Taking a Japanese Name

Living in Japan long enough will make anyone mental. I’m pretty sure I can convince you of this.

But let’s back up, to when I lived in the U.S. There, I dated a Taiwanese gal named Amy. She had long black hair, an incredibly tight body, and loved karaoke. She was quite good at it too, among other things. So on random Saturdays, I’d call up my buddy Steve and his buddy Warren Benter and the four of us would drink a mess of terrible Coors Light, pile into Benter’s van and head out singing. The only thing is, Amy’s name wasn’t really Amy. It was Chiaolauhu. And Steve’s was, in actuality, Esteban. And Benter’s family name originally sounded like someone with a terrible cough. When his grandfather came through Ellis Island, he shortened it by simply removing every other letter.

So this got me thinking—-why not take a Japanese name? This is the part where I prove to you I’m actually insane, because the more I think about this idea, the more I love it.

Now, the frequent lament of Westerners is “Japanese people never accept me, even though I speak perfect Japanese.” It’s understood that, unless you look “Japanese,” you’ll forever be an outsider. But how hard are you really trying to fit in when your Japanese self-introduction goes:

Hajime nanka。 Zachary McWhitey desu。Yoroshiku Onanka nanka.

See? Even if you nail the Japanese, you’re still screwing it up with your giant, white-ass name. Or black, brown, or whatever color you think your name represents. So how do you get around that? The way people have for millennia, by taking a name in line with the local culture. Because Ahmad Salib strolling through Kansas City wearing his dishdash and keffiyeh is going have dudes driving by in Hummers hurling Big Gulps and screaming that he’s a terrorist. But when he puts on a pair of boots and Wranglers and calls himself Ryan Whiteman, well, okay, same thing, but still, good effort, Ry. At least you’re trying.

Becoming Japanese

Oh sure, that’s the U.S., but Japan’s different, right? I asked my coworker Ms. Tanaka about it. I like talking to her anyway, since she’s got such big eyes.

“Tanaka-san,” I said, “now, your family’s from Korea, right?

“Well, yes . . .” she replied hesitantly, as though I’d broached the subject of her criminal past.

“So your family name was originally something else then?

“Still is. With our relatives, we use the Korean name,” she said. God, she really did have great eyes.

“But in public, you’re Tanaka-san?

“Um, yes.

“Why’s that?

“Just easier, I guess.”

And that only makes sense. I mean, look at Caitlyn Jenner, right? I mean, jeez, literally. Cause now she’s got boobs and long hair and looks pretty good for a dude pushing seventy who used to huck a shot put. As radical as everything she’s done is, at least she got one thing right. She didn’t keep calling herself “Bruce.” Because that would be nuts. If you’re trying to fit in, fit in.

But You’re Not Like Us, Remember?

When I took French in high school, our teacher gave everyone a “French” name. When we were in French class, we were French. Marie, Chloe, Simon, and Luc. It gave us that identity. It’s hard to imagine the same thing in a Japanese classroom. Sure, it’s okay to speak the language, but to actually try to be, you know, one of them? Whoa, hold on there, Suzuki-san. Double-check that skin color.

So here’s my dream for the future: that when half a million foreign visitors descend upon Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics, not only will they try to use some Japanese, but they’ll actually try to fit in by using Japanese names. Chinese people do this the world over. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan—-we’ve all gotten used to it. Hell, I even knew a Japanese guy in California who went by “Bob.” His real name was something like Keiichi, but he didn’t walk around wearing a kimono and a coolie hat either. He wore shorts and flip flops, and nobody batted an eye.

If that happened in Japan—-a bunch of white, black, and brown people introducing themselves as Imada, Murakami, and Honda—-it’d blow people’s minds. And Japan’s a nation badly in need of a mind-blowing. Because really, everybody here is pretty mental. That’s how you know you’re Japanese.

100 Replies to “Taking a Japanese Name”

  1. I use my wife’s surname Tanaka in a private capacity. Shearon at work, Tanaka everywhere else. I managed to get the city to put it on my driving license.


    Luckily there is a kanji that is commonly used for a man’s name that can also be read as Ben.

    1. A buddy of mine did the same thing, and it seems like a pretty good solution. Well, except for the part where you have to get a Japanese wife. Other than that though, yeah, good plan.

    2. I just want to say that most of these comments on here are sooo funny I could not stop laughing. Thank you all for it, I needed it. Yes I am also trying to learn Japanese too but I don’t think I will take my Japanese wife’s last name to do that. You would think being married for 20 years I would be fluent ugh hand to face, nope.

      1. Remind me to someday write about why having a Japanese significant other is actually an impediment to learning the language. Yet in spite of the odds, you can still certainly do it. Seriously, take classes.

        1. I can’t agree more. Married now 25+ years and only have the basics down. Now the company is looking to send me to Japan to break our products into the market there (industrial) . Sure I can can comment on weater, children and driniking; but what about the conuter valve mis-alignment and rotating it 25 degrees for prolonged adaptation!
          I do like the Idea of taking on the Japanese name for easing into locations that don’t expect a fat white boy to show up. hmmm Currently I am called Jamasu Taira-san. Got get some classes if they send me.

