A reader recently asked: should I move to Japan, or Norway? I get similar questions a lot, and I think we all know the answer.
Okay, first off, Norway’s great if you like cross-country skiing, hats with horns, and wood. On the other hand, Japan might be your spot if you enjoy wearing bathrobes with swords, eating Cup-o-Noodles, and riding tiny bicycles. But either way, none of that matters, and I’ll tell you why.
Dating Japanese Women
So last year, I was dating a couple of ladies. Let’s just call them, um, Satoko and Emi, since those are their names. And things finally got to the point where going out for two Christmas dinners to Kentucky Fried Chicken and giving two sets of White Day chocolates got to be a bit much, and I decided to make a choice. So I did what any reasonable person would, which was to sit down with a ouija board, pad of paper, quill pen, and two cans of malt liquor. And I started tallying their respective good and bad points, along with some numeric values.
Satoko was great in bed, so that rated a solid 8. Emi, on the other hand, owned a black Mercedes, which was clearly a 9. Hey, you never get tired of driving a really nice car. As for drawbacks, Satoko lived next-door to her old boyfriend, so that was minus about a million, while Emi had this glass eye. Lost her real one in a gym class accident in high school. The women I date, seriously. Anyway, I know the eye shouldn’t have mattered—-I mean, fake boobs add points, so you’d think a fake eyeball would be awesome. Especially if it was huge. But in the end, I had to go with a minus two.
Finally, I added everything up, lit some candles, consulted the ouija board, slammed a third malt liquor, and all the numbers pointed to Satoko. But ultimately, for some reason, I threw out the math and decided on Emi. Because logic isn’t how you make decisions. Math never works. We’re all possessed with an ancient monkey brain that somehow short-circuits logical processes. And then three months after deciding on Emi, I ended up with this entirely different girl named Erika. Things have a strange way of working out. It’s like Russian hackers stole my election.
Moving to Japan
Deciding on Japan’s the same way. You’re gonna make a long list of pros and cons, do a bunch of calculus, carry the one, then crumple everything up and chuck it all in the trash, because monkey brain. You know Japan rates low in happiness and high in suicides. But samurai! But maid cafes! See, you’re halfway on the plane already. I could tell you about the lady murdered in my neighborhood, or all the folks who save three bucks by dumping their TVs in the river rather than recycling them, and you’d say, But Ken, l love sushi! I read manga! What’s that got to do with it? Are you even paying attention? Ah, go buy a ticket already.
Bottom line is: people don’t make rational decisions. They spend thousands of dollars smoking cigarettes to give themselves cancer. They get married. They ride motorcycles. We’re talking something terrible for carrying groceries, that loses value quickly, and which you’ll only get to ride once a month if the weather’s good. And that’s just the wife. You’d be lucky if you could trade in the bike for a decent used car. Try throwing in your spouse and making it a two-for-one deal. That’s a win-win.
So if Japan came with a massive Surgeon General’s warning slapped on its side, would that change your mind? Nope. But still, let me offer up a couple of thoughts.
First, if you’re thinking about learning Japanese—-congratulations; way to double-down on your bet. Then if things don’t work out, at least you’ve spent years learning a language useful nowhere else.
Second, people make a place. If you surround yourself with friendly, cool, and caring people, you’ll probably be pretty happy wherever you’re at. And if you don’t, you won’t. It might be worth considering how many cool Japanese people you know. I know two. And now both of them live in L.A. Just saying.
But Just tell me Yes or No
I’ve always been a Yes guy. Should I have another beer? Why, yes, I should. Should I stay in this ramshackle bar chatting up a girl who seems mildly interested even though I’m gonna miss the last train? Who we kidding—-you know I’m never heading home. Should I call in sick because she balked at the brilliant idea of a love hotel so I attempted to walk home then wound up sleeping in my suit on a yellow slide in the kiddie park? Oh, that’s definitely a yes.
Saying yes is easy. And if there’s two or more choices, Ken Seeroi’s definitely going with easy. So yeah, come on to Japan, what the hell. It’s worked out great for me. After a decade, I’ve got a closet full of moldy shoes, a rusted-out car, and a girlfriend desperate to have a baby. Livin’ the dream. But I’ve still got two tall malt liquors in my tiny fridge, so party on.
I consulted with an old friend of mine about the Satoko-Emi dilemma. The dude’s a genius; he’s literally a Philosophy professor. I was back in the States for a week, and we met for what Americans call beer and French fries.
“God, this lager’s terrible,” I said. “Anyway, these two ladies, they’ve both got pros and cons.”
He held up a ketchup-covered French fry like a pointer-stick and said, “Ken, no matter what you choose, you regret it later.”
“Are you talking about the beer, or the women?” I asked.
“Any rule that applies equally well to beer and women, I like.”
“Hey, I wrote a book about it,” he said.
Making a choice—-that’s literally the hardest thing to do in life. But still, you might want to choose the one with the lowest impact. Maybe start with a tattoo of the rising sun on your calf, rather than one across your forehead. You want to date Japan, not marry it. Over fifty percent of all marriages to Japan end in divorce, you know. That’s statistics. But yeah, let me know when you’ve booked a flight.
206 Replies to “Should You Move to Japan?”
Then monkey brain tells me if I liked Norwegian Wood, I should go to…. Hmmmm
This reminds me so much, Ken, of the advice you were giving me when I last posted about me being unable to get the idea of moving to Japan out of my mind; even after having visited it last year and realizing that it wasn’t all that.
I’ve kind of just settled with the same realization: I’ve accepted that, when it comes to Japan, I can’t make rational decisions.
I could have a great life as a well-payed software developer in Montreal. I live in a fantastic, vibrant, diverse city, full of beautiful, intelligent, francophone women. I own a great condo that’s walking distance from downtown.
But in the end, I’d still want to move to Japan. Despite all the books and blogs about how shit my life would be over there – especially as someone of darker complexion. And I’d still like to try it out.
Hey, at least I’m not moving to the States to get shot at. Plenty of people from my birth country of India have ‘Moving to America’ as their life goal. Hell, we even have temples which specialize in getting your passports blessed to aid in getting selected for a work placement in the USA!
So yeah, I’ve been back on the kanji flash cards since a few weeks ago. Back to the grammar text books.
Keep it up, Ken. And have a fun Golden week.
Wait, what? You visited here, it wasn’t all that, and still you’re enamored with the place? What’s up with that?
And I’m in no way saying Japan’s a bad place. It’s got its good points, but I certainly wouldn’t throw my life away just to live here. I mean, if I was you. Whatever, don’t do what I did.
Love’s a funny thing. It’s really easy to fall for things. And I don’t mean just people. You can lose your mind over a car you’re dying to have, and spend all your time obsessing over it. Maybe you even take out a loan and buy it. And then a few years later you see the same car and it just looks dorky. You literally can’t understand why you ever wanted it.
So this isn’t just about Japan. It’s about people we desire, expensive cars, nice watches, handbags, clothes, haircuts, you name it, hard-wired into us. It’s about monkey brain.
The way I’ve come to see it though is that I have this Japan things perhaps precisely because I don’t have the other desires: I’m car-free & super frugal. I spend my free time taking courses. I’m working towards financial independence in my early 40s.
Maybe the Japan thing IS the fucked up part of my otherwise really good life. And like you say, and I believe as well: there are far worse things someone could do.
I wish I could get over it though, seriously.
For a good 4-5 months after the Japan-visit, during which I had deleted all references to Japan (which included avoiding your blog) I had convinced myself that I would never want to go there. Maybe visit a few more times; check out Hokkaido. But never something longer.
I’ve done that multiple times over the last 12 years. It always comes back. This isn’t a weeboo thing either: my favorite jazz bands are from Japan. I’m interested in keeping up with East Asian international affairs as a hobby.
At some point you’re like, fuck it, might as well learn Japanese. Do I see it myself giving up all the entertainment from Japan that I consume regularly in the next 5 to 10 years? Very unlikely.
I wasted the last 1.5 hours of a Friday night, after having finished Kanji cards, looking at language schools in Japan. Worrying about how I can manage my career and take time to finish JLPT N1 sometime in the new few years.
I need a therapist. If I could PAY someone to cure me of this want to live in Japan, I’d like, take out a loan to pay that dude/gal if needed.
Probably should just save it for language courses in Japan though. : /
P.S. Ken, I know you’re a pretty private person. Total respect. But is there a way for me to gift you one of our famous locally brewed ales from Québec next time I’m (inevitably) in Japan? Maybe leave it in a locker somewhere if you don’t want to have your superhero cover blown.
Ever hear the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt”? Yeah, I invented that. You’re welcome.
I mean, unfortunately it’s true. The about thing Japan is that it’s so different. But what’ll cure you is when Japan becomes boring. The first time someone brings you a box of Dunkin’ Donuts, you’re like Donuts! I could never get tired of these amazing fried things with holes! But after a year, you even hate Swiss cheese, because somehow it reminds you of freaking donuts.
And I don’t mean just “boring.” I mean, jump-in-front-of-a-train boooring. Lock-yourself-in-your-room boring. Talk to some Japanese people—they know. They’re all like, Please God, let me speak with some foreigners; let me go on a trip, to anywhere.
Japan’s great as long as you’re not part of it. You’ve read about hikkikomori and how people don’t even want to have sex with each other. That’s the society you’re working to become a part of. You, and I,—we’re not immune. Integrating into Japan means becoming like that. Someday maybe you’ll spend a Saturday afternoon responding to blog comments.
Honestly, I think it’s great you’re learning Japanese. It’s a challenging and rewarding pursuit, and I’m glad I undertook it (well, kind of). But anyway, you seem like a completely cool dude who’s got his shit together and has the free time to work on the project, so why not.
But here’s the crazy, ironic thing: the more I understood Japan and the Japanese language, the less I liked it. I saw how unkind people were, how they put others down to raise themselves up, how…human they, we, were. Or perhaps better said, how much we’re all really just animals. It’s good to cover that up. Look beyond the Chanel perfume and Michael Kors sunglasses and all you’ve got are a bunch of hairy fuckers running around trying to trick each other out of bananas. Ignorance is bliss. Just made that up too. I’m on a roll.
As for the beer, let me know when you’re coming next. Because we both know you will, and schedules permitting, I might be cool to meet up.
you might remember me as that borderline pessimistic guy who says Japan is not worth moving to and how many ridiculous problem it has and just how stupid the society is. Next year I’m gonna stay there for a month and have several “talk to japanese people” apps on the phone, worked through over 100 pages of a learn japanese book, my youtube is filled with japanese vids recommendations and I habe backtracked nearly all Japan Times articles to 2014. It’s kinda cringe worthy. But I mean, its nothing strange really.
Some people are just adventurerers or are living in a culturally unappealing country. They might not agree with politics. They might find the women way more appealing over there. Personally, I love science fiction and especially cyberpunk. Tokyo by night is what I imagine a reallife cyberpunk atmosphere would be. Childish, right? Other than that I like how the streets are filled with stuff to see. I’m sure you could spend a whole day at just one street and still haven’t seen everything it has to offer (haven’t checked the basement yet!). The offer for free time activities is so much more huge than where I live.
Now if only they could fix their economy and productivity and willingness for taking economic risks and… anyway so people wouldn’t need to work 11h a day and snatch as many adventages for themselves as possible. I’m just saying, to be able to give, you need to have. If they would just reset their mindset on how to work and how to manage your employees, it would fix so so many problems. Holding everything together by fear and anxiety is not working, and I hopefully think that they are starting to wake up after the Dentsu incident.
Still, it’s easy to say this and that is why Japan is not worth moving to. But everyone needs to understand the reason why the japanese are doing what they are doing. They are emotionally cold, don’t marry, don’t have sex, depressed, egoistic, etc.? The next question you ask should be: why?
I mean, I would be too, if nearly half of the workforce are parttimers or have such loose contracts that you could be fired at any moments notice. You come home and are just happy that you managed to survive the day.
Happy to see answers as to why my thought are stupid.
I think I have had a similar attraction to Japan and a similar problem at getting rid of it. I won’t go through the too many steps involving JP in my life but in 2004 and did quit my job (high paid software engineer ^^) and went to study in Japan in a language institute to give it a try for real and see how I would cope with the process. I “lived” there for 6 months… at the end of which I decided it wasn’t for me, well I am also definitely not disciplined enough to learn Japanese as a hobby without real prospect at a life there. It would have taken me at least 1 or 2 more years to reach a decent proficiency but I could see the more time I’d spend there the less I liked what I understood and saw of the Japanese culture (especially around human connections and work). So I decided to cut my time there and embarked in a new adventure that lead me to a weird expat life based in sydney… I now live in Chile doing something totally different again and I am glad I did not commit to a life in Japan (as some of my friends did back in 2004… most of them are honest enough to admit it was a complete mistake). Again everyone’s different but there is a pretty strong trend there. I do go back there pretty often (traveled there for 2 months in 2016 and had an amazing time as a TOURIST)
If you really can’t get rid of that feeling, go there, try it and you’ll see for yourself. The good thing is, there is always a way back and ways to reinvent yourself, on top of it, a year won’t change much in terms of career. Not always an easy path but hey life’s an adventure and time is running way too fast 🙂
Thanks for your reply.
Maybe it’ll work out for me like it did for you. I’d like to avoid investing even six months if I could figure it out sooner.
Like I mentioned before, I visited Japan and came back not that impressed. It was the super common things that got me: super small grocery aisle in an otherwise massive supermarket. That when you factor in the price of shinkansen tickets, you could just have gone abroad.
I held back for months but it kind of creeped up over time. I couldn’t really keep away from a bunch of my music that comes from Japan that occasionally has Japanese lyrics. My favorite film director, who is Japanese, released a movie that I really had to watch.
Maybe it’ll be different for me; will have to see. Languages are my thing; I feel the most alive when I spend time learning them. I’ve never not been learning a language in the last 10 years. A key reason I moved to Montreal was because I genuinely wanted to learn French.
Meh, it’s not so bad. Ken tries to be funny and witty for us and all but I’m sure that for all the moments he’s annoyed about his life in Japan, he probably has 1000s of other moments as ordinary as anywhere else. Some of them charming, even.
He comes out with one post a month and all he’s really trying to say is that Japan isn’t some magical place. I understand that. The problem isn’t Japan. It’s people, including me, who are attracted to Japan in this irrational way that we gravitate to these blogs and podcasts and YouTube channels.
I imagine that, in the end, it’s not great, nor is it really bad. Even if I ended up in Japan (or if you had) and grew kinda annoyed, for most days, life would just… be ordinary.
I should then just learn to appreciate the 95% of my hypothetical future life in Japan that is the same as anywhere else and not turn bitter like some of those vloggers who end up being ruled by the 5% of life anywhere that annoys them. That 5% happens here in the supposedly perfect country of Canada as well. I know not to let it govern my life here; why bring that attitude to Japan if I go there.
On a related note: Ken, if you read this, I just wanted to mention that one of the other things I really enjoy about your blog is how much you make my mouth water when you talk of food and beer. I really appreciate that you’re at that point where you seem to really take pleasure in the things that you can afford and experience to the fullest.
In that way, you seem to really be turning Japanese. : )
I can’t help but share my enthusiasm for the food. I’m thankful for it every day.
As for the rest, I try to be balanced in my portrayal of Japan. It’s easy to misinterpret this nation, and follow that predictable arc from jubilant elation (“everyone’s so nice”) to bitter disappointment (“everyone’s so racist”).
We do that with lots of things: new partner, new job, new country. Everything’s wonderful at first, but after a couple of years you find a mountain of stuff to dislike. But the partner/job/country didn’t change. It was the same all along. You just changed how you saw it. It’s better to know that going in.
From what you’ve said, you clearly understand the situation intellectually. You just don’t understand it emotionally. But love’s like that.
Lot’s of your energy seems to be consumed by that question. One of the advantage of people living a tough day by day life is that they HAVE TO be connected to the present and can’t spend so much energy projecting themselves into potential future scenarios… Let me know how life goes when you’ll have bought that flight ticket ^^. And yeah food itself is a reason good enough to me to wanna spend time in Japan. Cheers
Thanks again for your reply, Furia. I’ve saved your email for future conversation.
I don’t think you can edit your post to remove it. Maybe Ken can step in (sorry for the trouble) and remove it.
I do have a pretty cush life, you’re right about that. Immigrating to Canada was stressful but since becoming a permanent resident, it’s only gotten less stressful.
I totally agree on the mindfulness thing you mention. I’m mostly able to be present for most other facets of my life. But again, this obsession has been a disease since I was 15.
I’m actually quite glad I haven’t acted on it so far. As I’ve gotten older (still under 30) I’ve managed to establish some ground rules. At least now I know I won’t run away to teach English as a means to get there (No offense intended, Ken & others. I would be a bad teacher and I’m glad to not want to use it to ‘escape’ to Japan. I dislike kids and never had much faith in conventional education for it’s scholastic merit. Nothing against social and societal value though)
Fun random fact, but Chile is pretty much the only country in the America’s other than Canada and the States that I’ve been interested in visiting. It’s the other country similar to Japan that has mountains close to a coastline. That’s my favorite biome, right there.
