Japanese Values

“OK, you got me, why do they make things so difficult?” —St Germain

As a not-so-casual observer of Japanese girls, something I’ve always wondered was: Why are they so sad? They weave through crowds staring dejectedly at their platform shoes, or scrunch over their phones on the train, trying desperately to tune out the world. So I consulted Seina, since she’s got an answer for everything.

“Why,” I asked, “are Japanese girls so sad? That’s something I’ve always wondered.”

“Because they’re not happy,” Seina replied. I don’t know why I’m consistently surprised by the obvious.

“Well, why aren’t they happy?” I pressed.

“Probably they don’t want to be.”

“Who doesn’t want to be happy?”

“People who are sad.”

I could find no flaw in that geometry. You gotta appreciate a perfect circle.

Life May be Good, But There’s No Reason We Shouldn’t Make it Worse

The thinking in Japan is if something’s hard, hey, let’s make it harder. This is antithetical to the U.S. value system, the society of hedonists, where folks are all about fun, entertainment, and pizza.

The Japanese approach to making life unnecessarily difficult is deeply rooted in culture and Japanese values, best understood through a few simple examples.

#1 in Japanese Values: Excessive Housework

Every girlfriend I’ve had in this country washed her sheets, blankets, and pillowcases at least twice a week, then proceeded to vacuum like it was a hobby. So they’re valuing cleanliness, which is great. No one appreciates gleaming floors and crisp linens more than Ken Seeroi. But in my apartment, I can get by just fine doing the wash once a month and vacuuming never. I have an impressively high tolerance for filth. It’s not that I don’t like the whole cleanliness thing, It’s just that I value other things more—such as exercise, booze, womanizing, Netflix, or practically just about anything other than the damn laundry.

#2 in Japanese Values: Cooking Whatever Takes the Longest

I know countless Japanese folks (okay, all women, but trying not to sound sexist here) who spend hours searching for recipes, shopping for groceries, whipping up a variety of small dishes, then washing a major mountain of plates and bowls, every day. Me, I just grab a 500-yen bento and boom, dinner’s done. So they’re valuing health and money, whereas I’m valuing time, which is better spent doing other things including, importantly, absolutely butt nothing. Okay, so I’m just lazy. But at least I’m consistent.

#3 in Japanese Values: Fussing, and More Fussing

I clicked Print and nothing happened. So I got up and checked the office Epson. “Add A4 paper” it said. Ms. Takamiya leaped up from her desk.

“Probably the ink cartridge,” she said. “You shouldn’t print in color.”

“I was printing in black and whi…” I began.

“Try clearing the buffer,” said Mr. Uchihara, hurrying over.

“I’m pretty sure it just needs pa…” I started, as the office manager leaned over my shoulder and started randomly pushing buttons. I don’t finish a lot of sentences in Japan.

So I added paper, Ms. Takamiya replaced the red and blue inks, while Uchihara-san and the manager wiggled cables and played an amusing duet on the printer buttons. Finally a single sheet emerged and everyone cheered. Their solution worked! I went back to my desk and resolved never to print again.

No problem’s so simple that increasing the number of people can’t fuck it up entirely. Yet something lives deep within the Japanese psyche that makes it impossible to just let other folks do things themselves. There’s an incessant fussing, a collective one-upmanship born out of fear of appearing unhelpful. Uh oh, Ken’s trying to get himself a small cup of black coffee—can’t let that happen. Better jump in and add some milk and sugar—he’ll like that. Milk and sugar? Oh, then he’s gonna want whipped cream on top. Wonderful, let’s make it seasonal pink then add sprinkles and chocolate chips. Look Ken, we’ve upgraded your lowly cup of Joe to a Venti Sakura Frappuccino! See how considerate Japanese people are?

#4 in Japanese Values: Superfluous Work

My workplace employs a clone army whose sole mission is to construct an all-encompassing schedule of monthly tasks and deliverables in Excel, printed in gloriously unreadable six-point font and an array of colors just to frustrate Ms. Takamiya, which gets distributed to all staff members. Then they make the same schedule again, in weekly format, once more printed in full color and distributed. Then the same schedule a third time, a fabulous daily version, which is also printed and distributed. Of course, by this time the whole schedule has changed, so they’ve gotta work overtime revising, reprinting, and redistributing all three versions, a process that repeats throughout the month.

Here, the value is on looking busy, emptying ink cartridges, and killing as many trees as possible. This is a Japanese work strategy, because in modern companies, downsizing is the mantra and it’s devil take the hindmost. If you work longer than your coworkers, succeed in passing the buck, and deflect as much blame as possible, hey, you win. The company may be a model of 1960’s fax machine efficiency, but at least you can avoid being yelled at and publicly humiliated, plus possibly keep your job.

It’s important to note that in Japan, it’s common for those at the top of the social hierarchy (managers, elders, wives) to be strict, directive, and judgmental. Giving orders, even to the point of power harassment and bullying, is built into the culture, whereas being casual, understanding and, heaven forbid, forgiving are seen as <em>amai</em>—lenient and indulgent.   

This from a Japanese leadership training course:

上司が部下との対立を恐れず、厳しく接する関係がいい。

A boss should not be afraid of confronting subordinates; strict relationships are good.

Sounds like a real fun place to work. Well, even if you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, it’s still way more satisfying to whack the hell out of ’em with a big stick.

Japanese Cultural Values

Here, it’s probably worth remembering that culture isn’t something individually determined. We’re all shaped by the values of the society we’re immersed in. When you walk into your home, you either take off your shoes or you don’t, but it’s probably in line with what everybody else does. Even if it happens unconsciously, there’s a choice made between ease and cleanliness.

It’s funny how commonly another culture’s values are viewed as superior. Westerners gush over Japan’s timeliness, order, and attention to detail, while ironically, millions of Japanese folks long for a carefree life overseas, in countries less rigid, where every day looks like spring break at Fort Lauderdale. So where is best? Apparently, whatever country you’re not in.

Why Don’t Japanese People Want to be Happy?

It seems like an easy question, as though happiness were something everyone would aspire to. But somehow, people the world over find ways to make their lives difficult. They join the military. Or if that’s not hard enough, they volunteer for the Special Forces. They spend hundreds of dollars to suffer in marathons, then make that worse by entering triathlons. They participate in religions that encourage them to forgo sex, alcohol, and even food. Hell, some even go so far as to get married and have children. What the . . . Why? But apparently, it’s not that people don’t value ease, fun, and freedom. It’s that they value other things more.

And so it happens in Japan too. Japanese values place work over relaxation, thrift and cleanliness above convenience, and—most importantly—conformity over individuality. As social animals, humans can’t afford to be separated from the herd for long, especially if the herd’s gonna stomp you to death for nonconformity.

Of course, this happens the world over. If your peers vape and drink Smirnoff Ice, so probably do you. Or if your tribe’s a bunch of hacky-sacking vegans, then you are too. And if they work in suits till midnight then ride the train home to a sleeping family they never see, then yeah, you do that. Everyone wants to believe they’re the exception, free thinkers not bound by the mundane conventions of society. Sure, it’s great to be Thoreau, living in a woodsy log cabin, for a while. But when you start growing that Unabomber beard, maybe it’s time to rejoin the human race.

Are You Aligned With Japanese Values?

Hey, everything’s important. I like cold beer and crunchy potato chips, but I also like fitting into my trousers and not being a massive embarrassment on the beach. So the secret to—if not happiness, then at least sanity—is figuring out how to rank what you value. Sure, cleanliness, good food, fussiness, and hard work, yeah, that’s all admirable stuff. But I wouldn’t put any of it above enjoyment of life, lack of stress, or human connection. So if Step 1 is sorting out one’s own values, then Step 2 is surely picking a place to live that lines up with those priorities. And after all these years in Japan, I gotta say, Jamaica’s looking mighty attractive.

134 Replies to “Japanese Values”

  1. been living in Japan 26 years and am immensely happy. probably a lot happier if I lived back in the uk ( bad weather, crime, crap at every sport even though we basically invented most ). Screw Japanese values…and I mean that with all due respect. I run my own company with 10 employees and none of us follow that hierarchical crap. Hey, I’m the boss, they know that, but that doesn’t stop them going what they aren’t supposed to ( mental note….fire more employees this year ) and they all seem happy. My wife is Japanese but 1. I probably do more housework than she does. 2. I cook way better than her….hold on, something’s wrong here…. 3. we have kids but even at 47 she still looks good and has the sex drive of a Ukrainian porn star ( that last bit isn’t true ). It’s Wednesday afternoon and I have just come back from a morning’s ride in the minoh mountains. So I’m very happy. Are Japanese people happy? Well, the ones crammed on to commuter trains probably aren’t. And the ones whose husbands are married to their companies probably aren’t either. But the ones I know well, like self employed tradesmen ( and I say men as I have yet to meet a female carpenter, interior decorator or painter ) or the small business owners I often hang out with are ‘cos if they weren’t , then there is no way I would hang with anyone as depressing as me. “Corporate Japan” Japanese values suck and I would rather align myself with Ted Cruz . On the other hand, the restaurant owner who loves 70s punk and owns a 59 les Paul Gibson and vintage fender Flying V or the electrical engineer who rides a cbr1000rr at track days and then is off for 2 months with a broken leg or my father in law who will use any excuse to go and play golf and is hardly in his own office…those Japanese values rule!

    1. You, my friend, are in a very unique situation here, and props to you for making your dreams a reality.

  2. Just finished reading this and I agree with every bits of it.
    It’s rare to find people who wants to do things easily and be happy. At least here in my workplace.

    I’m a Filipino and have lived and experienced a workplace in the Philippines with lots of laughter. Hard times will pass. Solve what we can now and laugh at it after.

    Whilst here in JP, they fuss over everything. Where work can be finished 5 minutes and they make it finish an hr. 90% of it is doubting every single thing and call everyone else.

    Just turned 2 this year and I do not know what I did to make it this far.

    It is strange, this love hate relationship with Japan and it’s culture.

    P.S.
    Thanks for posting again. if only you know I am waiting for u to post a new one.

    Another P.S.
    I bought your book. It will arrive tomorrow.
    I am burnout from work. I pray that will make me happy!

    Chhers!

    1. I agree, the initial love of Japan eventually progresses into a love-hate relationship, although I suspect that happens everywhere. The more you understand a thing, the more flaws you become aware of. Still, it’s good to have a fuller understanding.

      Thanks for buying the book! Let me know how you like it, and leave an Amazon review if you can.

      Cheers,

      Ken

      1. I am at page 15. I read 1 topic a day before I sleep. Lots of laughter realizations!

        I will put a review soon.

          1. Every book does that to me (sleep).
            The only difference is that your book brings me back to human realm.
            The last time I felt human before I found your book is when I appeared on a TV Show with Arashi last year. That’s about it.
            Japan is not all that I imagined after dreaming to live here in the past 18 years.
            Your writing proved me that I am not alone in this strange understanding on different aspects of Japan!

            Thank you.

              1. There was a news in Twitter forwarded by fans from the Philippines. Aratsubo – Fuji TV is lookin for Arashi fanboys.

                So I applied. Introduction was I’m a Filipino. A fan since Gokusen aired in Ph. Can speak japanese. No read. No Write.

                Then after 3 days I got a call and asked me for an online introduction. From there, I was scheduled to have a Zoom meeting with Fuji TV Staff.

                Got questions about arashi that I totally failed to answer. Asked me to dance (which I kinda do before).

                I thought I failed the audition because no callbacks. After a week. I received a call and confirmed that I will be participating in the tv show. Basically it is a quiz show 5 fanboys vs Arashi.

