurant work, for example. These pay the bills, and usually they’re done by folks who are fairly young. The other is to join a company, in which case you’re often working hard with lots of overtime. The challenge is in going forward, since companies like to hire new people straight out of college. Employees don’t change jobs mid-career as often in Japan. So if someone does a non-corporate job for too long, say past the age of 30, it would be very, very hard for them to get into a company later. Companies provide security, higher pay, and as you get older, less and less work, so that by the time you’re in your mid-fifties, you’re that guy in the back of the office just glumly watching over everybody. You can probably support a family, buy a house, and retire in your early sixties. It’d be tough to do that working for Starbucks. Who’s better off? Hard to say. You’d certainly have more social status working for Mizuho Bank, and be more likely to attract a good-looking mate, if that’s important to you. I guess it depends on what you want out of life.

            As for JR workers specifically, I don’t know. I doubt they’re doing massive overtime, so I’d guess about 50-60 hours a week. But, as in the case of the middle-school teacher, sometimes you’d be surprised. People sure do like to work here.

          • I know you’re generalizing but I’ve got to highlight that this isn’t so different in terms of hours worked as in the US just where you work them is different.

            I have countless people I work with in the US emailing me at all hours of their day. Honestly, I think the US has terrible work life balance because you are expected to be working all the time anywhere you go. And the US doesn’t have public holidays or take vacations. In Japan, when people leave the office, at whatever time, good luck finding them. They’re out drinking, partying, sleeping or something but they’re not doing corporate email, that’s for sure. That was a big culture shock for me coming here and still is although I am adapting and enjoying not doing mail while at dinner or the movies!

            My company, is still a little more traditional. People come to the office even through we have all the technology to work anywhere. We’re slowly making changes and hiring new, younger people is helping accelerate that. In contrast, Apple’s technical support is being delivered by at home agents. No office, you wake up, log in, provide tech support. Citrix, Google and some others are doing similar stuff like working outside of offices to provide new creative mediums. But Japan’s got some added challenges. Like how do you work from home in a 55 square meter apartment with a spouse and kid? I have a co-worker that at 6pm, he goes down to the fourth floor so his team won’t see him so they all go home (trying to support work life balance). His home is populated with a wife and 3 daughters, he’d rather stay at the office.

            Many Japanese apologize for the current work style and say that they are traditional and I prefer to tell them that they’re actually no different, just following the same path as some other countries. 15 years ago in the US, I remember being first to work and I never left before my boss. Now, things are different but mainly because my French boss is working 24×7 via multiple devices. He’s worse than the Japanese! I do think Japan will adjust in some industries and the infusion of youth and foreigners will help.

            One other aspect is people don’t refuse a request which is a shame but again, is changing. People are getting better at saying “no” or “I can’t go to a meeting because I have to go drinking”. Not sure it if hinders their promotability (not on my team!) but they sure are happier.

            But heck, Tokyo is huge and I do see a lot of salary men out there but I’m not so sure that there are different than the people I work with in the US, just where they work is different.

          • I once worked a job in the U.S. where I was on-call 24×7. I’d be asleep, or out in a club, or out for a run, and suddenly get a call and everything was on fire. So that was fun.

            So yeah, this modern life where you’re never off work, that’s terrible. And still, I’d take it over working a desk job in Japan, just because it’s so stressful to sit there elbow-to-elbow in a Japanese office all day long. The intensity of it, man, I just couldn’t deal with it. Would it kill them to install some cubicles? But then nobody could watch you all day long to ensure you were contributing 100% at every moment.

            I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. But that environment is so toxic, and to do that long after the sun goes down, I just can’t take it. Makes teaching English seem like a dream job.

          • Yup. My SO (an NJ) just started at a gaishikei, and its lucky if she gets home by 9. 12 is not unusual. Of course on Fridays, its nomikai with senpai. And as for the time she is home, half of it is taken up preparing a presentation or just studying for some further tests the company will administer. The fact that it is a US company doesn’t seem to have much effect on corporate culture. And the wages aren’t that great.

            @CBM mate, it’s no cake walk. Especially if you are coming from a developed country with a solid social welfare system, like Australia. I had no freaking idea of the extent to which I would be taking a hammering to the quality of my life on all nearly levels across the board, from living space, to wages, to human relationships, to quality of education. As a return for investing thousands of hours learning Japanese, I have been rewarded with stuff (like a scholarship) that a lot of Japanese people would love to have. Only, the amount awarded is actually not that much, and is pretty much given to any and all PhD students in Australia if they don’t have the means to support themselves. I definitely made a lot of good friends here (primarily other foreigners). For people from countries like the Ukraine, or Chile, Japan can be an understandable choice. For the rest of us, we might be scratching our heads at what the heck we were thinking. I have noticed that like Ken I have a long list of things that I like. Only, most of those things, like neat little products, or good food, aren’t really the essential things in life when you get down to it. At least not for a Westerner. Opportunities for self determination, a modicum of respect or even friendliness from strangers, time to just goof off or be with your loved ones, its easy to take for granted those kinds of things. Sorry, I’m in a bad mood today. I was turned away from a hat store by a guy who told me “members only”. (that means, go away foreigner, only politely). A hat store. And no, I don’t speak to Japanese people in English at all. Or broken/weird Japanese. I’m just guilty of being tall and foreign looking.

          • A members-only hat store? What is this—Texas?

            If I could star a comment, I’d do that with yours. In a few sentences, you perfectly summed up the challenges of living in Japan, whereas it took an entire website for me to do so. Nicely done. And now I feel silly.

    • Wow, lots of good info here. Thanks for all of the responses. My current job also involves me being on call about 1/4 of the time and working odd sifts, but still seems like it’d be better than a Japanese office. Makes me wonder why, despite knowing all of these things, people still want to try living and integrating themselves into Japanese society. Honestly speaking for me if it wasn’t for some inexplicable attraction to Japanese girls I would never have really considered it as a real possibility. What is it that makes people want to go, and then after the hardship, stay?

      • Well, the overwhelming majority of people don’t stay, that’s for sure. I wonder what the average duration is? Maybe 2 or 3 years at most. I think the adventure and novelty of a new country and culture is the primary draw. Then once that wears off, Japan just becomes a place where you never quite fit in and it’s hard to read the newspaper.

        It’s also worth noting that Westerners rarely work as hard or as long as Japanese people—at least until they get married, and then all bets are off. That’s been known to cure more than one ex-pat of their attraction to Japanese girls.

  4. Jeez, you had me at the first paragraph. It was like you were creating episodes from my past relationships that never got the chance to happen–but certainly would have if there’d been more rainy days and my exes had liked chicken more.

