Enduring Japan During the Crisis

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.

How COVID-19 has Affected Japan

But now, that’s all gone, wiped out by the coronavirus. The standing bar where I’d get three glasses of shochu and a grilled sardine for 10 bucks, closed. The sitting bar across the alley where I’d stumble afterward for four frosty lagers and a cheese-filled fish sausage for eleven dollars, shuttered. I’m reduced to walking through parks with a tallboy of malt liquor, conversating with girls from six feet away through mutual face masks. “So, how ‘bout this social distancing, huh? I like your clean hands. Off to sanitize? Okay. Y’know, I have Netflix… just sayin’!” Ah, she’ll be back.

Japan’s officially no fun anymore. If I were to chart my experience with the nation, it’d be a long downward arc from Funnest Country Ever to Why Am I Here? I’ve lived through a massive earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown, heartbreak, betrayal, unemployment, arrest, hospitalization, suicide, another massive earthquake, more unemployment, more death, more heartbreak, racism, boxes of discarded puppies and kittens in the trash and through it all been like, Great, what else ya’ got? Bring it. Global pandemic? Okay  . . . Well, that is pretty good. Gotta admit, did not see that coming.

Keeping it up in Japan

Over the years, I remained mostly upbeat because, you know, eh, that’s life. Tough times don’t last, but tough people don’t either. And maybe not a tsunami, but it rains everywhere. Well, except Southern California. Really shoulda stayed there. Eh, hindsight. But Japan was okay, because it offered enough good times to balance out the bullshit. Sakura festivals, firework festivals, dance festivals, fried noodles and stuff on sticks. Laying on blue sheets staring at the stars under paper lanterns, drinking cold beer on hot summer nights. Drinking hot sake on cold winter nights, gazing at the moon. The millions of restaurants, food carts, and corner stalls, whirling with plates of steaming deliciousness and rivers of booze, cheap and brimming with drunk workers laughing and howling before sprinting for the last, packed train.

My Virtual Existence

So lately, I’ve been having these Zoom calls with my old buddies from high school in the U.S. And to a man, everyone lives in a massive house, has a family, and a successful career. And I’m all like, Check out my 25-square-meter apartment. I can cook, take a nap, and have a whiz, all in the same room. You can’t say that’s not convenient.

And nobody did, probably because they’re all Americans and don’t know what a meter is. But my buddy Lon was like, “Ken, why you live in such a small place?”

Which admittedly was an excellent question. “Yeah, so I mortgaged my future for the fleeting pleasure of several mugs of malt liquor and trying to convince 45 year-old broads to accompany me to love hotels . . . aaand now I live in poverty,” seemed a bit long of an answer.

“Well, I teach English,” I replied, which means the same thing.

Life on Ice

But enough about me. Let’s talk about polar explorer Henry Worsley, and me. For his part, Worsley hauled a sled laden with supplies in solitude, on foot, over 900 miles across Antarctica, enduring months of fatigue, frostbite, and hunger, before finally collapsing and radioing for help on a satellite phone. There’s only two ways stories of adventure end. Either you survive and spend the rest of your days tending vegetables in the sun, slowly growing old, sipping wine and playing frisbee with your dog, or you die alone on the ice. Worsley made the flight out, but passed away before reaching his home in Great Britain and seeing his family again. Okay, technically that’s three ways, but you get the idea.

Living to Tell the Story

So it’s either, Ken Seeroi? Yeah, he went to Japan, fuckin’ died, and we never saw the dude again—or, You mean the sweet old guy with tall tales about the Far East and an incessant slide show of fake temples and Chinese women dressed as Geisha? There’s something to be said for being able to bore your neighbors and relations to tears. That’s not nothing.

At this point, 54,000 Americans have already died, with some friends-of-my-friends among them. If I can help it, I don’t want the last time I see my mother, brother, or good buddies to be on an iPhone. Nothing like a crisis to snap things into focus. On the other hand, it’s hard to make the case that the right move now is boarding a plane for a country with almost a million infected people, the majority of whom believe in angels and carry guns. Angels and guns? Seems kind of superfluous. Just an observation.

Coronavirus and the end of the World

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not done with Japan; simply trying to be realistic. Hey, first time for everything. The party’s over, maybe for a long time, and I’m stuck in a closet-sized apartment, social distancing and self-isolating. At least I’ve had a decade of practice in that. Or maybe this crisis in Japan is merely an excuse for bailing out. If so, gotta admit it’s a fairly good one. But Worsley never gave up. He was a member of the elite British SAS, whose motto is “Who dares wins.” I really feel I could help them with that sentence construction. Still, I’ll grant you that, as a saying, it’s pretty inspiring. Although practically speaking, nnyeaah, I kinda think He who stays on the couch wins. But like Worsley, I’ll push on a little further, just to see what’s over the next icy ridge. No doubt it’ll end well.

In Japan for the Long Haul

I still like Japan for the small things, like going to the ATM at midnight without getting jacked or waking up mosquito-bitten and hungover under the playpark slide without being surrounded by a SWAT team. I dig the toasty toilet seats and frosty cans of vending machine coffee. But the seesaw has definitely tilted a bit from pros to cons. If all life entails is spending days drinking beer in my boxers and watching Tiger King reruns, hell, I can do that anywhere. Why Japan? But then again, eh, why not? Possibly not the best reason for living like I do, but it’s all I got. Nietzsche famously said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Well, that just makes me wonder why I placed the fridge so far from my bed, and how I can move it closer. Great, and now I have a reason to live. Good morning, Japan.

108 Replies to “Enduring Japan During the Crisis”

  1. Sounds like everything sucks.
    Let me tell ya, it sucks here too.
    I am shocked and also the tiniest bit amazed at the people here in North Carolina wearing face masks and avoiding each other like the plague.
    In the midst of the C0-19 citizens here are snapped to attention., following the suggested guidelines staying home and not buying up all the food in the grocery store.
    There is always the dumb ass.
    Pulling up to the grocery store parking out front in the reserved for elderly or disabled, sometimes right out front.
    Going into the store, no face covering, a couple of kids in tow touching their faces and running free around the store.
    That combined with all the opinionated howling of disgruntled Democrats and Republicans taking shots at every chance.
    I am ready to get the hell out of here too.
    At this time there’s nowhere to hide till this thing gets worked out.
    I’m hoping we will find out that it can be cured by eating a banana with Texas Pete or something.
    Our workers are howling.
    Chomping at the bit to get back to some version of normal.

    1. The way I figure it is, now’s the time to bear down so we can put this behind us. My fear, and belief, is we’ll undo all the hard work by going back to normal too soon. I see people in Japan and the U.S. getting restless, but until this problem subsides, we’re only going to lengthen our pain. Nobody wants to shelter in place for months only to have another outbreak because some numbnuts couldn’t wait to get a tongue piercing or go to the beach.

    1. Cheers for that. Yeah, the world is all in the same boat, and ideally, this will bring humankind closer. Which would be ironic, given the necessary separation, but thus is hope.

    2. One month of isolation so far. Home office with two small kids at home.
      Great times.
      And probably for another three months at least ….

  2. Glad you’re ok Ken, you had me worried for a moment, nice to hear from you. This too shall pass. Shinzo Abe was heard to utter “I’m glad you’re in for the long haul Seroi-san, Japan needs men like you!”. Japan’s gotta be better than angels with guns injecting cleanser.