                I would gladly fill-in more details but this will make you sleep. (lol)

                Unless you want to know more! 😀

                1. Dude, I would absolutely love to know more. That’s a very fortunate and unique experience. Did you actually meet Arashi? Did you dance? Has this opened any doors for you in the talent industry?

                  1. We were picked up by the Fuji at a scheduled time and date.

                    We went to their office and has been briefed about the show. Everybody thought the show is going to remotely interact with Arashi however as the briefer said. We will be in one house with arashi and have a chance to meet them directly!

                    At that time it felt like a strong sound came to my ear. “piiiii” and when I regained to my senses, that’s when it hit me that for good 15-17 years. My dream when I was 10 from the philippines will come true.

                    not long after that, (I have not recovered yet) the staff asked me, “what dance can you perform the best?”

                    I stuttered… stared… and said “eh? I will dance in front of Arashi?”

                    “Of course! we have to show your talent to Arashi and Japan”

                    I specified the song and I got a good 2 hours to do this on rehearsal and on recording.

                    https://twitter.com/iKNakostooom/status/1298941436797177856

                    Link above is the part where I danced. It felt like I lost my life points in this life. Chills all over my body while dancing so. even now, as I am writing this, I still can’t believe it.

                    Unfortunately, it hasn’t opened any doors to me. I came here to work as a Software Engineer at 2019. With the idea in mind that ultimate dream is to watch their concert. little did I know a year after that, I will be as close as 1 meter to them.

                    If only I could find a clip of the show.

                    1. That is seriously the most awesome thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. Dude, you’re a star—the dancing was on point and your overall presence on the show looked fantastic.

                      Take some head shots, write up a brief talent resume, and contact some talent agencies. You’ve got a chance to make a great side career out of this.

                    2. As a fellow Pinoy, very happy you set such a high bar…like Sakurai said, you’re probably better than they would be if they had to dance it then, heh.

                      I bet you could crush it in karaoke too…so yeah, could be an interesting side hustle, if you want to go the route of the Gaijin Talento.

                    3. Ken – Thank you so much for appreciating what I have done. In all honesty I want to be a talent, a showbiz personality but I think I don’t have the confidence, the face, the ability to do so. (also i don’t know any talent agency here in jp)

                      But hey I am happy my story made you happy!

                      Jonathan – Hi my fellow countrymen! thank you for watching! I want to but I don’t have the confidence. forgive me. 🙂

                      Karaoke brokes when I sing, unfortunately I can’t sing! What a shame! (rofl)

  3. Good one again. I think #4 is closest: if you look happy at your workplace, it means you don’t get enough work and people will add some on. I learned how to look unhappy out of necessity.

    1. Looking unhappy is a very important skill in this culture. Although it’s something I wish I could un-learn. I think I need an America cleanse.

    2. That’s like the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza gets a promotion and pretends to looks annoyed all the time to make everyone think he’s busy.

  4. Hey, I was just promoted to be the boss man in our little office here in Germany (mother company is Japanese, as are my superiors in Japan), so I guess I should take that advice to heart and be “strict” …
    (But seriously I will be strict where results are concerned.)

    One of my co-workers (and my subordinate) is a Japanese Obaa-chan who will retire soon and she takes care of all the stuff me and my staff are too busy to do (what you call “soumu” in Japan). However, being the Obaa-chan that she is, she also has very clear opinions regarding order and cleanliness up to the point that I sometimes wonder who is being the subordinate and who is the boss. So there is that.
    And yes, she tends to fuss about small stuff all the time and I sometimes have to cut her short and just tell her: That’s so and so and that’s the end of that.

    One thing I would have liked you to mention is how responsibility is handled or rather skillfully evaded in Japanese companies. I have worked in two stock-listed Japanese companies and I find this topic fascinating.

    1. Evading responsibility is crisply baked into the Japanese DNA. When something needs to be done, everybody’s eyes fall to the floor and they wait for the boss to tell one of them to do it. Volunteering is essentially usurping leadership. Plus, there’s the possibility of making a mistake, which would be unthinkable, because mistakes have to have consequences. Failing ten times to succeed once is an American approach. Good try! Way to take initiative! In Japan, it’s more like fail once, get reprimanded, fail twice and you’re out the door.

      So in Japan, this leads to decisions being made by committee. Nobody’s responsible if everybody’s responsible. So it’s meetings followed by more meetings. (To get one of my jobs here, I once had to interview with fifteen different people—because you wouldn’t want to leave a hiring decision to just three or four folks.) Then you go through a long and painful process of checks and approvals, writing everything down in complicated detail and getting red stamps of approval from other departments. (When I worked in the grade schools, I once had to fill out a form stating why I didn’t want the obligatory little carton of milk, and get that approved.) Naturally, this takes foreeever. By the time the process is completed, the project is often bloated and out-of-date, and the original members who drafted it have moved on to other positions or companies.

      I’m probably painting a worst-case scenario, but I don’t think it’s far from the reality of many workplaces.

      1. I had a prolonged fight with my wife over the last two weeks, which I think relates to this.
        She is working as a part-timer with 24 hours / week. Now, she has been working on a big project with a deadline. Since she is the only one at her workplace working on a particular aspect of that project she has to do everything related by herself.
        Quickly it became clear to her that she would in no way be able to keep the deadline.
        And yet she tried super-hard. Did like 15 hours of overwork in a week and so on. What she didn’t do was inform her boss that she had too much work and wouldn’t be able to finish in time.
        So we kept arguing until she finally talked to her boss. Belatedly, but still.
        End of the story: Boss was aware of the situation and they worked out a way to get this thing done …
        From my point of view so much drama could have been avoided *sigh*

        My point is: I think the reason why my wife didn’t tell her boss earlier is a feeling of “I can’t fail”. A kind of perfectionism. I think it’s the same mindset you described in your comment. “Failure” is not acceptable, even if that very mindset creates more problems then it solves.

      2. Ken
        I get you on the way nobody wants to make a decision. Let me flip that around. Is that due to the fact that to be in a position to make a decision, as in the place that the buck stops with you, that you are in a position where if the company fails you have to possibly publicly apologize (if a large listed company) or lose your job by falling on to your own sword even if the issue was nothing to do with you in the 1st place?
        I just really can’t understand why people find it so socially acceptable, to not get paid and work until 9PM and then go out for drinks (nothing against the drinking part).
        Man, the guys in my company are real clock watchers and there is like a stampede to get out the door as soon as it hits 5PM.
        Then again, these guys come in on time, talk, laugh, talk about how good (or bad) their sports teams did in the weekend but still get all their work done during their allotted time. If they are not capable of doing that during busy season we find additional staff on a temp basis to cover the additional workload.
        Why is that not an option in Japan where it seems to me you have a massive under employment problem?
        By that I mean a lot of Japanese ladies I know in Japan that were working, then had kids, have resumed back in the work force but despite them wanting to work more are unable to get the hours that they want, when at the same time people are working these insanely (unproductive) hours and hating their lives.
        Your thoughts Mr Seeroi?

        1. Wow, I feel like there’s about half a dozen questions in that. Let me just address “Why is [talking, laughing, and leaving at 5PM] not an option in Japan?”

          Because it’s not. That’s Japanese culture, with culture defined as “everybody all doing the same shit, regardless of how much sense it makes.” Every country has examples of this. Why do Americans continue to eat fast food, despite the fact it makes them obese and causes them to die early? Guns, religion, clothing, cars, it’s all the same. That’s culture.

          People get so immersed in behaving the way those around them behave, so caught up in media and advertising influence, that it’s almost impossible for anyone to even conceive of a different way of thinking.

          So here’s a good question for you: Why do we work 5 days a week, and not 4 or even 3? With all of the labor-saving technical advances of the last 150 years, how is it we’re still working so many hours? Even in the West with its relatively lax work ethic, who decided 40 hours was the standard, regardless of industry?

          I’ve actually never understood that. I’m positive that most of the places I’ve worked could do just as well working four days a week, 7 or 8 hours a day, with a three day weekend. And that’s in the West, never mind Japan.

  5. I’ve had multiple Japanese employees tell me that I “spoiled” them. What does it even mean?

    They explained, “I can’t go back to Japan after working for you.” Except they did because their wives wanted them to.

    My goal was to make the company tons of money and be at the local pub by either 5 or 6 (on Thu and Fri.) There’s that little American part of me. Not daily. Just the last two days of the week.

    Which we did (both the money and the pub).

    Of course, I eventually got fired because – well, Japanese values!

    Also it’s fairly conventional in the corporate world to ask, “So what did you do this weekend?”

    I’ve done a lot of things on lots of weekends but I don’t consider 掃除をします to be one of the more interesting answers.

    My house is impeccably clean but I don’t plan my Saturday around 掃除をします.

    On the other hand, once he got drunk, my employee did tell me, “I fell asleep completely naked on the couch since I was so drunk and my wife had to cover me up before my daughter woke up.”

    Japanese values, people, Japanese values.

    1. Why did you get fired, may I ask?
      Did it have anything to do with Japanese values?

      I know the guy who had my job before I came here was “let go” after three years due to interpersonal relationships (the Japanese felt he was too bossy / arrogant).
      I personally think you have to really “understand” how Japanese people feel to thrive in a Japanese company.

      Also, maybe you know the Japanese bonmot:
      一流の経済、二の人、三流の政治
      Well, at least my wife keeps saying that 🙂

      1. The last part saying “Are you alligned to Japanese values?”

        And I can say definitely not. 100% sure.

        It’s funny how I’ve always watched these animes portraying the characters who doesn’t fit into the society like the true heroes and stuff. Like it fulfills the fantasy of the guys who maybe in our country sometimes we feel different from the society or maybe we feel special sometimes but honestly in Japan it looks like either you are a freakin ally of Skynet and his subordinates or you are part of John Connor fighting against all the machines.

        And i am not kidding, it truly feels like that.

        Any thoughts on that Mr? I think there is a lot of sad projection? But is funny how in the art the reality is completely the opposite. In America, the comics can be exaggerated but you see the American personality 100% in the values and costumes.

        Anyways, as I mentioned I am completely the opposite to be a group-oriented guy, that is why I don’t fit so much on groups here in my own country.

        If you ask for my values I consider relaxation very important also have fun, drink beers, watch football (football not shitty soccer) and basically live free.

        I had this experience with a J girl during a vacation in Japan and in many ways I felt like the presence of a dictator trying to making me Japanese, even If i was just chilling out xd and wanting to have fun in Japan. Guess why she cried at the last moment saying “why won’t you stay w me?”

    2. Three answers to the question “What’s your hobby?” that used to surprise me:

      cleaning
      sleeping
      shopping

      I never even knew those could be considered hobbies until I came to Japan.

  6. Hey Ken. I just completed a plaque to hang in my office with your words of wisdom. “ Well, even if you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, it’s still way more satisfying to whack the hell out of ’em with a big stick.”. Thanks for that.

    Still plugging my book. https://amzn.to/3cBboPt

  7. 一流の経済、二の人、三流の政治
    That’s a good one. Never heard that before but it kind of sums things up in Japan. However if they feel that then why don’t Japanese do anything apart from not vote, or if they do vote, they vote for the status quo?

    1. Most Japanese don’t vote for the status quo, they don’t vote full stop.

      After visiting a Japanese friend in Tokyo in the run-up to local election season, I’d bored her solid nattering about elections and dragging her around Tokyo City Hall and the Museum Of Democracy, and taking photos of election posters and snaffling leaflets out of her bin. A week after I returned to the UK she emailed me to say excitedly “I’ve been to vote!”. I’d turned her into a voter!