    I think more positive gestures work the same way, actually. I often recall an anecdote a friend told me several years back. He tended to look for differences when he first came to Japan, and was quick to latch onto the fact that his wife’s family never vocalized their love for each other. Coming from an affectionate American family, this really got to him. His wife’s mom would argue with the daughter for 10 minutes, insisting she take home huge bags of rice whenever she visited, but would never just say, “I love you.”

    Then he realized that foisting huge bags of rice onto her daughter WAS the way this lady expressed her love. The whole thing kind of made him realize that ultimately, people are people, and they mostly express the same things. They just learn different ways of expressing them.

    When I heard this account, it hit me like a ton of prefabricated plastic designed to look like bricks. Suddenly it made sense that my girlfriend, who was doing fine on her own, was sent huge boxes of fruits and vegetables from her parents so often.

    • Yeah, that’s it. Something I hear a lot (in Japanese) is, “don’t catch a cold” or “be careful with your health.” And while the literal meaning is certainly intended, I think the deeper thought being expressed is “I care about you.” Even someone asking you to run to the station at night with an umbrella is a way of showing that you’re important. After all, she called you, not somebody else. So in that sense, it’s affectionate. But still, having to run to the station in the rain, well, I’d probably just prefer she texted me a heart symbol.

  5. Now, I understand what you were talking about before regarding your complicated love life…. and O’boy that’s complicated. Though I still think that Yoko might be a good thing for you after all and might help you to find discipline in your life….Tehe! Yet another wonderfully satirical CM that speaks volumes. I really enjoyed reading this Ken, thanks so much for the entertainment and education. I think that if I do win that lottery, I certainly won’t entertain fantasies about coming to Japan to meet one of those so called “Yamato Nadeshiko” girls. I guess they really don’t exist anymore – Waaaaah. BTW, does Yoko read your Blog….hmmmmm! You sir are indeed exceptionally honest, brave, wise and maybe a little bit silly stupid in your choices, but eminently qualified to be a Sage for all MANkind!

    I got a 504 error the first time I posted, so this might be a duplicate!

    • Well, I count on the fact that most people can’t understand English at a high level, and I use the phrase “just joking” a lot. Beyond that, well, it makes for a lively discussion, to say the least.

      And sorry about that 504 error. After I posted this, the traffic must have picked up. I need to encourage my hosting company to buy more hamster wheels. Faster, you furry little devils! Run faster! Oh, but you’re so cute. Okay, you can take a rest. I’m a sucker for cuteness.

  6. Yay, finally a new blog post! ^____^

    Yes, it seems a lot of foreign men are surprised when they learn the truth.
    I had a foreign co-worker. He’s married to a Japanese woman, they also have kids together.
    Whenever we (co-workers) went to an izakaya after work, he often couldn’t come along as he either didn’t have money or had to ask his wife for permission first (and didn’t get to go).

    I think especially the fact that the man doesn’t have control over the money he earned is something a lot of foreign man struggle with.
    Luckily I’m female, so I don’t have to worry about this, but I’m sure it would bother me to no end if I were a man! :/

    The fact that most Japanese wifes are in charge of basically everything coupled with the fact that some foreign husbands don’t speak Japanese very well often leads to the situation where the wife has even more responsibility / power.

    Whatever I asked my previous co-worker (e.g. where he got his cellphone from, how he got his credit card), he couldn’t answer as he wasn’t the one who took care of it. All I ever got to hear was: “I dunno. You gotta ask my wife.”
    I find that quite horrible! ;)

    • I know, I was like, “Yay, I finally wrote something!” No one’s more excited than me when new stuff finally appears, I think.

      You’re right that the lack of language ability greatly compounds a man’s dependence upon his wife in Japan. Of course, Japanese men aren’t in any great position either. I knew one guy whose wife died, and he was utterly helpless. He’d never made a piece of toast in his life, and suddenly in his sixties had to learn how to manage money and operate the washing machine. Like a child, really. It’s unbelievable.

      I’ve heard that older men sometimes move into boarding houses when they get older, where the proprietress cooks the meals for them. Hopefully that’s true, since that may be my retirement plan if I stay in Japan long enough. Then again, eh, why wait for retirement?

    • Well, the money’s supposed to be shared if you’re a single income family, right? I’m not sure the right way to approach that as my wife has always worked so we pay into the mortgage/grocery kitty and move on. Although she does influence me on adding more to the mortgage at every chance :-) I think this is hard for any single income family….must check with my mom how she dealt with my dad.

      “Depending” on the language skills of a Japanese spouse has a flip side you may not be observing:
      All these credit card and mobile phone companies have English speaking help; there are over 1M foreigners living in Japan now so savvy companies know that having English makes them attractive. But, do I really want to deal with Softbank and NTT Broadband if I don’t need to? I was the idiot that told my wife Softbank has English help (in addition to Korean). She didn’t know this because she doesn’t read the English advertisement, she only reads the Japanese ad. I had to be super quick and suggest that waiting for the English speakers would probably take another 30 minutes so why not just deal with a local since we’re both getting phones.

  7. Just finished reading all the articles on the index.
    I really like to read your observation on the Japanese society, they are very interesting both because of your writing style and the realistic side of Japan you reveal.
    Most sites about Japan on the internet are like “Japan is so awesome XD”, yours is really one of a kind.

    • I appreciate that. Maybe that’s one of the things that got me writing this site. Very little of what I read depicts anything even close to “real Japan,” and granted I’m only one guy, but I try to convey a bit of what’s actually going on, at least as it occurs to me. Thanks much for reading.

  8. I’ve figured that fact by myself already but hey, this is one of the best blog entries I’ve read about it, or about japanese society. I’ll make sure to share it to people when needed.

  9. It seems like basically the couples are slaving away for each other, just in different environments. It is interesting though how in some of the most (supposedly) patriarchal societies women actually hold much more power than they appear to have… but then I guess it depends on one’s point of view. The question is: does the mom decide if they are going to buy new furniture because she wants to have the power in the family, or does she make the decision because the dad can’t be bothered to make this decision and buy a sofa?

    • Yeah, that’s a real chicken-and-egg problem. But when you see a man in a suit sitting in a tiny lime-green car, you gotta wonder if that was his idea. Yeahh, you see me rollin’. Well, maybe it was just a really good deal.

  10. For me personally, I’ve been living in the inaka for the last 4 years or so, where remnants of a more pastoral / pre city life still exist, and it’s funny, the lifestyle you described of men and women really works well in small farm communities (women are the homemakers and men are the bread winners). However, I believe somewhere along the way when everyone started moving out to the cities, peoples’ roles and mindsets didn’t evolve much with the changing of environment. People out here in my inaka town seem much more relaxed and happier than those who live in the hustle of the city. All except for teachers.

    Anyhow, I’ve really enjoyed your writing and I really love reading the discussions that take place afterwards.

    • It makes a lot of sense that people who live out in the country have a happier and less stressful way of life. Apparently you can’t put several million people all in the same place without some negative effects. Go figure.