Oh, and Ken: http://i.imgur.com/RNHc0Lf.jpg
Chile has a breathtaking nature and is definitely worth a trip. Now I have decided to move on and get a new adventure started somewhere else so I won’t be here for much longer. However I am planning a little trip to Japan this Autumn (my favourite season there). Enjoy torturing yourself a little longer with your Japanese crush 😉
Oh man! That’s like the nicest thing anyone’s every done for me. Thanks a lot! I’ll look forward to drinking that.
And yeah, I edited out that email address, thanks.
Fin Du Monde – truly wonderful beer! One of the things I love about Quebec.
It does seem like you’re about 10 years off the FI thing in your 40s, but maybe you should wait until you get to a point where you don’t really have to work to be in Japan. It’s a lot cheaper being out of the big cities and you can get to FI sooner that you may think (at least that’s what I’ve been working towards). Also, as you pointed out, being brown in Japan can be difficult…I’m a different kind of brown, but after living in Japan for 6 years, it did get trying getting stopped to show my gaijin card EVERY time I went through Shinagawa.
My current plan, as a software developer, involves having a stable remote gig and then starting with longer trips of 3-4 months rather than a straight move. I intend to do that for a couple of years as I get my Japanese up to spec without sacrificing my ability to advance my career skills.
Where is Shinagawa, and what kind of brown are you? : )
Sounds like a great plan, I’d probably do something similar if I had kept up with my coding in school ;p
Shinagawa is the southern point of the Yamanote Line and a pretty big shinkansen hub…I think there’s some sort of immigration enforcement bureau there, which is why I get stopped as a Filipino since they have profiled many of my countrymen as visa overstayers (in all honesty, there’s probably a degree of truth in there…).
So true! Have saved so much money just by walking away from something that I think I absolutely have to have at that moment! 9 times out of ten I’ve found I could live without it anyway and cherish what I already have. Thanks for overcoming your “laziness” and thinking of your followers ( assuming we’re your motivation). Appreciate the honesty, too!
I’m really glad you said that about the money, because I do the same thing.
I don’t know how it happens, but through some marketing voodoo, I suddenly decide I’ve just got to have this new thing. Maybe it’s a watch, or a pair of shoes, or a messenger bag. Half the time, I didn’t even know said thing existed, but now I can’t live without it. I’ll look it up on Amazon, read all the reviews, compare it to similar other things. Maybe I can just put it on my credit card, and then I can have it tomorrow. One-click shopping.
But then I just wait. Then after three months, man, I really want it. Time to pull the trigger. But then I wait another three months. Sometimes it takes a year, or even more, but I guarantee you that if I wait long enough, I no longer want that thing. Instead, I want another thing. That’s the monkey brain.
I’ve saved a lot of money by not acting upon what it tells me.
This is so me. My girlfriend gets so mad because it leaks into her life through me agonizing about almost every thing I’d order online or spend money on. She really does have to put her foot down sometimes because it stresses her out that I’m so stressed about my purchases.
In the end, I usually don’t end up buying anything and recover from the decision fatigue quick enough. She’s left with the emotional tax of seeing me agonize over it all.
About time already!! Finally a new post…
Guess we all take the easy options, and face the difficult time.
That’s called Laziness. It’s one of the Seven Amazing Virtues, according to a new religion I just invented today. Still working on the other six, but thus far they all involve beer.
I just wanted to say thanks for more of your honest and funny insight. I especially love that you reply to comments, and I read all of your replies. I feel like you’re absolutely right in so many respects – being enamoured with it (and I’d put good money down that everyone following this blog is) because of its starkly different culture, and so on.
I made friends with some japanese folks my age (early twenties) and I love it, they’re all absolutely adorable. You’re absolutely right, monkey brain – I know I gotta visit someday and get it out of my system, or at least scratch that itch. I am an arcade nut, which Japan is the last bastion for so there’s that.
Until then, I’m enjoying your wacky blog entries which surely must be exaggerated but I wanna believe some random guy really did actually pull out an ouija board and do math to pick between women. Good shit, brother
Thanks much for the nice comment. I actually went to an arcade place a couple weeks ago. It was one of those where you can play video games, sports, and those crane things where you try to pick up stuffed animals. We did everything. Badminton, basketball, soccer, betting on tiny horses around a track, darts, you name it.
Pretty great way to spend a rainy afternoon. Yeah, you should visit. You’d love it.
Always appreciate the honesty and the metaphors!
I just wanted to thank you for completely and utterly bursting my bubble on the nation and people of Japan. You have saved me countless hours of time spent on learning Japanese along with the nerve it would take to eat something as nasty looking as Natto or even learning how to drive on the wrong side of the road.
Thanks to you gone are my visions of living in a serene peaceful environment where each member of society is accepted and treated with respect. I guess I have watched and listened to too many Perfume music videos and have been lead astray by a fake sense of outer and inner happiness that is all just a facade. I guess I’m a victim of the Japanese PR Marketing team (sigh), they are damn good. They fooled me but thanks to you the truth rose to the top like the foam on your beer. I should have known something was afoul by a nation that still hunts whales. Oh wait, that’s for research right?
Feel free to burst my bubble on Santa, the Easter Bunny and a nation run by the people (not corporations) here in the US.
Just remember, U.S.A., greatest country on earth.
On the real though, I think Japan’s a fine place. I’d put it on par with the U.S., in that there are a lot of good things, and a lot of bad things. They just happen to all be different things, and it takes a long while to figure out what’s really going on. Anyway, it’s certainly worth a visit here. Just stare at maps, walk into the ladies room by mistake, fumble with your chopsticks, and everybody’ll love you.
Thanks for the quick reply, I had wondered if there was a real human behind this blog or a bot. Well, in this case a bot with a voracious appetite for liquor and fish in a can.
So from what I have gathered from you and the post below from MIINA (“As long as you’re not “in it”, you’ll enjoy the time”) it’s best if one goes to Japan and remains a “fumbling, funny, four-fingered, clueless and inept foreigner” then actually attempting to fit in by acting Japanese or for that matter not performing any ritual nonsense. Since a foreigner can never really become “Japanese” why even bother, right? It will make things worse for you by the sound of it. You will never be “Japanese” no matter what you do or how hard you try, get over it and stay a knucklehead foreigner. The Japanese will like you more for it if you stay a dimwit (I can do that naturally). Okay, I guess I’m catching on (but not to Natto, a man has to draw the line somewhere).
So I guess my next question is (since I, like you, am lazy) is how much Japanese (language and written) does one need to know to get by for say a week or perhaps a month on vacation? Now mind you I wouldn’t mind walking into a female bathroom by mistake (although I would prefer a female dressing room, I’m guessing they smell better) but after the third or fourth time the locals might catch on to my pervertedness (I know that’s not a real word, but it looks almost like one). I just want to be able to order food with confidence and catch a train and/or bus without it taking the wrong turn and ending up in a Northern Communist Country that likes to launch bottle rockets into the ocean while its young overweight leader kills his relatives.
As I humbly wait for your sage advice I shall listen to the easy mellow bands AKB48 and Baby Metal. Jazz never sounded so good…
You need virtually no Japanese language to get by in this country. What you need to know is the system. Let me start with an analogy.
I’ve been driving in Japan for over five years now, and I still don’t know what most of the symbols on street signs mean. Does this mean “no left turn” or “one way street”? “No parking” or “loading zone”? I’ve no idea. Yet I was able to pass two Japanese driving tests (one for a scooter; later, one for a car) and get two licenses.
That’s because I know how to drive. You point the big metal thing in the direction you want to go, and try not to kill anything. Other details are pretty secondary.
Most of the interactions here—or anywhere, really—are formulaic. You could study Japanese for a really long time and still not be able to answer simple questions like “Ya want fries wi dat?” or “Deez bags yers?”
So how can you learn the system? Mostly you can’t. There are too many small rules, some of which are important, and many of which aren’t. You have to be here for a while, and simply observe what others do.
Ah jeez, maybe I ought to write something up, now that I’m thinking about it. Okay, I’ll put it in the queue, but don’t hold your breath, right.
Anyway, I wouldn’t worry too much about the spoken language. I visited here a bunch of times before knowing any Japanese.
Perfume fan living here in Japan. If you can, you should come see them perform on their home turf. The quality of their stage production is a true spectacle, to say the least. And, as many have stated, traveling to Japan won’t ruin the fantasy! At least not too much.
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying your blog for the past few months. It’s helped me to laugh in some of my less than happy moments living in Japan. Thanks for your continued wit and honesty. If I remember correctly, you’re in Kyushu, right? I’m in Kagoshima. Would love to talk (and drink) sometime if you’re my neighbor!
There’s this saying in Japan: “if it stinks, put a lid on it.” I have lived in Japan for a little more than one year, and that kind of Japanese mentality is just one example of many that I cannot be at home with.
Problems are constantly being swept under the rug here. The Japanese press/media has relatively low freedom, so that’s one big reason why many foreigners have this over-optimistic opinion about Japan, I think. Children are also indoctrinated at their schools to not criticize Japan or question anything.
I found all of this, and more, pretty depressing. Therefore, I’m on my way out.
This is a huge problem in Asia. Back in 2013 when I first started living in China, the “sweeping things under the rug” concept bothered me to no end. Now, I’m just use to it, and I just make a quick mental note on what’s going on.
I vacationed in Thailand, and just from dealing with people there, I noticed the same thing.
Dear Seeroi San,
I always appreciate your wry (or is it droll?) humor.
Looking forward with bated breath for your next installment.
Thanks much. I’ll try not to take so long next time.
Honesty is terrible to swallow. I adore your blog.
I don’t know what is in the air, but all of my friends with 20 something sons all of a sudden MUST MOVE TO JAPAN.
None know the language. At all.
All like “Japanese” food (the stuff here does not compare to there)
Vegan/Vegetarian (BWHAHAHAHA! wheeze..good luck with that)
Japanese women. One told me it is easy to get a wife there.
Their only sellable skill is native English language speaker. I don’t think Japan has a burning need for Poli-Sci majors from land grant colleges.
I lived in Japan for two years studying art. As long as you’re not “in it”, you’ll enjoy the time. The minute you think you’ve paid your dues, and deserve to be considered part of the herd is when you get bitter and angry. I saw so many expats turn into bitter and angry.
I never got bitter and angry, because I realized early on I could only be the best foreigner, not the worse Japanese. I was never gonna marry a Japanese guy. I never spent all my waking time learning Japanese because everyone decided to speak broken English to me at work.
Your blog should be required reading before signing a Japanese work contract. I’m all about adjusting the pipe dream back to reality.
PS. Your photos are lovely!
“As long as you’re not ‘in it’, you’ll enjoy the time.”
That’s it exactly. That’s the crazy paradox of Japan—it’s almost more enjoyable if you don’t try to become part of the society. Learning the language and following the customs just floats you further and further into space. You leave the orbit of your original people and enter a vacuum where there’s little support. No matter how fast you travel, planet Japan’s too many light years away to reach in one lifetime.
You are right Seeroi, Japan is more enjoyable if you don’t try to become part of the society. I do have the good fortune, however, to know a gaijin that did reach Planet J, a man whose peers can be counted on fingers, and the pleasures he enjoys are out of bounds for the rest of us …
NYC life is kinda grinding down the wife and I. She’s from Saitama and tells me she could make a lot more money than me in Japan. We have a six yr old daughter that speaks Japanese and I’ve always dreamed of being a kept husband.
So how much would she need to make for me to mooch comfortably from?
Also I speak little Japanese (thinking this may be a plus)
Stephen, a gaijin man will be infantilised by moving to Japan. I am not being glib. And your marriage will not improve. Nor will your daughter ever be as fluent in English as you will come to wish she were. Could your wife make more money than you in Japan? Two questions for you. Will you be teaching English and what does your wife plan on doing for money? Salaries in Japan have been trending downward for quite some time.
If you dream of being a kept husband Japan may just be the place for you, but there is a price to pay …
“Will you be teaching English?”
I was hoping to not work at all.
Okay. What will your wife be doing for money?
To answer your question directly, I think you could live on roughly the same amount in Japan that you could in the U.S. Your standard of living will be different, in that it’ll be Japanese (think small apartment), and income and expenses will vary depending upon where you set up shop…but all that aside, I think you could do it for an amount similar to what you’re bringing in now.
So if your family of three is now living on $100K per year in NYC, you could live a comparable (although Japanese) lifestyle here for that amount.
Whether it’s is a good idea or not…you’ll need to work that out with your family.
Thanks for replying to my only half serious comment/question. Hope to contribute to your more than worthy/well written blog soon (but hey, even NPR hasn’t made that cut yet.)
Seeroisly though, thanks!
My words will be harsh. But they are true. For your daughter’s sake.
I too have a 6 year old daughter and it is for her sake I’m getting the whole family out of Japan. It is my strongly held opinion that raising children in Japan, when you have the option not to, is akin to child abuse. Yes, child abuse. This counts doubly for multi-racial children. Growing up here is a shit sandwich on shitty bread with shit sauce. Education here is designed to crush any individuality, spirit, or ability to think and reason logically. It’s purpose is to create robots. Specifically Japanese robots. Programmed with all the social cues and rules to be a mindless sheeple who will follow orders, never complain, and never expect to be happy.
Bullying is an essential part of Japanese culture. Your child is quite likely to encounter it. If she is ever bullied it will be her fault. Does that sound illogical? Get used to it, logic carries little weight here. Japan is a country of rules not convictions.
As adults we can build a bubble to insulate ourselves from the bullshit of being foreign in Japan. This is how most long term foreigners here stay sane. Children do not have that luxury. Your child will be different, an outsider, and she will be reminded of it everyday by everyone around her. She will be expected to follow the rules extra carefully (and the rules suck) to compensate for her being an alien, and in the end she will still never be treated as an equal. Your daughter’s spirit, creativity, self-esteem, and ability to think will all be diminished. A shadow of what they could have been.
Also, your relationship with your wife will change. Your status in Japan will be similar to that of a pet. Someone who your wife drags around, takes care of, and cleans up after your endless social faux pas.
You will never be a full member of society or respected by the locals.
Your daughter will see how people treat you. She will LEARN that daddy is outsider, someone who commands no respect, someone to be embarrassed of. She will also learn that it’s your fault that she’s different and may resent you for it.
I’ve been here 22 years. Speak, read, and write Japanese and have an MA in Japanese literature. I’ve worked for foreign companies, Japanese companies, and run my own business. You may think I’m talking out of my ass but know that it’s a highly educated and experienced ass.
hold up a moment. What if he gets a job at ASIJ or another international school, thus free tuition for the kid, plenty of similar situation friends for her, and a community of foreign spouses who you can explore the country with as friends?
You did start to allude though to some difficult to overcome challenges like implications of having to rely on others to help with any complex situation in life – taxes, paperwork (Japanese love it, lol), etc.
My feeling is that in Japan it is ideal to be a part of a strong team that you can contribute to and will back you up. If he can find a team (good company, school, hobby, whatever) – or if the wife has connections – could be a very different picture.
Yes, anything is possible. But having “a strong team….. who will back you up” is the very rare exception to the rule here. See, altruism doesn’t really happen in Japan because everyone is always keeping score. If you do something for somebody they will be tripping over themselves to reciprocate so they can even the score. Every good deed must be repaid, with interest.
Where I grew up friends tend to have their friend’s back. In Japan if you help out someone you know when they are in trouble you are doing them no favour as you have just saddled them with a crushing dept of gratitude.
Here people will help you not because they are nice (they may actually be nice but that’s a non-issue here) they do it because its the rule. Just as there is a rule that it must be paid back.
If Joe fresh of the boat foreigner is helped out in various things by his spouse’s social circle or neighbor’s their poor spouse is going to be crushed under the weight of obligatory reciprocation.
Oh man…all of these things! I keep telling my friends and my family that the worst thing they could do is to get us presents or something. They tell me, “No, it’s OK, I just like giving presents!” At which point I slap them and say, “No, you idiot! That’s not how this works!” You end up creating a vicious, resentful cycle since score is ALWAYS kept…true charity and altruism doesn’t exist…so the best thing to do is to not start…
One of my colleagues at work, asked me to write her name in my native language script.
I did it. She promptly pulled out some sort of chocolate product from her purse, as a token of gratitude.
That’s pretty great.
I mean, you’re right, but it seems that every time someone comes up with a way to get along well in Japan, it always involves…minimizing contact with Japanese people.
Excellent solutions include working at a foreign company, sending your kids to an international school, making friends with non-Japanese folks, and hanging out in Irish bars. Okay, I added that last one, but still.