  8. A fabulous post Ken but a little on the dark side, even for you who like to dabble in black humor? Perhaps you are becoming jaded with Japan or (shock horror) you are now seeing Japan as it truly is? Or perhaps as a Japanese? Wow it sounds like Seina has inscrutable obtuse oriental logic. Obviously not the logic we would have in the West. If in fact this logic is widespread and uniquely Japanese and not a figment of the incredible mind of ken Seeroi then maybe this explains (in a way not entirely clear to us) why Japanese are sad?

  9. Japanese women, why so sad? Little girls are confident, smart, aware, Then something happens. You find out you’re not really a person the same way boys are. My (Japanese) husband told me he thought I was sad, and why should a beautiful woman be sad? (that was when I was young, everybody look better young). Because it makes a person sad that they’re seen as a more of a thing and not a person. It’s hard to explain.

    Excessive housework. Every Japanese apartment I’ve lived in is built with the cheapest materials possible and everything’s white, designed to collect mold and dirt;, a diabolical plot. I’ve never had a vacuum cleaner that works well. My husband drags me to meetings about the new house he’s building and they snicker when I choose the darkest color possible for everything.

    Cleanliness. My mother-in-law always rewashed dishes I’d washed. I used hot water and detergent, rinsed well. What was wrong? Something. It’s always something. I think everybody except for me has OCD. It’s not as if there are piles of dirt in my apartment, and I know plenty of really messy hoarders right in my neighborhood.

    Cooking: Japanese women are encouraged to think there should be dozens of homemade dishes, for nutrition. I used to watch a TV show called “Tonnari no Gohan” where a guy visited people at dinner time, and loved how most of the meals were a mixture of leftovers and prepared food from the supermarket, a bottle of Kewpie mayonnaise with salad. The ideal is far from the reality.

    Being bossy: my husband was accused of power harassment at work several times. All he did was tell young people what they had done wrong. He’s the type of person who gives up his seat on the train or bus to old people, he’s a Boy Scout. Once he had to fill out an apology letter admitting power harassment and on the back wrote, in small letters, in English, “NOT..” “People are weak,” he says. This is correct.

    Since I’ve lived in Japan the word “happiness” has lost all meaning. I think for Japanese people it means selfish. I don’t know anymore. I know cheese makes me happy.

    1. Your last paragraph says a lot. When happiness has lost all meaning and cheese (or beer) becomes your source of enjoyment, it’s probably time to start reevaluating things.

      1. That was a joke. “Start reevaluating things,” no. The happiest countries are the ones with the lowest expectations. I’ve become a big fan of fatalism. “Happy” is just a word, cheese is delicious and real.

        By the way, I read your book.

        1. Good to know that about cheese. I was starting to think I’d just imagined the stuff.

          Thanks very much for buying the book. I really appreciate it.

          1. I’m recommending your blog/book as one of the best about Japan.

            Now I”m going to say something mean.

            I reread your book, thought I might’ve been too critical the first reading, but have the same opinion: the Ken character is too fictional and the female characters one-dimensional. There’s so much more there. I want you to write about your real life.

            If that really is your real life then never mind.

            1. First of all, thank you for reading my book—twice!

              Your criticism is valid, and I think I understand where it’s coming from.

              The book isn’t fiction; that is my real life. It’s just not the entirety of my life. I left out thousands of hours of ironing, grocery shopping, and defrosting my perpetually icy fridge. I also never intended for the book to be about me, but rather about Japan. I just happened to be here while Japan was going on, which probably contributes to my featuring as a character in my own story.

              The writing is also what I would rather generously describe as “stylized.” I wrote it in the way I naturally speak with my brother and good friends over a few pints, emphasizing the exciting bits and omitting all the drab stuff. I’d argue that makes for a better story, but I also recognize how characters come across as fictional and one-dimensional. At the very least, I hoped the book would be interesting and highlight some aspects of Japan that are frankly hard to talk about.

              In the end, if I could go back and do it all over, I’d change everything. About my life, that is. I expect that would result in a pretty different book. Hard to say if it’d be better or worse though. Well, next time around. Come on, reincarnation.

              1. I love your style of writing as it is very similar to mine, which is conversational as if having a beer with the reader. I’m trying to learn how to add more detail to my work, but I just try to keep it as honest and entertaining as I can. Thanks for keeping us entertained!

            2. Hi,

              I also read Ken’s book recently. I consider Theresa’s observations pretty much on the money.

              There always seems to be some convenient girlfriend character with a different name and the personality of an amoeba. They seem disposable and made up on the spot to illustrate whatever point he wants to make on each story. I always thought they were fictional and designed to make the Ken character look like a wish fullmillment fantasy for westerners that go to Japan thinking they are going to get laid a lot.

              I agree that he makes very intelligent and perceptive observations about Japanese culture and the expat life in general when he takes a break from building the cartoon character. I enjoyed them very much.

              The feel-good, “everyman” endings where every problem in life, from death to racism to loneliness are solved by an ice-cold asahi are cheesy, though, total cutesy. They make the Ken character feel even more unidimensional.
              It is frustrating because it seems like the real guy is always about to make an interesting point about life but has to take a step back again. Like Theresa said, I wish he allowed himself the freedom to get outside of this “cool, detached japan adventurer” construct and write about his real life. It’s a pity because I really do enjoy parts of his writing.

              1. Hi Fujimoto & Theresa

                I get you guys on the one dimensional thing and I too wanted more of the “real Ken” but I took it as this. Ken is writing about his real life and trying to make it enjoyable but at the same time he seem like a pretty private person and has tried to keep it fun, enjoyable, a little philosophical and if I was in his place I would not want to expose too much of myself and my own feelings.

                For me there were a lot of valid points, and I too wish Ken had filled those out a little bit but perhaps next time he could do that via a 3rd person character, but that would make it all fictional and a little less Ken. We are coming into his world and either we accept that or we move on.

                For me, the one that hit home was the suicide of his neighbour. That was multi-dimensional, I could feel his pain a loosing his friend, at being the outsider in a room of black suits of those dressed for mourning whilst wearing a skimpy pair of running shorts. Wanting to fit it, wanting to say the right thing, to make it right, not being able to do so, as nothing can make it right.

                I guess we each make our own based on our own experiences.

              2. Thank you for reading my book, and for your insightful comments.

                From my perspective, the book has a fair bit of heaviness lurking below the surface (and certainly very little relating to Wish fulfillment or getting laid). I’m only trying to keep things light to avoid devolving further into heartbreak and disappointment. Japan’s a serious enough place already.

                It’s strange to hear my friends and acquaintances who appear in the book described as “characters.” I suppose from that perspective, they’re not fully developed. I certainly see your point. I wasn’t really writing about them, or myself, but rather attempting to illustrate aspects of Japan. To go further into their lives, and mine, would result in a very different book. Maybe better. But maybe worse too. Careful what you wish for.

                Do you really want me to end with “an interesting point about life?” Because from what I can tell it’s: get old, horribly sick, and die. There’s your real ending. Between now and then, an ice-cold Asahi is about the best we can do.

                1. Dear Sir,

                  Both your wordsmithery and your stories are wonderful.
                  Please keep writing them as long as you keep enjoying doin’ it.

                  Cheers.

  10. Seeroi san coming in hot with a new post. Great stuff.

    I did a trial period of 3 months in Japan to see if living there would suit me after living in Southeast Asia and places like Thailand for years (I’m in Bali now).

    Reading your site gave context about a lot of things that foreigners view as features not bugs about Japanese culture.

    Theres a lot of dirt gets swept under the rug so to be speak. You’re right when you say it’s probably better to visit than live there for most people.

    Maybe if the beer was cheaper. I was forced to drink wannabe beer malt drinks instead of real beer to support my beer habit. That and a rainy June was the last straw for me.

    Shitty weather and expensive beer, maybe that’s the sources of everyone’s sadness there? It was for me.

    1. I met a guy who came to check out Japan after living in Thailand. I seem to recall he lasted about five days before giving up and flying back.

      I’m sure there are many root causes, weather and beer prices among them. But all together the result is a generally overcast culture where, in a perfect circle of logic, people are unhappy because they’re surrounded by unhappy people. I’ve seen the opposite in other places, and hopefully Bali’s like that.

      1. A good friend of mine in Japan moved from Bangkok as well. A Canadian recruiter. He actually lasted a couple of years before moving back to Thailand. His reasoning, which I found interesting, is that Japan is the only country in the world (obviously his opinion from his limited travels) that discriminates against Western people. He just couldn’t put up with it. Personally, I’ve found that Westerners enjoy more benefits than drawbacks in our treatment from the Japanese, so we end up ahead. But he seemed to think he was treated better in Thailand.

        1. It would be a stretch to say that Japan is the only country that discriminates against Western people. But it’s certainly not great.

          It really depends if you want “special” treatment or not. It’s the same in the U.S. Perhaps some black people want to be spoken to in “urban” English, some Asian folks want recommendations for Chinese restaurants, and some women want doors opened for them. I’m guessing a lot don’t though.

          In general, it’s probably best not to make assumptions based upon outward appearances.

          1. Well said. Now that I’m back in the U.S., I’m just a “normal” guy (well, I that’s how I seem to appear to people here, anyway). Random people come up to me all the time and start conversations, especially in NYC (where I find that the people are actually super friendly, despite their reputation). It’s a weird feeling. I almost feel like I’m an imposter or something. I want to say to them “you obviously think I’m a normal human, but I’ve been living in Japan for 20 years, so I’m not actually one of you anymore”. I don’t know. Has anyone else here had that feeling when they go back to their own country after a long time in Japan?

            1. Yes. Absolutely.
              It gets better over time though.
              There is also a feeling of … liberation (?) I guess, that I am not limited to the sometimes “chokingly” small world of some people who never left their small towns and only know the discussions and problems and worries of their small world.

              I am still happy every time a small child sees me without freezing in absolute horror or running to their mommy.
              Hey, here in Germany sometimes little children come up to me and tell me random things! I feel like a human being again!

            2. I feel that way every time I visit the States, especially when having to answer waiters and cashiers. Why do they keep asking me, “How’s it going?” It’s a bizarre way to greet a customer.

              Of course, you get the flip side living in Japan. Here, people assume you’re not one of them, even if you are. Outward appearances are a pretty unreliable way of determining who or what a person is.

              1. It’s good, but not that great. I had been in Japan for so long that I was jaded and started getting annoyed at the foreigner treatment. But the thrill of being treated as a “regular person” by cashiers back home wears off pretty quickly. And having a car and a nice house/apartment also loses its luster after a bit. For me, moving back to Japan would probably be career/quality of life suicide, but I’m seriously contemplating it anyway. For you, Ken, I recommend coming back to the U.S. for a bit just for a break. Long enough for the vacation feel of it to wear off and to get into a daily routine/rut. But keep your options open as far as being able to hop on a plane and go back to Japan. Maybe take a year. My goal is to stick it out the rest of this year (been back since April 2020) at least, but there are so many days when I just want to be back in Japan living life as a perpetual gaijin.

                1. So let’s do some quick accounting…you’ve got a car and a nice place to live, you’re treated like a regular member of society, and moving to Japan would probably be suicide for your career and quality of life. Yep, returning to Japan pretty much checks all the boxes. Dude, you sound like you’re me.

                  It’s not hard to make a case for living in either country—they both have good points and bad. Although I tend to think there’s something else at work, at least for me. There’s always a better spot, another beautiful woman, a cooler job, and I’m constantly aware that time is ticking, like Captain Hook in Peter Pan. It’s no coincidence both those characters appear in the same play. I’ve always wanted to get more out of life, no matter how much I had, and I doubt moving will do much to fix that. In the end, did Peter just accept the life he had and attempt to be happy with his existence? I don’t remember how the story ends. Probably should look into that.

