Do You Sound Like a Japanese Girl?

Recently, a reader posed an interesting question:

When you speak Japanese is it men’s version or women’s? I’ve known a few Americans who were taught by women and live and work in Japan. They usually get no respect in the business world because they sound effeminate.

This brought to mind a conversation I had with the fearsome Sachiko. Now, some people say the truth is elusive. Clearly, those people have never met The Sachiko.

“Look what I got you,” I beamed, “A Rirakkuma handkerchief! Check out the embroidering—see the little bear? He’s so cute! Eating a tiny stack of pancakes! Do you love it?”

“I hate it,” she said. “You keep the damn thing.”

“What am I supposed to do with a Rirakkuma handkerchief?”

“Shoulda thought of that before you bought it,” she replied.

From now on, I’m never giving a girl a gift that isn’t a six-pack of my favorite beer.

Still, you gotta appreciate the honesty. So when I wanted to confirm that my Japanese was indeed as awesome as I think it is, I consulted the Oracle of Sachiko.

“Is my Japanese indeed as awesome as I think it is?” I queried.

“Pretty good,” she acknowledged, “for you people.”

“So my speech doesn’t sound, you know, a little feminine?” This is something random guys on the internet worry about—sounding like a Japanese girl, since men often learn the language from women.

“Nah,” she said, “it’s okay.”

“Hmm,” I noted, “there’s kind of a wide range between okay and awesome.”

“Look,” she replied, “your grammar’s shit, vocabulary’s limited, and you speak with an accent.”

“Jeez, I’ve only been working on it for sixteen years! Well, at least I don’t sound like a girl, right?” I pleaded.

“You wish you sounded as good as a Japanese girl,” she said.

After which I spent an hour crying into my Rirakkuma hankie. Turned out to be pretty useful after all. Quite absorbent.

Maybe You Sound Like a Japanese Girl

So this is a persistent internet rumor, that you have to lose sleep over sounding effeminate. And it’s certainly true that Japanese, like English, has different ways of speaking depending on gender. But that’s far from your biggest challenge.

Japanese Female Speech

So what makes speech sound “male” or “female” anyway? Glad you asked. Because that’d be things like word choice, levels of politeness, and intonation. For example, some phrases just sound more feminine than others, such as declaring pickled squid innards either “yummy” or “icky.” And in case you’re wondering, they are in fact yummy as fuck when paired with a wooden cupful of sake.

In Japanese, you may sound a bit feminine if you end too many sentences with ne, wa, no?, da mon, etc., although at times these are used by men as well. More obviously feminine words like atashi and kashira are frankly so girly that guys are unlikely to use them at all. You should probably also avoid saying, “Oooo, that looks and smells like worms, iyadaa! “ Just cowboy up and slurp down your squid innards like a man.

Then there’s the issue of politeness. Men speak the way dogs sniff tails. They mumble, grumble, trail off their senten… And routinely utter phrases unprintable in newspapers. Somehow this is considered okay, because… Who knows? Probably if you’re female, it’s either deal with it or move to the Isle of Lesbos. Although, true, lately you can get a good deal on a cruise. Well, send me a sexy postcard. But for now, men are lucky to have the presence of women in the world, otherwise we’d all be living in mud huts and poking anthills with sticks. The red ones go great with beer. Very spicy. Hey, don’t just take my word for it.

On the real though, you’re far better off erring on the side of politeness in your Japanese, even to the point of sounding a bit soft. Strangers and coworkers will overlook feminine phrases or intonation, but come across as uneducated or rude and, well, that’s your ass.

Do You Sound “Gay”?

A lot of how unmanly you sound comes down to, well, how unmanly you sound. Which is to say some guys speak in a higher pitch than others, or use more of a sing-song-y rhythm. That ain’t helping nobody sound butch. Though ironically some of the most masculine Japanese comes from Japanese women. Get caught holding hands with a girl you just met in the park and you’re in for an episode of Robot Wars, as the previously composed Sachiko transforms into hellish demon of Japanese profanity, complete with a handbag whirling like nunchucks. But baby—Ouch, stop it! Her hands were just cold—freaking quit that! She had frostbite!—Okay now that really hurt! I was being a concerned citizen! The women in this country are terrifying, seriously.

Sounding less than macho isn’t simply limited to Japan, of course, as men anywhere who’ve learned their speech patterns primarily from women occasionally get labeled as sounding “gay.” Hey, we’re all just products of our influences; nothing wrong with that. Which is why when I make a phone call I’m variously mistaken for an old drunk living under a bridge, a husky transvestite, every Starbucks barista you ever met, and two farmers from Kyushu.

Sound Like a Japanese Girl? That’s Not the Problem

Truth be told, it’s absurd to suggest it’s an issue to sound like a Japanese girl. How many dudes lose respect because they have a slightly feminine intonation? Do you really think Japanese folks are that petty?

Hell yeah they are. But it doesn’t matter that you sound like a little bitch. Nobody’s gotta work that hard to disrespect you, because above all, you sound foreign. And look foreign. And are foreign. That’s three strikes right there. In America, you ‘d get twenty-five to life. Cussing like a dock worker is unlikely to improve matters. Basically, some people will respect you and some simply won’t, no matter what. Hey, that’s life. Yin and Yang. Those are two Chinese guys.

Sounding “Foreign”

Growing up, I knew an old Russian named Yoseph who’d lived in the U.S. for about fifty years. And guess how he sounded? Yep, exactly like an old Russian named Yoseph. We all know how non-native speakers sound—the accents of Indians, Mexicans, the Irish. Is it racist? Eeyeah, probably. Just remember, every time you order a Guinness, that’s cultural appropriation. But even sober, a proper accent is bloody hard. Which is why I try to avoid the condition; then at least I have an excuse. Sure, you might manage some decent pronunciation if you start learning the language at three, or maybe thirteen. But at thirty? Hey, I’m not here to crush your dreams. You can do that all on your own.

It’s insanely difficult to be even competent in a language. President G.W. Bush couldn’t pronounce “nuclear” and Vice President Quayle spelled “potato” with an “e.” And that was in their mother tongue. I’m not even going to tweet about the current administration.

I’ve heard hordes of “foreigners” speak Japanese, and the number who sounded anything like a native was about zero. For starters, you need thousands of words, assembled together in a myriad of grammatical constructions, and spoken with a rhythm and intonation almost impossible to master after puberty. People telling you to fret over sounding effeminate are usually the same ones talking about how Japanese is easy to learn. Sure it is. Just redefine “easy” and “learn” and presto, there you are.

When Should I Use Ore?

There also seems to be some consternation over whether to use watashi, boku, ore, or one of the other peculiar ways of saying “I” in Japanese. Allow me to suggest this problem resolves itself, along with most traces of girliness, simply through improving one’s Japanese. That is, in the years it takes to dial in the grammar, vocabulary, and everything else, you’re naturally engaged in thousands of hours of native speech, and unconsciously get a feel for when to use which, along with -masu verb forms, keigo, teineigo, and all that other ridiculous minutia of the language. The same way you learned to navigate the maze of politeness levels in English.