When people say, “I spent ten years in Japan and loved it,” usually that’s who’s talking.
“Also, your relationship with your wife will change. Your status in Japan will be similar to that of a pet. Someone who your wife drags around, takes care of, and cleans up after your endless social faux pas.
You will never be a full member of society or respected by the locals.
Your daughter will see how people treat you. She will LEARN that daddy is outsider, someone who commands no respect, someone to be embarrassed of. She will also learn that it’s your fault that she’s different and may resent you for it.”
Oh my, these are the harshest two paragraphs I have ever read in the six months (give or take) I have studied Japan. I’m not saying they are false, heck, I’ve never even been to Japan, I’m just saying that this is real deep dodo. This says so much about the Japanese people I can’t even come up with words to describe how I would feel if it happened to me.
No sugar-coating from me. I’m not posting out of anger, I just want to make sure a brother thinking of moving here comes in with his eyes open.
Hmmm…I’d like to have an adult “do-over” for my comment above. I really shouldn’t be posting so close to bed time or with more then one martini. A martini is like a womens breast, one is not enough and three is too many.
I would like to say (and should have said) that the entire post by HOTSPUR is absolutely, 100% & without a doubt the worst commentary on the Japanese people I have read in six months of research. Once again, I do not doubt the poster as his/her comments reflect those I have read in other forums.
Warning, baseball analogy coming up:
Other forum posters have merely hit singles and our own Ken has hit a few doubles, HOTSPUR just launched a Grand Slam out of the park. In the words of the great LA Dodger sportscaster Vin Scully; “That ball is gone!” Okay, maybe Vin wasn’t so original after all as that line may have been used by some other sportscaster previously.
Anyway, I’ll take a break from here as not to wear out my welcome. Keep up the great writing Ken and I’ll let you know what Cuba is like. I hear it’s coming around nicely and Cuban cigars should go well with beer.
La pelota se va, se va, se va, y despida la con un beso!!!
Thanks for the compliment. I don’t even play baseball.
Actually I’m not sure how to feel about such “praise.” I don’t have a problem with Japanese people. A group which includes my wife and daughter.
I do have serious issues with Japanese Society. Which, for lack of a better word, sucks. And it sucks the hardest for native Japanese people. I see it as a poisonous fog covering these isles which weakens and destroys the individuality of those born here.
RE: “I would like to say (and should have said) that the entire post by HOTSPUR is absolutely, 100% & without a doubt the worst commentary on the Japanese people I have read in six months of research.”
HOTSPUR has lived in Japan for 22 years; you yourself have not even stepped foot on Japanese soil. So how can you make such a bold claim, especially without supporting it?
I totally understand where HOTSPUR is coming from.
Bullying is widespread and tolerated in Japan, from the school to the workplace. Being unique is rare and not tolerated in Japan. If you put these two things together, then being a foreign-looking kid in Japan especially sucks.
I apologize, JAY.
By “worst commentary,” you seem to have meant, “the harshest commentary.”
Anyways, HOTSPUR does sound like he knows what he’s talking about.
You got a new moniker there, Jackman ol’ boy?
Hi Hotspur, Sorry to hear and congrats for surviving so long in such conditions. Also another congrats on taking the decision to move out for your daughter and yourself.
Yeah, it’s been pretty pretty tough for him—-something along the lines of somehow surviving the Gulag, what with all the respect he isn’t commanding.
And so well educated too. For shame.
Never been in a gulag so I can’t comment from experience but I know my history and the experience is clearly horrible. However, a gulag is primarily physical duress. Being an a non pureblood in Japan is an experience that leads to psychological duress.
Hell, being native Japanese doesn’t shield you from it either. Growing up in the US I never met a person suffering from depression. Since coming to Japan I’ve met tons, people talk about it with the nonchalance of someone catching a cold. Suicides are at a 24 year low as of 2016 but still Japanese people are taking themselves out at a rate of 1 every 24 minutes. But I digress…
I see living in Japan as a foreigner as having someone try to kill you by beating you to death with a feather duster. It’s doesn’t hurt, it will never actually kill you, but you’re going to get more and more fed up with it as the years go on.
Sorry if dropping my credentials rubs you the wrong way. This blog is light hearted, and full of talk of boobies, drinking, and juvenile behavior and some people may just see it as little beyond that. I however find it has some of the most informed writing (props to Ken!!) and commentary (props to my fellow commentators!) on Japan available. I think flashing my street cred is totally appropriate.
Don’t get me wrong. I agree with your comments. I totally don’t plan on or want to have kids in Japan, etc.
But… “Growing up in the US I never met a person suffering from depression.” Seriously? Depression is a HUGE issue in the United States. I could probably name a dozen people I know off the top of my head who I actively worry about and are certainly depressed. Tons of college grads that can’t get a job other than minimum wage gigs because American businesses hate hiring college grads, and it’s all about who you know. Dozens of people off themselves every day, often by shooting themselves in the head. Suicide rates may be higher in Japan, but they are certainly also high in the US.
There may not be feather dusters trying to kill you, but there are the occasional homicidal maniacs with guns that succeed in slaughtering many people at random. 22 years in Japan is a long time… I can’t even imagine it. But the US isn’t paradise, VERY VERY far from it. And it’s probably declined in those 22 years since you first departed to Japan. I understand why you want to go back to the US, given the choice between the two, I’d do the same. but if I had the option, I’d escape to Australia or something.
Point taken. Perhaps my youth was sheltered. I had a cousin who was bipolar and my second grade teacher had a nervous breakdown in class but depression was something I never encountered. I may have been too ignorant to notice it. Since arriving in Japan I feel like depression is more prevalent than the common cold.
I’m from the US but we are moving to Canada. People always refer to my upcoming move as “going back” I’ve never lived in Canada so I prefer to think of it as “moving forward.” Things I’m looking forward to in Canada are a more inclusive society and better education. Also I’m confident the chances of dying in a hail of gunfire are significantly lower than in the US. I expect many challenges and I don’t expect it to be easy but I’ve never been more sure about any decision I’ve ever made.
Canada, eh? Well color me jealous. After 22 years in Japan, I’m sure you’ve earned the peace of mind you’re likely to find there. Best of luck to you.
I’m too young to talk much about how things were 22 years ago, but from what my parents tell me, American society in general was sheltered and more naive before then. Now, the cat’s out of the bag, and it seems like America’s heading full speed into its own version of the Dark Ages.
I’m moving from Japan back to the US soon, too. Personally, I’d like to be out of the US again eventually, but my parents are getting older and have little interest in relocating. If I could convince them to come with me to Canada or Australia, I’d go in a heartbeat.
Best of luck to ya, I hope all goes well up there.
Thank you Furia. Onward and upward!
Then again who would want to be part of Japanese society anyway. Being part of society means low salary, no opinion, being discriminated because of age and overall being someone elses bit#h.
A masochist might want to be part of Japanese society.
It’s so soul-crushing that it’s no wonder there are alcoholics, gambling addicts, and brothels everywhere. It’s no wonder that being on a train during morning rush hour feels like being at a funeral.
Man, I thank you and your experienced @ss for putting into words everything that I’ve thought and felt over the years. I think I’ve mentioned this on this site before to you, but I made that same call years ago and moved my family back to California when my child was born for the very reasons you outlined above. I do look back often and think about whether or not I made the right call, but considering how much my family has grown and developed…I know that I did do the right thing. He’s in a diverse class with children of different social, ethnic, and economic backgrounds and is taught to value, cherish, and learn from all. He just recently had a STEM project to design and describe a leprechaun trap (with at least two simple machines) for St. Patty’s Day…when I know he’d have to be doing kanji drills in school in Japan and have no idea about different cultural traditions.
I will say that be warned, that there can be some resentment from both your child and maybe your wife…about the life and system that you left behind. My son is still convinced that things would be better in Japan…his Japanese is better than his English and because of it, his interactions with kids here can be a little…trying. My wife complains about how things work (and don’t work) here. However, when they go back for the summer every year, and when I see him refuse to speak English in school and try to hide his “otherness”…it only strengthens my resolve. Here…he’ll realize that he’s different, just like everyone else…and that’s something amazing.
Godspeed sir, and keep us all posted!
A leprechaun trap? Sounds exciting.
Your son is probably still in the transition period. I am sure his English would get better very quickly and he would be able to interact better with his friends and have a great time.
I still don’t really get why ‘blood purity’ is such a big deal in Japan. If they’re that rude to hafus, no wonder they can be downright hostile to complete foreigners. Sounds like you have made the right decision to move back to the States.
Yeah I’ve only gotten the full gaijin treatment, which extends from the off-hand comment “Wow, you can use chopsticks!” to getting stopped in Shinagawa…every…time…and asked to show my resident card by police who apologize while saying that they’re only profiling me for being Filipino and trying to catch people overstaying their visas (gee, thanks, that feels so much better 🙁 ).
I feel like hafu kinda get a mixed bag (no pun intended) and double standards. They’re treated as exotic and “other” like we are, but they also get hit with full expectations of being “Japanese”…and being criticized for not getting it. Seems like twice the unpleasantness…and I won’t even get into their own personal conflicts with regards to personal identity and identification.
My hope is that my little Jalipino (Japanese-Filipino) grows up appreciating and accepting his mixed heritage and forging his own, unique identity.
Thanks for the kind words. It means a lot to hear from others who’ve been in my shoes and successfully exfiltrated from Japan.
Leprechaun trap. That is so cool.
My daughter is quite adaptive. In the last week she handled the transition from day-care to elementary school like it was nothing. Somehow my daughter’s English is probably a little better than her Japanese, and she prefers speaking English at home. If anything I think my daughter will resent me for not having made the move sooner.
My wife presents more of a challenge. If it were her choice we would stay here. She is a big adherent to the typical Japanese trait of fanatical risk aversion. She’s a fluent English speaker and very good at charming people so she’ll be fine in the long run.
I’ll pop in with updates and share my experiences and what I’ve learned.
I am so jealous.
You guys have it better than most of the foreigners in Japan. You feel the xenophobia is too much for your child to grow up into and just pick your life up and return to your home countries; where things may not be as sparkling as in Japan, but you still have comparable facilities and better education system and everything.
I come from developing/under developed/third world (choose your politically correct adjective) nation. My girlfriend got into a reputed university here. I work in a not-too-shabby place. I am planning to get married in a couple of years, start a family and all that twinkle-in-the-eye dream life. But, the way Japanese people treat us (trust me, it’s worse than what Westerners get), and the experiences of other people (esp from this blog), I don’t know if I could settle here. And, yea, I can’t just go back to dusty, energy crisis ridden, politically unstable home-country of mine. It would be unfair to my child-to-be.
No point in this comment, just sharing my feelings. I blame Ken for introducing me to this dark side of Japan. I curse you never get out of this hell and keep posting, may be a little frequently from now onwards.
RE: “But, the way Japanese people treat us (trust me, it’s worse than what Westerners get), and the experiences of other people (esp from this blog), I don’t know if I could settle here.”
One possible option for you is to visibly carry a camera and map wherever you go and keep relocating within Japan. The Japanese “love” tourists; in other words, they want to put on a big show for you, brag about their country to you, and then quickly see you leave. The more ignorant you appear, the better it is for you.
But seriously, I do feel sorry for you. Perhaps there is another country for you.
Not so open door I would say. If you are not from a NAFTA country (or some other countries that Canada has labor agreements) or an asylum seeker, Canada isn’t probably much easier to get a residence permit than any other developed country. You can get one by being highly skilled (like it seems to be the case of Hotspur) or having lots of money to invest, but the same applies for to developed country I guess.
Japan on the other hand, besides English teaching, has a considerable number of student / work programmes for developing countries in Asia, which may or may not explain how you (Gaurab) and your girlfriend ended up there in the first place.
My recommendation would be for you and your girlfriend to learn skills that are highly in demand in developed countries in general. Let’s say, a degree in financial computing and analytics would be more useful than one in geography or psychology.
To be honest, if you haven’t lived in any country other than your home country and Japan, you should take some advice here with a pinch of salt. The fact is that no country is perfect, and migrants who do not have a “sought out passport” aren’t particularly warmly received anywhere in the World. Even in countries that are known for being extremely tolerant, such as Sweden or Germany, it doesn’t mean that most people are interested to have close relationships with immigrants seen as culturally different from themselves.
I know a number of Indonesians and Bangladeshis who have lived for extended periods of time in Japan, and their experiences are impossible to generalise. Some of them were actually quite happy there and would immediately accept the opportunity of living and work in Japan again. Others have enjoyed the experience but wouldn’t settle down in Japan, only return as tourists. One of them, however, felt particularly discriminated and holds some sort of grudge against Japan.
However, I should note that none of them have attempt to raise a child in Japan like Hotspur did.
Sorry my reply was suppose to be under Hotspur’s reply.
Thank you for your insight.
Both I and my girlfriend are Mechanical Engineers, at the dawn of our careers, no real skills yet, just a degree and a couple of years of work experience with us.
I worked here for about a year from 2015 to 2016. Returned to my country. Wanted to come back. Looked for a hakken company, and landed a decent job right now. (although the middle company takes most of my pay, its way more than what I could make back home)
My girlfriend, on the other hand, has been here about 3-4 times before, for about 5-6 months in total, for work. Recently, she got into Kyoto Uni for international energy science courses.
So, that doesn’t allow me to leave Japan for next couple of years. But, this idea of raising a child here does not suit too well with me. Its still, may be 5-6 years later, that we may have a child and all that. But, never too late to over-think, I guess.
If it matters, I am from Nepal.
Look into Canada. Their immigration policy is very open-door.
GAURAB, Canada doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
Canadian people are much nicer than Japanese people.
Canadians have many other advantages, too, such as the ability to operate a computer and talk about something besides food and weather.
May be in a few years. (details in my previous comment)
I hope Canada doesn’t change their immigration policies by then.
Moreover, I don’t hate Japan as much as Ken or Hotspur here, as of yet. But, I don’t think they are unreasonable either. So, may be I am learning and growing.
Whoa, hold up a second—I don’t hate Japan.
This thread has gone a wee bit negative, which is okay (and understandable), but let me clarify my position somewhat:
Consider the people in your home country…
What percentage are the sort of folks you’d like to hang out with?
What percentage are morons?
What percentage are generous?
What percentage are assholes?
What percentage are caring?
What percentage are racist?
Note that the numbers don’t have to add up. Like, I have a great time with about 95% of everybody I meet, despite the fact that half of them are idiots and the other half hold opinions incompatible with my own. Because I don’t really care if you believe Johnny Spaceman’s gonna send us all to Heaven if we obey his ten nutty rules. As long as you’re cool with me, I’m cool with you. Beer helps in this.
Whatever. What I mean is those percentages will average out to roughly the same in Japan. Japanese people are rude and polite in ways that Westerns aren’t; kind and shitty in other ways. But at the end of the day, the numbers somehow end up about the same.
The only disappointment comes with having believed that Japan was some magical Shagri-la where none of the normal rules of earth applied. But that’s what you get for believing stuff on the internet.
Agreed. As I mentioned to Felipe, the curious thing about Japan is that despite the xenophobia and foreigner-bashing, and the fact that few people speak English, it’s actually not hard for a English-speaking foreigner to make local friends. Whereas a place like Sweden which is super-open and tolerant (e.g. taking hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees) and where everybody speaks English, it can be a challenge to get a local accepting a invitation for having a coffee or beer.
Well, you can make “friends,” in that it’s not hard to find people who want to take you around. Maybe you help them to look cool, in the same way that I might think it’s cool to walk around with a black guy. Hey, maybe he’s a rapper, or a basketball player. But that’s less of a friend and more of an accessory. Who’s Gucci are you?
Having a real friend—particularly of the same sex—like you hang out at their house on a regular basis—eh, that’s a bit harder.
I was wondering when you’d comment on the hate thread, Ken.
I would highly recommend everyone here to watch: Black in Japan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJWAuVjKGOQ)
It was an eye-opening experience for me; helped me realize how much of my understanding of Japan comes from the perspectives of white males:
– who are often young;
– who have often un/knowingly made shitty career choices and stuck by them;
– who wouldn’t get half the airtime they get online because, really, how often are you interested in generic citizen 54768’s story on being a gas station employee;
– in some cases, are spouses of a Japanese person and are dealing with intercultural issues for the first time in their lives;
– who never bothered getting past being uniligual;
– who had never faced any kind of discrimination anywhere before they moved to Japan
My favorite story in the documentary I mentioned above is the one where one of the people interviewed mentions how he loves it in Japan because in his home country (USA), he would fear for his life and for the lives and well-being of his family and friends, on a regular basis.
When you’re getting systematically discriminated in your home country and it’s been an inter-generational problem that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon maybe being in Japan is a better option. Sure, they treat you as a foreigner but atleast they don’t shoot first, shoot later, and shoot again… just to make sure.
