Japan’s a Scam

I was drinking with Sandy in the park recently. It was dark and naturally we were on the swing set.

“I’ll just never be happy here,” she said.

“Congratulations,” I replied, “you’re finally Japanese. Here, have a chu-hi. It’s got real lemon flavor.”

Then we kampai-ed as our swings passed, which is hard to do without spilling. The great thing about Japan is it has these little dirt plots that serve as corner parks, complete with rusty jungle gyms and broken see-saws where you can drink at night. I guess theoretically kids could play there during the day too, if the population hadn’t all died off. Anyway I figured it kind of worked in our favor.

“It’s all the rude people,” she continued, “and dead-end jobs.

“Ah, you’ve just had too much booze. Know what we should do?

“No, really. I’m going back Seattle,” she said.

“We should switch to beer, is what,” I said. “Jeez Sandy, you’re the only one left.

“I just need to save some money.

“Heh, I remember when you were saving to come here.

“Well that’s irony for you,” she said.

Everyone who can leave Japan eventually does—-it’s a constant, like the speed of light. There’s an arc—-move to the country fresh-faced and exited, travel around taking pictures and trying to speak Japanese, then reach an apex where you realize why there’re so many stray catsJapan_Cats-JapaneseRuleof7, then begin the descent into Japanese marriage and a punishing job, or packing up and leaving.

Okay, so Japan’s a scam, but that’s probably obvious. The internet image of a nation with a low crime rate, concern for others, politeness, sexy women, harmony with nature, respect for the elderly—-it’s all a stupendous fiction. News organizations recirculate the same rumors over and again, based on observations from the Meiji era. Oooo, a country on the other side of the earth where everything’s perfect, how delightful. There’s only one reason anybody’d believe it: because Japanese people are massive liars convinced of their own hype, and because it’s so easy to mistake difference for exoticism. Okay, that’s two reasons, so I lied. But still, it doesn’t mean Japan’s a bad place. It’s pretty great on weekends and holidays. Only that, if you come from a first-world nation, you’ll eventually realize it’s no better than where you used to be. But hey, that’s life. You probably should’ve stayed with your high school sweetheart too.

The 60-40 Rule

It’s no secret that humans are programmed to be restless. If we were happy with everything, we’d still be living in caves with dial-up internet, eating raw fish. Dissatisfaction is the fuel powering the engine of human progress. Oh, that’s definitely going on my Christmas cards next year. But really, ask people about their jobs, spouses, or living situations, and you’ll get a hefty list of complaints lickety-split. And a few good things. Hey, that’s why mankind invented country music and beer, right? Osaka could use a honky-tonk too, I figure.

Anyway, I’d like to believe the universe has some equilibrium, so that good and bad balance each other out fifty-fifty. But given the human proclivity to see things somewhat cloudily, most things seem to appear more like 40 percent marshmallows and 60 percent shit. There’s probably a margin of error, but you get the idea.

So here’s the problem: Everyone moves to Japan about 90 percent positive, if not more. That’s way too high. I know you love Japan, but if you can’t also immediately name ten things you absolutely hate, then you don’t have a clue about the country. Since Japan’s still a place on earth that conforms to the laws of nature, then living here means it’s gonna go from 90 marshmallows down to 60 shit balls. That can’t be good. Put another way, living in Japan is like walking down the street and stepping in 50 percent more poo than you expected. Hey, you can’t argue with math. Which is why I majored in English. Happy days.

And here’s the challenge: learning how to love Japan after realizing it’s killed your unicorn and served him sliced atop a bowl of ramen. Yeah, I’m still working on that one. He was so cute too, what with the little white horn and rainbows shooting out his bum, and now he’s floating on a layer of grease and tears, looking all tender and juicy. Well, no doubt he’ll be delicious sprinkled with some golden sesame and pickled ginger.

Goodbye Japan

And then, just like that, we were in Haneda airport, me and Sandy and her half-Japanese half-Filipino best-friend Makiko. Years of life in Japan, all boiled down to two buddies and a couple suitcases full of cheap paper fans and rice crackers for the folks back home. We stared at the floor tiles and tried to think of meaningful things to say.

“Have one last beer?” I proposed.

“Nah, I gotta go,” she said. “I’ll miss my flight.”

We smiled and waved as she went through security, then everything got misty and by the time it cleared Sandy was gone. That’s the problem with having gaijin friends; they all end up leaving. Damn foreigners. Makiko and I stood silently for a minute, then turned and did the only thing we could. Went and had giant bowls of airport ramen with a side of fried gyoza and a bunch of beer, and it was amazing.

233 Replies to “Japan’s a Scam”

    1. At this point I’m assuming you were reading in the tub and dropped your phone, but still, thanks for saying that.

  1. Good writing! I really appreciate hearing some dark side of Japan experience. Hopefully my unicorn will not die for I am coming for only few months, but I guess, all and all, it is experience that matters. It’s like overeating favorite dish. And as your finishing line said “Went and had giant bowls of airport ramen with a side of fried gyoza and a bunch of beer, and it was amazing.” it is not that bad, actually it is still amazing 🙂

    1. No worries there. A few months, even a year and a bit, and Japan really shines. You’ll have a great time. It’s the world’s Disney, uh, World. Japan’s a fine place, just that I’m pretty sure if you saw Mickey Mouse every day, after a while you’d be like, Ah, there’s the rat again, that’s all.

    2. Was it a “dark side of Japan experience” or simply an experience of a person with a dark mind?
      Ryan Boundless? Is that you??? :-p

    1. Yeah, Japan’s not an easy place to stay. Or an easy place to leave. But then nowhere is, and therein lies the challenge.

      1. Ken,

        I loved everything about Japan until the moment I got a job there. That’s when I got a glimpse of the real Japan. Three months later, back home. I much prefer to visit and play tourist. It’s so much more fun pretending not to speak Japanese, cuz you are treated so much better when you don’t.
        Don’t you pity (or envy) the poor intrepid souls with that gleam in their eye?

        1. Pure envy. Sorry, meant enby. Gotta work on my “v”s.

          Coming to Japan is a chance to go back to childhood, where you know nothing and the world is full of mystery. I’d take that over wisdom any day.

      2. I grew up watching John Wayne saying bad things about Japanese people and killing them, on black and white TV. My Japanese daughter-in-law saw the movie, “Pearl Harbor,” and said, “They don’t tell us this in school.” I came across the book, “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones,” in 1966, and I thought, Zen is what Existentialism wants to be when it grows up. The idea of idealizing Japan never crossed my mind. How times change!

        1. ” Zen is what Existentialism wants to be when it grows up. The idea of idealizing Japan never crossed my mind.” BenFranklin99
          But,………Zen is Indian not Japanese!
          Why not idealize India?

            1. Danchan,
              Well actually, the first 28 patriarchs of Zen Buddhism came from the Indian subcontinent. Around 520 AD the 28th patriarch, Bodhidarma, travelled to China, taking Zen with him. The Bodhidarma settled at the Shao-lin temple, attaining enlightenment nine years later. His disciple Hui Ke (487 – 593 AD), became the first Chinese patriarch.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Traut. I always appreciate them.

      I’ve been here eight years, although like many folks I visited several times before I moved here, studied the language, and generally started immersing myself in the culture for a few years prior. To sum up, I felt I knew and understood the culture at first, but then after living here, couldn’t square what I was being told with what I was experiencing. It’s like McDonald’s. The burgers are 100% beef, fries made with real potatoes, meals called Happy, and the whole place is painted wonderful colors. How could it not be amazing?

      So that’s Japan in a nutshell. It’s great—you get a hamburger for 49 cents. The key is to see past the soaring yellow arches, glossy ads, and smiling clown, because that’s all just lying. Sorry, advertising. Because at the end of the day you get what you paid for—a 49 cent hamburger.

      Your second question is harder, so I’ll just say what I’ve said every January: Eh, think I’ll stick around another year or two.



  2. I’m a 15 year old boy living in London and I wish to live in Japan or Hong Kong when I am older 😀 Ever since I stumbled upon this website less than a month ago I’ve been addicted!! I’ve already read every single article! Your writing style is by far the best I’ve ever read and your stories are hilarious!
    Definitely gonna keep updated, keep up the good work! btw loved the ending!

    1. Thanks a bunch. You really should come and live here, because you’ll have a great time. Start saving your yen!

  3. おはよ〜!Ken~san!

    Your post was awesome as always, and ever improving. You constantly make me hate/love Japan for the way it is. Thanks for everytime you post an article, they are the best way to make anyones day.

    I have a few Japanese friends and for some reason the females seem to be more interested in talking to foreigners? It is about 80/20 with that… mabye more. My whole thing I’m trying to ask is that, I notice many of the girls are your stereotyped “shy and reserved but fun.” While every now and then there is one that is really flirty, like really really flirty. I am afriad it is because I am a がいじん (no kanji! ) but mabye not? Are some girls just flirty or are they gaijin hunters, please offer me some of your aweome insight man. Hope your day is going swell by the way!

    ~Noah (^~^)v

    1. It is, thanks. I just had a big bowl of rice and coffee. Not together, either, which is a nice change.

      Anyway, my observation, for what it’s worth, is that a lot of Japanese ladies seem very competitive. Which means that when they’re around other women, they’re intensely worried about who looks the cutest, has the best handbag, or gets the most attention. I found it hard, especially at first, to distinguish between women who were genuinely interested in me and those who were simply competing for attention. Maybe that’s what’s going on? And yeah, of course it’s because you’re a 外人. There’s that kanji for you. Still, that’s your gift horse, so you probably shouldn’t check his teeth too closely.

      1. Haha thanks,

        even in the comments your always funny as hell. As for the gift horse I will try my best to not look to deeply into things, as you tend to say things along the line of, “if your a foreigner here, just be a foreigner and more people will like you” so I’ll just stick with the blissful ignorance and pretend that nothing is different. 笑 I know that your much older than I am but I hope that one day when I am in Japan we can hangout, and I’ll throw in an incentive… beers are on me.

  4. Hi Ken,

    Have been enjoying your blog posts for a while now – love how dry and peppery they come across, like a good omiyage osenbe without a chu-hi chaser but still impossible to stop at one.

    Have been here.. fuck it’ll be 11 years on the 26th this month. Can’t say I agree with you on every point but the overriding impression is very true. Japan was created to keep foreigners out and fashioned an amazing financial ecosystem for the ones they let in by selling every schleppy, whimsical, pop culture icon driven slab of Japanese Domestic Market Material they can shove down their throats.

    I tell anyone coming here, if they do, “I dare you to scratch beneath the surface and find out whether you like what’s underneath or not.”

    Believe me, character building bullshit frothing evangelists the world over ain’t got nothing on scratching beneath the surface of what Japan shows you on that glossy cover of hers. It’s either going to do one of two things. 1. Send you screaming back to mommy and daddy about how petrifying and incredibly xenophobic Japan is, or 2. Plunge you headfirst into Hattori Hanzo’s fire of doom, whereby you get hammered to fuck (in many ways and directions) and come out the other side as a pure blade of death, able to cut both ways and only weilded by the one True God.. or so … they say…

    Japan is the choice Neo had to make in the Matrix. He made the right one. The Rabbit hole does have an end and I suppose one could ask themselves, if in fact they have been here long enough, would you be willing to die and be buried in Japan? If the answer is yes, then ‘back home’ doesn’ apply to you anymore.

    A fully loaded, smoking gun of a topic you’ve started here, Ken…

    1. @Zildog + There is a third option, one that might take you another decade in Japan to see, but by that time it might be too late for you.

      1. Why leave it at a third option? Option 4; Plug a lead into your head, switch on wifi (because apps over a few MB need a wifi connection) and download a program that lets you surf random people’s flimsily coded whisperings like a true kung fu master.

      2. Well don’t keep me hanging. What’s option three? Hopefully it involves living in a cardboard box by the river and copious amounts of shochu.

        1. To live as a gaijin is to live in a bubble. To live in that gaijin bubble is to be infantilized (if you are a man this will lead to emasculation) by Japanese society. That infantilization gives one a sense of specialness and exclusivity (addictive because it feels so good) but that gaijin bubble actually exists at the lower rungs of society. That is why one needs an exit strategy before even setting foot in Japan for the first time.

  5. Oh and you’re dead wrong about this.. “It’s pretty great on weekends and holidays. Only that, if you come from a first-world nation, you’ll eventually realize it’s no better than where you used to be. But hey, that’s life.”

    In no way shape or form on this planet is that correct in my line of work. Perhaps that’s why I always feel motivated to strive on and make my own mark on this place… “back home” was a totally depressing, dead end shithole of a place to be growing up.

    maybe it will be different when I retire. That’s probably why they call it the “Retirement City” @___@..

    1. Well, glad we don’t agree on every point, since I’m not ready to get gay married just yet.

      As for comparing one place to another, I guess I really meant that there’s good and bad everywhere, and things tend to balance out somehow. But maybe if you’re from some God-forsaken place like Nebraska, Detroit, or London, then yeah, Japan really is better.

      1. Well don’t look at me for that. I’m just sitting here wondering how you have only 1,700 odd fans on Facebook. That makes about as much sense to me as the last train… or the first. Usually the first.

        1. Hell, I’m just happy to have one fan. The truth is, I spend about zero time marketing and getting the word out about my site. The writing gets most of my attention, and once it’s done, if it’s passable, that’s enough for me. But I know that’s a bad habit. I probably need a marketing manager.

        1. I had a great time, is what. I’ve got a buddy who took me around, we ate some fantastic food, drank in the pubs, went to a soccer game. Sorry, “football.” It was sunny the entire week I was there.

          So mostly I was just funning, but I will say this: a lot of the British folks here seem to slag off their own country. The food’s shite, the weather’s shite, the birds are shite. Now that’s interesting, because it’s the exact opposite of what Japanese people do.

          Both countries have a lot of great things to offer. It’s just a culture difference. You’d be hard pressed to find a nation more proud of how self-deprecating it is than Japan. We’re humble. And we’re the best at being humble. Ain’t nobody more humble than us, that’s for sure. That’s Japan, humble #1.