      1. Ken Tanaka, now that’s a dude who really shows the strain of fitting in here. He laughs it off pretty well though, as do we all. I’m just glad I’ve got better hair.

    1. Yeah, probably. I’m anticipating waves of foreign tourists, mostly from China. Good thing Japan invested so heavily in English.

  2. I wonder what the most powerful Japanese family name is? one like “Rothschild” or “Rockefeller” for instance. Is there a clan name in Japan that holds equal status to those names (I don’t mean the royal family). By the way, another doomsday is floating around the internet… sometime near the end of September (some say the 28th). SO Ken, would it be possible if you could post one more blog entry before that date just in case, hmmmmm! I’d like to go out with a smile on my face!

    1. Tokugawa? Nichiren? Nobunaga? I actually have little idea. I will say that, like names in English, Japanese names bring up many connotations, so it’s important to choose wisely. And check with a Japanese person.

      1. >> Japanese names bring up many connotations, so it’s important to choose wisely.

        I knew a Chinese guy who went by Dick Wang. I guess someone enlightened him and he changed his name, funnily enough, to Peter.

        1. Greatest name ever. When I change my citizenship, that’s what I’m going with. It’s way better than my previous line of thinking, which was to name myself after a product, like Sham Wow.

        2. Years ago a Japanese colleague told me that, as an elementary school student, he had lived in I dunno someplace like Texas and his new classmates never called him by his real name Hiromasa or somesuch and instead went with “Alvin”, and ever since he had used that name with his American friends, colleagues and clients. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, given his somewhat facial similarity to Alvin of the Chipmunks’ fame, his Texan schoolboy friends hadn’t done him any favor.

          1. Man, I’m trying to picture how hard it must be to grow up in Texas as a Japanese person with the name of Alvin. Probably make you a pretty tough dude.

    2. I would say the most powerful Japanese family names are Saionji, Konoe, Saigo—These names are closely related to
      the historical achievement of important Japanese modern history.
      Also some of the school of traditional Japanese arts–such as tea ceremony, flower arrangement and kabuki–these
      tradition were monopolized by a specific families dated back to a few hundred years.

      Junichi Chiba A harley rider in Chiba

  3. Well, considering how long you’ve lived there, it’s only right for you to enter the “final” domain, where the clueless foreigner dare not trespass

    Then you can write a book about how much you “know” about Japan and make loads of money off of it. The perfect plan!

    1. Yeah, get citizenship, change your name, and you’re literally Japanese. At that point, your authority is unassailable, as Japanese people have never been wrong, particularly about their own country. Indeed, the perfect plan.

        1. I think David would have found a problem anywhere he went just out of his nature. Not that the point wasn’t well taken, it was.

          1. Ah, the man known as Debito Arudou. A cautionary tale for us all.

            But you know, in his defense, I wonder if what Armin said is really true. I’ve seen a few other dudes who were pretty normal when they arrived here, and gradually just went a bit nutty. Japan’ll do that to you.

          2. This is a reply to Ken’s comment below on going nutty. . .I lived in Tokyo ’92 -’94, and just returned in January, albeit now with my Japanese bride of 17 years and the current plan is to live here for the duration (althought we still have a place in the US just in case). What are the warning signs, Ken, of nuttiness, and is it reversible? Feel free to answer in a future note rather than in a comment reply.

            1. You know, that is deserving of an entire post…but let me just say that warning signs include a) Studying Japanese and b) Wanting to be treated like everybody else. If you can avoid those two—and most people can’t—you’ll be fine.

          3. Madness comes in many forms. I think it would be interesting to compare the sorts of neurosis acquired in solitary confinement to those granted by the land of four seasons. I suspect the standard procedure involves a hairline crack being stressed into a fissure, so in David’s case a combative coping style probably would have been a problem elsewhere.

            I do wish he had been successful regarding the onsens though. I do love me a trip to the onsen.

            1. The Land of Four Seasons. Oh, that’s good.

              Yeah, Arudou put himself in a tough spot and then just kept doubling down. Come to Japan, work in Japan, get married in Japan, have kids in Japan, become a Japanese citizen, change your name to something weird in Japan, fight for your rights in Japan, initiate a lawsuit in Japan. Hey, somebody’s gotta be the Rosa Parks. You gotta admire his persistence.

          4. So, your advice to getting along in Japan is to NOT study Japanese, and don’t try to fit in / be treated like everyone else?
            When I lived there, I used an entirely different approach. It seemed to work fine.

            1. Well, I’ve used the same approach as you, speaking Japanese and trying to fit in. I’d say there are pluses and minuses to going this route.

              Many of the happiest “foreign” people I know here speak next to no Japanese and seem quite happy to be outsiders. On the other hand, many of the unhappiest folks speak great Japanese. I don’t think this correlation is random.

  4. How about keeping your first name as Ken, and changing your last name to something like 渡辺? I think that rolls off the tongue pretty well.

    1. Nah, that’s too easy. For some reason, I like to do things the absolute hardest-way possible. “Ken” is a bit too Western. I’m going with something heavier, like Matsumoto Kiyoshi. Then we’ll see who gets some respect in this country.

  5. Maybe it is just me, but Ken Seeroi has always sounded very Asian to me and I have always been confused how you have that name yet you seem to be very fucking white. Except if you have never given us your real name to begin with.