    1. Good to know Abe-san still cares. Yeah, you’re not wrong that Japan’s better than a lot of places. I’ve still got Wi-fi, Asahi, and 7-Eleven bentos, so the rest is just restless grumbling. Pay me no mind.

  3. I so feel ya, Ken.
    I miss Japan so deep, all those things you mention and more. How I long to see people in my local supermarket, together practicing their sumimasen bows before it opens. Snort — Aussies? As if. And if one likes retail experiences, why not live amidst the Disneyland of them? I could always henceforth depend on the kindness of strangers.

    I did fully intended to retire on a coast there – a huge bargain if you don’t mind gently radiating and/or occasionally being wave-knocked flat on the East, or facing the Ahole pushy neighbors on the West, them with their might-is-right gunships creating a newer New World Order.

    Then this crisis made me re-evaluate things, likewise.
    On balance, Australia has re-endeared me by being the best case study in the world on Covid handling. But even if they didn’t, there’s something about being with kin. With the same accent and attitude.

    When I did return here after 10 years overseas, I remember thinking it was temporary, this wasn’t home any more, how could it be with my world-wide viewpoint? But I also remember when I settled back in, and there was no head-think in the argument, it was all heart-feel. And my heart re-grew its roots in familiar soil.

    I suspect that unless your heart yearns for a someone who resides there, it’ll keep yearning for a someplace it knows you belong.

    1. Wow, that’s deep. I’m not sure where that soil is anymore, but maybe I was never meant to have deep roots. But perhaps some clarity will arise out of crisis. At any rate, I’m grateful to be in good company.

    2. I had the same experience, 10 years in Japan, now back “home” in Germany.
      I don’t have such a strong “I’m home” feeling as you do and I don’t really crave it either.
      I live in a “Japan in Germany” bubble for the most part and I like it.
      (At the same time we are building our house here and I have made some German friends with no connection to Japan.)

    3. There are some value places out in Shonan…not that I’ve spent this SiP time looking at real estate or anything…

      1. There’s certainly reasonably-priced real estate throughout Japan. And I don’t even want to live in a big house, although an apartment with a separate bedroom might be a novel experience.

        The real problem’s on the other side of the equation—it’s just maddeningly difficult to make any decent money in Japan.

        For the first couple of years, I didn’t care. I was just happy living “the Japan experience.” Well, that’s worn off now, and the years have accumulated while my savings hasn’t. I mean, I’m fine for near-term, but in five years? Ten years? You don’t want to be that sixty year-old dude drinking shochu in the park with five dollars in the bank—and there are a lot of those guys out there. That’s the standard Japanese retirement package.

        Japan’s simply not a nation with a lot of personal wealth. And it’s not only English teachers, it’s a large swath of the population. When I visit the U.S., I just cannot believe how much stuff people have. Cars, jet skis, mountain bikes, chairs, beds, an extra fridge in the garage, a garage . . .

        Now, I don’t need or want most or any of that stuff, but neither do I want to die in poverty. Honestly, the best thing to do would be to make money somewhere else, and then retire to Japan. Or the probably the Philippines, actually.

        1. Yeah, and I think you touched on it before about poverty in Japan and how they just do a better job of hiding it…but the actual statistics about people living around and below the poverty line in Japan are pretty striking…and actually higher than like the US…

          I think you might want to reconsider the Philippines part of the equation. My family left because you couldn’t make that much money (also Marcos was killing our friends and family members…so yeah, good enough reason to get the F out). I also went to the Philippines and Japan last December and I felt that Japan was far cheaper for anyone that didn’t grow up in the Philippines (i.e. you can eat regular food because you have the gut biome to deal with the fact that you can get pretty sick), so you have to eat out and those places aren’t any cheaper than in Japan and are usually much more. Unless you can figure out how to ride the jeepney and are fine hanging out the side of one or a tricycle, transport is orders of magnitude more expensive and frustrating. Property might be cheaper, but not necessarily if you live in a gated community because you actually want working, reliable utilities and don’t want people breaking into your house on the regular (and even then it’ll still happen). I dunno…maybe healthcare might be cheaper…but if you wanted Filipino nurses taking care of you, you can stay in Japan for that.

          1. Okay, well so much for that retirement parachute. But thanks, I always appreciate hearing from people with actual knowledge about a place.

            There’s certainly something to be said for living the way the locals do. Which makes me realize something about the U.S.—there, both the tourists and locals do the same stuff. They eat at the same restaurants and pay the same prices. That’s kind of amazing. That’s not the case for much of the world, including Japan. Here, tourists almost never go to local restaurants, or stay in local hotels. Those place purposely don’t provide English, and may even outright deny you service. Which is why so many people who’ve visited Japan have never, actually, been to Japan. So that’s why the U.S. is so expensive—everybody’s paying tourist prices, even the residents.

            1. Oh wow, now that you mention it…we really don’t have a difference here between tourist and local prices and options, do we? Though my buddies in Hawaii mention something about what tourists do and locals do…but it seems like the price discrepancy isn’t all that much.

              Well, I might be talking up my own plans since I have a place out in Hiroshima…but even though I have US and Filipino citizenships, I told my wife to hold onto her Japanese citizenship since that’s our way out…

              Interesting side note, I did a little research on the US Social Security Administrations distributions (yeah, I’m bored during this shelter in place)…but they have publicly available numbers on how many remittances they send out to different countries, and it has to go to bank accounts established there (so people tend to have established residences in these countries). Number 1 (Canada) and Number 2 (Mexico) weren’t too surprising to me because of the proximity…but I found Japan at Number 3 fairly surprising….I just don’t recall running into all that many American retirees in Japan or maybe like so many other things, they keep things on the DL.

              1. That is rather surprising, but I think you may have it backwards. Based upon what I’ve seen, a number of Japanese people work in the U.S., make their money there, and then return to Japan. I’ve met Japanese folks here who could barely manage a sentence in English but who had U.S. Social Security cards. There may also be Japanese people working on U.S. military bases or married to U.S. citizens who receive Social Security.

                1. Yeah, that might be it…my wife said something about the guys who open up some random sushi place in the Midwest…clean up…and then go back to Japan.

                  It’s just the popular assumption that people retire to like the Caribbean or SE Asia or something, but I guess when you get really old, you care more about a place with a good healthcare system and infrastructure as opposed to nice beaches and a great nightlife, heh.

        2. Ken, I replied to one of your posts before and we got into a chat about leaving Japan. I finally did it. After almost 20 years I flew back to the US (Chicago) on April 9.

          My big worry about leaving Japan was that I would miss it so much that I would regret leaving. But while I was there something interesting happened. I started to miss it WHILE I WAS THERE. Meaning, as I got older and and the novelty and magic of Japan had worn off, I started missing my younger days in Japan and the good times I’d had. I also missed a lot of the friends I’d made who’d either left Japan or had gotten married and had kids and thus were as good as gone (could only meet up a few times a year with special permission from their wives). My favorite haunts were still there. Pretty women were still there. Great beer and food were still there. But the place in general was starting to fill up with the ghosts of friends and times gone by.

          So, I decided to take the plunge and move back. I’m in the middle of the crisis in Chicago (I believe Illinois is the 4th hardest hit state), and it’s generally fine. People are out and about enjoying walks and jogging and so forth, and there aren’t bullets whizzing by or people dying in the streets from the virus. It’s not at its most active, but it’s not bad. I’m glad I came back.