          1. Ay, it’s a national past time here in England to stand in long queues, quietly grumbling, and just you know, generally enjoy being slightly miserable and unhappy with things.

            But i wouldn’t have it any other way to be honest. The humility in Japan simultaneously warms my heart and absolutely disgusts me.

          2. How can Japan be so high on itself but then treat gaijin the way they do when they come to visit the mysterious land of Nippon. Especially the people like yourself who made it your home. Seems counter intuitive to me.

            Here in the states people like to say its the greatest nation on earth, where they get the idea I have no idea, but don’t want foreigners coming here.

            If Japan encourages tourism why treat people so different?

  6. I am sure you are right that everyplace turns out to be 60 percent shit in the long run and that I would realize this was true of Japan too if I ever got to live there. But this post brilliantly sums up the real difference to my mind: When life is 60 percent shit in Japan, you can go comfort yourself with Japanese food.

        1. Japanese food? You mean like barbecued beef? Or fried chicken? Potato salad? That’s what’s on the menu of most neighborhood restaurants.

          Last night I went to a pretty normal place and had a caesar salad, small pizza, sliced avocado with cheese, and some fried potato balls, plus a couple glasses of white wine.

          Other things that are common are noodles of every variety, rice, pasta, tempura, curry, and hamburgers. I’m sure there’s a lot more, but since I just had a big bowl of clam chowder with a side of olive bread, I’m too full to contemplate further.

          So what exactly is it you don’t like?

          1. I like evething you mentioned above! What I don’t like is raw stuff, also fermented stuff, in addition to miso, ramen, any noodles besides pasta, plain white rice, エビ, tenppura, gyudon. I used to like all those foods .The more traditional Japanese foods. Used to like em a lot at my home country, but when I came to Japan, meh pass me the fried chicken, pizza and chu hi!

          2. Ken,

            In our area (Puget Sound, Washington) there’s a big Asian market chain called Uwajimaya. Lots of great stuff there, including fantastic seafood and even Waygu Beef. But I estimate that maybe 80% of the packaged foods contain MSG, some form of soy, or both. Some people, myself included, are sensitive to MSG, and soy is a known allergen, especially unfermented soy products. Soy contains phytoestrogens and other compounds that may cause problems for some people. (Maybe the phytoestrogens are linked to the smaller stature of Japanese men compared to men in the West? Or the relative effeminacy of vegetarian men in general? Who knows?)

            Anyway, I was wondering if the same holds true for packaged food products or restaurant food for sale within Japan. Also, if one abstains from soy products and MSG in Japan (if such is possible) and eats meat, fish, eggs and dairy for protein sources instead, will that heavily impact one’s food budget, or severely limit one’s restaurant menu choices? Obviously miso and tofu would be off limits. Any thoughts on this?

            1. Well, I don’t know about MSG, but from what I’ve read, much of it’s hype. I don’t mean to be offensive—certainly you know your body—but have you done much research on the subject? I’ve eaten enough Chinese food to know I can definitely get woozy from something, but when I read up on MSG, many of the findings were surprising. The evidence is far from conclusive, and unless you’re well-versed on the research, I’d encourage you to give it another look. At any rate, I’m positive that most folks in Japan don’t give a fig about MSG. Every store stocks it as “Aji no moto,” so somebody’s buying and using it.

              Soy off the menu? Probably not a big deal. Although you can find it here if you’re looking, it certainly isn’t used as a meat substitute to the extent it is in the U.S. Miso’s used as a base for soups and some pastes, but I think you wouldn’t have much trouble avoiding it.

              Food was one of my main concerns when I first came here, and it really need not have been. Most big cities in Japan are quite international, and you can find all manner of cuisine. Except for vegetarian. That’s actually pretty rare here, at least percentage-wise.

              1. Ben,
                I wasn’t aware that Tomatoes had MSG in them. Actually, MSG is a manufactured product…I think you mean that tomatoes have naturally occurring glutamates, as do other natural foods such as meat. I haven’t researched glutamates in tomatoes but I suspect the levels are far less than the MSG levels added to the typical Chinese restaruant meal, since consumption of tomatoes doesn’t bother me. I have heard of other people with tomato sensitivities though. I don’t know if their cases are related to glutamates.

          3. If you can’t eat either soy / soy products or MSG, then much of East Asian pre-prepared and restaurant food and will be off-limits, including Japan. You can buy raw materials at a supermarket and cook for yourself in Japan – if that is okay with you.

  7. Seriously the best post I’ve read from you, and I think I’ve read them all!

    Though I don’t live there, I’ve visited enough to see beyond the veil, if you will.

    While I find it’s a bit of a love/hate relationship with the country at large, I will likely be moving there in the next 12-18 months. I think your posts keep me grounded in reality – as much as I want to escape some of what I dislike here in the US, I know that it’s likely trading one set of quirks for another upon arrival. Time will tell, once I settle in for more than just a few months there….you persevere, hopefully I can as well.

    Cheers and thank you so much for the amazing insight and humor. Encore, encore!

    1. You know, it’s weird, but I really enjoy living vicariously through people who’ve just moved here. I think I’m developing a gaijin fetish. Anyway, yeah, do me a favor and once you do move here, check in occasionally and share what you’ve found out about the country thus far. I love that stuff.

  8. Ken,
    I have read every single one of your posts, perhaps 5 times. I love them all. You have amazing writing skill, and even better sense of humor. I say we all chip in money to buy you a new typewriter, if that helps you get the posts out quicker. I get withdrawal between your monthly posts.
    Because of my job, I will never get to permanently leave Hawaii for Japan. However, due to your posts, and due to one of those beautiful Japanese ladies (OK…more because of the later), I will be visiting Japan several times a year.
    It would be great pleasure to meet you, the next time I visit Japan. All the drinks will be on me. That’s the least I can do for all the laughs you have given me.

    1. “Because of my job, I will never get to permanently leave Hawaii for Japan”

      The tragedy of your situation overwhelms me. But seriously, thanks for the props, and reading so much. And yeah, maybe one of these days, I’ll take you up on that beer.



      1. Ken,
        I live vicariously through your posts, each month. I am not sure if that’s a good thing or not. I guess you can say that I get to “experience” all that is Japan, yet don’t have to deal with all the frustrations. Heck, the gut-busting laughter (with a touch of down-to-earth reality) is worth the wait each month.
        The next time I am in Japan, I will get me the biggest bowl of Narita airport ramen/fried gyoza, followed by a trip to 7-Eleven to buy me a family size bag of Calbee’s BBQ chips and 12-pack of Kirin Lager, before I settle into my room at the Imperial Hotel.
        When are you going to get that book published? I’ll fly over there to get it personally signed by you. For goodness sake, take my money, already! It’s burning a hole in my wallet.
        When I get to meet you, a beer will not be enough. We’ll have to clear the top-shelf liquor!
        Keep up the good job!

        1. Terrifying. Just the thought of having unlimited booze sends a shiver down my liver. It’s truly a good thing that I’m limited by my own poverty. But thanks though, hey.

  9. For me it certainly was different. I never was all positive about Japan, but I just wanted to live there for a year. Eventually I liked it much more than I thought I would and stayed for 7 years. I only left because I wanted to be able to compare it properly to my home country. I’ve never experienced working life in my home country before, so that’s what I’m doing now.

    But I’m still quite positive that I’ll move back to Japan in the future. It just worked better for me. I could save a lot more money (taxes in my home country are INSANE) and it IS so much safer than my home country (Germany) is currently.

    1. “I’ve never experienced working life in my home country before, so that’s what I’m doing now.”

      You know, I once added it up, and before moving to Japan I’d had over 60 jobs. Some were big, some small (I worked in a bakery for a single day; man, that sucked), but it gave me a really good database for comparison. Even now in Japan, I’ve easily done over a dozen jobs.

      I don’t know, maybe that has something to do with it. I guess it depends on where you come from, what you’ve done, and which Japan you live in.

  10. This post dragged me out of lurking, love your style of writing and sense of humor. I gotta make sure to make a list of pros and cons of Japan before I move there in the future…

    Also just wondering is there a visa for someone who’s planning to be self employed…Not selling Chinese Rolexes of course.

    1. Absolutely there is. A buddy of mine is self-employed here, with a self-sponsored visa. He used a Japanese lawyer to set up his company and get the visa. I believe if you’ve got a solid business that can generate income, and a bit of cash to throw at the project, that it can be done.

      I’d love to hear that list of pros and cons too, by the way.

      1. I was thinking more along the lines of trading, but read that for a visa like that you gotta employ some people so might just need to go the usual route if I don’t find something along the lines of my eventual major. Peeked by Japan(Tokyo) during the summer(realised it’s been a good while since), food was great, Akihabara was as awesome and not at the same time. Might just drop the pros and cons about Japan, might generalise a bit here.

        1.The food, everyone says it but it just goes to show just how good it is, actually didn’t like the bentos but the restaurants were pretty good.
        2.The shops, clothes shops there are pretty great except for size, went in mainly for shoes. Guess being 6’4” doesn’t help, good thing I have normal sized feet.
        3:Games, why did the arcade era die before my generation got properly involved, really loved that over there.
        4. Architecture, building styles are a big thing for me, being a town boy in England makes it worse as skyscrapers aren’t common, and the way the homes are built are different too, but the highlight were the shrines for that.
        5.Cleanliness, the main touristy areas were really clean and not a lot is just dumped on the floor, occasional cigarette, used chewing gum or tourist dump is the usual. Not sure about the more residential areas as I didn’t really go for them.

        1. All my pros are tourist stuff, which means my picture of japan isn’t really clear enough yet, better go more or do a semester abroad in Uni.
        2.Novelty cafes, everyone goes on about the maid cafes and stuff, but they felt so shit for me, not sure about others but girls tryna be extra cute and stuff isn’t gonna make me go moe, that stuff needs to stay in anime.
        3.Street layout, why is everything other than the main-roads made so that getting anywhere takes longer, huge crowds and narrow streets don’t work, seems like something obvious but guess they gotta work hard those 2 hours a day they aren’t at work.
        4.Desserts…Guess the japanese desserts really don’t work for, anything with Mochi or Red beans doesn’t do it for me, must be an acquired taste. The ideas that they take from abroad like their crepes are good though.
        5.Their drinks, not old enough to legally drink in Japan but my buddy was, their drinks suck, not a fan of beer anyway but hot alcohol seems like a bad idea, especially rice alcohol, and their version of jack daniels was bad, might have been the shop or a bad bottle. Why isn’t there any cider in japan anyway?

        But beyond all that, it was actually pretty fun, I’m 19 by the way, spent a couple years outside of brit High school working and going into uni next year, should be 23 by the time I get to Japan if I decide to move there. Left the pros and cons at five, cos that’s a good number and all I could think off on a hangover.

        Really liked the country though, helped that me and my friends spoke some japanese too, you feel extra pumped when you can read a menu or order yourself in Japanese. One of my friends got excited reading a menu before realizing it was in English. Ramen might be the best Japanese food tbh, if not for their fried chicken, the Japanese might be the best with a fry.

        Anyway, the place seems good but if I ever do settle down in Japan I’m staying the hell away from Tokyo, that city was just too crowded, might be the summer that had a bit to do with it. Might go for Sapporo, or Osaka, need the excitement of a city with not as much crowding. Been really debating Naha in Okinawa too, not really Japan but the whole being an “actual” island is really drawing me in.

        1. Thanks for the interesting and thoughtful reply. The only thing that surprised me on your list was that you included “architecture” in the “pros.”

          It reminds me that one of the things people like—and I did too—about Japan is simply how different it is. And really the key to being able to reasonably evaluate the country is to wait until everything seems normal. That takes a couple of years, of course. But once you get used to the architecture, and the food, and the social customs, then you’re in a better place to assess whether they’re actually pros or cons. At first, it’s too easy to mistake the novel for the good.

          Maybe it’s just me, but aside from a few temples, the odd skyscraper or two, and some traditional homes, there are a lot of horrible concrete boxes, just thousands, littering the nation, where most people actually live. Probably best not to look too closely, as in most things.

  11. Ken,

    Wonderful CM and I truly believe that you have finished decoding all that is Gaijin(in the land of Nippondenso)… Then it naturally follows that the book could soon be a reality, so I eagerly await the day. Bang Bang, listen to the drum of persistent calls for you to finish your book, as so many admire your wisdom and wish the best for your new year!! I hope you are able to find the time to make this book a reality so that Karma can be balanced and I can finally read the wonderful book that you write.

    P.S. I surely want to get your autograph on one, when that day comes too!!

    Your friend and admirer always!!… and No I don’t want to get married either, cough, cough, hmmmmm!

    1. Well Bud, I’ll just say this, and don’t take it the wrong way, but, if I ever did want to get married to an older man from the midwest, you’d be the guy. And I mean that in the un-gayest way possible. Anyway, I appreciate all of your support over the years. And yeah, I think I might finally get around to that book this year. Or possibly next.

      1. You have real talent. One thing that might help you is to decide upon a structure. For example, the book could be based on your own timeline. What first attracted you to Japan? What did you do in the early days to explore? What made you decide to finally leave North America? From there, you could proceed to talk about the early years alternating between work and your life outside of work. Along the way, you could talk about people you have met, short vignettes, perhaps each a chapter or a single chapter devoted to these others.

        You could revisit the statements you made at the outset and re-examine them along the timeline. How does your outlook change? Does your initial enthusiasm still survive?

        The entire work could be a fictionalized account too but based on your experience and that of others. Whatever you decide, I recommend you get a good editor to help you with the substance and structure of the book. I look forward to reading it.

  12. Hey Ken, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts since before I even moved here. Came as an exchange student in September and I gotta say right now this post really hits home. Maybe it’s the general homesickness or going through the holidays without the family or a significant other but I can’t say that I haven’t been kicking myself lately for coming here. It’s made me even feel a little more depressed because outside of signing up for JET or other ALT positions once I go home and graduate and coming back, I honestly don’t know what to do with my future anymore. Any advice?

