“Ah man, I’d love to have a few beers, but I promised Eriko I’d watch the kids.” This is my buddy, let’s just call him Joe, since that’s his name. He’s got two kids.
So then I Line’d Dave. His wife speaks English, so to protect his identity, we’ll just call him “Matt.” Kind of fitting, actually.
“Yo, tonight, beer?” I asked. I’m a man of few words.
“Let me check with the wife,” was Matt’s answer.
“Tell her it’s an emergency,” I said, “of the thirsty sort.”
Half an hour later he replied, “Sorry dude. Let’s try some time mid next-month.”
I ended up with my friend Robby at a white plastic table in the mall food court.
“Hang on, I’ll grab us a couple beers,” I said.
“Just one, right?” said Akane, looking at Robby. I forgot to mention she’d come along. Akane’s nine months pregnant with their second child.
“Let’s go, Dad” said Kay. Guess I also forgot to mention he’d come along too. Kay’s six.
“Great kid,” I said. Meaning, like, he’ll be great in about 20 years.
“Akane . . .” said Robby, pleading.
“Robby!” said Akane.
In the end, we had two beers each. Akane didn’t look very happy, but then she never does. Then we called it an evening.
These are my foreign friends in Japan.
Sex with Japanese Girls
When I came to Japan years ago, here’s what I thought. It’s what we all thought. We’d be foreign gods in a land of Japanese sex. Women would want to date us because we were exotic, hairy paragons of manliness, and offered something different. At the very least, we could teach them English.
And women did want to date us.
“Let’s make a baby.” This was my first girlfriend. I’d known her for a week. I don’t know where she picked up that English. Certainly not from me.
Then there was my second girlfriend. “Look, I’m not having sex with you just for fun,” she said. “I expect to get married at some point.” I’d known her for two months. At least she said it in Japanese.
This is a trend that has continued through many girlfriends.
Foreign Men in Japan
Now, this won’t be the most popular thing I’ve ever written. Ladies, you may want to take a quick jog down to the 7-Eleven for a tall can of malt liquor while I speak to the fellas for a bit.
Because if you’re a foreign guy in Japan, or thinking about coming to Japan, you need to understand the minefield you’re walking into. Dating Japanese women is like riding handrails on a skateboard. Sooner or later you’re gonna nut yourself. It’s the most common pattern ever—one minute, you’re Joe Stud, teaching English during the day, partying at night, champagne and yakitori, posting videos to YouTube. Yo bitches! Check me out in Shibuya! Check me out in Shinjuku! Japan’s craaazy! The next minute, you’re Joe Dad. Nobody’s posting those videos. Crazy.
Then what? Move back to your mom’s with a newborn and a wife who’s minimally employable while you trot around a resume emblazoned with the scarlet letter of “Taught English in Japan”? Yeah no, you’re staying. And if you thought it was hard affording champagne on an English teacher’s salary, wait’ll you see how much diapers cost. I mean, I don’t actually know, but I’m assuming they’d cut into my liquor budget. Perish the thought.
Japan’s Declining Birth Rate
Here’s the deal. If you’re a Japanese person, of either sex, there’s a really good chance that when you finish technical school or whatever cruddy college you went to, that you’ll wind up spending 12 to 15 hours a day in a cramped office pushing a mouse. Your overbearing boss will sit behind you, watching your computer screen, micromanaging your every motion. In Japan, that’s called “leadership.” And you’ll do that for, oh, about 50 years.
Okay, now . . . just pointing out some reality. Don’t hate on the messenger, as the saying goes . . .
But if you’re a woman, you’ve seen this vision: twice a day, you’re packed onto a train so crowded you can’t move your arms. You’re literally lifted off your feet and smashed against the window in the insane torture that is Japanese commuting. You can smell the breakfast and sweat of ten other people in every breath you take. And then as the train grinds over a small bridge, you catch a brief image of a park slatted with sunlight, colorful strollers around a play area, children on swings in the fresh air, and mothers smiling and drinking coffee. Then your train rushes into a tunnel and everything goes dark. The next day, and every day after, you try to catch one more glimpse of that shining park.
So maybe a plan starts to dawn on you. Maybe it’s not even a conscious plan, but if you have a kid, you know that right away you’d get 14 weeks off. After that, well, your salary is so low that you and your husband would have to agree it’d be cheaper for you to stay home than to pay for child care. Congratulations, you just won a colorful stroller and a pass to Sunshine Park, at least for a few years. Later, well sure, you’ll have to go back to work. Sorry, just kidding. I mean, have another kid.
Maybe that’s the reason the Japanese birth rate is so low—-because Japanese men understand this. And then there’s you, the fresh-faced foreigner who thinks the game is to try to bag a bunch of birds. That’s not the game Japanese women are playing. Their goal is to bag a husband. Sorry, don’t mean to imply that every Japanese woman is like this. There are women here battling the societal norms, building careers as doctors, lawyers, scientists. Women can work hard and succeed. Or they can do their nails and put on a miniskirt and some heels. If you’re a guy, you might want to go for the girl with the wrinkly lab coat and Coke-bottle glasses. Just saying.
Hey, if I had sizeable breasts, I’d opt out too. There really are fewer opportunities for women in this country. Men can advance through labor, gradually building a career. It’s not a great life, but most women can’t even do that. They’re relegated to bookkeeping, arranging schedules, greeting customers, and making tea. Meanwhile—-pardon the Donald Trump moment—-they get tremendous pressure from their families to get married. Tremendous pressure. And endless questions about “when are you going to have kids?” Just endless. So sad.
“Matt” and I finally made it out for beers.
He was like, “I just told my wife, I’ll be out with Seeroi Sensei, dammit, and that’s the end of that story.”
“Great,” I said, “now she hates me.”
“Anyway, I gotta be home by nine.”
“Yeah, all right. So, uh, how’s everything at home, the fam’ and all?”
“I’ve had sex twice in the past five years.”
“Okay . . . “ I said. “Well, that is the Japanese way. Once you get married, you know . . .”
“I mean, it’s not really her fault. She’s just tired. Taking care of two kids, plus housework and stuff.”
“Yeah, I mean, sure. She’s not working though, right?”
“Well, she’s taking English classes. But we’ve talked about her starting to work again next year.”
The Japanese Lifestyle
Maybe the only thing harder than being a woman in Japan is being a foreign man. Japan’s not set up for gaijin to negotiate their own cell phone contracts or buy cars or get loans from the bank. People assume you don’t even have the reading skills of a ten year-old. And so what if you don’t? Here’s an English menu, perhaps that’ll help. Japanese isn’t easy. That’s not your fault. The television’s a blur of crazy game shows, the radio an incomprehensible wall of noise, and your mailbox is crammed full of papers you can’t understand. Know what fixes that? A wife.
So you gradually end up becoming dependent upon her. She helps you out at the post office, goes to the doctor with you. When you walk into a restaurant, you’re welcomed, not just stared at. She legitimizes your existence in Japan. You’re not a stray anymore; you’ve got tags. The unspoken message is, “Don’t worry, he’s with me.”
Your wife also guides you through the intricacies of the social behavior. Don’t put your chopsticks there. Put them here. Don’t hang your coat like that. Hang it like this. Don’t fold the laundry like that. Don’t wash the dishes like that. Don’t scrub the bathtub like that. But don’t worry, with enough practice, you’ll get the hang of it.
Having a Japanese Wife
Last Friday, I went down to the standing bar on the corner. They call it a “standing bar” because it’s got no chairs. Kind of a dumb idea if you ask me, but the shochu’s only 70 cents a glass, so whatever. And all the drunk old Japanese men were there. Yuji’s a regular, and he always asks the same questions, completely forgetting he asked the same thing last week. That’s because he’s old. And drunk.
“Do you have a wife?” he asked, and the other guys leaned in salaciously, the way they always do.
“Nah,” I said. “I’m single.”
“Why don’t you have a wife? You should marry a Japanese.”
“Yeah,” I said, “just waiting for the right girl.”
“You should get married soon,” advised Yuji.
“And the benefit is what?”
“Then you can have kids. And one of these,” he said, and held up his pinky finger, which is Japanese for “mistress.” And they all laughed.
“Ah, you guys, quit clowning,” I said. They make the same joke incessantly.
Then we drank some more shochu and I reminded them I was from America, and that I could eat natto and raw fish, and again that I was single, until the night grew darker, and they drifted off under the streetlights one by one. Back home to their wives, waiting patiently to scold them, feed them, and put them to bed. It may not be the best way, but it’s our way. That’s what Yuji told me, anyway.
133 Replies to “The Most Dangerous Animal in Japan”
Seems the best advice is to book a vasectomy at the same time as getting an entry visa.
Actually, a guy I know got one here and was quite happy with it. Of course, he did it after getting married, having a kid, then getting a divorce. Probably should’ve ordered that a bit differently, all things considered.