          You have to move back when it’s right for you. All I can tell you is that when you start start getting nostalgic for Japan and you look around and you’re still there, it might be time to start thinking about making a move. You’ll miss Japan when you come back, but you’ll probably miss it even if you stay….

          1. Wow, you moved?! That’s big. Congratulations, I think.

            What you wrote was spot on. That’s exactly how I feel. I remember the first time I went to Za-Watami, I was like, Wow, a traditional Japanese restaurant. I was finally in Japan. It probably took a year before I realized it was part of a massive chain, sort of the Japanese equivalent to Outback Steakhouse.

            So much of Japan is just Japan pretending to be “Japan.”

            1. Yep I had an opportunity for a job transfer so I figured “now or never”. I’d been struggling with going or staying for about a year. Finally when the opportunity arose I took it.

              So far so good. No desire to return to Japan yet, though I do miss some of the friends I still have there.

              There’s a bit of novelty and fun in being back, even in these weird times we’re living in. Getting things set up is just so easy. Everything’s in English and geared towards “gaijin”. It’s also nice to be a citizen where I’m living.

              Japan will always be there.

  4. I feel your pain. I’m fortunate to be in tech and able to work remotely, but yeah, I’m feeling like moving here to Japan has ironically been very bad for my health–its too easy to become and remain an alcoholic. I was kind of hoping to have time and friends to enjoy nature, but that wasn’t really happening even before corona. I speak the language, have a steady stream of less than ideal sex partners, but I’m never quite getting what I want out of being here, or meeting anyone I’d truly like to be with, and the virus has of course just pushed those things further out of reach.

    1. Reading that I was like, damn, now that’s a guy who actually lives in Japan. “…Never quite getting what you want out of being here.” Yep, livin’ the dream.

  5. Yes, it sucks. It probably sucks everywhere right now.
    It must be especially hard if you just moved to a foreign country, e.g. Japan, and are now stuck in that situation. You went there to explore and exactly that is not possible. If one has lived as long there as you, it’s probably the same as anywhere else in the world, though.

    I’m kinda glad I didn’t take a job offer last year to come back to Japan. It was travel related, too. I’d be doomed now… ^^;

    Currently I’m doing alright here in Germany, going for extended walks all by myself and stuff. But I hear you on the small apartment bit. In fact, my current apartment is MUCH smaller than my last one in Japan. On top of that it’s a dark basement apartment with no balcony, garden or terrace which is a killer in these times. But I’m living in the most expensive city, so yeah …..

    I know what you mean. All of my friends had moved on with their lives. They bought houses, built a family … but now that I’ve been back in Germany for 5 years already I haven’t managed to catch up to them. I’ll never own a house, I’ll never have a family, but at least I’m working towards a bigger apartment some day. Just saying. Just because you go back to America doesn’t mean you’ll have a big house and a family one day. 🙂

    But I think it’s good you start thinking about other alternatives to Japan. I’m curious to see where this is taking you. 🙂

    1. “I’m curious to see where this is taking you.” Aren’t we all, Jasmine. Has it been 5 years you’ve been gone already? Unbelievable. Good to hear from you, and glad you’re doing all right.

  6. If you leave to the US, where would you go? Folks there seem to be losing their collective minds (and the unemployment number is horrifying).

    1. Folks there been losing their minds for a long while. In many ways, I’m grateful I got out before America reached its current batshit state.

      You bring up a really good question, and one I grapple with frequently. Even if I could go back to the States, the place has only slid into madness since the internet era. Just visiting is viscerally jarring. Sure, I’ve got my issues with Japan, but the U.S. . . . it’s devolved into a third-world nation. The America I left is gone, so yeah, that’s a problem for which I’ve no answer. Think I’d just live in a van. And apparently now that’s a thing. What a country.

      1. A certain individual had something very specific to say about living in a van… down by the river as I recall.

        Returning “home” to find it isn’t home anymore is a common experience. I would argue that it’s people more than place that makes home what it is. If you’re going back to someone as opposed to something then I think the experience will be a happier one.

        But yeah, it’s a challenge that only becomes more challenging as time goes on. At what point do you admit to yourself that you do want to “go home”, or at least go back to where it once was and could hopefully be again.

        1. Ah, a keen observation about people versus place. If you’re going to go home, better do it while the people you love, and who love you back, are still there. Now that you’ve pointed it out, that’s exactly what I’m feeling. What I’ll do is another matter, but thank you for the clarity.

          As for the van, I can’t imagine what kind of unbalanced individual would want to live in one down by the river.

          1. Glad to hear I’ve provided some clarity! Sometimes it helps to hear someone else say out loud what we’re privately thinking.

            But seriously, it really does become a pressing issue because time doesn’t stand still while you’re busy wondering what if. I’m in that place right now as well.

            What to do is indeed the question. Everything else is just logistics.

            As for the individual living in a van down by the river, I think he was some kind of motivational speaker. 😉

          2. I remember asking one of my friends in Tokyo who was moving back to California why she was leaving and instead she posed a question to me, “How long do you plan on letting the people you care about and love continue to live their lives without you around?” The question bounced around my head for several years until I was able to answer, “Not any longer.”

  7. We care about you in the USA. There is Japanese woman here too. We got Japanese cars, restaurants, stores, Japan towns and also churches. Does Japan have an America town?

  8. We’re learning to value people above all else. We see that celebrity culture is nonsense, and that our least-paid workers are some of our most important. This awareness could spark the strengthening of our communities as we prepare to face future problems together.

    We’ve paused the momentum of the nonessential economy — something I thought would never be allowed to happen — and have a chance to re-evaluate the capitalist juggernaut. We now know how important local production is, which has the potential to re-invigorate local economies and create more meaningful employment. We have proof that we can change the way we live to dramatically reduce our impact on the environment, with immediate flow-on benefits to our health through the most basic of survival needs: clean air. And when was the last time the UN called for a global ceasefire?

    Adventure does come at a cost, with a complimentary side of risk and loss. Even if the only thing gained is an appreciation of boring ol’ home, that’s precious. In this new perilous adventure we all face together alone, we are learning what is important, and to find happiness in small things, our rich inner selves, our health, and one another. Back to basics.

    I am terribly sorry for all those who are suffering right now through sickness or loss. I hope that this global problem can guide us towards the new future we need to build together.
    Wishing Ken and all his readers good luck and good health x

  9. I’ve been reading and enjoying your blog for years. Hope you’re all right. I’m sure many of your friends are envious of your life and experiences in Japan, big house or no.

    My own experience of this ongoing crisis has been almost the opposite of yours. As I’ve watched events unfold around the world, and compared the reactions in other countries to the way things have developed here in Japan, and I’ve felt . . . Japanese. The response here may turn out to have been lucky or inspired, or it may turn out to have been a disaster, but as I’ve watched it and experienced it I’ve found it a far more measured, rational, and proportionate response than what’s been happening in my home country (England) and other places. And I find that I’ve started to think of Japan’s response and Japan’s government as “ours” for probably the first time.

    I’ve even started wearing a face mask on my walks to the local park.

    I haven’t yet reached the point of berating my relatives and friends back home for their poor standards of hygiene and insalubrious social customs, but there’s plenty of time for that later.