    1. Advice? Sure, I’ve got that aplenty. Good advice? Eh, that’s another story.

      On the real though, some of what I’m hearing sounds like just real life; that is, not necessarily Japan stuff. I mean, depressed, lonely, holidays, what am I doing with my life—hey, that’s every day before breakfast. That’s the human condition, right? So maybe that’s part of it, I don’t know. Ken Seeroi, psychologist extraordinaire. Then add on to that living in a foreign country, and yeah, sounds like the makings of a pretty big challenge.

      At a minimum though, I’d say for sure check out some other countries. Vietnam? Finland? Costa Rica’s supposed to be nice. And seriously, don’t think it’s just you.

      1. Vietnam is supposed to be one of the best countries in the world for expats, but Vietnamese is one of the most difficult languages, some people even say its harder than Chinese which is similar difficulty as Japanese. If you already know Japanese, Chinese is easier than Vietnamese. I asked some random Japanese women about Vietnam and nearly all of them say 治安が悪い, but I guess Japanese women are biased. They seem to agree to want to live in Malaysia though, but I’m not a fan of the Islamic head covering, maybe, the Japanese women know that if I am in Malaysia if she is mean to me its harder to find a girl to complain to.

        I heard that if you get your VPN sorted out, and work remotely living in certain areas in China is among best (away from the gold diggers in the major cities). As Chinese are “flexible” unlike the Japanese[a lot of Chinese popular dynasties were built by outlaws], Chinese racism is more out in the open allowing you feel a sense of superiority when you scold them and avoid them if needed, and they actually talk to foreigners in Chinese while the Japanese usually avoid speaking to Japanese in foreigners unless you prove yourself, and the image of China is so bad around the West that the truth may make one like China even more. Taiwan also exists as a more chilled out and warmer version of Japan.

        1. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to check out other Asian countries, not just Japan. I heartily endorse that suggestion for anyone considering moving here. Myself, I settled on Japan because…eh, actually, for no good reason. Now, it’s not the worst place one could end up, but there are many countries that are more open, more relaxed, and more fun. For example, well, all of them.

          But as they say, the grass is always greener on the road less traveled. Pretty sure that’s a saying.

  13. I think there is too much to lose in Japan. Great beer, great food, great trains. What more could one possibly want? The eight ball says, “Stay where you are”. I think it suits you!! Great post as always.

    1. Beer, food, and trains, the three most important things in life. Well, at least we’ve got our priorities straight.

  14. Man. Your blog is amazing. The truth and the humor, all served with just a pinch of brutal truth.

    I really couldn’t put it into any better words than you did. It’s not the Japan sucks, it’s that it’s basically overrated. If you come here with stars in your eyes on the back of a unicorn, the crushing reality that it is a normal place with normal problems is going to eat you alive.

    But man, I’d love me some unicorn ramen. Please pass the shichimi.

  15. Can totally relate with this post. I’m leaving Japan soon because my unicorn has died. The first 2 years were great but I eventually feel stuck. At first, I thought it was just my whiny self. But actually, most of my friends felt the same way and they already left Japan before I could. 🙁

    1. Yeah, I feel you. If you come from a nice place, you’ve always got the thought hanging over your head, “I could go back.” That’s pretty hard to compete with. Or if you’ve got good skills, “I could work in another country.” Stating the reality of your situation isn’t whining. Okay, maybe it is. I’ll just go stand somewhere else now.

  16. Just stumbled on your blog today. It’s the first blog I’ve ever read. I am hooked. 17 years in Japan myself. Married w/o children. From both NC and NJ/NY stateside.

    My major contribution was the Zuiikin’ English fiasco several years back when I uploaded a few clips. It was fun until Fuji-TV found me.

    Anyway, thank you very much for this awesome prose.

  17. Hmm, scratching my head. I lived there 5 years, fluent in Japanese language and culture (1 in countryside, 4 in Tokyo), been visiting at least once a year for 14 years now, and I would 100% agree with the following statements:

    The internet image of a nation with a low crime rate, concern for others, politeness, sexy women, harmony with nature, respect for the elderly—-it’s all a stupendous fiction.

    Nothing Mythological about that.

    1. Occasionally I see foreign photographers portraying Japan’s “cat islands” as cute havens for hordes of stray felines. I really hate to say it, but the reality, like many things here, isn’t quite as rosy.

      Japanese people are far more connected to farming and livestock than the average American. If your uncle doesn’t raise vegetables, then your grandfather certainly does. Outside of city centers (and occasionally within) having chickens, goats, or even a pig in your yard isn’t uncommon. And animals, well, they’re for eating. I’ve heard plenty of folks describe the trauma of their childhood pet ending up on the dinner plate. But hey, that’s life, at least for some.

      Now, there’s a fine line between “pet” and “animal,” and cats in Japan don’t always fall on the right side. While possibly not eaten (although I’ve talked to folks who “knew someone who did”), they’re certainly not always treated humanely.

      I’m of course not the first person to notice this, but there’s a real tendency among Japanese folks to push problems aside. If something becomes too troubling—like your wife, husband, employee, or friend—you simply start ignoring it. If it’s your pet kitten and she’s no longer cute, you just take her to the park and bye bye kitty.

      I’ve seen so many dead kittens in boxes, and cats run over on the road…honestly, it’s probably the thing I dislike most about Japan. What it says about the nature of the people, well, you’ll have to decide that for yourself. I will add that animal cruelty, as in breaking legs or throwing stones, yeah, I’ve seen that too.

      Spaying and neutering cats is also less common than in the U.S., and this vastly compounds the problem.

      Sorry to have to say this.

      1. Part of living there seems to be about getting used to being discarded. To know that people might express gratitude to you for helping them out with tutoring their kid, inviting them out somewhere to do something social, etc., but that there’s a good chance you will never hear from them again without even a text message excuse or explanation. People just don’t seem to have any of that social “gravity”. Even if you do pass briefly into each others orbit you’ll just get spun out again. I’d start to suspect I had an incredibly bad personality and/or crazy awful BO, if it wasn’t for how easy it was to accidentally become friends with half of the couple of dozen foreigners who were in my office.

        1. Strangely enough, most of the real friends I have in Japan, are all foreigners.But yeah, the main issue with that is that they all end up leaving.

        2. But Japanese folks are so friendly and polite—how can that be? They value group harmony and social connections.

          Nah, just kidding. But why is it you never see that sort of thing written in guide books about Japan? Because that’s the reality here. Don’t even get me started on dating.

          1. Wouldn`t be surprised if the Japanese samurai were in reality, drunk, arrogant bastards that bullied their own people, and were secretely hated. Not the brave noble warriors they portray them as. In that case yeah, maybe their current way of thinking, and social abilities are from the time of the samurai.

            1. Japanese people in power who bully others? That’s pretty hard to fathom. And nobody ever hates those above them. Clearly you’re maligning these mythical characters.

      2. The concept of indoor house pets is a Western one, and I suspect a fairly recent concept in Japan (the Japanese word for pet is “petto”).

        Dogs seem to have made the transition to being 100% Japanese pet, particularly the small, cute variety, but less so cats.

        Traditionally cats were working animals, kept outdoors for rodent control. No-one actually owned them, and they caught or scrounged what they could. I’m sure a sharp pair of claws indoors would make short work of the tatami.

        But attitudes change, even in Japan. Tatami-free apartments and litter trays mean cats can stay indoors, but these are not the ones seen out on the streets.

        As a comparison, my country, Australia, has a massive feral cat problem. It’s believed they kill tens of millions of small native birds and animals every day.

      3. Hi Ken, I’ve been popping by you blog every few months since last summer and am really happy I found it. If I can somehow become one tenth of how witty you are in my own writing, I’d be dancing through the woods happy – I literally can’t name another person making me laugh as much in a single post as you can. If you have any particular inspirations, I’d love to hear them.
        My second reason for commenting after praising your talent, is to ask you about something I find interesting. You write in this post and a comment that Japanese people have a blurry distinction between pet and animal. Now, obviously, cats are animals, but somehow you are distinguishing between them and I assume the animals you categorize as ‘edible’ food animals.
        My question is: Why is it ‘wrong’ to eat cats, when eating pigs and chickens and cows is ‘right’? Is it only wrong when the animal has first been perceived as a relatively free pet with rights, or would you be alright with eating them if they had been bred for food to begin with? What makes it ethically correct to eat one animal, but not another?
        PS. I’ll try to comment again later with less questions. Thank you for your time. 🙂

        1. You know, eating ethically’s like being straight. I mean, take a big, tough dude who’s all “I hate gays,” and slap him in prison for a couple years, and suddenly he’s getting hard-ons every time a bar of soap drops. But I digress.

          Now, I feel ya. Me personally, I try not to eat much meat. It’s not great health-wise, nor is it splendid for the environment. And I’m pretty sure the pigs, cows, and chickens of the world are on board with my decision. It’s arguable that eating any animal is unethical. Certainly making a distinction between animals based upon their cuteness (or deliciousness) seems a weak argument.

          But hey, ethics is for people with enough money, time, and resources. Read Hadashi no Gen and then let’s reflect upon the Japanese people. So yeah, I’m pretty sure if you put anyone on a lifeboat with a bunch of cats, a barbecue grill, and a big bag of onions and green peppers, it wouldn’t be too many weeks before catkabobs seemed like a most excellent idea.

  18. I certainly went through days / periods feeling a bit like that when I lived there, but having been back in the UK for 12 years now, can honestly say that you get the same feeling wherever you are. You will always visualise and idealized place to live, and often see your home country( or somewhere else if you like) as utopia compared with where you currently are.
    Sure, there are things that grate in Japan- over bureaucracy, sometime suffocating feeling that there’s a ‘right’ way for things to be done, and that ‘this is how it SHOULD be’ etc. , over-doing the superficial ‘service’ response in most areas, occasional cautious/ even up to overtly discriminatory actions towards non-Japanese… But then you think about the general levels of cleanliness/tidiness, the safety/security every day, the amazing food, the great beers, the excellent and well researched levels and availability of fashion, the access to swathes of useful information on any topic, the stunning scenery and wild coastlines you can find if you look( with sunny, hot weather-remember, I’m from the UK so this is always a plus!) …
    All I am saying is, there’s 2 sides to all this, and the grass ain’t always greener. The UK is a fantastic place on a lot of levels, but then totally lets itself down with high cost of living, poor general standard of reasonably priced eateries( although if you have enough cash to splurge, the high end is amazing) , the general levels of obesity (it really is pretty dire), the laughable service you get in pretty much all aspects of commerce, the litter problem and lack of respect so many have for their own houses, let alone towns, and the god-awful weather for 10.5 months of the year… Oh, and let’s not forget all that eye candy you get to have in Japan still!

  19. I read your articles and think – Am I gonna regret my choice of settling in Japan? I’m probably gonna lead a miserable life.
    Then I remember I’m from India and it’s a lot worse here lol. Except the work hours, maybe. So Japan it is!

    1. Yeah, that’s the key to happiness. Finding something less worse than the thing you just left.

      Still, I can’t help but recall a guy who started talking to me in the park one night. He was from Nepal. He said he’d really wanted to go to the U.S., but couldn’t get a visa, so Japan was his second choice. That seems like a strangely random way to wind up here, although I understand it.

      1. I randomly ended up in Canada like that after making a decision, over a weekend pretty much, to move my entire life there. Originally from India as well.

        My friends were all surprised since anyone who knew me when I was a young adult knew that I always wanted to end up In Japan. I was like, Japan’s going to be difficult. The US is too mainstream. Canada it is.

        Meh. Canada has been great to me. Looking forward to getting citizenship next year. But, oddly enough, the closer I get to Canadian citizenship, the more I think about finally fulfilling my earlier goal of moving to Japan; now, a lot easier with a citizenship from a Western nation.

        I know I can come back to a country I like living in, if shit falls apart. Whereas like the guy mentioned above, it’s a pretty crappy situation to have to return to a place like India if you really don’t want to.

  20. Passing through immigration last month at Narita I handed over my gaijin card.
    “Are you sure? It’s still valid for another two years.”
    “Year it’s fine. I won’t need it.”

    Stepped out into the sunshine…

    Japan is a bit like a prison where everybody was born on the inside, and think people from outside are the weird ones. I make calls each day to my partner who is still inside for a while longer. “Another fourteen hour day? Spending your weekend writing reports again? Your senpai was condescending and rude? Your Kohai was a giant passive aggressive dick again? Still feeling like life is pointless and you can’t remember the last time you felt happy? Somebody pushed into you on the train again and didn’t even apologize? Don’t worry, just a few more weeks till parole. Hang in there.”

    1. It’s not possible to overstate the impact of Japanese work culture on a person’s well-being; even with relatively generous compensation, there are only so many 6-day work weeks with up to 12-hour work days a person can spend riveted to an office chair before it starts to eat away at bits of you. It’s not healthy or dignified or really much good at all for anyone, but it’s got a momentum that’s hard to break. And people wonder about the birth rate and why every cartoon is about high school – bleeding high. school.

      It’s also a common misconception that Japanese people love fireworks – they’re actually flare signals warning incoming air travellers. This policy also explains the red colouration of the Japanese flag.

    2. Danchan, we’re really gonna miss you. So many folks who really understand the language and culture end up leaving. And those are the people Japan needs the most. Okay, that’s probably why the left, but still.

      1. Hey thanks Ken. I wouldn’t mind hypothetically visiting in the future with big wads of cash so that I could control the experience. Hit Okinawa and eat some island food, then head north and just unwind at a top hotel in a hot spring somewhere. Pick up a couple of bottles of 17 year malt Taketsuru whisky. Eat some Hokkaido food. Buy a few books and some good stationary. Then go home. One day maybe.

        1. So visit as a roving tourist with fat stacks of cash? I’m liking your style. Pretty sure you can’t go wrong with that method, no matter where you go. Drop me a line somewhere along that journey, whenever it happens.