On the other hand, I have a white American 38 year old son with a Japanese wife. They have a 2500 square foot house. They have two happy boys, 3 and 5. He makes a LOT of money in a major West Coast city as a lead software engineer at a very big tech company known to the whole world, and she works, by choice, at a nice middle class office job. Everybody’s happy, especially Ojii-son and Obaa-son, who love the boys very much. Please don’t hate us!
That’s a bit too final. I would go with the reversible surgeries they now have in India.
I’m the single foreign guy who is very independent and thought he could happily go it alone. I won’t say that was a big mistake, but I’ve learnt what I can do alone, and when I definitely need help.
Luckily, when I first arrived, folks from my workplace helped with getting an apartment, a phone, and other necessities. After that, I made it a rule to bumble my way through things on my own, and only call on their help when it was really necessary. Unfortunately, there were times when even the most independent Nihongo-deprived foreigner in Japan (ie me) needed a bilingual Japanese person to help out. But I stuck it out, as much as I could.
After almost six years in Japan, I still don’t have a Japanese wife or a small team of translators to help me out, and I’m still bumbling through each day. And the reading skills of a ten-year-old? Oh, I wish! I’m studying hard to achieve that level.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t change a thing if I could. I’ve seen the guys who rely on their English-speaking Japanese wives, and I think they are all really, really nice people, but learning Nihongo requires an awful lot of effort, and generally they don’t seem to be putting that effort in.
This also brings back the question of “Why bother learning Japanese?” For me, it’s a connection with the place and the people that’s hard to explain. I can’t interact with Japanese people in the same way that I can with my people, Australians, but then there is little chance of me interacting with Australians in the same way that I do with Japanese people.
I remember years ago, a Japanese friend of mine asked me to go with him to the cell phone store. This was in the U.S. At first, I couldn’t understand why he wanted me to go along. His English was close to perfect, in my mind.
Once we got to the store, though, I understood. The staff laid out such a complex array of phones, plans, and options that it was almost impossible to make a good choice. A native speaker has at least some ability to sense—even beyond language—what’s essential, what’s a distraction, and what’s a rip-off. Without me there, I could see he would have been swamped trying to decide what was really important.
And of course, salespeople treat you differently depending upon how you speak, dress, whether you’re male or female, and what race you are. It rarely helps to be a guy with a funny accent.
Like you, I thought I could go it alone in Japan. And for the most part, I’ve done pretty well. But it never fails to astonish me how different the service is when I take a native speaker along. The thoroughness of the explanations, the level of politeness, and the range of possibilities just expand like magic.
On the other hand I know plenty of independently-minded ladies that don’t want to get married at all. Maybe I’ll marry one of those.
Yeah, that’ll show her. Don’t want to get married? Well, we’ll just see about that.
Marry the extremely shy looking geeky girl who works at the convience store, drr!
Although, she might turn out to be a predator too :/
I’ve read everything on here so these are hardly new sentiments, but damn, this is bleak.
Hey, the truth’s supposed to set you free. Not necessarily make you happy.
But is it bleak? I don’t know; it’s reality. And if you think about it for even a moment, it’s pretty obvious, right? Having children in a foreign country—where you likely have reduced social standing, a poor grasp of the language, and limited job prospects—is a pretty effective way to derail any life plans you might’ve had.
Anyway, it’s better to know than not to know, is what I figure.
No, I get that from the immigrant’s perspective. If you’re basically a cultural moron, you better lower your expectations, especially if you decide to have children. That makes sense.
The ‘bleak’ was in reference to the future prospects of the Japanese themselves, particularly women. How to avoid a shitty life? By taking the housewife route. The end. Sheesh.
(Sorry for the late reply — forgot I’d commented on this)
Some very wise Sage (or a married, disgruntled, emasculated man who is -was-married to a Japanese woman) once said, “Japanese women are like cats. They’re irresistibly cute, cuddly, loveable, and you can’t help but fall in love with them. But, when you die,….they eat you.”
Yeah, whoever said that must’ve been pretty wise and witty. Wish it’d been me.
Your dogs can eat you too, you know.
Rabbits? Are rabbits okay? I want a pet that doesn’t view me as a backup food source.
“But if you’re a woman, you’ve seen this vision…” this paragraph just shinned, I just perfectly saw the scene in my head.
Also, hope that are more kinds of Japanese married besides these ones.
I hope so too. I’ll let you know if I run into any.
Ken, as someone who’s reading your blog for quite some time, I must thank you, like for real real.
Because of the standard anime / manga stuff, living I Japan was always a dream of mine. But that died thanks to you and your blog. I’ll probably visit it someday, have some fun and come back. But after all the crazy shit you write, it’s definitely far from what I could ever imagine. So thank you, really.
That died thanks to me? Jeez, that’s pretty heavy. Now I feel like the dude who told you Santa’s not real. But all those letters I wrote him! He even wrote me back!
But for real, Japan’s still a fine place. You should visit and enjoy it. You’ll have a great time. It’s set up perfectly for visitors. Just don’t get married, that’s all I’m saying. Otherwise you’ll be that guy wearing the red suit in the mall, with everybody depending on you to fulfill their hopes and dreams.
Haha something like that I guess. But don’t worry, I just changed from living to visiting, so it’s all good in the end.
(also, right -> write in the fist comment)
Wait a second! Santa’s not real???
Stay here for a few more decades and you will surely know how much those diapers cost 😉
Other than getting married to escape the Japanese workforce and sexism, I suspect they also carry out the reverse-JET maneuver where they teach Japanese overseas.
Wait was this warning about the traps of marrying a Japanese women in Japan or having kids or living in Japan?
I’ll assume the answer is ‘yes’.
But real curiosity, what are your views of marrying an American woman (let’s say in America)? To me, it’s a similar situation where many people are having trouble getting decent paying careers to pay off their college debt for a worthless philosophy degree (but it was interesting and fun for them at least, right?) so they start to look for that financial security.
There are certainly challenges in any country, for both men and women.
Japan presents additional problems for foreigners, however. In America, you’ve got tons of options. You can choose where to work, rent any apartment you like, go to any store and expect service. If you do a decent job, you might get a raise, a promotion, be able to buy a house, even own your own business. All that’s going to be much harder in Japan.
In America, you also have information, about everything. Including, importantly, who you’re dating.
You probably have a sense of the differences between Democrats and Republicans, Harvard and the University of Milwaukee, and how a person from San Francisco might differ from someone from, say, Arkansas. You might not always be correct, but at least you’ve got something to go on.
In Japan, it’s possible you won’t even really know the person you’re dating. If someone says they’re from Gifu versus Hyogo, what can you draw from that? How’re you going to marry someone when all you know is they think parfait is oishii and Rirakuma is kawaii?
So here you are, teaching English, and you fall in love. Then because Japanese women almost never use birth control (other than abortion), you find yourself a new dad. Three years later, you haven’t gotten a raise and the company decides not to renew your contract. Even if you keep your job, it’s quite possible you won’t get a raise, ever. Add to that the challenges of operating in a country where you can’t read everything and are forced to depend on your wife for things as simple as opening a bank account or mailing a package.
I’ve seen guys go from having a quick fling to living in a tiny apartment crammed floor to ceiling with clothes and boxes, a baby crib, and a mother-in-law. That’s a sobering reality.
Yeah this is true. Thanks for writing. I always enjoy your thoughts and comments.
On a side note, I saw a youtube video of a Japanese show where the host went to help a family where the father and mother didn’t have a conversation for 23 years. It was pretty insane. And they had I think 4 kids in the past 25 years. Here’s a link if anyone is interested, I actually cried during it: https://youtu.be/a5IXj8LFKA0
It cuts the other way too. Japanese women can all too easily end up married to a guy who would be too immature to handle a family even back home with far easier circumstances. Back when I was still in Tokyo my partner and I went for a visit to an aquarium. We had a break at a cafeteria and saw a foreign guy there with his wife and daughter (about 10 years old?). The guy had obviously been toughing out for quite some time given his daughters age. And he didn’t look… well? Just severely emotionally and mentally run down. He was mid to late thirties I guess, but appearing a bit like a teenager who had somehow ended up in a situation he just couldn’t handle. There he was on an outing with his wife and kid, and all he could do was stare at his phone the entire time, just spacing out and not engaging with them at all. His wife meanwhile had perhaps the most haggard face I had ever seen on a Japanese woman. Like she hadn’t slept well in years. She didn’t realize what she was getting into I guess, and now it was too late.
Great point. In the absence of a healthy relationship, all parties suffer. Both women and men need to be far more discerning when choosing a life partner.
But I hear phrases like “I want a Japanese girlfriend,” or “I want a foreign boyfriend,” which is nuts. As though just being “Japanese” or “foreign” is good enough, and anybody who fits in that vague category will suffice. Forget values, financial solvency, future goals—just check that one box and we’re good to go.