    Keep well, and keep writing.

    1. I can relate. I certainly identify with Japanese thinking versus American in most situations. Yeah, don’t worry, the berating will come, and you can look forward to being an insufferable bastard to your relatives and friends back home.

  10. Hey Ken,

    out of curiosity: Are hobbies “a thing” in japan?

    No, i don’t mean habits of getting drunk and falling asleep, but like sports, video games, mountain climbing. That sort of stuff.

    Here in germoney everything’s closed except for grocery stores selling food and items to sanitize your yard from corona.

    Pretty boring… I’ve gone as far as studying a 1500 page strong book full of exercises related to physics and chemistry.

    You can tell im on the brink of losing sanity, how’re you doing in this exact moment. Tell me the first thought when you read this, haha.

    1. I’m thinking you could get some reasonably good exercise lifting that 1500-page book. You should just close it and use it for curls.

      Yeah, hobbies are indeed a thing in Japan, although there’s a bit of cultural disconnect as to what constitutes a hobby. I frequently ask students, “What’s your hobby?” and responses routinely include “sleeping,” “shopping,” and “walking my dog.”

      Life’s just very different here, and in many ways, there’s not much to do. We have little space, so even playing catch might not be an option. We’re also terribly concerned ABOUT bothering our neighbors, so making any kind of random noise, like music or laughter, can be off limits. Organized noise is another matter, which I won’t address here.

      Finally, we don’t have so much time. Grade school students go to class during the day, cram school at night, and more school on weekends. College students have part-time jobs and corporate interviews, while adults often cook, shop for groceries, do laundry, and clean on a daily basis.

      For young people, I dare say video games are the most popular hobby, since you can do that alone in your room, or during English class. But it’s a big country, and you can certainly find people who pursue sports and other activities.

      In general though, I marvel at the free time Americans have. Guess it frees up a lot of time to only wash your sheets once a week and order pizza instead of preparing five dishes every meal. Must be nice.

  11. Long time reader, first time poster. Hang in there, it’s tough, but some time (I can’t promise soon, but some time) things’ll be over the hill and Asia will be recovering and getting back up to speed while the USA (and most of Europe) are still devolving into a post-apocalyptic sh*tshow. And then you’ll remember why you stayed.
    (EU citizent, HK resident, so don’t talk to me about small apartments, you guys don’t know what small means…)

    1. Intellectually, I agree with you. Not about relative apartment sizes, but this crisis. It’s just been weeks since I’ve had anything resembling a draft beer or sushi that wasn’t shrink-wrapped. Today I tried to pick up a girl in the supermarket using nothing but my eyes, since that’s all that was visible above our masks. And I actually felt it went pretty well. I’m losing my mind. But I know you’re right. Some day this crisis will be over the hill. Just hope it happens before I am.

    2. JJ: My flat in Hong Kong was 12 square metres! I could literally sit on the crapper, watch TV and cook at the same time. 🙂

  12. Australia seems to have things under control, albeit at the cost of sky-high unemployment and debt that will take a generation to pay off, but our government’s message to temporary residents is unambiguous: Go Back To Where You Came From. I’m surprised to see that Japan’s stimulus package includes foreigners – this seems like a positive step.

    1. It is positive. In Japan’s case, that’s “foreign residents,” who are taxpayers. So if you want all the dudes who assemble your Toyotas and Toshibas to keep showing up for your economic recovery, better make sure they stick around. Guess Australians will be okay with picking their own strawberries, or whatever it was the temporary people did.

        1. What happened in 2009? I was here, but didn’t get any dough.

          And how do you live in Japan and not pay residence tax?

            1. Good for you. At that point in my Japan career, I was still trying to figure out which end of the train was forward. Any idea how we get this latest stimulus? All I’ve heard is that it magically appears in your account, if you filed taxes the year before (which I did).

                1. Seeroi definitely ain’t turning down free money, especially now. If you come across any details about the application process, let me know.

  13. Hello Ken,
    It seems like a lot of us are on tilt these days. I certainly am and maybe you too. Maybe bailing Japan is the best thing to do but it seems like such a large decision I would wait for some equilibrium in my life before I did it. Whatever you decide I hope it’s what’s right for you and that you keep writing.


    1. Yeah, no worries there. If there’s one thing Japan’s taught me, it’s forbearance and patience. Okay, two things.

  14. Hey Ken, good to hear from you. I hope yoi stay safe. I’ve been a long time reader but never commented before. It seems like you’re evaluating your options at the moment, with the pandemic as the trigger. When it settles down, why don’t you take a break from Japan and move back to the States and another new place in Europe or Australia for a bit? Not to make a fresh start, but like any relationship, maybe you’ll be able to make a clearer choice as to what you want for the long term if you take a break and get to think of it objectively. I hope you don’t compare your life with your old high school friends haha, comparing your life progress with others wont end well. Either way, sounds like you’re stuck in your own mind. I hope the best for you man!

    1. Thanks for commenting. I love hearing from people for the first time.

      Your idea’s a great one—I’ve always wanted to do that. Practically though, I’m not sure how well it works. Being not independently wealthy, I need to maintain a monthly income and health insurance. And then what do I do with my apartment here, all my stuff, my car, etc.? I recently moved to a new place, which cost me a couple thousand dollars and mountains of paperwork, and that’s just within the same prefecture. Traveling around the world sounds like the ultimate luxury, but I’m not sure it’s realistic. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it sounds crazy expensive. I haven’t exactly piled away mountains of cash after a decade of English teaching.

      I guess the way to pursue that would be to apply for jobs overseas, and if one hits, move there. I’ve thought about it, but I kind of think it’d be the end of Japan for me, after having sold all my stuff and filed all the departure paperwork. Honestly, it’s hard enough just to take a 2-week vacation to the States every year or two. I dunno, maybe I’m overthinking this.

      1. Hey thanks for the reply.

        Well it doesn’t exactly have to be a holiday, i was meaning along the lines of a 2-3 months paid gig somewhere with like a work holiday visa in other countries or even go back home for a few months to get your bearings straight. (Of course, with the assumptions that you’re not currently tied to any employment contracts and that you can still use the unemployment benefit to pay for the rent)

        On a side note, have you thought about going professional on freelance (or at least geographically flexible) jobs through capitalizing your great creative writing skills? Like writing opinion pieces for online newspaper, translation, or programming jobs? Something you can take with you if you ended up moving somewhere? I was thinking that if you can do that then line of job wouldn’t weigh too much on your decision on where to live in the future.

        1. I have thought about that; it’s currently Number One on the list of Ken’s Most Genius Ideas Ever. Even teaching English online would enable the lifestyle. The challenge is really generating sufficient cash flow. It’s a great idea, and possibly, uh, possible. Just gotta work out all them pesky details.

          1. I’ve thought the same idea on your behalf many times over the years, about you profiting more from your creative talents. Not that I follow many blogs or streams, but yours is one of the most authentic, dead funny and flippantly insightful that I’ve ever encountered. And funny takes wit, which is another word for smarts, also rare in the world of words.

