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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What I’ve Learned About Japanese Customs

Rirakkuma - Japanese Rule of 7

It rained last week. And as I walked into the lobby of my Japanese office building, there was my coworker in front of me, the strawberry-blonde gal who speaks pretty good Japanese. And perhaps because she’d mostly mastered the language, it was surprising to note she’d failed to successfully navigate the entire minefield of Japanese customs: she hadn’t wrapped up her umbrella. You know that little strap you wind around to hold the umbrella closed? Yeah, she hadn’t done that. This is the Japanese equivalent of not zipping up your fly.

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