But judging by some of the international marriages I’ve seen, that does seem to be how they selected one another.
thats exactly what it looks like… i even know people who get nothing but japanese girlfriends, even though they are not even living in japan (and wouldnt be able to stay here otherwise in the first place)…
but its also worth mentioning, that whatever the reasons are, couples here got together fast (seems to me at least) and often with more or less no real understanding of each other… i met a lot of people who got their partners during their first week in japan (because that was the main objective) and i also met a lot of couples who got married after a few month…
what also happens often is getting a japanese partner, get married and then come to japan and apparently rumours are true, the partners change and you cant do anything about that…
Hmm looks like I need to rethink my dating plan. I guess I’ll add “Likes to drink beer” and “Doesn’t want kids” to the foreign requirement. This should cancel each other out financially speaking too.
If I had to develop a checklist, then yeah definitely, I’d include those two items. Although I suspect “doesn’t want kids today” may not always equal “doesn’t want kids ever.” You know what they say about investing—past results do not guarantee future performance.
Words to keep in mind.
excellent comment. If only more people read this, there won’t be so many crazy relationships out there. I just came back from Thailand, and boy….let’s just say a lot of people look at things as either “foreigner” or “thai”. …its absurd.
Cut into the booze money?? Hell no, Can you trade in the wife and kid for liquor store credit?
Pretty sure if that were possible it wouldn’t be called the liquor store any more. It’d be the wife and kid store.
Sounds like you’re having sex with deadbeats. Find a real woman, someone who is up to your level.
Sounds like you’re a real man. A charger, a tiger. You’ve got standards, high standards. A high-level Japanese woman needs a husband like you.
Write back in a few years and let me know how that’s working out.
Funny, I was going to say the same thing as Joe…
Okay, I threw out a pretty snarky answer, and I feel a bit bad about that. Maybe I failed to properly convey what I’m seeing here.
A great number of Japanese women do their best to survive through very challenging conditions. Not just women either—many Japanese families have living situations that would be considered poverty-level in the U.S. (Probably should write a post about this.) Women, and men, work depressingly long hours for low pay. (The worst example I know of is a female friend who put in 20 hours a day (sleeping at her desk for 4), six days a week, for over five years.) Deadbeat.
Now, if you’re saying that housewives are deadbeats, I guess that’s a matter of perspective. Yeah, it does look easier than working, although caring for children, shopping, cooking, and doing laundry every day hardly qualifies as a dream job.
So what does it mean to find someone “up to your level”? Japan’s a different culture. They lack qualities that Westerners take for granted, yet value things that other countries aren’t even aware of. It’s arrogant to judge them as somehow being below anyone else.
On a tangential note, how hard is it to have a nest egg in Japan? What about saving for retirement? I can’t imagine that a family living in near poverty would be able to squirrel away much, but maybe they put away every yen they can. I dunno.
They put away every yen they can.
That being said, Japanese people tend not to divulge many personal details, with money being the most personal. So it’s hard to know how much anybody else has. (Which is the point, I suppose.)
That being said, and generally speaking, Japanese folks tend to be way, way more frugal than, say, Americans. Sure, some women (and men) walk around with Gucci bags, but that’s only one or two showy items. They certainly don’t have the multitude of toys people in the U.S. do—garages full of snowboards, mountain bikes, jet skis, golf clubs, trampolines, whatever. A real sports enthusiast might have one or two of these things, but you’ll never see the wanton excess you do in the U.S. Japanese folks don’t have space for them, nor do they have oodles of time to spend bouncing pogo sticks over some backyard pool. Nor do they have a backyard pool. Watching Americans on YouTube is amazing.
Car ownership is also less common, and train passes for commuting are typically paid by one’s employer. That alone can add up to a lifetime savings of several hundred thousand dollars.
“What will you do when you have to go into the hospital?” I’ve heard this countless times from Japanese people, and if you watch dramas, you’ll see how often this scene is depicted. Japanese folks seem to be constantly preparing for disaster. But I guess when your country is fire-bombed, nuclear bombed, and invaded, it might change your outlook a bit. Also, it’s not an free and open society. If you haven’t made an effort to work and save, don’t count on anybody to help you out.
Of course, there are many different situations, but generally people seem to be struggling to get by, and saving what they can. After they retire, they move to the country, raise vegetables, and live on social security. Most young people, however, don’t expect much in the way of future benefits, given that the population numbers are plummeting. Guess we’ll see how that plays out in thirty or forty years.
> many Japanese families have living situations that would be considered poverty-level in the U.S.
That’s why I left. It was fun to arbitrage the dating market for a few years, but then I realized that starting a family in Japan is functionally equivalent to signing up for a lifetime of indentured servitude. Securing the right to raise a kid in a decently big, properly insulated, non-drafty apartment/house (that won’t cost you 30 years of your life to pay off) is a lot easier overseas. Japan may be a first world country, but the amount of life that you have to exchange in return for basic sustenance (to paraphrase Thoreau), is ridiculous.
Sorry if I sound bitter… perhaps I am on some level.
I hear that word a lot, “bitter.” But when things are wrong, you’re not supposed to be okay with it. Otherwise, you’re that other word: “schizophrenic.”
Looks like you understood the situation perfectly, and reacted intelligently.
I would love to see a post about that (the poverty level living statement, that is).
Ah, I should probably write something on that. Just yesterday I ran across the statistic that 16.3 percent of Japanese children live in poverty.
I’ve no doubt that’s true, although there’s a much broader type of poverty that pervades Japan, only nobody talks about it. I might put the rate at 25%, possibly higher. Yeah, like I said, I should probably write that up. Thanks for the push.
Yes, I’d reiterate that poverty in Japan particularly for the elderly is something that no one really talks about and really should be addressed. On my last visit, I met up with a buddy who’s involved with a charity that helps the elderly poor in Japan…and the numbers he told me were stark. Among industrialized nations, Japan has the second highest poverty rate, especially among the elderly…and the rate is actually going higher, unlike in the US where it’s been declining. Most people, even Japanese, think they don’t have as big an issue as other countries, but as you stated…it’s not something they talk about or want public. In Japan, they may be living in tarp villages under bridges and out of the public eye…while in San Francisco, you can see a homeless guy taking a dump on a manhole cover on Market Street…at 10 AM (I’ve personally seen this).
I just came back from a month-long stay in Tokyo and I was able to meet up with several people whom I had met either online or through friends. I had thought of trying to meet up with you, Ken, to buy you a beer or 10 but I believe you had said you left Tokyo for greener pastures. Overall, I think Tokyo is the best city I have ever visited, better than Barcelona, Paris, London, NYC, and other American cities I have visited. To anyone on the fence about visiting Tokyo, hop off and go. The food alone was worth the trip and I have never seen so many well-curated and interesting museums. There are so many interesting places to explore.
Overall, your comment about how hard families have it in Japan rings true. The people I did meet up with were for the most part happy but they put in long hours working and commuting and for one young family I met, their idea of a relaxing day is a few hours together on a Saturday afternoon just sitting quietly at a cafe, taking turns playing with their infant son. The amount of time they have to work is, as you say, depressingly long and difficult.
And yet, they love living in Japan, even the expats I met who all had Japanese wives, children, and were resigned to long commutes to and from their cramped quarters in the outer reaches of Tokyo.
Take everything you heard with a huge grain of salt, Alex. Almost no Japanese is going to break the unified front and tell you the truth that they are miserable, especially given that you are a Western tourist. They specifically want you to go back and tell everyone, “Oh, the Japanese are so nice, and work so hard, and they’re so happy, Japan must be a wonderful country,” despite the fact that none of those things is true. There’s a script, and they’re just sticking to it.
I suspect the same is true of most countries. Before guests arrive, you’re supposed to hide the dirty laundry, put away the dishes, and brush your teeth. The wonder is why visitors actually buy it as reality. I know I did for a long time.
Partly I suppose it has to do with finding what you’re told to look for. Japan has tremendous PR. Also, we tend to dismiss apparent flaws just because they’re different from what we’re used to. Isn’t it wonderful how a family of four can live in a one room apartment?—what an efficient culture those people have. Isn’t it amazing how commuters cram silently into overcrowded train cars ever day—how disciplined they are!
Japanese folks are really good at hiding the laundry. It takes a few years of living with them before you know where to look.
Hi Ken! First of all let me tell you all the common stuff here such as that I love your blog, I have read all the posts and discussions (yes I even love the discussions here – compared to basically any other online media) and that you have to! write that book (and yeah, more blog posts for sure)…
I have pretty similar impressions from here as you do and at the same time I have to admit that as I do not speak any Japanese, I am looking at the Japanese society prety much through your eyes. Yet at the same time this is my third season here (working in Hokkaido as a ski-guide) and despite the fact I have led no more than three meaningful conversations with locals I can see quite some of the stuff you address myself.