  11. How bout marrying Japanese girl and bring her back to your country? I wonder if the situation will still be the same..

    • Well, it sounds good on paper.

      I’ve seen this tried, and I’d say it comes with two challenges.

      The first is that, even if the woman has a strong desire to do so, living overseas is no picnic. You have to say sayonara to everything you’ve ever known, along with your friends and family, and move to a place where people view you as an outsider, you’re the one with the funny accent, and it’s hard to find a job. That’s a lot to ask of a person. And who’s she going to rely on, and potentially blame every time something goes wrong? The idiot who’s idea it was to move to Idaho, that’s who.

      The second thing is, this notion that the woman is the decision-maker and controls the money—that’s a value, and values don’t change just because you switch locations. So now on top of everything else, you’re going to ask her to give up control in the home as well. How is this a good deal for her? She’s got no family, friends, social status, or power in the relationship. That’s not an easy adjustment.

      Where I’ve seen this work is in couples where the woman is already fairly “un-Japanese”: she speaks a good amount of English, and understands and accepts foreign values. But then it doesn’t matter so much where you live, actually. I’ve also seen some very “Japanese” women attempt this, and it’s like heading for a divorce at warp speed.

      I applaud you for looking for a loophole though.

      • Looking for loophole.. LOL.. I like that..

        Ayway you’re so true. Culture shock is something that never easy to deal with. Not mentioning move to another country, my wife and I came from different part of Java, still same island, and there is something different that I still sometime find it hard to deal with. But Love conquers all, doesn’t it? :D

        I think I watched anime too much, lol, because they depict life in Japan just fine. The family, the school, everything seems “normal” to me. A lot of interesting or I can say contradictive things that I found in your articles.

        • I don’t know about anime, but I watch a lot of made-for-TV dramas about family life, and they seem to get it about right. I’d be interested to hear your impression of dramas like that, if you ever watch any.

          • Hi, Ken:

            Great post, very funny. Had me giggling like two Austrailan men/ Japanese school girls/ CFO who’s just realized the jury believed him.

            Any suggestions on the Japanese family drama? TYIA!

          • I watched the series “Tonbi” a few months ago and it was quite good. I think you may be able to find it online, and possibly with English subtitles, if that’s your thing. If you’re in Japan, you can rent it at most video stores. You might also check out “Hotaru no Hikari.” Not sure if that’s online though. It’s kind of girlie, but I liked it for some reason. Probably cause I’m kind of girlie. Nah, that can’t be it.

          • I have the links for these dramas subbed in English, Liam:

            http://www.gooddrama.net/japanese-drama/hotaru-no-hikari

            http://www.gooddrama.net/japanese-drama/hotaru-no-hikari-2

            http://www.gooddrama.net/japanese-drama/tonbi

            Tonbi is really great in that it contrasts Family values over a couple of generations (highlighting the changing values) and does a great job of showing how Japanese families interact. The way it goes back and forth in time is really interesting as it adds to the story and I highly recommend it. That’s not to say that “Hotaru no Hikari” is bad, I just liked Tonbi better.

  12. Great article

  13. Thanks for another great post.

    I found your site a bit over a year ago while I was on exchange at a small uni in Yamaguchi-ken. A lot of living over there felt frustrating at the time, so it was always good to hear someone thoughtfully describing experiences and observations without being either flowery or bitter, and in doing it in a way that’s been always fun to read.

    I’ve been back home for a while now, but I still check here every couple of days. I’m still always genuinely excited whenever I see you’ve put up something new.

    Anyway, that’s about it for me.
    Thanks again for all the thoughts and fun.

    • Thanks for writing. I enjoy hearing about the lives of other people in Japan, or who’ve been to Japan, both in what they find interesting and what’s frustrating. Thanks for reading.

  14. I found your delightful blog quite by accident. I lived in Japan for nearly 10 years in the mid 70′s through the mid 80′s. 2 years as a Mormon missionary and the next 8 years as a free lance radio announcer and, of course, English teacher.

    My first week on Japanese soil I met a fellow returned Mormon missionary who was, quite frankly, the handsomest man I had ever met, and I’m totally straight. His mother was an unremarkable Japanese woman and his father was a rotund, bald, average white American. He showed me a family photo of him and his brothers and sisters, all of them exceptionally RIDICULOUSLY, good looking. As a missionary, they teach you the value of setting and achieving goals. Right then and there, I set a goal for myself to marry a Japanese girl. I goal I accomplished 3 years later when I married an exceptionally tall and leggy Japanese beauty. And, sure enough, I sired 4 exceptionally handsome and beautiful kids. (no…really … not just ’cause they’re mine, they really are RIDICULOUSLY good looking.)

    You neglected, however, to give equal time to the other variable in the Japanese/ Gaijin equation. The Japanese woman’s expectation when she marries a Gaijin.

    Their expectations are for carefree luxury, high status, and a degree of wealth and freedom and travel that the typical Japanese woman dreams of from a young age. If her husband can provide these things, all well and good … if not, he will soon discover the code of Bushido being acted out on his sorry, pasty, white ass. No nurses a grudge or exacts revenge better that the daughters of Samurai. The old Japanese story of the 47 Samurai shows just how far their willing to go.

    Now, I don’t want to suggest that my life has been particularly unpleasant. Quite the contrary. But I do need to point out that our disappointment that these exquisite creatures end up to be something quite different, similarly, they have their own fantasies about us that we could never hope to fulfill.

    I LOVED the depictions of the guilt trips that they lay on us that you portrayed … I literally LOL’ed. So true. And it never ends, even after 34 years of marriage…

    Love your blog.

    Steve

    • Wow, 34 years of marriage—that’s massive. I don’t think I could lay on the sofa and watch The Simpsons for 34 years, and I love The Simpsons, not to mention my sofa. So congratulations on that, and on your ridiculously good-looking kids.

      You’re absolutely right; women have a set of expectations when they get married that generally does not include preparing delicious dinners while you lay around in your underwear. I don’t know why that is. I’d be happy if they’d wear only a bra and panties, so I don’t know why it should be different for me. Obviously the universe is unfair.

      But seriously, thanks for writing in. It’s great to hear the perspective of someone married to a Japanese woman, and a success story at that.

    • OK, hmmmm… just to understand this Japanese woman’s expectations of a westerner that you’re talking about Steve… Do you think winning the publishers clearing house 3 million dollar lottery with $345,000 US dollars a year for the rest of your life could qualify as having enough money?? If so, do you think I could find one of those “Yamato Nadeshiko” girls to come to the US to play house with me (I specifically mean one that is older: say in her 40′s – as I’m no spring chicken). I’m not interested in having children, btw.

