I want a Japanese Girlfriend

Uh, sure you do

I made a lot of mistakes with Saki, my first Japanese girlfriend. The most notable of which was attempting anything resembling a conversation.

“So you said you’ve got a sister, right?” I asked. “Does she live in Tokyo too?”

“I think so, maybe.”

“Well, when did you last see her?” I continued.


“Huh. Okay…well, um, does she live by herself? Does she have a boyfriend?”

“Mmm,” she said, “I’m not sure.”

“So you don’t know where she lives then, your sister?”

“Mnnnn,” replied Saki, “maybe Chiba?”

In the Land of Tiny Cakes

We were sitting upstairs in a tatami room in a cafe in Azabujuban, having tiny cups of green tea and even tinier cakes. My legs were killing me. Why a nation renowned for its technology has yet to embrace the chair, I’ll never understand. And hey, I’d voted for a round of darts with some spicy fries and beer, but somehow that motion got overruled. Now all we were lacking was a Victorian doll house and a couple teddy bears. Care fo’ a spot o’ tea, Mista Pibbles?

But Saki was remarkable for two things. The first was the eye- and lip-liner she’d had tattooed to her face. Hey, that’s time efficiency, which I appreciate. If you still think tattoos are limited to yakuza, you’re living in the 1990’s. Younger Japanese are picking them up like wildflowers, onsen be damned.

Saki also had a wildflower tattooed on her outer thigh. I thought it looked godawful, but that just goes to show what Ken Seeroi knows about fine art.

That wasn’t the second remarkable thing though. That thing was that Saki seemed to possess almost no knowledge of her own family. At the time, I thought this unusual.

“So your father,” I continued, “what does he do?”

“Oh, he works for a company,” she replied proudly.

“Great, and what’s his job?”

“Ummm, he’s a salaryman,” she answered.

“So, uh, you don’t know what your dad actually does? Is it a new job?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Huh. All right, um yeah, does he speak English?”

“May….be…” she said.

And that, right there, is the trouble.

The Trouble with Japanese People

Now, don’t get me wrong. Japanese folks are great. Well, except for the ones who aren’t, but whatever. As a group they’re pretty okay. The challenge, however, is actually knowing them at all.

Here’s what I mean. Particularly if you’re an American, the instant we meet, I start to pick up things about you, like…

  • Republican, Democrat, or one of those crazy Bernie Sanders people
  • Atheist, Muslim, Jew, Sikh, Christian, Scientologist, Pagan, or whatever
  • Hummer, Tesla, or AstroVan
  • Smoker or non-smoker
  • Gun or forgot yours at home
  • Vegetarian, vegan, or just enjoy chewing animals
  • Anti-abortion or anti-choice
  • Pro-marijuana, pro-crystal meth, or pro-martini
  • Went to Columbia, LSU, or failed high school shop class
  • “Support our troops” or want a world overrun with Commies
  • “Build the Wall” or prefer not to pick your own lettuce and strawberries
  • What you think about the stock market, universal health care, food stamps, the World Wildlife Fund, Fox News, fake news, iPhone versus Android, thick crust versus thin, chunky versus smooth, and a thousand other things.

And by the way, this isn’t a shopping list. I’ve got friends both Christian and Muslim, Gay and Straight, supporters of Obama and Trump, and everything in between. Being in one camp or the other doesn’t make you virtuous or deplorable—it just tells me something about you. It’s a start to actually knowing you. Who you are.

And when I meet a Japanese person, here’s what I learn…

  • How hot or cold the weather is
  • How delicious this food is
  • How much you want to speak English with me

Usually, that’s about it.

You can easily see why Japanese folks are so keen to meet “foreigners.” Within one minute—boom!—you know everything about ’em. You don’t even have to ask; it just oozes from the foreigner’s every pore, saturating clothing and car choices, the red trucker hats, college sweatshirts, Jordan high-tops, rainbow bracelets, NRA bumper stickers and NPR bags.

Your Foreign Boyfriend

So I was having lunch with a Japanese colleague, a rather unremarkable mid-30’s unmarried office worker, when she blurted out a familiar refrain: “I want a foreign boyfriend.” So I thought I’d follow this up a bit.

“Does it matter what country he’s from? Like, Spain, New Zealand, Greece?”

“No,” she said, “Probably anywhere’s fine.”

“Jewish, Muslim, Christian…?”

“What’s the real difference?”

“Fair enough. Would you care if he was Democrat or Republican, in the Navy, wore hemp pants, owned a dog or a cat?”

“I just want to meet a nice guy,” she said. “Okay, maybe with a dog.”

“Well, you know,” I said. “Everyone’s nice at first.”

I want a Japanese Girlfriend

On the flip side, I hear this a lot, especially from guys online. And I wonder, does it matter…

  • Region: whether she’s from Gifu or Ginza
  • Religion: Kofuku-no-Kagaku or Souka-gakkai
  • Politics: Jiyu-minshuto or Minshinto
  • Food: tonkotsu ramen or shoyu ramen
  • Booze: shochu or umeshu
  • Fashion: Louis Vuitton or Hideo Wakamatsu
  • Make-up: Gyaru or suppin
  • Language: Osaka-ben or Tohoku-ben
  • Occupation: OL or freeter
  • And what she thinks of immigration, the aging population, China, Korea, whether she speaks English, actually cares about you learning Japanese, wants to move into her parents house after marriage, wants kids or not, will insist you do the laundry and the dishes, and a thousand other things

My sense is no. Just so long as she’s “Japanese,” that’s good enough. Frankly, I’ve seen tons of couples rush to get married without even understanding basic information about each other. Hey, nothing wrong with hooking up for a night or two, but when it comes to shacking up, I mean, you might wanna…I’m just sayin’…ahh, nevermind. I’m sure it’ll all work out just dandy.

But I Still Want a Japanese Girlfriend

All rightee. Then you’re facing several hurdles:

  1. It’s not easy to understand a wholly different culture, especially if you don’t speak the language. What do people notice? What do they care about, and why? Will anyone even clue you in to what’s significant? Does it matter if you carry a pocket handkerchief, put your wet umbrella in a plastic bag, or pour beer in your own glass? (Pretty much all yes.)
  2. Then there’s the Japanese language, with at least ten different words for “I” and “you.” Your entire interaction depends upon which you choose. Forget speaking—can you even pick up on the differences when you’re listening? Whether someone refers to you as “dude,” “sir,” “ma’am,” “girl,” “boy,” “fatty,” or “mofo” tells you a lot about who you’re dealing with and how they view you. This happens every day in Japanese, only you’re blissfully unaware. Everyone just seems so polite. They’re laughing with you, not at you, right? Yeah, let’s just go with that.
  3. Japanese folks tend not to talk about themselves much, or at all, even to their close friends and family members. A lot of conversation is mind-bendingly superficial. They’ll reveal surprisingly personal information, yet hide things that you’d think were unimportant. I don’t want to say they keep a lot of secrets, but well, they keep a lot of secrets. Don’t tell anyone I told you.

More than One Kind of Japanese

So if you want a Japanese girlfriend, at least know that there’s Japanese, and then there’s Japanese. Okay, so they look kind of similar. This may be the biggest secret nobody talks about.

Think about it from a Japanese person’s perspective. To them, Americans are just one big group. They don’t know Bakersfield from La Jolla, Chevy from Tesla, Wrangler from Dickies, Italian-American from Mexican-American, shit from Shinola, or the difference between “y’all,” “you,” “yuns,” and “you guys.”

Japanese people know they’re not all the same. And honestly, a lot of the “Japanese” women you’re likely to date or marry aren’t all that Japanese. They’re choosing foreigners because they themselves don’t fit into this society very well. Maybe they look subtly different, like there’s a touch of Korean, Dutch, or Mongolian blood that you don’t notice. Hey, Asian is Asian, right? But everyone around them notices, and lets them know. Maybe they lived overseas for years. Maybe they were even born overseas. Or maybe they just watched a shit-ton of “Sex and the City.” But somehow, in either appearance, thinking, or attitude, they’re not very “Japanese” any more. And that’s why they’re choosing you.

The Right Japanese Girlfriend

So I was having lunch in Ueno Park with a friend of mine recently. And since he’s a “foreigner,” of course we both enjoy sitting outside even though it’s hot as eff, unlike Japanese people who are allergic to sweat. And over a plastic bag full of onigiri and a couple cans of cold coffee, we talked about this stuff.

“Look,” he said, “I get it. But whatever…I want a Japanese girlfriend, what’s wrong with that?”

“Nothin’, man. Okay, so what if she was like Chinese or Vietnamese, but, you know, looked ‘Japanese’?”

“Well, nah, that’s not the same.”

“So ‘Japanese,’ that’s all? That’s the only requirement?” I asked.

“Well, I mean, yeah, as long as she’s not a total bitch.”

“So okay, someone nice,” I said. “What if she’s born in Japan, but raised overseas?”

“Yeah, that’d probably be okay,” he said.

“Born overseas, lived there till she was five, then moved to Japan?”