At least here on Hokkaido I do not think you are right saying that “Japanese folks are really good at hiding the laundry. It takes a few years of living with them before you know where to look.” I think the situation to be so shitty here in so many respects that after few months you start realizing that (quoting you again) “Japan has a good PR” and that the reality is way more bitter.
Last year I traveled a lot through tiny places in central Hokkaido (the Daisetsuzan area) and I was shocked. The place we spend most of the time (Kutchan, Abuta-gun) is a shithole (15K inhabitants town with the only “culture” being two Pachinko parlours, each with like 2000 slot machines), but at least 80% of the houses are houses and not ruins. I have been to villages up north where the ratio is the other way round. The shape of the houses here, the level of culture/leisure time opportunities, the general impression from the people and their “level of happiness”, the few conversations with Japanese people I managed to have in English, the missing infrastructure (like there is almost no public transportation at many places and even if there is some, it is ridiculously expensive or that an island where there are below zero temperatures for six months a year has no gas distribution network and everybody is either cold or pays fortune for kerosene…) or the level of medical care here (a regional hospital with hundreds of beds yet only one doctor in-house most of the time where most cases are resolved by “go to Sapporo” (we have some injuries here riding the trees all the time…)), it all ads up to the general impression of a country which public image should be kinda reconsidered.
Coming from the Czech Republic, a country still imagined by many in the west as less developed, every day I spend in Japan I am more and more surprised how much better our live back home is compared to what these guys here have to go through…
Yep, that seems accurate. Living among local people, especially out in the country, it’s easier to see the reality. There are fewer places to hide that laundry.
But walking the streets of big cities, it’s easy to assume everything’s great in Japan. Look at all the well-dressed people relaxing in cafes and going out to dinner. It’s only when you realize they rode an hour into the city from some dingy apartment in a massive Soviet-style public housing complex that the reality starts to emerge. For some, this is the one day they’ll put on those clothes and meet their friends.
A telling question to ask Japanese folks is how often they meet their friends. “Once or twice a year” isn’t an uncommon answer.
I don’t know about the Czech Republic, but in the U.S., I often hung out with my friends every week, and sometimes every day.
Cannot reply to your post directly so trying it here. The question to ask is interesting (yet there aint no one to ask as we speak no Japanese and its super rare to meet anyone around here speaking some English…). We have it the same back home of course, its common to meet close friends even more times a week + if you are an active person you usually have different groups of friends – biking group, soccer group, bar group… whatever you can imagine.
You are probably right. One of the things that I enjoy about travelling is that it has given me a greater appreciation of where I am from. I don’t think Canada is perfect as we face some major problems now and in the future but we have a fairly good quality of life. I doubt we will ever face the demographic problems that Japan is experiencing and I know that the Canadian press is not muzzled to the extent that it appears to be in Japan.
To put my observations into focus, I found that the people my wife and I talked to in Spain, France, and the UK were quite dissatisfied. Unlike what you state about Japan, particularly in the UK, people were extremely vocal and outspoken about problems. What really annoyed them were taxes, the erosion of social services, rising costs, and how it was getting harder and harder to just pay the bills. Particularly in Spain, youth unemployment is shockingly high.
I think that the brave face that the people in Japan put on regarding how they felt about life in Japan was their way of getting on with life. Amongst the expats, three Canadians and one American, it was the Canadians who were the more despairing of their circumstances although they did appear quite content. The American, in his early 60s, was very happy I thought. He was proud of the progress his three children had made in getting established in careers. He was very glad not to have had a car for over 25 years, and he was deeply in love with his Japanese wife of over 30 years.
If the people of Japan really are as miserable as you say, I feel badly for them. I saw a lot of people in bars, restaurants, shops, museums, and out walking the streets who seemed to be going about their business and quite engaged. All things being equal though, I greatly enjoyed my visit to Japan and I look forward to returning.
“Miserable” likely overstates the case. I wouldn’t characterize Japanese people as such. A great many do live in poor circumstances, and the work is generally very hard, but most find some ways of enjoying life. Of course, the times you enjoy it most are probably when you’re out in bars, restaurants, shops, and museums, so I’m not sure that tells the whole story.
Though why Japanese women generally hate the idea of leaving Japan? Nationalistic prime minister, boring work culture, just why?
Japanese women love to travel overseas. But moving to a foreign country presents major risks. You’d be leaving your culture, family, and friends for a place where you’re guaranteed to be a minority, and either dependent upon a spouse for support or else face limited job prospects. Sushi bar waitress isn’t exactly a life plan.
Meanwhile, your entire family will guilt you to death. Why can’t you just get married and supply us with grand-kids, like everybody else? If things don’t work out, you can’t easily return home with your tail between your legs, like you could in the West. Japanese culture isn’t big on forgiving, and it doesn’t reward risk-taking.
Add to that that many other countries are less safe, less clean, and have food that’s not nearly as oishii. Japan’s got plenty of drawbacks, but it’s got advantages as well. Not everybody is in a position to roll those dice.
You are doing the world in invaluable service. Every weeaboo fanboy should be forced to read your entire catalog. With every article I thank God more and more that my childhood hopes of moving to Japan and living “the dream” never came true due to forces beyond my control. Forget the bullet; Divine forces saved me from a bomb.
Very true. I wonder how many otaku will actually believe the truth of what is written here?
Heh, it’s been my experience that people generally believe what they want to believe.
And on that note, I believe I’ll have another beer.
There’s a corollary to what you wrote I think. A lot of Japanese (not just women) live with their parents until they get married or are financially independent. Given the kind of positions women would generally cover, going to live on your own with a decent quality of life is completely out of the question. And living with your parents (as a woman) involves helping out with all the house chores plus DAILY pressure about getting married and producing offspring. So, a lot of the time a husband is literally the only way out. Just run away as fast as you can whenever you meet a girl that has to go back home because of curfew..
The main problem right now in Japan is simply the long working hours. Working long hours may have worked out in the post-war time when the economic competitioners also had heavy losses and were rebuilding, but didn’t want to work long hours. Nowadays they need to start working smart, efficiency and productivity are the important things now. The japanese boys are too occupied with building their own life to spend their time looking at girls. (Thankfully they do, women should never be a mans top priority). Sadly they can’t build their own life because they get stuck in their low positions and rarely get raises. To get those you gotta work more, longer and harder, right? So add another two hours on your 10h daily routine, until the cycles continues in a couple of years. Regrettably, someone needs to die first (Dentsu employee) before Japan thinks about doing something about the national working hours. More time, more love, more hobbies, more sex, more sleep, more happiness. Maybe someday you could actually look at your japanese wife and feel love for her instead of a business and procreation partner. Here’s hoping Japan could become my country to live in…
Interesting post which is quite relevant for me. I’m going on ten years of marriage to a J woman. We have one child age 6.
I speak fluent Japanese, can read and write as well, and have been here 20 years. About a year ago I decided, for the sake of my child, my sanity, and to possibly save my marriage, we need to get the fuck out of here.
Here is one factor I think may work for me. One version of the non-J male marries Japanese woman story I’ve often heard about, and would love J Rule of 7 readers to chime in on, is: meeting, falling in love, getting married, and living abroad first then eventually moving to Japan. I’ve heard the tale a few times and it often can be summed up with the exasperated husband saying “what the hell happened to the woman I married!?” Take a wonderful vibrant J woman you met abroad and reintroduce her to the choking miasma of being a Japanese person in Japanese society and you will witness a shocking transformation. The foreign husband will find that they slipped down the priority rankings and that their happiness, well being, and value as a human being is now is subordinate to what your Japanese friends, neighbors, and even total strangers may or may not think about your wife.
So my experiment is: if you take a J woman away from this will the removal of social pressure make her, for lack of a better expression, more pleasant to be around?
It’ll be interesting to see how your life “experiment” works out. Will your wife be okay living overseas? Will your child? Will you? Ultimately I suspect it’ll be for the best, but there sure seem to be a lot of variables.
I have misplaced Hotspur’s email. Could you pass it on directly to me or ask him to send it again, please?
I sent it off, no worries. You should have it now.
My wife and step-daughter immigrated from the Philippines. My daughter was then 5 years old and is now 12. She has no accent and behaves mostly as an American child would. My wife when she moved here insisted we would retire to the Philippines. Now she says she could not imagine going back to that life.
Your wife will always still be a product of her home country though. My wife will may get upset about something and say “it’s not like that in the Philippines.” The culture they come from obviously effects the way they see things and interpret them. Sometimes all that is needed is a little explanation. When you marry someone from a foreign culture you have to expect that is a part of them.
Are you considering moving to an English-speaking location? If so, how good are your wife’s English communication skills? Can she find work? Will she fit in quickly or be isolated? She may want extended breaks back in Japan.