            There are livings to be made as a professional remote desk jockey writer/journalist/content provider in a variety of specialties, not just travel-related. Then there’s a book… for which the above day job could be practice/research. Us ex-journos do that as a matter of course.
            Just sayin…
            PS: If you do consider a trial/working stint in Oz, try the Gold Coast — there’s a huge Japanese and related community there and many, I can attest, proactively helping each other.
            Kickoff ref: http://www.jsgc.org.au/

            1. I’m starting to see the value in writing a book, particularly since there’s nowhere fun to go and nothing fun to do. I’m just trying to figure out why I have almost zero free time despite having dispensed with shaving, doing laundry, and washing the upper half of my body.

  15. Did you receive the unnerving emails from the US embassy telling us there is little testing here, few flights, and that we should choose between flying home immediately or staying in Japan indefinitely? Ultimately, I chose employment and health insurance in Japan over having neither in the US, but it was unnerving to be told that I may not be able to go home in the event of a family emergency and that the Japanese response is so muted and almost business-as-usual compared with many other developed countries. It’s awkward to be in a suicidal society when you aren’t feeling that way yourself…

    1. I don’t think the U.S. embassy even knows I’m here. Or if they do, apparently they don’t love me. So no, I didn’t get that, although it certainly sounds unnerving.

      “Awkward” isn’t exactly the word I’d use. “Terrifying” is more like it.

      1. From: tokyoacs2@state.gov
        Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2020 4:51 PM
        Subject: Health Alert – U.S. Embassy Tokyo (April 29, 2020)
        Health Alert – U.S. Embassy Tokyo (April 29, 2020)

        Japan continues to experience a steady increase in COVID-19 cases. To reduce the spread of the virus, the Government of Japan has asked residents to avoid crossing prefectural borders for non-essential travel, including during the Golden Week holiday from April 29 to May 6. The U.S. Embassy strongly urges U.S. citizens to comply with all measures under the state of emergency declaration and announced by local officials. In particular, we urge all U.S. citizens to stay at home during the Golden Week holiday period, observe the government’s request not to cross prefectural borders, and to limit all non-essential outings. We also recommend using masks or cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, maintaining at least six feet of distance between yourself and others, and avoiding public transportation during peak hours.
        Tokyo Governor Koike has designated the 12-day period from April 25 through May 6 as “stay at home week,” explaining that remaining at home to the maximum extent possible during this period will be critical if Japan is going to achieve the government’s goal of an 80 percent reduction in people-to-people contact. Mayors of several towns near Tokyo have requested that roads to their towns be blocked in order to prevent tourism during the holiday period, and several roads leading to public beaches in coastal areas have been closed or are restricted. Access to other public recreational facilities such as parks and nature areas have already, or may soon be, prohibited. Several shrines throughout Tokyo are now closed to the public.
        Reduction in International Flights
        International flights are currently available in Japan, but service continues to diminish. Only six percent of pre-COVID capacity between Japan and the United States (including Guam) remains in service, and further reductions are scheduled. Direct flights between the United States and Japan are currently only available from Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda airports. U.S. citizens who wish to return to the United States should make commercial arrangements to do so immediately unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. The U.S. government does not anticipate staging repatriation flights in Japan. U.S. citizens who reside abroad should avoid all international travel.

        etc etc
        This is an email list I signed up for on embassy website – STEP smart traveller enrollment program

        1. Thanks for the update.

          ” Only six percent of pre-COVID [flights] between Japan and the United States (including Guam) remain in service” . . . and those flights will be packed. Count me okay with remaining abroad for “an indefinite period.”

          1. You should sign up! Excerpts from the past month:

            “Capacity of Japan’s Health Care System

            As compared to the number of positive cases and hospitalizations in the United States and Europe, the number of reported COVID-19 cases in Japan remains relatively low. The Japanese Government’s decision to not test broadly makes it difficult to accurately assess the COVID-19 prevalence rate. Our diplomatic mission is in touch with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and continues to carefully monitor the capacity of Japan’s health care system in Tokyo as well as other locations including Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Sapporo, and Naha. While we have confidence in Japan’s health care system today, we believe a significant increase in COVID-19 cases makes it difficult to predict how the system will be functioning in the coming weeks. In the event of a spike in cases, U.S. citizens with pre-existing medical conditions may not be able to receive the medical care they have grown accustomed to in Japan prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

            One of the sobering realities of the current crisis is that a decrease in flights to the United States may mean getting back to the U.S. for a family emergency in a timely manner could become more difficult or even impossible.”

            “Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Ian Brownlee shared this message with U.S. citizens overseas:

            ‘…if you are an American overseas and you’re still on the fence about whether to come home or not, it’s time to get off that fence. Come home now or be ready to remain where you are. The Department of State always stands ready to assist our fellow citizens overseas, but we cannot guarantee that this worldwide repatriation effort will continue indefinitely. Some Americans are waiting to see how bad it’s going to get before making that call. I cannot stress this enough: Make that call now.'”

            PS: I agree with the caution of living in a developing country to live cheaply upon retirement. I lived in Myanmar for a year and spent WAY more money than in Japan. You pay much more for food that won’t give you worms (very common ailment), you can’t put food in the fridge due to frequent power outages, if you need to go to the hospital, you’re probably taking a plane out, taxis all the time because of bad public transportation, etc, etc. The minimum cost per day = $12 in taxis, $25 in food, $3 in bottled water = $40, and my rent was $900 in a very flammable building (power surges) in the most disgusting, gecko infested place.

            1. “Some Americans are waiting to see how bad it’s going to get before…” deciding to hunker down and avoid the U.S. entirely.

              Until that country figures out it can’t respond to a pandemic with only half the population being cautious (while the other half is either on the beach or marching in armed protest), think I’ll just stay where I’m at.

  16. Dear Seeroi-san,

    just get on a plane to Germany. We need English teachers, too. Plus: You’d have a chance to see first-hand, in-place how our ingenious solution to the current crisis unfolds. Because, you have to know, this crisis is not about preserving lives. Or, as our president of federal parliament (second only to The President according to protocol) put it: People are dying anyway. The only immutable value to guide decisions is “preserving human dignity” (yes, we are a paragon of romantics). And this turns out to be the key to our approach: Who is dignified enough to have a right to childcare? Because if you can send your kids to childcare, then you can leave home for work.

    Now you may ask about those rare cases in which people don’t have kids yet, but are definitely going to have them later (if only to avoid having to pay a penalty to the German Pension Fund). We also covered that! Because we are extremely good with systematics and abstraction, that’s why. So, generalizing the question of dignity we came up with The Criterion(TM):

    Systemic relevance

    This criterion has evolved from what used to be called “critical infrastructure” in our disaster contingency laws. Because, upon closer inspections it turned out that The Media are not a category of critical infrastructure, which certainly is a blatant oversight. And even state administration, courts and all of that are also not “critical”. Obviously, criticality needed a redefinition.

    So, come here and just make a point on how you are systemically relevant. Everything will be good henceforth. And get some kids, but I guess teachers don’t need that because they are covered in kids anyway. And use your face mask, it’s the law now. But don’t use a niqab, that is totally not working against viruses, unlike a shawl or a neckerchief pulled over your nose, which by definition of the law are. I haven’t tried a balaclava yet.

    Bonus: As a teacher you don’t have to provide lessons in school personally, you could just call in from the comfort of your home using whatever digital means are favoured by your institution. So you don’t even have to go outside. Much better than Japan. Wait, that needs some rewriting. Try to get my point anyway.

    In October you could then join me on a trip to Japan and spread the word of how well educated and balanced the German Approach has been. Because, ve haf vays. Motorways, at least. To drive your brand new outlawed diesel. But that is a different story.