Get the Respect You Deserve

Over time, we naturally gravitate toward speaking more like whatever gender we affiliate with. Focusing on any one aspect of speaking Japanese is like obsessing over which Nikes you need to play basketball. You don’t make it to the NBA by surfing Amazon for Jordans. You get there by being on the court, every day, for hours. And being seven feet tall. Unfortunately, the problem’s not localized to one convenient thing like Japanese female speech. The problem’s evadamnthang. Which is to say that if you sound like a Japanese girl, it’s really because your overall Japanese still needs work. Polish that turd nice and shiny. Mastery requires tons of exposure and repetition, in all areas. And being born in Japan. But with only several tens of thousands of hours practice, you can become passably average and the small stuff will take care of itself. Just in time for Google Translate to make it as useful as a slide rule. But at least you won’t sound like a Japanese girl. Then everybody’ll finally respect you.

108 Replies to “Do You Sound Like a Japanese Girl?”

  1. “[…] otherwise we’d all be living in mud huts and poking anthills with sticks. The red ones go great with beer.”

    Well that probably solves the breakfast conundrum.


  2. Just learn deep Osaka ben. When I go to Costco in amagasaki I have no idea if it’s a bloke or a bird talking behind me until I turn around. My wife’s best friend, kobe uni grad, sounds like she gargles with broken glass every morning. Osaka ben…it’s the real thing!

    1. You do realize you’re not making the women of Osaka sound particularly appealing. But yeah, if you want to acquire the Texas accent of Japan, that’d be a top choice.

  3. My Japanese wife always spoke to our two boys in masculine Japanese growing up so they would know how boys speak. That was important as they were raised in the US and not surrounded by other Japanese boys, or girls for that matter….

    1. So now they sound like two half-Japanese boys who were raised in the U.S. by a masculine woman? Jeez, that’s sounds complicated.

    1. Congratulations! Not too many people recognize where my photos were taken, and that’s a pretty obscure place. But scones and British tea? Yeah no, I’m more of a grilled fish and green tea kind of unmanly man.

  4. Very true squire…many Osaka women have the outwardly appearance of a delicate flower, hiding a very very different character underneath. I could easily imagine chewing tobacco being popular here in the big O if certain Osaka celebs started using it! My wife is a typical Osaka women and throughout our marriage I have adhered to the expression ‘ one up the bum , no harm done’ … sorry, not that one…what I meant to say was ‘ hell hath no fury like an Osaka woman scorned’

    1. I get that the whole bit was a joke, but there was a bit of inaccuracy in it. Just to be clear, in Japanese, both men and women utilize the ability to speak in a low register as well as a higher voice, depending on situation and intention. If you want to be heard above background noise, regardless of gender, you use a higher pitch. Stores and train stations often exaggerate this effect so customers can clearly hear announcements.

    1. Thanks much. Not sure how much more conversation with her I can take, but I’m sure something will come up. Always does.

  5. i gave up on learning more than rudimentary japanese and now just focus on out eating, drinking, and smoking every last man until their puking and passed out.

    Respect earned.

  6. I have been studying Japanese the last three years through italki, and I have had both female and male teachers. My suggestion is to pick female teachers EVERY SINGLE TIME. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky, but man, did I not respond well to passive aggressive behaviors of Japanese men. Perhaps I’ve just been unlucky …. but then again I gave 5 Japanese men a chance …. and I didn’t like a single one of them.

    I’d rather have good progress sounding a bit feminine rather than deal with “rude” people. And I know my progress has been pretty good since nowadays I barely use English in my lessons. Once or twice every couple lesson or so and that’s it.

    1. Sorry to hear about those negative experiences, although they strike me as unfortunately common. Well, least you know what to expect when dealing with men in Japanese society.

  7. “It’s insanely difficult to be even competent in a language. President G.W. Bush couldn’t pronounce “nuclear” and Vice President Quayle spelled “potato” with an “e.” And that was in their mother tongue.”

    I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but this issue has a specific English aspect to it. In German it’s much easier to pronounce words correctly because they are usually read as they are written and not: “I read a book today” vs. “I read a book yesterday” and so on. In German – in general – only words borrowed from other languages, such as French or English cause trouble.
    It is a specialty of English to pronounce words according to whimsy, not logic.

    “Do you really think Japanese folks are that petty?

    Hell yeah they are. But it doesn’t matter that you sound like a little bitch.”

    Shame on you, making me snort at work!

    1. “It is a specialty of English to pronounce words according to whimsy, not logic.”

      If you had to pick a good universal language, you’d never pick English. It’s really unfortunate that the world ended up having to adhere to such a senseless language.

      Of course, Japanese is arguably worse, with over 2000 “letters,” most of which are pronounced two different ways. The astonishing thing is that modern Japanese has supplemented its already complicated language by adding thousands of foreign words—taken from English—converted to Japanese pronunciation. You couldn’t have devised a more effective way to screw up a language.

      1. The best part of Japanese is “English” only for Japanese (和製英語), the meaning of which no native speaker of English would ever guess. E.g. セフレ、ファミコン、コンビニ

        And if you want even more, then mix up actual Japanese and English. E.g. リア充、電子マネー

    2. “In German – in general – only words borrowed from other languages, such as French or English cause trouble.”

      And that’s exactly the same in English. It’s because the language has borrowed so many words from other languages, without respelling them for English, that the spelling system looks confused. English beats up other languages in dark alleys, then rifles through their pockets for loose grammar and spare vocabulary.

    3. Thats not true.

      There are difficult words in German, too. I.e. “Thron” (throne) or Klischée or Schifffahrtstechnik (Marine Technology).

      Not to speak about the Rechtschreibreform (reform of the orthography, “spelling reform”), which makes all a bit more complicated.

      @Ken Seeroi: Could you make a list of good blogs about the life in japan?
      I read your blog since a long time and its very interesting to learn about the commonplace in other nations.

      1. Thanks for reading! A list of blogs is a good idea; I’ll add that to the queue of stuff I’ll get around to one of these first days.

        Actually, I’d have to do some research myself. Except for Japanese newspapers, I spend almost zero time reading about Japan. Most of the time, it’s more than enough just to live here.

  8. Mouth position
    Tongue position
    Vowel elongation
    Consonant placement
    Nasal air control
    “r” sound tounge placement.
    Lowering the voice vox to sound deeper.
    Learning to emote with different pitch for emphasis
    Putting it all together in a coherent package while keeping up with natives

    Those are the things you need to learn to do for English not to sound terribly foreign. And that’s ON TOP of learning the language of English, and it’s sounds and it’s grammar. It’s really no wonder that most world leaders who even studied abroad are at best have annoying accents that grind the ears or at worst are barely understood.

    Learning a second language not as a child is certainly “easy”. lol

    1. Well put. And it’s not just speaking. In order to have a conversation, you need to clearly what other people are saying, in a variety of accents and intonations. I often have trouble understanding people of other nations in English, even if their grammar is perfect.

    2. I think this has changed with the younger generations in Germany and globalization advancing rapidly, but when you hear some of the German politicians speak English it can be very, very cringy.
      I this respect Chancellor Merkel is actually one of the more bearable ones, luckily.

      1. Merkel is okay. But just hearing speeches is decieving. You just have to read every word and pronounce it correctly. The real chips are down when you are having an active conversation and you have to come up with what to say yourself in the context of a conversation. Expect long awkward pauses, accent slip ups and grammar mistakes as the mental taxation is increased.