    1. The “Ken” part’s nice and Japanese-sounding, but the surname, well, nobody uses it anyway so I guess it doesn’t matter.

      1. You might be right about that one. I have never tried to pronounce Seeroi until now and I don’t know why but it looked very Asian, but when I tried to say it didn’t sound Asian at all. Though honestly it might not even be pronounced the way I say it. What a strange world we live in. Okay, I have an idea. How about this, Suzuki Ken? It has an S to keep the Seeroi in spirit and it is very Japanese, Bud Martin would like it :^)

        1. So right you are, since my grandson’s name is Ken and my second motorcycle was a Suzuki and I really enjoyed it a lot. Those two names have loads of good Karma for me. Names should always be considered only after determining the karma they have… at least I think that it is the proffered Eastern way of naming, hmmmm! Now, I’m not so sure, but it stills feels right, so I agree “I…G” :>)

      2. I thought it was your way of infusing your name with a bit of hope – hope that for all your time in Japan you would, someday, somehow, SEE a Return On Investment…SEE-ROI…

  6. This is such a good idea man!

    My wife has been pushing me to do it too. I like it … you could pick a name/kanji combo thats the same as your favourite pop star or baseball player – because as part of the intro Japanese people tend to ask what the kanji is right? You could be like especially if its a bit weird … “Oka like Okamura from Nainai”

    or even better, change it to Aoi, so when you meet Aoi Yuu you can be like “hey weve go the same last name — lets get married” Shes great!! so much talent

    1. “We’ve already got the same last name so might as well get hitched” is a pick-up line I can’t say I’ve ever heard before. Might just be crazy enough to work.

      1. So how does that work—just keep picking idols and changing your name until one of them marries you? I love the fact that it’s one-shot.

        1. Yeah chop’n’change. Or just gamble on your favourite! I mean really Tokyo isnt that big and 35 million people isnt that many. Your chances of meeting her are 1:35,000,000 thats better than the lottery – and I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that she’ll be in Omotesando Hills anyway! 10km radius max! EZPZ! Theres a TV studio in Harajuku next to CC Lemon right – shed be there once a week?? Im not advocating stalking – just enthusiastic cultural assimilation

          I bet youve picked up with less …

  7. Besides all that, Japanese names just sound cool. Much better than than standard fare served up by their neighboring “friends.”

    In my opinion, Japanese names are a close second behind the Italian names for style and whatever the Japanese equivalent of Iambic Pentameter.

    I mean you got Enzo Gorlomi, Antonio Marghereti, and Dominick Decocco over there.

    And here we got, Akira Kurasawa, Murukami Haruki, Miyamoto Musashi, Momofuko Ando, Ichiro Suzuki, and one dude from antiquity called Genji (now that dude got around!).

    Try beating that Bob Smith.

    1. That’s absolutely true. You could do a lot worse. If it was Germany or Eastern Europe, I’d have to think harder about it.

  8. Hi Ken! Thanks for writing quite often nowadays. So, let me tell you my terrific story regarding naming in Japan. So, being married to a half-Japanese born and raise outside of Japan… well, as you know we are a totally foreign couple here. However, one thing that makes us Japanese… its a family name. After 20 years of listening to my mom that husband and wife should have the same name… I went back to my home country and became Tanaka. Oh man… it made my life actually quite tough… because look at me, blond with blue eyes and Tanaka. Wherever they scream my name in the hospital I feel even more foreign than before. And the funny thing is, they will always be like: Tanaka… hm…So, you are married to Japanese? But I’m not … just too lazy to tell the whole story. Perhaps, the worst happens when travelling outside of Japan: passport controls, restaraunts’ front desks, hotel… all people roll their eyes when I and my husband approach: Tanaka? I was expecting Japanese people here… Are you Tanaka? No wayyy! So, life became quite interesting with changing the name.

  9. Ken! Another great article… and a great idea for foreigners to change their names to Japanese ones! I mean, you’re right, they do it in other countries, why not Japan?

    Question with my name though.. “Ron”. I’ve been using the kanji 論 for when I use my name in emails and whatever. My Japanese friend addresses me with that kanji too, 論さん, so I was just wondering in your oppinion if that name is an ok one to use as a “Japanese name”? or does it sound weird? and if using that Kanji as my name generally acceptable?

    1. Well, “Ron” scores a solid 6 out of 10 on the Japaneseness scale.

      Nowadays in Japan, it’s not uncommon for parents to give their children names that work both in Japan and elsewhere, such as Ami, Lisa, or even Ken. Ron would fall into this category. It doesn’t sound “Japanese Japanese”—I mean it’s not Takeshi—but it’s not super Western either, like Charles or something.

      There’s also the issue of last names, since Japanese folks typically address one another using them. They’ve somehow latched onto the idea that “foreigners” should be treated differently, and called by their first names. So when you’re around, they switch to using first names, and when you’re not, they go back to using last names. But like the light in your fridge, it’s hard to know what really happens when you close the door. Suffice to say that if you wanted to be more Japanese, you’d have to work on a Japanese last name, first.

      As for the kanji, it really doesn’t make your name any more or less Japanese. It simply renders it in a different writing system. You could write it in Cyrillic and it’d be the same.

