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”

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”

The New Japanese Etiquette

Japanese Etiquette

Even ten years ago, the world seemed bigger. Japan still had a bit of that “Oriental” mystique, and visitors to its shores sent reports home of an exotic land populated by simple, if slightly daft, inhabitants:

“The Japanese are so friendly and polite!” (Actually, the folks who just gave you directions were Taiwanese tourists)

“Japan’s so safe and clean.” (Lots of countries are. Okay, maybe not the U.S.)

“The Japanese value harmony.” (Yeah, fear of authority will do that to people)

And visitors asked quaint, naive questions about cultural practices, such as: Continue reading “The New Japanese Etiquette”

How Japan Killed my Vegetarianism

“Okay, how ‘bout a sheep. Would you have sex with a sheep?” I asked.

“Mmm,” Ryan replied. “Boy sheep or girl?

“Like it matters?

“If it’s a boy sheep, that’s gay. Okay, let’s say I bought a hamburger, would you eat it?

“Nope,” I said, “No way.

“For a hundred dollars?”

This was twelve years ago. Ry and I were driving Route 1 down from San Francisco, winding through Big Sur as the sun and clouds painted patterns on the Pacific. We had loads of time to dream up sophomoric questions.

“Would you eat a person for a hundred dollars?” I replied. “Like a manburger? Continue reading “How Japan Killed my Vegetarianism”

Why are Japanese so Skinny?

The crazy thing about working in a Japanese office is that, while knowing absolutely nothing substantial about your co-workers, you can still observe their most intimate habits. But maybe that’s any office, actually. I mean, when I worked in the U.S., there were a lot of folks I didn’t really know either. Although it seems like avoiding personal disclosure is one of those Japanese “things.” Eh, probably just my imagination.

Among the things I still don’t know in my Japanese office are anybody’s actual name, so I like to refer to my coworkers as Skeletor, Skeletor Jr., Ms. WhoAreYouAgain, and The Butt. The first three are Japanese, while The Butt, so-named because of her seated resemblance to an isosceles triangle, is, predictably, American. Continue reading “Why are Japanese so Skinny?”