        I always think about the following. Even Hollywood actors struggle with a different accent with a premade text of what to say. And that’s in their mother tounge. Imagine if you didn’t speak it. All in all, just as Ken said, pulling a native accent is almost unheard of. I’ve only known one famous person who can pull of a Native accent in English. Alexander Skarsgard, who is a full time actor with access to dialect coaches for his work. Plus he’s scandinavian which after hearing a lot of them, I’m conviced they have a way easier time with intonation. And he lives in the US. I don’t think most people, even more so the Japanese can have those advantages.

        I don’t know if “dialect” coaches exists for the Japanese langauge Ken? By the way, Ken, could you tell your experience on how losing the Olympics has affected the Japanese morale? I’ve heard that’s been a big thing recently.

        1. To the best of my knowledge, the Olympics are currently delayed until 2021, and 85% of people believe they will eventually be cancelled. (

          The delay or loss of the Olympics is just one more unfortunate thing for us to be bummed out about. The coronavirus has changed life for a lot of people—some work and schools have moved online, people have lost jobs, a trip to a bar or restaurant puts your life in danger. We were looking forward to the Olympics, but they’re far from the most pressing concern. Nobody is happy about this situation, but Japan is resolved to hunker down and survive while waiting for a vaccine. It’s currently unthinkable to gather thousands of people from around the world for a sporting event.

  9. Back in the 8th Century Japanese adopted with some 400 Sanskrit words, which have Kanji, eg Kusa, Sora, Tenno, etc. I wonder when Japanese is “English” only for Japanese (和製英語 will also have Kanji and not just Katakana?

    1. I’ve been thinking about this for some time now.

      Practically, The Japanese language died shortly after World War II, a decline that began with the Meiji Restoration. Kanji was steadily abandoned as too slow and labor intensive to keep pace with concepts from overseas and technological advancements. Nowadays, almost all new words are rendered immediately into katakana. Even things that used to have kanji, like tobacco and coffee (煙草、珈琲) are written in katakana. We will never have kanji for “Microsoft Word” or “Android Operating System”—or the thousands of words introduced since the end of the war (most from English, although other languages make appearances too).

      I’m not saying it’s a good thing, only that’s the way it is. The shit of it is that Japan would’ve been better off simply adopting English, instead of Japanizing the words by rendering them into katakana. As it currently stands, Japanese folks who’ve learned katakana can’t effectively use English, and Westerners who know English can’t understand katakana. Japan chose the worst of both worlds.

      1. At least it’s an improvement from before. Till now I still don’t get how stapler came to be ホッチキス. Supposedly there was some confusion about whether it’s the guy who had invented the machine gun vs the actual guy who had invented the stapler. The thing is ホッチキス doesn’t even remotely sound like … stapler.

        Now that I think about it, the Japanese language might be one of the worst languages on the planet. It has some Chinese characteristics. It has English characteristics, and there’s this Japanese grammar bit. At least the Koreans finally made up their mind they didn’t want to use Chinese characters …. mostly. Apparently their entire judicial system is still written using Chinese characters.

  10. hey, yeah it’s me. Excellent blog.

    Something popped into my head about this and, even though it’s off the topic of Japanese per se, I have often wondered how on earth the Chinese language manages without katakana given all the terms that have appeared in this technological age, such as those you mention. This is “Microsoft Operating System” in traditional Chinese for example (according to Google translate).


    Even though I gave up a long time ago becoming fluent in Japanese – a situation I don’t see changing perhaps until I retire or win the lottery- at least we have katakana to help with communication, we can be thankful for small mercies. It’s just a shame that whoever the person who sits in a lair somewhere with the title “Person In Charge Of Katakanaising New English Terms” chooses to do it mostly on how word are spelt and not how they’re spoken, but that’s a different story.

    Just to finish this thought, something that made me laugh aloud somewhere where I read it (I forget where) was the advise that when saying a katakana word either go full out katakana or full out native because in-between is a dog’s breakfast. Hahaha. Unfortunately I struggle to follow this sage advise.

    1. Hey Gin n’ Juice, thanks for the comment. Yeah, I’ve heard that Chinese actually bakes up fresh kanji for every new word. I wonder how that’s working out? I’ve also heard their kanji have only one pronunciation, as opposed to the usual two in Japanese, so maybe that makes it easier? Who knows, but it all sounds terribly and unnecessarily complicated.

      As for the katakana pronunciation, I agree. Either go all the way or do not, and then at least 50% of the people will understand you. If you half-ass it, nobody’ll know what the hell you’re saying.

      Of course, I’m still trying to find a decent breakfast in this country, so I’d be intensively curious as to what the dog’s having.

      1. “Yeah, I’ve heard that Chinese actually bakes up fresh kanji for every new word.” This is not true. They actually reuse existing Chinese characters quite a bit. In fact I would say it’s very rare now that they would add a new character. When you have 60 thousand plus characters, or perhaps more (one dictionary contains 100K entries), one better has a REALLY good reason before adding a new one. But do not be afraid, one only has to know between 3500 to 5000 characters to be able to read newspapers. If you are just thinking about daily life then 2000 and above would be enough.

        What I like about the Chinese language is that unlike Katakana, new words/terms aren’t the result of a simple conversion (if any) from English/Latin/other language ones. New words/terms in Chinese are often an evolution of existing ones. Add one or two new Kanji character to an existing term, and voila you get a new one.

        Chinese characters mostly have one pronunciation, but there are exceptions. Chinese though is a tonal language i.e. they use tones instead of Oon/Kun reading.

        I think you’ve mentioned this before when you were commenting about Khatzumoto, but knowing Chinese helps you somewhat when learning Japanese. I was lucky to be exposed to Chinese from a young age since one of my best friends (till now) had parents who didn’t neglect his Mandarin education. I am not a Chinese myself :).

        Oh, one interesting thing about the Chinese language is there’s no past tense for verbs, adjectives, etc. I actually like this quite a bit.

        TLDR: I would say the Chinese language contains a high degree of reuse and the grammar is relatively simpler when compared to English/Japanese. The flip side of the coin is the YUGE number of characters (3500 to 5000) and idioms (around 500 to 600) you need to be somewhat fluent, and the tonal nature of the language.

        1. Rats, that’s what I meant to say— Chinese bakes up a new combination of kanji characters. Sorry, I should’ve been clearer.

    2. Gin’N’Juice, let me break 微軟操作系統 for you.
      微 means Micro
      軟 means Soft
      操作 means Operating. Actually this can also serve as the verb “To Operate”. In Chinese, verbs and nouns are often interchangable. This is another feature of the language that English/Japanese speakers will find confusing.
      系統 means System.

      Here’s one way the Chinese language copes with progress. The word/term for computer in Chinese is 电脑.
      电 = electronic, electricity
      脑 = brain

      Makes sense if you think about it :). At least better than コンピューター (konpyuta). That’s just lazy.

      1. I am all for lazy! In fact I’d prefer to have even fewer characters than the kana, let’s say 26, that can be morphed in an infinite number of ways to make an infinite number of words if necessary- seems to cover all the bases. Then kids would be able to spend time in school learning other things than just endlessly copying out a list of thousands of unnecessary characters too.