As for you, what are your employment prospects in your new location? Is it a step up/across/down?
Moving abroad is very costly as you need to start over buying many things, and will be stressful at first.
Also, you need to have a commitment of around twelve years in the new location for your child’s school education. Moving between different language education systems can be very disruptive for kids.
If you decide to move, good luck.
I would like to know what the reasons are that made you want to leave Japan?
Interesting questions. Allow me to elaborate about my situation.
My wife was educated abroad and speaks fluent English. People often think she’s American. She enjoys country life, gardening, yoga, etc. all very portable pursuits. She has a decent job now but she’s not the corporate ladder climbing type.
My daughter is totally bilingual and should fit in very quickly.
I have been planning to escape from Japan for a year now. I’ll be taking a two year teacher certification course in Ontario. We will leave with enough cash to live on during my education and hopefully have leftovers for a down payment on a house.
When comparing Japan to Canada I find that Canada offers a brighter future. The following things are contributing factors. My daughters education, bullying, racism, sexism, global warming, unsustainable demographics, inheritance issues for both my wife and I as well as our daughter, unsustainable pension system, quality of life, quality of death, neighborhood associations, clinical depression (none of us but so many people we know), geopolitical shenanigans with N.Korea and China, yellow sand, PM2.5, earthquakes, nuclear power, poisonous animals, and the horseshit belief that family should be subordinate to the needs of ones employer.
We also have a large family support network awaiting us in North America. Number of extended family members we can depend on here is 1.
It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. I look forward to vacationing in Japan where we can just enjoy the good and ignore the bad.
Do it! There will be challenges but the rewards of making the move will quickly outweigh them. You have clearly thought the matter through and really have your ducks lined up in a row!
My wife (Japanese) and I had a pretty sweet life in Tokyo but left for Ontario ourselves five years ago with Fukushima as the catalyst but many of the factors you cited that had been niggling at us, too. We haven’t looked back. We have travelled to Tokyo twice since and thought both times, “Well, that was then but we’re happy where we are now, thank you.”
In your case, with a child in the mix (unlike us) it would seem all the more straightforward decision. For us, a small city of about 30,000 has worked out well. There is enough going on to keep us amused but it is quiet and people are friendly and welcoming. Toronto is expensive and alienating in the way of big cities everywhere and while country life beckoned initially, it quickly became obvious that my wife would soon have felt very isolated.
If you would like to contact me privately perhaps Ken could pass along my email address?
Done dizzle, it’s in the (e)mail. Thanks for a positive and encouraging comment.
It is a brighter future, of that I’ve no doubt. And from the “contributing factors” you listed, it’s clear you know Japan’s well.
Now knowing some of your details, I’m really glad to hear you’re planning to move. Japan’s a great country. To be a customer in. You just never want to be the server. You’ll have a better time vacationing here, and living there.
thanks for your detailed answer, it points at more stuff to watch and think about. I also agree, that in your situation it is for the best to leave.
Out of interest though, what was the reaction of your wife/other associates? Only approval?
Hi. Reactions are mixed. But it’s hard to explain my reasons for leaving to friends who are so painted into a corner they can’t leave. It’s cruel for me to burst their bubble when it’s the only thing helping them to maintain their sanity.
My wife was skeptical when I first brought it up a year ago. But she’s on board now.
I pretty much made the same move as you’re planning to and for the same reason…and while I do miss Japan now and then, I haven’t really looked back. My child is growing up bilingual and is exposed to many different kids from different backgrounds…and it’s not like I have to send him to an International School to do that here in California. As for the missus, she’s definitely seem a lot more vibrant and less restrained than she was in Japan…and she’ll be the first to say that it helps not having to deal with the annoying parts of being a Japanese wife and mother in Japan.
Hope your move works out well! Godspeed!
Thanks for the encouragement! It’s going to be a wild ride. I’ll pop back into the comments and let you guys know how things went. There are certain to be problems along the way but I have vonfidence in my resilience.
Has anybody already told if you are a genius when you describe your life, Ken? Your writings are really revolutionary.
As a girl and foreigner in Japan, I can tell if most of the Japanese guy are really shy and passive or really in the opposite they are jerk and pervert. So, it puts most of the Japanese girl in a high competitive environment to get “the nice guy but not jerk” or easier for them just get the foreign man instead. When I heard dating advice from my Japanese female friend, honestly they were scared me. Like, how can this innocent looking girl with pink ribbon and fluffy skirt can give me advice how to seduce a man aggressively and secure their future through a man.
They didn’t change when they get married, just showing their true colour.
I’m noticing a lot of recurring themes these last 10 or so posts, Ken! I’m no Freud but ….
Yes, the realities you describe are true for many people, and Japan can be an oppressive place. The pressure to conform to the majority is high and personal initiative is strongly discouraged.
But on the other hand, the realities we experience are often a result of our own place in life. Are you living in a bubble where you only see this side of Japan?
In my own short time in Japan I’ve been so lucky to meet several Japanese people who, like you, really don’t like this side of Japan, and they simply choose not to take part in it. Like many other countries, Japan too has alternative communities where the ‘salaryman’ culture suddenly seems very far away.
Like I said, I’m no Freud, I’m sure you thought of all these things yourself. Just trying to spin something positive out of all this! Cheers!
Dude… That is probably the most accurate description of married life in Japan that i’ve ever read.
A few years ago I too was a young bachelor sampling all the delights that Japan had to offer. But in the blink of an eye, the smoking hot, career oriented girl that I was dating got pregnant. Before I knew it I had 2 kids, a mortgage and a pretty sizable gut. She swapped the business attire for mom jeans and now spends her days enjoying coffee mornings and play dates.
Is she at least still smoking hot?
Your blog is the reason I’d be fine with finding an intelligent, pretty Japanese chick just here in the U.S.
God knows I don’t ask for much
Back when I was a Rotary exchange student, I noticed that most of the Japanese kids who signed up for that program were girls. The brightest boys were all on the railroad to success in a Tokyo office tower, and there was no room in that plan for a year abroad. The girls, I think, had an inkling that there wasn’t much good in store for them, and were looking for a way out.
On a different note, if you find the right Japanese woman, an international marriage can be a good deal for both partners. The Japanese woman can have a man who will help out around the house a little and actually come home most nights. And an American man like yourself can get a wife who doesn’t try to compete with him in the manliness department, and is likely to stay fit and attractive well into middle age. Most of the successful international marriages that I have seen here involve a Japanese woman who doesn’t quite fit in. And none of them wear miniskirts or glue-on eyelashes.
mine does, but she definitely doesn’t fit in
she wears them as she knows I like them, and because it makes her feel good x)
Seems doubtful. We need to see pictures.
you have made me really consider whether or not staying long term in Japan is right for me.. its gloomy reading… but like you say, better to be informed than ignorant
I feel the exact same way. And yet, there’s no doubt that all gloominess is in direct proportion to how big my eye pies were.
Plus, I’m sure I’m not saying anything you didn’t already know, yourself, at some level.
so.. i guess the best way is to enjoy it for what it is, whilst it is good.. and then when/if it stops being good, head back to the real world .. wondering what else you could have learned instead of japanese lol
Well, I’ll say this—it’s good to keep that door open. Better think twice before you nail it shut and brick it over.
Oh, Ken… again a wonderful piece of truth) I just came back from my winter vacation, walked through Narita and thought: wtf?
I”m a girl who has been here for past 8 years and I guess I reached my peak of life. A lot of people I know are married to Japanese women… poor men. While every night they spend sitting in a pub drinking after work… I feel sorry for them. Nobody is waiting them back home and they can do whatever they way. This is not what I call a family life.
That’s certainly a common situation, and one that doesn’t seem to work out well for anybody. Even more surprising is the number of married couples who live separately in different cities. Apparently Japanese folks got a mis-translation when they looked up the word “marriage.”
Wow really some truth here…. Japanese woman really want to marry faster and they will ask agressively at an early stage of the relationship if a marriage is in your future plan or not. If not they will move to the next guy.
I got one by myself. But i didn’t moved to her to Tokyo, instead she came to my country and we are living now in Germany. Without child still happy, i hope she dont change. But actually that fear after changing i would have with a German woman too… But i guess the key is to find someone who fits your personality. Accidently mine and my wifes fit couse we both dont fit perfectly to the people in our countries. We somehow met in the middle. And we are both happy that we dont have to behave like the proper way a Husband or Wive should behave in each others countries nowadays. I hope that continues.
So no real point in my saying, i just wanted to write finaly something couse i love this blog and ken reminds me that living here and not in Tokyo might be not that bad decision after all. Thanks Sensei 😀
Could you elaborate on the “we dont have to behave like the proper way a Husband or Wive should behave”. Now I’m curious.
