Growing Old in Japan

When I finally looked in the mirror after a month of eikaiwa teaching, my first thought was—who the hell’s that? My signature dark and flowing locks, which had once glowed with the radiance of a dozen hair-care products, had gone white almost overnight. While it’s true that I might have had one or two gray hairs before, my class load was clearly making me look like Keith Richards before my time.

Thus, thinking of ways to reverse this trend, I made the rational-while-drunk decision to color things a slightly darker brown. I walked to the 100-yen store in front of the train station and carefully selected the perfect Japanese hair-care product, which when used as directed immediately rendered my hair a vivid Orphan Annie red. So that was bad. But then my buddy Carlos said—that’s no problem, just do it again, only leave the dye in longer. And since he’s gay, I figured he knew about such things, so that’s what I did, only to find that my hair turned a disturbing shade of Concord grape. The following day the Head Teacher at my school pulled me aside to tell me the Manager was peed off regarding my hair color. I was like, Well I’m not too thrilled about it either, and have taken the matter under consideration.

Every time I tried to recolor my hair it really didn’t help that I couldn’t rinse it out because my shower was producing nothing but hot water again. Japanese utilities are a source of constant bewilderment to me. Take the shower, for example: when I first turn it on, all I get is cold water, which is normal, right? But after a bit, all I get is water hot enough to cook lobsters, which is exceedingly difficult to bathe in. How it’s possible for the shower to consistently produce nothing but boiling hot water despite the fact that I have turned off the hot water tap is a mystery one can only hope to solve quickly while watching one’s hair turn purple. Similarly, my microwave has become a useless box, since I managed to eff it up so badly by randomly pushing buttons written in kanji that it now refuses to heat anything. The fridge makes everything room temperature no matter which way I turn the little knob. Why my Japanese class in college thought it would be a good idea for me to learn the kanjis for cat, bird, dog, and horse, but not for my freaking microwave, stove, and refrigerator, I have no idea. The only mixed blessing is the air conditioner, which takes the temperature steadily down to about minus forty. I have to sleep with clothes on just to survive the night, but on the plus side I can open my refrigerator door and keep my food cold.

Yet despite an Arctic room, useless microwave and fridge, and purple hair, I remain strangely optimistic about living in Japan. The fall weather is gradually starting to arrive, and no doubt the change of seasons will bring good things. I can’t wait to find out how the heater works.

9 Replies to “Growing Old in Japan”

  1. Hey Ken-san !

    This would be my first time writing / commenting to your blog…actually any blog now that I think of it..
    Anyways, I found your blog a few weeks back and since then Ive been reading non stop =)

    That being said, you can count me in as a Fan. Your humor is more than enjoyable ( its actually like reading the American Version of Gintama ), actually, thinking about it. You should actually have your own Manga or Anime.
    Getting back to what I was about to say : Reading about your experiences has been eye opening and I have learned alot. Also my thanks for the tips on learning Japanese.

    1. Thanks very much. I’m really glad to have you as a reader!

      I’m planning to do a number of other articles about learning Japanese in the near future. Of course, the gap between “planning” and actually doing something is always the sticking point. That, and whatever “near future” means. But anyway, having the feedback that the subject of learning Japanese is of interest to readers helps a lot, so thanks for taking the time to write in.

  2. I started balding at 23, and while I haven’t been getting grey hairs despite my occupation, people still guess my age at about 5-10 years older. I recently stopped trying to save my remaining hair and just shave it bald, which is both liberating and feels surprisingly good. My haircut is popular among fans of Bruce Willis movies, but I haven’t seen whether it will be a problem for job prospects.

  3. Ah wow. I went back to check out your “way” older posts again because I figured it might remind me of how I felt when I first started reading your blog, when I was cold and feeling melancholic living in Shinagawa. It did the trick.

    Ken, look how far you’ve come.

    “Yet despite an Arctic room, useless microwave and fridge, and purple hair, I remain strangely optimistic about living in Japan.”

    But my question is, back then you still felt “strangely optimistic” about living in Japan. Has your view changed at all, or do you still feel mostly the same?

    Thanks. And I’ve got to say again, you have one of the best blogs in the world still after all these years. I’m the type of person that can point out a lot of flaws with a situation and most people would think that I’m just complaining, but actually, I can enjoy things even through a lense of melancholy. You can do that type of style very well. Keep on keepin’ on, man.

    1. Yeah, great question. And thanks for reminding me how far I’ve come. It’s easy to forget that. I finally got everything I ever wanted—decent job, cute girlfriend(s), nice apartment, beat-up old car, fridge full of malt liquor. Now all that’s left is dying a fiery death. That’s why I unplug the microwave every night.

      But it’s weird, you know? That earlier optimism has been replaced by unbridled…meh.

      It’s amazing how adaptable humans are. Probably why the entire population of Alaska doesn’t up and move to California. Anyway, the upshot is Japan’s just become like anywhere else. I hardly even draw a distinction between it and the U.S. any more. It feels about like I’d moved to Arizona. Which I’m sure is a fine state; I just don’t think anyone’s strangely optimistic about living there. Like Wow, cactus and big bottles of iced tea, sure glad I moved.

      So most days are pretty routine. Go to work, stop at Starbucks, come home determined to exercise, change my mind and get drunk. It helps to have discipline, because hey, all that Asahi’s not gonna drink itself. I rarely notice I’m in “Japan,” except when somebody mentions how jozu I speak, and then I’m like, Oh yeah, forgot I don’t look like everybody else.

      That’s not to say I don’t still like living here. I mean, I don’t, but it’s not to say it. But on the real, Japan’s turned out to have a lot of good and bad points, which I suspect is true of anywhere. Except Denmark. Maybe nothing stays awesome forever. Still, that won’t keep Ken Seeroi from trying.

      1. “I mean, I don’t, but it’s not to say it.”

        Chuckle. Not a Ken article goes by that I don’t get at least one good chuckle. For a moment, I thought I was reading something by Douglas Adams (that’s a compliment).

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