I would also reiterate that I don’t hate Japan, I hate things about Japan…much like I hate things about the SF Bay Area (quantifiably I hate more things about the SF Bay Area than I did about anywhere in Japan). It’s just that at this point in my life, the things I hate about Japan are pretty counter to the things most important to me…namely, raising my child, nurturing my marriage, and building my career.
My long term goal though, is to buy a nice place, far enough from major cities to avoid that BS, but close enough to be convenient and retire and take advantage of the system on my terms and at my leisure (I’m guessing it’ll all be robots by then).
Sorry guys. May be “hate” was a little strong word throw out.
But, you get my point, I guess.
I cannot imagine what sort of treatment. I assume mahlerite1860 is white and he said he was spit on. You’re treated worse than that? I sincerely hope you somehow find a way to get out of there.
Yeah, and in regards to my only white female friend in Japan, less than civilized behavior – shall we say? – was directed at her, as well, such as being groped by Japanese men. Naturally, they groped her, then darted off. The cops in Japan would be useless to protect a woman in such a situation, especially a foreign woman against a Japanese man. It’s a very sexist society. Groping women, taking upskirt photos, and pedophilia are not abnormal here. That’s why iPhone cameras cannot be silenced in Japan.
One more thing: the most disturbing thing about groping in Japan is actually not the groping itself (as disgusting as it is); it’s that no one will do anything about it.
In the US, for example, if a woman is groped, someone nearby will seriously intervene. The offender will get tackled and reported to the cops, or at least chased off. It is a very shameful crime and not tolerated at all. However, in Japan, bystanders are useless.
I was on a train to Osaka about two months ago. It was around 1pm, not so crowded. I hear a woman cry out “help!” So I got up. I was wearing a hockey jersey and hadn’t shaved in a week so I may have struck an intimidating figure. The assailant beat a hasty retreat, bowing and shaking his head no the whole way. I asked the woman if she was OK and what happened. She said she was assaulted (襲われる) I was in a tough position as: I didn’t see anything, the assailant had fled, and the woman seemed to be a bit peculiar. So I left it at that. The worst part of this story is that there were about 20 other people in the same train car. And nobody, not one bloody person, even bothered to look up from their phone.
Indeed, that’s far and away the most typical Japanese response to such a situation. Ignore the problem until it goes away. The “proactive” Japanese will move away themselves and ignore the problem.
Especially as a foreigner, one better think extremely carefully before reporting a crime. There’s actually a stigma associated with reporting crime, and Japanese folks don’t want foreigners to disrupt their “harmony.”
I think the spat on incident was a one-off. Or at least I hope it is. I have not felt anything to such extent. But, I feel like Japanese think they are superior (or equal to Whites) than all other skin colors and nationalities, esp South and South-East Asians. I think they see as primates; uncultured, unskilled, barely human creatures, who need to be taught the advanced way of doing things. If I walked down the corridor tomorrow morning and my neighbor just showed up to say I am breathing wrong, I won’t be too surprised. May be a little surprised that he actually talked to me.
I have been asked if there are roads, hospitals or even food in Nepal, not just once. I mean I know that many Japanese do not know a lot about outside world, but at least have some level of courtesy, that’s all I am asking.
I am not saying all Japanese are this way, or that I go through this every day. I have few Japanese friends, whom I meet a couple of times a month, and a really nice volunteer Japanese instructor, who goes out of her way to help me. But, these people have lived outside Japan, travelled a few places. And, I think the point is Japanese people who have never left this country or just been on group travels, are the more inconsiderate and self-righteous ones. But, I guess, as pointed out many times in this blog and many comments, that is true for any country, to some extent. That extent may be a little more for Japan, though, that’s all I am saying.
Unfortunately, it’s true that many East Asians (not only Japanese but also Koreans and Chinese), as well as Arabs and Southeast Asians of whiter complexion, tend to discriminate against South and Southeast Asians, especially those of darker complexion. I guess this isn’t surprising given the amount of advertisement of beauty products in Asia that promise to make your skin “white”. And yeah, racism is probably worse in Asia than in Europe or North America, where racism exists but it isn’t as explicit due to rigorous anti-racism laws.
…and here in the US, they want to get bronzed and nice tans…nobody’s ever happy with what they have…
Indeed, I guess everyone should be familiar with these commercials by now:
For what it’s worth, my wife has transitioned more to being a supporter of the move…after seeing how much my son is growing and thriving from an open, diverse, and supportive environment…as well as less stress from having to run interference for her gaijin husband and hafu son in Japan. Of course you have gossipy parents and “friends” everywhere, but she can play it off as “not understanding.” I tell her…yes, welcome to the world of gaijin benefits…;p.
I’m new to this site but not to Japan and have a Japanese wife and kid here. This seems to be like my biography written by you! Man-o-man how very true!!
Appreciate this site, love the humor and the satire!
Myself I’m working to have myself “released” from this situation.
Like the alien says “release me” in the 1st Independence Day movie after taking hold of POTUS…
I wrote a wall of text and when I hit the ”Post comment” button I got a CAPTCHA code error and then my bible was gone…
I’m sad now. So a summary:
Oh how special I feel, I got Ken-Senpai (because we’re all 外人 I’m not calling you by your last name, hey I learned that from you) to write a post answering my question!
More than I could ever ask for.
There’s something about the way you write which I truly like Ken. I’m not really sure how to explain it but it’s super effective in making my day just a bit brighter.
I can feel a certain “sincereness” which is very hard to find nowadays. I hope you don’t plan on quitting your blog very soon (or at all).
You are absolutely right when it comes to the monkey-brain thing.
It has affected me many times in my life, and I’m certain it will do so again in the future (probably if/when I’m in Japan).
Sadly, it does seem that no matter how many warnings or ”red-flags” I see/read about, this desire still won’t go away.
I wanted to thank you for this post and to say, that I still haven’t made my decision, but I’ll let you know about it when I book a flight (if you care to laugh at me then and there).
Anyway, have you ever thought about making videos for youtube or is that something you’re not interested in?
My pleasure. I hope it helps in some small way.
I’d love to make videos, but it seems very easy to make a bad video, and very hard to make a good one. That seems like an after-I-win-the-lottery project.
I’ve done the same here…so I copy my posts before hitting submit now…;p
Me too. Lost too many posts.
Another very funny/informative/depressingly disillusioning post. Hooray.
You got me curious: Did your genius philosopher friend actually write a book? I mean, how many rules that apply “equally well to beer and women” can there possibly be? Either way, I’m intrigued. If this work of literature exists, please let me know the title.
He did write a book, but it’s about decision-making, not beer and women specifically. I think I’m the one who’s gonna have to write that book.
Seeroi, I’m pretty much a veteran of this blog, but I’m still impressed by your capacity to destroy the hopes and dreams of the sparkly-eyed Japanophiles 😀 You are doing the best community service in curbing people’s enthusiasm for throwing their lives away and moving to a country that doesn’t want them. You saved a lot of people from ruining their lives, mine included, and I’m really thankful for that. Just like a lot of other people freshly infatuated with the rainbow farting kawaii dreamland that Japan advertizes itself to be, I would’ve sold my house, car, kidneys and would’ve taken my one-way ticket and suitcase full of dreams to the promised land. But reading through your blog back then came as a much needed cold shower and reality check. It really was like a bad breakup. But hard landings aside, it made me take a second look at myself, and I had to realize I probably would’ve perished in Japan, since my personality and lifestyle is completely incompatible with how things go over there. So I gave Japan the “let’s just be friends” talk, and it worked out wonderfully so far. Thank you again Seeroi!
Also, I like your analogy of dating Japan instead of marrying it. I came to realize I can enjoy a lot of the great things Japanese culture has to offer from right here in Hungary. The anime, the music, the gadgets, the kawaii girls, the porn, even the food (although it’s a nightmare to hunt down real miso, mirin or konbu around here). The internet helps, a lot. I can immerse myself in the culture whenever I like, and I’m still in a country where I know what’s what, where I speak the language, where I can get a job other than English teacher, where I can walk down the street without people staring at me and where I’m not treated like a second-class citizen or at best a dancing monkey 24/7. I know it’s not the same as actually being there in the middle of it and experiencing all that Japanness first hand, but that’s what tourism is for. You can stay in Japan on a tourist visa for three whole months! That’s more than enough for the honeymoon period and culture shock to wear off and one can see Japan for what it really is: just another country with it’s own good and bad side, fun and problems, nice people and assholes, etc. The difference being, that Japan is one of the (if not THE) most homogeneous, guarded and xenophobic cultures in the world, which means you’ll forever be a gaijin, an outsider, and you’ll be treated like garbage, or at best a novelty, regardless how long you’ve been there. You’ll never fit in. It requites a certain kind of personality to be able to even exist there long term as a foreigner, let alone enjoy it. Most people are not that type, but sadly a lot them realize this only when they’ve already made the leap, and are forced to head back home sad and destitute. In retrospect, I’m glad I saved myself from that. If and when I can save up enough, I’ll take that extended vacation to experience Japan for myself, but I don’t think I’ll ever consider moving there again.
A lot more people need to read your blog, Seeroi. There are just too many foreigners, who still think that giving up everything and blindly moving to Japan is just the best idea ever. They need to know, Ken!
I appreciate the props, and thanks for reading lo these many years.
Although I generally agree with what you wrote, something about three months being long enough for the honeymoon period to wear off doesn’t ring true. If anything, I think knowing you’re only here for a short span helps keep that from happening.
I got arrested once, back in the States. It was a practical joke gone wrong, and the police threw me in a jail cell for a couple hours while they sorted things out. The moment that door clanged shut and I realized I couldn’t walk out, I really wanted to leave. Now, I can spend all day indoors—at work, or at home, never going out (especially if the weather sucks)—and it doesn’t bother me at all. But the moment you hear that bolt slide and you know you can’t leave, that’s all you can think about.
There’s nothing particularly bad about Japan. You won’t come here and think “man, this place sucks.” It might be a bit boring, but since everything’s fresh and new, you’re likely to have a good time taking pictures of temples and tiny beer cans. Plus, you’re a tourist, renting a room or crashing on people’s futons, with time to explore and no work to deal with. That’s heavenly.
It’s only once you lose something that it matters. You give up your friends and family back home, the good job you had, the easy life you had, the right to be treated like an adult. I’ve often said that the worse place you come from, the happier you’ll be in Japan. Brits seem to like it better than Americans; just sayin’.
All that being noted, the visit-not-emigrate approach is almost certainly best. Because then Japan stays a vacation. And it’s good like that. Please do save up and visit.
“The difference being, that Japan is one of the (if not THE) most homogeneous, guarded and xenophobic cultures in the world.”
Believe it or not, this for me is one of the main attractions. Considering that globalism, multiculturalism, corporatism, mass immigration and political correctness is invading and infecting nearly every corner of the world, I think it’s admirable that Japan is at least attempting to protect their culture and race. But I have no illusions that they’re immune. Especially from corporatism. I expect that if you walk a few blocks in any direction in a Tokyo shopping district, you’ll see a number of global trademarks like McD’s, KFC, etc. Plus all the English import words, Hollywood films, Yankee cultural influence (but I repeat myself), etc. So they may ultimately not succeed and in fact I suspect they’ve gone a long way down that road already. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to visit before Japan morphs into California.
Ethnic homogeneity in Japan probably would stop being a main attraction to you after you regularly experience their arrogant xenophobia firsthand. It ain’t respectable; it’s sickening. In person, they come off as very backwards and ignorant.
And Japan copies heavily from the Western world, especially America. The infrastructure, fashion, katakana, and technology alone demonstrate that. If it wasn’t for the West, who knows how much further behind Japan would be?
Perhaps you’re right, I don’t know not having visited yet. I’ve only seen some of what’s available online.
Backwards and ignorant? I wonder. Any country that can achieve a 99% literacy rate in a language that has over 50,000 characters in written form (well admittedly only about 2300 in common use) can’t be completely backward and ignorant.
But even so Japan doesn’t have a monopoly on ignorance and backwardness, or even xenophobia for that matter. Even a diverse country like the US has problems in these areas, and racism too.
Here are some things I’d be surprised to find in Japan:
It would be interesting to see some Japanese counterparts.
Mark S., thanks for sharing your opinion. I think our greatest point of disagreement will be the fact that you are using Bing, but that aside, I wanted to comment on a few of your points.
“Believe it or not, this for me is one of the main attractions. Considering that globalism, multiculturalism, corporatism, mass immigration and political correctness is invading and infecting nearly every corner of the world,”
Globalism and multiculturalism exist here, too. They consist of things like “international exchanges” (which happen to involve interacting exclusively with other people in Japan–remind me where the internationalism comes in) and “let’s speak English at minorities.”
In good news, though, the political correctness and corporatism are more genuine. They involve things like prominent politicians leaving office to become CEOs, huge corporations buying and paying for political clout, and a domestic media terrified to criticize the jingoistic right-wing government too much. There’s even a national media agency supported by what is essentially tax money, the stated policy of which is to republish whatever the government’s stated opinion is and nothing otherwise.
“…I think it’s admirable that Japan is at least attempting to protect their culture and race.”
When you use the expression ‘their culture,’ which of the cultures in Japan are we talking about? I know the government is most certainly not trying to protect the cultures of the Ainu, Ryukyuan, Okinawa, Ogasawara, or Buraku peoples. In fact, in order to reinforce its fabricated “ethnically homogeneous” myth, the government actively works to minimize and marginalize the existence of and contributions of these groups, not to mention those of foreign groups. Once you start to study Japanese history, you’d really be surprised how long and to what extent other nations have been in contact with Japanese society. Even during the so-called “Sakoku” period, Japan was still involved in trade and exchange with other societies. (Try researching a place called “Dejima.”)
By the way, “race” is an idea we humans made up to categorize, subjugate, and control each other. It doesn’t actually exist. Even if we pretend it did, how do you define it? The current population of Japan is made up of the mixed ancestors of several different groups from several different areas that all emigrated to the Japanese islands and intermingled. There’s even good evidence that as far back as 2500 or so years ago, Jews had come to the island. That gets conveniently overlooked a lot–I guess it would be politically incorrect to point out the “we Japanese” myth is founded on an inaccurate view of history.
“Backwards and ignorant? I wonder. Any country that can achieve a 99% literacy rate in a language that has over 50,000 characters in written form (well admittedly only about 2300 in common use) can’t be completely backward and ignorant.”
I know, right? And yet still they are astonishingly willfully ignorant and close-minded. The most interesting thing I’ve been hearing lately is that many people believe seasonal allergies are a peculiarity unique to Japan. This is not based on any source reporting it as such, as obviously seasonal allergies exist worldwide. (Well, perhaps not in the middle of the Mohave Desert.) It is even in spite of the fact that the allergy medication available here is invented in and imported from America. The truth is it is a product of a lie the people are constantly told since birth that is reinforced by the above political correctness and right-wing government: Japan is “special.” Japan is “different.” Thus the people begin to naturally assume anything not portrayed in exaggeration in media is exclusive to Japan. (When was the last time you saw a Hollywood movie with pollen allergy as a central theme?) And, of course, there’s not anyone to challenge that way of thinking.
The other problem is that the people are educated just to the point that they can do a job, and nothing more is ever expected or demanded from them, and in fact they are encouraged not to pursue greater learning or broader experiences. Not to mention all the working they do and all the bullying and harassment they endure–just the day to day is enough stress, pressure, and effort, without then having to deal with trying to open their minds to possibilities outside of their little bubble. And, of course, the government is very happy with this situation. These kind of people are very easy to control–they’re too wrapped up in their own problems to see the bigger picture, and the media is controlled well enough to make sure it doesn’t get through anyway.
On a final note, your images (again, why Bing??) of ridiculous American behavior and dress are understandable to a degree. While I have to point out that judging people exclusively on whether you agree with their fashion sense is, at best, extremely shallow, I do hear your point. Japan does do a little better–a good deal of the population is very concerned with superficial appearances–but if I were to take pictures of the people at their low points, I could show you pictures of obese shirtless men passed out drunk on the floors of restaurants, drunk salarymen sitting spread eagle on a late night train, pants pissed with a stream of piss running down the middle of the train while other passengers silently sit by, homeless people, rap groups composed exclusively of Asian guys trying to dress up to look like black guys, so-called “gya-ru fashion,” and many more examples. And if you think there’s no such thing as rednecks in Japan, you are in for a rude awakening. For a lot of the townsfolk, aside from chewing tobacco and clothing style, there is very little difference.
I hate to break it to you, but Japan is not quite the place of refined dignity and cultural excellence that you have been sold by the media. For some strange reason, willful close-mindedness, ignorance, and bigotry just never seem to produce those traits in a society.
Actually I was using Goodsearch.com, powered by Yahoo. The images I selected just coincidentally had Bing urls.
I appreciate your interesting counterpoints to my previous comments. A few differences between your examples and counterparts I would expect to see in the US:
The passed out pisspants salaryman on the late train (who actually earns a living) would instead be a homeless bum on welfare.