  21. nice post , Althought there are good things in Japan there are things that should change but I don’t see that self critique or the desire or strength to change those things, to improve the country, and that worries me.

    what is preferable to raise kids being working poor in Japan , America or in a developing country ?

    what is preferable to be middle class Japan , America or in a developing country ?

    I live in Japan.

    1. Hard question to answer. My feeling—although colored partly by my own life experiences of course—is that it’s easier to move upwards a bit in the U.S. It is, yeah, kind of the land of opportunity.

      In the U.S., you start off working night shift at a convenience store. It’s a crap job, but if you do it well, in a year, you get a small raise and start on the day shift. If you do a great job and show initiative, in two years, you’re in line for assistant manager. Five years after that, you’re the manager, and in ten years, district manager. You can buy a used car, and maybe a small house in the suburbs.

      In Japan, ten years later and you’re still working night shift.

    1. I used the cat pic on Facebook, but I used the apartment building as the main image here. It’s not a great photo, but for some reason I find it interesting. Lotta people in one building, that’s for sure.

  22. Nice post. That ending… Simply awesome. Just ambiguous as Japan.

    Actually, theres a chapter of a book called The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (Yeah, he’s freaking dead and writing his memories after his death) that has a scene similar to that. If I remember correctly he sees the love of his love go away and after that he goes for lunch, for some reason the chefs were specially inspired that day, he couldn’t help but savor the food.

    +1 waiting the book.

  23. Dear Ken,
    Amazing piece as always. Here I am as well, just came back from a long vacation outside and the first thought: “I need to do something to get out of here”. I tell myself this every January for the past five years, and end up giving my fingerprints to the immigration officer all over again. As I told you before, for me there is no easy way back home, so I am looking into some neutral options like Singapore or so. Who knows, maybe it will be worse.

    1. Seems like a nice neutral country. I hear Singapore’s the new Switzerland.

      I seriously doubt it’ll be worse, although I’m sure it will have its share of challenges. Exploring other countries—and particularly working and living in them—seems like a very wise idea. I’d do it too, if I could. Maybe.

      1. One of my friends in Singapore, told me that they exterminate any kinds of birds like pigeos, because they hate having bird poo on the street.

        1. Well, if it makes you feel any worse, I’ve seen the back side of a park in Tokyo where they trap crows. There are large black cages out of public site, hung full of raw meat, where the crows can get in but not out. And I kind of think they’re not on a catch-and-release program.

  24. “That’s the problem with having gaijin friends; they all end up leaving.”

    I’ve repeatedly promised myself, no more foreign friends. I can’t count the number of friends I’ve said goodbye to, or more commonly, they just disappeared.

    A couple of years ago I dated a fantastic Russian girl, some visa issue and she was gone. Not learning my lesson last year it was a Dutch girl, visa expired and she was gone. My current girl is Japanese – with blonde hair.

  25. Spot on as always! I keep reading this over and over.

    But, I think it’s actually the foreigners arriving to Japan who are scamming themselves by not actually looking where they are going. The Japanese are the masters of being intentionally vague and ambiguous, hiding behind that fake smile, leaving you to draw your own conclusions. If you arrive to Japan expecting haven on Earth, naturally you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if you drop the anime and NHK World, and do some actual research, read blogs, expat stories and talk to actual people who’ve been there, things are much different. Better yet, one does not have to be in Japan to do this.
    I never been to Japan myself. When I started to be interested in the country and it’s culture, naturally I was starstruck too. But, since I couldn’t afford to visit, I spent the last 8 years researching Japan, and thanks to Seeroi-sensei here and a number of other sources, I no longer have false expectations when it comes to the “real” Japan (at least way less than before). Now I know that it’s not the neon colored wonderland with ultra-cute girls, awesome food, punctual trains, no crime and unicorns farting rainbows. I think my honeymoon-phase with Japan ended before I even had the chance to actually visit, and I’m grateful for that to be honest. Now I can see Japan is just another country with it’s own ups and downs, and not all that different than the one I’m currently living in.

    I definitely won’t just sell my car, box up my life, pack a suitcase and go “Japan or bust”. I wanted to. Oh boy did I ever. But I know better now. I don’t want to be one of those foreigners who “eventually leave”. In fact, I realized I’m a pretty awful match for Japan all things considered. I’m a tall, fat, introverted shut-in, I don’t like beer, I dislike huge crowds and I absolutely hate being the center of attention. Just the insane work ethics and hours would murder me, let alone being on my feet, running from one place to the next 20 hours every day, fighting through the crowds of people feigning indifference but secretly staring at me the whole time. Also, the climate and the absence of heating in the winter would probably murder me given my practically non-existent immune system.
    I decided I can enjoy the parts of Japan I like from right here in Hungary. I can watch anime, movies, TV shows, listen to their music, mail-order gadgets and cook the food myself, while still living in a country where I actually speak the language, work normal hours, the clothes fit me, and I don’t have to be a social outcast or a dancing monkey for the rest of my life. And if I want to see Japan, there are travel videos and documentaries in glorious 1080p, It’s just like being there, right? (of course not….)

    Eh, I dunno. On one hand, it feels like I dodged a bullet (or a dozen), but on the other, maybe I robbed myself of a unique experience by doing all this. It feels like I spoiled a movie I wanted to watch for years, so there’s really no point going to the cinema anymore. Yea, thanks a lot, Seeroi…

    1. Yeah, sorry about that. Next life, I’m gonna write a blog where everything’s sunny and wonderful, and I guarantee you it’ll be a thousand times more popular too. It pays to be positive, literally.

      Now, let me add a couple of things. One is that I agree with you. You really wouldn’t be happy here long-term. Judging by what you wrote, I’d say the probability is about 98 percent, with a 2 percent margin of error.

      But—and I don’t know your finances, but—I really suggest you take a trip here. The world’s a pretty small place these days, and if it’s within your means to buy a plane ticket and a couple of weeks in a hostel or cheap guest house, then you’d probably have a great time. Japan’s a cool tourist destination, and it’ll blow your mind at first. My sense is that there’s a middle ground, between saying Suck off Japan and moving here forever. And that’s a vacation. Come when the weather’s nice.

      1. No, I think you misunderstood me Seeroi, I really like what you do here! You tell it like it is, and I really admire that honesty. We need more of you! If more people had this kind of reality check before they throw everything to the wind and run head over heels to Japan because of some fantasy the media created, I think there would be less horror stories about foreigners who “just didn’t make it in Japan”.

        I know I have just about zero credibility when it comes to all this, since I never physically been there, so when I talk about Japan, I can come off as an arrogant smartass. Not my intention, honest. And I didn’t mean to insult your intelligence Seeroi. I’m really glad I found your writings, they helped a lot in understanding Japan, even without being there. I know it’s not the same, it can never be the same, but since going there is not an option, this’ll have to for me. So, thank you. I mean it.

        1. You sound like a reasonable person with an open mind, which is exactly what Japan needs more of. Smartass is more my department, so remember I’m usually just funning. I promise I’ll never open a successful blog. No worries there.

          But truly, sorry to hear that visiting isn’t an option. Japan’s got plenty of faults, sure, but it’s got lots of good things as well. Okay, well, at least the food’s really delicious. And you get to see another side of humanity, both literally and figuratively.

          1. Actually, there is one major reason I want to move to Japan, and that’s public safety. Sure, there is some crime in seedier neighborhoods, but the fact, that you can go out in the middle of the night and just go for a walk or sit in a public park sipping beer and stare at the stars without a single worry is something I very much envy. Where I live. I have 4 locks on my door, and I’m still very afraid when I have to go out at night alone, and I’m built like a grizzly bear. And I even live in a relatively peaceful part of town, go figure.

            I talked to some people living in Japan, and every one of them said they feel completely safe there. The most heinous crime story I heard was when an umbrella got stolen. Hell, one of them left his wallet at some restaurant and a random guy ran after him and gave it to him, all the cash and everything still in it. The dude even apologized, because they had to open it to see who’s it was. Here, they would shank you for the change in your pocket…

            I agree, there are lot of great things about Japan, can’t deny that. But every country has it’s good and bad side. I guess it all comes down to personal desires in terms of what you expect from the place you choose to live. I’ve been thinking about this a lot along the years, and positives do outweigh the negatives for me when it comes to good ‘ol Nippon. Sure, the place might not suit me at all, and I probably would need to make some drastic changes in my life, but the payoff in the end might worth it. At least now I wouldn’t go in unprepared, full of false expectations like I would’ve 8 years ago, that has to count for something.

            You know, I’m already 30, I work miserable work hours just to pay bills and basically get by, but I have no savings to speak of and I actually hate this place more each day. I just don’t wanna spend my entire life alone, working a dead end job, being miserable in a place I hate. Perhaps working a dead end job and being miserable in a place I actually like could be worth it in the end…

            1. Okay, so a couple more things, and I don’t know if it’ll make you feel better or worse, but here goes.

              When I hear people talk about Japan as a safe country…man, where to begin. And I’m certainly not challenging anyone to a my-country’s-more-dangerous-than-yours debate, but Japan’s safety is grossly overrated. There’s a couple of reasons for this.

              One is the impressive ability of the Japanese people, government, and media to present a united front. Crime? No crime here. Sure you weren’t thinking of China? Because those Chinese, well… The second is that violent crime is quite low. So you’re right in that sense. Unless you’re a woman. But since you’re a big bear of a dude, hey, no worries.

              But you know, things have a way of balancing themselves out, and there’s plenty of crime to go around. 100 percent of every woman I know has been groped, flashed, assaulted, or raped. That’s no exaggeration. And I know a lot of women. That is, a lot of women who’re pretty unhappy here.

              Other fun crimes include home break-ins, car break-ins, boosting motorcycles, and stealing underwear for some creepy reason. Not to mention the government trucks driving around my neighborhood blasting loudspeakers reminding people not to trust anyone who calls or approaches them at the ATM. I won’t steal your wallet with 200 bucks in it, especially since I picked it up in front of 3 coworkers that I’ll be with for the rest of my life. That’d be wrong. It’s far more right to go online and liquidate your entire retirement savings.

              It’s worth noting that corporate malfeasance is also widespread. The news, in Japanese, is filled with companies outright breaking the law. The ski bus that crashed and killed a number of students this past week is a good example, as is the company in charge of disposing of food for CoCo’s curry—which then turned around and sold it to supermarkets. But maybe we just had a bad week. Eh, that’s probably it.

              Now, let me hasten to add that I’m in no way saying Japan’s a bad place. There’re certainly worse spots. Japan’s fine, and it’s safe, especially if you’re not Japanese, and double especially if you’re not a woman. But it’s got dangers just like anywhere else. There’s a reason for all the metal doors with double locks, bars on windows, and solid steel shutters.

              But let me switch gears and say, I really hope you can improve your living situation. I know there’s a lot of folks in similar straits, and I’ve been there myself. Have faith, be positive, hold on to a dream—of Japan, or something else—and set goals. You can’t change things overnight, but perhaps little by little, you can. I don’t know you, but still, I believe in you.

          2. Indeed, I didn’t specify, but I meant violent crimes. Naturally there is crime everywhere, but the proportions what matter, and I was specifically thinking about my situation. I know the Japanese are incredible at marketing their country, same thing I meant by “fantasy created by the media” up there. Lying through fake smiles and being vague and ambiguous as hell is like a nation pastime there, or so I’ve heard. I guess there is a reason why people praise Japan for their tech and culture and not their honesty…

            I did look into this pretty well myself. There is indeed many criminal things going on in Japan, the rampant corruption, willful negligence, embezzlement, blackmail, not to mention the underground human trafficking and illegal porn industry, the Yakuza, etc. And yes, I heard about groping and harassment of women, which is really sad. I agree sometimes the lines are blurry when it comes to crime, it’s a matter of perspective really, and in this case I meant actual violence, which is pretty low in Japan all things considered. At least I won’t have to worry much about getting shot, shanked or beaten to a pulp for no reason just walking down the street (and I guess I don’t really have to fear groping that much…).

            From what I heard from foreigners living there, they never actually had to fear for their lives aside from natural disasters, which is a lot better than most other parts of the planet. I would love to see Japan as safe as the Japanese make it out to be, but that’s a fantasy too. While I can’t do much about corruption, break-ins and human trafficking, at least the types of crimes that concern me are pretty damn low, which is why I brought it up as a selling point for me, I didn’t mean it as an empirical truth or anything.

            There is a lot going on above and under the surface, like you said, in Japan you can see another side of humanity, literally and figuratively. Maybe I should write an article about this myself, like “Japan: a culture of double-standards” or something. I’m no literary genius, so I guess I leave the story time to you, Seeroi, you are good at this.

            Also, thank you for believing in me! I know it’s not easy to be nice to complete strangers like this, especially for a social brick like myself, so thank you for the encouragement. I still have quite a ways to go before it happens, but the dream never dies. I WILL get to Japan one day, and I WILL drag you out to some izakaya, fill you up with udon and cheap shochu and then sit in a park sipping malt liquor (while definitely not being shanked) and desperately try to have meaningful conversation while me being secretly scared to death by the notion of connecting with another human being on more than “how’s the weather” level.

  26. Hey Ken, long time lurker who’s finally taking the chance to come to Japan and be disappointed!

    Kidding. But seriously, can I buy you a beer when I’m around? And go chill in a park.

    1. The possibility is always there, although it’d risk disrupting my hikikomori lifestyle. Either way, I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed in the short-term. Cheers.

  27. Keep up the good work Ken-san. I’m an American planning on going to Japan as well and because of you and your blog I’ve been able to prevent myself from succumbing to all the fairy tale nonsense that the internet portrays Japan as. Because of you I won’t be heading to Japan with a 90% positive attitude but with a more realistic perspective. Please continue this blog cause I always look forward to your post.

  28. Ken,
    Great post – as always love your work. We miss you here in the States – if you are ever back visiting be sure to stop by Boston. Kim says hi! Those were the days!