      I know the chances are slim, but I still wanted to keep the fantasy alive after Ken crushed it in this post….LOL. A guys gotta have some dream to keep the old imagination going, ya ahuh! Congrats on the 34 years also mang…. BRAVO!! Loved your post, thanks for sharing!!

      • Nice guy though you are, I’m pretty sure with that kind of cash, you’d be a million times more popular. Or three million times, actually.

  15. I died at “It’s true,” they laughed, and ran away, giggling like Australian men.” The only reason I’m alive now is because I had to read the rest of the post. If it wasn’t for that I’d be an overweight corpse slumped on the ground.

    You’re funny Mr. Seeroi

  16. Oh my god.
    Never seen it this way. Omg.

    Hey are you really getting married? Because I’m going to be very jealous, and I don’t think i’ll be the only one!

  17. Ken Seeroi, great blog in general and a very good post indeed!
    It’s all true, the above,I married one, brought her home. However, export can work but as you point out, it works out better, if they are a little “foreign” already, have lived abroad before etc…
    In terms of finance, you got to apply the “when in Rome…” rule from the start, new country, new rules, Boum! Socially, women are good at making new friends, better than men, I feel.
    You also mentioned the family, I think it is way easier to be away from a Japanese family, we hardly ever met them when we lived an hour away! What’s there to miss apart from the 10 kilos of rice and the veggies? You can get those in the supermarket you know!
    Finally, in terms of blame when things go wrong as they are bound to do sometimes, my wife never blames me for moving home and I used to do it all the time to her when we were in Japan, so there… I think I lost my own point there… carry on everyone, very good discussion, don’t mind me!

    keep it up Ken, you good-looking devil! :)
    Love,
    Jerry

    • That’s certainly a success story, and good point about the family. It’s not uncommon for Japanese people to live with very sparse family contact, so living abroad may not be as big of a deal.

      I think it really comes down to whether one’s significant other really wants to live overseas, and has clear expectations of what that entails. Maybe it’s analogous to life in Japan for long-term “foreigners.”

  18. I have to stop reading this blog at work.. i am literally 8 feet away from my boss, divided by a glass wall and i have to get under my desk so he wont see me laughing. Excellent work as always! hopefully you can hang in there and keep dishing out these experiences!

    • Thanks very much. I find hiding under one’s desk has a world of advantages. If I could work from down there, I would. Maybe a really short chair is the ticket.

  19. Hey man, this post has stuck with me. Ive read it like three times now. Its deep.

    As a giggling Australian married to a Japanese lass it rang true. I was thinking about what Ian Come2nd said about exporting a Japanese girl … I find that culture shock can make you exaggerate your native culture. Like when I first moved to Tokyo, my fairly neutral Aussie accent suddenly turn all “struth mate, crikey ding-a-ling-a-dingo, flat out like a lizard drinking, maaaaate”. A colleague suggested I was subconsciously trying to hold onto my accent for fear of losing it – something that never concerned me before. And when my wife and I moved to Germany, she bought up all the natto and tofu in Munich, and took like ten baths a day (ok maybe just seven). Same thing I rekon.

    But she sure as shit wears the pants. I have been saying we should move back to Japan, but she is worried about radiation … therefore, its a no go.

    What your relationship to the radiation issue Ken?? Is it a day-to-day fear? background noise? Forgotten memory? Ongoing conversation?

    M

    • oh yeah by the way, I saw this and thought of you. I would love to see you get this cause youre the man:

      https://jobs.gaijinpot.com/job/view/lang/en/region/JP-R3/orderby/latest/job_id/94879#.U2GR4oGSx1Y

      M

    • Yeah, wow, there’s a great question that I’m completely unqualified to weigh in on. It’s easy to forget about something that you can’t see, taste, or feel. But how bad is it really? I’ve no idea. I mean, I still eat lots of fish, and those damn things swim in the ocean. Except for acquiring the useful ability to see in the dark, I can report no ill effects.

      I guess for me personally, I’ve sort of put it into the same category as getting a suntan. I know it’s not good for me, but I still do it for some semi-irrational reason. Because it feels good? Because it makes me look fabulous in a white shirt? Who knows. Maybe living in Japan’s the same.

  20. Great post. Married to a Japanese woman myself and she does manage the money but only because she’s an accountant and I am actually updated and appraised on where the money is all going and how much we’re saving. I’d probably spend it all on Suntory Premium Malt and combini fried chicken if it were up to me . Other than that, house work is pretty split.

    I think there may be a little bit of a sample bias to your anecdote about the Australians. There’s probably lots of happy international marriages, but those husbands aren’t hanging out at the bar. I’m pretty sure that even back in America you could walk into a bar and hear some guys complaining about married life.

    Still, I knew an Australian with a Japanese wife who literally had to go straight home for work without any stops. His wife had him down to the minute. It was insane. We lived on the same street, used the same train, and often ended up walking home together. If we passed by my apartment in the middle of a conversation he would end the conversation and go straight home. Not even a short pause for a summary, just “Sorry, we’ll talk later. Wife’s waiting!” and he’d keep walking.

    • Yeah, now that’s what I was talking about, that guy. I know there are folks like yourself who have a balanced marriage, but it’s the men who are controlled, down to the smallest detail, that shock me. I see a lot of that, and it scares me. The fear. I live in constant fear.

  21. I’m getting all excited to get out of Tokyo for a bit and thought about this article. Is this pretty consistent across the country or more prevalent in Tokyo? I’ve noticed that people outside of Tokyo/Kanto region do this weird thing with their mouth which shows their teeth. In English its called smiling and come to think of it, I don’t know the Japanese word(!). I know tanoshii means pleasant and happy but I always get the kanji screwed up with drug store which may or may not be an interesting coincidence. But I digress. Tokyo’s got a distinct culture (grumpy/grunty) and wondered if this is also part of it? Is there more frivolity and pants sharing outside Kanto?

    • Hmmm, yeah. It’s true that once you leave Tokyo, pretty much everything improves. Although…from what I’ve seen—and granted I’m just one dude dating his way across the nation—women “out in the country” have even more traditional attitudes. The workload of people outside of Tokyo is certainly less, but the male/female roles are, if anything, even more pronounced. You know, you get out in the heartland, and it’s a place where men are men, and women are too. There’s none of your fluffy-haired girlie-boy hosts driving a forklift. Well, maybe a few. But less.

      • “fluffy-haired girlie-boy hosts driving a forklift” – that’s an image I had never considered and it’s now ridiculously burned into my imagination.

  22. Another great Post.

    I am in Japan working in academia and luckily, as with academia in most places, things seem a bit more relaxed. There are still some people who put in a 12 hour day (but not many) but no-one seems to work weekends.

    However, even though some people put in lots of hours, I think they are more so just being present in work rather than working at work if you know what I mean. They don’t seem to be anymore productive for their extra hours.

  23. so hurry Ken.. Marry a cute japanese woman, and show the world that you can conquer them.. Lol..