“Does she look Japanese?”

“Is that all that matters?”

“That and that’s she’s really Japanese. Pretty much, yeah,” he said.

“Man, we are some superficial people,” I said.

“Welcome to the human race.”

“So humans are really all the same?” I mused. “Kind of ironic, isn’t that? Anyway, what time you got?”

He looked at his watch. “Way past beer-thirty,” he replied.

“Thought so,” I said, standing up. “Let’s go get some booze and Japanese girls.”

“Does it matter what kind?”

“Of course it matters,” I laughed. “I only drink Asahi.”

“Seeroi, you’re one picky motherfucker.”

Yeah. Yeah, not very often, but sometimes I am.

119 Replies to “I want a Japanese Girlfriend”

  1. Because I am so happy to see a new post from you my friday is saved now! (and It just started)
    Donated a little bit for you!
    Keep them coming!


    1. Ah, thanks much. Wow, you’re fast—I was still editing it when you commented. Hopefully I caught all the typos. I really appreciate the donation!

  2. MotoGP and a new post from Seeroi-san, good day. Also Asahi is THE best beer!
    I would like a Japanese girlfriend, but it’s too late for me now. Which might be for the better all things considered…

  3. To be honest, I would be somewhat afraid to get a Japanese girlfriend, but that is probably I think too far into the future with the chance of her becoming my wife. And then, what about the kid/s? Seems risky. I mean, we could get a Keanu Reeves, but it seems like most results are not so lucky. And if we are living in Japan that kid is definitely not going to be “Japanese” in the eyes of his school mates. It would be a tough and confusing life. Probably would be better to be a full-on blond, blue-eyed, white gaijin kid in Japan than some random mix in Japan. Just a thought.

    1. I agree with you and this is also one of my concerns.
      The “you’re not one of us” would be too much for me, i would not want my child to experience something like this.

    2. Yeah, you are getting a little ahead of yourself, although you’re probably right.

      I should mention I’m not discouraging anyone from dating Japanese women. Rather, I’m encouraging folks to actually try to know them. The same goes for men, and all relationships in Japan.

      The U.S. is so open, on a variety of levels. Every person on earth knows who the President is (for better or worse). The values and behaviors of the society are thrown wide open in movies and music. Japan’s the polar opposite.

      Most people—including visitors to Japan—would struggle to name the five major islands, not to mention the political parties or even half a dozen actors or singers. So there’s a lot of homework, just learning the basics of the nation.

      Then when it comes to personal relationships, there’s a whole other set of values and beliefs that come into play. It takes me years to know a Japanese person as well as I know an American in five minutes.

  4. Ken.
    More GOLD.That first paragraph had me and my (no longer Japanese)Japanese wife on the floor in stiches.
    I know it’s a huge call but can you somehow explain the thought processes that result in answers that we non Japanese find incredible.
    Is it an inability or reclutance to tell us what your father does? who he works for? Where your sister lives? Or as my wife loves to say..Is your arse on fire?
    My favorite is….
    I’m at (name your place,bar,izakyua etc) OK we’ll come and meet you,where is it?
    I’m not sure.
    But your there now aren’t you?
    Well where is it? How did you get there?
    I’m not sure.
    Beer tickets on the way,thanks many.Ken.

    1. Hey, thanks for the donation—I really appreciate that.

      So I had a couple friends come to visit me. I was in LA at the time. They took a taxi from the airport to their hotel, dropped off their luggage, then took another taxi to meet me for dinner.

      At the end of the night, I said, I’ll drive you back to your hotel—where is it?

      And they’re like, We don’t know.

      Okay, what street’s it on?

      No idea.

      New city, fair enough. What’s the name of your hotel?

      The guy takes the room card key out of his pocket, and guess what? No hotel name on it. I guess that’s for security reasons or something. Now, this is before the age of smartphones, so we can’t just search through email for some reservation. We literally spent two hours driving in circles through LA in the middle of the night, while they were like, I think this looks familiar…maybe if we make a left…no…okay, let’s try a right…

      These were two successful Japanese adults, and as you noted, this particular incompetence is common among Japanese folks. Try this out: ask for simple directions to a place you both know. I’ve done this hundreds of times in language classes, in both English and Japanese. The typical Japanese person is absolutely incapable of simply saying, “Go down two blocks, make a left, and it’s on your right.”

      I believe I can provide an explanation for this phenomenon, so let me know if you really want to hear it.

    1. A guy complains of a headache. Another guy says, “Do what I do. I put my head on my wife’s bosom, and the headache goes away.” The next day, the man says, “Did you do what I told you to?” “Yes, I sure did. By the way, you have a nice house!”

  5. You accurately summed up why I dislike Americans so much. I had to sit next to one guy from New York on a bus from Nari ta to Haneda and before we had got to the expressway I had heard about his traumatic experience with a spider when he was five years old. By the time we got out of Chiba I knew more about him than my own brother.

    On a flight from Chicago to Dallas I was surrounded by total strangers having the most intimate conversations imaginable.

    1. Yeah, that’s a weird thing about Americans. They just won’t shut up. I sit down next to a guy in a bar, and within two minutes, he’s showing me pictures of his family and cats. I’m like, I think I need to go stand over there now…

      But yeah, every strength is a drawback and every drawback a strength. I just wish there was some place on earth a little more balanced that the extremes of Japan and the U.S. Maybe Finland…

      1. Thought of you in Finland. A bit felt more Eastern European/Russian (maybe tourists from St Petersburg) than Scandinavian. Nevertheless, thought of you when reading this:

        One time Finland Män ko tu bar. Finland Män sit ät kounter, entshoi trink, look onli mopile phone. Is kuud silense.

        Then kam womän nekst tu Finland Män. She äsk: “Do you kam hiör often?”

        Finland Män pärälised. Is horror. Why she äsk tis? Is häv tu reäkt samhau?
        Finland Män luuk onli mopile phone. Tsek emails. Kiip luuking mopile phone. Then änssör: “Why you äsk? Is you kondukting sam sörvey?”

        Womän not say enitink. She ko öwei. Is kuud silense.

        Finland Män not kän underständ smalltalk. Rememper eksämppel of Krändfather. When Krändfather kam päk from thö war, he say: “Soviet Union vin.” Nekst time Krändfather open mouth in Kristmös 1991. Krändfather wotsh televishön njews. Krändfather say: “Nau Soviet Union luus.”

        One time Finland Män ko tu restorant pikos hunkry. Finland Män sit ät teipul, entshoi moose, luuk onli mopile phone. Is kuud silense.

        Then kam waitter nekst tu Finland Män. He äsk: “Is everitink okei?”

        Finland Män pärälised. Is horror. Why he äsk tis? Is häv tu reäkt samhau?

        Finland Män luuk onli mopile phone. Tsek emails. Kiip luuking mopile phone. Then änssör: “Not is everitink okei. Ekonomi is proplem. Näshiönal produkt not krow.”

        Waitter not say enitink. He ko öwei. Is kuud silense.

        Finland Män not kän underständ smalltalk. Wörds is like karbon dioksid. Everipadi tudei put polluusshön in air. Is klimate tsheintsh.

        One time Finland Män trävel in träm. Finland Män sit ölone, luuk onli mopile phone, is kuud silense.

        Then Ämerikan turist män say loud: “Wonderful weather you have here!”

        Finland Män pärälised. Is horror. Ämerikan turist män talk tu him. Why he say this? Is häv tu reäkt samhau?

        Finland Män luuk onli mopile phone. Tsek emails. Kiip luuking mopile phone. Then änssör: “It will ket wörse.”

        Finland Män ket out of träm. Wait for next tram, hopefuli no turist. Is kuud silense.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When weik up in mornink, Finland Män först tink öpaut kross näshional produkt. Must wörk lot. Pefore die, häv tu pay haus to pänk. Pänk take 50 prosent ov Finland Män säläry. Kovörment täx ofis take 60 prosent. Must wörk more.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When ket out ov ped, Finland Män kou tu kitshön. Trink kofi. Tsek eemails. Eat one moose. If inaf time, say helou to Womän ät home. Not shou emousshiöns. Then Finland Män kou tu wörk.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When trive out ov karaash, Finland Män look at neipörs kar. If neipörs kar smaller, Finland Män smile. If neipörs kar pikkör, Finland Män not shou emousshiöns.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When ket tu wörk, Finland Män nevö stop. When Finland Män wos littel tshild, not ket milk from Mothör. Ket protestant etik. When Finland Män häv own fiuneral, then daunshift.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When 12 o klok, Finland Män häv luntsh. Eat one moose. Eat älone. Not spiik tu änipadi. If waitter smile, Finland Män tink: why I luk funny? Not shou emousshiöns. Tsek eemails.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When Fraiday, Finland Män kou tu trink piör with othör Finland Män. Not spiik. When trink tuu matsh piör änd pottel ov votka, say tu othör Finland Män: ”You my pest frend.” Then kou tu karaoke. Sing säd song. This häpi moument.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When young, kou tu one parti. Late evenink kou tu spiik Womän. If laki, Womän spiik too. Then puild home. Eat moose tukethör.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When Satördei, Finland Män kou tu sauna. Trow sevön pakets ov watör on roks. Äfter sauna häv äpointment in pedroom with Womän. Not shou emousshiöns.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When Womän ät home äsk öpaut love, Finland Män not änswör. Finland Män say: tis we olredi talk on thö altar. Not shou emousshiöns.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When Womän ät home want divorss änd leave Finland Män, Finland Män sörprised. Not shou emousshiöns. Finland Män kou tu forest änd talk tu tree. Then eat moose älone. Tsek eemails.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When holiday, Finland Män trive kar tu lake. Finland Män is petter triver thän evripadi. Finland Män trive kantri road fäst. If kams moose, tuu päd. Moose die. Finland Män eat.