    1. Ah thanks for the props. You know, it’s funny but I never missed the U.S. until just this year. Wonder what’s up with that. And it’s not even the nation—it’s just the good folks I used to know. Well, if and when I ever make it back, Boston’s on the top of my list. Love, Ken.

  29. Hi Ken,

    I only stumbled across your blog the other day. But I must say yours is some of the best writing i’ve encountered about this perplexing land. Engaging and amusing as all heck, you call it as you see it – neither the wide-eyed Japanophile who excoriates other gaijin for their chopstick technique, nor the hardened cynic with the even harder liver. You’re got a great writing style and maybe should think of publishing one day.

    Anyway, I’m moving back to Japan with my Mrs shortly, and look forward to your continued musings on life in Japan while living my own version of it.

    1. Thanks for dropping by. I’d love it if you could share some of your impressions once you get back here. Is the Mrs. Japanese? Cause that’s a pretty big variable in the equation of happiness.

  30. Yep, she’s Japanese, and she’s a pretty good catch too, IMHO. But anyone who could put up with yours truly would have something special about them.
    It’d be an honour to leave some impressions on the blog every so often.
    Keep up the great work!

  31. Hi all. Long time reader and small time supporter. Personally, I hope Ken Seeroi does not write a book. I’m assuming it will distract him from a blog which I very much enjoy.
    I think I understand the book drive and also that everyone is well meaning on this, but to me anyway, it kinda implies that the blog is not quite enough and with this I disagree. I think it stands perfectly well on its own.

    Not only do I enjoy the blog, but I especially love the comments and interaction which follows the entries. Now… with a book I would be denied these contributions and Ken’s follow ups to them.
    One thing I’ve noticed here, and over some time, is that the people attracted to this blog and who read it and share their thoughts, seem a very good natured lot. Quite an unusual thing on the internet and especially when one considers that the subject matter has potential for those who like to react to “controversy”.
    Finally, and I hope I don’t embarrass Ken here, I’d just like to mention that it is possible to support his commendable efforts with something of a small donation. Not only would he spend it appropriately, fueling himself for further adventures to write about, it may reward him better than any future, hypothetical publisher.
    Thanks and I love youse all.
    (NB. For the linguists, “youse” is the Australian plural of “you”)

    1. “Youse”… isn’t that mafia-nese. I’ve heard that in Brooklyn, Boston and Chicago, hmmmm. Did the MOB move to Australia? LOL! What if Ken incorporated parts of this blog as an addendum to his book…, hmmmmm?

      1. Well the mob DID move to Australia, (clearly evident but denied by those concerned), but I think our ‘youse’ precedes that. Also a different, more drawn out pronunciation. But thanks for the reminder. I’d forgotten that it had a North American occurrence.
        And yes, I guess the blog could be incorporated with a book. It’s up to our man.

        1. One source I saw said “youse” (or”yous”) was spread around the world by Irish immigrants, but was particularly taken up in Australia, although it is still not regarded as standard. In the US, it has had to contend with “y’all” in the Southern states and “you guys” (now also frequent in Australia, sometimes”youse guys”).

    2. I’m humbled by your kind words. Since starting this blog a few years back, I’ve been immensely impressed by the supportive things people have written. Okay, occasional small donations of cash are nice—not gonna lie—but I sure appreciate the comments too.

      And I think you grasp the crux of the situation by saying that the blog and book are in direct competition. Like a wife and a girlfriend, it’s hard to have enthusiasm for both at the same time. Well, unless they were both smoking hot, or in a freaky threeway… Wait, where were we? Oh yeah, so at some point, I’ll probably stop writing here and focus my energies on the book. But for today, I’ll keep things the same a bit longer. Thanks, really.

      1. I would not agree that the book and your blog are mutually exclusive. The book could be fictional and couched within the rich base of experience that you write about here. The blog though is largely episodic in nature. The book does not have to be. In fact, you could consider the book as an opportunity to tell a story that you want to tell, with the story unfolding as you want it to. Ken Seeroi somehow builds a giant mech suit and takes out every business language school in Tokyo. He then encounters Godzilla and instead of fighting it out, Ken and the big G decide to find the single remaining izakaya in Shinjuku and have some lunch. Imagine the fun you could have writing that dialogue. After all, isn’t Godzilla somewhat symbolic of the troubled relationship between Japan and your home country?

        Throughout your blog, you use humour as a way to deal with the stress that you are under. Lately though, your blog has taken a rather serious turn and while humour is still evident, you do come across as kind of pissed. Maybe the time for a book is upon you: greater effort, a chance to exorcise those demons, and let your creativity run rampant. It could be healing.

        By the way, all of this is said with affection. The essential rascal that comes through in your online persona is endearing to many and I am one of that host that hopes you do well. And if you do decide to get an editor, the Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators (SWET) in Japan has a lot of really capable and skilled people.

        1. I love any organization that would name itself “sweat.” Bravo on that.

          Yeah, thanks. We’ll see how the balancing act of blog and book works out. When I say I can’t manage both, please just insert the phrase Ken Seeroi’s lazy as eff. That’s all that’s about.

          As for my general level of pissedoffedness, your probably right when it comes to the comments. I usually don’t filter my thoughts overly much, plus I’ve usually had an excess of coffee. The articles, on the other hand, while admittedly addressing more serious topics, probably reflect less of my internal state than you might think.

          Much of what I write about isn’t really about me. If it were, I’d dismiss it. I’m far too capable of imagining that the universe revolves around myself. Everything good which happens is because I’m amazing, and everything bad is because the world’s out to get me. So when something happens to me, I don’t immediately write about it.

          But when I see it happening to lots of other folks, and there’s a buzz where many people are discussing the same thing—and then it happens to me—that’s when I write about it. There’s probably some giddiness and pissedoffedness in there, but I’d like to think it’s more of a collective sentiment, rather than just that of one dude. ‘Course it’s kind of hard to know, what with the universe all revolving around me, but still.

  32. Hey Ken,

    I had written (in a comment) here maybe 5 months ago. I am coming up on my departure to Japan as an Interac ALT. Previously you had helped me understand what city l should be aiming for and a general plan of where to live and what l should do once arriving in Japan. (Stay away from Tokyo, work but don’t live in the sticks, and maybe after a few months with Interac try and become a direct hire).

    I was hoping you could help me out once more with one more thing, albeit a big THING. I want to be able to possibly stay in Japan should l like it as much as l am hoping. I know Interac has pay cuts 4 months out of the 12 and it seems taking side jobs to supplement the income is recommended. It doesn’t seem that these jobs are hard to come by.

    To put it simply. What would you recommend to someone moving to Japan with their first ALT position being with Interac to do once getting there, and wanting to stay in Japan for let’s say as long term as you’ve been there.

    I apologize for asking for such specific or broad advice. But as some other people have mentioned you’re one of the only people who post about Japan life who don’t sugarcoat anything, thus I take what you say in high regard. (Have your advice from before posted on my wall).

    Thanks a lot and l hope your beer is always cold and may there be a lot of it.

    1. Well first of all, you’re in great shape. Getting that initial job with a major company, along with visa sponsorship, is a significant accomplishment. So congratulations.

      You’re right—getting additional work shouldn’t be too difficult. The first thing I’d do—today—would be to rewrite my resume, putting “Interac” and “English Language Teacher” (or some such) at the top of the work experience. Fill in a few bits about your imagined duties and you can revise them later once you figure out what you’re actually doing. That plus a Japanese address, phone number, and your giant foreign mug at the top of the page should set you up nicely. Then once you’ve been on the ground for a month or so, start mailing that baby out and wait for the job offers to flood in. Okay, drizzle, but still.

      All right, that’s obvious as pie, I’m sure. But there are a couple other things that are a bit subtler. One is to look and act professional. There’s a lot of English teachers in Japan, and honestly, half are complete weirdos. There’s the guy with the pony tail, the earrings, the tweed jacket. You’ve got a lot of leeway as a “foreigner,” and some guys take advantage of that. So take advantage the other way, by being the one dude who always shows up early and looks sharp. In your private life be as big a fruitcake as you like, but at work, look like you’ve got your shit together. Because everybody’s glancing around for an English instructor on the side, and if you look professional, that’ll be you.

      The last piece of advice—and if you really must re-wallpaper your house, then I guess I’d glue this up there too—would be to Just Do The Job. That’s it. Having managed English teachers here, I can tell you that Jeezus, everybody thinks their way of teaching is the best.

      You’ll have a manager. And he’ll have twelve employees who’re all supposed to deliver the same lesson, the same way. But instead, what he’s faced with is a dozen folks who’ve all developed some creative new way to “improve” things. Why do we have to use that textbook? Heh, I don’t use the CD in my class. Oh, with my students, we just free talk for 30 minutes instead of doing the lesson.

      Everybody’s a freaking expert. Jimmy was a fry cook in Perth and Steve sold shoes in Arkansas, but after two years in Japan suddenly they’re geniuses in childhood and adult education. Managers hate that. Know what they love? People who do what they’re told.

      After you’ve been here a while, you’ll see what I mean. Teachers delight in getting together and grumbling about how “the company doesn’t have a clue” and “if they’d just teach lessons the way I do, everything would be perfect.” Don’t be that guy. Just follow orders. It’s easy, but most teachers fail spectacularly at it. Put together the hamburger with two pickles, one ounce of ketchup, and 18 tiny cubes of onion and everybody’ll love you.

      1. Also, even when teaching the lesson as set out, there are still plenty of ways of giving it your own personal stamp, for example, by being organized, being attentive to students, giving clear, succinct explanations and directions, and maintaining a professional but friendly tone.

    2. Not sure where you’re located but when I’m looking for good sidejobs I usually work with OBC. They’re really reliable, don’t ask much, pay on time, no strings attached, and pay quite well (3500 per hour+transport). Often they have emergency jobs to fill which are paid better, and occasionally they even pay for your being somewhere exotic like Kumamoto for a week :P. It’s one on one with businessmen, who are a lot easier to work with than a classroom.

  33. Hey, Ken! I love your blog, it’s such an inspiration to me. I’m a 22 year-old fresh out of college who just quit her miserable eikaiwa job to pursue an entry level IT job at a small gaming company. I’ve been here for less than 4 months but I’ve experienced a lot and already know what you’re talking about. As a anime and manga enthusiast, I suppose I still have my rose tinted glasses on, but I’m determined that this job experience will be better than sitting in an empty classroom for 6 hours contemplating the meaning of life before teaching 3 back to back night classes.

    Anyway, I can relate with this post because my one gaijin friend whom I would always go out to the bars and clubs with just moved back to the UK to get married. But your post gives me hope. I know there will be many more gaijin friends, and many beers in the future! (Can’t wait for Roppongi this weekend…)

    1. Thanks much, Catherine. I’m guessing your experience as a 22 year-old woman in Japan is gonna be a little different than mine. It’d be interesting to hear how things work out for you after a year, two years, etc. Although generally, I imagine you’d have a pretty great time. Keep us posted, hey?

    2. Yes! The paths of people who follow their passions are better where ever in the world you go. I quit my miserable eikaiwa job to work in a bar in the mountains (Hakuba) and then become an outdoor guide and it saved me from addiction to being busy to keep my mind off how depressing it all was. Tech is a rad industry and will pay a lot better in the end. But even if it doesn’t, it won’t suck like those 6 hours everyday did.

  34. Well, I originally wrote a much longer, probably more thoughtful post but then something with the captcha got messed up and I lost everything. Abridged version. Is it hard for you to leave Japan despite having a largely negative view because you feel you can’t do anything else back home? This is my hunch about the common phenomenon concerning ESL teachers who are generally negative but continue to stay in their “adopted” country year after year. (I did 2 years ESL in Korea and 3 in Japan myself).

    If you could, please list, to the best of your ability, the 3 top reasons keeping you in Japan. I’d really be interested to hear this. No snark please, honesty.


    1. Really Mike? I wonder if you’ve read any of this blog at all. The reasons that the writer loves Japan and why he is hesitant to consider returning to his native country, come up constantly.
      I also think that the “largely negative view” that you apply to him, is very much your own interpretation and, as it happens, is incorrect. Are you seriously comparing his attittude to the jaded, negative stuff that is a constant in places like Gaijinpot? I refuse to believe you cannot see the differences. I prefer to think you have not read the content here and have instead kneejerked when you came across something you thought you didn’t like. And “no snark”. Hmmmmm. Okay.

      1. Just by way of edit, I’d like to add that I think the point and the context of this blog has been missed here, and not for the first time.
        It is not so much a blog about Japan as it is a blog about the preconceptions, (and resulting disappointment) of those who come to “Japaaan”.
        God knows some balance is needed in this department and I’m so grateful it is provided.(and in a good humored, good natured way.)
        Like most who read here, I love Japan. I blow money visiting and staying at least twice a year. And it’s nice to read and enjoy material beyond the propaganda put out by the locals and almost all foreign travel writers.
        It’s nice to have as much information as possible. Warts, frustrations, the lot. We love the place mate! And we love to have a laugh as well.

    2. Well, any snarkiness aside, it’s a decent question, so I’ll try to provide a straightforward answer.

      I’d like start by addressing a couple of myths about Japan that surface from time to time. The first being that English teachers here, for some strange reason, were or would be unsuccessful back home. That makes no sense. It’s not easy to get to Japan; nor is it easy to stay. The teachers I know here are driven, smart, personable, and flexible. Many had great careers in their home countries, and if anything, that makes it even harder to stay. Would I personally be able to get a job in America? No bull, I’ve had over sixty jobs (programmer, mechanic, executive, gym trainer, photographer, salesman, teacher), so yeah, I guess I could go back to one of those horrible careers.

      The other thing I hear a lot is that “gaijin are bitter.” And see, I don’t really think that’s true. What’s really happening, I think, is that foreign people don’t get to express themselves here very much. They live outside of the mainstream society, and it’s not a particularly expressive society at that. So when they get together, everything comes out. All the joys, frustrations, anger, excitement…it all comes draining out. Beyond that, there’s also the real sense that this place could be so much better if only… Kind of like when you’re dating a hot girl who dresses poorly. You’re like, Baby you’re the bomb, if only you’d put on a skirt and some heels, then daaaamn. There’s nothing more frustrating than something that’s almost right but not quite.