The superficially well-dressed and made up Japanese stepping out in public would instead be a 300 pound land whale in sweatpants shopping at Walmart.
The Japanese person educated to the point of doing one job for the rest of his life, stops growing educationally because he’s working 18 hours a day and sleeping in capsule hotels 5 nights a week because he always misses the last train. The American counterpart gets “educated” in a public school system that discourages excellence and purposely dumbs down its students with Common Core and politically leftist social indoctrination. But once the American finds a job (if he can), he typically stops growing educationally not because he works 18 hours per day, but because the public school system has crushed his spirit and made him lazy, and he spends his ample free time wasted on TV, internet and video games.
A Japanese might stare at Whitey Foreignersan walking down the street just because he’s white. American black gangbangers have been known to beat up Whitey minding his own business just because he’s walking down the street while white.
Girl Power in Japan: Femininity.
Girl Power in America: Feminism.
Yeah, I understand my view are biased by the fact that I’ve lived in the US for 57 years and my perspective on Japan is informed by the internet. A deficiency I hope to correct by actually visiting Japan someday.
Here’s femininity in Japan:
No Japanese person works 18 hours per day. They will take naps, have useless meetings, or make it appear as though actual work is being done. For example, blankly staring at computer screens is normal.
Napping in Japan is supposed to mean that you worked hard (not that you’re overstressed by an unimaginative, inefficient workplace or a judgmental, unforgiving society).
Appearance is often the main thing in Japan. A disturbing amount of things are only taken at face value.
You cannot truly know Japan via tourism; you must live there to truly understand it.
However, at your age (no offense), good luck trying to find a job in Japan. They will certainly require a photo from you before making a hiring decision.
Mahler & Ken,
I was exaggerating of course but I think you get the idea. I picked the extreme opposite images for comparative effect. Ken I assume your photo better reflects reality.
At my age (I’ll probably be at least 62 before I actually visit) I won’t be working at all, or looking for work in Japan, except maybe some part time ESL teaching gigs just for fun if the opportunity arises. I’d look at it as a way to meet people, not to earn a living. (Hopefully approaching it this way won’t run afoul of Japanese Laws, I don’t know.)
On Nihongo study: I figure if I continue to keep at it I may get to the point of being able to have basic conversations and read signage in order to get around, maybe by the time I retire in 4 years. This is entirely self-study by the way. I’d like to improve my abilities when I visit Japan and use a student visa as an excuse to extend my visit beyond the 3-month tourist visa and also as a means to interact more with the natives. Can an older guy like me even get a student visa? Would I have to get it before traveling or can I show up in Japan and apply for it there? Would I have to enroll as a full-time student or would a single Japanese class be sufficient?
This comment by HJ is sooooo on point. After reading it I had to get a beer and reread it, just to fully soak up its awesomeness. You see, it’s cathartic for old fuck-ups like me who bought into the Japan is so cool trend and sunk decades into it to see that they are not alone.
I’ve got lots of foreign friends here with spouses and kids and I can see that the scales are starting to fall from their eyes vis a vis settling in Japan. These are good people painted into tight corners. I go for a beer with them and I have to keep my very un-PC opinions about raising kids here to myself. Telling somebody they are a shitty parent tends to suck the air out of a room.
HJ’s comment reminded me of the words of Edward Seidensticker regarding the Japanese: “they are infinitely more clannish, insular, parochial, and one owes it to one’s self-respect to preserve a certain outrage at the insularity. To have that sense of outrage go dull is to lose the will to communicate; and that I think is death. So I am going home,”
That’s some mighty high praise for a lowly man like me, a youngun’ juku teacher who’s not even been here three years yet. On the contrary, I just poured myself a tall glass of sake, which I toast to you. Cheers!
It’s been a while; you probably don’t remember me! Tanoshimini (the silverspoon guy)
I asked that question myself last year. I tried to weigh the pros and cons of moving to Japan and here I am now… in a Tokyo apartment on a Sunday writing this.. I should be out drinking but instead, studying for my tests… I had a pretty decent job, lived a few minutes away from the beach, beautiful weather and a pretty relaxed lifestyle. After reading this, it occurred to me that humans are irrational. When we want something, we are obsessed over it and we do anything to get it. Once we achieve or get what we want, it loses its “appeal” and its not so great after all. After living here for a while and learning more about Japan. It’s not as great as people make it out. It is just like any other countries with its pros and cons. I guess its what you make of it.
What I do like about here is the cheap beers and being able to drink whenever. So lifes not too bad.
Hey, nice to hear from you. I remember you were pretty keen on learning Japanese. Are those the tests you’re studying for? How’s that going? Maybe it’s your turn to give me some advice on language learning.
So how long have you been here for now? What do you like about Japan? What do you not like? I’m always interested in the impressions of people who’ve recently arrived. (Like all Japanese people, I’m fascinated with “foreigners.”)
Personally, yeah, I like the fact that drinking isn’t considered a sin in this country. Guess that was worth moving half way round the world for.
Just spent a year of my life as an ALT at elementary schools in Japan, made it back home last week. 6 of the best months of my life, followed by 6 mostly miserable months. Now I’m torn between building my life back in the states up again or work out another way to live in Japan again. Sure I had my downs, but that could just be circumstances. What if I was teaching at an eikaiwa instead of a public school? What if I was in the city and had a shot at actually meeting people? What if my only true friend in Japan had convinced me to stay, instead of dying in his sleep over the winter?
Moving to Japan was the easy choice. Visited every shrine and temple I could, climbed holy mountains, learned the shamisen, seen all four seasons of Japan. Accomplished my life’s dream, and now I’m paralyzed about what to do next.
Sorry to hear about your friend. Like to know more about that, if you care to share.
Just a quick note: of the dozens of jobs I’ve done here in Japan, I’d say ALT is one of the very best. It’s actually a great job. You just need to be closer to a city.
Good stuff! I’m from a small redneck city in the Midwest. I’ve moved to various bigger cities in the US and Canada and currently in L.A. for almost 9 years. I have grown to utterly lothe the people here, and made a note recently it’s a “paradise filled with demons and other noxious creatures”. not all, but i ended up as an office worker in a place full of divas and backstabbers instead of around interesting people, which I’ve heard they’re here but most of the supposedly cool ones I’ve met are that special variety of LA cool/lame or mostly full of it. I’ve experienced the enfatuation, then disillusionment in all of the cities, some more quickly, based like you say, on who you end up around. The general mass of fakey, sneaky, ruthless, savage, arrogant people of LA have made my expectations lower than even I thought possible of humanity in general. Maybe they set the bar low enough even Japan will seem forever like a superior option. I also was drawn here by monkey wannit brain during a high point of the recession, unreasonably against the advice of well meaning people. But the food is better here, kinda. So i understand a variation of your experience pretty well. Ah, why do we do it?
I’ve considered Japan seriously but your post and the great comments on your blog make me feel I should look at it as a tourist, even a longer term one and not expect it will be paradise, either. Don’t try to integrate and know it will turn into reality just like the others. I should have expected that. I was reading about Lafcadio Hearn last night and that he never really learned Japanese. The writer said because of that he was able to keep his rosey view of Japan more clearly because he didn’t become bogged down by the reality of it.
On an aside, I saw my first bitchy, condescending Japanese woman in a mochi shop recently. I didn’t know they existed! It was a shock. I thought she had just turned LA. But from what you say, one of many I’ll see if i go there.
Anyway, thank you for the perspective, humor and reality check. Always get a huge satisfying laugh and refreshing dose of reality from you.
I’ve come to believe that however you feel about the people where you’re at, that’s how you’ll feel about people in Japan. So if you loathe the people in LA, you’ll loathe them here as well. Boy, will you ever.
Of course, not at first. At the start, everything’s new and different, plus you don’t know how to interpret much of the world around you—so everything’s wonderful! But give it time, and you’ll find plenty you don’t like.
The challenge, at least for me, is to be happy despite being surrounded by stuff you don’t like. That’s really an internal thing. And yeah, I’m still working on it. Beer helps.
Yes, I suppose the trick is being happy despite everything else. I don’t drink, maybe that’s my problem. Haha. I hold out the hope that finding a more tolerable or better suited kind of bad/good mix might work, but I better work on the tolerance of bad thing first. You’re definitely right about that.
Either way, it’s interesting to see the world around change it’s definitions. Even the places I’ve hated always gave me something, from perspective to experience to the realization that it’s all a matter of place. A kind of freedom in that. LA has a great, wide open sense of possibility, I’ll give it that.
I took a Japanese class in college with the goal of being able to make the way I understood the world less restricted by English (was taking a child psych class that discussed how language shapes and limits worldview the semester before the school offered Japanese) and nothing more opposite than Japanese, right? I suppose in the end, you end up in a different prison with two rooms instead of one, but the ability to switch has some appeal. Someday, maybe I’ll say Ken was so right!!! Silly monkeys!
Hey I can relate. Sometimes I get so disillusioned with the whole Anglosphere / Western Culture that I just want to be able to turn it off and think in a completely different language. That rules out all of the western European languages because after all, it’s part of Western Culture. I tried Polish because of my Polish wife but found it to be unpronounceable. And that inscrutable Polish grammar! Even learning Kanji is turning out to be easier. Hacking one’s own brain is a tough nut to crack though, and I expect it will take a long time before I can actually think in Japanese and speak it naturally. I’m trying to compensate for my 57 year-old brain’s feeble abilities to remember what I’m studying with sheer attitude and willpower (I’ll make those Japanese words MY words, dammit. I’ll OWN them by god.)
Well, I’ve only been at it for a few months so it remains to be seen whether I’ll burn out like a shooting star or not.
I grew up in Southern Cali (SGV and Torrance), and you’ve hit right on the nail. After my buddies and I graduated from college, we shared our experiences on working in LA, and its pretty depressing.
Cali has beautiful weather and environment. Too bad its filled with the most ugly people.
I can relate a lot to people’s sentiments. I too grew up thinking Japan is this place where everything is so much better and that Is spend the rest of my days there happy as can be. In hindsight, it was pretty unfair of me to have that expectation.
I absolutely love Oscar Wilde’s quotes. He said it best:
“The whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such county, there are no such people.”
“The actual people who live in Japan are not unlike the general run of English people; that is to say, they are extremely commonplace, and have nothing curious or extraordinary about them.”
Good stuff: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/s/smith-japan.html
Will post more related links when I find them.
The answer should be an easy “no.” After all if I go I don’t want to see a lot of gaijins there. I just ran away from them for gods sake.
Well. I’ve “wasted” 4 years total in Japan. Honestly, learning Japanese is not as hard as you make it out to be. 1.5 years of half-ass effort in college classes (like no more than 4 hours a week) in the US and 10 months of living in Japan as an exchange student, and I could speak well enough to get all the essential things. Food, girls, you know the drill.
I don’t regret a moment of that. However, the other 3 years working here? Maybe… a bit. Idk. However, I don’t feel like learning the language was a waste of time. Living in the USA, Japanese can get you random translation gigs, even over the internet. Not a bad side income. Reading Japanese novels and playing video games in Japanese will always be a fulfilling hobby of mine, and there’s nothing like that feeling of hanging out with Japanese people, kicking back, and letting the Kansai-ben fly. It’s especially fun in the US, where no one else understands, like having an alter ego for a night.
Japanese is also very useful if you plan to move on and study Chinese. People will say it isn’t. But it absolutely is. I’m through the basics in Chinese now, and let me tell you, it would suck if I didn’t already know the kanji. Don’t study Japanese in order to study Chinese… but if learning languages is your thing, and you want to learn them both, there is benefit to that.
But I digress. 4 years in Japan, imo, was about… 2 years too long. As a student, it would have been much better. Just don’t work here, and don’t let Japan make you “grow up” faster than you want to. Everything in this country funnels you toward 1. Getting a “real” job, and 2. Getting married and having kids, sooner than you’d like. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
P.S. That part about the motorcycle was hilarious!
The last paragraph sums it up for me. I’ve been here just for three years, so still a newbie in many ways, but it’s easy to see that the whole country is about keeping you on track towards those two goals: 1. getting married and having kids and 2. getting a real job.
So, what you have to decide is whether this is the lifestyle you want, and if so, check the living conditions you can expect to have given your job or expertise. I am happy here, very happy I would add, but this is because 1. I am at a stage in my life where a stable life with kids and a real job is exactly what I want and 2. coming to Japan was a very rational decision (involving a spreadsheet and a downloaded list of all cities on the planet) and I knew exactly what to expect career-wise.
If you plan to take a diversion off the beaten track by coming to Japan despite all of Ken’s sage advice, I would not stay more than two years – diminishing marginal returns kick in pretty quickly and you might want to not leave too much of a gaping hole in your resume. I might also add, if you are staying for two years or less, unless you take full time classes, it is pointless to study Japanese.
If after all you come planning to stay for longer, I would just suggest to accumulate sufficient experience to be able to come on your own terms, rather than having to accept whatever Japan Inc. dishes out and forces down your throat.
I agree with Ken’s sage advice on the time limit, but I don’t think I would ever advise someone not to study Japanese at all. I will say that learning Japanese was a lot more fun than being fluent in Japanese is now (journey better than the destination). Still, I had a lot of fun that I probably couldn’t have had without the language.
Diminishing returns is very real, and if your Japanese gets “too good,” you might find yourself tempted to stay here and work with Japanese companies. Which I can say after 3 years I really do not recommend. Even financially, you get punished for staying here longer. 2nd year of work, you get hit with city/prefecture taxes, making your income lower than the first year. Then, after 3 years of paychecks, you lose your ability to claim back any further pension contributions when you leave the country. Not to mention all the other diminishing returns of becoming un-enamored with the culture and society.
For me, I’ll be happy in the USA with imported Japanese media to enjoy whenever I like, and with a few Japanese friends around. But full-time life in Japan is too much. It’s like Tropic Thunder. “Never go full (insert anything)”
Yeah, I can see how the “studying Japanese is pointless” can be controversial. I would rephrase it as “it wouldn’t be the best use of your time”. I’m all up for studying Japanese as a personal hobby, I just wanted to dispel the idea that studying the language for a relatively short amount of time would be particularly useful. Unless one is very good at languages/has loads of free time to study/goes to full time classes, the level one would reach after two years would not be enough to do much at all – certainly not read simple books or watch movies, at least in my case, but maybe it’s just me.
So, rather than spending most saturday mornings in a Tully’s going through your overdue anki deck or reading doraemon with an electronic dictionary for the illusion of getting somewhere with the language, just relax and embrace it as a personal hobby, and feel free to explore other sides of the culture – bonsai making, matsuri dancing, or just going out and making friends.
Man, I don’t think Tropic Thunder was appreciated as the timeless classic it is here in Japan. Here if the boss asks you to be Simple Jack, you better be the best Simple Jack ever.
I agree with most of what you say, except for the learning-Japanese part. Maybe it’s a Ken Seeroi thing, but I wonder if your journey will be anything like mine.
After two years, my Japanese was awesome.
Then after five years of serious immersion, classes, and daily studying it was, well, pretty good. After seven, I began to notice some significant cracks. Then at ten years of intense studying, it was basically crap, and now at twelve years, speaking it every day and getting paid for translation, in I realize how shit my Japanese truly is. But I’m sure it’ll be better if I keep going for just a few more years.
I do agree that it’s useful, and cool, and fun. Well, sometimes. Still not sold on the cost-benefit, however.
You didn’t follow your analogy properly.
Satoko or Emi? You chose Erika so the answer to Japan or Norway is Kenya.
In passing, Ken, wasn’t Erika the girl from Hokkaido? Maybe I’m confused.
Long time lurker and appreciator.
Just one question, Ken. Whatever will you do when your beloved malt liquor goes up in price with the restructuring of the alcohol tax system in the near future?
Drink real beer?
Or move to Korea.
On the subject of Korea:
Did you have any Korean girlfriend while in Japan, Ken?
Perfect timing! I’ve been Googling “How to make difficult decisions” for the past hour and thought I’d take a break to read something funny. Crazy coincidence. You’re right; no matter what, I’m going to regret whichever decision I make. I feel weirdly calm now!
Thanks for this post Ken.
An enjoyable read and I agree with everything you said.
I went to Japan to study abroad in university and loved it. Spent the rest of my college years trying to come back, spent hours becoming proficient in the language and working shitty part-time jobs to save money for moving. I came back to Japan to earn my MBA (which turns out to be an insanely bad choice for someone who no longer wishes to live in Japan), and now hate the country and culture. I would elaborate on why but your blog does a perfect job of explaining how I feel. I plan on going back to the states to work when I graduate in a few months…
When I came to Japan I literally bet the farm. I only had enough money to pay the school entrance fee and first semester of tuition, with a little leftover to cover my first month of living expenses. I ended up getting lucky by finding a reliable part-time job eventually getting scholarships to cover what remained of my tuition expenses. I say this just to illustrate how much I loved Japan. How much I wanted to come back to this country. I now feel like I’ve wasted my last couple years here taking classes from (mostly) mediocre professors. Not to mention all the time I wasted studying a useless language in university. I chose to go to grad school in Japan solely because I thought a Japanese degree was my ticket to getting a non-English teaching job in Japan. Now I have no desire to work for a Japanese company and want to get out of here as quickly as I can. Crazy how much you can change in a year or two.