        Finland män is like tis.

        When with othör piippul, Finland Män want tu be älone. When älone, Finland Män äsk himself, why nopodi like me? Eat one moose. Tsek eemails.

        Finland Män is like tis.

        When olmost retire, Finland Män häv hart ätäk. Not tel enipadi, pekoos is shame. Tsek eemails. Then die. Tis wos Finland Män.

        1. This ‘rally driver english’ may be too hard for Ken to follow, but perfectly understandable for a Finn. 🙂
          Nice one, although a “bit” long.

        2. That’s amazing and totally relatable to some extent 😀 Thanks for a good laugh.
          Ok, enough small talk for now, I’m off to check my emails.

        3. Finland Män want tu be älone. When älone, Finland Män äsk himself, why nopodi like me?

          – Life is hard where the sun rarely shines. Life is hard in Seattle, where the sun rarely shines. Our musicians die of drug overdoses or suicide.

  6. Please keep writing about culture shock. It fascinates me so much. Thank you Ken for your intriguing articles.

    What’s your take on Japanese passive aggressiveness? You know, being allergic to saying no, etc

    1. I’ve frequently read that Japanese people have trouble saying no, which I really can’t understand, because they say it to me all the time. Maybe says something about the women I choose to approach.

      I hear Japanese folks say no and chigau—that’s wrong—all the time. While Americans, for all their seeming forthrightness, are often quite vague and non-committal when it comes to plans and schedules. “Yeah, I’ll call you; we’ll do lunch sometime.”

      Maybe the two cultures are just vague and direct about different things.

      As for passive-agressiveness, absolutely. Japanese people are masters of that.

  7. Yo!

    Just a quick question Ken, next year I’m going to Korea for about a week and then I might hit up Japan. I’m not really into touristy travel? If that makes sense, I like to see monuments and pretty stuff but I much rather would enjoy experiencing the culture and good food.
    If I come for about a week, any place you recommend I go to see in Japan for the first time? (Also, my plan won’t be as flexible for Korea because I’m staying with a Korean friend but any places you like?)

    Thanks as always man,
    enjoy some black pepper chips and Asahi on me!


    1. Hey there Noah,

      So first trip to Japan, only here for a short time…

      I’m going to give you a surprising choice, and I’ll tell you why. Sounds like want a place that’s got both nature and a few attractions, somewhere not too touristy, but also not so “real” that you just spend all day long on the dock of a tiny fishing village or staring at a rice paddy.

      I’d suggest Kyoto. You can dial in the “tourist” level pretty easily, by going to big name temples or ones nobody’s paying attention to. It’s a physically beautiful city, and it looks like “Japan.” The food’s good. You’ll like it.

      Mostly though, it’s obvious. You can go to a lot of cities, get off the train and then say, “Okay, now what?” But with Kyoto, there’s so much stuff to see and do that you’ll be enthralled.

      By the way, if you go, use taxis to get around, not the city bus. The convenience and time saving is well worth the extra money.

      1. Thanks a ton Ken!

        I’ve actually always favored the old capital and wanted to go but was willing to take your choice over that. So somehow it ended up being both! lol

        Thanks for the extra advice too. Promise to take a taxi rather than city bus.

        1. I think you’re seriously going to love Kyoto. If there’s a city you could visit that would make you fall in love with Japan, Kyoto would be it. I’d suggest going to Ginkakuji, then walking down Philosopher’s Path to Nanzenji. Kind of hard to go wrong with that program.

          1. Just remember, if you’re taking a taxi, then Ginkakuji sounds a lot like Kinkakuji. With a foreign accent, the taxi driver may just assume you meant the place all the tourists want to go for pictures of the pretty gold building and you’ll end up someplace completely different from where you intended to go.

            1. That’s a good tip. The last time I was there, I told the taxi driver “ginkakuji” and he spun around and proudly said “silver!” Apparently just to prove he could.

      2. Thumbs up for Kyoto!
        Absolutely “the city with it all” in close proximity.
        Take the Tourist Trail, enjoy natural beauty, immerse yourself in real Japan life.
        All within 10 minutes of each other. OK, maybe 15.
        Gotta say, I’m biased though, as a self professed Kansai Gaijin.

        Hey Ken. Keep up the great work.
        I really relate to a lot of your stuff, and get a good laugh to some-one else certify things I have found out the hard way as well.

  8. Ken..To quote you…”I believe I can provide an explanation for this phenomenon, so let me know if you really want to hear it.”

    On behalf of all and sundry,please give it to us,we want to hear it.

    1. Well all right. It’s gonna be a bit long. Sorry about that.

      So I had this Japanese girlfriend who was really into food, even beyond how crazy most Japanese folks are about it. Like for example, looking at a sushi roll, did you know there’s an “inside” and an “outside” to the seaweed—nori? (There is, ask your wife.) Then she’d note how thick or thin the seaweed was, whether it was old, making it dry, or too chewy, meaning it had been exposed to moisture. Then how did it taste? Was it roasted, flavored seaweed, and if so, with what, or simply plain? Where was it from? Did the restaurant know the farmer?

      And that was just the seaweed. Then she’d do the same thing with the rice, fish, soy sauce, wasabi…I was like, Can we just eat food?

      Nope, she’d examine every single thing in excruciating detail. She had exceptionally good eyesight. We once went to a Chinese restaurant and she was like, What’s in the sauce? And I said, Uh, it’s Szechuan sauce. And she was like, No, what in it? What’s it made from? We called the waitress over. She had no idea. Took us like 20 minutes to order something.

      She was constantly finding moldy lettuce on our plates, even little bugs and stones. It’s all there, you just have to look. And she’d look, at everything, and think about it. If you watch Gordon Ramsey, you’d get some idea. And she was about 10 times more critical and knowledgeable than that guy.

      Okay, now let’s look at how typical “Americans” eat food. In a word, they just shovel it down. A meal in Japan could easily last three hours. Try that in an American restaurant and they’ll be heaving you bodily out the door. There’s a lot of focus in America on things that aren’t food—tablecloths, silverware, lighting, conversation, the waitstaff’s attitude. Nobody’s asking, Where did the grain for this pasta come from? Was this shrimp flown in from Thailand? Was the lettuce washed with preservative to keep it fresh? I never noticed how much beer glasses tasted of sanitizer until we dated. I learned a lot from her, really.

      Okay, now what does any of that have to do with why Japanese people can’t explain the simplest things? I’m sure you’ve already surmised that it has to do with focus and practice. Take navigation—most stuff in Japan is near the train station, so all you have to do is remember the station name and the exit and you’re about 90% there.

      If you are lost—and in the days before smartphones this happened plenty—you don’t ask a person. You ask many people. You’re like, “Where’s the Waldorf Astoria?” And they don’t say, “Two blocks down, make a left, and it’s on your right.” They say, “See that fruit stand? It’s past there.” So you go to the fruit stand, then ask somebody else. Japan’s very communal in that way. That’s a good thing.

      So if somebody calls you and asks, “What restaurant are you in?” and you don’t know, well, you don’t have to know. Any more than an American has to know what the salad dressing’s made from. You just call the waiter/waitress over and hand them your phone. Knowing the name of the restaurant is their job, and they should be able to guide the other party to the nearest fruit stand, whereupon they can ask somebody else.

      Japanese people don’t practice giving detailed directions because it doesn’t come up very much. It’s just not that important. Looking at food, oh man, that’s every day. If you couldn’t tell the difference between katsuo dashi and kombu dashi people’d think you were retarded.

      Let me point out one more way in which Americans are clueless, and it’s not a trivial matter: money. I’ve got a Chinese friend who frequently asks me, Why isn’t anyone in the U.S. worried money? Do they even know how much they spend every month on food, clothing, coffee, or alcohol? How can they just charge things they don’t need on credit cards? And I’m like, Hmmm, good question. Then when I ask my friends and family about it, they’re like, Eh, don’t worry, everything’ll work out. And now Asian me is like, Work out?! What the fuck is that? You just spent three thousand dollars on a bicycle! Even the helmet was like two hundred bucks! How’re you gonna pay that off? Do you not understand interest? Work out? Money doesn’t just “work out,” it’s math! And they’re like, Jeez dude, you worry too much. Everything’ll be fine. Drink a beer. Here, I’ll put it on my credit card.