      But to answer your questions, No, it doesn’t sound weird, and Sure, it’s fine to write it using that kanji. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly “Japanese,” but hey, it’s all good.

      1. I have to say that I suspect that taking a Japanese name is a bit like wearing red kryptonite, unless you are married to a Japanese (and even then you would keep your given name). My guess is that most Japanese people would think it is a bit weird for a European to take a Japanese surname. It wouldn’t make you any less foreign.

        I am reminded of the story about the writer Lafcadio Hearn, who became a naturalized Japanese citizen with a Japanese name, and was immediately informed that his salary would be reduced, as Japanese English teachers were paid less than Europeans.

        1. Ken, I may have the answer. How are you in a fundoshi?

          Next time you meet someone, forget about calling yourself any old run-of-the-mill name like Tanaka or Suzuki. Rather, try something inventive like “fragrant mountain spring”. If people question this, say “It’s my sumo name. ” Amazement. “You do sumo?” “Well, of course, I’m only an amateur, but the master at my dojo gave me that name.”

          But, seriously, there are all sorts of traditional Japanese arts where people take a new name, and foreigners do it along with Japanese. Naturally, you have to master a traditional Japanese art for it all to be legitimate, but …

          1. You mean those underwear that look like a pair of tightie-whities after someone’s just given you a wedgie? How far into madness do you have to descend before that starts to look like a good idea? Sorry, not a look Ken Seeroi rocks.

            “The master at my dojo gave me that name” sounds a little too Karate Kid for me, but I like what you’re saying in general. Basically, everybody’s gonna ask why the hell you’ve got this crazy name, so having a back-story’s a good idea. Alternately, you could just stare blankly and say, “What, you’ve never met a white guy named Tanaka?”

          2. > “The master at my dojo gave me that name” sounds a little too Karate Kid for me

            I fully agree. That’s a really weird way of saying “My wife decided that for me.”

          3. “The master at my dojo gave me that name …” – it’s a JOKE to see if credulous Japanese will take the bait …

        2. Yeah, I’ve actually known people who’ve had their pay reduced once they entered the “Japanese” side of the organization.

          And sure, it’s not the norm, but that’s the point. It’s only weird because nobody’s done it. I’ve no doubt the first Chinese guy who called himself “Mike” was met with plenty of “Mike? You gotta be kidding. Get the hell out.”

          The whole notion of “foreign” is outdated. Japan’s flooded with “foreigners,” especially Asian, and the numbers just keep rising. It’s time to stop defining “foreign” based upon appearance.

  10. Bonjour, alors comme ça le grand Ken que je lis depuis plusieurs jours, en plus de parler japonais, à aussi pris des cours de français 😀

    Mais c’est merveilleux, bien que je sache parler anglais, je vais pouvoir m’exprimer plus clairement dans mon message (car je compte bien envoyer un message)

    À pars ça, encore un bon sujet agréable à lire, bien que manquant un peu de l’humour habituel ^^

    (Hi, so it appears that THE Ken, the one who write all the great stuff i’m reading this week, also learned french !
    It’s amazing, even if i can write and read english, it’s going to be fun to explain myself in french in the message i’ve plan to send with a lot of dumb questions and stuff :D)

    1. Uh oh, bear in mind that was a while ago. These days, about the only French I remember is “Ou est la piscine?” I’m still trying to figure out why that would ever be a helpful phrase.

      1. Well, the real question is why did you even learn this thing .. but it could be helpful at a party, beer is often near the pool 😉
        anyway, the best way to send you a message (private) is facebook ?

        1. I just realised the ton of mistakes in the facebook message i sent. If you dont understand i’ll make it again.

          Also, if i ever encounter a Japanese Guy who call himself “Patrice” or “Jean-Charles” i dont think i could take him seriously. May be the same for white people in japan.

          I was wondering, with all the stuff you write… Do you know more “white” people or Japanese, and is it easy to make friends

          1. (I’m sorry, it’s close to à spam, but i’m on my phone and i sent the unfinished message by mistake and i don’t know how to edit à comment)

            with all the years spent in japan, did you make more white or Japanese friends, is it hard to make native friends with all the “polite stuff” when they are talking to you and the rythm in Tokyo. I wonder if having à group of friends in Europe is the same in japan (with all this work and so little free time).

          2. Is it easy to make friends in Japan? I think most folks would say No. You’ll find plenty of people in bars willing to chat up “foreigners,” but for making real connections, it’s not a very open culture. I’ve got a few very good “white” friends (some of whom aren’t actually white, but whatever), and other than that everybody’s Japanese.

            One of the major challenges of living in Japan is that it’s maddeningly difficult to make meaningful connections with Japanese people. Even for the Japanese themselves.

    1. Ah, thanks Mary. Nice to hear from you. Everything’s about as good as possible. Any problems are strictly of my own making, as per usual.

  11. Ken is a Japanese name, isn’t it? Or, at least, a word – and a very manly word at that, calling forth imagery of strong, long implements. It’s the kind of name that cuts to the heart of the matter with a decisive thrust.

    However, if that’s not amenable, then I think you should get drunk one night and type in “Japanese name generator” into Google – like I’ve just done – and click the first link to generate yourself the unexpectedly satisfying Japanese equivalent of ‘Max Power.’