Its basicily just little things. Sure many things are the same in every relationship. But on some points we dont have the pressure of things that should be “of course” like this or that. One example is the breakfast. My wife works only part time and if i would be a japanese guy i would demand her to make me the proper japanese breakfast and it should be ready when i wake up. But im a German im not used to it at all and i dont care and especialy i dont like hot food in the morning, so we both sleep longer. One other things are Birthdays. In Germany if you have birthday you take care of everything, the party, inviting etc.. you even bring some snacks to work for your colleagues. i never liked that, so we changed to japanese style that the partner takes care for the others birthday. (But that our thinkings of the “of course you celebrate birthday like that.” were different was not so easy to find out at first 😀 ) The advantage of an International relationship is, that the partner dont know what is usual. But the problem is the partner dont know what is usual…. so you have to talk a lot about thinks that are normaly obvious and both partners has to be open mindet about doing things different. But if you start that it gives you the chance to just say: “I never liked that, lets do it different”. Also no one cares even if we would do something that is neither japanese nor german, people are like “their different anyway”.
I hope that gives you a little understaning. My brain lacks of good examples at the moment^^
That’s a great success story, and I’m glad to hear it. It’s a reminder that a partner’s nationality isn’t as important as having the right living situation. Sounds like you found it.
It’s funny. Like so many of your readers I’ve yearned to go live in Japan at different times during my 28 years of life. But even during my rather crazed weeaboo days when I was a teenager, I never saw myself with a Japanese girl. My friends would tease me about it for sure.
Instead, I moved across two continents to Canada and have since been really happy with my Canadian girlfriends. So much in fact that I can’t see myself ending up with a non-North-American anymore.
But the thought of living in Japan still tugs at me, goddammit. Even after visiting and realizing, just as you said Ken, that it’s really nowhere close to being anything great.
I sometimes ask my French Canadian girlfriend if she’d be crazy enough to follow me on my self-harm-inducing adventure if I ever decide to have a quarter-life crisis and move to Hokkaido. So far, she agrees.
Here’s to hoping I can get over Japan and knock some sense into myself and never subject her to any of my nonsense.
Sounds like a plan in the making. It’s great to live in Japan for a while, if you can get in and out clean.
If your job and living situation in Canada aren’t too ideal, that would make moving here easier. And if you don’t stay in Japan more than a year or two, you could still move back without damaging your present friendships or future career. Whether your girlfriend comes or not would be up to you; I can see both benefits and drawbacks to that.
Having a reasonable amount of cash would also help immensely, but then it always does.
So if that sounds roughly like your situation—or a situation you can get to—then I’d say go for it.
Hey Ken. I am glad that you are the person you are, keep doing what you’re doing and never stop having fun in the meantime : )
I am really wondering If I can ask of your opinion about a certain dilemma I am faced with. I hope it fits somehow the theme of this thread too.
I am 25 years old and have the opportunity to study in Japanese university for 2 years, maximum 4. The uni is outside Tokyo. I’ll be doing a research project in history, which means that this is not a profitable pursuit. But what is really concerning me is that during these two years I’ll be just studying, without even making any real length of service for my CV. Before going to Japan I will have roughly around 8 months of real job experience. I am kind of afraid that once the uni is over I will be 27 and will only have these 8 months behind me. I guess that this won’t be any impressive not just in my home country, but in Japan too if I really want to stay as a working person there. I feel like I am risking too much. Like my time for “university experiments” is already over and continuing it may really had a bad effect on my carrier life. I have read many of your threads and think that I am aware of how a longer stay in Japan can affect a person’s private and professional life (I hope that this doesn’t sound offensive). I am not a native English speaker and although I think that my language skill is above average I believe that it would be really hard for me to find a job as an English teacher for example, having in mind all the natives (nothing against them). I know that many things may happen during that period but I prefer to be a realist about this. I see that there are not much job opportunities for a person with my skills. And I know, again thanks to you, that I won’t learn much Japanese for 2 years. I feel that staying in Japan for at least 2 years will be a nice opportunity to experience something completely new and that maybe I should be more braver, but I don’t want to lose myself either. Of all things in life I want the most to meet the right person for me and just be together, have a family. By reading your blog I know that Japan is not the best place for such a thing, quite the contrary. I know that it is my decision to take but I would appreciate your thoughts about it. Thank you.
Intriguing life challenge. Thanks for sharing.
One thing I’m picking up from your comment is that you don’t seem too jazzed about moving to Japan. A lot of folks in your position would be ecstatic. Japan’s the land of their hopes and dreams. Whether it’s actually Shangri-la, well, clearly there are varying opinions. But if you’re already thinking it might not be that great, then you could quickly find reasons to regret moving here. If that’s your mindset, then you should probably hold off.
As for your age, I’d put that in the plus column. You’re smart to think about the future and a career, but a couple of years between 27 and 29 won’t do much harm, and you could have an amazing time in Japan, if you come here with the attitude to enjoy it. Four years—okay now, that’s starting to sound like a long time.
So we could go back and forth with that line of thinking: It’ll be fun, go for it! No, there are better places to spend your time. But here’s what I really think:
Play the tape forward. We can usually predict, and direct, our futures pretty well. We don’t like to; I don’t know why. Maybe we just enjoy surprises. But honestly, what do you think will happen? There are a few strong possibilities.
You say you want to meet the right person. In two years here, you’ll probably meet somebody. So then what? Sayonara back home and leave her in tears? Take her with you and support the two (or 3 or 4) of you on a starting salary? Stay in Japan and try to do the same?
So that’s one likely future, unless you make a determined effort to avoid it.
I don’t know what your field of study or work is, so I can’t crystal-ball that, but I’m fairly certain you could map out the things likely to happen.
There is, of course, some randomness, but we can often accurately envision future events, and branches from the decisions we make. If you decided to come to Japan for only two years, avoid romantic entanglements, and then go back home and start a career, I’d say that sounds pretty solid.
On the other hand, if you came here, lost focus and two years became three, then four, and meanwhile got into a relationship, wound up in a job that payed the bills but wasn’t ideal…well hey, at least you’d have plenty of company.
I’d say you’d do well to decide what future you want, and then make it happen. Me too, I guess. Right after I make a pot of coffee.
Thank you again, Ken, for taking your time to write such a honest reply.
I didn’t want to make my original post too long and tedious so I tried to be as concise as possible. To tell the truth I used the term “career” (wow, I’ve chosen the wrong word in my first post, what a shame) just for convenience’s sake. I currently have a pretty dead-end job without any signs of ever improving. I have studied history in university but I cannot currently practice that “skill” anywhere because the economic situation of my home country is really terrible. I can always move to a bigger town/city than the one I am currently living but I don’t have any useful/special skills anyway. I really have no idea what I am going to do if I go to Japan for two years and return back. Definitely no career ideas, but I guess that I will “stand out” with Japan in my CV (sorry if it seems like I am treating that country just like a tool, I hope that all can see that I have nothing like that in mind).
So, many people, or probably every sane person would just jump for Japan without thinking twice were they in my place. I guess that if I look at it objectively/logically I shouldn’t even worry and just go, use the opportunity to really do what I’ve studied for. Maybe I shouldn’t underestimate myself, maybe even for a person like me there would be much more and better work opportunities in Japan than my home country. Something like “what do I got to lose anyway” situation. I am probably a fool to hesitate about the “big move” but here I am, thinking that even if ignore the working experience I may not find “the one” in Japan (and what I have mostly in mind is another foreigner like me, nothing against Japanese women). But I guess that life doesn’t work like that anyway. And that living in Japan, living anywhere is something much more than this.
Hm, maybe the best thing to do would be to just go for 2 years at first and see what happens. Roughly speaking, I “can” envision that if I don’t find what I am looking for I’ll just go back and have “studied in Japan” in my CV. Which, as you said, it’s not bad at all. I guess that’s the only thing I can “see” for sure. And If I try to envision anything else right now I may also lose my mind : )
Sorry if what I wrote is a mess. I guess that at this moment my life is a mess too.
Thank you once again.
I think you’re okay. I mean, nobody knows where they’re going in life. Sure, Elon Musk does, but he’s not human. The rest of us just stumble along doing the best we can. Then later, if things work out, I’m always like Oh, that was my plan all along. Nobody rewrites history like Seeroi Sensei.
You know though, this phrase really struck me: “I really have no idea what I am going to do if I go to Japan for two years and return back.”
I kind of think you need to figure that out. Like, okay, I’ll go to Japan for two years, and when I get back, I’ll return to school for a Ph.D in History/open a ramen shop/become a plumber—whatever. But figure something out.
Alternately, have a plan that “I’m going to Japan for two years, after which I’ll stay there and become a tour guide/kindergarten teacher/open a ramen shop and pursue an online Ph.D in History.” Again, something.