      I hope what I write isn’t misconstrued as negative. Okay, sometimes maybe a wee bit, but whatever. Anyway, Japan’s a nice place. I just don’t get why it’d be mythologized above other nations. With culture dating back for centuries, amazing beaches, great food, and beautiful women, you still don’t find many people clamoring to teach in Mexico. Preconceptions are powerful.

      But you asked about reasons for staying, so okay, here you go.

      1. Hey, Japan’s my home. I’ve got a great apartment, fun girlfriend, decent car, and an excellent job. My friend owns a bar, and I just bought a basketball to play at the court near my house. Why chuck it all? I’m pretty happy. Is life perfect? Nope. The girl at CoCo’s Curry still insists on speaking English at me. Daily I cope with tragedies of such magnitude.

      2. Have you flown domestically in Japan? Let me describe the horror. You go to the airport. Then you get on the plane. That’s it. No having to show up an hour early, no shouting, waiting in line, getting bumped, taking off your shoes…in Japan, it’s like getting on a bus. You can go across the nation, or even to surrounding countries for $100. Round trip. P.S., We also have trains.

      So yeah, there’s that, plus that within a kilometer of my house there’re more restaurants than one could eat at in a lifetime, convenience stores selling great food and beer 24×7, clean movie theaters, and people who don’t dress like children and cover themselves in tattoos. Not that I’m judging; I’m just, okay, judging. But hey, pick your country. There’s good stuff here. You can rent a bicycle and tour around the park. Go skiing. Snorkeling. Skateboarding. Bungee jumping. Well, maybe that’s not just Japan. Anyway, there’s some cool stuff to do here. It’s kind of fun.

      Number 3 is the culture and the language, but I need to eat dinner now (clam pasta), so I’ll try to finish this later. Cheers.

      Okay that was delicious and now I’m back. Sorry, I had some nice steamed bean sprouts with sesame dressing as an appetizer, and half a bottle of white wine, but where was I? Oh yeah. So culturally, Japan’s different than the U.S., and I’ve grown accustomed to life here. Now, when I go back to America, the place is crazy. Like literally, I was sitting at a cafe in Chicago and a guy walked by without a shirt on. Is that normal? I don’t even know any more. The U.S. is great, sometimes. Other times, it’s deeply flawed. On the other hand, in Fukuoka, I was at a cafe when a 60 year-old man walked by wearing a high school sailor-girl outfit, and that seemed pretty normal. The bottom line: both places are screwed up. So why choose one over the other?

      Finally, I’ll admit that the language is interesting. Speaking Japanese is like being part of a grand orchestra. Granted, I’m playing the sand blocks, but I’m still in it. That alone isn’t reason enough to stay, but it’s a small benefit, like discovering a chess club if you enjoy the game.

      That’s probably way more than three, but let’s just round down. Anyway, there’s a lot of stuff that’s good about Japan. And other things that are screwed up. Just like anywhere. And I guess that’s why I’m still here. Why are you where you’re at?

      1. And Dat’s DaT. BTW, The Barny Miller Show’s “Fish” – Abe Vagoda passed away today at 94. Don’t know why I liked him, but he was also sorta understated and capable of great sarcasm while delivering the straight truth… until they incorrectly claimed he was dead in 1988, then he got slightly indignant.

      2. Perhaps my favourite reply/comment from you.
        So, all in all, Japan is pretty good, right?
        Like anywhere, good and bad for sure. Overall, more good than bad in Nippon in my mind.
        I’ve done 7 years there, 30+(including last 12) in UK. Would love to be living somewhere else again now, but not Japan. I love my frequent trips back, but I wouldn’t settle there again. However, I don’t want to be ‘settled’ here in England either, but where’s the perfect place? Well, if we knew the answer to that we wouldn’t be commenting on here, would we…

        1. Absolutely. All in all, Japan’s a pretty nice place. But you know, I always say that There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. You can quote me on that.

    3. Mike, this happens to me ALL the time!
      Ken- is there something with the Captcha thing here? After losing my post dozens of times I’ve learnt to copy it before sending, then I can keep pasting and trying again until it lets me post….

      1. I really don’t understand why it does that, and I’m really sorry about that. Whenever I write a comment that starts to get long, I periodically highlight it and press Ctrl-C or Command-C. That way, after Captcha screws me, I can just paste it and keep going. I wish that weren’t the case, but then I wish a lot of things.

    4. 1) Meeting people from all over the world. (It is a much more global city that where I came from)
      2) The clash and mix between old and new culture.
      3) Reliable amazon shopping and shipping speed (the convenience of pretty much everything, I can be much more productive than back home)
      4) The average level of food is high.

  35. I’m really enjoying your blog. My son is there now. He has had most of his new adult experiences in Japan, graduating from college, finding his first apartment, signing a lease, working (nearly) full time. It’s weird for me that he’s having all these experiences there and not in the states. I appreciate that your blog is a window into that world. Thanks!

    I’m coming to visit later this year; I hope to be enchanted.

    1. I’m glad to hear you’re coming, and it’s cool that your son lives here. I love it when my mother visits. You’ll have a great time. I’m pretty sure you’ll be surprised. Possibly amazed. Maybe even taken aback. Not so sure about enchanted, but perhaps if you visit Tokyo Disney Land, then okay. There’s some great castles in Japan, but none better than Cinderella’s.

      1. Thanks, I’m sure I’ll have fun! And since the simple definition of enchant from Merriam Webster is
        ‘to attract and hold the attention of (someone) by being interesting, pretty, etc’ I’ll hold my ground.

        It seems to me Japan can manage to be interesting and pretty. I won’t expect Shiroboy’s rainbow shooting unicorns, I promise. I never did anyway. Everyone knows those are in Monaco.

        1. I reckon you’ll be enchanted. It’s actually a good word for what Japan can be. You’ll really love it. Especially seeing your son.

  36. See, that’s the thing — hoping for the land of enchantment — Japan is a place like any other place and while different, it isn’t no Shangri-La. Coming from NYC and now on my second time living in Tokyo, for a total so far of 3 years and it will be many more, yes there are wonderful things. Look at the subways — they are (mostly) on time, clean, the trains stop in the same exact spot over and over, the announcements are audible and understandable, there’s even TV (ok, mostly ads) in some — each of these being 180 degrees of what my daily commute on the Lexington Avenue Local was like. On the other hand, on the 6 train, I never felt like I was getting bruised kidneys, never could count the pores and the earhairs on multiple fellow passengers depending on which way I looked, and never had to swallow so many curse words and violent reactions as I do here when I am being forcibly pushed from all angles into others without any sign or word of apologetic communication. Frankly, if anything close to this experience were to happen on a NYC subway, I’m not sure how many dead would result from the ensuing riot among my no doubt well, and variously, armed fellow passengers. So yes, the Tokyo subway is amazing, but boy am I glad only need to travel a few stops to and from work, and from the looks on the faces of the other commuters they are all in various states of resigned misery. No enchantment to be found, no matter how hard one looks (well maybe if I tried one of the Women Only cars).

    But that’s fine. It’s part of life here, and like anyplace else, there’s good and bad. The folks seeking enchantment — expectations of unicorns with rainbows shooting out of their asses as noted in one of the earlier comments I think — those are the ones who become bitter. I was going to say disillusioned, but for most I think the illusion was self-inflicted (with a fair amount of externally supplied societal nonsense about how unique and special Japan and its history, food, seasons, culture, rituals, etc. which have no equivalent, let alone equal, elsewhere in the world or in history). And in part that’s what this blog — I think — is trying to overcome.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love living here. It’s a fascinating place, endlessly interesting and I learn something new every day. New Yorkers famously think NYC has everything but Tokyo really does — I mean I’ve found a bagel place run by someone who spent 5 years working at a NYC bagelry and a pizza-by-the-slice place that if I close my eyes (and ok pretend everyone is speaking some prototype of English, save for the pizza guys who would all be Albanian) I would think I’m in Midtown. I have no plans to return to NY (although we still have our apartment, because you never know). But this is real life, and there’s no short supply of drudgery here. Form over substance, and things being a certain way because that’s the way they’ve always been, ensure a lot conformity — which does have its positive outcomes. And yet I wonder why the beer and sake consumption has inexorably continued to decline, because I’ve tried mightily to stop that I guess, as with everything else, the causes are demographics and falling income). So please travel here for the experience, and you won’t be disappointed. But for enchantment, maybe one of the rides at Disneyland or Harry Potter/Universal Studios is a more sure bet.

  37. Oh, and Ken, this particular post was mentioned yesterday (I think) in a Japan Times reader comment. If that won’t push you off into book writing rather than blog posting then perhaps nothing will.

      1. The one referencing your blog is the 4th main comment down. As in, ignore (if you wish) all the sub comments that branch off the 2nd comment. It’s by Steve Jackman.

        1. Well, it’s nice to be mentioned, so I appreciate that. Although it never ceases to amaze me how exited people get about stuff. Jeez, and I thought I was bad.

  38. This is probably the first time that i am posting but i am following the blog for about half a year. I have already read all your posts, the blog is super, you’re super and i check multiples times for any posts and sometimes you really took a long time but i am glad that you did in the end.
    All this with Unicorns and farting but i and from india and never actually believe in unicorn but i will say i still looking for Japan with my rainbow expectations. I don’t care about much whether its book or your blog, just don’t make us wait that longer and i also like all that commentary. Thank you.

    1. Ah, thank you. Japan’s a fine place, and here’s an easy way to judge how happy you’ll be here, long-term: How happy are you now? Because, ultimately, no matter where you go, there you are. So if you like life in general, then you’ll probably dig it here.

  39. My first visit this japan, I googling about japan
    and then this, talk about scam (I both surprised and kind of it’s really)
    Well, I only know japan through its media (anime and manga, and a few LN)
    So, I wanna know what’s the ten thing you hate about Japan? let’s talk about the dark sides, wkwkwwk

    1. So you’re coming to Japan? That’s excellent. You’ll probably have a great time. Japan has an array of visual, cultural, and culinary offerings that aren’t on offer in many other countries. So what’s not to like?

      Well, okay, so there’s plenty, but just laying them out would just be bitching, and it would paint an unbalanced portrait of the nation. I tend to think that the bad and the good are two sides of the same coin. For example, people largely follow rules, which makes for an organized society. But that means people also lack spontaneity, which makes them less than ideal party guests.

      But you asked a fair question, so I’ll give you one small gripe off the top of my head, and that is the almost complete lack of aesthetics. Apparently, after the Second World War, Japan realized that maybe making buildings out of wood wasn’t the most fire-safe thing to do, so they opted to rebuild the entire nation using a new miracle material: concrete. Concrete homes, concrete stores with metal shutters, concrete on the hillsides, lining the rivers, and rows and rows of concrete apartments blocks and projects.

      There’s also very little cafe culture here. In Europe and now much of the U.S., there are areas where you can dine out and enjoy the evening air. In Japan, you’re more likely to wind up in a smoky pub with a view of a factory and some power lines. Of course, the outside air’s not that clean, so apparently that’s why.

      So what’s the flip side? Well, there are a ton of restaurants everywhere, of every variety, and the food’s unfailingly delicious. See, there’s a bright side to everything.

      1. It’s not fair to criticize Japan’s post-war concrete housing construction. The alternative would have been a massive number of one-storey timber houses, just like those that were annihilated in the fire-storm bombing by the US in World War Two. (And they didn’t have insulation).

        There are still a lot of 1970s and 1980s danchi around that look pretty awful, but they are slowly disappearing, and the new apartment blocks that replace them are looking better every year. Not only do these have insulation, but boast eco-controlled climate systems (or so I’m led to believe).

        1. It’s not a criticism so much as a simple observation. It’s clear that Japan wanted to rebuild quickly, and chose to use concrete, which proved expedient and abundant, in addition to being resistant to earthquakes and fires. So that was a good thing, but it came at a cost.

          If there were a list of things disappointing about Japan, then yeah, for me, the architecture and planning of most cities would have to be on it.

  40. I can’t help but feel like I kind of killed your blog, Ken. Before I arrived, you mostly wrote positively about Japan with sarcasm here and there. Now that I commented about actual life in Japan, social dynamics and work culture and stuff, things are starting to look dark. I really wish Japan is that country that you always heard of: interesting, polite people, fun music, animes, movies, books, beautiful nature, history, advanced technology and other cool things. In the end, beneath the rainbow surface it seems like Japan is a really dark, cold and lonely place. It’s such a shame. I’m really sorry, if I kind of fully opened your eyes and make you see all the bad things that Japan has. I can only hope that I made some kind of impact so that you may thing about changing things. But if you still love and enjoy Japan, forget what I said and just keep it up, buddy.
    Oh, also I am serious with your book, I would love to read it.

    1. Ah, try not to think too highly of yourself. I’m happy here. Seriously, I’ve got everything I ever wanted in life. But whether I’m all sunshine and light really doesn’t matter. Good or bad, Japan exists independently, and everyone just interprets it based upon their personal experiences and moods at the time. A dark, cold, and lonely place? Hardly. But neither is it bubbling over with interesting, polite people, beautiful nature, or whatever other cool thing you might cherry pick. It’s just a place. I mean, it’s not Mexico—now there’s a great country. So is Japan it great or horrible? Well, it’s sunny right now, so uh, yeah let’s say great.

  41. Hey Ken!
    I just finished reading all of your posts and Ive honestly never enjoyed reading anything as much as I have enjoyed reading these in my entire life! Seriously, you’re a literary genius! The next Japanese-american Shakespeare or something! I honestly cant think of any inspiring words of encouragement off the top of my head, so ill just say well done, mate. Well fucking done.
    Looking forward to the next one.
    Kind regards,

  42. Fantastic blog! I found it today, and been reading some of your posts. They are all comdey gold, but with amazing insights too!

    I lived in japan for 1 year, as a high school exchange student. And ever since i left, i always wanted to go back and live in japan again. That magical country.