    2. Bright pink cherry blossom-themed Asahi Dry beer cans are on the market now and even the cheap “non-beer” stuff has cherry blossom cans. Kirin has a wonderful autumn beer with decorative autumn leaf cans . I buy seasonal beers even if I don’t like the taste — It’s pretty and fun! I used to buy The Winter’s Tale beer only for the Shakespeare quote on the can: Jog on, jog on, the footpath path way and merrily hent the stile-a, etc.

  11. Hooray! Ken wrote a new article! I was happy like a Schnitzel (German saying) when I saw you posted a new one since I almost gave up hope looking for news on your site on a weekly basis. I’d be even more happy if you take up writing more often again, I adore your writing style and have read every article from the beginning.

    Japanese values seem to be very similar to those in Germany back in the 60’s. Back then we gained a good reputation with our products “Made in Germany” and the whole world appreciated German tools and machines. At that time, Japanese products were looked down at, since they were just crappy copies of what Western companies produced. The tables turned by time, the Japanese kept up their values but improved their work to perfection, while Germany got more efficient and also more worker-friendly, but quality dropped significantly. Nowadays, Japanese products are the best in the world, due to this demand of perfection and dedication while German products turn to crap being produced in China and branded with German quality brand names. Maybe it’s this kind of values and struggling that made Japanese goods so great, but freedom and happiness is the price the Japanese feel to have to pay. Nonetheless, as long as we have great beer here in Germany, I’m not concerned at all.
    Prost!

    1. I agree that Japanese values led to high quality manufacturing. Come up with a solid template and Japanese people will be great at following it to the letter. Sadly though, recent decades have seen a massive shift.

      Nowadays, everyone in Japan walks around with Chinese-manufactured Apple and Vietnam/Korean-made Samsung phones, wearing clothes produced in Southeast Asia and Nikes and Addidas from overseas. Mercedes, AUdi, and BMW are status symbols driven by those who can afford them. Even the Sony Playstation is made in China.

      As for innovation, Google, Microsoft, Instagram, YouTube, Boston Dynamics, Netflix, Bitcoin, Tesla, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, etc. have utterly changed the world, while Japan has stood gaping on the sidelines. The days when Akihabara was a technology mecca are long in the past, if indeed it ever was.

    1. That’s a good question. I’ve been to Taiwan twice and it seemed, eh, just okay. It struck me as less constrictive when compared to Japan, and of course the weather’s generally warmer. The people were perhaps a bit more open and less uptight about details. On the other hand, it appeared less wealthy and rather run-down in spots. Overall, I could believe it’s a happier nation, although I guess you’d need to live among local people there for a few years to really form an accurate impression.

      1. Well I have spent some 3 weeks in Taiwan (compared to 1,5 years over 6 winter seasons on rural Hokkaido) and solely judging by the looks, the people I have met, those you just see at the street or you deal with in shops and cafes etc., they all looked way happier to me then anyone I have ever met in Japan (except of some drunk as a rule salarymen at Susukino bars…). Actually even common people in Shanghai looked happier to me….

        1. Heh, that’s funny because Hokkaido is one of the happier places I’ve been in Japan. Although it might’ve just been the people I met. They seemed less uptight than those in other parts of the country (Osaka being an exception).

          I should probably make another trip to Taiwan once this plague subsides.

  12. Japanese people feel a certain amount of satisfaction from suffering. They feel an even greater amount of satisfaction from showing others how they have suffered. That being said, I do often still miss living in Japan (lived there for about 20 years before returning to the US last April); but, I am not sure if I could live there full time again. I’m just not into the suffering pissing contest.

    1. How has your repatriation gone? After 20 years in Japan, I’d imagine you suffered quite a bit of culture shock. I’d love to hear your impressions.

      (Of course, I realize a lot has changed due to the coronavirus, as it has in Japan.)

      1. To be honest it’s been hard. My life in Japan was so settled and easy. There were things that I loved doing and wasn’t growing tired of. However, I had an opportunity to come back and thought that this was perhaps my last chance to come back while I was still young enough to build a life here and reconnect with family and friends I’d left behind. I came back at the absolute worst time. My big plan was to move to NYC and make new friends and have a fun life. NYC was not doing well when I showed up. I ended up moving back to my hometown in suburban Chicago. Working in America is much more stressful than working in Japan, because you’re no longer a gaijin and have no excuse. Now, having said all of the above, I don’t regret having come back. I’ve reconnected with my family and friends as planned. I’ve settled into work. I’ve lived in Chicago, NYC and Miami. I’ve made new friends. It was a hard transition, but I’m doing it. Also, I’ve developed a bit of a new outlook on both Japan and America. Basically, if you look at America from a macro, big picture, media-driven view, it appears to be a country of complete jerks who are horrible to each other. But when you live here day to day, you find that almost everyone you meet is super nice and friendly. As for Japan, you just reverse the above.

        1. “if you look at America from a macro, big picture, media-driven view, it appears to be a country of complete jerks who are horrible to each other. But when you live here day to day, you find that almost everyone you meet is super nice and friendly. As for Japan, you just reverse the above.”

          Interesting. That’s been my observation as well. It’s astonishing how much the media representation of a country can differ from the reality.

          Thanks for the insights.

  13. You know, some times, when I go back to wondering what my life would have been like if I had gone through with my original plan of getting a University English degree and then moving to Japan to teach English, I come here and see just how lucky I was that I never was able to go through with that. What a terrible terrible life I would be living right now.

    So many foreigners like myself, when talking about Japan, are all taking part in some kind of collective nostalgia of a life they’ve never lived in a country they were never a part of and never visit. The people who actually go and live in Japan always seem to have the same kind of horror stories.

    You’re doing us all a crucial service.

    1. More than anything, living in Japan has been a lesson in everything having an upside as well as a corresponding downside. Japan’s fine; there’s nothing wrong with it. But there’s nothing exotic or romantic about the nation. It’s just a normal place, with some good stuff and some bad stuff. The longer you’re here, the less mystical it becomes.

  14. @Joe I lived in Japan for over 20 years. Just returned to the U.S. last April. I think a lot of the meloncholy thoughts that creep into the majority of lifer/long-term gaijins’ heads is as much a part of getting older as anything. You go there in your 20s. Have a lot of fun dating and drinking and traveling. Then one day it hits you that you’re enjoying that aspect of life a bit less, and your friends back in your home country have what seem to be successful careers and nice families, while you’re still waking up in what should be a student’s apartment and having the same inane conversations with people who don’t see you as a part of society. If you were still in your 20s, then it’d be fine. But since you’re closer to 40, it’s a bit scary. And when you start thinking about doing the more “age appropriate” things in life, you find that Japan is built for salaryman types, and you are not that. So, you feel very out of place. Japan’s a great place. It’s fantastic. But it’s a bit like college/university. You look back on your student days and wish you could go back and live them again. On the other hand, as a 40-something you don’t want to wake up in a dorm room with puke all over the floor and think about all your friends who graduated and made something of themselves. It’s disconcerting. This all being said, it’s very possible as a foreigner to have a fulfilling career and family life in Japan. And you can wake up anywhere in world feeling like you’ve slept walked through your life. It’s just that Japan seems to make the perpetual student life a bit too easy to stay in and the successful adult life a bit too difficult to graduate into, so most foreigners don’t make the leap.

  15. On the issue of women “being sad” the elephant in the room is of course sexism. Japan has always been sexist (strong statement?) as well as the rest of the world. The problem is Japan is not progressing at all (well barely) towards equality of the sexes. I came across this BBC article which details how little progress is being made.
    “A survey by research body Dentsu Institute, meanwhile, showed that while people increasingly want the gender equality issue addressed, they expect it to take a long time; participants estimated that it would take 24.7 years before women make up 30% of Japanese company management, and 33.5 years for women to make up half of national lawmakers. ”
    https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210405-why-japan-cant-shake-sexism

    1. I see that bit being read in a way I never anticipated, because there’s a far bigger elephant in the room. Yes, women in Japan don’t have it great. But neither do men. It’s not exactly a houseboat party nation.

      In my experience, many women don’t want equality, because working for a Japanese company—especially in management—would be a step down. There’s lot of ladies here counting on it taking at least 24.7 years. And you can safely disregard 99 percent of everything the BBC writes about Japan.

      1. There’s a lot of things discussed by organs similar to the BBC about gender inequality that would actually require forcing women to make different life choices to accomplish the outcome the commentators aspire to. Added to which actual blindness by commentators. A couple of days ago something on the World Service:
        “90% of people I work with in film design are women….. I see no gender inequality in film design…”
        Errr….. You’ve just stated that THE VERY INDUSTRY YOU WORK IN IS HUGELY GENDER IMBALANCED!!!! IN. THE. SAME (almost). SENTENCE.

      2. In my experience, many women don’t want equality, because working for a Japanese company—especially in management—would be a step down. There’s lot of ladies here counting on it taking at least 24.7 years. And you can safely disregard 99 percent of everything the BBC writes about Japan.

        –This was always my thought as well. Why slave away in the office 18 hours a day with a bunch of sweaty salaryman for the equivalent salary of a long haul trucker in America, when you can meet your friends for kohii and keikii in Omotesando every afternoon? Japanese women would have to be crazy to be feminists.

        1. “–This was always my thought as well. Why slave away in the office 18 hours a day with a bunch of sweaty salaryman for the equivalent salary of a long haul trucker in America, when you can meet your friends for kohii and keikii in Omotesando every afternoon?”

          Yes.

          “Japanese women would have to be crazy to be feminists.”

          No.

          There are many dimensions to feminism, work is only one of them. Being a feminist doesn’t mean “hey, I want to work too”.

      3. “And you can safely disregard 99 percent of everything the BBC writes about Japan.”

        I agree that big western news organizations including the BBC are often shallow and sometimes just wrong when reporting about Japan, but it very much depends on who the author of a particular piece of news is.

    2. @David “they expect it to take a long time; participants estimated that it would take 24.7 years before women make up 30% of Japanese company management, and 33.5 years for”

      These estimates, based on changes in recent history, crack me up. In 2016 I had zero wives. But in 2017 I had one wife. From that I can extrapolate that by 2022 I will have 7 wives. Oh glory days that await!

      Instead, I guess that in Japanese politics there is a threshold limit beyond which the number of women involved is ‘too many’. Just like in marriage.

  16. Plus there’s the inability to see consequences of demanded changes.
    “I demand flexibility in employment so I can have children.”
    Ok, take off as much time as you want. 100% flexible!
    “I’m 40 years old and have ten years’ experience, that other person is 40 years old and has 20 years’ experience, UNFAIR!!!!!”

    1. That is a really good point The Other Johnathan, although it raises a much bigger question. Most people want families (I’m 47 and have no kids so am not qualified on that point) and expect the female to do the raising of the kids. I don’t know how it is in Japan, but I employ 2 guys in the early to mid 30’s. Both of them have wives in high paying jobs with great careers that earns their wives more than I pay the males. One wife has great flexibility to work from home for the majority of the time, and 1-2 days a week she attends the office but she has 4 different offices around Sydney that she can choose to go to and she has a flexi time from 7AM-7PM to attend as long as she can get to the meetings they have which are all scheduled during the day.
      The other guys wife has recently changed jobs and they have given her a company car as they have 2 offices and she will work for the one that is further away from home. She can do remote work too and she has to attend sites hence the need for the car.
      My in laws and friends in Japan always talk about “telework” and say what a farce it is. The fact that Japan still relies so much on the old Hanko to endorse everything means that you still have to spend time going into the office to get anything done and the access to legitimate systems of flexibility seem to keep Japan hamstrung in old systems. Granted I don’t live there so I have no 1st hand experience but I think that the mentality of Japan is what is holding the equability and life balance back more than anything else. What do you think about that/

      1. Heh, I’d say the mentality of [insert country name] is holding back the [insert progress name] more than anything else.