However, when I look back now I realize that I had to come to Japan. If I’d never come back I would’ve regretted it for the rest of my life. The not-knowing can really eat away at you…and when you’re in love you really don’t have much choice in the matter.
Anyways, it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Thanks and keep up the great work.
Man, you really went all-in. Props for giving it a real shot. With that drive and determination, I think you’ll be successful in whatever you try next. So long as you get out of Japan.
I also will be returning to the US from Japan soon. I sure miss big pizzas and people not treating my presence as if it’s a communicable disease.
Actually, I am glad that I came to Japan for the short-term because it satisfied my deep curiosity. Plus, I made some great memories and experienced the food and the girls.
However, the Japanese culture began to feel increasingly toxic, harsh, and monolithic. I have zero desire to be molded into that, not that the Japanese would ever accept me as one of them, anyways…
I have always been a bit confused by people’s idealization of Japan. I have to admit they have an interesting culture, good manga and games, good food, nice variety of alcohol etc, but being that enamoured to the point that you want to move there? Maybe it’s because I had lived with a couple of Japanese friends during uni days and I saw the way they treated each other. Not badly, I suppose, but even when they’re close friends, their interactions seemed distant and cold. I have also dealt with some Japanese clients (I work in management consultancy) and their work culture is pretty terrible. I admit those are just glimpses of their society, but even so, the cost benefit analysis shows it’s not worth it. Moving there just seems so extreme to me.
In my case, I was (and still am) young, single, and without children. And I hadn’t seen anything outside of North America.
I don’t regret working in Japan for a year. I took many photos, accumulated some funds, met a few nice people, and was able to see the world through a different lens. I also gained a deeper appreciation for my own country.
Who I don’t fully understand are the miserable foreigners from advanced nations who continue to stay in Japan. They are treated inferior by the Japanese, every day, yet they are okay with that.
It’s not only people from ‘advanced’ nations who regret moving to Japan. I have friends from Indonesia and The Philippines who are stuck there and really want to go home but can’t due to their kids. The money is relatively better, they work stable jobs in IT, but they really miss the closeness and sincerity of their own people. Basically they told me they don’t feel like they belong in Japan even though they have families there. Maybe it’s just the case of the grass is always greener on the other side, but man, Japan is a harsh and cold society, so perhaps they’re actually being objective, I don’t know.
What is your worst experience of xenophobia in Japan?
You’re right. It’s not only the First World foreigners who hate Japan. It’s people from all backgrounds, even the Japanese themselves.
I was thinking of a young man from Mexico who I recently met. He told me that he immigrated into Japan from a crime-ridden area that was full of drug cartels. There were murders, for example.
He said that he could tolerate the arrogant xenophobia in Japan compared to the violence he witnessed back home. Japan is the lesser of two evils for him, at least so far.
I never brought up the tolerated crime of the Yakuza in Japan, or the gambling addictions, alcoholism, pedophilia, or brothels. Or the fact that crystal meth was invented in Japan.
He hasn’t been in Japan long, but I suspect that he will grow more and more unhappy the longer he stays. He seemed sensitive, caring, and reflective. With that combination of qualities, I wish him extra good luck in Japan.
My worst experience of their arrogant xenophobia?
I’m not sure, but maybe it’s one of these experiences:
A) being spit on
B) having a store clerk refuse me service, then immediately accept a Japanese patron
C) everyone shunning me on the train
D) old guy yelling at me in Japanese for having like an inch of my bag strap hang off my lap, then attack my native tongue of English, without me speaking a single word
E) the bank rejecting the pronunciation of my name in katakana, even though the written field specifically asks for it
Being spit on? Are you serious? That’s so shitty. I am sorry that happened to you. I am sure not all Japanese are terrible, but as a society, their mentality seems a bit disturbing. They also seem very reluctant to open up to people who are different from them. At my uni, the Japanese students formed their own group and very rarely they joined events outside of that group. I don’t know if it’s just a feeling of superiority or they’re just not comfortable with interacting with different people.
Without question, I was spit on.
In all of the aforementioned incidents, I was being quiet and minding my own business.
My opinion – and many share it – is the Japanese have an inferiority complex towards Westerners, particularly towards whites.
For about 220 years, Japan almost completely locked the doors to their country. Anyone leaving or entering would be killed. All foreign influences were treated like anathema, and to some degree, they still are.
Japan arrogantly assumed it was the best at everything, without having any knowledge of the rest of the world.
Then in the mid- to late- 1800’s, the Western world showed how far behind Japan actually was, particularly in terms of technology.
If you add to that Japan’s swift defeat by the US in WWII, then it’s easy to see why such a people would feel inferior to Europeans and North Americans.
Japanese folks are far from comfortable interacting with anyone who looks different. Hence, there is a ton of pressure in Japan to conform by looking and acting like a typical Japanese.
RE: “Japan is a harsh and cold society.”
Yes, it is. Even though the US forced democracy and human rights upon Japan immediately after WWII, the freedom and respect for the individual that one would be accustomed to in the States does not exist in Japan. Culturally, Japan is insular and repressed, like North Korea.
And if anyone is wondering why all of Japan’s neighbors hate Japan, it’s easy to Google that.
I like your story. It’s such a similar situation to mine in that, you understood at some point that if you didn’t do it, you would have regretted it. Even though now, you feel it was a waste.
One doesn’t make rational decisions when irrationally motivated by attraction.
Having lived here for slightly more than a year, the question for me recently was not, “should I come?,” but, “should I leave?”
After my first time on the train during rush hour, on the way to my new job, I got my answer to that question as the only seat next to me stayed open during the whole 30-minute commute, on an otherwise jam-packed train car. (And no, I wasn’t hogging space, being loud, etc.)
I want to remember Japan in the happiest light possible. That means, staying for one year is sufficient. Perhaps even that was too long.
The more I looked under the surface of everything, the more disappointed I was. Hence, I can totally understand why only a vacation to Japan would be best. Ignorance is bliss.
When you tired of japan, just come to vietnam brother! We treat ppl equally regardless of their color – i mean, sometimes it will be equally good and another time equally bad. We also call each others by our first names so you wont feel rejected, well techinically because noone gives a shit abt your family name when you live in a country where everyone is the descendant or an offspring of some royal lineages, and there are less than 20 of them i think. Food is great too. One of the best in the world guaranfuckingteed! And finally, the ladies – beautiful, smart, independent, fully socially functional and very employable yet always place traditional values and family on top. Ask google abt how happy the ppl in my country are. You wont be disappointed!
It is literally on the top of my list. Thanks!
Hey Ken, thanks for writing this. It’s seriously refreshing to hear someone finally say it as it is. And you know, I think you’re bang on when you say math never works. It’s completely illogical to try and quantify such emotional based decisions…and yet, somehow, I find myself too often referring back to my move-back-to-Japan pros and cons list.
And here’s the sick part: I’m obsessed with my list. I’ve probably spent more time ranking and weighing each point than spending time with my gf. It consumes my every day, and honestly, the pain and paralysis of not being able to make a decision is probably worse than whatever awaits me in Japan (my crazy ex for one).
But I want to comment on one thing that many people have alluded to – the Japanese “honne vs tatemae” contrast between one’s true feelings and what one actually shows — So let me say this: to anyone who gets constantly frustrated by the fact that some Japanese can’t or won’t speak their mind, maybe Japan is not right for you. If you have to fixate on their ulterior motives or whether or not they are being truly genuine, maybe Japan is not right for you. But if you can use that monkey mind of yours and simply take their kindness at face value, then I think there’s still hope yet…
Christian (for the record, I’m half-Japanese/half-Canadian)
Why would you want to eat kfc if you lived in japan?
Because Japanese Christmas?
Man, I can never get enough of this blog. Ken, you always manage to nail down this perfect blend of sardonic, bitter love. You express much better very similar impressions about Japan that I share, though you’ve been here a lot longer and invest a lot more. (Good work?)
You’re right, it’s such an individual choice.
Just because Japan works out great for some, it doesn’t mean it will for everyone.
I’ve met so many people who thought they’d love Japan, but once they actually lived there, hated it.
After having lived in Japan for almost a decade and then moving back to my home country Germany, I can clearly say that for me, Japan was the better choice.
And that’s not because it’s Japan, but because I had more free time, more money, better weather and just so many things to do that I’m actually interested in compared to Germany. Plus, I felt a LOT safer as a woman. It’s insane how unsafe Europe has become in recent years.
Plus, the OECD just published an updated list with the countries with the highest taxes – and guess what? Germany comes in SECOND! While Japan is way below the average.
No wonder I never have any money left at the end of the month. It’s not that I earn less than in Japan, it’s because almost 50% of my salary is taken away from me. Yay!
I’d also say it greatly depends where you’re originally from.
There are a lot of countries out there that offer great social welfare, safety, good salaries etc. … if you come from such a country, maybe you won’t become happy in Japan in the long run.
Then again, nobody tells you to live in Japan forever.
And you won’t know until you actually try, so I also say YES! 😉
BUT visit Japan BEFORE you decide to move there!!!!!!
Over and out. ;P
You actually hit on an interesting point. Growing up in LA and living in the SF Bay Area, I quickly realized that most Japanese were like 3rd generation or more, while many other countries have a pretty broad representation of 1st generation immigrants (myself included). Part of it I think is that whole insularity and familiarity thing that’s been discussed here, and how many Japanese like their foreign exposure in manageable bite-sized, JTB week-long tours, but I think a bigger thing is how well the system just WORKS in Japan. If you’re coming from the Philippines…oh man, slam dunk, your quality of life is a lot better in California, almost unequivocally. However, if you’re coming from Japan…in terms of the system and quality of life (outside of the people part)…at best, you’re going sideways, and you might even be downgrading…
I can relate to a lot of posters’ sentiments. I too grew up thinking Japan is this place where everything is so much better and that I would spend the rest of my days there happy as can be. In hindsight, it was pretty unfair of me to have that expectation.
I absolutely love Oscar Wilde’s quotes. He said it best:
“The whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such county, there are no such people.”
“The actual people who live in Japan are not unlike the general run of English people; that is to say, they are extremely commonplace, and have nothing curious or extraordinary about them.”
Good stuff: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/s/smith-japan.html
Will post more related links when I find them.
Did anyone read the nytimes link?
Don’t know how historically accurate everything is. But this passage basically sums up what I have been feeling in Japan. And says volumes about how vacant and distant those ear to ear smile and the cries of irassyaimase from the cutie at the supaa feel. Or from my co-worker.
“Every Japanese wears a mask, or so each one is taught. And within their masks the Japanese have learned to live close to one another by living far apart. But beneath the placid, unchanging surface of Japan’s oddly vacant, undecided present are countless conflicts, tensions, crosscurrents, and anxieties. They have always been there. They have merely become more apparent now, as if a lid were lifted, or a mask partially removed.”
It’s tough getting them to drop the mask. Sometimes I get the sense that some people don’t feel like connecting, but they have a bit of a DESIRE to want to connect and be open. To compensate for their lack of warmth, they act warm in the hopes that it will make them feel kinder. I get this sense with some Japanese people, too.
Regarding the Oscar Wild quotes above, only now do I realize that he might sound incredibly racist or “Orientalist.” Please understand that’s not Wilde’s intention. It’s actually the opposite. The quotes come from an essay titled “The Decay of Lying – An Observation.” It’s presented as a dialogue between two characters in which they talk about art and how its whole job is to distort people’s perceptions of reality. The implication of the quote above is that people get so enamored by the outer trappings of a culture, it prevents them from getting to know the real thing when they actually visit it.
Oscar Wilde shows how far ahead of his time when Orientalism was all the rage in England and France.
I hope this helps to bring forth the context of Wilde’s quotes. Here’s the link to the essay: http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Wilde_1889.html
Hit “Ctrl + f” and search for “Japan.” It’ll take you to the specific paragraph.
Sorry for double posting here, but I wanted to add something really important. I admire people like Gaurab and Ken who actually go to Japan and make a real effort to dig beneath the surface. It’s far more impressive than all the people who go there for a short visit and make it out to be some Shangri La, or worse, come back complaining about how it didn’t live up to their unrealistic expectations. Blogs like these serve as a much-needed bridge to real cultural understanding.
After reading blogs like these, people who still go to Japan will be much more tolerant and might actually enjoy it better without all those expectations.
RE: ASH: “I was wondering when you’d comment on the hate thread, Ken.”
*Then proceeds to negatively stereotype white males in Japan*
Personally, I only satisfied 2 of your 6 stereotypes, ASH. I guess, because I am a young monolingual white male, I deserved to be treated like dirt, not to mention that language barriers played no part during the worst treatment I received.
With regard to your monolingual stereotype, it’s been said before by many others, that the better your Japanese gets, the more insults and unfriendliness from the natives you will comprehend. So, yeah, you go and study hard for your N1! A whole new world awaits you. After actually, you know, living in Japan for a while, you will most likely return home with a useless language under your belt. Congrats!
There is more good news for you: some rare blacks have been famous and successful in Japan, one of whom is Bobby Ologun. I can’t remember when the Japanese last dressed him up as a literal gorilla on national TV, though…
(In this thread, I will not comment on the mendacious anti-American cop narrative that is pushed hard by the liberal media.)
I honestly don’t see any hate thread. People are just sharing their experiences and some of them are negative. I also don’t think Ken-sensei hates Japan. If he was on facebook, I would say his relationship status with Japan would be ‘It’s complicated’.
I agree with everything you just wrote. You “get it,” so good on you.
As for myself, I do not hate Japanese people. I do not hate Japan. Rather, I am being transparent here and trying to be helpful. Sure, it also feels nice to vent. But I am not trying to rally any racists together and call for the extermination of Japanese folks. I actually want Japan to be happier, more economically successful, and better at empathizing with non-Japanese residents.
I want people to know that I believe Japan has very serious societal problems, which might not be obvious to those who only read things on the Internet (ironically) or who only visit as a tourist.
To know the grime, they should try living here, or at least giving someone like me the time of day. I’m not making this stuff up, and who gives a crap what my color is? I’m a human, and as such, I expect to be treated humanely. I also wish that for all of those in Japan, even the Japanese.
By the way, I am a fan of Ken’s blog. However, maybe he is too nice sometimes.
Mahlerite1860, that’s great if these are your intentions, but honestly… saying things like that “Japanese feel inferior to us because we kicked their ass in the World War II” and “Japanese are incapable of operating a computer or talking about something which isn’t food or weather” would not make any Japanese see your intentions of “helping them to be more happy and more successful and empathising with non-Japanese residents”. In fact, a Japanese person who reads this sort of comment would probably hate foreigners even more.
I mean, if a Japanese made the same sort of World War comment about Chinese or Koreans, what you expect would be the reaction?
It wasn’t nice of me to write those things. I will be nicer, if I feel compelled to write future comments. Otherwise, I am good.
After being hit so many times without provocation, it’s hard not to finally swing back. I was very patient, kind, and passive with them for a long time.
Hey Demo Gorgon, are you currently still living in Japan?
Hi Felipe. I am quite protective of my identity when I post on message boards and blogs, so all I can say is that I found a country that suits my circumstances better than Brazil or Japan.
Anyway, I sincerely hope that my previous posts didn’t discourage you from your Japan plan, just made you a bit more aware of the situations you may face and the short-term effect on your career.
Not a problem. I was going to ask something but I ended up forgetting what it was… ah well, lol.
No worries man. I have read about the incident that occurred to you and your friend in Japan and man, had the same thing happened to me or to any person close to me, I would surely also be quite pissed off.
I apologize in advance for this wall of text. This is something I wrote about 6 months ago to help me consolidate my feelings about living in Japan. It clocks in at about 1700 words.
Ken, apologies to you as I borrowed heavily form your ideas. If you feel this post is inappropriate I won’t be offended if you nuke it.
The Thanksgiving Dinner Theory of Japanese Racism
Being a non-Japanese living in Japan is like being at a big Thanksgiving dinner but being told, despite being an adult, that you will be sitting at the children’s table. At first you are so bedazzled with all the cool stuff in Japan that you just roll with it. After all its more fun to talk about cartoons and video games with the kids than the politics and boring stuff being discussed at the grown-up table.
