Social Responsibility in Japan

Japanese Social Responsibility - Japanese Rule of 7

Sometimes what I like best about Japan is simply that it’s not the U.S. Not that I’m bagging on the land that invented deep-fried Snickers or anything. We all know it’s the greatest country on earth. Just ask any American.  

Question those fine, flag-waving patriots about what they value most, and it won’t be long before someone belts out “freedom.” Because that’s the American way. Shouting. Loudness and freedom are baked into U.S. culture like apples to a pie. The Japanese response is necessarily softer, possessed as we are with the Spock-like ability to read each other’s minds. Here, that same question would be answered with “social responsibility,” or perhaps “the righteous thrill of blaming others.” Nyeh, same thing.

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Enduring Japan During the Crisis

Japanese Baby - Japanese Rule of 7

Yep, nothing like a pandemic to test one’s commitment to a cause. And until a couple months ago, I was largely settled on the idea of living in Japan forever. I appreciate all aspects of this country, from the mountains to the oceans, and all the convenience stores in between. Japan’s a wondrous neon land of late-night karaoke, bullet trains, and spotless neighborhoods, maintained by an upstanding citizenry steadfastly dumping broken stereos and microwaves into the forest. Gotta admire the conscientiousness. I like everything about Japan except the people.

And of course, there were the ladies. Chatting up random birds in bars, restaurants, the Unemployment Bureau. “Come here often for government assistance? Me too. We’ve so much in common. Let’s hang out.” They say working on a hobby keeps your brain healthy, and you know Ken Seeroi ain’t trying to get no Alzheimer’s.

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Stop Saying “Gaijin” and “Gaikokujin”

Japanese Cats - Japanese Rule of 7

I recently looked for a new apartment in Japan. The very first realtor I called stated flatly, “We don’t do business with foreigners.” I was like, Ohh . . . kayyy . . . This pattern has played out enough during my years here that I’m pretty used to it. I’ll go get my shoe shine box now.

But eventually, I secured a room from someone brave enough to rent to a white guy, then set about getting a parking place. Fortunately, there was a dirt lot full of weeds just down the street advertising open spots, so I dialed the number.

“Sorry, we had past trouble with a foreigner,” said the man on the other end.

“In a dirt lot?” I started, “what could possibly . . .” but then a different thought popped into mind. “What kind of foreigner?”

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Coronavirus, Japan 2020

Japanese Sashimi - Japanese Rule of 7

And then suddenly there was no toilet paper. I first knew things were heating up when the girls at Starbucks all started wearing face masks. It’s not uncommon for people to wear them on the street or in the train, but to see service staff looking like hospital orderlies was a bit disturbing. Of course, I had on a mask too, so our interaction went something like,

“Wrrcome tr Srbucks, mray I trk yr rrrder?”

“Whrt?”

“Mray I trk yr rrrder?”

“Grrrnde crrffee prrease.”

“Whrt?”

“Whrt?”

I also discovered it’s pretty hard to drink coffee while wearing a mask and without touching the cup. So I bought a bag of beans and resolved to start brewing up at home.

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The Japanese Tsunami Drill

Yabusame - Japanese Rule of 7

Sunday dawned cool and sunny. It was a perfect day for our early-morning Japanese tsunami drill, so when the sirens sounded we all strolled up to the park and watched the fire department explain how to use a fire extinguisher for half an hour. Then we played some “ground golf” and sat around eating pig soup and drinking shochu. I was like, man, if this is what tsunami’s are like, I can’t understand why people aren’t more enthusiastic about them.

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