At first, you might think the Japanese place great importance on addressing others properly. After all, it’s a nation where even elephants get called Zou-san. That’s Mr. Elephant to you.
The reality is that this naming convention works flawlessly until someone who looks “foreign” enters the scene, at which point thousands of years of custom go straight out the window.
I was at a party last Saturday, and found myself talking with two guys a little younger than myself. One guy was tall with great hair, while the other was a bit pudgy and shorter. They didn’t know each other, and so they introduced themselves to one another by their last names, as Japanese typically do when speaking in Japanese. Then they asked my name, and I said “Seeroi.” “Seeroi?” said the guy with great hair. “What’s your first name?” When I told him “Ken,” he then introduced himself by his first name, at which point the pudgy guy followed suit, and for the rest of the night I was “Ken,” while they still referred to each other by their last names. The entire conversation took place in Japanese, but apparently everything changes when you talk to a white guy.