        I know, I know, kanji are a beautiful connection with ancient culture and of course shouldn’t go anywhere and they won’t- it’s just that they’re a ludicrously inefficient way to put together a written language and a real obstacle in the way of the learner unless you can find a spare 10,000 hours or so of study time. If few Westerners are mastering Japanese I imagine even fewer manage to master Chinese.

        1. My perspective is different. But then again as I said, I was lucky to have “teachers” (my friend’s parents) who taught me the proper way to read/write Chinese characters. This is something no Japanese teacher will ever teach a Gaijin. I am sure there are exceptions, ….. nah not really, not a single one of my Japanese teachers ever mentioned this to me. A Chinese teacher though would tell you this … oh let’s say within the first 5 lessons.

          An example : you’ll see many Chinese/Kanji characters starting with 扌, which means hand i.e. even if you don’t quite understand the actual full character, you can bet that it’s most likely a verb involving the hand like pushing, picking something up, etc. In English however, you either know the word, know the etymology or you are just shit out of luck. There’s no way for a person to guess the meaning of ramen if he/she doesn’t know it. Alphabets convey very little meaning.

          So practically what does this mean? To me studying Chinese is like climbing a hill but once you’ve reach a certain level, it’s pretty much flat. Sure once in a while you don’t know one or two characters, but it’s no big deal because you can guess the meaning just from the character. English on the other hand allows you to make faster progress in the beginning, but new words would come in and unless you know their meaning/etymology, you are out of luck.

          1. “This is something no Japanese teacher will ever teach a Gaijin.”
            “An example : you’ll see many Chinese/Kanji characters starting with 扌, which means hand i.e. even if you don’t quite understand the actual full character, you can bet that it’s most likely a verb involving the hand like pushing, picking something up, etc.”

            Learning using “radicals”? This started in first semester at my university…

            1. Strange. I actually took one semester worth of Japanese at a local community college. Radicals were never mentioned.

  11. Thanks for the reply, 肯·西罗伊

    The best the internet can give me is “pooched eggs”. Dear me!

    Point taken re the kanji, though not sure I’d say ‘easier’ rather than maybe ‘slightly less formidable’, though that’s before you start considering the tonal nature of Chinese of course. Anyway, personally when struggling with Japanese I think “at least we have katakana and it’s not tonal”, thankful for small mercies.

  12. Seeroi kun,to pronounce Rilakuma try having your mouth in an E shape not U, then lift your tongue from the floor of your mouth and land the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth where they intersect with your gum,in no time you will be speaking native sounding English,and with your big round eyes you will fit right in any country you like.
    Cheques in the mail.

  13. Hi,
    This is my first comment here.
    I am from India and have the typical Indian accent in English.
    Have you met any Indian who can speak Japanese? I was wondering if I too would have an accent in Japanese like I have in English.
    Hindi is my native language, which is a derivative of Sanskrit. I actually studied Sanskrit for 5 years from 5th grade(Don’t remember much now)
    Anyways, I honestly think it is easier to study Japanese from Hindi then it is from English because the pronunciation is actually very similar. There are about 45 alphabets in Hindi which can cover all sounds in Hiragana plus even more. All without those Kanji.
    I have been learning Japanese seriously for about 6 months now. If using Anki decks counts as seriously, that is. Anki though only helps in reading, so I haven’t been able to test my speaking skills.

    I am actually a final year Mech Engineering uni student in New Delhi, so I feel like learning Japanese would be a good step for some employment opportunities in Japan.

    BTW I have been following your blog for about 2 years now, and I have also read your book. Needless to say it was very funny!

    1. I know several Indian people here. Their Japanese sounds fine. I wouldn’t say it was heavily accented with Indian, and they generally sound better than the Americans. For that matter, their English doesn’t have much of an accent either. Certainly better than most Texans.

      You are correct in assuming your Japanese accent will be better if your native language is more similar to Japanese, so coming from Hindi is probably an advantage. One thing that trips a lot of people up, including myself, are the elongated vowels in Japanese (大橋 Oohashi versus お箸 Ohashi). Does Hindi use both long and short vowels?

      Definitely, learning Japanese can open doors for you here, so keep it up. I think that’s great. Do little bit every day and you’ll be fluent, in about fifty years.

      Oh, and thanks much for buying the book! Leave a comment on Amazon if you can—that really helps.

      1. Yes, Hindi does in fact has vowels which have both short and elongated forms. These forms become a pain when writing down though. I always had problems choosing which to use when writing a word. Its not a problem anymore because in cities everything is in English anyways. So much so that you don’t actually need to be able to read Hindi to survive here. Just need decent Hindi speaking.
        Now that I think about it, maybe the reason Japanese feels so natural is because of those vowels. In English for example, vowels have different sound depending on context while it is fixed in Japanese and Hindi.

        And yes, living in Japan in my 70s would be some experience. Then at least I would be speaking fluent Japanese. Gotta take the positives.

  14. Your Japanese evolve in steps: First you sound like a girl, then your Japanese gets better and maybe even good enough that Japanese stop telling you how good it is. In the last phase, you only have foreign friends because you are tired of hearing the same stereotypes for 20 years, and the good Japanese fades away.

    And thanks for your stories, Ken, they always cheer me up!

  15. Hey Ken,

    How come an eloquent, charismatic oddball like you aren’t making bank on YouTube?

    I believe you’ll relate to the comments made by a charming Steve Martin in response to this video:

    At any rate, he reminded me of you.

    His profound ambivalence wrt Japan appears to stem from the same source as yours, from my simplistic, distant perspective – you guys strike me as temperamentally Dionysian in the most Apollonian developed country I can think of.

    Maybe that’s part of the initial allure? Maybe it’s just my dumb impression, but I have a hunch you’d have a blast in Latin America. At least, for about a year.


    1. Thanks for the overly kind words, and this: “Dionysian in the most Apollonian developed country.”

      That’s excellent. What an apt and literary way to frame the situation. I agree that Latin America (among many other parts of the world) would likely have been a much better fit. I have tremendous powers of hindsight.

      As for YouTube, a few other people have suggested it, and on the surface I agree it’s an intriguing idea. The primary barrier is I’m lazy as eff, and doubt I could pull off anything high quality. Out of the millions of YouTube channels, there’s about two I can stand to watch. The last thing the world needs is another guy walking around Japan with a camcorder rambling about life here. The damn blog is bad enough.

      By the way, bump to your suggestion of reading Steve Martin’s comment on that YouTube video. It’s perhaps unfortunate such a deep look into Japan is buried in a YouTube comment.

  16. That’s what Steve Martin said in his follow-up comments as well, but it’s precisely because most of the content is so shallow that your insights and communication skills would be appreciated (and supported by members and patrons, apart from subscribers).


    1. I know you’re right. I always thought of myself as merely a writer, but now that way of thinking seems to belong to a bygone era. Nowadays to achieve any sort of success, you have to work social media, build your “presence” and “brand.” It’s all about self-promotion, getting people to “like and follow” you.

      I was never interested in fame or fortune; I just wanted to relay some of the funny stuff I’d seen, and if anybody enjoyed it, that was great. As long as I could make enough to keep the lights on and a couple malt liquors in the fridge, hey, good enough.

      But the evolution of media is pretty clear, so yeah, YouTube, distasteful as it is, is now the way to go. Well, if I ever retire, watch out. With a camcorder and too much time on my hands, I’m going to make the world’s greatest channel about Japan, that only half the audience will hate.