  12. Oooh, Seeroi, you don’t even know how topical this is for me right now. I started working at a multinational company 5 months ago, and this naming thing became a problem pretty fast. See, the company has three sites around the world (used to be six): Hungary (where I work), Singapore and China. The sites work pretty independent most of the time, but there are occasions we have to collaborate on some projects. Singapore is okay, since they use their own names (my favorite is Eko Deddy, the IT tech guy, I mean how awesome is that name), but the Chinese has a practice of using western aliases instead of their real names for some odd reason. Like, there is my contact who calls herself Lisa while her own name is Shaoping or something, but there is a Steven, Katherine, Richard, etc. And those are aliases for sure, since you can see their email addresses having totally different Chinese names. I’ve been told they do it make communication easier, but it only makes it more confusing to see Chinese people with western names, and not even Bob, John or Sam, but elaborate ones like Sylvester and Katherine. It’s pretty weird…

    On topic, from what I’ve learned so far about the Japanese, I would think if you start to live in Japan as a foreigner and changed your name to something Japanese, the natives would actually be fucking angry at you on top of being confused. I could be wrong, but from what I know, the Japanese are pretty friggin protective of their heritage and very self-conscious about it. Like, you even get scorn for wearing kimono or yukata in Japan as a foreigner, or if you try to act like you belong. They want you to crawl back to your gaijin pigeonhole and get comfortable, because you’ll never gonna get out, and they make sure you remember that. Every day. The experience could differ based on region and age (old people tend to be more averse to foreigners), but I would guess if you introduced yourself as Miyazawa Whiteman instead of Mike or Sakagami instead of Sam, you’d get a serious eyeballing from the locals regardless. I mean, it could be fun to watch them going “eeeeeh?!” every time you meet someone new, but I would bet if you wanted to get closer to the natives, this would achieve the exact opposite effect. I don’t really know, this is just speculation though…

    1. When I was teaching English to international students back in Australia, I noticed that the Koreans and the Chinese students usually used an English given name, but their names on attendance rolls, certificates and so on was always their full Chinese or Korean name.

      The English given name did make communication easier, because it’s often difficult for English speakers to figure out which is the family name and which is the given name, and then pronounce it even vaguely right. (More recently, I’ve noticed that Koreans are using their Korean name with English speakers, but the Chinese seem to like having an English name).

      Most of the Japanese students used their Japanese name or a shortened nickname version – generally Japanese names are not too difficult for English speakers to decipher or pronounce.

    2. Yeah, that sounds correct. Taking a Japanese name could arouse resentment from quite a number of locals.

      And yet, well, that’s the way it’s been throughout history. A lot of folks didn’t want black people or women or gays or whomever encroaching on “their” territory. Just because “that’s the way things are” doesn’t make it right.

  13. Long-term living in Japan WILL drive you nuts, destroy your physical health and leave you generally incapable of making an honest living back home should you return. Funny thing is (and there is nothing funny about it) you won’t realize the depths of your decline until you do return. 16 years for me before I got out. I am a guy. It is different for women. They marry Japanese men knowing they will be spending the rest of their lives in Japan and suffer long bouts of depression and are generally miserable but seem to come out of it later on after their kids grow up. Of course, they attack any white man in their orbit, projecting their own perceived failure onto them. The few that don’t suffer from depression resort to constantly justifying their decision to spend their lives in Japan by pointing out how “things are so much better here in Japan.”

    1. Ah, words from the wise. No doubt, living here is going to have an effect on you. I mean, you’ll learn how to walk through your apartment picking single strands of hair off the floor, and how to go months without uttering a word or showing any emotion. Those are good things, right?

  14. Imagine what fun I (sometimes) have with a name like Eda (long E, short A) since it’s a fairly common family name. People trot along happily calling me Eda until we’re in some formal situation where they need two names for me and realize they only know one. And my (Japanese) husband has occasionally been called Eda-san.

    The only real solution is to change my name to Matsumoto Kiyoshi and start dressing like Bruce Jenner used to dress.

  15. Hi Ken,
    Have found myself in Tokyo with little knowledge of the place or its people (ignorance repackaged as spontaneity) and I really have been captivated by your blog. There was something disquieting about all the glam of vending machines for cigarettes! bicycles without helmets! Super fast trains! And I am really glad that I found this. I have read so many of your posts – your style is just lovely – the voice so engaging and self-deprecating. I really had some gaffawing (I am using that word so as to avoid the overused laughing out loud as I really do mean it!!) You are an enigmatic and followable writer and that is something from one who does not have twitter. I wish you the best in your life in Japan. I think I will read this blog long after my last Ahari on the push bike!!

    1. Ah, you’re living the dream. Thanks, I wish you the best here too. Take lots of pictures, keep a journal, and don’t blow all your money on beer. Jeez, I really should take my own advice.

  16. Yeah, I imagine that having a Japanese name would really help, in filling out those annoying online forms and applications, that dont support English for some reason. Other than that, nah wouldnt change my name for nobody.

