My First Month in Japan

Photo by Akita Ben

Guest post by Akita Ben

As night closed over my first month in Japan, I walked past the Lawson, Daily Yamazaki, and Iwai-san the barber until I got to the river. From the middle of the bridge, I stopped and looked down at the serpentine water and beyond to the three-story Itoku and rectangular old hotel that comprises my town’s skyline. Everything was tinged with purple and orange in the fading light. It was beautiful, but I felt alienated. My mind became clouded with dark doubts: “Why am I on a bridge in Northern Japan? I don’t belong here. This is a waste of time.” Japanese joggers trotted past, like, “Great, another gaijin going over the rail. Better pick up the pace.” But after a few more minutes of sullen reflection, I walked back to my prison cell. Continue reading “My First Month in Japan”

Plastic Japan

In Kenya, you get jail time for plastic bags. In the U.S.,  straw-shaming’s all the rage. Ah, Americans, how quickly you forget.  Cue balloon disaster.

Anyway, I can only imagine what a mind-fuck it is for Kenyans to arrive in Japan and find themselves surrounded, sometimes literally, by a sea of plastic. Because when it comes to being proudly able replicate everything on earth with its plastic counterpart, Japan rules the world. In front of the ramen shop, there’s a plastic bowl of plastic ramen. The curry shop has plastic plates so real you’ll be tempted to smell your fingers after Continue reading “Plastic Japan”

A Sunday in Japan

Obama Japan

Last Sunday I went for a hike, I think. I mean, you’re never entirely sure what just happened in this strange country, but after a while you get used to it. That’s Japan in a nutshell.

It all started when Ruriko called at six A.M. I fell out of my futon, which albeit is about an inch high, turned off two alarm clocks and unplugged the lamp before realizing the source of annoyance was the phone. Really gotta remember to turn off that ringer.

“Ken!” she said brightly, “feel like going for a hike?” Ruriko made it sound like it was noon.

“Do I ever,” I replied. Continue reading “A Sunday in Japan”

How to Eat at a Japanese Restaurant

in Just 11 Easy Steps

Learning Japanese is a great hobby. It requires levels of endurance and discipline possessed by English Channel swimmers, while garnering the respect typically reserved for those really skilled with yo-yo’s. The good news, if one can call it such, is you don’t need much Japanese to get by in Japan.

Nowhere is this truer than at a Japanese restaurant. Instead, what you need is to know how things work. Once you’ve got the system down, it’s amazing how few words are actually required.

First night in Japan

My own culinary journey began after a grueling day-long flight half-way around the world and several hours of wandering lost in the backstreets of Tokyo. I was out of PowerBars, famished, and thoroughly exhausted. Continue reading “How to Eat at a Japanese Restaurant”

7 Rules for Karaoke in Japan

If you happen to find yourself in Tokyo, then Shibuya’s a great place to start an evening. So we were there at Starbucks, just Aki and me slamming back steaming black grandes and Hitomi sipping some kind of whipped cream desert marketed to her as a coffee. I swear I don’t know how she stays so thin.

Then after a while, probably because we’d had a ton of caffeine, somebody said, “We should go get some beers. We really should.”

Probably I said that. But still, it was an excellent idea. So we left, but not before I stuffed a handful of Starbucks napkins into my pocket. They’re high-quality paper, and it’s not stealing if they’re free. I haven’t bought tissues or paper towels in years. Continue reading “7 Rules for Karaoke in Japan”