      1. Oh, think of it as writing audio-essays and you’re set. Personality and content suffice for someone with your goals and require no more than a cell phone. You’ll simply reach a bigger audience by being on the platform.

        For the most part, people are looking for someone they can relate to. This is the case even in supposedly specialized message boards. Generation Z watches Millennials play video games. That you have a unique perspective on a very popular topic would only work in your favor.

        Might end up making more friends than you could’ve imagined. You can easily do away with branding and the “like and subscribe” mantra. Having “Japan” and “Japanese” in your titles is all the marketing you need.

        Your subscribers will be there for you, primarily. Even writing is a form of socialization. My initial “making bank” remark was only a little tongue-in-cheek. I believe in the importance of your takes and that you could make a comfortable living out of your talent by using another medium, even as a hobby.

        It’s obvious that you have what it takes, production is overrated, but I promise not to pester you anymore.


  17. Great, more rules to learn how to not embarrass yourself. Isn’t Vietnam better? I’m starting to think that there are 1000000000 million rules.

    1. I’ve never been to Vietnam, but I’m willing to bet it’s better. In some ways. And in others, worse. I’d sure like to find out, for about a year.

      1. Actually, I was quite sauced when I sent that donation and article request. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to refund 75% of the donation and forget about my music article idea?

        1. Hi Cody,

          No worries, I refunded the entire amount. As for the article idea, I always appreciate people suggesting topics they’d like to read about. The only problem is I don’t listen to music very often, Japanese or otherwise, so I’m not really qualified to weigh in on the subject. Not that that ever stopped me before.

  18. Thank you. Once that refund comes through I’ll send a more modest donation. I’m honestly not sure what I was asking you to write about. I just recently finished the short story collection “Nocturnes” by Kazuo Ishiguro which is about music so I’m thinking that’s where the idea came from. Anyway, I’m a fan of your work and I hope you always keep it up. That’s probably all I really meant to say.

    1. Thanks, I sure appreciate that. While I’m thankful for all donations, the comments and support are really what keep me going. Have a great holiday season.

  19. Hi Ken! First post from a pretty long time reader here (from Italy).
    Love your writing and am happy that you have a book out! It’s already in my reading list.

    As a linguist (with no knowledge/expertise of Japanese), I discovered your blog through your posts on learning japanese. I read them all through and I found them informative, detalied and that all too rare quality: very, very realistic …

    so it was a shock to read that a native speaker – that Sachiko girl – found your Japanese limited and shaky! After reading through your long history of wrestling with language, _I _ felt personally hurt and insulted!

    I am _sure_ that is not actually true and can provide you with crucial evidence in your favour: on the phone do native speakers immediately recognize you as a foreigner? can you – with little effort – focus on your pronunciation and make it completely compatible that a native’s?

    Looking forward to seeing that girl publicly proved wrong. And if these little questions lead you to write a reappraisal of your Japanese skills after so many years of study, that would make very interesting reading for lots of people out there.

    Greeting from Florence,

    1. Hi Federico, thanks for the comment and encouragement. Years ago, I spent a few days in Florence. Lovely city.

      Several people have said I sound like Pakkun: , although his Japanese is far better. If you listen to that clip, you may be able to detect some non-native inflections, and I suspect any Japanese person could. From what I glean from his Wikipedia page, he’s been working on it for 27 years. As a Harvard graduate and professional voice actor, he’s certainly got plenty going for him.

      So to answer your questions: “on the phone do native speakers immediately recognize you as a foreigner?” Yes, every time. Not always at first, but if we talk for a while, it becomes obvious I wasn’t born in Japan.

      “can you – with little effort – focus on your pronunciation and make it completely compatible that a native’s?” Mmmm, hard to say. I’ve spent years and more that a little effort, but I certainly want to keep improving. But completely compatible? You must know folks in Italy who’ve moved from places like India, Japan, or China. How many of them sound like Italians? To answer my own question, I’ve know scores, if not hundreds, of non-native English speakers here in Japan, from Mexico, the Philippines, France, Sweden, Taiwan, the Ukraine, India, etc., and virtually none of them sounded like a native English speaker. I’d actually venture to say none of them did. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Having an accent is fine. But I’d say sounding like a native is an exceptionally high bar for any adult language learner.

      And yet, still we keep trying…

      1. I keep telling my friends that the true measure of Japanese proficiency is how long it takes between the time you meet someone for the first time and when they say 日本語は上手ですね。。。 My current record is 1 minute…

  20. “So to answer your questions: “on the phone do native speakers immediately recognize you as a foreigner?” Yes, every time. Not always at first, but if we talk for a while, it becomes obvious I wasn’t born in Japan.”

    I am very proud to say, that I can usually go a few minutes without the person on the other end of the line noticing.
    I actually once had a conversation where at the end I had to tell the person that I am not Japanese for some reason and the person on the other end was like “whaaaaa?” – mind blown. Fond memory, that one.

  21. Seeroisan is looks like your Facebook page is caught up in some war between Facebook and the Australian Government and had been blocked. Thought you should know that Zuckerberg doesn’t want you influencing us any more. Web page is fine though, we just can’t post anything about it on Facebook or it gets taken down. Cheers maaate.

    1. Thanks for the heads up. I’m going back to scrawling on sheets of papyrus, which I shall float over to your country.

  22. I once had some guy I talked to on the phone get surprised when I met him as I was not Japanese. He said he thought I was someone from a strange prefecture which I took as an insanely good compliment.
    I was born in NZ and left there when I was 23 & I’ve been living in Australia for 24 years now. If I go back to NZ everyone thinks I’m an Aussie, but in Oz I still occasionally get asked if I am from NZ, point being even in my own native language I still have an accent. If I move to another country I will have a different accent from those around me. I will use different words from those around me even in my own native language.

    I have been speaking Japanese daily for the best part of 25 years and I just accept the fact that I am not going to ever sound native.

    Then again, I know people in Australia that are native english speakers who speak with an accent. Doesn’t mean that they are less proficient than I am so I kind of don’t really get too hung up on it, but easy to say that when you are in country like Australia that has so many different nationalities living here.

    I don’t know if anyone knows Dogen on You Tube ( ) but I thought he was one of the best speakers of Japanese I have ever seen, but when I showed his video to my wife without showing her the screen, she said immediately that he was not a native Japanese so I think being mistaken for a Japanese is pretty much impossible for someone coming to the country from their late teens onwards.

  23. I think the guy that said that to me must be partially deaf or something as there is no way that I sound anything like a native Japanese speaker. Or if I did it would be one that was talking with a mouth full of marbles, but thanks for the nice comment. Nothing like a bit of flattery to make you feel good.

    Getting through your book slowly as life keeps getting in the way. Did you enjoy it writing it?
    I like your book more than your blog as you have the space to expand things, add more prose and detail.
    I could not imagine writing and but I often wonder why those that can and do write, do so. What motivates you to do that? I mean I like running, and can get that others do it for health reasons, to loose weight, to prove something to themselves, or any of the other myriad of reasons, but writing is beyond me primarily as I can’t do it myself I suspect. I’d imagine you write, re-write then do it again. A form of dedication I can appreciate when I read so thanks for doing it.

