Thanksgiving in Japan

Japanese horse being led by men in traditional costumes

The Tanuki gingerly picked up a piece of shrimp sushi with his chopsticks, dipped it ever so lightly into the soy sauce, then promptly dropped the whole thing in his lap. He looked down dejectedly as it rolled onto the floor. I thought briefly of remarking, “Impressive chopstick skills,” since that’s what Japanese people always say to me, but instead I pretended not to notice and simply ordered us two more beers, plus a shochu for Imada-san. We Japanese are polite like that.

Thanksgiving in Japan started with a trip to Ten Thousand Fucking Poodles. That’s the establishment formerly known as Starbucks. Know how Europe has all these wonderful cafes with outdoor seating? Yeah, not Japan. If it’s 22 degrees Celsius, everyone’s all “atsui, atsui,” so hot. Or else it’s 20 degrees and everyone complains “samui, samui,” oh, it’s so cold. Japanese people love nature, as long as it’s exactly 21 degrees.

Continue reading “Thanksgiving in Japan”

COVID Japan: Venturing Into a Japanese Dive Bar

Ueno Tokyo, Pre-COVID Japan

I eventually made my way to the counter and ordered a beer, plus some cabbage with miso from the pickled Japanese geezer behind the clear curtain. His mask was pulled down into a decorative chinstrap.

“What?” he yelled into the plastic.

“What?” I yelled back.

So we stood and yelled “what” a few more times before he handed me a glass of potato shochu and a plate of grilled flounder. Well, those were my second choices, so good enough. I returned to my assigned space between two tall, translucent dividers.

A young Japanese woman from a nearby table leaned around a roll of plastic descending from the ceiling and announced in slurred English, “I’m a golf club.”

Continue reading “COVID Japan: Venturing Into a Japanese Dive Bar”

Japan and What the Hell to do With Foreigners

Crumbling Japan - Japanese Rule of 7

The Tokyo Olympics has been a steady topic of conversation in recent months. Although to hear Japanese folks tell it, they might as well be discussing a collective ice bath. Can’t we just put off this horrible thing a little longer? No? Mmmnn, could we at least make it less awful? Okay, how ’bout if nobody watches? And here we go . . . whew, glad that’s over. Now, why’d we do that again?

If nothing else, this year’s Olympics did a great job of reinforcing Japan’s longstanding image of foreigners as a bunch of wacky bastards who’ll never fit in here. Athletes and staff jumping on beds, openly consuming alcohol, intermingling between teams, being arrested for cocaine, and running off to go sight-seeing in the face of Tokyo’s highest-ever COVID-19 levels did little to improve Japan’s traditional perspective toward visitors from the outside world. Well, bring on the Paralympics.

Continue reading “Japan and What the Hell to do With Foreigners”

Climate Change in Japan

climate change in Japan

Sometimes it feels like I just imagined the whole thing. Thinking back, I remember a time when Japanese men wore dark suits, neckties, and leather shoes. Women wore short skirts and heels. That really happened, right?

Or did I just dream it? Because these days, the ties are gone. And on weekends, so are a lot of long pants too, replaced by cargo shorts, Teva flip-flops or, horror of horrors, Crocks. Women rush by in baggy, full-length skirts, black arm covers, and Darth Vader masks—dark plastic shields, like a sunglass lens for your whole face. I’m excited just to catch a glimpse of an ankle. And today—I honestly never thought I’d see this—two Japanese guys strolling through a crowded business district with no shirts on at all, just bare chested. I was like, holy shit, Japan’s become San Diego. I gotta try that. Although somebody’d surely stick me with tranquilizer gun and haul me off to Ueno Zoo. Is it possible to wax with duct tape? Let’s find out.

Continue reading “Climate Change in Japan”

Real Japan: Why Everything You’ve Heard is Wrong

Japanese cedar

When Asami wiped out on her bike outside Ueno station, she lay on the sidewalk with a broken wrist “and everybody just stepped around me. Not one person tried to help.”

She recounted this accident as we sat out at Starbucks, between sips of a Frappuccino with her left hand, the right being bound in a light blue cast.

“Japanese people are terrible,” she concluded.

“Maybe they’re just shy,” I suggested. Folks here love that excuse for avoiding anything difficult or unpleasant.

And yet, I knew what she meant. Japanese people are terrible. Some of the rudest bastards you’ll ever meet. Except for the nice ones, of course, Asami included. At least part of the time.

Continue reading “Real Japan: Why Everything You’ve Heard is Wrong”