    But i guess im starting to realise that, when i lived in japan, i was actually living the dream.

    I mean, i was attending japanese high school, with a lot of cute shoujikousei screaming “kakkoii” when i passed by, didnt had to study shit, because i coudnt understand any of the kanji the teachers wrote on the blackboard, and get away with it… in fact, the teachers would praise me when i said a japanese word, because i was “making effort to learn their lenguage… erai ne!!”

    The host family i lived with had a nice house in a residential neighborhood, with lots of houses with nice gardens. Daddy also sent me $$$ every month, but i didnt had to pay anything, because it was on the host family….

    I even had a cute japanese girlfriend, who was tsundere (witch is a big plus if you are a filthy otaku like i “used to be”)

    My year in japan was beyond amazing, but if i went to live there again, as an adult, based on the reports i have read from people (including your blog), i think i would die of depression ;D

    As you said, i think im better off living in my own country, and go to japan in the holydays, visit the high school friends, and be a customer of the excelent japanese service

  43. It’s been a long time since I read a blog then the comments and replies to the end. You have created something cool here…an honest look into the musings of what (surely?) goes on in the mind of anyone who lives anywhere urban for long. I was in Nagoya for 4 years from 2002-2006, then Hakuba until 2013, living very different lives. My wife is Japanese and my oldest child was born there. We went back for a trip last year and were picked up at Narita by my parents-in-law. With an outdated plugin car-navi we got lost somewhere random in Tokyo and stopped near a bridge overlooking apartments. Neon light reflecting on my son’s face staring at the tenements. “What are those buildings dad?”.

    I remember killing time between english lessons in a miserable suburb somewhere in north Nagoya. I had a Japanese girlfriend and at the time thought I was in love. Sipping on my grapefruit hyoketsu followed by some little Meiji chocolate milk to drown out the smell, eating potato-mentaiko-pan from the 1st floor of some rundown department store that now only hosts a supermarket, a ramen shop, a 100 yen store and a barber, watching stay at home mothers chatting as their children play on the scrap of bare earth with a concrete “slide”, thinking, “can I do this, could I marry here, is this all my life is meant to be?”.

    A NZ friend who had lived there for time and moved home went back for holiday. One of his old friends has two children and lives in an apartment building. Their weekend activity is to scooter to the convenience store and buy magazines and ice-creams.

    I spent years in Hakuba. Watched the place begin to rebuild itself with tourist dollars and the westerners arrive. Snowboarded, mountain biked and hiked. Watched my son learn to walk, as we found frogs and crickets (but for some reason went against the grain and let them go), picked wild flowers, chatted to old people tending their veges. Soaked our feet in the cold water running off the mountains. Picked sansai with my father-in-law. Watched a single car train stop in the dark, let no one on or off. Made amazing friends who lasted – including Japanese people. Listened to the sound of crows fill the dawn. Think, “is this for me, is this us, is this for my kids?” Watched rice grow and bend over, so it all looks the same size. Visited and was visited by old friends in Nagoya who still teach and are happy doing it. Think to myself, “I’m so glad I don’t do that anymore”. Wonder to myself, “I know I need to make myself more valuable, but where does it lie”. Watched my wife change, be a different person in Japan, more controlled, less relaxed, feeling a pressure to confirm. Living in NZ, wondering how much more i need to spend to make my son’s 5th birthday better than Simon next door who had a bouncy castle, but his parents are both accountants, and I make $20 an hour and drive a 93 corolla.

    To have created this, to have so many people making such in depth comments, you are on to something here. Maybe you can compile a book of your musings interspersed with the tired voice of once-positive English teachers who have given up but rely on their interest in INSERT ART OR HOBBY HERE to get by.

  44. NOTE to the moderator: this is a re-post, made a grammar mistake (sorry, but I’m obsessive with correct grammar!)

    I would gladly move to Japan (Yamagata, or Kyoto), but getting a good engineering/science job (not a postdoc position) as an almost 40-year old foreigner is rather difficult – if not impossible. However, upon success, that would be better than living down here northeast Mexico (Monterrey area, A.K.A. Mordor), where neighbours are so impolite, smug, and most people are reckless drivers. Add the high temperatures at this early time of the year (around 30 C).

    Japan, a forever lost dream…not happy living here in Mexico 🙁 🙁 🙁

    1. Is a visit out of the question? Because I’ve known some Mexican folks who moved back after living here for years. I don’t know, but it could be you’re over-weighting the perceived benefits of living here. Maybe you could come here once in a while and keep the dream alive and beautiful.

  45. This is a wonderful website. This is the second article I am reading on your blog and I gotta say, I am fascinated. Your writing style is awesome and your articles reflect more realistic life to Japan – which I find absolutely marvelous.

    Sorry for my weird artistic adjectives (have been reading oscar wilde). But my comment is genuine.

    Thank you so much.

    1. Trish, thanks for the props. You know, though, I’d like to ask you not to. A popular alternative seems to be commenting upon or otherwise expanding upon what I said, and then including a link. That’d be much cooler.

  46. There is something i want to adress. in short, i will talk about MONEY.

    i went to Japan on a few occasions for leisure and stayed for prolonged periods of time. i loved every second of it. it is the most advanced country/society on earth. All Japanese share a strong bond, sense of reposibility and live as if their lives are not their own but rather are part of something bigger, more signifficant. The opposite of egoistig approach western people have. many will see that as a negative and discriminatory to their free will, but that is just being nearsighted. No, the world does not turn around you.

    Noone is taking your freedom of choice from you, (think NKorea, or even China)yes you will have constraints, but ultimately if you absolutely want to, you can do anythinng you can do with your life in any other developped country, to a reasonable degree of course.

    What is important to note is that i stayed n 5 star hôtels, and went out dining to the best restaurants. now, one can argue that with enough money you can enjoy any place in the world, and i agree somewhat, however from my traveling experience, Japan, more then any country i’ve been to (all developped ones) is drastically more enjoyable if you do not have budget constraints.

    Financial stability is always empowering and enabling (but on the flip side can quickly make you depressed and unhappy. Something people who never had such stability, can never comprehend and are very judgemental about) and i find in Japan the difference in experience you get is very pronounced.

    Now, i am certain my post will be on most part ignored, so i will not spend much effort on explaining why, but in short:
    the society in Japan does not cater well to a free spirit, and you either accept to routinely take part in their lifestyle from A to Z (work and leisure) with all the benefits, which there are a great many, and inconveniences or you break free from it, but then you need a very signifficant financial independence. This does not suit most people, me included.

    But when you have no financial constraints, you get to enjoy the most exquisite craftsmanship, service, quality, food, ets.. the World has to offer. this is the only country where skills are honed by générations of craftsmen and they continually get recognition for their efforts and it is a viable lifestyle choice, whereas in the rest of the world you are driven out of business by more efficient and lower quality competitors.

    you can really begin to appreciate those things when you have many data points. i.e: you have traveled alot and got to enjoy luxury around the world. then you come to realise that true luxury is not about extravagance, over the top bling, quantity, but rather quality, attention to detail, non profit driven passion for excellence wher recognition of sucess merely manifests itself in part financially and is in no case the ultimate or important measure of sucess.

    i am not looking down on anyone, just saying that Japan is the definition of luxury, and you cant realistically expect to experience that and not pay up. N.B: if your defenition of luxury is Dubai, St Barth, even Paris or London, well, you got much to learn about the world. Some can argue taht being one with nature on some carribean island or whatever is their defenition of luxury, but i meant man made luxury, so dont even go there, nature is perfect and Nothing beats that, i know.

    1. Insightful comment, Bublik. A certain level of financial means goes a long way to insulating one from the more wearing aspects of living in Japan as foreigner. I did so quite happily for my last 25 years in Japan, knowing the language, knowing my way around and having no desire to be accepted but merely to rub along as best I could.

      I finally left after Fukushima, appalled by the official and societal responses respectively, which of course, it being Japan, couldn’t have been any other way. So Fukushima and surrounding areas consigned to being a sacrifice zone by Japan Inc. and overwhelmingly, for the man in the street the response is denial and gaman.

    2. Hi Bublik,

      Where to start? Japanese society does have a strong sense of group responsibility, but it does have definite cut-off points – in-group and out-group, as many writers have explored. Even then, high (and medium) status out-group members get preferential treatment, which you benefited from as a guest at a five star hotel.

      But as Ken has pointed out, that comes at a price for many in Japanese society.

    3. your entire rant is just the epitome of delusion
      good job, you spent a lot of money, doesn’t make your time more enjoyable. i’m sure 16-18 year olds had a way better time than you did, because you’re a ragged middle aged woman trying to equate money spent to time enjoyed – you probably experienced less than most people do, because you sat in your glass tower “not looking down at anyone”- the entire point of travel is to remove yourself from your comfort zone, not establish elaborate gaudy attempts to buffer yourself from actually experiencing things because you’re insecure

      1. When it comes to visiting japan, I do agree with you, Nope. Having a certain amount of money to afford basic things like food, transportation, etc. is important, but the luxury hotels aren’t where real magic happens. Beyond the fear factor, I never understood why people let themselves stay in their little hotel bubble. If you come from a first world country and can afford to stay in a luxury hotel abroad (especially in another first world country), then why bother? Why not just save yourself a ton of money by taking a staycation at a local resort?

        I went to Tokyo as an exchange student in the summer I turned 18. I learned a ton by getting lost on my own and talking to people on the street. Everyone was very helpful and very few people made a big deal out of me being a foreigner. I never could have experienced this had I stuck with a tour group and just stayed in nice hotels.

        You learn a ton when mixing with the local neighborhoods. What’s more, it goes far beyond the cliché “expanding of your horizons.” The things you learn aren’t always what you would expect and are often very unique to you.

        If you’re planning on living in Japan, however, then I do agree with Bublik. Money is an extremely important determinant of how much you can experience without working 70 hours a week just to get by.

        There’s a part of me that yearns to revisit and make a go at living there full time. At least for a year or two, maybe three, tops. I know for a fact that I would be a horrible English teacher and wouldn’t be that happy. This is why I’m working full time and doing post grad studies at night. I want to see what other jobs I can acquire in my chosen field, in Japan.

        Really enjoyed the post. As cynical as your article may come across at first, I think it actually helps people to enjoy Japan more. I know I had some very unrealistic expectations when I first came here. The reality of Japan was like one of those homemade hang over cures that my pharmacology major buddy used to make for us in our college days; it was bitter going down, but it snapped me out of my drunken dream after a while. I actually got to appreciate what was in front of me for what it really was.

        Anyway, I know mine is a really long post. Thanks for your insights, Ken! Looking forward to more.

  47. …hello; I think the problem is mainly in the romantic view that people have before to go to Japan. When I lived there, I met a few from Switzerland etc that after tried to make it in only several months they decided to fly away home. I see that here where I live too; mostly hippies (International credit card ones…) that after living here for a year or so; see that they silly romanticism is not the same as the reality…in this shitty hole.
    -other important factor is what LIFESTYLE you have…I am surfer and I tell ya that living in Shikoku in a very nice village near the sea with 0% thieves and good waves is a really nice way to live in Japan; believe me.
    And the important fact is that I know that this way works in many many countries (by my own experiences, friend experiences and customers experiences) so possibly works in every country.
    What I try to say is that may be most people that goes there do not take the best path or way of living.
    I live in a third world country and I see and know people that at some point tried to move to another country BUT ALWAYS is for the money! always (or in the past for political problems) but never, like me to live other type of living doing things that you want or like and try to meet people that goes that way too; so, going to Japan to make money…is really stupid; more if you come from a wealthy country and family (like many that I knew there) or do not like to do things that in Japan are truly good (like some martial arts; play some styles of rock; trekking; to name a few)
    In that way you live in Japan living in Japan…and meet Japanese people; yes; do not make money.
    Yes; another way of living there is going down south and find a gig or odd job with the fishermen in a village; I tell you that no matter if you know the language or what; eventually they pick up you and you earn for the food and shelter; no cold there but too hot for my taste and most of the times small waves; but fantastic wave of living; 0% thieves; good; genuine people.
    -8 years complaining about Japanese and seems that you like a lot to chat with non Japanese people…
    In my opinion, I think that depends on what you can do to make a good living in Japan; as many of the commenters in previous post are saying about to living outside Tokyo to save with the salaries…yes, Tokyo is great but there are other very nice places there; ok; not with the same types of entertainments but again; depends on the lifestyle.
    I have a friend there that lives near Shibuya and when we went to Shonan near the beach; almost died…he never ever can live there but me, I lived there in no time.
    So is money too important for you?; you moved there for what exactly?
    Man, you are blessed to have a legal residence there; you need to focus more on other stuff and not in the same things (like most post in this blog)
    However; as many noticed; your witty comments are great and you have a very fluid and entertained pen.

    1. In which case, you owe it to yourself to actually come here. If for no other reason than to see how well you do indeed assimilate.

  48. Very interesting post. I love reading your articles! I am on my 7th year in Japan and married a girl in California before moving to Japan. My first 5 years I lived in Takamatsu, Kagawa and hated it. Im a freelance web developer so earning money and not participating in the corporate scene was never an issue. I just HATE cities! yuck. Then after 5 yeas I moved my 2 Japanese kids and wife to Bali and Thailand hoping to find something better. We eneded up moving back after 2 years living in Bali, Chiang Mai and Northern California. Now we live in Kamiyama, Tokushima which is deeeeep in the mountains. We rented a cool little house for 15,000 yen a month. We ended up remodeling it for about 7 million yen and we were able to buy the land and house for about 1.5 million yen. Needless to say I am loving it in Kamiyama. The community of about 6k residents are very friendly and open. I can only say that if you are not enjoying Japan then move to a mountain town. Forget the cities!!!! All cities suck! My language skills are not great but then again I do have a cute Japanese wife who happens to have a Masters Degree from a California University so translation is not a problem. I think I speak about 300 Japanese words or so.