Then you turn 30. You speak the language, understand the culture, and have made every effort to assimilate. You step up to the grown-up table but are firmly guided back to the kids table “Did you forget? Your seat is over here. Look there’s even a fork and spoon for you.” Through all this everyone is smiling and very nice to you. They’ve even taken into account your non-Japanese needs. Weather those needs are needs you truly need or not has been kindly decided for you. You would be totally out of line if your patience lapses and you get a little bit snarky when pointing out for the thousandth time that after 10 years in Japan “Yes! I can fucking use chopsticks! I could use them a week after stepping off the plane. It’s no big deal.” Well, that’s a red card for you. Please use your time at the kids table to ponder why you were so mean, rude, culturally ignorant or all of the above to somebody who is just being nice and trying to help you.
Now you’re 40. You have a Japanese spouse and half (god I hate that word) offspring. You have a true stake in society here. It’s not about want, you NEED to be at the grown-up table to participate in conversations about the issues that affect the livelihood and future of your family. You sneak into a grown-up chair before anyone can steer you away. This is so exciting! You’re finally IN! The grown-ups are busy talking about Problem X. Different people around the table are offering up various versions of “That’s too bad” or “what a shame” and finishing up with the inevitable “oh well, it can’t be helped.” But you can see a solution that no one else does. It’s so obvious to you! You can not NOT say it. So with visions of your impending permanent acceptance to the grown-up table dancing in your head you confidently say “Certainly Problem X could be easily fixed by using Solution Y.” The table falls silent. Everyone is staring at their plate trying not to make eye contact with you, or each other. Across the table from you your spouse’s face is red with embarrassment. Could it be a language issue (maybe you confused the words for “exalted” and “lewd” again, it’s so easy to mix them up.) You take a deep breath and arrange your thoughts. You’ve been here for 20 years and you are a fluent Japanese speaker so you decide to have a go at rephrasing it. This is, after all, your job interview for a seat at the grown-up table. You can’t give up so easily. So, with impeccable logic and eloquence you walk everyone through a step by step plan for how Solution Y will sort this whole Problem X thing out. You front load rebuttals to every point where the feasibility of Solution Y might be questioned. Finally, you conclude your airtight argument. You even went through the extra effort of using polite language. You then notice that your foot has started to go numb as your spouse has been stepping on it under the table in an effort to communicate to you that you need to shut up. The table remains silent. Finally a sharp eyed grown-up notices that their are chopsticks at your seat. They address you in English to help disabuse you of the illusion that you can speak grown-up Japanese. “Here, let me take you back to the kids table. There’s a fork and spoon for you there.”
“Never give up” becomes your motto. Throughout your 40’s you keep trying with the tenacity of Wile E. Coyote. Each time as you go again into the breach you think this time it’s gotta work! A short time later, as you are guided back to where your fork and spoon await you, you are trying to recall who it was that said “the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing but expect different results”
Now you’re 50. You feel downright ridiculous sitting in a tiny kid sized chair fork in one hand and smartphone in the other as you proudly show a table mate that you’ve reached level 13 in the newest mobile game. The 8 year old next to you scoffs and says he’s well north of level 50. The kids table has always been noisy and full of laughter but now there is a cloud hanging over it. You are no longer the fun 20 something genki gaijin the kids had so much fun siting with. Now you’re nothing but the weird old wet blanket whose attempts to fit in with the kids just aren’t working. You are seen as pathetic even by the 8 year old who insightfully asks “hey, why aren’t you sitting with the grown-ups?”
You’ve well outgrown the kids table and have given up on trying to be accepted at the grown-up table. Maybe, it’s time to find a new table….
While racism in Japan is very real, particularly towards other Asians, getting into all the nitty-gritty of that can distract you from the big picture. It’s not so much “you are from X race so we don’t like you” it’s just simply “you are not Japanese.” Now, when your non-Japaneseness is pointed out to you, behind the smile and tactful words, two things are being communicated to you. 1. You do not (and never can) understand Japanese culture. Fresh off the plane your not understanding Japanese culture is fine, in fact its eagerly anticipated. Japanese people are proud of their culture and happy to explain it to visitors. It’s when you’ve been here a while and start asking uncomfortable questions that “you don’t understand Japanese culture” is thrown in your face as a conversation stopper. 2. This is not your country so you have no right to complain. In other words if you don’t like it there’s the door. As always, this is said with a smile.
There are just two categories of people in Japan: Japanese and non-Japanese. To be a real Japanese you must be ethnically Japanese AND be raised AND educated in Japan. If one does not pass that triple qualification then one is not, and never will be, Japanese. Now the people who pass this test and can claim to be Japanese still need to follow the rules or they could be disqualified. To be a real Japanese you must be programmed with all the social cues, follow orders, and question nothing. Even amongst Japanese you can hear black sheep commonly referred to as “not a real Japanese.” Other crimes which can result in your standing as a real Japanese being called into question are having questionable heritage, being educated abroad, standing up for yourself, enjoying life, or just looking foreign.
“Racism” is not the best word for what happens here as that word carries a lot of baggage associated with the appalling treatment of minorities in the USA. In Japan your chances of having a racial epithet hurled at you are almost nil. But, based on your being non-Japanese you will be denied jobs, apartments, marriage partners, the ability to join clubs and organizations, and the respect due to an adult member of society. And no matter how much you attempt to assimilate you will be peppered with very polite reminders, delivered with a smile, that you are a guest here. You can call it “racism” but “exclusionary” sums it up so much better.
There are many foreign people who, enamoured with Japan, moved here to settle and start a life. They work very hard to assimilate. But in the end these people are only seen as an elephant in dark glasses trying desperately to fit in at a giraffes only dinner party.
So we are left with a conundrum. As a non-Japanese living in Japan you have two choices. You can live with it or fight it. If you choose to live with it your tolerance ends up being used to excuse intolerance. If you fight it you are shoving western ideas down the throat of people who really really aren’t interested in them. Fighting it is really hard. Lots of people try. There is no metaphor in the world that can convey how futile and self-destructive this is. It really makes you feel like a dick for raising a stink about every micro-aggression or act of othering. Japanese spouses who have to endure the fallout of your crybaby attitude won’t thank you for it either.
It all boils down to this: Japan sees absolutely no value in, or need for, tolerance and inclusiveness. Japanese people just want a stable, homogeneous, and predictable society. Regardless of the demographic and economic realities facing Japan the Japanese would much rather drown alone than be forced to swim with others.
If you want to live in Japan as a non-Japanese these are the conditions you need to understand:
– Your permanent classification is “guest.” If you continue to speak only English and act like you are on vacation everything will be wonderful.
– If you learn Japanese you will never be treated as as an equal but rather as either a clown, an idiot, a child, a problem, or occasionally just ignored.
– You will never understand Japanese culture (actually you will understand it but locals will always tell you that you don’t.)
– You have no right to complain.
– If you value sincerity then Japan is not the place for you.
If you don’t like it leave. Japan didn’t want any more than your tourist dollars in the first place and it won’t miss you when you’ve gone.
Hotspur, thank you for sharing. It’s very eye opening.
I have never lived in Japan for a long period of time. Just exchange programs here and there and having several Japanese friends. The more I know, the less appealing their society and culture are. I notice there is a very thick wall their society have created around them. Even Japanese nationals who grew up overseas cannot penetrate that wall because they’re considered ‘contaminated’. Honestly I often wonder if they are happy living in that sort of society. Or maybe they just don’t know any better and just accept it as it is. Not saying that there exists a society that is perfect, but this one just feels so suffocating.
I read that you are trying to get yourself and your family out. Wish you all the best.
I believe “happy” is irrelevant to them as a society. They might convey the imported idea from western cultures but it isn’t part of what society value nor seek.
Yes, I would like to upvote you once again for perfectly capturing what I felt…I tried both the live with it and the fight it options, and probably focused way more on the fight it, but it became even more stressful and tiring than tolerating it…and as you pointed it out, my wife and family bore the brunt of my righteous indignation. 出る釘は打たれる and all that blah, blah.
Japan’s still in my long-term plans, hoping that things change, but expecting they don’t and that I and my family won’t really care by then…
Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. I upvote everything you’ve said. But the potato chips and beer are really good, right? That’s something, right?
I’ll take your silence as a yes.
I read your comments with great interest, I feel for you, especially when you have “half” kids like me.
I thought that being a man would make things easier in Japan. I am a woman and…well, just dealing with the mothers at school is such a stressful experience, mothers just look at each other and judge and gossip…sometimes I would like to scream Please please get a life!!! Some of them approach me pretending to be friend, in fact they only want to get some information about me, when their curiosity is satisfied and they have new topics to talk about (who am I, what I do…) they suddenly stop any contact with me, like nothing happened before. At the beginning I was questioning myself: did I do something wrong? Should I act differently? I thought I had friends and that I had lost them for some reason…with time I realised that I never had friends, they never approached me to be friend but just to know what they could get from me. In this case their beloved “manners” were not so important, it didn’t matter that by suddenly stopping talking to and contacting me, without explanation, without apparent reason, it may hurt me or at least it may be seen as quite a rude way of behaving.
Let me copy here a comment I wrote somewhere else just yesterday (sorry I am a busy/lazy mum uh!):
I have been here for two years now. I have never seen so many disgusting people and behaviours, lack of empathy, generousity, joy. open-mindness, curiosity for other cultures…Jesus I could go on and on. Arrogance and introversion make it also worse: sometimes they ignore you like if you don’t exist; they think their country is the best in the world, and above all that they are the only ones who can teach manners to others…but I see their lack of manner/kindness everyday.
In my country it is not necessary to overshow kindness, but just to be kind as we usually are, but in Japan when you deal with customers or superiors you have to artificially overshow your respect and kindness to them…when you are off duty you are then free to ignore all the manners, respect for others, kindness, common sense, basic human empathy…..what does it means? To me it just means that they have gone too far up to the point they have lost some of the basic, original human traits.
P.S. Sorry if I sound harsh, however this is how I see it, I cannot help it…shoganai ne!!!
And, by the way, my son is constantly embarassed when I approach him at school in front of other people, something that never happens when we are in my country. To the point that now he explicitly asks me not to speak to him (because I speak my language to him, and it makes him ashamed). The brain-washing has worked well and efficiently. The funny thing is that mothers keep telling me how lucky he is to speak different languages! Haha so lucky that they made him wish he would not!
Sorry to hear, I can only wish your son will eventually gain the maturity to see all your efforts.
Thank you for your words. I will work hard to make it happen;). The important thing to me is that he understands that there are alternative lifestyles and life values which he will always be free to embrace whatever people around him think. After all this is the advantage of being “half”.
Yes, I fully understand that…one of the things that my wife is glad for is not having to really deal with the school Moms and neighborhood wives in Japan. Also, my son refuses to speak English in Japan, and who can blame him if he has an option…we both get asked to speak English like it’s a cool party trick. I like to tell them that my Kansai-ben is even cooler! ;p
Sorry to hear about your experiences. Children want to fit in and be part of the group, so it is no surprise you are embarrasing your son sometimes. I believe this has little to do with Japan. My wife’s and my choice of a particular type of bike was enough to embarrass her daughter and it was more than obvious she did not want to be associated with us in public. Funny, but true.
Now she has grown up and is able to accept us. 😉
Hi Jonathan and Jorg,
I am glad to know you can understand me :). I wish I could also speak perfect Kansai-ben instead of struggling with my broken Japanese.
Sorry for my rant (yes I get quite emotional on the subject), I agree there are things that have little to do with Japan, sometimes I blame Japan for all:). However the embarassment is quite unique. In the opposite situation, my husband speaking Japanese to my son in my country in front of other people, there was not such embarassment at all! Probably because there were also not so many silent eyes staring at him when they were speaking or maybe because sometimes the kids listening would just go “Cool! Japanese is cool!” (thank you Japan Inc. PR team!), I think also because my son just did not care about others as much as he (everybody) does in Japan…
But if I start riding a funny bike there may be embarassment no matter where I guess:).
I have a confession, I loved Japan because I didn’t have to participate in Japanese society. Shit, I don’t like my culture very much but Japan? If you think your culture can be oppressive you haven’t seen nothing until you watch the poor Japanese lead their lives of servitude. For me it was pure escape. A non-participant. Want to know another secret? The rumors are true. The majority of the Japanese really don’t want us participating in their culture either. Life on the outside looking in. Trust me, it’s better. You will be happier and the Japanese will be happier for it. So sure, move to Japan.
The majority of the Japanese really don’t want us participating in their culture either. – What do you think is the reason for that? Misguided pride? Distorted worldview due to insularity?
Japan’s native religion of Shinto teaches that Japanese people are directly descended from gods and goddesses. How many Japanese people really believe it? I don’t know. But the amount of interest in fortune tellers and blood-type pseudoscience, the amount of regular pachinko players, the fact that the Japanese seem to believe medical masks are an effective way to prevent disease transmission, their overall lack of interest in logic and penchant for making decions based on emotions, and so forth… may indicate that at least some do.
Yeah, but it’s a pattern we’ve seen the world over, right? Whether in the workplace or on a sports team, nobody readily accepts outsiders. They withhold information, don’t immediately invite them to private parties, and generally make it hard for newcomers to join the circle. New people have to prove they’ll fit in.
To be accepted, for example on a sports team, you usually need to speak the same lingo and dress the same way, even for sports where language and clothing makes virtually no difference. Try showing up for the swim team tryouts in board shorts and a full beard.
Some organizations even ritualize the process, like fraternities and sororities. Despite looking the same, speaking the same language, and having the same social status, you’ll still be put through the wringer to test your resolve and loyalty.
So how you gonna join the Japanese fraternity? If you don’t look the same, you’re at an instant disadvantage, Jackie Robinson. Then, how good’s your Japanese, really? I know where mine’s at—I’m that dude with a foreign accent who doesn’t get your Simpson’s jokes.
So that’s what’s happening in Japan. You have to prove yourself, every time. Every time you go to a restaurant. Every time you go to the drug store. Every time you meet a new person. It’s a pain in the ass, nobody’s denying that. Welcome to the country.
So some people are open and helpful, but many won’t want to accept you. They’ve already got a group. They don’t need new members. Especially someone who sounds funny and looks different.
I don’t know how much of that’s a “Japanese thing.” Probably some. But you don’t have to look too hard to find similar things elsewhere.
True, but I think with Japan, it’s so rigid and specific and as a society, it’s upheld as a source of stubborn pride, which makes it worse.
Yeah, Japan takes it to another level.
Can an outsider ever prove himself sufficiently to no longer be an outsider in Japan? Or is Japanese society an exclusive club for those who were born and raised in Japan and have two Japanese parents?
Bootcamp recruits can prove themselves sufficiently to become members of the military. Similarly for frats and other social groups.
There was a honeymoon period during my culture shock in Japan. I expected both the honeymoon and shock, though. At first, everything was new, and none of the language could be understood. Basically, you’re like a baby looking at colorful, interesting stuff, but you cannot properly interpret any of it. I think Ken experienced this, as well. Pretty much all tourists experience this but never get the chance to understand the real Japan.
However, once a good observer attempts to assimilate and attempts to interpret the Japanese society and wider culture with some seriousness, the honeymoon period can transition into something very negative. For me, I quickly became disgusted with the Japanese way of life. I read books, made firsthand observations, and discussed experiences in Japan with other expats. My conclusion became: living in Japan really sucks.
And yes, the Japanese live sad lives, also behind closed doors. A couple days before I left Japan, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with my one true Japanese friend. After living there for 14 months, I had many questions and was respectful when I asked them. But she told me many negative unsolicited things, such as the following:
A) the smiles by the Japanese at tourist destinations are fake
B) the peer pressure in Japan is so heavy that the Japanese always wear masks, both metaphorical and physical
C) dying from overwork is viewed as virtuous
D) alcohol abuse is prevalent because of how stressful daily life in Japan is
E) men are so exhausted from work that they come home and don’t do anything, including communicating with their family
F) by returning to my home in America, I made a a really smart choice
I arrived in Japan pretty much as a dumb, mesmerized infant and departed as a bitter expat who, to a tiny degree, pitied the Japanese. They choose a painful life, so I cannot pity them much.
And thanks to the Internet, I don’t think it’s a secret that Japan wants to stay Japanese. It’s no secret they dislike foreigners and dislike foreign things. Again, because of these things, I cannot pity them much.
I will repeat my warning from earlier posts: do not live in Japan for long. If you want the happiest experience, be a tourist only. Yet, as a tourist, you must accept that you will be shielded from the true severe nature of Japan.
“…. It might be worth considering how many cool Japanese people you know. I know two. And now both of them live in L.A. Just saying.” That part cracked me up since I don’t know any, and living here for more than 2 years now, have no ‘real’ friends- Japanese or Gaijin.