    1. Moving to Germany and then taking a vacation to Japan sounds awesome. Once global travel resumes in 2025, Germany’ll be on the top of my list. Until then, I’ll work on being more relevant.

  17. Best of luck with whatever you do, Ken.
    Let me tell you, coming back home never sounded more tempting during this whole crisis, but it is also not the home you were expecting to come home to. I was looking forward to coming back so much, but just like the party is over in Japan, it is over in our hometowns as well. Been back for a month now and haven’t seen my friends yet, am going crazy with my mother, and I have just had the most sober wake up call to my financial, economic, and emotional sistuation ever, as I deal with my (considerable, I like to think, enough to be a middle class ish one year income) savings maybe not being enough for the megadrought+pandemic+pandemic related economic crisis to come while seeing how my family has aged since I have been gone. It’s a level of culture shock that I cannot put into words…

    Whether you stay or go, it will be hard. But one good thing about this pandemic is that it gave us status quo stayers the push we needed to make that definite snap decision about our future (even if in my case the decision was made, plane ticket and everything. I had to buy a new same-day ticket back…). Once again, best of luck, and I hope you will keep writing whichever decision you take.

    1. For somebody who can’t put it into words, you did a pretty fine job, although I’d still like to know a few details, if you’re so inclined. Such as how long you were in Japan, and what country you returned to. What are you seeing where you’re at, and what do you plan to do now?

  18. If you seriously plan to go back to the US then I would seriously recommend to take all the time you may need.
    Corona notwithstanding it’s absolutely fine to plan everything at length and act only when you are sure you have what you need.
    Between my decision to return to Germany and actually moving here about 7 months passed. And there was no Corona back then.
    Just my two cents.

    “So lately, I’ve been having these Zoom calls with my old buddies from high school in the U.S. And to a man, everyone lives in a massive house, has a family, and a successful career.”

    Yeah. Well technically I don’t live in that massive house yet as it is being built right now, but I will soon.
    My wife uses to say that in Japan we would never have this lifestyle. It’s a sad fact in my opinion.

    Also things on sticks are great.

    1. I really enjoy your writing. However, there is an affectation that you’re truly on your own. Like all the travel documentaries showing the hero in incredibly dangerous situations and ignoring the camera crew who is in even more danger.

      What I’m saying is, if you’re married or in a relationship that makes sense, that can make all the difference as you look back at your friends in their balloon houses living their balloon lives. But if you’re really on your own you are probably very lonely and depressed.

      Moving won’t make a difference. You won’t all of a sudden find meaning in the US. Probably the opposite in a country that 40% believe in a criminal as a leader. Where women are caught in a limbo zone of wanting and thinking everything is possible and probable: The high powered job, kids, dog and supportive husband.

      Most of the Japanese women I’ve known (and had) have a very different way of looking at life. More realistic and yet still capable of enjoying a change in seasons or putting on a kimono once in awhile. In a sense more worldly and yet far more innocent than most American women.

      You are probably about the age of my son, so bear with an old guy’s advice. And from someone who has been to Japan about 200 times, is married to a Japanese woman and has a feel for the culture, though not an expert;

      Stay put. If you’re in an unsatisfying relationship change that. Get into a satisfying relationship knowing no one is perfect. It doesn’t have to be super long term. Just a person you look forward to being with at the end of a day. Every day.

      That will make a big difference. If you already have all of that and she’s your off stage camera crew, then I’m sorry. I have no good thoughts if that’s the case.

      Keep writing. Be honest and find someone to love. You’re talented. Maybe drop the affectation.

      1. It seems we have some things in common. Like you, I lived in the U.S. with a Japanese woman and took frequent trips to Japan. I ate the food, spoke the language, and knew the culture as well as anyone could while living abroad. Life was great, and you should stick with that. Because living in Japan’s completely different. If you want a real life challenge, try giving it all up and living alone here for a decade or so. Only then will you know how much is authentic and how much is affectation.

        1. I don’t disagree. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that if you’re really alone, haven’t developed friendships and relationships, that’s pretty isolating and sad. But if that’s true it isn’t because of Japan!

          If on the other hand you have put down a network of roots other than the drinking buddy or sex friend, why leave? It’s the relationships that matter more than the place.

          I only go once a year now, but when I was commuting every month I was the president of a software company. As such I was always treated with deference even by Vice Presidents of very large companies. I soon realized that knowing Japanese would be a huge disadvantage to me. I’m sure you can guess why.

          One thing you could do during the isolation is get a copy of Tale of Genji, Tanasaki translation. It’s incredible and before you’re done the isolation will be easing.

          Best wishes.

          1. “if that’s true it isn’t because of Japan.”

            Well, I don’t know. I lived in several regions of the U.S., and everywhere quickly developed large groups of friends, many of whom remain close to this day. In Japan, that simply hasn’t happened. Friendships are very different here, even for Japanese people. It’s not an open, casual society. Perhaps you need to live in the country to understand why. And maybe I don’t even fully understand why. In the U.S., a friend is someone you might see once a week, perhaps even more. Just drop by their house, order a pizza, borrow the lawnmower, whatever. In Japan, it might be someone you see once a year, or less. There’s planning, and a sense of rigor, of obligation. Surely you’ve seen that with your wife’s family?

            1. “But if that’s true it isn’t because of Japan!”. Well actually Ken’s blog has multiple stories about his interactions with Japanese that show it is about Japan. Or more specifically the cultural anomalies that exist (perhaps only) in Japan. Ken has shown many situations where apart from a short honeymoon period most Japanese (Ken has met) do not form meaningful or long term friendships with Gaijin. The person who write this blog would have heaps of friends in a western workplace, in my opinion.

              1. I will say I never imagined it’d be difficult to make friends before moving to Japan. It also never occurred to me to ask “What is a friend, exactly?” before. Here, I’ve got people I know, but…are they friends? I’m not even sure what the word means any more. Do they count as a friend if you don’t know their first name? Don’t know where they live? Or know actually nothing about them? Yeah, I guess…

                As in all things, the key to happiness lies in lowering one’s standards.

    2. I think perhaps “affectation” may not be what you meant.
      From the dictionary:

      affectation /afɛkˈteɪʃ(ə)n/
      behaviour, speech, or writing that is pretentious and designed to impress.
      “the affectation of a man who measures every word for effect”

      The essence of Ken’s blog is that Japan is different in odd and misunderstood ways, and he writes as he sees it with his sense of humour. My understanding (and I may be wrong) is that you are saying Ken’s life in Japan would be better if he got rid of his affectation (or attitude) and somehow treated better?

  19. Everyone’s different. I’ve never had large groups of friends. Just a handful and it’s enough. I have Japanese friends I see once a year and it’s casual. I’m pretty good friends with my wife’s cousin and uncle. No sense of obligation. My friends in the US I’ve had for 30 years. But only 4-5. Those, however, I could count on. And vice versa. But I’m surprised you haven’t found a few people that are informal and enjoy a relaxed friendship.

    I had lunch with a friend in Tokyo a few months ago. I’ve known him for 35 years. We enjoyed our time. Another 30 year friend brought his family for vacation here and we had a nice time. We are all getting olde. It I like keeping up with them.

    I wouldn’t know what to do with a large group of friends. A few is nice. A wife I don’t tire of is even nicer.