      That optimism, wow. But thanks for the beer.

      I guess it comes down to a society’s values and culture. Different nations seem good and bad at different things. So the conclusion is, if you’re going out to eat, you want an American find the restaurant, a Japanese person to order the food, and a Chinese person to split the bill. That’s what I’ve learned. Thanks for asking.

        1. Yeah thanks. Didn’t really intend for it to be so long, but sometimes it just works out that way. Probably too much coffee.

      1. The mindset of “go to a recognizable landmark close to your destination and then ask someone there for further directions, and repeat as necessary” is well ingrained in the Japanese psyche. But giving directions is very difficult in Japan. Most streets don’t have names, buildings aren’t numbered consecutively along a street, and once off a main road, neighbourhoods often devolve into a maze of tiny lanes. Over millennia, this is the method that has evolved that works best for getting where you want to go. As an aside, I haven’t tried it, but is there foreigner-friendly satnav in Japan (with both Japanese and English/romaji)?

  9. Ah, yes. Japanese passive-aggressiveness. Which would bring you to the myth of the submissive Japanese woman.

  10. hi Ken and everybody!

    I just read the blog today.
    It is so entertaining I read for hours and started building up a little rant in my head. excuse me if I explode here:

    I have been living here for more than ten years and trying to make something for myself.
    I have to say that most of my friends are foreigners and all my colleagues are Japanese.
    I keep my personal life away from my colleagues to avoid anybody spreading words about the money I make.
    I do not know if I would do the same back in Italy but I may not have the same work and business opportunities I found here.
    like most of us the spirit of adventure brought me here to Japan and my new family kept me here.

    don’t know if I would be happier anywhere else but I think I will fight my way through what I started and see what comes out of it.

    I will teach some school kids (and my kids) about electricity at the kominkan close to where I live and the people I met are helping me out with the project.
    I do not have any close Japanese friend yet but that could be part of my character. I guess that in my life I am looking for some special people that click with me and that may not be easy.

    would love to hear some more stories or meet more people that shared my experience. could be fun!

    1. Welcome, Misserotti!

      Ten years is a long time. Honestly, I can’t believe it myself. I’m glad you’re here and enjoying life in Japan. It reminds me to appreciate the good things more. Thanks for the breath of fresh air.

  11. thank you Ken for your answer.

    I live in fukuoka and I was about to ask you if you think that people that decide to stay for a longer period of time would kind of try to justify the fact that they are there in the first place. I think this would be called a confirmation bias burt I am not sure.

    it’s like starting to like the person that asked you a favor for the first time. the loss of energy due to doing them a favor has to be justified inside yourself somehow. You end up “convincing” yourself that you like them.

    I think president Benjamin Franklin was famous for leveraging on this judgement fallacy.

    1. Seems to me that people often try to rationalize the situations they find themselves in. I guess it rather colors reality, but then truth and happiness never did get along all that fabulously.

      So yeah, living in Japan long-term seems like a textbook case for making the best of a challenging situation. There’s a lot of good things about living here—no doubt about that. But you give up plenty as well, and I think that’s the hard part. But hey, that’s life, in Japan.

    2. Benjamin Franklin was never President. He was an ambassador to France, and an author of the Declaration of Independence, as well as an influential scholar, scientist and office holder. He was one of the earliest abolitionist, that is, an advocate of ending of slavery.

    1. This is 100% correct.

      Also watch out for the Souka-gakkai ones. You’ll have English-language pamphlets and magazines in your hands by the second date. Haven’t met a Happy Science cultist yet.

    2. Funny ’cause it’s true. Although maybe what’s most amazing is what a large role food plays in the Japanese consciousness. Apparently you can tell a lot about people by how they like their pancakes.

  12. Great article! Funny and insightful, as usual. 🙂

    I’m kind of curious about this part, though:
    “They’ll reveal surprisingly personal information, yet hide things that you’d think were unimportant. I don’t want to say they keep a lot of secrets, but well, they keep a lot of secrets. ”

    So, any moments that you heard “surprisingly personal information” that you could share?

    Also, on the “keeping secrets” part, I’d be interested on hearing more about on relationships (actually dating; not just wanting to), things between couples that would be obvious to talk about elsewhere, but not in Japan.

    1. So I met these two girls in the train station. Long story short, they invited me to a party at the one girl’s house (she was married). I hadn’t been there half an hour before she told me about cheating on her husband, who happened to be in the next room.

      Now, if this sounds like some sort of come on, I can assure you it wasn’t. Sigh. Rather, it was just a random factoid, like “Last Saturday day I went to the dentist, then bought cheese at the supermarket, and oh yeah, slept with my old boyfriend.”

      So I’ve heard people reveal all kinds of things about themselves. Particularly when it comes to infidelity, it’s not nearly as big a deal in Japan as it is in the U.S. To be really honest, Japan’s just way less sexual than the West, and for that reason (in my opinion), cheating on your partner doesn’t mean all that much. Japanese folks just don’t care that much about sex. Again, sigh.

      As for what couples do share between themselves, in comparison to the West, I’d venture to say damn near nothing. You’d be lucky if you knew the first names of your partner’s parents. It’s pretty taboo to ask personal questions, even of your closest friends and lovers. If asked, not answering is also a popular option.

      Though, strangely enough, Japanese people seem to share more with foreigners, speaking English, than they do with other Japanese. Perhaps it just seems safer, or less real.

      1. I had been wondering about the cavalier view toward infidelity. In a country where seemingly meaningless ‘rules’ such as ‘brush your teeth after lunch’ are almost universally followed, why is something that is ostensibly written in the marriage contract regarded as (far) less sacred than tooth brushing ?

        The converse of course also applies, i.e. why do Americans consider fidelity to be such a big deal ? Christianity or other … ? At least to me though, I didn’t quite see how that written rule is softer than other unwritten ones.

        Sex is not very important ? Maybe, but I imagine you’ve heard the same stories about high school girls that I have …

        1. When I read that I was like, Let’s see, stories about Japanese high school girls…

          and you know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any, at least in real life. I’m sure there are some, but most of the stuff seems to be online from guys overseas. After working in a Japanese high school, I can’t say I came away with anything particularly titillating. Certainly nothing sexy by U.S. high school standards.

          Your other points are really good, on both counts. I also don’t know why infidelity is such a big deal to Americans. Japanese folks are way less concerned, and even tacitly allow it. Now why they don’t worry about infidelity as much as dental hygiene—I dunno—maybe they’re more worried about cavities than STD’s. I mean, our dental care’s not all that great.

          1. I should have been more specific about ‘stories’: I mean, experience ( number of partners ) that can go into triple digits before high school graduation. This was told to me by the girls themselves, and not just one or two – it doesn’t seem they would have particular motivation to inflate their own statistics. Or maybe I’m projecting my own less interesting high school experience as representative of the US … ?

            I heard an alternative perspective, which was that it’s actually that infidelity is indeed a huge deal, therefore gives proportional thrill in violating that particular rule … skipping the tooth brushing just isn’t much of a guilty pleasure.

            Thanks for your insights and articles, and of course, your time in replying to everyone. Very interesting that after all this time, there is still so many unknown unknowns in this country

            1. Triple digits? That’s just silly talk. zero to three people, not digits, would be more realistic.

              I mean, I get the whole Catholic schoolgirl fantasy, the Japanese schoolgirl fantasy, the some-shool-other-than-mine fantasy. And certainly no one wants to believe it more than me. But what you’re describing doesn’t exist in this universe.

              Japan’s a pretty conservative country, which is one reason so many young adults are anxious to go overseas. Parents, teachers, and neighbors constantly monitor their every motion. So when you see schoolchildren walking or riding the train “alone,” they’re not really alone. Add to that the fact that high school kids are in school literally from morning till night, in class, doing club activities, or in cram school. They’re working desperately to pass college entrance exams under pressure from, well, everybody.

              And frankly, it’s just not a sexual culture. Japan’s good at looking sexy, not being sexy. It’s hood-rich.

            2. “triple digits before high school graduation. This was told to me by the girls themselves, and not just one or two”

              So, three or more girls told you about their sexual encounters, that each number in the 100’s????

              Hahahahaahaha!!!!!!!!! How old are you?

  13. Hey! I’ve been loving the blog and am still in the process of finishing my degree to come teach. In the meantime I have saved up the money to come for a visit and was thinking of Osaka / Kyoto area. I was hoping to be able to buy you a beer(maybe a few if you don’t break the bank) but I have no idea what area you are in.

    1. Thanks much. I’ve moved around a surprising lot in Japan–I’m on my seventh apartment , plus interim weeks crashing with friends around the nation–so I’m never sure what part I should say I’m currently in. Also just for reasons of privacy, I tend not to broadcast it too loudly. Although the lure of beer is admittedly strong.