  17. There is something “unique” (read “Japanese”) about the way you write. I would suggest that, if your posts are a fragmented representation of who you are, you share many of the traits that you ascribe to this nation. It seems as though there is a subtle yearning for depth, but also some difficulty getting beyond the superficial, a contradictory and complex relationship with the world around you. I find it intriguing that so many of your female responders admit to having a crush on you (anyway what the hell is that, over the internet?) And that you don’t seem to pursue these “leads” and yet you seem dissatisfied when Japanese friends or dates don’t amount to anything more than a “moment in time”. At the same time, you seem to have chosen this isolated lifestyle away from your loved ones and it seems to fulfil you (and your readers – I love reading your posts!). But what most intrigues me is questioning what it is about the “you” that you present in this blog that seems so adorably attractive to female readers. It is as though you are both candid and guarded at the same time and I am wondering if it is this combination that makes women feel that they want to get to the bottom of this puzzle that is Mr Seeroi. Perhaps it is the way you wear your human contradictions on your sleeve; that you are both poignant and sarcastic, humble and cocky, yearning for more yet completely content. Perhaps it is that whole inherent codependent mentality that lurks in so many women – that pesky and problematic desire to be the reason to “turn that man around”…that these gorgeous images of an intelligent, expressive man who happens to enjoy drinking malt liquor and eating potato chips are just too enticing? I do also wonder if you are, like the nation, resigned to a glum but very funny acceptance of your life here in Tokyo…do you believe this is your fate or do you see yourself as a free agent, directing your future? You know there are many options out there! I relate to your “God no, not marriage” ideology but I also wonder if these simplistic dichotomies (that a monogomous (read “monotonous”) committed relationship = someone controlling your every move, a threat to selfhood and autonomy) are hindering your capacity to form a meaningful relationship…I once heard a friend compare her husband’s absence to “losing your right arm” and this made me feel quite ill. I read it as total dependence…but then as I delved deeper into my subconscious I came to see that all my railing against committed relationships was actually caused by a repressed belief that I was not CAPABLE of a relationship. I don’t know, but I see a common reaction to your posts in the comments where people tend to care about you, want to help and guide you…it is weird, but it is food for thought, and I like thinking! So yeh – thanks for showing us all a bit of your world. It is not what you write about that is most engaging, but is more the personality (persona?) that shines through…very touching, somewhat detached and above all, incredibly intriguing. Most people want MORE – what is it, I wonder?

    1. Ahhhh Soooo, you have looked into the abyss and have seen the endless question of life Alison. Seeroi Sensei is like a Confucian that answers questions that give rise to new questions, all the while imparting wisdom to those that try to “grok” (google it) what the real question/answer “is”… , so that the real art to his blog is to learn (and I’m quoting an infamous US President Bill Clinton) ‘what the meaning of the word “is” is’! I don’t think Its really complex, just a healthy desire to understand existence and to find common ground with others. I personally find reading the comments and answers in this blog just as entertaining and informative as the blog itself and that is only because Ken’s comments and writing seem so sincere and honest (and yes, just so wise). Like so many others that respond to this blog, you seem to be a really interesting person and I look forward to reading your comments in the future. Have a great day.

      1. Hi Bud,

        So glad to have read about what it means to “grok” and seems like that Stranger novel with all its controversy is yet another text to add to my reading list…nothing more I love than reading a book which polarizes opinion!!

        Hmmm yes perhaps I am seeing complexity because I like to over-complicate…just call me Hamlet 🙂

        I agree that the comments are just as interesting as the posts.

        Confucian questions from questions…perhaps?

        This Ken dude is a great writer!

        Thanks for your reply, I have enjoyed reading your interesting and ironic comments on my two day Odyssey nto this site – I only wish I could find a blog like this that was about Literature…then I might be in heaven!!

        Japan for me is a transient whim (no doubt thanks to all these honest and informative posts)…but I have never come across a blog like this where the writing and the people are genuinely engaging – to the point where I have read all the posts and all the comments.

        So fun! or perhaps so “kawaiii”.

        1. Ah, you guys really make me feel good. Careful with that pumping up of my already over-inflated sense of self-worth or I’ll move to America and start making infomercials, like on a yacht surrounded by bikinied girls. You too can have great hair like Ken Seeroi for just 4 payments of $19.95 each, so act now. No really, send me money.

          Alison, you raised a great question: “I do also wonder if you are, like the nation, resigned to a glum but very funny acceptance of your life here in Tokyo…do you believe this is your fate or do you see yourself as a free agent, directing your future?”

          While we tend to see ourselves as directors of our own lives, I believe the truth is we are largely bound by our surroundings. Or allow ourselves to be bound. It’s a hard thing to fight. P.S.: getting a tattoo doesn’t count. Whatever, here’s what I mean:

          I lived in four U.S. states, two in the sunbelt, and two not. Outside the sunbelt, I always felt constrained. People were reserved, and it seemed the best I could hope for was to do my job, take out a mortgage, get married, have two kids, and die. But in the sunnier states…Hey, Spring Break year-round! There was an unbridled sense of possibility. People around me were insanely positive. Ken! Start your own business, drive convertibles, date models! And it was true. I drove effloads of convertibles. Thanks Hertz, you’re the best.