    1. No one’s more surprised than me. It’s absolutely bizarre.

      It’s a pattern I’ve seen replayed over and over. When foreigners first arrive, Japanese people love ’em. Everyone wants to be their friend. I suspect this is because they’re outsiders, so there’s no sense of expectation or obligation, plus the sheer novelty of it. But after a while, and particularly if you speak Japanese, things get weird.

      So to me, this presents a conundrum. Either stick with English and stay foreign, in which case you’ll have friends of a sort, but never really be a part of the culture, or assimilate and be treated accordingly.

      In terms of friends, I’ve one good Japanese friend, but we met in the U.S., where he still lives, and got to know each other speaking English. Here, I’ve got several foreign-born friends who are great. But the Japanese friends I have, I don’t know, there’s always a distance. How good of friends are you if you’ve never been to a guy’s house or met his family? I guess that’s a sort of friendship, but it feels a bit hollow.

      1. “Either stick with English and stay foreign, in which case you’ll have friends of a sort”

        I felt very uncomfortable with the sort if Japanese that were “Gaijin-lovers” and kept my distance to them. Most of my life in Japan I lived in a world where these people didn’t really exist anyway, so it wasn’t hard for me.

        I exclusively spoke Japanese with Japanese. I managed to make three friends in my ten years. I’m OK with that, as I only count exactly six people as friends in total. (And only three as really close friends. Not counting my wife here :)) My friends in Japan are: My assistant of three years, a former German student of mine (now a PHD) and a random coworker from a company I worked for. Noticeably no “hobby” acquaintances I guess.

        1. So not counting the German student, you made two Japanese friends in 10 years?

          Yeah, that sounds about right. We really gotta start speaking English more…

      2. Sorry I am confused with this either or conundrum. Haven’t you just described a loose – loose situation?? Damned if you do damned if you don’t!! Dooooohhhhh!! Welcome to Japan.

  20. Hello, Ken, I am a long time lurker on this blog. Been reading this blog for at least 3 years now.

    Ken Seeroi you are a very prolific and articulate blog writer and I am confident that no matter where you roam geographically that you will persist in being so.

    I am curious though if you were to theoretical return to life in the U.S.A what industry or occupation do you foresee yourself working in?

    Thanks in Advance

    1. Wow, that’s hard one. I’ve working in a number of different industries, both in the U.S. and Japan. At this point I’d probably be looking for a position managing a department for a small company, or possibly running a store. I’d also consider getting a teaching license in the States, and teaching elementary school, possibly ESL.

      One advantage to returning to the U.S. is that I’d have a wide range of jobs to choose from, whereas here I’m limited to a fairly slim segment of the job market.

      1. Times are bad all around now so not the best time to be looking for a new job. That being said, when things improve I’d day you (Ken) would stand a pretty good chance of getting a good job in the U.S. This blog would look good on your resume to show both that you can be motivated and organized enough to set something up by yourself, and your writing quality is great. Good companies will often have a direct jobs portal. The big boards are also not a bad place to start looking. Corp communications departments might not sound like the most fun places to work, but I think that a good job in one would be great. I’d be happy to give my advice having done the search before (ultimately ended up transferring with my current employer, but I got some good outside interviews when I was searching).

        1. Thanks much, seriously. At some point, I may take you up on that. For the moment, I’m still working on my latest iteration of Let’s-not-starve-to-death-in-Japan.

          We’ll see how well that works out.

  21. Here is an interesting “fluf” article about “Japan firm offers couples unused hotel rooms amid Covid-19 lockdown”. Basically bonehead Japanese husbands are pissing off their wives:

    “No matter how many times I reminded my husband, he didn’t bother wearing gloves, a face mask or protective glasses when he visited the hospital,” she tweets. “I even told him some coronavirus clusters were forming in hospitals.”

    “Work is important, but I want my husband to be more flexible when faced with an unfamiliar situation. Doesn’t he get he has a child? Is he thinking his wife is a housekeeper? Loser,” wrote another.

  22. I have read this blog corner to corner. I love it, I can relate, though I see things from a very different perpective. I have moved back to Japan for retirement w/wife and kids.

    It is a great place to retire, and die, eventually.

    I hear complaints about gaijin life, especially with the current aggravated ‘flu’. I hear the ‘worst crisis’ since WW2.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah… You know nothing about the REAL THING! Complaints about short term unemployement, gift from gvt, lack of sex, etc… But you have no idea about the ANTI-Gaijin sentiment during one earlier plague. I mean here the californian, gay, american white, well… Gaijin AIDS.

    Friends ? what friends ?? Work? what work ?? Izakayas ? What Izakayas ?? Ever heard of ‘JAPANESE ONLY’ signs everywhere ? Probably not… Because they had created an outrage and were removed promply, only to be replaced by hand-written, japanese language reassuring “customers that mamangement was taking severe actions to make sure that plague infected indiduals will not enter their premises” … Sometimes your mental health gets protected by the lack of reading skills…

    What about a smile to a nice looking lady at the supermarket, hoping she can see through the mask? Girlfriends (or what was left of them) would just come for a strawberry cake and strictly avoid to be seen with the once-trendy-fashionnable-foreigner.

    What about renewing a lease, a visa, a sponsor ? This is an island and germs come from overseas. Obviously and rightfully.

    The island is like a seashell and will close on you, bite your finger, as soon as alarmed.

    They would leave you alone… Precisely… very alone, all by yourself, endlessly.

    I had no other option but leave… Better things to do, better places… At that time.

    Fastworward 30+ y. and a silent revolution has taken place. Lodging? So much better/cheaper. Healthcare? so much more accessible? Japanese characters ? Translations everywhere. Jobs ? That I do not know, I live in the cloud UberWorld.


    1. Heh, I came here thinking Japan would be great for the young—party, get a groove on. And maybe it was 30 years ago. But these days I’m thinking it’s better suited for the elderly to live out the remaining years of their lives.

  23. Yeah well tbh, that could be said of just most of the many national cultures I’ve lived in, on a few continents, each having some hot core designed around “the dynamic young”, radiating out to cooler “jolly nice for retirement” regions.
    Even city/states, (dare I say Tokyo?) but more obviously like Berlin, NYC, Sydney, parts of Calif depending on era — all have outlying suburbs with progressively outlying attractiveness, to live as sedately as your wealth allows.

  24. I think Japan would be a fantastic place to retire if you had already built your wealth somewhere else, or in the alternative if you had worked in Japan for a long time already and were happy with the Japanese system of living off of a pension. In my opinion it’s not easy to build personal wealth in Japan. When I mean “wealth”, I basically mean what a typical middle class American can expect. I note that Japan is probably not that different in this respect from most countries with a more socialist bent.

