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:


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.

103 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.

    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!


    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.



      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.


                    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:
      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:


      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.

  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.

    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.

    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. ”

    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?”


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


          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.

  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


        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.


    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.



  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.


  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.

    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. 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.

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