  14. Seeroi-dono

    What will change Japan? Can Japan even change to begin with? I think that it all begins in the workplace. But how can a country’s work ethic change when the sheer amount of unproductive companies dictates a culture of overwork and everything that accompanies it. Certainly not exclusively a problem of Japan but in many ways the magnitude of dedication’s second to none. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-12/zombie-hordes-thousands-of-japanese-firms-dodging-bankruptcy


    1. It kind of seems like a chicken-and-egg problem. The companies won’t change because they’re set up by Japanese people and serve Japanese people. And Japanese people won’t change because their companies require them to behave in established ways. Probably why foreign companies are so sought after in Japan.

      Perhaps that’s ultimately what will change Japan: internationalism and trade. That and immigration. Japan won’t be the same, of course, but it’ll be better in some ways and worse in others. But either way, we move forward. There’s no stopping change.

  15. I remember 25 years ago chatting to my Japanese girlfriend about families. She more-or-less said: There’s my mother and father and I’ve got a sister… and that was it. She was amazed when I reeled off my brothers, my parents, my paternal uncle and cousins and their children, my maternal aunts and uncles, my paternal grandparents and my great-aunts and uncles, my maternal grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great aunts – all alive at that time, and then continued describing relatives further back.

    1. Heh, my favorite thing is asking people about their family histories, the stories passed down from generation to generation. I can go back to at least my great-grandparents on both sides. With Japanese people, sometimes they don’t seem to even know anything about their own generation, such as where their siblings live, whether they’re married, or what they do. It’s disturbing.

      1. When I entered my wife’s family home in, hanging there in the main room, were the pictures of her family and ancestor’s and to my great surprise a photo of my mother and father.

  16. Off Topic Here:

    As I’m typing this it’s Monday 6:50am in Tokyo. I’m assuming you (Ken) are waking up to a hangover with some “mystery girl” lying next to you and scrambling for clean clothes in an attempt to get ready for another work week.

    But hark to the great news that the Japanese Little League has won the LLWS, beating the Texas USA team by a stomping of 12-2. That has to be an awesome way to start the day off in the Land of the Rising Sun. Or is it? Will this go unnoticed by the media and locals? You had mentioned that the news of Takuma Sato winning the Indy 500 car race was not major news. Could this make the NHK and The Japanese Times front page? Or will anyone at work talk about it at the water cooler? I can’t imagine this not being big news in Japan.

    I’ll have to admit I was rooting for Japan even though I live in the US. I feel like an expat and I haven’t even left the country. I wonder if this is how the process of becoming an expat starts…

    1. Yep, that’s pretty much how it starts. Then you start eating the food, learning the language, and before you know it, you’re on a plane to Haneda.

      As for the Little League World Series, I believe these are the corresponding articles in today’s Asahi Shinbun:

      Japanese: http://www.asahi.com/articles/GCO2017082801001209.html

      English: http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201708270012.html

      The English, an Associated Press article, provides a somewhat detailed account of the game, along with a celebratory picture. But in Japanese, on the day of the championship, no pic and just a couple dozen words. Make of that what you will.

      1. Maybe “Sports in Japan” could be a future topic. Obviously here in the States it’s a big deal…and big money. Do Japanese citizens care much about sports related items? Do they even have time for attending sports events? Do they even care? God forbid they serve hot dogs at a baseball game or garlic fries. I hope American influence hasn’t caused them to eat that badly. What events have you attended? What food can you find, say, at a sumo wrestling event? The list of possibilities is endless and could make for an interesting read about an expats view of something Americans treasure so greatly.

        Just a thought, hope you give it a go. I think your Japanese Rule of 7 Groupies would find it of interest.

        1. Hmmm, now that you mention it, I don’t think there has been a JR7 post on sports in Japan…particularly baseball, both of the professional and high school varieties.

          Whenever anyone asks me what they should do when they visit Japan, since they’ll already get all the stereotypical stuff, I say they should go to a Japanese baseball game. It’s like a playoff atmosphere at every game, the fans are like European or South American fans at soccer games, and cute girls in costumes with keg backpacks filling up your beer!

          Anyway, hopefully the JR7 wordsmith can put something together about sports…

  17. As I finished reading this a few times (I always read your articles a minimum of three times to fully grasp it) it immediately reminded me of a story about dating and marriage. I’ll try to keep it short:

    I was on break from work and happened to meet a person (male) from another company. I believe (I didn’t ask, thought it might be rude) he was from India or Pakistan. As we talked about various items the subject of marriage came up. He mentioned he was married via an arranged marriage. I asked him (politely, not trying to be judgemental or rude) what it was like being married to a person he had never met and knew nothing about. I said (something to the sort) that I couldn’t picture settling down with a person that I didn’t even know. Once again, I tried my best to be diplomatic, it’s not my intention to piss off total strangers off for a tradition I’m not familiar with. His reply scrambled my brain as I hadn’t even thought of such a concept:

    “I couldn’t imagine marrying someone I know. We have so much to talk about and discuss, every day we learn new things about each other. We have an entire lifetime to both learn and love.”

    To this day I remember that conversation, it’s been over 10 years since it took place. So anyway, maybe (just maybe) settling down with someone you really don’t know might not be (and that’s a big “might be”) such a bad idea after all. I obviously have serious doubts about such an arrangement but in utter truth from my own experiences, you really don’t know a person until you have lived with them. You might think you know someone but until you live with them on a day by day basis, you really don’t know jack squat about them.

    I know of many couples who lived with each other before getting married, is that done in Japan? Oh, it seems like the divorce rate of the couples mentioned above was pretty much the same as those who didn’t move in together prior to making it official.

    Okay, that’s my cheesy story, thanks for letting me share.

    1. In the US, “love marriages” have about a 50% chance of happiness. So, this should be the benchmark for judging arranged marriages in other cultures.

    2. Sounds like what people are saying is that if your spouse is Japanese then you have married someone that you don’t really know (correct me if I’m wrong). Almost like an arranged marriage. I’ve been on a learning curve getting to know her properly for decades. Wonder if I’ll get there.

      1. This is a fascinating conversation.
        I never had the feeling I don’t “know” my Japanese wife.
        Maybe I’ m just thick.
        Or I don’t want as much intimacy as other people and am comfortable with not knowing so much about her.
        Or maybe I do know everything I should know about her.

        I don’t know 😀

        1. I don’t know either. The feeling of “knowing” someone is very hard to pin down. You hear of people married for years, and then one day divorce papers are served and they say “Turns out, I never really knew that person at all.”

          And what does “knowing” someone actually involve? I guess facts are part of it, like the names of their parents or what clubs they were involved with in high school. Or maybe it’s a matter of trust, of knowing what they’re likely to do—if I go out with my friends on Friday night, I know they’ll be okay/not okay with it. Or maybe it’s the subtle things, like being able to make Simpson’s jokes or discuss baseball players.

          So I don’t know either, although I do suspect it’s easier to know a Japanese person if you’re both speaking English, partly because the shared base of knowledge is almost immediately greater. Which is to say that English-speaking Japanese people know English songs, have watched movies in English, and generally know the difference between Lex Luthor and Martin Luther King.

          1. The “both speaking English” part sounds wrong to me. In our case we both speak Japanese. Works well enough for us.
            “Both speak a common language well.” would be the preferred expression for me.

            Wifey and me had a very rough time around the birth of our first child and we both thought about divorce during that period. (At one point even her parents mediated between us to keep us from doing so.)
            But we pulled through and I do feel the experience has made us a much more stable couple. We have had no major fights during the last five or six years.

            1. Thanks for the reply. That’s a bit surprising to me. Do you feel Japanese is equally as expressive as English? I’d be interested in hearing what your wife thinks.

              Do you live in Japan?

              1. OK, last try.

                I interviewed my wife yesterday evening and she basically said the same thing I did. Doesn’t matter which language as long as both partners speak a common language well.

                In our case she said “I get the Japanese” (日本人がわかるから). My Japanese colleagues often say variations of that too. So maybe I’m just “the Japanese-whisperer” lol.

                Another thought I have is that while languages certainly have differences and strengths and weaknesses (German = precise, Japanese = great at describing atmosphere, English = well …? :D), I don’t think that when it comes to such a basic thing as human emotions that there are languages inferior or superior to others.
                (Different, yes.)

                You could argue that English is able to express many things better than other languages since it has the largest lexikon (i.e. the vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge) of all languages. But then again most people have only about 8000 words of active vocabulary and about 20000 passive I think, so that huge lexikon of the English language doesn’t really matter much in everyday live.

                1. Oh, I forgot:

                  We lived in Japan until August last year but moved to Germany due to better working conditions (vacation days, pay, work time), welfare (child benefits, availability of child care facilities), less population density (Tokyo is so exhausting when you have kids) and last but not least because we want our son to learn German too.
                  Also, I hate summer in Japan (Tokyo).

                2. Thanks for the good reply. I think I should have been more specific. I wasn’t talking about simply language, but rather language and culture.

                  In terms of language alone, clearly both Japanese and English are capable of expressing the same concepts. What takes only a word in one language might require a couple sentences in the other, but you can certainly get there.

