Homeless in Japan not Big Fans of America

Last Friday, I decided to celebrate the lovely fall weather by drinking a refreshing beer in my neighborhood park and working on my tan.  I’ve discovered this really beats the hell out of sitting in a smoky izakaya wishing the proprietor’d had the foresight to provide some outdoor seating or at least install a teeny tiny window.  Why the Japanese have such an aversion to open-air dining, I’ve never been able to figure out.  So full of mysteries, the Far East.

Anyway, just as I was dreaming of how good I was gonna look with my new golden skin color, I noticed a homeless guy sitting across from me, on a piece of cardboard, on the ground.  He was drinking one of those cheap 100-yen cups of rot-gut shochu, and looked in desperate need of a bath.  Well that’s cool, I figured, public park.  Plus I hadn’t exactly showered this morning either.  Hey, I was busy.  So I figured there was no reason we couldn’t both enjoy a pleasant cocktail after a hard day of teaching English or rummaging through garbage for aluminum cans.  I’m generous with my park like that.

A Japanese Greeting for all Occasions

He looked over at me.  I nodded and raised my beer.  To which he replied in loud English, “America fuck you!”

That rather caught me off guard.  My first thought was, Whoa, where’s this coming from?  You know, like I get some minor racism in Japan on a daily basis, but it’s usually subtle.  Like maybe somebody hands me a fork instead of chopsticks, that kind of thing.   This lacked such nuance, and my second thought was, “Shouldn’t there be punctuation somewhere in that sentence?”  But before I could point that out, he launched into a stream of English invectives, basically every swear word you’ve ever heard, and concluded with:

“Go back U.S.A.!  Here’s Japan!  We hate you!”

Then he spit in my direction.

Well, that did it.  You know, Ken Seeroi’s a basically pretty mellow dude.  After all, avoiding stress is how I maintain my youthful and radiant skin tone.  And you thought it was just my daily regimen of Oil of Olay.  But hey, even I’ve got my limits.  Cuss me out?  What, are you trying to ruin my complexion?  But okay, I can deal with that.  Spit at me?  Eh, all right, since you’re twenty feet away, that doesn’t really faze me.  But insult America?  Okay now you’ve . . . well, mmmm, all right, you’ve got a point.  I did move to Japan, after all, so I can’t really talk.  But speak English just because I’m white?  Oh, now you’ve done gone too far.  There’s only so much a brother can reasonably tolerate.

Getting Rude in Japanese

So I said back at him in Japanese, “You need to work on your grammar.”  But I said it without using the polite verb ending, just to let him know how I really felt.  Take that.

This in turn set him off, and he resumed his string of English cuss words, interspersed with references to World War Two, the U.S. Army, Hiroshima, and, for some reason, the iPhone.

“Your words,” I replied in Japanese, “they make no sense.”  Because really, they didn’t.  Although I had to hand it to him, he had quite the extensive vocabulary of vulgar language, like a freaking sailor.  Although, granted, I’ve never actually spoken to a sailor.  But I’m pretty sure that’s how they talk.

And so we continued in this vein for some time, enjoying the fall weather, taking our respective sips of beer and shochu, and ranting incomprehensibly.  Jeez, if there’s one thing I can’t stand when I go for a drink in the park, it’s some drunk wrecking the place.  I mean other than me, of course.  That’s different.

But the whole time, he wouldn’t stop yelling at me in English, which seemed a bit culturally insensitive.  I mean, you’re in Japan—could you at least insult me in Japanese?  That’s only polite.  Then to make matters worse, I eventually ran out of equivalent Japanese insults, which left me at a disadvantage.  Is it my fault that English is such a rich language for swearing?  I blame the French.  So I figured it was time to Phone a Friend, and I knew just who to call:  Mikako.  She’s easily the meanest Japanese person I know, her brother’s a Yakuza, and she she speaks zero English.  That makes her awesome on so many levels.  She once got so mad at me that she yanked open my apartment window and hurled my Starbucks tumbler onto the pavement, shattering it.  To be fair, though, those tumblers do break really easily.  Guess I shouldn’t have told her about that episode with her sister.  Still, it cost me like ten bucks to replace.  I called her on my iPhone.