  17. Sure Ken,
    Each country has its good points and bad points and you just need to work out what works for you in your current situation.
    The same guys I was talking about choose to get into the every increasing housing market in Australia in their late 20’s. As the government was pushing high immigration and subsidising child care both them and their partners worked. They have 2 cars, a house that they purchased for over $1 million and with massive mortgages. Heck, I read that in Australia the average 1st home buyers mortgage, not the actual home loan itself, is $522K. That ties you into some serious work to pay it back and yes, in Australia we have had 3 decades of house price increases but in reality we all know it is a giant ponzi scheme right. It all relies on the person being prepared to pay more than you paid for it.
    However money ain’t everything. You look at me, I’ve got bucket loads but I have no time to spend it so there is always, without doubt, two sides to every story.

    I reckon Mike McKenna up the top of this chain seems to have the balance pretty right.

    1. I agree. Though I think it’s impossible to look at things form an “all other things being equal” point of view. Meaning, if you had the same level of career, wealth, friendships, etc. in both Japan and your home country, in which country would you prefer to live? I suppose that’s not realistic, though, since your family usually be in your home country, there are different career opportunities in one over another, etc. As for me, I gave up some of my day to day enjoyment of living in Japan in order to be near to my family in America, and to reconnect with old friends “before it was too late”. Do I miss my life in Japan? Hell yes. But the thought of going back and basically saying goodbye to my friends and family here is very depressing. It’s a lose lose scenario. I share the fantasy of most gaijin of wanting to split time between the two countries. Easier said than done, even when we’re not in a pandemic.

  18. J,
    Interesting question, although I grew up in NZ and I have lived in Australia for more than 1/2 my life so that does complicate things in that I have no family here, but I have family in NZ.
    I guess it also depends on what stage of life you are at.
    I’ll have to go and, like you, sit on the fence on this one as ideally I would like to do 6 months in both countries but I don’t have some sort of free lance business that allows me to work irrespective of where I am physically located. I guess you are not really sitting on the fence though as you made that decision and relocated back to the US.
    I also think it depends a lot at what stage of life you are at and what sort of person you are and what motivates you. For me, leaving NZ was a way to get away from my family but the down side is that I have missed out on a lot of experiences with my family that others have. Japan was always a fun place to live but given an opportunity I couldn’t see a career in Japan for me and thus I didn’t take the opportunity and left. I think we all need to make choices that are right for us a that particular time.
    After all, our time is finite so there is no use spending in on things we don’t enjoy.
    All in all I am fence sitting and would say different strokes for different folks

  19. “So here’s a good question for you: Why do we work 5 days a week, and not 4 or even 3? With all of the labor-saving technical advances of the last 150 years, how is it we’re still working so many hours?”

    I hear you.
    Cultural / societal change is very, very slow and in my opinion causes a lot of harm for everyone.
    We (as in humanity) could be so much more, could lead so much more productive and happier lives if we just got our shit together and that includes redefining productivity and happiness …
    I personally think that capitalism – at least in it’s current form – is to blame. Not that I have a better alternative. In the absence of that alternative we should at least all work on improving capitalism.

    In the same way communism / socialism had to go because they didn’t work, capitalism in it’s current form needs to go. It is destroying our biosphere.

    And yes I am already in politics and will engage more in the next few years (I plan to run for mayor for example).

    1. What’s wrong with capitalism? We’re talking a system that depends on perpetual consumption and obsolescence, ensuring a steady depletion of resources and wanton creation of waste. How could that possibly end badly?

      Who could dislike a system where one person winds up with 99.9% of the pie, while millions of workers scramble and fight over the remaining crumbs? Great system, or greatest system ever?

      I don’t want to get political, but I will note you combined communism and socialism together with a slash, Mr. Mayor. There’s been a lot of recent media affiliating socialism with communism, the latter of which has a generally negative public image. Ironically, many of the people who are opposed to socialism are the very people who would be helped by it the most.

      1. “I don’t want to get political, but I will note you combined communism and socialism together with a slash, Mr. Mayor. There’s been a lot of recent media affiliating socialism with communism, the latter of which has a generally negative public image. Ironically, many of the people who are opposed to socialism are the very people who would be helped by it the most.”

        There has been a conflation of terms in US politics both on the right and on the left.
        On the right this was done on purpose of course because “socialism is evil”. On the left I’m not sure how this happened.

        The fact is that we had “socialism” in Eastern Germany (where I come from) and I can assure you it didn’t work out well. What did work and what “the left” in the US means when they talk about “democratic socialism” is the tempered capitalism that can be found in much of Europe. The name “social democrats” comes to mind as a political direction and there are quite a few parties in Europe with this name. Social democrats want all the things that the left in the US also wants, such as universal healthcare, protecting the environment, a living wage, gender equality etc.
        There is however a huge difference to actual socialism.

        By the way, coming back to the topic of Japan: When I first came to Japan I had a very strong feeling of “capitalism gone too far”. My feeling was literally “wow, everything is made out of plastic”. Needless to say I prefer a life with less plastic.

      2. I agree, there’s nothing wrong with that system. Anything that makes people miserable and encourages them to shorten their stay here in this world (via things like Oxycontin) should be welcomed with open arms. Think about it, if paradise/heaven is so awesome, why not jump straight to Go and collect 200?

        Amazing stuff, I know.

  20. I believe I mentioned I had cancer several years ago on a different thread. I had a bowel resection, then a lung resection and then 6 months of chemo. I paid $32.00 each time I had chemo (12 times) for the prescription for the drugs (not the drugs themselves) as they were all paid for under medicare. Medicare in Australia is paid for as a 2% tax on most employees wages. I joined a forum that was US based and I was shocked to find out that if you didn’t have medical insurance you would have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get what I had for free.

    Thus I tend to lean a lot towards Hanayagi’s “Socialism” where you pay taxes on what you earn and the state then supports you with services such as schools, hospitals and financial support that you don’t need to pay for.

    I don’t get the US system of reducing corporate taxes to get companies to invest in that state when it enriches the shareholders and simply helps perpetuate the daily grind of the workers.

    Sure, there has to be a better system than Capitalism as it is obviously not working, but what is it?

    I think the FIRE movement is fairly big in Japan at the moment but how is that going? How many people to you know that are financially independent and have retired?

  21. It’s funny how I always end up answering at 3 am in the morning.

    My conclusion definitely is Japan is for certain type of personalities. Those guys who get up earlier, read the bible, are afraid of confronting their bosses.

    Basically [edited. Watch the language. KS]

    I mean,people like that (that exist everywhere) are the ones who could adapt to Japan. I had a friend who is like that, he always wants to be ok with everyone, he just smiles but looks tired of smiling, he wants to show a polite face and tell the teacher how lovely she is to get a 10 (A) .

    So yes I believe my friend would be happy in Japan. What do you think mate?

    For me. Well I gotta say I was thrown to the wolves years ago, I had forged my character by heritage and hits.
    Until today I could never fit on a job. People told me I was too stubborn, hard to swallow, lately people tell me I am bossy and I dont like to follow rules. So conbinis look good for me or a free life. I just never was that type of guys.

    Cheers mate from Mx

  22. Welcome back. Anyway, it’s pretty simple in my opinion. Bosses are the new daimyos and workers are the same old peasants. It does not matter how glittering and advanced Shibuya crossing might look like, Japan is basically still a feudal society at heart.

    In the old days, peasants would work together in a communal society and I am guessing fussing is one way to show that you care in a modern society.

    Anyway just my 2 cents.

    1. Not really. I mean I call my CEO by his first name, but in Japan, if you don’t use sonkeigo to address your boss, well, let’s say you probably will not have a bright future in the company.

      In the past, people from the lower class will respectfully address their respective daimyos with the term “uesama” (上様), a tradition that has carried over to the modern worklife with people calling their boss by “family name” sama (様). One can make an argument that 様 just means “Mr/Mrs”, but it’s also used when addressing God, Jesus Christ, Shinto Gods, etc ………

      1. Monkey Business,
        I may be out of date, but last time I worked in Japan bosses were called generally by their position such as buchou or kachou etc (sorry, can’t type Kanji on this PC). I can’t ever recall calling some one “sama” apart from okyakusama.
        However I think the point you are trying to make is that you need to use keigo, as compared to sonkeigo, or it will inevitably shorten your career prospects.
        To me it is more about in groups vs out groups. You are in the same company as your boss so you are the same group. You generally wouldn’t be using sonkeigo to someone in the same group as you, but if you are working say in hospitality or retail, depending on the situation, then the customers are outside your group so you could call them okyakusama or simply surname san, but generally it would be quite strange if you called them surname sama as that would be way over the top if you called them that.

  23. Hey Ken, I’ve been reading your blog for a little while, I really like it, but I got a question..

    From what I read on here, I get the feeling that living in japan as a gaijin isn’t a good experience. Like, you’ll never have a serious career there, you’ll never have meaningful conversations with people there, in fact all you’ll talk about will be superficial. You won’t really make good friends..

    I don’t know man. I’m seventeen, studying math physics and cs, planning on becoming an engineer. I don’t like my country and I feel like Japan’s weird culture of meaningless suffering and cleanliness matches with me.

    But if Japan is not the place for foreigners and if working there means saying goodbye to any bit of possible free time, I might as well not go there you know..

    Usual advice is “take a trip there, see if you like it”.
    Heh, no doubt I’ll like being there as a tourist. But there’s no other way to know what it’s like to live and work there without, living there, or, reading blogs like yours.

    I mean surely if I get up early, do things efficiently, I can end up with free time right? o_0 ..
    So is it accurate what it’s said about Japan not being the place for foreigners, nor the place for having any free time? Or did I get the wrong impression¿

    Thanks for reading!

    1. That’s a great question, and the answer is a bit complex. I’ve got some stuff planned for this weekend (it’s Saturday morning now), but I promise to get back to you. Please check back in a couple of days. Cheers.

    2. Here are few points I could share from my 2 Years of living in Japan.
      From a person who dreamt of living here and now living the dream.

      In every walk of life there will be a lot of choices that needs to be made. In fact, after waking up in the morning we already make choices. These choices are decided by you and only you alone.