                  Culture’s a different matter, however. Even Americans and Brits differ in terms of how much they express, even though they’re using the same language. In general, Americans tend to share a lot of personal information quite quickly. When I meet Americans (even though I was born there), I’m now frequently shocked by how much they reveal about themselves. But that’s the way the people in the U.S. establish mutual trust quickly. You tell me something personal, then I (hypothetically) do the same. Perhaps there’s also less worry about other people finding out about you, since everybody else is also sharing.

                  Literally, here’s the cashier at the grocery store in Japan:


                  (Nodded response)


                  (Money placed in tray)

                  “Thank you.”

                  Now here’s that same interaction in America:

                  “Hey hon, how’s it goin’ today?”

                  “Uhh, fine.”

                  “Yeah, I’m just glad it stopped raining since my son’s got a Little League game this afternoon and my husband just washed our van.”

                  “Yeah, good it cleared up.”

                  “He’s only eight, but he’s playing shortstop. I guess he gets it from me.”


                  “Not baseball, mind you, but softball, second base. Well, until I had a hip replacement last fall.”


                  “It’s okay, my sister’s a doctor and prescribed me some pain medicine that’d knock your socks off.”

                  “I guess that’s good.”

                  “Yeah, but her daughter got arrested for selling the same stuff, and now she’s on trial. That’ll be $14.50, dear.”

                  (hands wrinkled $20 bill)

                  “Thank you, hon. You have a nice day now.”

                  By the time I get checked out at the grocery store, I might well know an American cashier better than a Japanese colleague I’ve worked alongside for years. Or a Brit, for that matter. Don’t know about Germans so much…

                  1. I see. Cultural differences definitely play a big role.

                    When my wife and me had a big fight I often wondered what might be the underlying reason(s):
                    1) Differences of thinking man – woman
                    2) Differences of thinking between individuals (with individual backgrounds e.g. monetary, educational etc.)
                    3) Differences of culture (in our case Japanese – German)

                    I often thought that our different backgrounds (cultural and social) made matters between us more difficult and that we often had to span large gulfs of understanding. This may be a rather common obstacle in international marriages.
                    Some fail overcoming this obstacle and end up breaking up / divorcing.
                    I think many sidestep or postpone solving the problem indefinitely.
                    And if they are happy with it, who am I to judge.
                    Some are lucky and have the time, energy and will to overcome them.

                    It’s often difficult to decide in which of the above categories a problem in international partnerships belongs and I think often the answer is “all of them”.

                    To be more concrete: One big problem that we had and that I feel is very common for international couples (Westerner – Japanese) was about “settling down”. When we started dating I was still a student and wanted to have fun and as few responsibilities as possible. Kind of like “I can do that adult stuff when I’m old” attitude. That didn’t fly well with the wifey, to say the least. And since she is Japanese she also wanted a child before 30 (yay, cultural norms!) and for me to finance the family through getting a stable job.
                    So this was one big and protracted fight. In the end it all worked out.

                    There is a male – female dynamic here, as my wife expected me to earn the money, never seriously considering to switch roles. You can’t say this is only a problem of Japanese cultural norms as similar discussions can be expected in most other countries in the world. But culture (norms) definitely plays a role. My wife could also individually be much more career oriented (she studied architecture after all), but she didn’t like the world of professional architecture and chose not to pursue a career in it.

                    In the end I believe it’s always a challenge and it can only be solved by the couple involved and only by communicating effectively (see I cycled back to my original point).

                    1. What you wrote sounds very familiar. Yeah, I don’t know where these gaps in understanding come from, but they’re definitely a challenge. Props to you for working through them.

            2. For me to know my J-wife means knowing what will keep her happy, healthy and committed to the relationship. Other than the gender gap that exists between all heterosexual couples there is also a cultural gap, more a Norman castle moat than an abyss, but which can be filled in over time. In any case everything in life is a compromise. I better finish hanging a door before she gets back from yoga. Bye.

  18. Been married to a Japanese man for 20+ years, and I know very little about him.
    He gets very defensive when I ask him about what he was like in high school (never ask that question to an American guy), who was his first crush, or, whether he likes cats better than dogs…
    He’s an expert on weather or BOJ’s current market outlook.
    According to his parents, he has become “really gregarious” since he married me…
    I guess I am practicing zen.

    1. Yeah…yeah. I know. In Japanese, one option when responding to a question is simply not to respond. (Which doesn’t make learning the language any easier either.) I suspect one reason it’s so hard to ask people to describe their past is because they don’t have much to say. Not that they didn’t have a rich past—that’s not what I mean—but rather that they’ve never spent any time discussing it with others. So instead of painting a complete picture, reflection, or analysis, all they can say is, “this happened.”

      And you reply, “Okay great, tell me about it.”

      And they’re like, “I just did.”

      Consider yourself lucky if you address your husband by his first name. I know more than a few women who don’t. I’m not even sure they know it.

  19. Well sometimes ignorance is bliss…I still find out new things about my wife, including how the guy she went out with before me was some K-1 MMA champion and they broke up in not very clear terms. So I still walk around Tokyo thinking I’m going to get randomly roundhouse kicked in the back of the head…;/

        1. Did you not discuss each others past relationships while you were dating? Or was it something you brought up and she side stepped.?

          But hey, if he hasn’t found you yet, he’s probably not looking, and with a pop. of 13.5 million you got nothing to worry about.

          Unless he’s also a procrastinator.

          On a side note: Is there a word for procrastinator, procrastination in Japanese?

          1. So, a couple of ways you could express “procrastination” in Japanese:

            口先ばかり kuchi saki bakari : Someone who talks about doing stuff, but never does


            先延ばしにする saki nobashi ni suru : to put something off

            No doubt there are other ways of saying it as well. I’ll get around to looking them up one of these days.

            1. Thanks! In as much a language also depicts the attitudes and perimeters of the culture/speaker, I wasn’t sure if there was a word for it.

              Would you consider the two phrases you mentioned to be common or just used in a specific context?

              Thanks again!!

          2. why would anyone discuss past relationships?
            i would never do so unless im asked… and of course i would also never ask…
            people are living in the present and not in the past…
            also, i still think japanese people behave like everybody else, unless they dont want to…
            they might be a little more specific about whom they want to talk to, but i also dont find that too much out of the norm….

            1. The past informs the present. Some people “enjoy” learning about their partners past, even their past partners because it gives a more complete picture of that person.

              I’m older and married now but I wasn’t always, It’s also a way to not deny your own past (the good and the bad.)

          3. Stephen,

            Well, we were having dinner with some of her college friends, and they randomly brought it up…and I just looked at her and mouthed “W-T-F”…her buddies got the drift and the conversation quickly moved onto something else. I never mentioned it again…and yes, I’m hoping the repeated blows to the head means he’s moved on…

  20. Hey Ken! Thanks for writing this post shortly after I forgot about your blog for a year (honestly, my memory) and before I started dating a japanese girl.

    Would have saved me a lot of misery on the trying to make conversation front.

    Eh, what’re you gonna do, though.

    And by that I mean I still haven’t figured what to make of her, but it’s been great for my sense of patience.

  21. I’ve noticed the kind of ladies foreigners in my country date and marry is a different breed than what locals would generally consider for a long term committment.

    On the scale of fashion, if one end of the scale is “conservative” and the other end is “bikini model”, women who end up with foreigners generally dress closer to the “bikini model” end, and I mean the bikini part, not the model part of the equation.

    A psycho bitch is the same, across all cultures, even if some cultures are better than others at creating the veneer of civility over the mental imbalance.

    Since we seem to be under a culture of victimhood and outrage (equal victimhood across all genders), I would like to iterate (in the interest of equality) that I am sure it is the same when viewed from the other side, I just haven’t thought of it as much.

  22. This is so thoroughly accurate that it’s totally scary.

    Just last weekend, my boyfriend and I – I’m gay – see?!? you already know more about me – figured out more about this couple at the next table who were so obviously on a first Tinder date – hey! it’s New York!!! – the tables are close by – than I ever figured out about my two Japanese employees who worked for me for a decade.

    “I thought you had one child.”

    “No, two.”

    That’s after a decade. Try that with an American employee who’d probably be showing you baby pictures and inviting you to birthday parties.

    It took years for them to ‘fess up that they’re not really from Tokyo. They only went to school there. They’re from X. Is this really a difficult thing to admit?

    The couple on the other table though – him, Filipino, very rich parents in Manila. Her, Chinese, very rich parents in Shanghai. Both from NYU. He works for a French firm and goes to Paris often. Used to like French food but has grown out of it. Neither of them smoke and they both like whisky. They were going to a whisky bar after the Vietnamese meal.

    That’s America for you, baby!

    1. I wonder how many tinder dates involve people whose parents are rich but not immediately meetable, and who often go to Paris but will regrettably not be able to take you to a french restaurant to show off their french skill.

