The Tanuki gingerly picked up a piece of shrimp sushi with his chopsticks, dipped it ever so lightly into the soy sauce, then promptly dropped the whole thing in his lap. He looked down dejectedly as it rolled onto the floor. I thought briefly of remarking, “Impressive chopstick skills,” since that’s what Japanese folks typically say to me, but instead I pretended not to notice and simply ordered us two more beers, plus a shochu for Imada-san. We Japanese are polite like that.
Thanksgiving in Japan started with a trip to Ten Thousand Fucking Poodles. That’s the establishment formerly known as Starbucks. Know how Europe has all these wonderful cafes with outdoor seating? Yeah, not Japan. If it’s 22 degrees Celsius, everyone’s all “atsui, atsui,” so hot. Or else it’s 20 degrees and everyone complains “samui, samui,” oh, it’s so cold. Japanese people love nature, as long as it’s exactly 21 degrees.
Rise of the Tiny Dogs
For that reason, there’s only about five outdoor tables in the whole nation, all at Starbucks, and completely overrun with fucking tiny poodles. Once COVID-19 hit, the economy ground to a halt, hospitals filled to capacity, folks were dying in their homes, and the nation of Japan collectively said, “Know what’d make this pandemic way better? A fucking tiny poodle. Yep, better run right out, get a couple, and take ’em to Starbucks just to annoy Ken Seeroi.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I love fucking tiny poodles, With those cute button eyes and full-body afro, I mean, who wouldn’t? Only I don’t see why you need to bring a hundred of the yappy little bastards to my coffee shop so they can fur up the place. Set ’em loose in a field of daisies or something. Just a suggestion.
A Good Start to Your Thanksgiving in Japan
But where were we? Oh right, The Tanuki and Imada-san, my old men Japanese friends. So after I got thoroughly furry and fully caffeinated, we met up for beers by the train station. It was a cool autumn day, Thanksgiving, in fact. Otherwise known as Tuesday. Now, Thanksgiving in Japan turns out to be just like it is in the U.S., minus the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Also, there are no parades, football games, or family get-togethers, but otherwise, exactly the same.
By now, it was 10 a.m., and as was often the case, The Tanuki and Imada-san had been drinking since dawn, which is apparently one of the benefits of retirement in Japan. “Let’s get more beer,” they said in unison, which sounded like the greatest idea ever, so that’s what we did. Then we all said it a few more times until someone suggested “Let’s get sushi.” I think that was me. Anyway, it proved to be a popular sentiment, so off we went.
How to Eat Sushi
The waitress at the sushi restaurant was Vietnamese. “You two can speak English together!” said Imada-san happily. She and I just stared at each other. “I think we’re gonna need some drinks,” I said in Japanese.
She returned with a tray full of booze and three wooden blocks topped with assorted sushi. Now, if you know anything about sushi, you know you eat it with your hands and not chopsticks. That is, if you’re not Japanese and want your fingers to smell like fish sticks. Because somewhere along the line, some white guy declared that was the “proper” way to consume sushi, and suddenly foreigners the world over started cramming raw seafood into their pie holes with bare hands. Now, I’m not trying to be the arbiter of propriety—you barbarians can do whatever you want—I’m just saying in twenty years of eating sushi in Japan, I’ve seen Japanese people do that approximately never. Here, we’re sophisticated. We use sticks.
So Imada-san was lifting his fish off the sushi rice and bathing it in soy sauce, then halving the rice with his chopsticks, leaving little white blocks of it off to the side, like a Lego wall. Meanwhile, The Tanuki was busy trying to convince the waitress to give his lap a sponge bath. Why am I always the courteous one? Clearly I have a ways to go before mastering such levels of Japanese politeness.
“Think we’ll take the check now,” I said to the waitress.
“And three glasses of shochu,” added The Tanuki, “shi shi.”
I looked at him. “Pretty sure that’s Chinese,” I remarked.
“I don’t speak Vietnamese,” he replied.
I paused. “Eh, fair point.” Chinese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Japanese . . . well, they all end in “-ese,” so pretty much all the same. That can’t be a mere coincidence. But hey, I’m not trying to paint my friends in a bad light. That’s just how it is in Japan, where #stopasianhate takes on a slightly different meaning. Like, Stop hating, Asian people. It’s all about the comma placement.
The Rest of Thanksgiving Day in Japan
Once we were happily full of sushi and booze, we wandered back to the station and made our goodbyes. They really are good guys, despite the fact they’re old and Japanese. Then I had one of my trademark moments of clarity. I hate when that happens. Because I realized it was two in the afternoon, I was drunk, and I had a full day of productivity ahead of me. I was like, Well, now the fuck what? But I already knew the answer, so I headed to Da Shack.