    1. Most of the stories in the book started here, as blog posts. That made the process of writing much easier, since I didn’t have to attempt one massive, complete work and instead could put forth ideas a bit quicker and more easily, plus garner some important feedback and encouragement. You mention re-writing and holy shit, do I ever. Each story gets edited and re-written dozens of times. I think that’s the process I like the most, because the story’s finally finished (which is the hard part) and each subsequent revision brings it closer to what I’m truly trying to express.

      As for enjoyment, your analogy to running is perfect. Both activities are difficult, take a lot out of you, and often I’d prefer not to get started. But their completion comes with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Ultimately, I write because there’s simply so much amazing stuff in the world—some good, some pretty horrible, and it’s like when you encounter that which is interesting or memorable and say, Whoa, lemme get a picture. Maybe it’s a sunset, a friend’s birthday, or even a traffic accident. Maybe you capture that moment to share with others, or just for yourself, but you don’t want to let it slip by unacknowledged. I mean, these moments, they’re literally what constitute our lives. And so the book has been my life in Japan. Some good, some kinda bad, but hey, that’s the way it went down.

  24. Ken,
    Finished your book on the weekend. Really good reading and thank you for writing it.
    For someone who tries to make things fun and light some of those stories had deep undertones. The suicide one for example. I can imagine that one hit you pretty hard. You wrote that really well. I could feel your confusion at what to say and do, let alone trying to do that in a different culture. Hard enough in your native tongue & culture. Red running shorts awash in a room of black.
    When my Mother in Law passed away my wife went back to Japan and had to purchase appropriate black clothing & we slept in the same room as her corpse which I found pretty challenging.
    I had a Japanese friend commit suicide and leave behind her husband and son. Her husband rang me a few months later and he was still searching for the illusive answer to the question “why” but I couldn’t help him. I would imagine that your friend is probably still asking himself the same question, and probably blames himself.
    For someone that likes to keep things light and frivolous, that was quite a heavy one, but then again I suspect that that is only a façade you put on for the readers.
    Good book, really enjoyed it.
    Do you still have those skimpy red running shorts? Do you find that they help attract the members of the opposite sex?

    1. Glad you enjoyed the book–thanks much for reading it.

      The skimpy red running shorts have been replaced by skimpy blue ones, although I can’t say either color resulted in meeting any members of the opposite sex. Honestly, they probably attract members of the same sex. But hey, any port in a storm. To attract women, I find it’s much more effective to wear a suit sewn from hundred-dollar bills.

      Wow, your story of sleeping in the same room as your dead mother-in-law was pretty unsettling. Yeah, a lot of what I wrote in the book was simply whitewashing the pain. I mean, you can laugh or cry, so it’s probably better to drink a beer. Before folks relocate here, they’d be wise to consider that moving to Japan does not insulate one from life’s inevitable difficulties–depression, illness, pregnancies, divorce, bankruptcy, death… In fact, most things are far worse, because you have less resources and support. But the food’s really good; that’s something.

  25. Now here is something that I am going through at the moment which I find interesting in it makes you think. That is simply what are we humans? What is our identity? Are you a white gaijin in Japan? That is certainly one identity, although I’d probably call you an American, but you probably have taken on a lot of Japanese traits so are you really an American anymore. What is an American in the 1st place as that is a huge diverse range of individuals anyway.

    Or are you an ESL / English teacher?

    Why I am saying that is I have been running my own business for 18 years. Been successful with it and made good money. I am selling the business now and I’ll make more money . I intend to take a year off and relax but that is the issue. Up until now I have been the boss of a company, I have staff coming to me with questions, I have customers coming to me with problems I need to solve, I have wholesalers coming to me with deals to give me work as it makes their life easier, I think you get the point, work has been a major part of my life.

    What does one become when ones identity is no longer inextricably linked to work? don’t worry, I’m not too worried about it myself, I think the journey of finding that will be a lot of fun.

    I see you have given up a successful career in the US to pursue a dream of living in Japan. You have given up a lot of potential wealth but you have gained a wealth of experiences. Those experiences have formed you and heck, helped you write a book (good one btw). So what do you consider to be your identity? A teacher? A writer? A commentator? Do you ever think about the life you left back in the US?

    Do you have any regrets? Are the rewards you get from being in Japan more than the regrets you have. One would assume so as you are still there, despite the great fodder of frustration you have in Japan. It at least makes good source of inspiration for future articles.

    I look at myself and I am the opposite of you. I gave up so much in terms of experiences, friends, time with family, holidays and experiences to work. For that I got financial rewards.
    You gave up the financial rewards to gain a lot of experiences, yes, some good, some back, some fun, some not so much fun, but they all became part of you, your blog and your book.

    I am sure you have considered things, and I’d love to get your thoughts about this issue. Not looking for advice, I don’t need that as I know where I am going, but just interested in your opinion.

    1. You’ve raised a number of very interesting questions. Let’s examine a few.

      I’d say regret is quite likely the default human condition. I’d be surprised if it weren’t encoded in our genetics. If we were happy with our life choices, we’d just lay around the cave and never get out to eat and mate. And that’s in 2021. I’d sum up my feelings with the words of the singer Bush: “If I had it all again I’d change it all.”

      But Kierkegaard really had it right: ““Marry, and you will regret it; don’t marry, you will also regret it…Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it; weep over it, you will regret that too…Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will regret that too; hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret it either way; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy.” So yeah, not a week goes by that I don’t wish I’d stayed in the U.S., surrounded by friends and family, working a high-paying and high-prestige job, dating beautiful women, driving expensive cars, taking luxurious vacations. But then I’d be stuck at a desk, pushing a mouse, hating life and dreaming of adventures in a foreign country. The hardest thing is to be happy with what you have and where you are. Still working on that one.

      You also brought up identity, which is salient. I’ve worked at close to 100 different jobs in my life, lived in maybe 20 cities, been an athlete, a drunk, a businessman, unemployed, popular and loved, abandoned and reviled. One thing I’m sure of is, you are not what you were. You are only what you are, right now. If I say, I’m a guy who runs a 5-minute mile, I’d be lying. I’m a guy who used to do that. Nor am I a surfer, skier, or bike racer. I think I am, but the truth is, those are things I used to do. I used to live in a big, beautiful house in the U.S. and pursue fabulous hobbies. Now I’m in a small, cold Japanese apartment, and lucky if I run at half the speed.

      So why not just go back? Well, first of all, it’s by no means certain I’d be able to land another good job. And I’d have to give up my life in Japan, the people I know, all the amazing restaurants, the relative safety and cleanliness, convenient transportation, and health care. And then I’d regret that. One thing to consider is that your life in the future may not always be better. It might well be worse, so be careful what you bet on.

      The last thing I’ll say about identity is that almost everybody defines it externally. They look at you and say, Oh, you’re this. Wear a tie and you’re a banker. Wear a swimsuit and you’re a surfer. Be white and you’re American. Black and you’re African. Asian and you’re Japanese. Sleep with people of the same sex and you’re gay. Snort coke and you’re a drug user. And sometimes we think that too. But the truth is, we’re only what we believe ourselves to be. You define it, every moment of every day, through your thoughts and actions, and it doesn’t matter a damn what anybody else thinks.