    2. Heh, in five minutes you’ll know more about an American than you would a Japanese person in five years. It comes down to cultural values, where Americans value knowing the other party and being known; it’s how they form connections. Japanese folks often don’t want to expose details of themselves; it presents a liability for both speaker and listener. So connections become more transactional, including gifts and score-keeping.

      Japan’s great for many things, but for getting to know folks, eh, not so much.

      1. Which means, presumably, that you value other aspects of human interaction than “to know and be known”.
        What is that for you, please?

        1. I’d like to say trust and honesty, but I think those are loaded terms.

          “Do these jeans make my ass look big?”

          You may not want an honest answer.

          So I’d say reliability, which in some ways is the visible product of trust and honesty. So that when you say you’ll meet me in front of the Hachiko statue at 8 p.m. two months from now, we can count on each other to actually be there. By the way, I’m not actually going to be there, so don’t go waiting. It was just an example. Anyway, reliability’s important.

          The way a person values money is also important. (Which you could call fiscal responsibility or reliability.) This is one of the biggest differences I see between Americans and Japanese folks. Americans throw down credit cards like they’ve only got one day to live. Being cheap is looked down upon; better to be in mountains of debt rather than appear stingy.

          Japanese people, by contrast, are much more careful with their spending. Being frugal is being smart. That’s why tipping is unlikely to ever catch on here. I’m not just going to give a random person money on a whim. Simply tell me what it costs and I’ll decide whether or not to buy it.

          Japan’s also a culture of blame. If you got yourself in debt, people would look down upon you. If you spent money needlessly, they’d think you were an idiot.

          So I think those are a couple of things. I guess they’re really behaviors. Perhaps how one behaves is more important here than in other places.

          1. That’s interesting. You’ve written about the circumlocution and evasiveness of Japanese linguistic communication. I guess here behavior is valuing walk over talk, and perhaps the walk is more readable.

            Thanks for the reply

  23. Hi Ken,

    I recently stumbled upon your blog because someone shared your “Stop Saying “Gaijin” and “Gaikokujin” on Debito.org. This here is an old blog entry from 2017, so you probably won’t read this comment, but I just want to say that I’ve been reading your blog for a few days now and I absolutely love it. The “Stop Saying “Gaijin” and “Gaikokujin” entry was especially great and I agreed with everything you said. I also liked “A Japanese Suicide”, “Japanese Racism” and “Making Friends in Japan”. All of them were written very well and I enjoyed reading them for different reasons.

    That being said, I have some problems with this entry though. But let me first say that I agree with your sentiment that it takes several years to learn about the private life of a Japanese person, meanwhile Americans will often tell you their whole life story in just a few minutes. It’s important to note and respect such cultural differences when in a relationship. You’re also right when you say that Japanese people lump all foreigners into one big group. And by “foreigners” I mean “western” looking white guys because that’s what most Japanese women mean they say that they want to date a foreigner. They also have these stereotypes about western men like, “oh “foreigners” are such gentlemen and they respect women way more than Japanese men”, or the classic “”foreigners” are not as shy as Japanese men and they will tell you how much they love you everyday”. I’ve heard quite a few Japanese women describe “foreigners” (western men) like that, but all of this are just stereotypes. And there is a huge difference between a man from the US, a man from Germany and a man from Russia. There’s even a huge regional difference inside those countries. Like you said in the blog, Americans are just one big group for Japanese, but I would argue that this applies to every white western foreigner. All of us just get labeled as “gaijin” and that’s it. Japanese people know that the US and France are completely different countries with different cultures, but they just don’t think and care about this most of the time. You don’t look Japanese, so you’re “gaijin”, that’s all that matters to them.

    And the same goes for most western men of course. They lump all Japanese people together into one group, ignoring regional differences. I don’t blame them to be honest, since Japanese people themselves love to do that whenever it suits them (ware wa nihonjin etc.). But yeah, it’s like you say in the blog, every Japanese person is an individual with a different personal history. Some were born and grew up in Tokyo, some in Osaka, some were born in small villages, some were born and educated overseas etc. This is also the reason why I find it weird that some people tend to fetishize a race or nationality and only wants to date that particular group of people. It’s just weird, no matter who does it, be it Japanese women, or western men.

    Here’s the part of your blog entry that bugs me though:

    “Japanese people know they’re not all the same. And honestly, a lot of the “Japanese” women you’re likely to date or marry aren’t all that Japanese. They’re choosing foreigners because they themselves don’t fit into this society very well. Maybe they look subtly different, like there’s a touch of Korean, Dutch, or Mongolian blood that you don’t notice. Hey, Asian is Asian, right? But everyone around them notices, and lets them know. Maybe they lived overseas for years. Maybe they were even born overseas. Or maybe they just watched a shit-ton of “Sex and the City.” But somehow, in either appearance, thinking, or attitude, they’re not very “Japanese” any more. And that’s why they’re choosing you.”

    This is basically just the right wing talking point about how foreigners will never be able to date a “real” Japanese girl. Let me explain this if you’re not familiar with it. Basically, right wingers (both Japanese and foreign) will tell you that as a foreigner you’ll only be able to date so called “gaijin hunters” and all of them are either ugly and Japanese men don’t want to date them, or they don’t fit into Japanese society because they’re “half”, they were born overseas, or whatever other reasons. The second group of people you’ll be able to date are Japanese single mothers in their 40s who are divorced and therefore looking for young foreign husbands now, because Japanese men won’t date such women.

    This is basically the right wing position when you ask them about international relationships in Japan. According to them, you only have these two options. I just noticed how the paragraph I quoted is similar to that statement and I have to say that I completely disagree with that. Take my personal experience as example. Yes, I know, anecdotal evidence and all that, but there isn’t really a scientific study about this out there, so that’s the only thing I can provide for now and I still think that it’s wort sharing:

    During my time in Japan I met a dozen of “foreign man, Japanese woman” couples. Some of them were just boyfriend-girlfriend, others were married. And as far as I remember, only one of those women was a “hafu” (Japanese-Brazilian) to be precise. All other women were Wajin. Yes, maybe some of them had Koran, or Chinese grandparents, but let me ask you this, were do you draw the line? Japanese right wingers love to claim that Japan is one race, one nation and one language, but every sociologist and anthropologist knows that isn’t true (at least all the respectable and peer reviewed ones). Let’s ignore the Ainu and Ryukyuan for a moment and only focus on Wajin. Even those Wajin are of mixed descent from China, Korea and other South-East Asian countries. They arrived onto the Japanese archipelago during several historic periods of migration. Wajin are not native to Japan, even though most Wajin don’t want to hear that. Hell even the Japanese emperor confirmed that he has Korean roots and Japanese people plus the media just ignored that statement of his. So what does “And honestly, a lot of the “Japanese” women you’re likely to date or marry aren’t all that Japanese.” even mean? Seriously, I’ll ask again, where do you draw the line? Korean grandparents? Or Korean great-great-grandparents? To me it’s very weird that you used this right wing talking point in your blog post, because this is the complete opposite to your writing in “Stop Saying “Gaijin” and “Gaikokujin”. You even contradict yourself here, because in the comments of that blog post you wrote this: “Interestingly enough, I know a ton of Taiwanese, Korean, and Chinese people here who’ve naturalized and changed their names to be Japanese, and now pass as “regular” Japanese folk. This isn’t a new phenomenon either. A similarly high number of Japanese people have confided in me that their parents or grandparents came from other Asian countries. I don’t think it’s obvious at all who’s Japanese or non-Japanese. I mean, look at this guy.”

    So, you and I actually agree that even Japanese people can’t tell the difference between Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean people, if those people took Japanese names and were born and raised in Japan. But in this blog post you’re basically saying that Japanese people will notice if a girl has a touch of Korean, Dutch, or Mongolian blood and that those people therefore aren’t accepted by Japanese society. I disagree. If these people are visibly different and can be described as “hafu”, then yes. But a bit of Korean, Mongolian and Dutch blood won’t do that. The vast majority of zainichi Koreans for example have been living in Japan for generations and have Japanese names. They are indistinguishable from Wajin. The only way they can be discriminated against is if people find out that they have Korean citizenship. And I don’t really think that these people usually want to date foreigners. In my experience, most Japanese people don’t think much about dating at all. Even young people in their prime tend to focus more on their studies and careers, then people in other countries. There are plenty of studies which back this up. Japan also doesn’t really have a dating culture like we have in the west. Picking up girls at bars and through Tinder doesn’t really happen that often there. Most Japanese people meet through work or other activities like clubs etc. So except for gaijin hunters, most Japanese people don’t care if you’re a foreigner or not, they either like you as a person, or not. That’s what also happend to me when I lived in Japan. I hooked up with a girl at my university because we shared some common interests. She never dated a foreigner before, she didn’t speak English and she was definitely Wajin. Well maybe she has some great- great-great-great grandparents from China or Korea, but so what? Most Japanese people do, and they don’t know about this of course, because almost nobody researches their family history to such extend. What I’m trying to say here is that I don’t agree with the right wing sentiment that foreigners can only date Japanese women who aren’t “truly Japanese” and are considered outcasts by Japanese society. I just don’t see the evidence for that. Especially since statistically speaking, if you live in Japan, most of the girls you meet will be Wajin, so most of your dates will probably also be with Wajin.