      Coming to Japan as a Software Engineer
      1. A dream that I thought would never come true:
      > Going outside the country, leaving your comfort zone, leaving the people you’re familiar with, leaving the room you had for years, leaving all the things you thought are normal.
      > All of these I put into consideration; Here I am “living” the dream.
      2. Was it all of what I expected it to be?
      > Short answer is No.
      > Reality will come and slap your face that what you think you know about Japan is not even 1 percentage of what you will be facing.
      > Work culture is totaly different. Lifestyle is totally different. People are different. Languages are different. Everything is different.
      > Remember, that coming here means a total stranger. Stranger in all of its aspects. Where your work colleagues are “just” colleagues. Where they already have a stable circle of friends. Where they have family to go home to. Where they have girlfriend and boyfriends over you.
      > Remember you have only yourself and no one else. Of course, travelling alone, having fun alone is good too. Not really a bad thing.
      3. Why did I decide to go here then? What made me do it?
      > I dreamt of these. In fact I already gave up on this dream last 2018 but the doors opened. It took me a while to accept the offer but I don’t want to get old and ask my self “what if I accepted the offer?”
      > I did this for my dream. I did this to not regret it when I get old. I did this to get an answer.
      4. How am I doing now?
      > In the past 2 years, it was really a roller coaster of emotions.
      > I did a lot of travelling (mostly alone). To grow as a person.
      > Work is totally different. I dreaded the culture here. Every single day is painful. But what can I do? it gives me money. It’s making the steps to find a company suited for me. At the moment it’s not.
      > Friends? 2 years and I have few (3 of them). But hey, they got other friends and lovers. I come as the optional friend. When they have no one else to ask to go out and they have no choice. At least they invite me every other 3-5 months.
      > It’s not all lonely and sad experience. My dreams came true. Watch my favourite groups performance. I got casted on national TV show to meet the group. I danced on national TV.
      5. Do I recommend you to come here?
      > This is only from me, personally, I don’t recommend you working and living here.
      > But my personal opinion won’t count in making your decision.
      > Do you think you’ll regret not working here? Do you think you can work here? Do you think it will be fun? Do you think you can survive?
      > I can throw a lot of questions to you but in the end the decision is yours to do. Life is about making choices. I’s all on you mate.

      At the end of the day you want to live a life without regrets as much as possible. 🙂
      Hope this helps

      Sincerely,
      Yggy

        1. you still have time. think of it over and over again.
          im sharing my experience to give you a view but I am but a single person only.

          Cheers,
          Yggy

    3. Hi Louis. Thanks for the thoughtful questions. Let me begin with the conclusion: It might be best if you worked for an international company in Japan.

      Some foreign people live happily here, although a number exist within a foreign bubble. They work at places that speak English, or observe “foreign” work practices, such as leaving at a reasonable hour. They have at least some friends who speak English and don’t act too “Japanese.” They buy peanut butter, order pizzas, and eat burritos. If you go that route, you might enjoy the benefits of Japan (efficient transportation, good convenience stores, non-confrontational population) without all of the drawbacks (pointless rules, social obligations, lack of self-expression, backstabbing).

      In other words, it’s possible to live in Japan without actually living in Japan. I’d venture to say many foreign folks who are happy here fit into that category.

      You mention Japan’s “weird culture of meaningless suffering and cleanliness,” but you might want to reconsider your impressions. Japanese people don’t suffer for no reason. They suffer because they have no choice, and the culture won’t let them behave differently. It’s a little like gun culture in the U.S. Even if you don’t want a firearm, you feel the need for one just to protect yourself from all the other nuts with guns. Everyone there isn’t just going to magically one day agree to discard all firearms, just like all the people in Japan aren’t going to magically start leaving work at five.

      And if you think Japan has a culture of cleanliness, you’ve obviously never seen the room of a Japanese guy your own age.

      You say, “surely if I get up early, do things efficiently, I can end up with free time right?” The thing about work is that it’s never done. If you finish early, you just do more work. It’s like being a highway tollbooth operator. The traffic doesn’t just stop coming so he or she can go home.

      Work hours the world over are largely arbitrary. There’s no reason people work 8 hours a day instead of 7 or 9. And in Japan, that number could easily be 10, 12, or more. The number of hours you work depends on the standard for the company, not upon your efficiency. That’s why you should look for international companies, and scrupulously evaluate the number of hours they say you’ll be working. If possible, ask someone who actually works there. I worked for a place in Tokyo that used punch cards to legally ensure employees weren’t working more than 40 hours a week. So the managers simply instructed everyone to punch out and “voluntarily” continue working till midnight.

      Finally, let’s loop back to your concern that “living in japan as a gaijin isn’t a good experience.” My feeling is there’s nothing special about living in Japan. You could just as well be living in Minnesota. After a few years, everything becomes normal. And then you’re back to the real questions that influence a good existence: Is your job meaningful, or even fun? (My answer: Eh, it’s so-so) Is your salary appropriate (yes), and is there opportunity for growth? (no) Do you have a circle of friends you can regularly hang out with and who “get” you? (no) Do you have a few people you can rely on if you need help? (yes) Do you fit in with the society at large? (you must be joking) Are you living in a house or apartment that you like? (so-so) Can you pursue the activities you enjoy? (some of them, yes)

      You’d do well to search for a place that will check as many of those boxes as possible, regardless of what country it is.

      Cheers,

      Ken

  24. My two cents and someone who lived, studied and worked in Japan for a long time. If you are going to Japan to learn about Japan/Japanese culture, it will be great. Japanese people love teaching outsiders about Japan. If you are going to Japan to teach Japanese people about your culture/language or way of doing things, it might also be great. Japanese people love being taught about “foreign” things/practices. If you are going to Japan in order to do a “normal” job alongside Japanese, it will be tough, unless you are one of the few “foreigners” who can put up with how Japanese deal with each other. If you think you are in a unique position because you’ve been hired by a Japanese manager who is very “international”, then be prepared for that particular manager to leave eventually and be replaced by another manager who wants nothing to do with foreigners.

    1. I wish I learned this before I accepted the offer in working here in Japan. Before I left all the things in the Philippines. Before I faced all of these adversities now.

      with my decision it is a mix of regret and feeling proud about it.
      Right now, I am trying figure out if it’s still worth staying.

      Sincerely,
      Yggy

  25. I came to a certain point as well to leave Japan…and a lot of thinking went into it for me. I think for a certain standard of living, call it some kind of theoretical global middle class (e.g. safety, infrastructure, entertainment, etc.) equivalent to a “middle class” life in suburban America…I think Japan might be the most affordable place in the World to do it. I think it’s much more expensive, if not impossible to do that in urban Philippines (you can’t snap your fingers and suddenly get rid of Manila traffic and have Japan’s mass transit system). I live in the SF Bay Area and it’s significantly more expensive than even Tokyo (even if you do like the International School route and stuff for you kids in Japan).

    I made the mistake of thinking that things would be more affordable and that I could give my family and my kid a better quality of life back in California…and after about 10 years, I wouldn’t say I was wrong or regret it, but it wasn’t the slam dunk I initially thought it would be. I judge this by talking to my friends who stayed in Japan with their families; they were able to provide the things for their kids and families, at a reasonable cost and effort, that I thought I would have to go back to the US for…

    My take is, if your job and life doesn’t “suck enough”…then try to ride it out, the better option might not be going back to the Philippines. It might not be your life or passion now, but there’s something to be said about doing that work to fund things that you do like to do and do drive you (e.g. hobbies, travel, volunteer work, etc.). I am stereotyping here…but the social part of the equation can be solved here fairly easily for an outgoing Pinoy. Yes, making friends with local Japanese is pretty cool and is important for building an extended personal and professional network…but as discussed, those friendships may not develop into something as deep or profound as you would like or need. Personally, I tapped into gatherings that my school and other US schools did to socialize and network and that led into me finding more people like myself, growing up abroad, figuring out Japan together…and led to me forming some of the best friendships I’ve made anywhere (I even met my future wife at one of them!). I’m sure you can Google around and find something equivalent (heck I did Toastmasters which was fantastic!). Depending on your work environment, my coworkers also connected me into their circle of friends, both Japanese and international since a lot of them studied outside of Japan.

    Like Ken and others have said…Japan ultimately, isn’t special compared to anywhere in the world…there are pros and there are cons. Determine what the “unnegotiables” are in your life and what are the “nice to have but I can deal with it or find alternatives and solutions”, if you can’t get the “unnegotiables”…then yeah you need to do something drastic…but if it’s the “nice to have”, then see what you can do about it for now.

  26. In many ways this shock a lot when you see the outsider’s perspective.

    I always knew anime, kawaii and cuteness were exaggerated but not fake.

    Now let me tell you that these Japanese Values look completely insane why on earth i would like to be a simple ant in the econsystem. Well I actually know some friends and ex-coworkers who can adapt to that mentality, in my case this is not possible because my values are completely different from these ones.

    I would like to live in Europ(I know it is a bit of a cliche) but when i was there i really felt like home, you know. Specially in Germany I felt like people treat each other as my familiy does,

    Germans tend to be direct and with strong character (that is also a cliche haha) but it’s true people tell the things so directly and is refreshing for people like me. I know exactly what does they thuink.

    Going back to Japan i feel like these guys are like the picky ones on the office, or the ones that they accusse you with the boss while they serve you a tea with a smile.

    No wonder why people start hating those guys, and I think someone with my characteristics would end slapping 60 guys before going back to my country.

    Maybe I will visit sometimes but nah , i won’t live with those Randalls (from Recess cartoon) haha

    cheers mate

  27. Hello Ken,
    Always find your posts invocative and thought provoking.
    I do recall the boom country that was Japan and there was a time when Japan was buying up property and investing worldwide during the 80’s and early 90’s.

    It has kind of gone sideways globally since then and I think that it is facing a massive crisis due to the increase in the aged population, the low birth rate and the lack of female participation compared to other nations (ok, I get that there is a lack of government financial support for child care too).

    I was watching this video yesterday and I found it interesting.
    https://youtu.be/yFzqkck4yXw

    The obvious answer that is like the elephant in the room has to be immigration. Many other countries do that to ensure that their economies don’t shrink, and I do realize that is a whole other question about if our current system of capitalism and the search for continuous growth is the right system or not, but leaving that aside my question to you, perhaps for a new post, is “why doesn’t Japan look to immigration to solve it’s upcoming aged crisis”.

    Looking forward to your keen and thoughtful insights

    1. That’s indeed a worthy subject. Let me put some thought into it and come up with either a short post or a fearsomely long comment. But generally speaking, “J the Sug”‘s comment lines up with my experience.

  28. Immigration sounds like the obvious answer, but to be honest I don’t think it would work. As a half-joke I used to ask my Japanese friends if they’d rather Japan be a rich country as a result of immigration or poor but still “pure Japanese”. I had a 100% return rate on the latter.

    1. Yeah J, I get where you are coming from. I am obviously very biased based on where I grew up and where I live.
      I grew up in NZ, which when I was a young kid was predominately Anglo Saxon (white) nation with a minority, about 10% of Maori (indigenous race). This slowly changed with an influx of cheaper labour in the 80’s to the point where Auckland became the biggest pacific islander city in the pacific.
      Then when I hit high school, we had the influx of rich Hong Kong and Taiwanese kids who’s Daddy’s came on a business visa, bought massive mansions in rich areas, left the wife and kid(s) in NZ and went home. The school I went to have an ESL class full of them and they all drove to school in BMW’s so naturally there was some resentment.
      I then moved to Australia which, following WW2, had a big influx of Southern Europeans, mostly Italians and Greeks. Then in the 70’s they had Vietnamese boat people, the 80’s was Lebanese, and from 2000 onwards it has been Chinese and Indians. Australia decided that they needed to grow their population and they targeted, via a points system, students to come, spend money on their education in Australia and that would allow them to get a permanent residency permit a lot easier.
      There was no discussion with the Australian public but when you have a population of 25 million and an you take in about 300,000 immigrants per year, mostly in Sydney & Melbourne, it does get really noticeable. We have areas now that are China towns and Indian towns and I, as a white Australian feel really out of place.
      I can get the resentment that boils under the surface in a immigration friendly country like Australia that was a melting pot for decades but Japan has that mystic “we are the special race different from all others” syndrome that makes it really hard to blend in or be accepted.
      I think that change is happening but in a glacial pace. Love to hear what you guys all think

      1. St Germain: as a Sydney sider who is desperate to return to my home in Japan I would like to share a couple of thoughts on your post:
        1) Australia is generally not kind to Asia or Asians as your post indirectly points out using justifications that your post raises; however, anglo immigration into Japan was often also by the wealthy or the self righteous, so the issue goes both ways;
        2) Many biracial families do not fully fit into Australia nor Japan because of perceived difference (Ken refers to issues in Japan about being perceived as foreign & consequently treated differently);
        3) Asian women in Australia suffer discrimination – read “Emotional Female” by Yumiko Kadota (Australian with Japanese roots) about a doctor’s recent experience in a profession that should behave at a higher standard – This book, in many ways, highlights way Japanese woman are “sad” even though it is set in Sydney;
        4) Australians in Japan, in my experience, often behave badly as do many westerners – is this because of relative wealth (Australia’s wealth is referred to in your previous posts) or is it that white Australia perceives itself as ” “we are the special race different from all others” syndrome that makes it really hard to blend in or be accepted.”?
        I understand your post but it does represent an ugly culture in many ways – Can we help change culture?
        I think that their are many movements on foot atm that are actively changing culture since culture is fluid : )

        1. @ Soujourn

          “Asian women in Australia suffer discrimination – read “Emotional Female” by Yumiko Kadota ”

          I was interested in this case. Thanks for sharing. She did pretty well for herself as an asian woman (Australian citizen) as do many, many, asian women in Australia. Have a look at any prestigious Australian law firm, and you will find a lot of asian women earning big bucks. Sometimes their English ability is below native level. In Universities and hospitals too.