The Meanest Japanese Girl I know

“I’ve got, um, like a situation,” I said to her in Japanese.

“What’s wrong?” she said immediately.  “Where are you?  I’ll be right there.”  And the way she said it, it sounded more like, “Who’s ass do I need to kick?”  God, she’s mean.  I love that about her, sometimes.

“There’s this homeless guy in the park and he’s yelling at me,” I said, and suddenly I felt like I was five years old.

“Why don’t you just leave?” she asked.

“Leave?” I said, “I can’t do that.  That would make too much sense.  Then he’d win.

“I see,” she said.  “Well, why don’t you swear at him in English?  That would shut him up.

“English?” I said, “That’s no good either.  I need like the worst Japanese insult you’ve got.

“Well, why don’t you tell him:  ‘Die!’

“Die?” I said.  “That’s the worst you’ve got?”

“That’s what I’d say.

“I was really looking for something, you know, a bit more gangster.

“Okay,” she said, “then how about, ‘die, octopus!’

“Die, octopus?  I’m being cussed a new asshole by a guy who sleeps in a cardboard box and that’s what you want me to tell him?

“That’s a good one,” she said.  “I use it all the time.

“Yeah, you do,” I acknowledged.  “Well, thanks.”

The Moon Also Rises

Then I hung up and the homeless guy and I went back to drinking and glaring and occasionally discussing the atomic bomb and the presence of U.S. troops in Okinawa in loud voices.  But after a while I realized the sun was going down and the prime tanning hours were over, so I got up to leave.

“Enjoy your box,” I said to him in Japanese.

“Go home, gaijin,” he said in English, and spit in my direction again.

“This is my home,” I replied in Japanese, and started walking away.  I mean, after all, who argues with a homeless guy in the park?  Well, apparently I do, but still, better to take the high road, right?  Right.  Or at least the road to the convenience store.  Because I was out of beer, so I figured I’d head there for a freshie.  He was still yelling as I left, so just for good measure, I turned around and shouted back in Japanese, “Oh yeah?  Well, die, octopus!”  You know that’s gotta hurt.  Then I went across the street to 7-Eleven, and when I came out it was dusk and I couldn’t see across the park anymore.  The moon was out, almost full, and I remembered what a lovely season fall is in Japan.  But some days here, jeez.  I just thank God this one was a Friday.

62 Replies to “Homeless in Japan not Big Fans of America”

  1. Haha!
    I guess that guy was just frustrated and lonely. He wanted to have a conversation, but nobody was around. Well, nobody but YOU!
    And because all he could say in English was swearings, that’s what he used!
    I’m sure you enjoyed that kind of conversation.

    I would have run away, because I’m too afraid of what people might do to me when they say they hate me or my country so much, but I’m female, so maybe that’s another story.

      1. Hi Ken,

        When I red ”Die,octopus” I laughed a lot…!!
        (…I almost rolled down under the desk,belive me)
        I am a Japanese born in an European Country and I never realized that its translation could be so funny.
        Thank you for this!!
        Actually,that’s not the worst stuff you could say to someone who’s been very rude but I ‘m sure your friend is a sweet and well-mannered girl and that’s the worst word comin up on her mind at the time.
        There are more words and from Yakuza gangs but these are really nearly for them only.So I think you really don’t need to learn these.
        I hope the next homeless you happen to talk to will be a lot more friendly than that.

        1. Yeah, it’s probably good that that’s the worst Japanese phrase I know. And yes, in general, most of the Japanese people I meet are nice enough, at least on the outside. It’s rare to hear someone actually express what they’re thinking; but in a weird way, I kind of appreciate it. A little.

