Why are you Still in Japan?

People routinely ask, “Why are you still in Japan?” and I guess the answer depends upon which phase of Japanese life we’re talking about. Because first there’s

1. Amazement

Living in Japan’s like being born again. Everything’s filled with wonder, nothing makes any sense, and you’re insanely pleased by the simplest stuff. Look!—-I’m riding the subway. It’s like a train, only underground! So many people! Man, I gotta take a picture of this!

You can’t understand a thing. Not a word, not an action, and it’s hilarious. You can’t even stroll down the sidewalk without knocking over office ladies and soba-delivery boys. Continue reading “Why are you Still in Japan?”

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”

Japanese Customs

“Stop that,” she said. “Sit still. You want people to think you’re a better person, don’t you?”

This is me, learning not to do sewing machine leg from Yasuko, my girlfriend.

“Better than whom?” I asked.

Well, Yasuko was crazy, so whatever. But she was also right. Not moving one’s limbs is actually a thing in Japan.

Next, I learned that you shouldn’t wear cologne from my girlfriend Makiko.

I’d worn cologne every day for years. Who doesn’t like the bracing scent of Old Spice? Not Japanese people, apparently, although nobody said a word. Continue reading “Japanese Customs”

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”

Japan’s a Scam

I was drinking with Sandy in the park recently. It was dark and naturally we were on the swing set.

“I’ll just never be happy here,” she said.

“Congratulations,” I replied, “you’re finally Japanese. Here, have a chu-hi. It’s got real lemon flavor.”

Then we kampai-ed as our swings passed, which is hard to do without spilling. The great thing about Japan is it has these little dirt plots that serve as corner parks, complete with rusty jungle gyms and broken see-saws where you can drink at night. I guess theoretically kids could play there during the day too, if the population hadn’t all died off. Anyway I figured it kind of worked in our favor. Continue reading “Japan’s a Scam”