    • Is that one of those things like, The legend of Ken Seeroi: He wrassled a bear, swum to the North Pole, tamed a Japanese gal? Because if so, I like it. Got a nice ring to it.

  24. Hey Ken,

    I heard that Abe is finally pushing to change the Japanese constitution to allow it to have a fully operational military and that he’s insisting that the Emperor become the REAL head of State for Japan again (versus the titular position he now holds)…, so does that mean the Emperor really wears the pants again in Japan??? LOL, sorry couldn’t resist the humor! Seriously, I also hear that included in those proposed changes to the constitution are planned drastic curtailing of the free press and a complete overhaul of the education system in Japan. I was sorta thinking that he’s going too far; almost as if they’re planning to re-instate the militarists of old. I got this info from a think tank site that I belong to and it is not link-able and I cannot verify that this is indeed the fact, its just I wonder if the Japanese press is covering this much as I haven’t seen it in many of the Japanese news that I see online. BTW, Abe made a speech on Jan 1 of this year talking about the changes he wanted in the constitution to protect Japan in general, yet he never mentioned the changes I just saw on this think tank; so, I’m wondering if their so called source (an anonymous Diet member) is just blowing smoke??

    • Bud, I’m completely certain that you know more about Japanese politics than I do, and probably more than about ninety percent of Japanese people as well.

      Under Abe’s rule, Japan does seem to be intent on making changes to the military and to education. There’s no doubt that the economy is undergoing some major changes as well.

      Curtailing free press would be a big concern, but I think this is something that’s happening globally. I think governments everywhere are trying to figure out how to control this Wild West internet, the Twitter-empowered masses, and how to manage digital currency. All over the world, governments are losing the grip they’ve traditionally had on their people. I mean, just imagine what an election would look like if people could vote via the internet. And why not? Since you can certainly verify identities well enough to access bank accounts. But I digress. So Japan. Yeah, it wouldn’t surprise me if Japan was making plans to control the media to some extent. But I’m pretty sure that’s many countries as well.

      • Well,

        I thought you might be interested about the education overhaul, because it might affect you. The sedition clauses to the constitution that I saw referenced could be used to accuse anyone of undermining the Emperor of Japan; e.g. some of your blog might be considered seditiously funny (the operative word here is seditious).

        Here in America they have got oppression down to a science. It’s so easy for them to completely suppress the free press and get around the first amendment of the US Constitution: they just have Billionaire Bilderberg executive committee members otherwise known as (a part of) the Illuminati – George Soros (the European Billionaire – backed by Warren Buffet) and Rupert Murdock (The Australian Billionaire – who is also backed by the Rockefeller/Rothschild conglomerate) buy all the mainstream Media and Press. Then also create mouthpiece internet organizations to put out disinformation on a daily basis.

        On one side they have CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC spout the far left inflammatory socialist rhetoric and then the other side – Fox News spouts the Right-wing religious/conservative intolerance. They always try to obfuscate all the issues and their main job is to polarize and divide the people keeping in mind to confuse the common lay person with catchy sound bites so that no one really understands any issue (to keep them from organizing any opposition).

        But if any regular people do find a way to organize, then they are branded crazies and racist, or the IRS audits them and then a dozen or so government agencies harasses their leaders and donors, but then the government avoids prosecution for violating the law (the Hatch act that prohibits government organizations from being used for political purposes) by having the US Attorney General, the lead law enforcer in the US government to ignore the law or just refuse to enforce it.

        Even still, if they put a sedition clause in a new Japanese constitution and re-instituted the Emperor as a living God, they could bury people in jail for years without any real charges and just say that someone insulted the Emperor, like they did in the 1930′s which eventually led to militarism and WWII. If they overhauled the education system, they could really start brainwashing kids again, like they did in the past (sort of like Hitler Youth) and I even bet English would stop being a required subject too!

        But you are so right, this is a global problem!! I wonder if we here in the US could find some common ground with the Japanese in opposing oppression from our different governments…LOL! Do you think that the Japanese feel oppressed at all?? Well, anyway this all ties back into “Who wears the pants in Japan?” ya know. See I’m keeping with the theme after all; I’m not rambling… I think!

    • Have you seen the current emperor with his ginormous cheeks? Heck, have you seen the royal family? They’re kind of a wonky group and having them be more than a figurehead would be a LOT of change for the Japanese people. I mean, wow, if Abe said this, what’s he thinking? Maybe he’s a secret love child of the royals?

      • I hear that Timo, but I wonder what the Japanese people think about this happening. I for one have been agonizing about our lost freedoms here in the US and wonder if its all part of the “One World Order” group (some call them the Illuminati) that sponsors the Bilderbergs:

        http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EE22Ak03.html

        BTW, meeting foreign organizations without permission from the US government is supposedly illegal for government officials and is supposed to be justification for immediate dismissal, yet its been happening for 60 years. I find it odd that both George Soros and Rupert Murdock are both executive committee members of the Bilerbergs since in public their politics and personal beliefs are totally on opposite sides of the spectrum, so maybe they are playing both sides of the issues while remaining pals behind the scenes.

        I know the Bilderbergs/Rothchilds control all of the EU and the US is slowly slipping into their clutches as more and more billionaires are banding together to control our economies and government. The funny thing is that they seem to play both sides in public and control all politics (both democrats and republicans) while in private they collude to further their agenda (creating a nanny state in the US – where 47% of the population no longer works and is getting government handouts and the voting population is manipulated and dis-informed by a controlled propagandist media constantly spinning lies) while they control the corporations, stocks, bonds and all banking in the United States (FYI, the US FED that prints our money and decides interest rates is privately owned and controlled by these people).

        I was thinking that if they made those changes to the Japanese constitution, that Japan will also start to lose their individual freedoms and give those in control… absolute power to suppress the truth. I would search for links between Japanese politicians and Abe to these Bilderberg and G8 meetings and agendas in order to see if they have any influence over Japan. Here’s an interesting interview made with British MP George Galloway about the connections and timing of G8 and Bilderberg agendas/meetings:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1Y3UYCf10Q

        • This is a lot for me to chew on Bud. While I’m sorting through some of this, you might like the latest. The ability of the military to come to an allies’ aid likely won’t be a change in the constitution as that requires coordinating 2/3 majority across the Diet. Rumor has is that the government is considering to “reinterpret” the constitution. Now that’s a slippery slope!

          There’s not a lot of investigative journalism Japan to begin with. You really have to look for it to find someone digging into a topic and Jake Adelstein covers this well in his book (Fukushimaupdate blog is another good example).

          At the end of it, I’m not sure who’s wearing the pants in Japan but most people seem to be content to keep moseying along as long as it’s not super disruptive to the life they’ve created and perhaps that’s why the salaryman gig still is in style.