          1. Thanks for your reply!
            I often feel a bit frustrated for the reason you mentioned..not hearing what ppl really think in Japan.
            I am that kinda girl one can read emotions on my face.
            However I do apprciate when they don’t show any bad mood at work and keep a professional attitude.
            It’s much easier and you don’t get tired.

            1. You pretty well summarized the good and bad of Japan in a couple of sentences. People hiding their feelings (bad), but doing a great job at work (good). That’s basically Japan in a nutshell.

              If we compare Japan and the U.S., it’s clear that both countries have a lot of good and not-so-good points, and that those points are in vastly different areas. It makes it hard to choose between the two, because you gain so much in one area, while losing it in another. Kind of zero-sum game it seems. Oh, why can’t life just be perfect?

      2. Well, I’m afraid I have to disagree on this one, bro. Like even to is almost 3 am in the morning and I been reading your entries since midnight… You can’t expect for Japanese people to like US look-alike folks. Like for real. Same if you where on Vietnam. Like you guys used mustard gas on people. And the two nukes ever used in human history were dumped by the US on Japanese soil. There is no other country in the world that likes US people more than United States. Sounds logical, right. But it’s true. Like I said on my previous comment… You even call yourself as an American instead of someone from the US. Like when people asks me where is my accent from I just say: America. Just to hear them saying: You are not from America Anyways. Cool story Bro. Next time try to be more considerate for someone who is living in the streets, sleeping on a cardboard. Just saying.

  2. WOW,

    That’s what I remember the Japanese being like in Okinawa back when I traveled there in the late 70’s, but they had a good reason. Some stupid drunk Marines had raped a young Japanese girl and then killed her a few months prior. Can’t say I blame them either, and I also never heard of a Japanese tourist or visitor over here killing and raping Americans. I’m sure if the Japanese had won WWII and still had military bases here that they’d probably have drunk servicemen raping and murdering some poor American girl that was in the wrong place at the wrong time too; but, that’s alternate history and we have to bear the brunt of that responsibility for winning the war and using the bomb.

    I once tried to reason with a homeless man and he pulled a knife on me, so consider yourself lucky that he didn’t try to teach you how to Seppuku yourself Ken, … Baka. I wonder how he feels about the Chinese, hmmmm. Next time, try to redirect his wrath about America and say that you hate America and are really a Chinese spy (try pulling your eyes on the side to give him the impression you’re a real oriental dude too). Story was tremendously funny about a not so funny topic, well done and courageous, bravo!

      1. Theresa, Isn’t “People Who Eat Darkness” a book about a British woman who was working in a hostess bar that was murdered by a Korean-Japanese psycho? I can’t understand your point. I was talking about “never” hearing about Japanese tourists here in the US killing and raping Americans, as opposed to my disgusting fellow Marines that had raped and killed a young Japanese girl, which rightfully outraged the Okinawans.

        I was also sort of reminding Ken that homeless people are usually desperate and not someone that he should try to reason with in the first place… cause I really wanna read his book and he can’t write it, if some crazy pulls out a short sword and dismembers him. Now, once he writes it, I’ll have to re-evaluate my position at that time… just to be fair to everyone….. hmmmm j/k LOL!

        1. Thanks for looking out for me, Bud. I know, I gotta avoid hanging around with homeless people and yakuza. Definitely need a new set of friends. That’s going on the New Year’s resolution list, along with giving up potato chips and beer. Come on 2014!

        1. Thanks for that link Chad, it was hilarious. They should have been on Americas got talent, then they could have won the million dollars cash and a multimillion dollar contract in Vegas like Kenichi Ebina did.

  3. What would, “Die Octopus”, translate to anyway? I can only think of hilarious sounding ways to phrase that like, “Shinde kudasai, tako-san.”

      1. Hi Ken.

        Actually, I think “Die Octopus” would translate as “Shine, tako!”, or better yet “くったばりやがれ、タコが”. Reading manga sure improved my vocabulary of insults!