In other words, come up with a plan. Any plan. Moving to a foreign country and hoping somehow God bails your ass out isn’t one of the seven habits of highly successful people.
Personally, I intended to become a member of the yakuza and then a movie star. Okay, sure, it didn’t quite pan out, but at least I had goals. Probably it helps for your plans to be slightly realistic.
I’ll trust you can do better than I did.
Excuse me for my late reply.
I will go.
That same day I had a talk with one friend of mine who also happens to be a psychologist. He told me almost the same things as you (especially the Ph.D in History idea), that there are possibilities out there which are achievable whether I stay or decide to return back. I should just man up and follow my initial plan of going to Japan without giving up to fear and pressure from the “outside” world. I ruined my first opportunity to achieve it about 2 years ago, I won’t do it again.
I guess I was just really craving for understanding that was refused to me by “some” people. I don’t know if this makes me a weak person. I don’t care. I am just so very glad that I found it thanks to others, of course including you : ) Magic really happens when you are brave enough to just let the right people point out what you are missing or just pretending not to see, whether because of fear, ego, lack of knowledge or whatever. And when a person has the right mindset and has found peace things go so smoothly, I definitely saw that for myself these days.
You can always write an amazing scenario for an yakuza film and even direct it yourself, I am sure of this.
Thank you for the kind reply. Really. You are great.
PS: I hope that you won’t misunderstand what I’m about to say, but I agree with you, eff certain “aliens” : )
Hi Western Sky,
If you were Australian, I’d say that your education path is preparing you for a career as a teacher / academic / senior public servant or similar (plus the radical breakout option, like starting your own business, becoming an artist, etc). How does that gel with your plans?
I am not sure if my reply will pop up right below yours so I am just answering anyway.
I am not an Australian, let’s just say that I am from Eastern Europe. I too believe that the most logical career path considering my education is teaching/academia. But that seems pretty ungrateful option where I live because my country is a mess, whereas in Japan I might have some chance of creating a career in the university I’ve chosen (although nobody could know that for certain). I am really open for any career path as long as I think that I can actually handle it and not feel miserable about it. I believe that I would be pretty happy with something that will allow me to be around people and will give me enough free time to dedicate to a significant other. Maybe what I really need to to is to just sincerely ask myself what I really want out of life. I definitely don’t want to be stuck with a Japanese wife and losing my “freedom”, that’s for sure. Truth be told I’ve spent the last few years so alone and confused, couldn’t find my way in life, if I can put it that way. Yes, I’ve discovered Japanese culture and liked it but Ken is so right when he answered to one of the comments above that “everybody dreams of something else, somewhere else, someone else.” I started reading Japanese Rule of 7 about year and half ago and my image of Japan changed drastically. It’s not that it’s not a perfect country – it’s just that I don’t think I’ll find there what I really want – the person of my dreams, the “one” for me. But hey, somebody told me that one fellow-countryman of mine managed to find via online dating an Australian girl and that they are living together in Japan. So I guess that everything is possible. I do feel that I would like to accomplish a lot of things while in Japan, not just studying at the uni. I would surely become more independent, see the world with new eyes, make discoveries. I am also thinking about exploring better my artistic side, you’ve pointed out this very well. But what’s the point of all this if I end up all alone?
After all, I have the great opportunity to probably do something meaningful with my life by going to study in Japan and I guess it would be disaster if I don’t do it. Probably a two year stay and the go wherever is the best option for me. I know that if I stay longer it would be because of an Ph.D degree or something or and most likely because of a gaijin sweetheart just like me. I guess that I am an idiot to think like that and that my “plan” is awful but that’s just me. Maybe my fears are groundless and I just have to summon the adventurer in me, keep it calm and just be “Big in Japan”. What I surely know is that the next 2 months will really be nerve-racking for me.
Dammit, Ken. You’re supposed to discourage me, not be all magnanimous and encouraging. 😛
The problem is, I feel like I have it really good in Canada.
I live in a highly affordable city known for it’s quality-of-life. I just purchased an inexpensive condo close to downtown and can walk or bike to get around without needing to ever own a car (something very important for me). Then there are all the parks and outdoors activities; the aforementioned interesting, highly-educated, highly-independent women.
You had replied to an older post I’d made a while back; shortly before my 17-day trip to Japan. I was full of enthusiasm and you mentioned that if I’d ever want to move there, Sapporo sounded like a good city with a healthy work-life balance. Incidentally, that’s where I’d wanted to move even prior to you mentioning it.
While I really enjoyed my time visiting Japan (mostly Tohoku) I couldn’t help feeling a sense of disappointment with it all. I would get anxious if I thought I was being obnoxious by Japanese standards. One evening, when I was out with other foreign tourists; joking and laughing as we were walking down the street in search of a bar, I was wondering if we were being too loud and if we were being judged.
There were other things too. In fact, my trip to Japan was richly enlightening in a spiritual sense, and also somewhat disappointing. By the end, I had made a desktop wallpaper with a list of reasons as to why I wouldn’t want to move there.
And then I took a hiatus from it all. Unsubscribed from all the pages I liked, stopped learning Japanese, stopped consuming any Japanese media, stopped reading your blog.
Yeah, that never works. In fact, your blog was the first thing I felt like reading on a particularly sour day where I wanted to take refuge in my interest of all things Japan. So I came back, tumbling down the rabbit hole; starting with your most recent blog posts and then moving onto the other websites I’d been ignoring for months.
Truth is, I’d like to be over Japan. It occupies the spot in my mind like that of a high-school crush on who you never asked out. Hell, I’ve even considered therapy to help me through this.
Haha, this is from the guy just complaining about other people writing their life-histories on your blog. The irony of it all.
Anyways, thanks again for what you do, Ken. You can’t imagine what a blow it would have been if the last thing I heard about you was about you getting shot in California.
Okay, now a fuller picture’s emerging. The moment I read, “I have it really good,” and about the condo, and walking/biking to work—I thought, Jeez, don’t screw that up by moving to Japan.
So, two things:
One is that everybody dreams of something else, somewhere else, someone else. They call it a mid-life crisis, but that’s just being dismissive. It’s natural to have dreams and a desire to get as much out of life as possible. But moving to Japan won’t cure that. You’ll still want something else (not that I’d know or anything). The trick is to scratch that itch without messing up your life.
But the second thing is—and I’m sure it’s obvious, but—you’ve been brainwashed. Hey, I was too. I don’t mean it in a bad way, but we were sold the idea that Japan’s something special, spiritual, unique, zen, whatever. Like every country isn’t. Vietnam, New Zealand, Aruba, Switzerland? Nope, somehow Japan’s special. They’ve got samurai.
What Japan has got is an amazing PR machine. I joke about it, but the other place they do this really well is Texas. Think of all the imagery. Special hats, special boots, special jeans—who the hell does that? But it keeps going. There’s a particular way of talking, and walking, chewing tobacco, trucks, gun racks, the Texas flag, armadillos, longhorn cattle, horses, rodeos, chili, Tex-Mex cuisine. And I use the word “cuisine” lightly.
But it’s all just show. It’s comical, because Texas is just another state, and not even a particularly pretty one, at that. But they take it seriously. Don’t mess with Texas. Oooh, really.
So in Japan, I used to live near this empty lot, just dirt and gravel, out in the suburbs. Then one day a bunch of trucks and cranes started constructing a concrete building. And once it was done they had this empty gray shell. Then they tacked wood paneling over the concrete, put in a rustic-looking bar, hung some red paper lanterns around it and presto!—traditional Japanese restaurant. Heh, just like Texas. Japan’s built up all this imagery, and now they stamp it out like it’s authentic and significant. It’s hard to see past that.
Not to get all psychological on you, but maybe you’re holding on to Japan as a retreat from your everyday life. There things would be different, fresh, exciting. You could start again, have a new life. Hey, I do it to. I dream of moving to Canada. Maybe what you need are a few vacations, here, and to some other countries. There are a lot of places as nice as Japan. Like Texas, for example.
Thanks for your reply, Ken. If you’re in Canada sometime, visiting Montreal, let me treat you to a drink.
I’m at the point where I know that it’s totally an illusion and a lie. I’m rational enough (I hope I am, but so people tell me) to also realize that I wouldn’t want to throw the good life away for Japan.
I do need a way to cure my obsession though. After much deliberation, I’ve recently considered restarting my learning of the language.
It might surely seem counterproductive. However, I’m getting more comfortable with the idea that I can’t escape my delusions about Japan. I’m 28 now and Japan has been in my life in some form since I was 8.
I’ve failed after multiple attempts to push it away from my thoughts. Hey, it only seems mature to admit my own faults to myself and work around them, if nothing else.
Maybe learning the language to a point where I can, to a degree, make the culture more accessible where I am currently might help me wean off of the more dangerous effects of my problem.
In any case, sorry again for the long post. And thanks for your reply.