          • I hear that too Timo and I’m also wondering how slippery it will get when Japan and China start really getting serious about territorial disputes; look at what’s happening to Vietnam now with China moving in oil platforms into Vietnamese territorial waters to drill while daring anyone to challenge them. Abe might just be tempted to throw the entire old constitution away as the situation requires and call for a new constitutional convention; while in the mean time, he does anything he thinks is necessary.

            I was a little disappointed recently when a fictional food manga called “Oishinbo” faced severe public criticism and was put on Hiatus when they dared to show the affects of radiation poisoning in one of their episodes. It seemed as though the media was more worried about making people scared than openly discussing the threat of radiation poisoning with the population. I think that this might be indicative of how the Japanese will react to a direct military threat from China. They’ll let the government take whatever measures it wants too considering the good of the many and will rally to the nationalistic banner. Its almost like the Japanese government is preparing to take advantage of the situation with China to rid itself of the old constitution. I’m sure the re-interpreting their doing now is to start preparing the military for a rapid expansion.

            As Rahm Emanual (Obama’s main dirty trickster) once said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that, is it’s an opportunity to do things that you could never do before.”

            Another reason Japan MUST expand their military is Obama’s gutting of the US defense budget. Despite the treaty requiring the US to back Japan, I wouldn’t bet on President Obama being able to live up to those treaty obligations. We can’t even keep 3 Carrier task force groups fully operational out of the 12 we have (two are in the middle east and 1 is understaffed), so we wouldn’t be able to back up the Japanese with any real Naval military might (a carrier battle group is formidable, but the Chinese know that one task force could be overwhelmed easily with their current numbers and therefore it doesn’t have the same threat potential it did ten years ago), short of a few cruisers or destroyers or possibly a few submarines; and it would take several weeks to a few months to deploy them because of the sorry state of readiness were in now.

            I hope the Japanese pants aren’t too big for them to wear when the time comes that they have to put them on because China is already too big for it’s britches….hmmmm!!

  25. Great post as always Ken. Your like an Understanding and Accepting Japanese Quirks For Dummies guide. Can’t find those at the local Barne’s and Noble. One week till I get to enjoy some nice Sake ice cream while walking around the streets of Japan. Ah waking up drunk on the tatami floor after rolling off the futon. Great times. What’s the deal with the stairs in rural Japanese homes? I feel like they are American stairs reversed. Extra small place to set your foot with a large drop. I ended up foregoing my socks in the house for fear of being the gaijin who slipped and fell down the stairs. Walking down I had to inherit good foot dexterity since you can only fit less than half your foot on the steps. Mind you the stairs in Hineji castle were worse. Almost ladder-esque with the great distance between steps.

    • Yeah, I used to live on the second floor of a Japanese house with wooden steps. Pretty sure they were waxed on a daily basis. Of course there was no railing. I’m lucky to be alive, honestly.

      You know, stairs in general are one of those things that you’d think mankind would have worked out a few millenia ago. I mean, you just make them this high and this deep–how hard could it be, right? But somehow it seems like everyone’s gotta reinvent stairs every time, like, I’ve a great idea—I’ll make mine a different size, and they’ll be so much better.

      So I don’t know, maybe the person who designed the house you were in had super long legs and really tiny feet. That’s probably it. Damn architects.

  26. Really enjoyed your article Ken, I’ve just arrived back in Kyushu after a month selling cars and motorbikes in Australia!
    These were the remnants of my previous life in Australia with my Japanese wife of 30 years.
    So now we are back here living in Japan and yes she runs everything , she gives me an allowance,she pays for everything and I couldn’t be happier.
    I suppose the 30 years we lived in Australia together did water down her desire to run the show,well in the home anyway.
    I’ve been back here a week and the only time I’ve put my hand in my pocket is for the clothes locker at my local onsen.
    I suppose the big test will come when I decide on what motorbike I want to buy and ask her for the money.
    Having a war chest for unexpected expenses is always a good idea just in case.

    • Wow, 30 years—that’s awesome. Congratulations on that. You seem to have figured out the secret to a happy marriage, and it sounds like “Just let her run things.” Probably a good idea in any country, actually. Hope you get the bike of your dreams, and don’t have to end up driving one of these things, like some people I know.

      • I quite like these things as you call them, little yellow number plate boxes rule!
        It’s so funny when you go to the local supermarket, everyone backs in to their spot.
        I asked my wife about it and she said something like Japanese people like to do the hardest things first!

  27. Dude, you are scaring the crap out of me. (Long complicated back-story) and I might move to Japan to be with the Japanese woman I met while teaching English in China for three years. And yes, she wants to get married. You talk about the good things and bad things about moving to a new culture and that every ex-pat has a long list of things they don’t like. What’s on your list of good things about living in Japan?

    • Let’s see…the food’s really good, and, hmmm, there’s something else but I can’t really remember what it was. Anyway, there’s a lot of delicious stuff everywhere, so that’s something.

      And then I remembered I made this list, just to remind myself. Check it out. Maybe that’ll help with your fear.

  28. Thanks for pointing that post out to me. I’ve lived in China for three years and all those little (and big) things that bother me have built up into such a negative perspective that I couldn’t shift paradigms even if I were given irrefutable reasons to do so. And I don’t want that to happen again. Really need the positives to hold onto so that the Always A Foreigner feeling is worthwhile.

    Just found your site and will be a regular reader, be it here in China, America, Germany, Austria (my next destinations), or Japan. (Out of courtesy to a previous poster, I have changed my comment name.)

    MacBook

  29. We need a new article man! It’s been weeks!

  30. Poke poke…
    Hello? Is anyone out there?

    I’m waiting with baited breath for some new posts Ken! :)

    • God, it’s good to be wanted.

      Okay, how’s Tuesday? Tuesday work for everybody? Although I have a feeling this is going to cut into my all-night Monday karaoke marathon. Ah, the sacrifices we make.

      • Yes, Ken, I want you…. to finish your book! No Really – s/f (Bang the drum). Ignore the impatient ones Ken and remember that you can get paid for a book and money buys you happiness; well at least you can have more toys trying to find happiness. Though I still really like your blog a WHOLE lot and miss reading it regularly, I would make a sacrifice and wait patiently if you were going to write a book! Ya know, I’d rather have you published and be able to say to all my friend’s… I remember when Ken was just an ordinary drunk sage roaming the karaoke bars of Tokyo looking for love, hmmmmm.

        • Freaking mind control. Internet so powerful…must resist…

          • Think about all the extra beers and chips that you will be able to afford, Time in Japan will be awesome by been drunk all the time( not that you dont do it now but im sure that if little is good more has to be better)

          • When I get a tattoo, it’ll read “More is Always Better.” I plan to get it across my back, between the shoulder blades. Hope they don’t misspell it “Moe” though. That’d be embarrassing.