        1. What she actually said was, しんで、タコ!

          And I probably need to pick up some manga, since the other stuff you said makes no sense to me.

    1. Yeah, thanks. It’s all about the verbs with this language, isn’t it? On a real note, I wonder why—like what in the Japanese psyche formed the language so dependent upon verb forms? Ah, the wonders of Japan never cease.

  4. I really loved this little tale. I’m not much of a ‘commenter’ on blogs, but I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while now and felt compelled to tell you about it 🙂

    I can relate to a lot of your daily experiences and frustrations from my time living in Korea!

    1. Thanks, Jacob, I appreciate that. I expect there’s a lot of similarities among expats, regardless of the country. I’m looking forward to visiting Korea soon.

      1. Korea has put out some great Drama shows lately Ken and I highly recommend them both:



        I don’t know how representative they are of the country, but they are really entertaining. Both series start out slow but are really keeping me coming back especially “The Master’s Sun”, it’s completely surprised me at times and the last two episodes are nail bitters with cliff hanger endings.

        1. Man, those sound great. These days I barely make it to my 70-yen video shop once a week. All this drinking and carousing is very time consuming. Gotta make some time . . .

          1. “The Masters Sun” is about a girl that sees ghosts and it has a crazy wild plot line that just never stops creating new developments for the characters. I really had a hard time trying to figure out the lead actress and just like the main protagonist find myself strangely drawn to her (performance). There are some really beautiful Korean women in this one (and some handsome men too for the ladies), especially in the last few episodes.

            “Her Legend” is about the perseverance of a young girl to overcome a troubled life story where she is constantly mistreated by the circumstances thrown at her. I’m still trying to figure out the objective of this series, but I keep watching it to see if the bad people get served their comeuppance by lady justice. Story-line has some convoluted turns, but I managed to stay with it anyway even though I have no understanding of the fashion industry.

  5. Ken, you’re sort of a frequent visitor to this park. Have you see this guy since? The English language is really efficient for delivering colorful insults. Japanese just doesn’t quite do it although I do find humor in saying things like “I like you not”

    1. Agreed. “I like you not” is about as good as it gets. Yeah, I’ve been back there a couple of times, and seen him once more. I’m hoping winter will bring a change of venue for him. Maybe I’ll buy him a ticket to Okinawa. There’d be some irony in that.

      1. Nice! Maybe just a cup of sake will thaw things. Or a hand held version of grand theft auto 5 which will increase his vocab a bit more.

  6. Great post! You always meet the craziest characters in Japan—I don’t know how you do it.

    I loved your description of Makiko too, I can picture her perfectly in my mind. She sounds like such a badass!

    Anyway, I think Japanese is definitely lacking on the verbal insults and that’s where English shines. Still, it worries me that the worst ‘swear word’ for Japanese is “shine! (go die!)” I mean, saying FU really hits home but, telling someone to go die somewhere is a bit harsh.

    Back in the teaching days, I remember my elementary kids used to say ‘shine! (die!)’ to each other, and I was in utter shock. I would pull them away and tell them that you should NEVER say that to anyone, but they just shrugged their shoulders and didn’t think much of it. No wonder ijime in Japan is so intense! You just don’t get called stupid and ugly, people tell you to go die! Adding an octopus to that… just makes it all the worse.

    1. Yeah, somehow the interesting folk just seek me out. Or maybe it’s the other way around, I don’t know. Anyway, it’s all good.

      I do wonder what the swear words in each language reveal about the psyche of the speakers. English has a lot of juvenile insults, centered around body parts, sex, and bodily functions. Stuff that a child would find funny, and adults never tire of. Japanese is a lot heavier. You’re right; “Die” is a pretty harsh thing to say.

      1. I know this is old, but in Dutch most swear words relate to disease like: kanker hoer means cancer whore and people say stuff like I hope you get cholera or typhus fever. I’m American and I’ve lived here for 9 years and I still don’t really get it! Also only really aggressive/asocial people swear like that, normal people are just passive agressive. Love your blog!