    1. James,
      As a 47 year old fella with a Japanese wife that has lived in Australia for 24 years that is something I am considering.
      Reading this blog there are a lot of jaded people of similar age to me. Why are we (I’m including myself in that) all jaded? Failed dreams? Or have we just realized that when you achieve your dream it is no longer as satisfying as when you yearned for it.
      I’ve been doing my own business for 18 years and I am kind of tired of dealing with staff, customers and suppliers. Do I want to spend another 18 years doing this until I retire? The answer is no.
      I’m in the process of selling my business and then moving on to the next thing, whatever that may be.
      I must admit, I am financially able to do so, so perhaps that is different from some other comments on this site but like so many people have said, you juggle with this idea for a few years and then something clicks and you have to make a choice.
      My wife wants to spend some time in Japan as she hasn’t been there for longer than a week in 24 years so we are looking at spending a few months there and see what happens, once the borders open of course.
      Now the next question is can I live in Japan for a decade or more without getting tired of Japan. But if I lived in another country like NZ where I grew up, I’d find things in NZ that I don’t like and can’t fit in and want to move on. Heck, I left NZ as I was bored and wanted something different.
      I guess that is why we are all jaded, things get tiring and we need to alter the situation but we are not sure what to alter, and too scared to leave the comfort of what we know for the fear of the unknown.

      1. I wonder if “jaded” really captures what’s going on here.

        The way I figure it, we might expect to live until we’re about 80. Subtracting out childhood years and a few at the end of life, that leaves about 60 years in which to do something meaningful and fun. If you switch things up every 20 years, you can experience four different lives. So do you want to spend another 18 years doing the same thing? Answering “no” doesn’t strike me as jaded; rather, it seems reasonable.

        That being said, making these existential changes is big stuff. It’s not easy—you have to structure your life so you have the freedom and wherewithal to leave a lot of people, possessions, and lifestyle behind and start from scratch. Just remember that wherever you move, you’ll probably grow tired of it after a few years. Especially Japan. So you might want to plan for where you’ll go after Japan.

  25. I feel for you. Three months in lockup now. I NEED A HAIRCUT! I can’t believe how frustratingly mankey I feel. If I don’t get a haircut soon I’m going to be storming the presidential palace.

  26. Hey Ken

    Reading this 8 months on from judgement day when the proverbial shit the fan but hey, when the shit does hit the fan, just duck and it will hit someone else. Here in the glorious people’s republic is Osaka, life is a lot more normal than 6 months ago. My alcoholic sister in law is out drinking again, a fine example of a 46 year old mother of two, my father in law , 72 , has yet to even look at a mask, my English school has more students than in March, my wife has taken up gardening, cool considering we don’t have a garden but I have been hit by the proverbial fan of excrement. Boxing, my dearest pastime, is a definite no no , I can duck a right hook or slip a jab without thinking, matrix style but I can’t dodge some ole codger coughing his guts up in the corner. Live music, my other mistress, is a cold hearted bitch who has shut her doors , and other parts, tighter than a ducks arse. And to top it off I spent 10 days in the hospital having excruciating double inguinal hernia open surgery which makes farting, something I excel at, very very painful! Anyway, the local conbini now sells that delicious aooni ipa so hey, life’s not that bad. Hang in there fellow sensei, the light is at the end of the tunnel….

  27. Ah, I love cheese-filled fish products! When I visit Ishikawa prefecture, where I lived for a few years, I stock up on delicious cheese-filled fish products which are both sort of gross and yet seductive. Cheese-filled croquettes are also delicious. I am drooling thinking about it.

    “I like everything about Japan except the people” — this is almost exactly what I said when interviewed for an English language magazine my second year in Japan a million years ago. Things are so much better now that there are more foreigners living here. You can walk down the street without children screeching “THIS IS A PEN!” at you. They don’t even notice foreigners anymore. A luxury.

    1. “Things are so much better now that there are more foreigners.”

      Not only are there more foreigners in Japan, but Japanese people themselves are changing. There’s a noticible increase in white, brown, and black Japanese people, as well as a significant number of mixed-race individuals. That line between “the Japanese” and the hordes of the great unwashed is steadily blurring. Personally, I no longer consider myself to be “foreign.” I wonder if a few years of living in the rice fields won’t have that effect upon you. Assuming you speak primarily Japanese and eat mostly “Japanese foods.”

      Of course, with an ever-increasing foreign influence, traditional Japan is quickly vanishing. There’s no shortage of McDonald’s, Starbucks, and UberEats nowadays. Frankly, most of the time I forget I’m even living in Japan. But maybe I’ve just been here too long. Anyway, as I always say, gotta be careful what you wish for.

  28. You got that one right on Ken, massive shortage of backpackers holidaying in Australia as they can’t get into the country so as a result not all the fruit is getting picked and prices are sky rocketing.

  29. I moved back to Chicago from Tokyo back in April after 20 years in Japan. What I can tell you is that if you are generally satisfied with life, but bored and yearn for more, be very careful about changing. I think I needed this trip back to touch base with family and friends, but there is something to be said for being generally satisfied with one’s day to day. Looking at the big picture here, I am definitely better off as far as being treated like an adult rather than as a clueless foreigner (despite speaking very respectable Japanese), a comfortable large dwelling and nice car. However, my day to day was more happy in Japan. Just the pleasure of walking down the street in Tokyo is something that I miss. People here are very friendly and no one bothers me, but the vibe of the streets of central Tokyo, the nice food and easy to pop into shops, restaurants and bars, are a big part of my happiness. Not to mention the perpetual campus atmosphere of meeting up with friends for a beer well into one’s 40s. There have been times over the past almost one year when I would have traded the career, car, apartment and salary just for the freedom and pleasure of walking down Omote-Sando with no particular goal or destination in mind. Remember that once you leave, it’s not easy to go back. Just sayin’.

      1. Just remember to keep the lawn healthy and fertilized on your side of the fence while you dip your toes on the other side. Having PR is great and you might want to keep your bank account, etc., just in case you yearn to go back. Oh, and my recommendation is to not go back to your hometown. I had originally planned to try my luck in NYC, but since NY isn’t doing well these days, I ended up seeking shelter near where I grew up. It’s fine but not what I wanted. Maybe plan something new and cool like Singapore or somewhere fun in the U.S.

        1. You know, I recently moved within Japan, to a town I’d previously known to be a lot of fun. And it’s just not. But that’s an unfair evaluation, because nothing’s the same with Covid. No izakaya, no cool shops, no bars, no girls, nothing. Japan’s absolutely zero fun, and I bet most other places in the world are the same. We’re going to have to wait until the pandemic subsides and life regains a semblance of normalcy before trying to weigh the pros and cons of one place versus another.

  30. Good point. When I tell people I want to move back to Japan, they all tell me that I just moved back at a bad (actually, the absolute worst) time. It sounds like the Japan that I want to go back to is on pause at the moment anyway. Actually, come to think of it, as a guy in his 40s maybe it doesn’t exist at all (except maybe 5-10 years ago in memory). Well, I get your feeling of angst. That’s why I left Japan. If you’re bored with it then why not try somewhere new? One reason I left is a revelation I had while on a trip to Shanghai with my fiancé. I thought to myself, this is a pretty cool place. Why didn’t I try living here for a year or two instead of 20 straight years in Japan? Wouldn’t have killed me to take a break for a bit and try something different.

    1. I’d try Vietnam. Great food. Pretty (and chatty) women. Beautiful scenery. If I were 30 and not engaged I’d be on the next (post-pandemic) flight over. I’ve been watching all these YouTube videos of people living there. It looks great. I’ve been 5 or 6 times and really liked it. You might be able to get some of the excitement back of being in a new land. Seems like the Vietnamese still find us foreigners a bit novel as well. And since you’re used to Japan already, communist bureaucracy will probably come naturally to you:). It might also provide some good new blog/book material. Whatever you do, just don’t go back to your hometown.

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