So you’re doubling down by learning the language? Nice. A man after my own heart.
In passing, I took a picture in Tokyo when I was there last spring. Did you do this, Ken?
Your fascination with Texas makes you highly suspect.
“Smoat Busta Texas”? That’s high on the list for Greatest combination of nonsensical words I’ve ever seen.
That being said, I disavow all knowledge of said crime. And witnesses place me at a party during the time of incident, your honor.
So you ever gotten to date a lab-coat-coke-bottle-glasses Japanese girl before? Curious to know if they exist in Japan outside Yakult laboratories.
Well, I did date a lab technician, so I guess that’s pretty close. Wonderful person, actually.
” Maybe the only thing harder than being a woman in Japan is being a foreign man. ”
Mmmm… how about being a foreign woman in Japan? Asking because contemplating. Worth it? Not worth it?
Thanks for this post by the way. And the other ones! Been perusing around; your blog actually answers a lot of my “arguably politically correct” questions. Mmmm… much food for thought…
I had a really good friend here. She recently moved back to the States. There she was—and is again—very popular with men. And rightfully so, since she’s a great conversationalist, cares deeply about others, and is, incidentally, quite attractive. I asked her what her advice was for women dating in Japan, and her succinct reply was, “buy a vibrator.”
So I guess that’s one answer.
Decided to slack off at work and accidentally stumbled into this place. Best decision today! (Although my colleagues are probably left somewhat worried about my laughing breakdown).
So without further ado: thanks for bringing cheer to a hardened Hokkaido expat – your blog really puts things in a more positive light.
Keep it up! Will definitely donate a beer to your great cause when I’m not spending my salary on heating (and all the booze that comes with it).
Ah, thanks a bunch, Ella. Make sure to stockpile enough beer and wine to survive until spring first. Food and heat are nice-to-have’s, but you can’t risk getting snowed in without booze. Safety first.
Thanks to you, and your lady friend, for that one answer ^^ I guess it all boils down to how much I care about dating then ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It might be worth asking how much you care about social connections at all. It’s easy to make casual acquaintances in Japan, especially speaking English, since you’re essentially a walking free conversation class. But it’s really hard to make anything approaching a true friend.
It might also be worth noting that of the long-term ex-pats in this country, very few are women. Not saying Japan’s a bad place at all. It’s really great for a year or two visit. It’s only when you start thinking about settling here long-term that you need to worry about how you’ll fit into this society. The best advice might be to enjoy it, then get the hell out.
I actually quite love our way here. 3 months a year in Japan, the rest somewhere else. I think you can see quite a lot about how the life goes here this way yet you can keep your sanity at the same time 😀
Thanks Tomas, the Tomas-way-of-doing-things ^^ is actually what I have in mind for a start.
As soon as I sell my condo I plan to go over for a few months and attend a language school to boost my Japanese learning process. I am studying here, but there is nothing like immersion. I am Canadian; from what I read quickly I don’t need a special visa to visit (up to three months if my memory serves me right).
After that, who knows… I shall see from there 😀
3 months a year in Japan (or anywhere, really) sounds awesome. You’ve got a pretty sweet lifestyle if you can pull that off.
Thanks a lot for all the info! It’s genuinely appreciated : )
Mmmm… as far as true friends go, my point of view is that those are precious and pretty rare to come by in life in general anyway. I have a few and I don’t think I’ll ever have more. I am, however, gifted for casual “acquaintan-cyness” ^^ Basically, I am polite and fun, but I don’t let people in; at least I know myself pretty well : ))
In regards to “settling down”, I never have and (most probably) never will. Even in my home country. Which, I guess, is just another way of saying that I never feel like I “truly” fit anywhere… Lol, but that’s a whole other story.
I am a drifter and I’m fine with it. I enjoy learning and discovering and almost anything and everything fascinates me. Enjoying life in Japan for a year or two sounds like a great plan to me. I never foresee that long into the future anyway 😀
Thank you very much again for your time and for this blog! Been laughing and learning a lot and will keep on reading.
The part about a Japanese wife legitimizing one’s existence here really hit home for me. I always have trouble explaining to people back home why I don’t like to go out to eat or do stuff alone that much in Japan. I’m a translator here and totally fluent in Japanese, but as a foreigner who is getting older and is neither a tourist, student, nor the spouse of a Japanese citizen, Japanese people just don’t know what to make of me, and lately, I don’t know either.
I’ve been here a few years already, and it’s been real, but I’m on my way out this May. Like you once said, “everyone who can leave, does leave.” After living in Japan twice, once as a student and again as a shakaijin, I feel lucky to have finally realized that this isn’t for me while I’m still not tied down. Best of luck to you, whether you stay or leave, married or single! If living in Japan inspired me to have writing skills like yours, I’d probably stay as well.
I can completely understand why you’d want to leave. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t have similar thoughts. I’m just not sure I could ever get used to living in the U.S. again. The culture shock of a visit alone is enough to give me palpitations.
I’ve come to feel the best part of living in Japan is the system. Trains, vending machines, convenience stores—everything pretty much works. But the drawback is the way people interrelate, or rather, don’t. It’s not easy to choose.
“Everyone who can leave, does.” It’d be funny to fall victim to my own quote. Gotta be more careful what I write.
The “system” as you describe it reminds me of a fantastic essay I read once called “The Japanese are Different From You and Me.” In it, the author discussed how you can always count on Japanese people to do their job, thus vending machines are never out of order, elevators never break, etc, but then delves into exactly the point that you made about how it comes at great personal sacrifice and whatnot. I’m not pitching it very well, but I saved screenshots of the whole thing because it resonated so much with me. Could send it to you if you’re interested in that sorta thing.
Comparing my experience in the USA and Japan, it makes me wonder how hard it could possibly be to have nice trains, low crime, and all that stuff AND still have people with interesting hobbies and a proper work/life balance, and diversity… if America could somehow get its sh*t together a bit better, imagine how awesome it would be.
Absolutely, I’d be interested. I’ll email you.
As for America, yeah, I think a lot of people wonder the same thing. Doesn’t seem like it’d be that hard to accomplish, although it looks like the U.S. is rushing in the opposite direction at the moment.
It’s funny I’ve spent most of my adult life going back and forth between Japan and the US, and each time I’m in one country for a stretch of time…I end up longing for something in the other country, and it’s exactly as you describe. In the US, I miss the Japanese “system”…that sh!t just works like you expect it to. In Japan, I miss the people, the fact that, largely, society doesn’t have this overbearing expectation of ways that you are supposed to and not supposed to act…that people can be engaging, outgoing…interesting. Currently now on a stint in the US that’s going longer than my combined time in Japan…and I’ve getting that itch again…though I do feel that I’m old enough and the fact that I have a family and great in-laws in Japan, that maybe, just maybe, I can move back without having to deal with the expectations and the “other people” part that I don’t like about Japan.
The wife though doesn’t want to move back…mainly because she’d have to deal with running interference for her American husband and ハーフ son…hah!
I’m gonna have to side with your wife on this one.
Well, let me walk that back. If you can get a job that enables you to live someplace like Roppongi Hills and send your son to an international school, then okay, Japan’d be a decent choice.
But for an ordinary job and public school, Japan seems, um, highly questionable. I’m trying to choose my words carefully here. It’s a great country to visit, even work for a year or two if you want to relive the college lifestyle, but I’m not sure you’d want to put your family through it. Sure you wouldn’t rather have a nice two-week vacation? You could ride the shinkansen, go to a bunch of temples, and everybody’s gonna love Dad.
I would be super interested in that article; no problem publishing my email here so if you could send it to email@example.com, I would be grateful!
“Comparing my experience in the USA and Japan, it makes me wonder how hard it could possibly be to have nice trains, low crime, and all that stuff AND still have people with interesting hobbies and a proper work/life balance, and diversity… ”
You mean… like Germany, Switzerland, Singapore, Sweden, etc.?
I haven’t read the essay, but I don’t like the idea of Japanese exceptionalism, that Japan is fundamentally different from everyone else (as masterfully satirised in the South Park episode “Whale Whores”). Inside Japan, this exact way of thinking is used to justify why Japan should close the doors to immigration, why foreigners cannot be treated as equals, and why Japan should take only near-zero refugees (as it currently does).
I agree that USA has problems with gun violence, poor train infrastructure, etc. but surely these problems have origins far more complex than the fact that the Americans are not “Japanese”.
Definitely agree with you on this one, Seeroi-sensei. I feel the same way. Japan would be nearly perfect, if it weren’t for the awful people.
Ha, I was trying to be subtle. Way to just say it.
Of course, to be fair, that’s probably true about everywhere.
from all this…. I’m so glad I’m getting married to another foreigner in Japan. Thank god.
That sounds like a good choice. Gotta admit, I’m a little jealous.