  26. OK Ken,
    Serious stuff, but you threw in running so I am going for that 1st. I don’t do short distances. I kind of do 10km per run each time. I know it is hard to compare but 5 minute mile is 3 min 06 seconds per km, now that is like lightning. Granted, at my best I could do 5km in about 18 minutes but I have spent the few years getting slower due to my increasing age and decreasing dedication. I am now a recreational runner. I am seriously impressed with your pace. Bet you did it in those red running shorts too right? Damn, I need to get away from gray or black.

    Does that instability caused by that many jobs and cities get to you, or do you actually enjoy it?

    As I older, my pleasures get really simple. I found a new Ramen joint that I am going to tomorrow, with a ground that we call “getsuyoukai” (always on Mondays hence the name) which is my self, my wife, and a revolving group of Japanese friends. Always involves good food and alcohol, sometimes too much but that if also fun. Interaction with others is something that I take pleasure in and I think that as humans the vast majority of us need more of that, which gets a little harder as we get older and stuck into mortgages, careers, families etc.

    I think we can reinvent ourselves if we overcome fear of the unknown. Humans want to stick to what they know, even if they don’t like the current situation. Selling my business is kind of dumb as I make great money, but I don’t enjoy this anymore and want to do something different. No idea what that is but the only thing that holds us back from changing is the mental or emotional leap to have faith that things will work out. You obviously have done that to get to Japan, and probably have done that with a number of jobs you have had and moved on.

    I can’t imagine that when I am on my death bed that I will be sitting there going, geez if only I had worked another year(s)to make more money instead of [insert whatever it is that tickles your fancy].

    I like the concept that you are what you believe yourself to be which is defined by your thoughts and actions. You can change your mindset and thus change who you are.

    1. Man, 10km a run, that is impressive. If I ran that far in Japan, I’d be two towns over. And then how would I get home?

      “I think we can reinvent ourselves if we overcome fear of the unknown. Humans want to stick to what they know, even if they don’t like the current situation.” I feel like we have no choice but to reinvent ourselves. We either change willingly, or life drags us into the unknown, despite our best efforts to stay put.

      1. I disagree with that comment. You have chosen to put yourself into a foreign country with different rules, regulations, cultures, expectations as a foreigner with no support system that you would have back in the US. The options you have are fare more limited that you would have in the US so you chosen, as our cavemen ancestors did, to venture forth into a big scary world, where you meet different terrain and monsters and you either change or you die, or at least have limbs torn off.

        I know numerous people that find the status quo comforting and change terrifying. Sure, life does throw some of them curveballs but they do their utmost to dodge them and retain the environment that they are in.

        I think that you should be saying “I have no choice but to reinvent myself” simply as it is what you thrive on. If you wanted to take easier options you could have so I think it is all about choices that we make, whether they are conscious choices or not.

        Granted, that Japan has had some environmental challanges such as earthquakes, tsunami’s, landslides and then COVID-19, the mother of all curve balls but I can still think of people, that even with all that, have tried to retain the same lifestyle as much as possible.

        I think the point is more how you decide to react to the curveballs.

        Not trying to argue, but perhaps I am suggesting that you don’t give yourself enough credit for you innate ability to face change.

        1. Point taken. I did choose “to venture forth into a big, scary world,” so far as Japan could be considered such. Of course, one might note that a great number of Americans never ventured anywhere and still wound up homeless, unemployed, under mountains of debt, unable to afford medical care, or victims of crime. Staying put offers no guarantee of security. Personally, I’ve known quite a few individuals who died young, had their lives upended by illness, divorce, crippling accidents…there’s quite a list.

          I side with the philosopher John Gray in his assertion that “most of the things that happen to us are pure chance.” We live in a world filled with vagarity and chaos, and simply invent meaning to give ourselves the illusion of order. You touched on that yourself when you mentioned Japan’s disasters, but if we look more broadly, there are millions of people in nations around the world living through wars, famine, and poverty. Those others who enjoy stability, even momentarily, should be grateful, and careful not to assume that it will last. I think humans have the tendency to believe so.

  27. You’ve non-ironically quoted Kierkegaard and John Gray…you never cease to surprise Ken-sensei…

    …though in terms of regrets, I’m wishing that I had taken my family to Japan before all the restrictions, at the least he could go to school without having to get Blue Screen Filtering lenses, and we could all go out instead of being best friends with the local Uber Eats people. At the time though, my wife was saying that Japan was worse than the US and I told her that she underestimated Americans’ ability to F things up. I guess I win…but not really…

    1. Heh, most of the irony I see is in my own life.

      To wit, I share your same regret, only the flip side. I wish I’d made a trip to the US last year, before things got bad. That is, before, as you so delicately put it, Americans effed things up.

      1. Reading your guys comments makes me feel incredibly lucky to be living in Australia. A country with a full social safety net, where almost all your medical costs are covered by the government, where nobody has a gun so you don’t need to have one and we have pretty much zero COVID cases.

        Now Ken, I think a lot of things come down to choices. If I use myself as an example I have two older siblings. Their decisions that they made earlier in life set them in their course. The decisions I made meant that I had more experiences and was open to different options that they could or would not take. Of course, I don’t think it comes entirely down to your own choices and that there are factors that are beyond your own control but you talk about debt. I have a number of friends that need to have the latest phone, car, or whatever and blow massive amounts of money on those things, whilst paying top dollar for a property during a housing bubble to have a massive mortgage that they can’t afford. Then COVID comes along and things change. Can you say that is COVID’s fault or is it their fault that they choose dumb options to put themselves in that circumstance in the 1st place.

        How’s Japan’s vaccination going and when are the borders going to open? 2022 on the cards you think?

        1. Vaccination of the general population probably won’t pick up speed until at least June. We’ll be lucky to reach any sort of herd immunity by fall.

          Barring any significant spread of virus variants, a 2022 reopening seems likely, although it’s hard to picture a future where things return to the way they were. Right now, everyone’s wearing a mask, there are hand-sanitizing dispensers everywhere, you line up with two meters of space front and back, and positively everything is wrapped in plastic. Restaurants and bars often sit empty, and folks queue up outside of small shops for takeaway. Outside, it looks like an army conquered Japan by bicycle, with troops of UberEats riders patrolling the streets. I hope Japan will loosen up and become a bit fun again, but judging from how things sit now, that looks to be a ways off.

  28. Thinking of you Ken. Hope you’re holding up OK. Japanese life is depressing enough without a fucking plague backing it up. Best wishes <3

    Your fan and loyal reader,

    1. Hey Philip,

      I’m actually doing great, focusing on exercise and staying healthy, ready to come raring back once this pandemic’s over. Thanks much for the good wishes.

  29. Dude, there is a really big push to change the laws in regards to uber eats drivers to give them more protection to additional pay, and different levels of employment benefits as there have been 5 deaths of drivers in the recent months. Don’t know how it is in Japan as things a not as open in terms of roads here, but these guys (and gals) can’t seem to make up their mind as to if they are cyclists or pedestrians and constantly run red lights, cross the road with pedestrians at lights and then turn 90 degrees to cross the road in front of cars. I’m flat out not hitting them in my car, and if I am walking I’m always petrified that they will run me over. They are the scourge of the earth (Ok perhaps I am getting a little carried away here).

    What are they like in Japan?