          Now Japan, it’s nice, but it’s not a super positive place, right? Japanese folks make a habit of mumbling, “Well, yeah, you know, we lost the war.” Firebombed, atomic bombed, invaded and beset with famine, Japan didn’t exactly come out rocking. And hanging out with Japanese people, speaking Japanese in low voices, avoiding personal questions, hey, that’s gonna affect you. There’s a reason I say, Maybe don’t study Japanese. Cause eventually, it’ll bring you down. Ah, Portuguese, now there’s a language…

          So that’s something I’m acutely aware of. As long as you remain “foreign”—outside of the society here—you can really enjoy Japan. And really, everybody encourages you to do so. Japanese people study English so they can get out. Not a lot of white folks breast-stroking the Rio Grande into Mexico, if you know what I mean.

          So yeah, that’s the enigma. Nobody wants to be treated like a “foreigner”, but you also get what it means to actually live in this country and be, resigned and glum, Japanese. Party on, Japan.

          1. Agree that being a foreigner here, especially a white American male, has much of the gain and less of the pain I see in the faces on the subway and in the office. . .although I’m too old for this and from a different generation, I analogize to this lifestyle, at least for now, as being akin to having a friend with benefits. Helps I’ve been here only 9 months or so now, and been back to the US twice already, and so clearly still in the honeymoon period, but unless one takes the Col Kurtz route and stays away from the heart of darkness, life here can be pretty good. But I do see and confirm the warnings expressed by others that if the plan is to return home and re-enter the workforce, you may be out of the game without having realized it.

          2. Hiya Ken,

            Yes I agree that we are bound by our surroundings – I have only recently learnt to eliminate the expletives from my internal monologue (I tell you, life can be tiring when your inner mind runs lines such as “what the #$=% is this #/$^£,&^ idiot doing in my $%/&€*£^, way!” – a direct consequence of having been brought up in negative surroundings…but I decided to swim against this tide to more positive shores – the interesting thing is that you are swimming, like the unlikely white dude in your apt analogy, towards the surroundings which seem to bind you.

            I can only imagine how difficult it would be to leave these surroundings… ordinary life could seem incredibly dull after all your time here – here where there is so much to dissect, so much to fuel your creative output – I have now read many stories about westerners who get stuck here and it is all too common a tale…it really is between two worlds, a true dilemma, between a rock and a hard place as they say.

            I felt this same tension when I was moved to England and then moved back to Aust – and whilst the difference in culture was no way near as pronounced as it would be in your situation, the reality was that there was loss on both sides of the equation

            Returning was at first very disconcerting. You have changed and things just ain’t the same. People fail to reconcile the new you with the old new and it gets muddy. A gaping chasm opens up between you and others, sometimes irrecoverable sometimes not.

            But in time water finds its own level, wherever you decide to make your home. New people come into your life…swings and roundabouts.

            Yesterday atop of Mount Fuji, amongst the clouds and with the sun descending in an other-worldly way, I got word via text that my nanna has about a week to live – and the metaphor just proved too deep – you know when the visual image in front of you corresponds with such acute congruence that it makes you weep for all that is lost? For all that beauty and finality.

            OH, how fleeting life is. How we can waste so much of our lives in the trivial.

            All that matters to me are the very special but limited relationships I have with a tiny few in this world and all the rest fades into the background.

            I like meaningful connections, I love relating to people, to hearing their genuine experiences and to having a few friends with whom I can be authentic and honest.

            I take my hat off to anyone who sticks it out here. I hope you find your level wherever it may be.

            No, I don’t think you are glum and anyway what was it about all that unbridled positivity, all that renting of sports cars that made you say “I know – I’ll swim into the one place that everyone wants to escape!” ?

            Sayonara Mr Seeroi!

            Has been a pleasure and I will check in as life for me returns to the glorious comfort of the ordinary in Australia.


        2. Alison,

          Thank you for responding also and I really admire and appreciate your intellectual curiosity. I think you will enjoy reading “Stranger”, I’d wager. In the late 1970’s after Star Wars hit the big screen, I tried unsuccessfully to petition George Lucas to make a movie out of Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” and I believed at that time that Leonard Nimoy was the only actor that could have played the main character Valentine Michael Smith. I’m not sure what current actor could play that part today, but, the technology of todays CGI could make such a movie a great watch without the impossible budget that would have likely hobbled its production back 40+ years ago.

          FYI, I’d also recommend you to read Heinlein’s book “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” (actually, he wrote a lot of great books that I’d recommend), because it pretty much describes what could happen if some nation does capture the next “high ground” (in reference to the US air force space doctrine); and the Chinese seem to understand this potentiality as their defense minister related recently that a Chinese moon base (using laser weapons) could wipe the earth’s satellites out of the sky in a matter of hours. This book is currently scheduled to be made into a movie in the next few years, directed by Bryan Singer – of X-men fame. What I like most about this book is that is gives mankind a template for rising up against the corrupt national governments of this planet and explains why space could be the reason or cause for humanity to have a fresh start and that I highly look forward too.

          1. Hiya Bud,

            Damn I just spent a good while writing a reponse drawing detailed parallels between my experience of Shebuya in the drizzly fug and Blade Runner’s cityscape…and somehow on my phone it got wiped mid-sentence.

            There is nothing more painfully dull in than saying the same thing twice so in this instance you are saved from what was becoming a long and overly analytical scene analysis.