          I watched her youtube introduction about her novel and it seems, at least for that video that she is not talking about racial issues, but about systemic problems that she faced, (some of which may include racism, she didn’t say in the video).

          Meanwhile, a caucasian looking Japanese citizen sometimes can’t even gain entrance to a public bathhouse. How many caucasian or black medical practitioners do you see in Japan? Basically zero. How many so called ‘hafu’ doctors? Basically zero. How many repairmen who don’t look Japanese? Basically zero.

          Job opportunities in Australia are pretty good no matter what you look like, so long as you can speak a bit of English at least.

          Even if your Japanese level is not a problem in communication, so long as you look non-Japanese, you can’t even be a repairman.

          1. @TJJ
            As lawyers who have been in prestigious law firms & as law firm partners, I can answer that Asian women have huge obstacles making partner as do women in general, so it is not correct to say “Have a look at any prestigious Australian law firm, and you will find a lot of asian women earning big bucks.”
            Google “asian employment in australia” for insight : )

            1. Gidday Sojourn
              I get the impression from your name and your message that you are having a sojourn in Australia. I hope you do get to go back to Japan sooner, rather than later, as this fortress Australia mentality does take its toll on those with family and friends overseas.

              I’ll respond to your points.

              1) I disagree on this point, I think Australia treats all new comers, not just Asians like any other country treats outsiders coming into the country. The difference between Australia and Japan, is that in Japan, you have 2% of the population are of foreign extraction, and in Australia you have 1/3 being born overseas.

              My point was that each generation has had a successive wave of immigration.
              Post WWII you had the Italians and the Greeks, then the Lebanese, then the Vietnamese, all mixed in with many other nations too.

              We’ve had successive generations of “Wogs” which have in turn had children, and we are now 3rd & 4th generation Italian and Greeks here. It is the 1st generation of any immigration that is unfortunately not able to speak, read, right the local language and culture. The 2nd generation generally overcomes that.

              I think that is one of the more positive things about Australia in that over a decade you can have a wave of immigration that succeeds and becomes a local, who in turn treats the next wave of immigrants as badly as they were treated. Thus my answer would be that Australia, as most other nations, doesn’t treat Asians or Asia badly, it treats all immigrants badly.

              2) I’m fully with you on that. I’m born in NZ, married to a Japanese lady that I’ve been with for 23 years, speak native English, speak fluent Japanese and even I feel that I don’t fit in here as my wife and I don’t have any family here.
              If you throw mixed race into that, we have no kids so I can’t claim to understand it, that just makes it so much harder. I honestly get where you are coming from on that one.

              3) Haven’t read the book but she has been a massive subject on the SMH. I understand your point in that you are I believe trying to say that she sums up why Japanese females may be sad, and I assume that is in relation to family pressure to succeed and societal pressure that won’t allow them to succeed, but I’ll get the book and read it.

              I think that she, and a lot of up coming doctors, are made to work massive amounts of hours, in silence, and if they complain, there career prospect suffer for it. There was other suicides that came to light as part of her article and I agree, that as a profession that we are supposed to look up to they all seem to have behaved in a very unbecoming way.

              4) When you have any group of mid 20’s that leave their own country, go overseas to have fun for a year or two, I think that as they are away from their social norms, you will always get some that behave badly.

              I certainly don’t think Australia is a “special race”. A hodge podge of people that were sent to Australia as criminals is not the best start to a colony and I am not sure where I gave that idea. Please accept my apologies if I gave you that concept. The wealth of Australia I don’t think we are in the top 10, but what I think Australia has done well at is to have medicare (universal health care) that the more well off of us pay to subsidise those that don’t have as much. Japan does that well too.
              I think Australians accept that if we earn more then we pay more which I think helps to have a much flatter society. When you got to the extremes like the US has recently you get to much of a gap between the haves and have nots which pulls society apart too much.

              I don’t think my post is ugly. I am simply saying that as a country we have had over 15 years, 200,000 – 300,000 immigrants pear year pushed into Sydney & Melbourne, and that really puts pressure on society. It just so happens that the government has chosen to pursue immigration via students from India and China to prop up the education system and then gives those same students additional bonuses to stay in Australia by making it easier for them to get PR visas. If they were all Kiwi’s I’d point out that there are heaps of Kiwi’s and I feel like I am in NZ. Pointing out a societal change doesn’t in itself show inherent racism, it just comments on a phenomenon that is happening in society.
              As you can see from above, I am all for the benefits that immigration brings. However I think it needs to be tempered or targeted to spread that over different geographical areas or it puts way too much pressure on certain areas that I frequent.

              However immigration has been good for Australia, as we have grown economically and we have been able to skew our demographics to bring in more young people. Compare that to Japan and the lack of immigration brings its own pressures as there are not enough young people to sustain the demographics it has.

              1. @St Germain
                Thanks for your thoughtful post – Yes, I understand what you are saying but there are a few elements that heckle me:
                1) Australia had a White Australia policy from 1901 to the late 1960s (along with earlier discriminatory acts) – this policy had an overflow in the Australian psyche for many years & still exists in some circles today. Therefore, I think that we have some way to go to be “fair”.
                2) I also have a biracial family were we are often confronted with a “strong racist vibe” in Australia – this is not something that we experience with the same intensity or frequency when we are in Japan. Nor did we get this feeling when we were in other locations such as San Fran 20 years ago, where we felt at home because biracial (anglo-asian) families were common.
                3) Issues raised by Yumiko Kadota opens a very sensitive issue for many. My thoughts are that generally those who are not subject to discrimination like to deny that it exists.
                4) Issue of Asian Immigration into Australia: “we have had over 15 years, 200,000 – 300,000 immigrants pear year pushed into Sydney & Melbourne, and that really puts pressure on society” reflects, in my mind, anglo colonization/rule which has often rejected non-anglo cultures for similar sentiment:
                Anglo rule takes the services and labour of other cultures but denies the other culture’s right to prosper (citizenship, own land, become part of the community etc. has been historically limited) – think of our gold rush. This is the story of the West’s treatment of each immigration wave, for which I see the latest target being Asian & Indian (earlier in the 1960s to 1990s it was Greek, Italian …).
                I think, as a society, that we could do better.

                1. Hi Sojourn,
                  What a pea souper it was this morning. Went for a run and felt like I was swimming the fog was so thick. I say that as I think you said you were a Sydney sider so you probably experienced the same thing.

                  1) I’ll readily admit that as a white anglo saxon male I’m probably the last to feel any discrimination as I am in that least discriminated group. Sure, I got the Kiwi jokes about procreating with sheep, but as I modified my accent I no longer get that. I can certainly understand the comments about the White Australia Policy, which we did not have in NZ. I think that the Aborigines bore the brunt of that, but accept that it has permeated Australia but from my perspective in most areas of society that is no longer the case. I run a company and just looking at the staff we currently employ we have 2 3rd generation Greek Aussies, 1 2nd generation Turkish Aussie, 1 Indonesian (he can’t get dual so retains his Indonesian citizenship), 2 Chinese (1st generation), 1 Japanese (my wife), 1 Kiwi / Aussie (me) and 1 single 67 year old true blue aussie. There is a lot of banter between them all where they do the “Aussie” thing and take the mickey with each other, but on the whole they are interested in each other and respect that the fact that they all come from different backgrounds. I’d probably say it is more prominent in the Anglo enclaves like the shire and perhaps in politics.
                  2) Again, I live in the middle of Sydney in Paddington so I’m in an area where everyone is accepted. Being racist, sexist, homophobic etc, is not really a thing that I encounter in my life, and I find it hard to see that there is much of that in society. Then again, that could be attributed to the area that I live in and the circles that I hang out with.
                  3) OK, I’ll get the book. can’t comment otherwise right?
                  4) This one I need to disagree with. Nobody is denying immigrants the right to citizenship, to by land and become part of the community. The way you phrase it makes it sound like we are sending boats to Africa to steal slaves and use them as labour. We live in a capitalist society. Australia presents an opportunity to people living overseas and those people chose to come to Australia, presumably to better there lives. If we look at the post WWII era we had massive immigration from Italy and Greece. I have a good friend in his early 70’s that take pride on the fact that he was the 1st “wog boy” in Stanmore in 1946. His Father came to Australia from Calabria in Italy as they had no food, no work, no prospect of anything and he was happy to just get out of Italy. Now, this fellow I know has 3 houses in Sydney (all adjacent to each other) where he has his son’s family and next door to that he has a property where he has had carers looking after his mother in law that suffers from dementia for the past 12 years. He has 12 investment properties and was a high school principal for most of his adult life. You can’t tell me that if he had stayed in Calabria he would have had a better life. I often sit with him having a drink and he tells me how grateful he is for the opportunity that he had from Australia.
                  I can’t see how that equates with Anglo rule taking labour and denying rights.
                  If the Asian and Indian’s didn’t want to come, they wouldn’t. The world we live in allows people the chance to improve their lot by moving countries to a new one to do better.
                  One of the Chinese ladies that I employ moved here to finish her university degree, met her then boyfriend (Chinese) at that University, married him, brought out her family to live with them in Australia, has a house, and 2 kids, has taken 12 months maternity leave twice, and resumed work here both times. I don’t think she feels like she is being denied anything. If she felt that then she could easily leave and go back to China.
                  I think you can see that I disagree that we treat each wave of immigrants and deny them rights. We allow them to have dual citizenship if their origin country allows. This is something Japan doesn’t for historical political reasons. We allow those immigrants to have PR, to buy houses, to live as they want. Yes, I agree that it is hard for each wave to assimilate and that for most part, they will not get work conditions as good as someone born and educated in Australia irrespective of that persons cultural background.
                  I get that as an employer. When I advertise a role I consider what I am looking for. If it is a front line customer service person that deals direct with my customers, I want someone local, that understands Australia geographically, that will be able to easily communicate with local clients and deal with government authorities (Customs, quarantine etc). I don’t want someone that has done a degree in Accounting but lived in Australia for 2 years as there is much too much to teach that person. If I am looking for an accounting position then I am happy to have such a person (I have two) and I spend a lot of time training them and of the two Chinese ladies I have one has been with me for 12 years, and the other for 5. Is that racist? People could look at it that way, but I simply think it is employing resources in the best possible way which gives the best result.