    My Brother In Law ran 2 restaurants in Tokyo. 1 in Kagurazaka, which he closed last year, and another in Ginza. Haven’t really had the courage to ask him how he is going but can’t imagine that it can be that good when you have to close by 8pm. Do you have restrictions on the number of people per m2 in restaurants like we have (had)?

    Seeroi, has this pandemic been good for your health? Has it cut down on the drinking, upped your exercise and made you more healthy? I’m the opposite. I have a 13doz wine cellar at my place and I have been doing my best to drink my way through it. You know when you are on a bad wicket when your exercise routine is altered due to your drinking so perhaps that is something I need to cut down on, well after tonight, or perhaps tomorrow night, but you get the point? How’s it been for you?

    1. When the pandemic started, I reacted with my trademark composure by constructing a colorful barricade of beer cans and potato chip bags against the door of my tiny apartment. After which it took several months to eat and drink my way out. I was like, Jeez, this pandemic’s no joke—I almost died in there.

      So once I’d drunk my body weight in malt liquor several times over and watched every movie Netflix ever produced, I did exactly what you described, and used this whole mess as an opportunity to get healthy again, lose some weight, and maybe consume something that wasn’t a shade of beige. A move born out of desperation. But hopefully Japan will roll out some vaccines soon so I can quit all this exercise and get back to being the man of leisure I was born to be.

  30. Can I just say how much I appreciate your posts like this on Japanese language learning? I feel like you’re the only person who can be brutally honest about it. Like, yeah, if you sound “effeminate” in Japanese, that means you’re at a really high level, congrats! The problem for 99.9% of English Japanese learners is they won’t be understood at all, not that their accent/nuance is bad.

    In general I just really appreciate having someone confirm for me that, yes, this language is hard, it’s not just me. I feel like 99% of internet advice is “yeah, I got fluent in Japanese in 6 months, it’s no big deal. You must be doing something wrong.” You’re the only person who seems to properly describe how *hard* this language is, at least for anything beyond the very basics.

    I could sort of understand it if they’re selling a language course- hey, respect the hustle! But a lot of the people saying how easy it is aren’t selling anything. Maybe they’re trying to reassure themselves that they’re not wasting their time? Or bragging about how smart they are? Or they just want to make others feel inferior? I don’t know. It’s very strange and annoying. I think it’s actually becoming a real issue for people who spend time in Japan- there’s this expectation that if you live there for 1 year teaching English, you should come back totally fluent, and if you’re not then you must be a racist who refused to even try.

    1. So I recently came across a YouTube video about how to do muscle-ups. Seems straightforward enough. Just follow the video’s advice and you’ll be there in no time. I suspect it also helps if you’ve worked out seriously since you were a teenager, posess excellent musculature, have ten percent body fat, and are under the age of 35.

      The internet’s chock full of stuff that looks doable, which some people can indeed do, but most people will never be able to accomplish. Given the obesity rate in America, it seems clear the majority of folks there couldn’t manage a single pull-up, much less something far more challenging.

      Same goes for Japanese. Here’s a quick checklist of language-learning advantages: Are you 14? Do you have a fuck-ton of free time? Are you weirdly good at geeking out on stuff for hours every day? Are you already bilingual in other languages? Do you play a musical instrument? Are you from China or Korea? No? How about Japan?

      “Strange and annoying” describes the entire internet pretty well. So, is Japanese hard to learn? Jeezus, just look at it. Of course it’s hard.

  31. Hi. I’m a Korean who’s a huge fan of your articles.
    Since there are a lot of Koreans who’s interested in Japan, I would like translate your writings to share it with other Koreans to read.
    I would be most grateful if you’d give me the permission to post my translation of your work on my blog.
    I will not use any of this for commercial purposes, and will always include a link to the original post of your website for everything I translate.
    If this is okay with you, please let me know.

    1. Thank you for contacting me in advance. That’s very kind of you.

      Yes, if you include a link to the original, you are free to post translations on your site (but not in other forms or for use commercially). I’m glad you enjoy my writing.



  32. Hmm yes this is basically a “myth”.

    Most of the “girly” things are more or less “informal” things. That is, besides girls, children also use them often. Yes, using あたしor ending every sentence withわ〜or よstarts to sound feminine, but then again, some girls hate that style. I tend to know girls that will use “manly” words.

    Using words like 俺, お前,貴様, etc. are simply rude, and make you sound like a Yakuza, Anime dude, or a middle aged Japanese loser trying to sound tough (I know some Japanese guys like this…). You can use these jokingly with your friends or family, but you had better know whether you can get away with it, and better safe than sorry. Your being “friendly” with the guy at the bar you thought you were close to might end up in him being pissed off.

    But.. using polite language like です/ます, or 敬語 is basically what you need when you are dealing with anyone you don’t know, or anyone at work – especially clients.

    What people usually called “politeness” is really “formality”. Sometimes being more formal can be *less* polite (i.e. just like when your parents call you by your full name when they are angry, Japanese people may be more formal when they are upset). In general, though, you will need to deal with people you don’t know or on a work environment more than you need to talk to your close friends/family in many cases, so if you only know one “set” of Japanese, it should be mid-level polite. Yes, girls are more often polite, but this doesn’t make you sound like a girl, it makes you sound polite. That is the reasons why most Japanese courses start at this level. They don’t want you learning a little Japanese and then walking into BIC Camera saying stuff like “俺様はこれを買うぞ!早く取れ、おまえ!” instead of “これをください”。 At least at BIC Camera you would be a customer. The situation would be much worse if you were using this kind of Japanese at work towards a client. Also, in general, teachers are professionals. A female Japanese teacher is hopefully not going to teach you to sound like a snack mama-san unless that is what you want.

    It’s true that you may get a bit of a free pass if you are a foreigner, but it’s also true that you won’t be taken seriously in most cases. So the bigger problem than possibly sounding a bit feminine is sounding rude or conceited.

    Put it this way, I do a lot of hiring interviews, and I expect everyone I hire to speak professional Japanese, as they will have to deal with clients. People who don’t qualify generally fall into one of three camps:
    1. They know reading/writing and grammar just fine, but have issues with pronunciation. (Often Chinese or Vietnamese people have these issues). They probably studied overseas and need practice on the ground.
    2. They just need more studying in general. (Could be any country). I might hire them with the understanding that they continue to study.
    3. They learned Japanese from anime or delinquent friends and are totally unpresentable. In this case I can’t hire them.

    In case #3, they should try to get a job where they only need to know English, and they need to pretend they don’t know any Japanese, because they can do way more harm than good. Or maybe they can get a job as an anime voice actor who plays the foreign characters…

    Learning Japanese from watching anime is like learning English from watching South Park or Beavis and Butthead. Entertaining, maybe, but not useful in polite society.

    Wow! Now I just got an idea to open an English school specializing in teaching inappropriate English with lessons based entirely on SP and B&B and unleashing them to interact with unsuspecting English speakers!

    1. I’m willing to apply for that school as one of my concerns is not being able to speak in a very informal way in English…. Probably I’m exposed to too many academic English articles as a university student

      1. In the university classes I teach, I actually devote quite a bit of time to informal English. More formal—academic or “proper”—English is important for a variety of classroom and workplace settings, but in other (arguably more “real life”) settings you need to be able to communicate with a range of people, many of whom speak in pretty fucked up ways. It’s important to know how and when to use different levels of politeness, in English as well as Japanese.

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