  31. I’ve never had any interest to live in Japan long term…but I sure do love to visit, and see things from a visitor’s perspective. Your blog definitely entertained me.

    People always had great things to say about Japan. But nothing’s ever pure white or black. Your writing put things into perspective. My ex gf, who happens to be blk american, lived there for 6 months and always gushed about it. My dad visited Japan for a few days on one of his vacations and said it was so, so clean. Anyways, keep up the great work….I’ll be reading much more.

  32. I gotta ask this question to whoever wears the pants in Japan:

    Why do the manga and anime industries constantly promote and exaggerate an untrue (what if) version of WWII???

    There are mangas and animes that have modern Japanese ships travelling back in time and changing history, there are make believe female samurais in another that fly through the air cutting B29s in half, some are about the Atomic Bomb droppings and always paint America as demonic oppressors. There is one that came out in 2012 and was just recently reprinted that re-writes the end of WWII to claim that the US and China take over the country in 1944 after a huge earthquake and tsunami devastates Japan; here is the description of the series:

    “Rose Guns Days takes place in Japan at the end of World War II. Devastated in the aftermath of defeat, the Japanese government complies with the Allies reconstruction plan and the country begins to recover from the loss after a few years, but America and China intricately divide the nation on a municipal level.Eventually, China’s military districts become China-towns, and places controlled by the United States are Americanized. The many Chinese and American immigrants make Japanese people the minority in their own land. Some Japanese are unwilling to accept this fate and secretly gather their strength to challenge the new system. A girl named Rose Haibara works at the club Primavera and lends money to Japanese people so that they can rebuild their lives. Meanwhile, Leo Shishigami is best known for his reputation among women. Everything begins to change when that legendary man meets Rose in the spring of 1947.”

    Note the statement in the description: “The many Chinese and American immigrants make Japanese people the minority in their own land” and think about what that means to be putting that out for children to read or see. It gets even worse than the description on the first page of the manga. The Manga starts with a written passage explaining the natural disaster that has destroyed Japan and ended the war. Then further down the first page, it shows a dirty worn Japanese flag on the ground of a busy city street, as foreign shoes trample it and it says “Japanese are now people from a lost country”.

    What kind of retelling of WWII needs to show something that never occurred (America destroying the sovereignty of Japan to their gain) to stir up anti-foreign hatred towards Americans. This kind of blatant racism against the US (always ignoring the horrors that Japan was guilty of in WWII) is what pisses me off about the Japanese entertainment/movie business and politicians. Historical make believe is fine when you look at positive possibilities, but trying to make bad history even worse while exculpating the Japanese military, government and people from any atrocities in the war is pure racist BS!!!!!!!!!

  33. Telling it this way probably makes the product sell well and the audience doesn’t sound like kids as many manga & anime are targeted specifically for adults. You could have some people believe this alternate history I suppose and these could be the same that turn on their TV and watch NCIS, CSI or whatever US show is in the syndication loop.

    I think what you’re also hitting on is Japan’s gov’t and schools may not be telling the “standard” version of history to it’s younger generations. Let’s first agree to that history is just an interpretation of what happened. Having said that, I think there is a lack of transparency in Japan regarding what happened around WWII. Just like I wasn’t taught by my schools in the US about the genocide waged on the natives in our own country. Heck, I thought all “Indians” were like Tanto in the Lone Ranger. Then I learned they all danced with the wolves on the prairies and learned to speak English amazingly fast. Having visited a few reservations now, I don’t feel any better about what happened, just a little more informed and a lot more guilty as many reservations are not places you’d actively seek out unless you really need a gambling fix.

    I have talked to people in Japan carefully about the topic because as a student of history it does irk me. I’ve found people willing to listen and most are knowledgeable on what happened particularly those younger than 50ish. What I find most contentious is the interpretation. Who’s version of the truth is correct? It’s like the scene in saving private Ryan. The German’s surrender from a bunker on the beach, hands up, and the America’s shot them and say “I don’t speak German”. My dad, an ex-US serviceman, vociferously denies that this would have ever happened and will not watch the movie a second time because of that scene. And it’s not so fun digging up your ghosts right? I can’t tell you the number of books I’ve read on WWII, Korea and Vietnam while I have read zero dedicated to the topic of the US native population.

    So why don’t the Japanese talk about it more, apologize, etc? That’s complicated. Back to the natives of the US. Bud, you probably know more than me how the Bureau of Land Management apologized. I don’t think any president made any public comments but I could be wrong. I don’t know if the content has made it into text books yet. What I’ve heard about Japan is that if the Japanese gov’t started apologizing now, then it opens up a whole bunch of legal liability that the international community will pursue relentlessly and there’s probably no end to the damages. This in itself is sad but I see this same behavior in corporations as well. The days of saying “sorry, my mistake” to a neighbor or friend may have passed us by due to legal complications. It’s almost like Japan lost the window to apologize and now there’s just this awkwardness forever after.

    Is it deliberate propaganda? Perhaps some of it but ultimately, they’re trying to run a business and need content that sells. I don’t think anyone wants to see their own transgressions shoved back into their face. Heck, after Color Purple, I don’t watch any other movies on slavery. So perhaps Japan just needs one monumental movie/book. But then think of the reaction of the neighbors. Now if we didn’t have the flippin war in the first place….well, that’s where you started this post, right?

    • I’ve been interested in Manga and Anime since the late 1980′s, so I’ve been watching a lot of stuff for a very long time. If this was the first Anti-American type manga or anime that I’ve seen or if there were just one a year, it wouldn’t bother me; but recently, they’ve had several circulating. They even had an anti-American arc in the very popular “Hajime no Ippo”, a Classic Manga/Anime as it was just recently continued after years of hiatus. The arc is about the old coach reminiscing about WWII and it portrayed Americans as bullies and blamed them as aggressors against Japan and it just so happened that the love of his life dies from radiation poisoning from Hiroshima.

      Recently, I noticed an increase in the military oriented Manga /Anime series that paint war and military service in a favorable light around two to three years ago and then the anti-American ones started coming out again after that. They even reprinted several old ones that also made out America as a bad country during WWII that were over a decade old. I’ve also read documents about some of the proposed changes to the constitution that Abe has made and they include one to elevate the Emperor to a God status again and a sedition clause to punish those that speak badly of the government. They plan on overhauling the education system also and I wonder if they plan to cancel the English requirement for studies at schools. Seems like the attempt to write new amendments to the Japanese Constitution to allow for a fully functional military takes a back seat to those issues! Frankly, it just seems like there’s too many co-incidences putting anti-American sentiments in the public eye recently that makes me think that there is someone wanting this to happen for a specific reason. I read several articles in Anime magazines about the government funding certain Manga and Anime, and Japan’s government is also a big sponsor and content controller of the entertainment industry, unlike the US entertainment industry that is totally independent today.