            But seriously thanks for the second novel – love the title too and very happy to read it before it comes out as film.

            And if you have not seen Blade Runner you must – the comparison to Tokyo is too uncanny.

            As I prepare to leave, I see that (my perspective is very, very limited and now, jaundiced) this city leaves me feeling the same way Scott’s dystopian metropolis did; yearning for human connection and a fear that humanity has gone to shit.

            Uplifting, certainly!

            (See how I did that? Want a blog about literature? Just hijack someone else’s – that’s how you get what you want in life!)

            Good luck,


            Before it wipes me out again, Sayonara!!

          2. Alison, I love Blade Runner; have seen it so many times that I can’t remember how many. Last time I saw it was just a few weeks ago. I was mesmerized when it first came out with its dark cityscape and flashing neon advertisements floating in the sky and was always puzzled by the ending where Rutger Hauer saves Harrison Ford’s character. I wondered if the film’s explanation of loving life was really enough. There were so many great actors in that movie and several scenes that were memorable. I particularly freaked out at Daryl Hannah’s gymnastics scene where she is killed. Sean Young was also captivating in that movie and all the actors performed so well, that it was easy to fall into that reality if for a brief two hours.

            Heinlein always said that if you read his 3 greatest books, and liked them, that you would totally grok his understanding of life. “Starship troopers”, “Stranger” and “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” are those three books. I can name another twenty or so books of his that I liked equally, but you can explore his works later if you so desire, so I leave that to you. BTW, I also happen to believe that Ken has many personal similarities to Robert Heinlein and might have similar political viewpoints… and I would compare his ability to write to that of Orson Scott Card with a little bit more realism and eroticism added in… LOL. I am anxiously awaiting his efforts to get published as a novelist and have great expectations that it will be tremendously successful.

            P.S. You can always ask Ken for my email if you think you would like to discuss any of these books and I’d really enjoy conversing with someone so complex and interesting. I might even be able to point you towards some other books once I get to know your tastes. Until we meet again then, Laterz!

          3. hmm…yes I agree that the ending of Blade Runner is a bit twee. …a bit hard to stomach especially the whole thing w Deckard and Rachel literally flying off into the sunset…but I think Roy is meant to be a Christ like martyr, (and how weird is it when that white dove appears from nowhere!!)…he sacrifices himself for Deckard because (I think) Deckard goes from being the hubter to the hunted and so finally gets insight into Roy’s predicament…and thus redeems himself…but Deckard is not really a great guy…especially his weird agressive style when they get intimate…but I think that is the comment.. that we lose how to love if we are completely disconnected in little apartments and forget how to love.

  18. >>So here’s my dream for the future: that when half a million foreign visitors descend upon Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics, not only will they try to use some Japanese, but they’ll actually try to fit in by using Japanese names.

    Hahaha!! That made me laugh out loud. Thank you. I hope to see that dream come true too.

    I just called an old man to make a reservation at a very rural place, and he couldn’t understand my last name in katakana, so he shortened it to just the first two syllables. Eh, close enough.

    1. You’re probably onto something there. I majored in literature in college, basically because I enjoyed reading books and wanted to ensure I’d never be gainfully employed. So I believe Bud and I have that love of books in common.

      Beyond that, I suspect (based upon what little I know of him) that we have quite different demographics. I believe he’s a retired ex-Marine, while I’m, despite my otherwise macho demeanor, not.

      And yet I’ll add this: I’ve had little in common with most of my closest friends throughout my life, in terms of race, religion, or even core beliefs. What’s always been far more important is just that we enjoy some good intellectual banter and that we’re cool with each other. Don’t believe what I believe? Yeah okay, who cares? The details are less important than the way in which we discuss them. I guess mutual respect is what it really boils down to. I believe I share that with Bud, as well as with many of the people here.

      1. 本当にすごい正しい! Or something like that, my Japanese is already getting rusty.
        Ken and Bud for Pres and VP – Blue and Red working together!? Could be great!

        1. Yuki, Blue and Red: is that like in Halo??? LOL. No VP for me, I wanna be Secretary of Defense so I can play with all the big boy toys!! I do feel like part of Ken’s extended family that he spends so much time talking to on this blog, but no we aren’t related. But if I ever did had a brother, I’d like him to be like Ken.

          1. Did I just get nominated for President? Seeroi 2016. Or 2017, eh, whatever it takes. Either way, it’s got a nice ring to it.

  19. When I lived in Nagoya my school director named me Katsuragi Yosaku as a joke when I asked about having a Japanese name. I eventually settled on mangling Andrew into Ando(familty name) Ryu (first name) though it never caught on. because of course it didn’t. Still “relaxed dragon” is a pretty cool name.

  20. I have a question. I am an Indian, and was wondering what could I even change my name to. I know this might be a necropost, but would someone help me out here?

    My name is Debarun Joardar. Oh yeah, pretty unusual even for Indian name.

  21. After we got a chance to move to Japan, I stumbled here looking for information in rent and such. Funny thing I found this posts.

    My first reaction to the idea of moving was: I spent already 15 years explaining and repeating to people how to pronounce my middle name, no way in hell I’m gonna spend the next 15 explaining my whole name. So yeah, I’m going full Japanese name, sue me!

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