  7. Haha, great post!

    This is the first article I’ve read on your blog, and I think it’s a gem 🙂

    I’m just curious though, and forgive me if sounds stupid, but is there any significance of calling a Japanese person an ‘octopus’? It seemed like Mikako-san was really serious when she suggested it!

    1. Not only was she serious, but she actually uses that phrase. The significance, however, is lost on me. I don’t think it’s particularly worse than, say, calling someone a squirrel or a poodle. I’ve also never heard anyone else say it, so I think it’s a Mikako-ism. Still, it sounds pretty awesome when she says it.

      Thanks a lot for reading, and welcome to the site.

      1. Isn’t Octopus used by strippers to describe patrons that use their hands too much….cough cough, though I don’t know where I heard that from?

  8. Hi!

    Just discovered your blog and I must say this greatly helps while passing time in school. Love the humor. 🙂

    1. Funny, it helps me pass time in school too, and I’m a teacher. This must be what they mean when they say the internet will re-shape education. Thanks a bunch for reading!

      1. If there’s a “like” button in your blog, I would have liked your reply. 🙂 Yeah, who would have thought the extent of the net re-shaping education. Keep on writing so I’ll have something to read and the kyoto-sensei would think I’m busy learning about Japan! 🙂

  9. Today I stumbled upon your blog while searching for more information about Japan to prepare for my trip there next April. Then I’ve just kept on reading it for more than 3 hours. I even quoted hilarious parts to share with my husband.

    I really like your writing style and the way you view and compare things in Japan. Visiting Japan has been my dream since childhood so I really look foward to the trip.
    One question for you: how easy is it for foreigners to strike a conversation with the Japanese, especially the young ones in their mid-20? I’ll be backpacking there for 3 weeks and would like to know more about the culture and lifestyle than just taking tons of pictures.

    1. First of all, thanks for reading. I really appreciate it.

      So yeah, you’ll have a great time in Japan. Seriously, you’ll love it. Absolutely, you can strike up a conversation with people, and it shouldn’t be too difficult.

      Okay, a couple of things about conversations in Japan. One is that Japanese don’t really talk to folks they don’t know. Like at all. Sometimes I’ll try to make a casual observation, say with a person on the train, along the lines of “Well, sure is hot today, huh?” And the other party will just look at me like “Why are you talking to me?” Actually, I’d probably have more success if I didn’t try this solely with young attractive women, but I guess there’s really no way to test that, so we’ll never know. But really, it’s surprising how little people here actually talk to one another during the course of a day. They probably say a quarter of the number of words that the average American does. So there’s that.

      But that being said, there are plenty of Japanese people who enjoy talking with foreign visitors. Precisely because they don’t have an easy way to talk with other Japanese, foreigners present a great opportunity for conversation. You’ll have good luck if you go places where a lot of Japanese people and Western people intermingle, like youth hostels, Irish bars, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Okay, not entirely sure about KFC, but definitely Irish bars. And in front of any random train station, with any group of young people hanging out. Time and place are really important in Japan. Well, maybe they are everywhere, I’m not sure. But certainly if you encounter a person when they’re in Relaxation Mode and not Rushing to Work Mode, you’ll have better success. I guess that’s common sense. But the difference between people at work during the day and out at night in an izakaya is often striking.

      Lastly, I’ll say that you probably don’t need a lot of Japanese language skills. Far more useful is learning to tap into the thousands of English words that every Japanese person already knows, and to present questions that the other party can successfully answer.

      I’ll be interested to hear your impressions when you get here!

      1. Yeah it’s funny, but a couple of Germans I know with basically no Japanese skills lived in Tokyo for a year and absolutely loved it. And I realized, they had heaps of opportunities to make friends and have lots of interesting social encounters simply because they did things like went to places like cafes where you get paid to chat in English etc. And friends would introduce you to friends, and you would be providing them the foreign experience. Meanwhile in Japanese language land at grad school for me…. wind blows over a desolate landscape…. Of course, I could also just have a terrible personality, but that didn’t stop me making plenty of Chinese, Korean, South American or Eastern European friends.