    Sorry for the long comment, but that paragraph is seriously just bugging me. I know that you lived way longer in Japan than I did. And you definitely know way more about Japanese culture and people than I do, but I still think that that paragraph is just wrong and that it’s just what right wingers want us to believe. My experience may be anecdotal and very limited, but my experience tells me that most foreigners who settle in Japan end up dating ordinary Japanese women, and the reason why those women chose foreign husbands and boyfriends isn’t because they are some kind of social outcast who can’t get dates with Japanese men, it’s because they genuinely love their foreign partners, and to them it doesn’t matter what nationality or race those partners are because love is way stronger than those arbitrary human assigned qualifiers.

    But well that’s just me, maybe I’m too naive about all of this and maybe the right wingers are right. Maybe the majority of Japanese women are really just racist and would never date a foreigner and maybe I was just lucky when it came to my personal experience. I don’t know. But one think I do know is that international marriages in Japan are rising every year and we have more and more “hafu” and other “not so Japanese looking children” every year and it will just become more and more in the following years, because even Japan can’t stop globalization. And Japan will have to open up more towards immigration in the next couple of years, otherwise they will be left behind very quickly as economic power. Even if those right wingers are right currently, they won’t be right in the future, because Japan will definitely see more and more international couples in the coming years. Sure Japan is changing slowly, but it’s changing and it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

    1. Thanks for the long comment, I think.

      Well, you’re certainly very passionate about this, considering you’re not Japanese, not a woman, and don’t live in Japan. What’s up?

      When I said, “a lot of the ‘Japanese’ women you’re likely to date or marry aren’t all that Japanese,” I’m really talking how a person thinks. Studying English and Western culture, and taking trips overseas, reduces the gap between “Japanese” and “Foreign.” Just as speaking Japanese makes a person less of a foreigner here, the opposite is also true.

      As for “the right wing sentiment that foreigners can only date Japanese women who aren’t ‘truly Japanese’ and are considered outcasts by Japanese society,” yeah, that’s just crazy talk.

      1. Sorry for the late comment. I honestly didn‘t expect to get an answer from you, since this blogpost is from 2017. Like I said in my original comment, I actually liked your other blogposts, so I continued reading this blog from time to time. Today I stumbled on this entry again and I remembered that I left a comment. I was honestly surprised to see an answer.

        Sorry if I came across as condescending, or too harsh. That wasn‘t my intent, like I already said, I actually enjoy reading this blog, it‘s just this one article I have a problem with.

        „Well, you’re certainly very passionate about this, considering you’re not Japanese, not a woman, and don’t live in Japan. What’s up?“

        Well, I did live in Japan, but currently I don‘t live there anymore. Maybe I‘ll go back there one day. I don‘t want to go into details about why I left Japan and why I‘ll maybe consider to go back one day. It‘s not important for the point I was trying to make. I also wouldn‘t say that I‘m very passionate about the topic. As said previosly, I just really disliked this paragraph:

        „ And honestly, a lot of the “Japanese” women you’re likely to date or marry aren’t all that Japanese. They’re choosing foreigners because they themselves don’t fit into this society very well. “

        To me it sounds like the typical right wing „argument“ that all foreigners who come to Japan and end up dating Japanese woman are losers, and can only end up dating social misfits. If someone made the same statement about foreigners dating in Germany, I would also be against such a statement. The only difference is that I never heard such a statement said for Germany, but I often hear it about Japan. In my opinion, such a statement would be untrue for both countries.

        Back to the topic at hand though. I don‘t really think that a Japanese person who has an interest in „Western“ culture, or takes trips overseas doesn‘t fit into Japanese society. I‘m aware that some Japanese people who return to Japan after living overseas for a while are often being treated differently by their employer and neighbours once they return to Japan. This doesn‘t make them social misfits though, and most of the time this can be fixed by changing jobs and moving to a new place where nobody knows you. A social misfit for me would be someone like a Hikikomori, not someone who likes traveling and foreign languages. That being said, my ex girlfriend has never been overseas, didin‘t speak English and never thought about dating a foreigner before she dated me. Yeah, I know anectodal evidence and all that, but I‘m sure I‘m not the only one with such a case.

        In the end, it doesn‘t matter to me anyway. I would‘ve dated her if she had lived abroad, or if she was half Korean. To me such things don‘t matter. That being said, I really hate this false notion that foreigners can‘t date a „real“ Japanese girl. Now, you‘re saying that you didn‘t have the intention to make such a statement and I guess that I believe you. Like I already said, your other blogposts talk about anti racism stuff, and even about taking Japanese citizenship, therefore I know that you‘re not one of this Japan apologist rightwingers, who thinks that foreigners in Japan are just guests that should have no rights and that we‘re inferior to our Japanese overlords.

        I still have a problem with how you called Japanese women that date foreigners social misfits though, but since you claim that this wasn‘t your intention I‘m going to accept that. That‘s pretty much where this discussion ends for me. There‘s nothing else I would like to say about this topic to be honest. Please note that just because I don‘t like this blog post, doesn‘t mean that I don‘t appreaciate your other stuff and you as a writer. I think you‘re generally doing a great job here and I‘m glad that you were able to clear up my doubts over this entry. I‘m still going to be honest and say that I just don‘t like how you formulated that paragraph I quoted earlier, even knowing what your intention was I think that calling these women social misfits is just wrong.

        1. Thanks, I always appreciate a good conversation.

          I think we may be getting hung up on the phrase, “don’t fit into this society very well.” You’ve equated that with being a “social misfit” or a “loser.”

          It may be a small point, but to me, “misfit” has a negative connotation. That’s not at all what I’m trying to convey. Quite the opposite. I’d say that experience living abroad is most likely beneficial. But it does change a person, which is, again, a good thing.

          The question I’m really getting at is: what makes a person “Japanese”? If you’re born in Japan, but spend 20 years abroad, how “Japanese” are you? I know a lot of people like this. They look “Japanese,” but have adopted foreign customs and ways of thinking. And many times, they’re looking for a partner who’s also non-“Japanese,” in values and attitudes. Being really “Japanese” isn’t necessarily a good thing.

  24. Hey Ken. I just read this. A little late to the game. I had a Japanese gf when I lived in Boston. She was in a phD program for….. Wait for it…… Teaching English. That wouldn’t seem too weird except that she could barely speak it. She had no grasp of the linguistic nuances, double meanings, jokes or anything. It was pretty weird. She felt her best quality was “being pretty.” In fairness, she was but damn.
    Like you, I tried to actually get to know her and it was like pulling teeth. It was painful to watch her struggle with even the most basic of conversations, so she was mostly silent. I took her to a nice dinner one night and played the “let’s see how long it takes Saori to speak” game. We went the entire dinner no speaking and she seemed to have no isssue with it. Weirrrrrrrd……..
    Sex was great and she wanted to do everything and had a perfect body. No complaints there. But what about the other 23 hours of the day? It was a struggle.
    I broke it off because she was simply unable or unwilling to be an equal partner in the relationship. Her “I want exactly what you want” mentality was ok at first but then wore thin.

    1. There’s a mountain of linguistic and cultural differences to overcome. You should try it the other way around! Move to Japan and speak only Japanese. I never appreciated how hard it was until I was the one sitting at dinner with nothing to say. Yeah, it’s weird.

  25. The first advice from another foreigner when I came to Japan was not to tell anything to a Japanese person that I didn’t want everyone else to know. I quickly found out this was true. I’d have dinner with a couple of my female colleagues thinking it was, you know, “girl talk” just between us, and the next day everyone at the office knew what I’d said. No wonder everyone’s so secretive. Gossip is terrible and will be used against you.

    When I visit the U.S. it takes me weeks to get over the shock of having to talk to strangers. Always asking you how your are! You sit next to someone on a plane or bus and know more about them than your own family members. You’re eating lunch at a restaurant and overhear the woman at the next table describe her hysterectomy and other gory health problems at length. I was in my second year in Japan at an English “conversation” school when a new American “teacher” told me how his baby-sitter seduced him, taught him to do certain things, how he has slept with high school girl students and office managers of both branches and all the details. Ugh, no no stop — I’m not a therapist! Americans want everyone to be their therapist.

    And when I taught English some of the students definitely wanted to unburden themselves, talk about personal things they couldn’t with Japanese people. It was sort of a confessional. They knew I wouldn’t, couldn’t, tell anybody else. I understood why most Japanese people only feel comfortable opening up to people they’ve known since elementary school. Trust no one.

    At that school there was a woman teacher who never gave an opinion or talked much. Just giggled. I assumed she wasn’t very bright. Her eyes were like a rabbit’s. Then she went to Europe to study for a year. Came back a completely different person. Chatty as hell, told me all about her love life. Japanese women are complicated. The culture is like a corset, squeezes your insides.

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