    Frankly I recommend not getting too many western friends. Instead surround yourself with Japanese. And for god sakes get to a mountain town! leave the city like the plague.

    One of my side companies besides web development is a coffee cafe called Kamiyama Coffee. Look me up if you dare 🙂 “The American with the same last name as the convenience store — Lawson”.

  49. So true.

    Totally agree with every word you wrote. Like you, I’m a foreigner living in Japan. Everything seemed nice initially but you will wake up eventually. A foreigner gets laid offs in jobs easily because we didn’t join the company straight from the uni (oh yeah crappy uni systems). I also get the “English menu?” Even though I conversed in Japanese with the waitress a lot. It’s their mental block. Anyway please keep writing:)

  50. I come to USA when I was in high school. Actually forced to live here.
    In a day I felt so depressed. The people I live with don’t have cable.
    School is ok. Some kids tried to bully me.
    I finally found peace by reading some books.
    Tried to get a little bit of culture by reading American fiction books such as goosebumps.
    I made some friends in college but wasn’t close because I work full time.
    And made sports as distraction.
    In college people still treat me differently. I guess because I’m still having trouble with English.
    It’s very miserable and hellish and all I want is to finish my degree so I can move on with my life.
    Then recession happened and I have not much network and people get jobs by having friends.
    Tried those agencies and go to job fairs – waste of time! Still no job was maddening.
    Still miserable
    I am looking to move in Japan. I know this already a lot of people I follow who does blogs in Japan said so already.
    But they whine as well and cynical
    I come here in the USA thinking it’s all milk and honey and life is easy.
    Not really, it’s the same as everywhere
    I will miss the museums and libraries and the access of clean establishments and toilets and maybe fast food.
    But other than that.
    What made me want to move out is the rudeness and jaded of people.
    I can’t believe that I have to endure this torture chamber.
    And I still am living in poverty.
    Two degrees and a half and still no decent job.
    Well that’s my rant living in USA.
    So if people have to whine about living in Asia and Japan so can I.

    1. Well, that sucks. Hope you can find some good things there, despite the array of challenges you face. No doubt President Trump will make everything better.

      1. If he becomes pesident that just one more reason to get the hell out of the country. Then again Hilary Clinton isn’t a better option. Safe to say our choices are a giant douche and a turd sandwhich.

  51. Hey, i’m 16 (turning 17) boy in the UK who is obsessed about Japan and have always dreamed of living there,
    I have recently started to invest time learning the language and this post has given me second thoughts,
    Do you think it’s worth dedicating all my time to reach japan? or will I just be dissapointed?

    1. So okay, couple o’ things…

      I guarantee you’ll have a great time here, provided you do one simple thing. Don’t stay too long.

      If you come for a year or two, max, it’ll be brilliant. Note this isn’t a Japan thing, though. Anywhere you’ve dreamed of going for a long time—Brazil, Budapest, Bali—is going to fulfill your dreams. Go to Alaska and be a lumberjack and eat some bald eagles. They taste like freedom.

      Part of not staying too long involves not knowing what the eff is going on. Also referred to as being happy. Once you start figuring out what’s really happening, Japan’ll change and become just like anywhere else. Whatever you don’t like about your country now—the politics, the people, the weather—you’ll eventually find an equal number of things you don’t like about Japan, I promise. In short, being a tourist is great, no matter where you are. Being a resident, eh, not so much.

      So that’s thing One. But thing Two is what concerns me. “Dedicating all my time”? What the … ? Like I’m going to make a trip to London—guess I better dedicate all my time to getting ready. Don’t want to make a mistake when ordering the fish and chips. I understand your people have a special way of opening and closing umbrellas that I should probably practice.

      The only thing you should worry about is saving enough money to have a fun trip, and to see some neighboring countries. A surprising number of people who come to Japan don’t like it as much as other Asian countries. It’s a big world; don’t pin too many hopes on one place, is my advice.

  52. Hi, I just found your Blog in researching Japan for my upcoming application for the JET program. Your articles, of which I’ve read most of are very odd to say the least. Whilst reading I get this odd mix of happiness to the point of laughter as well as depression to the point of “Why am I thinking of going here!?”. It’s a very confusing mix of emotional responses and I think I’ll have to let my decision to apply roll around a bit more as I read more articles. If you could answer two questions though it would help ease my mind, at least a bit.

    Question 1.) I’m going to be Graduating from my school for Game Artistry soon. In the year or two I plan on teaching in Japan I plan on fleshing out my portfolio to be more presentable as well as saving up some extra cash on the side. Do you think these goals are achievable if I get set into a less urban prefecture like Aoyama?

    Question 2.) You seem to be a bit older than I am and are obviously not freshly graduated from college. My question here relates to your isolationist viewpoint on friendships in Japan. Do you know the social climate of the new Japanese Youth scene? I personally don’t really like to drink or hang out in bars so I was thinking maybe going to some game shops or some local meetups of foreign nationals or people my age might be a way to interact. Any opinion?

    1. Hey, good questions. So number 1, yes absolutely. You don’t really need to live out in the sticks. It’s possible to save money anywhere…but you have to realize the trade-offs.

      A lot of people treat Japan like a vacation. You know you’re only going to be here for a couple of years, so you want to experience everything. Go to karaoke, onsen, visit Kyoto, ski in Hokkaido. And all of that costs money. So as long as you can be okay just staying in your apartment, you’ll save money. Which is why I guess I don’t have any.

      Number 2. I’d say the younger you are, the better. It also helps to speak English, hang out with foreign people, and not be picky. And unfortunately, again, having cash helps. Because when your new friends want to go fishing/have a barbecue/take a trip to Kanazawa, you’re going to need to make that choice, spend money or stay at home alone. But maybe that’s where being younger helps. Young people are generally all poor, so they’re a lot cooler with just hanging out in the park all night. When older people do that, they’re mostly winos. Not that I’d know anything about it.

  53. Hi Ken,

    Congratulations for your blog, which is quite interesting and with a very particular (Tarantino-esque?) sense of humour :).

    Well, as a Japanese-Brazilian, I grew up with different, conflicting images of “Japan”.

    One was presented my Japanese-Brazilian friends and relatives who went to Japan as temporary migrant workers. For them, Japan was a safe, organised place (well, undoubtedly compared to Brazil) but essentially, with a sole purpose of earning money to support their families or to allow them to open a business when they came back to Brazil. Although they are ethnically Japanese and many of them can speak Japanese, the “Japan Japanese” people were very distant and often considered to be alien or racist by them. A small fraction of them have ended up settling in Japan for good, mostly for pragmatic reasons (like having no clue about how to earn money if they came back to Brazil), and rarely they would marry, or even think about marrying, a “Japan Japanese” person.

    Another one was the image regularly presented by Brazilian media and by Japanese cultural associations, likely influenced by the considerable economic success of the Brazilian-Japanese community. They showed Japan as some sort of utopia society, where culture is preserved across generations, children study hard and respect their parents, people have entrepreneur spirit and try to achieve “perfection” in everything they do, the elderly are both respected or revered, and everybody does everything thinking about the collective welfare.

    And finally, the more recent image after the manga / anime boom in Brazil. Which shows Japan as a far more colourful and vibrant place, and Japanese people as far more sexy and fetishized, compared to my other two previous images.

    Which image of Japan is the “true Japan”?

    I believe Japan is different for everyone, be Japanese or foreigner. The Japan of the dead-end job Japanese salaryman is different from the Japan of the internationally renowned Japanese academic. The Japan of the American English teacher is different of the Japan of the American well-paid corporate expatriate, which is also completely different of the Japan of the Filipino migrant factory worker. The Japan of the foreigner resident who desperately wants to be treated as “Japanese” is different from the Japan of the foreigner who just wants to have fun and doesn’t mind being obnoxious, which is different from the Japan of the tourist, which is also different from the Japan of the anime/manga fan who never stepped in Japan. The Japan of those who resent Japan’s war crimes or killings of whales/dolphins is different from the Japan admired for providing generous donations and investments on poor countries. The Japan of the carefree backpacker who feels safe all the time is different from the Japan of the Japanese woman concerned about being groped in the train.

    So, I guess, all of these “Japans” are real in some sense.

    Regards, and wish you the best

      1. I met a Japanese Brazilian in Sam’s club a few months back and I asked him if he was Japanese; to which he replied: “Sort of”… which I immediately understood perfectly after having read “Rule of 7” for the last two years. I’d have to agree with Ken here that you GROK this situation completely!! I truly enjoy reading the comments by all of the intelligent people that respond on this blog, to which you are certainly ONE, nd thank you for taking time to respond.

      2. Ken and Demo,

        Could I get both of your opinions on an interesting Japanese Drama (currently on Japanese TV) I just started to look at? Its called “Juken no Cinderella” and its the story of a hard working Japanese High School student that is inspired by a troubled ELITE Japanese Cram school President to try and get into Tokyo University. I was just checking it out when I noticed something special about it. It is a commentary on the Japanese education system and the class system that exists in Japan. In episode 3 there is a particularly interesting conversation regarding teaching Japanese to a Japanese Student and why modern Japanese are lacking in their understanding of their own language. OK, the acting and actors are not particularly great, but I found the subject matter and the commentary very similar to discussions I’ve read on this blog. I would greatly appreciate it if you two would at least watch the first 3 episodes and comment on what they are saying. Here is a link to the subbed TV drama (5 episodes are out so far):


        I know you might not have the time to do this, but I thank you in advance for even considering my request.

  54. Hello Ken.

    I just found your blog a few days ago while I was trying to look up something for some lessons.
    As everyone says, your writing is very entertaining.
    I’m going to attempt to read all your articles.
    It is actually my 60th day living here since I moved here from the states.
    I am a high school ALT.

    I had always wanted to live in Japan for a few years, and recently I finally had the opportunity to come here.
    My friends always ask how long I plan on staying and I usually say a few years at least.
    I forgot what my point was….

    Before I came here I had heard about the good and the bad and the xenophobia of Japan. I didn’t come here disillusioned like some people… honestly the thing I had looked forward to the most had been the food.. and I’ve not been disappointed.

    I’m still working on digging under the surface. The longest I have been here before now was for 4 months when I studied abroad 3 years ago. This is actually my 8th time in Japan.. but only my fourth time as an adult.. anyways…
    I knew not to expect that everything would be happy and fluffy when I first arrived since it wasn’t my first visit..
    I wonder if I’ll stay longer than a few years or if I’ll leave like your friend Sandy.

    sorry this comment was kind of.. disorganized

    anyways.. great post, thanks!

    1. You sound a lot like me. I didn’t have any real culture shock or particular disillusionments; Japan’s always felt pretty normal, and it’s been a good place to live. The only thing I really miss is the vibrancy of the West. Well, that and the fact that people are capable of holding a conversation. But then again, the food here is awfully good.

      If you wonder how long you’ll stay, I wonder the same thing. Not too many Westerners do. And the number who stay without getting hitched is smaller still. Guess we’ll see, huh?

  55. Great blog man!
    I’m a new eikaiwa teacher in Japan from the States and I love all the snarky insights, lol. I did a lot of research this past year before moving to Japan, and after a month here, it’s pretty much what I thought it would be like (work life included/no illusions of what work would entail). I came from a big east coast city and it’s nice that my dollar/yen goes way farther here (and for much better food) than it ever did back home. Can’t wait to dive deeper into your blogs and read more!

    1. Ah, you’re bringing back memories. I spent a year in Tokyo doing eikaiwa. I’d love to hear some of your observations, and then see if they change at all as time goes by.

  56. Great Post! I recently stumbled upon your blog and it is truly enjoyable to read.
    How long did it take for you to realize that Japan isnt a themepark full of sunshine?
    Im going to study in Japan between August 2017 and June 2018 and I’d like to not spend 50% of that time thinking the place is a shithole haha.

    1. Well, I don’t think many people would call a shithole. Japan’s got some pretty nice stuff. Okay, and some pretty bad stuff. Whatever you look for, you’ll likely find.

      I think it takes over a year before you see most of the negative aspects. I was in this boat. Hell, you can’t tell a hair salon from a brothel for about six months. Because of the language and the way you’re herded into certain areas, the experience is similar to living on a resort. It’s all clean, safe, and with good service. You almost have to force yourself to look behind the scenes to see how people really live.

      So if you’re here for a year you’ll have a wonderful time, and probably see just what you’re shown.

    1. Ah, thanks much. Comments are absolutely welcome. It’s always interesting to hear others’ impressions of Japan, whether they live here or abroad.

  57. Brilliant post Ken. Been in yer exact shoes. I came to Japan in 94 for a gap year before going on to take the bar exam……shit, I am still here 27 years later. Many friends have upped and left but nowadays I tend to have more friends in the same situation as me…. Married, kids, no sex… I honestly do like living here…hell, could you live somewhere that long if you hated it? Lot of things I really don’t like….a list as long as my arm….but as I have said in previous comments, wherever you go there is good and bad. Gotta focus on the good. The awe of Japan wore off quickly but the reality that set in has been very comfortable. The thing I like about living here is that I am not expected to behave like the locals. Okay, there is discrimination that I have very squarely encountered but on the whole, the ball is in my court and I am returning it every time with a Jimmy Connors forehand!

  58. “And here’s the challenge: learning how to love Japan after realizing it’s killed your unicorn and served him sliced atop a bowl of ramen. Yeah, I’m still working on that one. He was so cute too, what with the little white horn and rainbows shooting out his bum,…”
    I read that and wondered if you have seen this commercial for Squatty Potty.
    All part of the Paleo lifestyle.

  59. Before everybody in the First World decided that the Paleo Lifestyle was a good idea, a Japanese or Asian Toilet was just that, now it’s the Paleo Squat, or if you apply for a patent, the Squatty Potty. Even though ‘ve been addicted to Yoga for the past 25 years I still struggle with seiza and squatting for any length of time. I feel that my Yoga would improve if we sat on the floor at home, when eating or watching YouTube. However, J-Wife insists on keeping our western style dining table and high backed chairs, even though she always sits in seiza on her dining or desk chair, and I mean for hours.

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