        1. Gotta love a country where they’ll pay you not to speak the language.

          A lot of really good things happen if you stick with English. Japanese? Eh, not so much. Nobody was too thrilled when Michael Jordan decided to play baseball either.

          But at least you can order udon toppings like a boss.

          1. Not exactly….there was one person that was thrilled about Jordan switching sports; It was ME that was thrilled when Jordan joined the Birmingham Barons baseball team because I got to see him in several games against the Huntsville Stars and luckily got his autograph, which I would have never gotten if he hadn’t played baseball, but yeah, he really wasn’t a great baseball player.

  10. Hi Ken, thanks for your response. I find the part about how little Japanese people talk to each other quite similar to the situation I have here with the Scandinavian as well. They are surely nice and polite, but they don’t talk to you until you are introduced into their “circle”. Even a simple “Hi” or “Good morning” are met with strange look and/or completely ignored.

    Another similar thing I realized between Japanese and Scandinavian is when you described about people during day and night time. Scandinavians are extremely talkative and friendly when they are drunk. But the downside is that they don’t usually remember what they said the previous day, or remember that they have talked to me. So the next day when I say Hi to them, they show me a straight face again. They may even think I’m strange as I’m acting like I know them. To me, they seem to have double personalities.

    With that I related to the blog you posted about hanami, where random Japanese people invited you to drink with them. I guess they did that because they got bolder when they were drunk as well? My friends and I will come to Japan during cherry blossom time and plan to do a lot of hanami. I hope we’ll get invited to join them just like you or else it would be awkward for us to just sit there like dumb people :D.

    And I will definitely try to talk to people in youth hostels, pubs or train station and let you know the result 😀

    1. Yes, I have thought about it.

      I think about a lot of stuff though, and most of it’s pretty silly. This is actually kind of heavy, but maybe I’ll tackle it. I’ll set the monkeys in motion and we shall see what Hamlet emerges.

  11. Actually those one cups are Japanese sake, not sho-chu. It’s pretty easy for foreigners to get the two confused at first, especially if you are mostly just buying pre-mixed can drinks from Lawson. Other than that, great story on being owned by a homeless dude!

      1. Ahh, Seeroi-San, I think he was just trying to rustle your jimmies.

        Another fantastic article, I’m loving these. I’d say my favourite part is probably your indifference to almost everything but injustice (real or perceived), your desire to assimilate, while retaining a concept of self and your borderline alcoholism. They’re my favourite things. I’d like to have a beer next time I’m in Japan (dec), let me know.

        Oh and I think it’s pretty self explanatory those ‘favourite’ things are just my own qualities but written better and in Japan, so that’s like, extra better haha.

        1. Ha, I had to laugh about the indifference to everything but injustice, whether real or perceived. That’s pretty spot on. Have a perceived wrong that needs righting? That’s where I step in. Everything fine and no injustice on the horizon? We’ll just see about that; pretty sure I can manufacture some.

          Not sure what jimmies are, but they sound like something I wouldn’t mind having occasionally rustled.

      2. Just to clarify I ment Criss, but now that I think about it probably the homeless guy as well. Kudos on keeping those Jimmys un-rustled.

  12. Yeah, Ive “suffered” many a homeless diatribe as well. The crazies in Japan dont bother me, its like Im not inferior to them. Usually after the diatribe, they will shake my hand. You got to remember that allot of homeless choose that life. Ive worked in some jobs that they are sent to by Hello Work. Those jobs are horrible, pay and environment, so they just say the hell with all that bullshit, get the blue tarp and set up by the river. I guess in Kawasaki they get a free shower and bento. Scrounge up some cans or card board, do some day work, and your good. For a Japanese persons life, its not really aint that bad because he has lots of freedom and stopped being a slave to the system.

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