      I don’t want Japan to apologize and could care less about that, but if they try to put out dis-information to the kids/young adults and keep feeding this garbage to them, then they’ll be affected by it and will develop sympathies for the Japanese characters that they are portraying as being wronged by Americans. If they are going to tell WWII stories based on history, then they need to be fair and not produce a biased one-sided picture of events, even if they are using literary license to create an interesting story to sell. It becomes propaganda when you are trying to influence the attitudes of the reader/viewer and I am certain that this classifies as racist propaganda. I really like Manga and Anime and can overlook the strange ecchi stuff, but then they add in politics to promote Anti-Americanism, then I have to say that I’m really disappointed.

      I agree with what you said about that stuff about shooting Germans. I was neighbors with a WWII vet (a General) that fought at D-Day (he died ten years ago) and went with him to see “Saving Private Ryan”; he walked out when he saw that scene and said that if he or his brothers in arms saw that happening then they would have shot the American for doing that in combat. He actually said that the combat scene on the beach wasn’t anything like the film and really thought it was “BS”, his actual comment BTW. I was pretty confused about that since I’d heard that it was so realistic according to the critics. He later said he heard several claims of people doing that after the War, but no one would have so openly done that in Europe.

      BUT, I know of that happening many times in the Pacific because Marines were constantly being attacked by suicide Banzai attacks and baited with hidden grenades by Japanese soldiers who were determined to kill the enemy. Very few of them surrendered because they followed the Bushido military code of death before surrender. I was a runner at Headquarters USMC for the Commandant , General Louis H. Wilson and he used to tell stories about WWII during lunch. He was a Congressional Medal of Honor winner and fought at Guadalcanal, Bougainvillea and Guam. He specifically told about having to shoot every dead Japanese body from a Banzai attack at Guadalcanal that was lying near his defensive trench twice to make sure that they didn’t suddenly come alive and throw a grenade, so I got the impression that it was a common practice with the Marines after having dealt with many tricks and booby traps that the Japanese used against them and also considering the fact that they just never openly surrendered until much later in the War.

      BTW, I did hear about the Indians in High School and the Trail of Tears that caused the Cherokee to be moved to Oklahoma (but I didn’t hear much about the plains Indians). When my son was in school in the 1980′s, they had Indian appreciation day once a week for any student that had Indian heritage and they had a Pow Wow twice a year at a historical site where Indian crafts and skills were demonstrated by the five tribes that were in Alabama. Andrew Jackson fought a war against the Creek Indians in my state and then when he became President, he ordered all the tribes in this region to be forcibly moved to Oklahoma and many died. My son is an actual member of the Echoto Cherokee tribe as his mother was half Indian. The Cherokee is still waiting for the money they sued for against the US Government and it’s been in court for some fifty years, so if it ever does pay out, my son gets a percentage of it….LOL!

  34. It would be unfortunate if the disinformation is coming from the gov’t offices. And there’s not a strong culture of investigative journalism in Japan (read Tokyo Vice as the author discusses this a bunch).

    I’d love the whole region to be better versed in understanding multiple perspectives of it’s history. Asia’s history is amazingly convoluted and filled with massive losses of life (can’t forget the cultural revolution in China that killed many more than the Japanese occupation). And I think this would make people smart regarding current affairs and better able to really understand what’s happening. Yet, I’m a US citizen and have Snowden, WikiLeaks, etc. Pot meet kettle :-)

    Is it interesting to see an anti-US swing when there’s also a very public push to lure more foreigners to Japan for work. While this is obvious in the restaurants and construction business, now the gov’ts are getting involved to consider special tax havens for multinationals (looks like Shinagawa will be targeted). It’s quite a balancing act that Abe’s attempting. He’s even moving forward with the TPP and exposing some historically protected industries while protecting a few others. He probably asks himself every morning, “am I wearing the pants around here or is it someone else?”

    I don’t know how people in Japan consume their news. I just hope there’s balance. Manga and anime are great forms of communication (Maus left a profound impact on me) but there’s got to be more. My biggest concern is that with a seeming lack of investigative journalism, it might be hard to find multiple sides of a story but I’m not conversant nor capable of reading kanji to have a good view on this.

  35. Hey Ken! I came across your blog while doing some research about living and working in Japan. We are hosting some exchange students from Japan and I wanted to provide a comparison between the Japanese and us (because I’m prone to generalisations that way :)). Love the posts and the subsequent comments by the other readers. I think I’m going to throw the question back at the students and ask them how they perceive the Japanese salaryman/salarywoman.

    On a side note, I loved Hotaru no Hikari! Then again, I am a girlie girl that way. I watched it with English subs as my Japanese vocabulary consists of Mitsubishi, konichiwa, wasabi and the like. I’m sure just as life in America isn’t Glee-ful or like Desperate Housewives, life and culture as portrayed in Japanese drama isn’t always true to life.

    I giggled in an Asian way (not the Australian way) over your dating post. Your adventures in dating are hilarious and I hope Yoko is sharing the skirt and the pants with you. I have to admit that when I saw “Yoko”, I thought “Poor John”…but who is to say that he was giggling nervously while he was alive?

    • Thanks for your nice comment. Glad you found the site.

      I think asking your exchange students lots of questions is a great idea, not just about work-life, but about life in general. One of the great things about being a language teacher is that I can ask my students all kinds of probing questions, and use them as discussion points for English lessons. It’s like being a sociologist, with an endless supply of subjects.

      I will say, however, that there’s usually the answer you’re given, and then there’s the real answer. I do this too, in Japanese. Someone will ask me a question like, “What’s your favorite food?”

      Now, the real answer is pretty complicated, since I like lots of different things, depending on my mood, people I’m with, how hungry I am, whether it’s rainy outside, all sorts of stuff. But I know people don’t want to hear my life story, told through a series of food vignettes in grammatically incorrect Japanese. They’re just making conversation. So I usually just say something like “grilled mackerel,” and that answers the question.

      Anyway, be on the lookout for that. Like, I once asked a student what his favorite season was, and he said “winter.” So I asked him, “Why winter?” and he replied, “Because I can wear a muffler!” I found out much later that “winter” was the only season he could recall off the top of his head, and he then had to find some justification for it, so he used the word “muffler,” which is the same in Japanese.

      Very tricky, those Japanese people.

      • The students we are hosting have Intermediate English proficiency so I’m sure your last observation is likely to be true during my class too :)

        There aren’t many truly candid people, regardless of the country you find yourself in. Just degrees of trickiness and at times, it’s done because you are being polite – your “grilled mackerel” is a case in point. That’s what the Sociologist in me says anyway – we do see the world through different lenses and every situation has a learning point. It is at times a very tiring way to live. To combat that, I indulge in mindless pop culture and read hilarious blogs I chance upon :)

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