                  I am sure you will have comments that I have made that you disagree with and that is fine. I do enjoy this discussion and hope I am not coming on too strong.

                  I will order that book today by the way. Not sure when I will get it with the lockdown, but probably early next week.

                  1. Thanks St Germain – the issue that struck me atm is that we have different views on the same set of facts so maybe there are multiple truths depending on our experiences:
                    I too live in Paddington (which is an absolutely privileged suburb) & do not see this suburb as “where everyone is accepted” as it is very “white bread”.
                    With your statements regarding employment: I see employment ceilings that have existed and still exist that stop Asian Australians get to levels of equivalent standing as their Anglo counterparts (hence I raised Kadota Yumiko book). Yes, there are outstanding exceptions, but these are relatively rare events.
                    My observations of Australian company behaviour, those which I have been associated with over the last decade, is that those companies that have grown significantly have often done so on the back of cheap Asian labour: Asian labour is often put into place because they are comparatively lowly paid, highly skilled & loyal – this is why the Asian community is often referred to as the “Model Minority”.
                    With company growth, the Asian personnel are not promoted but demoted by having new layers of management bought in, which consist of non-Asian personnel making up the C-suites etc.
                    But this is my anecdotal observation – have a look at:
                    1) research papers by googling “Asian employment in Australia”; &
                    2) the ABC series: “Waltzing The Dragon With Benjamin Law” currently on iView:
                    https://iview.abc.net.au/show/waltzing-the-dragon-with-benjamin-law

                    I appreciate your thoughts, which are different to mine – & that’s democracy at a base level.
                    No, you are not coming on too strongly as you need to speak plainly so I can understand & reflect on your thoughts.
                    P.S. “Emotional Female” by Kadota Yumiko is available at Berkelouw Books in Paddington.

                    1. Is buying a book considered an essential reason to leave home during lockdown?
                      Heck, I live at 5 ways and everyone is out there buying takeaway coffee so buying a book must count.

                      I readily admit that I am of the “white majority” so I won’t try to say that racism doesn’t exist. I also have run my own business from when I turned 30, and prior to that I was never in the corporate world, which is where I assume you work, so I won’t pretend to be able to comment about that. I would imagine that there are a lot more politics going on then the world that I live in and it seems that you have witnessed a lot more than I have.

                      I certainly agree that we have both brought in cheaper labour to supplement and save costs, and that we have outsourced many roles to Asia to save costs. There are numerous options available in my industry to outsource functions to the Philippines at a fraction of the cost, but for me it sacrifices relationships and quality of service so I have steered away from it, but the corporates certainly have used that massively. Most utility call centres are off shored and I can see what you mean by that aspect.

                      I’ll read the book before I say too much else.

    1. Ahh, I know. I’ve got something in the oven right now, but I was hoping to let it bake a little longer. Let’s see what the weekend brings.

  29. Yeah the Japanese incessant fussing over someone else’s business is truly annoying. They either don’t know what they’re doing or don’t know what the person (such as me) wants or needs (or doesn’t want or need), or they try to help when help isn’t wanted. In any case their intrusion only makes things works and pisses me off. I had a similar experience with a copy machine that gave me the finger one day, and a colleague called over an office worker who began by opening drawers and doors and pushing buttons, making things worse. So I did what everyone would do in this situation. Shut off the power for a few seconds and switch back on. Cutting to the chase: When it appeared that the copier was functioning, the office worker offered to do a test copy for me, which had to be landscape and double-sided flipped a certain way, but the test copy that spat out had the back side printed upside down, and when I explained that I needed it to print the other way, she said “Oh…I see.” in a depressed tone. Since the copier was functioning again, although not optimally, I could print what I needed, but not in the way I wanted. Perhaps I could, but experimentation would take time, which I didn’t have, and run the risk of throwing the machine into a loop again, so I said to her “arigato” which can be interpreted, and I so intended, to mean “go f* off.” And having just a few spare minutes before class, I decided to run off 40 something pages with the backside upside down for my students to put into their binders and tell them to turn their binders 180° when reading the back. Ok the last part wasn’t true. I just passed the papers out and hoped they would not rebuke me.

  30. I actually love it when you take a serious issue and then sum it up with saying something like “then I had a nice cold Asahi and some yakitori and all was good”. It puts things into perspective by showing how the simple pleasures of day to day life can bring a form of contentment, and dare I say, happiness, amongst the more serious big picture of life. Ken, I think you might be somewhat glad to hear that, although my career and life are going very well on paper after having returned to the U.S., I dearly miss the simple day to day pleasures of living in Japan. Those things made me happier on a daily basis than, say, looking at my 401(K) balance. It would be nice to have both, of course. I’m currently struggling with whether or not to return to Japan and give up the Mercedes and stock options for a more modest life of Asahis and relentless bullhorns. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it isn’t.

    As for the other “characters” in the book, perhaps it would be nice to get to know more of them, but my interest in this blog (and the book) stem more from Ken’s observations of life in Japan and his take on it. It would be nice to have more information on Ken’s local izakaya as well, but I do not see that as essential to the blog (not to equate an izakaya with a human being, of course; but you get my point).

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. Reading your comment, and reflecting upon the “characters” a bit more, I think perhaps I didn’t add more detail about them because I didn’t have much to add. Right there in your comment, you’ve told me more about yourself than some Japanese people I’ve known for years.

      I’ve heard the Japanese citizens described as “a race of clones.” While that’s insulting, it points to an underlying truth: compared to somewhere like the U.S., there’s a high degree of standardization in Japan. Schools follow the same curriculum nationwide, and between customs and systems, the population shares a lot of similar traits. Combine that with an overall tendency to avoid revealing any personal details and you’ve got deep conversations, such as “You like hot soba noodles? Wow, I like cold.” Fascinating.

      On a completely different note, can you save money in the U.S., 401K or otherwise? Seems like that would be one great advantage to living there. Not to mention being able to make friends more easily.

  31. If you have a full-time job here with 401(k), especially with employer matching, it’s a very good deal. I have 20% of my salary withdrawn directly into it, with some matching from the company. So, I put away 20% + tax savings on that 20% + the employer matching amount. It’s a great benefit. You’d be surprised how many jobs here come with that benefit. My friend’s girlfriend works in a retail shop and gets it. I definitely save more here than I did in Japan. I also have a health savings account. It’s set up by the company so that it’s deducted from my salary, with a tax benefit. So for anything that health insurance doesn’t cover, I can just pay with what’s in that account. It works well. Rent is about the same here, I’ve found. Though you tend to get a bigger place for what you pay (outside of places like NYC). Apartments actually come with appliances.

    It’s also much easier to make friends here. I was down in Florida last week, and our group basically asked our waiter to pull up a chair and join us. I could never see that happening in Japan.

    All that being said, I still miss the heck out of Japan. Some of it might be missing my younger, more carefree days (I’m about to get married). Some of it is certainly Japan itself.

    You have PR and could probably get an English teaching job back in Japan without too much difficulty if you wanted to, so why not come back to the U.S. for a year or two and give it a try? Worst case scenario you have some moving expenses and you miss out on a year or so of Japan. If you hate being back in the U.S., you will be able to start appreciating Japan again and wipe out some of your jadedness. The job market is supposedly good here. If it were me and I could do things over again, I might arrange to come back to the U.S. for six months to a. year, and keep my place in Japan. I cut the cord with Japan thinking I’d never be back. Psychologically that was very hard.

    Now I actually have a job offer back in Japan. It would mean giving up my 401(K) benefit and taking a bit of a salary hit, but it sounds like a fun job. I’m really struggling with this one. On the one hand, it’s very hard to walk away from what I have here. On the other hand, if I can just have a cold Asahi after work in a standing bar in Ebisu then all my cares will be gone.

    1. It’s really an existential problem, huh? Like getting married, living in one place versus another comes with plenty of advantages and drawbacks. I suspect you’ll always miss your carefree Japan days. Hell, I do too, and I live here. The stark present is no match for the rainbow-hued past.

      As for my situation, being able to jet back and forth between the U.S. and Japan sounds like a dream life, but it’s not really financially viable. It’s not so much the moving expenses, although those would be considerable, as the loss of income while not working. I think that lifestyle is better suited to someone either much younger or much older. For now, I’ll need to content myself with a few weeks every year or two.

  32. @Soujourn

    “@TJJ
    As lawyers who have been in prestigious law firms & as law firm partners, I can answer that Asian women have huge obstacles making partner as do women in general”

    My apologies Legion. Spare my offspring, please.

  33. It’s funny. When you live in Japan for a long time, it’s easy to lose sight of the good things about it, and just be annoyed by the daily struggles of life there. After you leave, it’s easy to forget the daily struggles of life, and only think of the glory days of fun and adventure. I think your blog does a good job of humorously pointing out the really great things as well as the daily annoyances. Though I think that these days you’re leaning a bit more towards the former, which is understandable.

    Back to your comment, I’m trying to figure out how to make the back and forth thing work, but as you said, it’s just not practical. Even if it were financially viable, you pretty much have to choose to live in one system or the other. There are questions of taxation (trying not to end up paying in both places), paying into social security or the Japanese pension system, having a steady job in a place in order to be able to rent or buy a place to live, etc. Living in two systems just doesn’t work. You have to choose one and then dip your toes into the other by taking trips/vacations there. And if you’re married (which is not the case with me), especially with kids in school (which is also not the case with myself), then forget about it.

    My big fear is that I move back to Japan in search of the life I had, just to find that I’m just a now middle aged guy returning to visit the places he had good times in his 20s, and that I no longer have a place there. Scary…

    1. Well, whether you live in the U.S. or Japan, you’ll probably be a middle-aged guy wishing he’d taken a different life path. Sorry, that’s probably not much of a comfort.

      Anyway, you’re wise to focus on finances and planning for the future now. You want to have Social Security and retirement savings in at least one country, if not both. I know too many people here who fucked around when they were young and now they’re older and like, “I’m gonna have to work till I die.” Being poor when you’re young is an adventure; when you’re old, it’s a tragedy.

      All I can say is that, at the moment, corona has changed everything. You don’t really want to be in Japan right now.

  34. “ All I can say is that, at the moment, corona has changed everything. You don’t really want to be in Japan right now. “

    I’m interested to hear more of your thoughts abbot this.

    1. Well, if you’ve ever wondered how attractive Japan would be like without bars and restaurants, now’s your chance to find out. I haven’t been out in months. Mostly it’s just sleep, watch TV, and do push-ups. If I ever wind up in prison, I’m now prepared.

      Basically, it’s just not fun any more. The overall mood is somber, and Japan was already an over-serious place. If you do go to a restaurant, you’re sequestered in your own plastic bubble, sanitized with alcohol, and interact with a masked waiter. Good luck trying to have a conversation with anyone. Of course, the whole world’s suffering, and many countries have it worse. But this is a hard time to be away from friends and family overseas. You don’t know who’ll get sick, whether you’ll get sick, and if you’ll ever see your loved ones again. Best just to hunker down where you are.

  35. Of course, the whole world’s suffering, and many countries have it worse. But this is a hard time to be away from friends and family overseas.

    I think you summed it up well there. Japan is a magical place when things are “going well”. But when things go wrong personally or in a macro sense, as with the pandemic, one really feels the downsides of living away from family and friends. When things return to normal, life in Japan will be good again. This pandemic might have brought out a bit of foreboding in you about how life in Japan will be when you’re middle aged or old, though. Something to consider.

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