When it comes to deciding if you should move here or not, I think the important part is to define your expectations clearly. I don’t expect to have a real conversation with anyone anymore when I get the chance to have one, I enjoy it. I don’t expect them to answer my questions honestly, invite me out without a hidden agenda, I got used to being different or sometimes invisible when I say something ‘wrong’ or ‘offensive’, being incredibly lonely, overshow kindness or surprise since they do the same- although it is exhausting. I gave up trying to fit into their education system- that is clearly impossible since no one bothers to explain or aware of why they’re doing something in the way that they are doing it. But I feel very safe here as a woman, I love how clean everything is- especially the toilets, love the trains, architecture, nature, etc. I read a lot, started painting, trying to learn a lot of stuff and improve myself because I have the time for it.
So, know what you expect from Japan. Do you want to work in an office where everyone is equal and valued for their individuality and opinions? Not gonna happen. Do you want to travel on your free time and see different, often bizarre local festivals and take amazing photographs? Then you’re gonna be ok. If you really need to be surrounded by your friends and family, stay where you are. If you want to talk about- I don’t know, politics, art, science, history, etc. every once in a while, random Japanese men older than 65 years old are all you need.
Glad to see you’re still dedicating your time and keepin’ off some extra booze to write this stuff. I’ve been reading through your posts, after finding you recently, and I have to say the stuff you post here is great. I mean, it actually feels like you’re really living in Japan. A lot of other blogs just seem to thread away from anything negative and always felt like they were sort of being “re-edited for mainstream accessibility” or something; it’s like Hollywood is running Japan blogs.
I’m sure you hear this a lot, but it’s fun to see a more facetious take what it’s like to live there. I’ve been thinking about moving to Japan myself for a temporary period, because for some uncanny reason I find these flaws of Japan sort of an exclusive honor to witness. I guess it’s cause I’m from New York, and we find rats in our subways endearing.
My current plan is to finish my English BA this semester and try to apply for ALT/Eikaiwa jobs during the crunch period around December – March. Having been to Japan several times already, I really feel at home in Kyoto and Tokyo for different reasons. I like Kyoto’s tranquil facade, but am aware that it’s not as accessible to foreigners as Tokyo is (also Tokyo has more things happening in it, and I’m from NY, so that’s what I prefer). I’m used to hustle and bustle stress, especially long commutes. Osaka is too gritty, Chicago-esque, for me. Fukouka feels far from the rest of the action. Don’t get me even started with Hokkaido winters… Maybe Naha, but that place wouldn’t fair too way with a tsunami, would it…hmm…
But again, back on track, my current plan is to go to Japan for about 2-3 years, kill out my desire to go there right before I have to crash into any problems. Afterward, I would return to the States and try to work in the film industry in LA.
Now the only thing I’m contemplating on is the fact that, even if I return to the States, it’s for a dream that isn’t exactly tangible. I’m also an Asian-American male, so I wouldn’t have to go through as much ‘marginalization’ as other gaijin might go through and don’t really want to involve myself too much with Japan’s norms. I’d prefer to be the gaijin pet and leave work early, than be counted as one of them and live a sexless life. So what I’m seeing is an unpredictable future on either end. I’m curious to see if I were to consider staying in Japan for the long haul, would that have benefits of its own. I see that recently, you’ve been able to purchase a car and a nice apartment (but with a decade’s worth of work). I’m technically not abandoning any career in the US, just an ambition possibly. I suppose it’s one of those crossroads, where I decide which risky road my life would take. Life is too short, man. I guess this juggernaut of a comment can be summed up to, do you think it was, for you, worth moving to Japan, not just as an experience, but as a life choice?
Also, I came across this video a while back, I’m sure you must’ve have too at this point, but just in case I think this visually articulates your life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLt5qSm9U80
“Do you think it was, for you, worth moving to Japan, not just as an experience, but as a life choice?”
Yeah, hard question. Guess we could start by looking at:
1. What did it cost?
2. What else would I have done?
So in terms of cost, wow, I went through a lot of hardships and paid quite a price. I mean, just the physical challenges alone were prodigious—sleeping on wafer-thin futons in tiny, freezing apartments, running sleep-deprived to and from stations in the rain, teaching faceless students seven hours a day with no more than a break for a sip of canned coffee, and standing packed in airless trains for several years. Add to that the harsh treatment by bosses, back-stabbing of co-workers, and being systematically shunned by an entire nation. But hey, everything’s fun for a while.
Other costs include losing contact with everyone who knew and loved me, watching my mother slowly age via Skype, and saying goodbye to my dear cat, who died without me. Wish I could say that stuff’s easy.
But that leads us to point number two—What alternative futures might I have lived? Sure, I could’ve stayed in the States, sipping chardonnay at sidewalk cafes, breezing around in the Mercedes convertible, and hanging out with people I actually liked. But how boring is that? I craved more. Guess I got it.
I could’ve also traveled to several other countries and taught English. It would’ve been cool to spend a year each in places like Prague, Madrid, or Hong Kong. Japan really isn’t that great once you figure it out. Well, the food’s pretty delicious, so that’s something.
But I’ve learned a lot, and that’s something too. I saw much more of the world, and came to understand it better. I had some fun, especially at first when everything was new and weird. I met some people. Some were okay. That’s all I can really say about that.
Mostly though, I’m glad I did something, which I’m told is better than nothing. Anyway, I’m not dead or in prison, which might be worse. I doubt the food and beer are as good.
So in the end, was it worth it, after all? Eh, probably not. But ya pays yer money, and ya takes yer chances. Guess that’s life.
If you think “you wouldn’t have to go through as much ‘marginalization’ as other foreigners”, you are being a bit naive. As an Asian foreigner, not only you will be a “second class person” in the Japanese society because you are a foreigner, you will also be a “second class foreigner” in the Eikawa system because you are not white.
I don’t doubt that at all. What I meant by saying that was the fact that I wouldn’t have to hear any chopstick comments or whatnot throughout my time there. Everything’s got its pros and cons.
Like I probably wouldn’t be able to get away with certain “Japanese societal norms” as easily as white or black people either, but there’s also solace in that if you view it in a different perspective. At least that’s mean trying to see the glass as half full.
What do you mean, a language useful nowhere else? I was in a tired northern seaside town just last month and ended up giving directions to the bus station to a Japanese lady in Japanese.
…after I remembered which way round 6 and 7 are. “roku-ban?” I asked, holding up seven fingers.
Since I first posted on this blog about a year ago I’ve had the chance to work in Japan as an ALT. It was probably the most challenging and rewarding job I’ve ever had. I had some amazing experiences living in Japan, but I had my fair share of darker moments and I spent a lot of my time thinking of home. And even though I was surrounded by some really great people and always had support from back home I decided to return home. I really don’t think I could’ve taught another year and I wanted to be closer to friends and family.
I’ve been back for six weeks now and I can’t believe it. It almost feels like I never left which kind of scares me a little to be honest! I’ve been super lucky to get my old programming job back and my family and friends have been really supportive. However, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about returning to Japan since I got back. As much as I wanted to leave, it really did hurt to go. And I know Japan isn’t perfect, but I still feel connected to that place. I’ve already started thinking about returning in a couple of years and trying for IT work when I’ve reached an N2 level, ready to face all the challenges I did before.
I love my friends and family here, but when I sit at my old office job I wonder is this really it for me? Is this really going to be the rest of my life? So do I stay here where I’ll probably be happier knowing I’ll always be thinking of Japan? Or do I take all the ups and downs that come with living in another country again? I definitely know what my monkey brain is telling me. In saying that it’s still not an easy choice, I know my actions have consequences and that I was pretty lucky coming home this time. So I guess I feel like I’m in a bit of a limbo stuck between these choices at the moment…
But anyways I just wanted to reach out and share my thoughts on this. Thanks for always writing. I always enjoy reading your posts and the comments from everyone here!
Wow, thanks for the great comment. Yeah, I completely understand how you feel. I think that’s why I’m still here.
And I know I don’t need to point this out, but the conundrum isn’t really about Japan.
Because in a couple of years, you’ll be working at some office in Saitama thinking, “is this really it for me? Is this really going to be the rest of my life? So do I stay here where I’ll probably be happier knowing I’ll always be thinking of the U.S.?”
I don’t think that’s a problem you’re gonna get away from. Me either.
I’m really glad to hear I’m not the only one who’s going through something like this. It makes dealing with this stuff a little easier.
I think I still needed someone else to point that conundrum out for me though.
Thanks again, Ken!
As a Norwegian who’s been to Japan twice, the whole notion of moving there is zero. Not because i don’t enjoy it, i wouldn’t have gone twice if didn’t, but to me Japan is like disneyland (like you mentioned, Ken) and i’m afraid of how fast that bubble would burst if i moved there. It’s my favourite country to visit and i already planned on going back next year, but i realized very quickly my first time there that i wouldn’t make it work.
Honestly it made me sad, seeing as it was a dream for a long time, but my common sense made everything very clear and reading this blog makes it even more clear. I mean that in good way.
“Okay, first off, Norway’s great if you like cross-country skiing, hats with horns, and wood.” I’ll give you the cross-country skiing, Norwegians goes nuts over it. If you want hats with horns, you’ll find them in the tourist shops, but there is not one Norwegian with a speck of dignity that would wear it or buy it. Wood? I don’t even know what to say about that one. Now i hope you realize i’m just pulling your leg, Ken. Nitpicking much, Andy?
Norway is kinda great to be honest, and no i’m not advertising for people to move here.
It’s safe, work hours are great, salaries are decent, but everything is expensive and taxes are high so the salaries are gone as fast as they came. School and healthcare is free. On the other hand it’s Sunday today and if i wanted a beer at the grocery store, forget it. Alcohol sales close at 20.00 every weekday, 18.00 in the weekend and closed every Sunday. If you want alcohol over 4.7% you need to go to a special store that closes ever earlier.
So what am i trying to say? If you want raise a familiy in safe and nice country, Norway is a great place for you, other then that there is really nothing here. It’s honestly a bit boring.
Now last, but not least i wanted to thank you Ken Seeroi. Almost 3 years ago i stumbled upon this blog searching for stories about Japan, ended up reading the entire blog in one night and was certain i wanted to move to Japan, i even wanted to dedicate myself to studying Japanese at a university level and getting a degree in it.
I wrote my first comment on the blog showing my love for the blog and explained how i wanted to study Japanese. Now that plan was shot down fast by you, saying it wouldn’t really be a great plan and my time would be spent better studying something else and i was heartbroken, how could Seeroi-Sensei say something so cold.
Well, i took your words to heart and did spend my time better and i thank you for being brutally honest and setting my head straight. I’d probably have ended up doing Japanese, moved to Japan and the bubble would have bursted fast and knowing myself i would have probably ended up drinking myself to death in one of those shitty small Japanese apartments and haunted whoever came after me.
So Thank you, i’m now learning some Japanese through apps and classes i take on my free time and i’ll keep going to Japan cause i love the country as a holiday spot.
Thanks much for the props. So yeah, today I was talking to a Japanese gal—young, smart, and talented. Her dream is to one day live, well, pretty much anywhere other than Japan.
She’s looking for an overseas job right now, although one of her main talents is her language ability. And as we were talking, it suddenly occurred to me how unfortunate that is. Because, having been born in Japan, she’s incredibly limited. She could work for a Japanese company overseas—which would defeat her entire goal of getting away from Japanese culture. Or maybe she could work for one of the very few foreign companies that needs Japanese language ability, and compete with thousands of other bilingual Japanese-English speakers.
But if she spoke English and Spanish, or English and German, even English and Norwegian, she’d have a better chance of getting a job in another country.
I dunno—somehow I really think you’re better off not investing too much time into learning Japanese. Enough to get by when you visit, surely, but I think you made the right choice. Sorry Seeroi-sensei’s so jaded; just tryin’ to tell you like it is.
By the way, Norway—right on top of my list of places I want to visit. It does sound kinda great. I’m a pretty decent cross country skier, after all.
Heh, I was talking to my wife about studying for something to brush up my Japanese since I no longer live and work there and need some kind of goal. Maybe take JLPT1 or go for Kanken 1…and she just rolls her eyes at me and says that my Japanese is sufficient and I should just go play catch with my son. Heh, don’t have to tell me twice…
At some point, you gotta ask yourself when enough is enough. Like, it’s good to go to the gym and get some exercise. You just don’t want to spend your life there until you end up with a D-cup chest, posing on stage in a tiny speedo.
Japanese is pretty much the same thing.
I realized after the fact that the last comment I posted here the other day was way too long. I assume it was promptly carted off to the rambling comments boneyard. Allow me to provide you with the abridged version.
I recently received the news that I have been accepted into the JET Program as an ALT, & this post (along with all your other delightful posts which I have binge-read over the past few days) has clarified what exactly I want out of my experience living & working in Japan.
I’m not looking to become fluent in Japanese (though I’d like to learn enough to get by) or live in Japan forever. Whereas in my younger days I may have fantasized about “turning Japanese,” I’m now quite content with my white, monolingual American-ness. I don’t mind being the “dancing bear,” as you say, the exotic gaijin that is trotted out for Japanese to practice their English on, reinforce my other-ness, & explain local customs to.
Your blog has been instrumental in purging the last remnants of my romanticized fantasy Japan. I first became enamored with, in your words, “Japaaan,” that mist-shrouded, inscrutable, topsy-turvy island nation, wrested out of the feudal ages into an uneasy modernity only yesterday; Japaaan – the great monolithic antipode to the West; the mystical, mysterious yin to the rational Western yang.
Even though you have shattered my rose-tinted glasses to reveal the, if not outright ugly, then homely truth, it does not dissuade me from following through with what has been my dream for years now. I like to think that I now have more realistic expectations & am more prepared than I would have been in my more fervently Nipponophilic youth.
I’m not going with any expectations of “understanding” Japan. I know it will be challenging & unpleasant at times, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m thinking that I’ll spend 2-3 years there, max, & then go back home, hopefully with some good experiences & more character than when I arrived.
So, thanks for providing that clarity. I enjoy your acerbic wit & hilarious yet edifying writing. Your blog has quickly become an invaluable resource. Thank you for what you do.
If you have any more specific advice for me beyond what you’ve written, I’d greatly appreciate it.
Hey, thanks for the great comment. Sounds like you’ve got all the right ideas. Yeah, I guess I’ve got some random bits of advice. I mean, since you asked and all.
By the way, I didn’t see your previous comment. Sorry about that. It’s possible the spam filter whisked it off to heaven. A phrase like “fresh meat”‘ll do that.
So okay, first off, don’t get your money funny. Carry a minimum of 10,000 yen on you at all times, and preferably 20,000. Don’t even ask why, just trust me on this and do it. Secondly, don’t fucking spend it. You’re either gonna leave Japan rich or broke, and most people leave broke. You’ll discover a million exiting new ways to blow cash, so don’t try to do everything all at once or you’ll end up out in Saitama wondering why the ATM shuts down at midnight. Not that I’d know.
Lastly, I wish people of all nations would learn the usage of the word “some.” Because it’s tempting to start sentences with “Japanese people are…” or “Americans think…” Put the word “some” at the beginning and you’ll have a much more accurate statement.
Oh, and don’t assume the Japanese people you meet don’t know about the outside world. It’s really tempting to launch into a lengthy diatribe about your home country, only to find out much later that they actually lived there, or possibly, were born there.
Other than that, have a great time and drop me a line once in a while to let me know how it’s going.
Thanks for the tips, especially on the money. Perhaps, Japan will provide a good exercise in restraint and self-control, given that I tend to spend what little money I currently make on such necessities as craft beer, hipster espresso, and artisanal cuisine.
No worries about my previous comment. As I said, it was quite the screed, so it’s likely for the best that it vanished in the digital ether.
And, assuming you’re up for it, maybe we can meet for a chat over just one frugal beer when I’m in Tokyo for my orientation this summer? Cheers!
As much as I’d love to, I don’t really do a lot of personal appearances. Privacy and all that. I also don’t live in Tokyo any more, which complicates things. But thanks for the offer.
Also, just to follow up on my advice about the money…when I say keep 10,000-20,000 on you at all times, that’s in addition to the amount you’re expecting to spend on any given day or weekend. So if you’re heading out Friday night, you should have a minimum of 20,000-30,000 ($200-$300) on you.
Using credit cards in Japan is a bit of a hassle, and should generally be avoided. Hence the need to carry lots of cash. Going to random ATMs, especially at night, can run 100-200 each time, which quickly adds up. Plus with cash, you’ll get a better feel for what you’re actually spending on all that exotic craft beer, espresso, and artisanal cuisine.
I figured you value your privacy too much to accept my invitation, but it was worth a shot. Oh well. I suppose I’ll simply have to find my own gaggle of drunken salarymen to be my drinking companions.
And yes, I should really get in the habit of carrying cash with me to encourage frugality & check my spendthrift habits, but, as you mentioned in your post on the subject, the fear of being mugged or, more likely, accosted by a panhandling vagrant in America is simply too great a risk to be strutting around with wads of cash. Especially where I live.
It’s so much easier to breeze past the multitude of potentially violent beggars when I can honestly say I have no money on me. Then I don’t have to lie & feel guilty.