There’s probably a real name for it, but any identifying markings had long since fallen off the exterior. Da Shack is a dilapidated liquor store slash old folk’s home constructed entirely of discarded plywood, Formica tiles, and corrugated tin, loosely held together with bubble gum. The bar, such as it is, consists of two doors from someone’s house connected with nails and some string, and the bathroom is literally a urinal propped up in the corner of the parking lot, next to the main intersection. That’s a little embarrassing, especially when a family in a minivan pulls up to a red light.
The usual crowd was already inside, drinking shochu and eating dried squid and ume plums. I grabbed a can of malt liquor from the cooler and sat down between an old guy and an older guy. The old guy had on ripped jeans, an imitation black leather biker jacket, and a tiger-striped fanny pack. I was like, Dude, that’s a lotta look. But he was an alright sort of fellow, intent on entertaining me with pictures of his Harley and a long-ago trip to L.A.
The older guy, however, kept doing the one thing that annoys me more than fucking tiny poodles. He’d latched onto me as a listener and would not shut up, rambling incessantly in unintelligible drunken Japanese. Between the booze and whatever dialect he was speaking. I couldn’t make out half of what he was saying. And then he peed himself.
I felt that was an improvement. He finally stopped jabbering and started wiping his feet over the puddle on the concrete floor, as though he was going to mop it up with the soles of his shoes. There was a large stain down his right trouser leg and he looked perplexed, like, Who peed my pants? Well, brah, pretty sure it wasn’t me.
Japanese National Holidays
I’d been on the fence as to whether to have another drink or leave Da Shack, but that’s about as clear a sign from God as you’re gonna get. So I made my goodbyes, stopped by the urinal in the parking lot, waved to a family in a minivan, then began weaving my way home.
I hadn’t stumbled a hundred meters when I turned a corner and there was a guy urinating into the gutter, just out in the open. Not a tree around for miles. Did I mention it was the middle of the day? I looked at him, and he, dick in hand, calmly looked back. So that was weird. I was like, What the eff, is it national pee day? Why am I left out of all the good holidays?
Thanksgiving Dinner in Japan
Suddenly, I felt like having hash brown potatoes. That’s not related to the guy peeing, I’m just not good with transitions. So I stopped by 7-Eleven and got two hash browns, a bag of dark chocolate covered raisins, a couple tall cans of malt liquor, and an ice cream bar. Then I went home, stuffed everything in the freezer, turned on Netflix, and immediately passed out.
When I woke up, it was dark and there were malt liquor slushies and potato-flavored popsicles in my freezer, plus a bunch of rock-hard chocolate raisins. Eh, nothing a little microwave and a pan of hot water can’t solve. So I took out the fine china, restarted the movie, then sat down to Thanksgiving dinner in Japan. And I said a little prayer. God, if you’re up there, thank you for 7-Eleven. Also, for these bountiful hash browns, melted chocolate raisins, two exceptionally frosty malt liquors, and Netflix. Please bring world peace, less carbon in the atmosphere, fewer fucking poodles at Starbucks, and help old men not pee themselves. Oh, and I’d like to be rich, have a hot girlfriend, and a magic lantern. Thanks in advance. Your friend, Ken.
36 Replies to “Thanksgiving in Japan”
A perfectly sensible prayer. I’ll drink to that.
I’m with Johan.
Thanks. Cheers to that.
“Now don’t get me wrong, I love fucking tiny poodles, With those cute button eyes and full-body afro, I mean, who wouldn’t?”
Had to read that a few times to make sure it wasn’t any bourbon still in my system from the festivities last night…may I humbly suggest transitioning a particular word to a slightly different location in that sentence? Maybe before “love” instead of after it. Just thinking the mighty Google algorithm might sort you to a category you may not want to be.
Or that may be exactly what you intended, in which case I still love your blog, but stay away from my poodle!
Thanks for the concern, but from my perspective, any AI that can’t take a joke is not yet fit to rule the universe.
Just don’t send any poodle pics and we’ll be good.
I thought it was maybe a bit too much information from you, but it’s your blog 😉
So you’d like…less information? Sure, I can do that. It’d be a great marketing slogan too—The all-new Japanese Rule of 7: now with less information.
This one is going into the second edition of The Book(TM), isn’t it? There is a second edition, right?
Too bad this year’s book signing tour to Japan had to be cancelled again. But there is little point making the journey and then spending the whole time quarantined. Hopefully next year will be better.
I know, this pandemic stuff just isn’t any fun any more. I wish I’d spent more time traveling when I had the chance.
If by “second edition” you mean a second book, then yes, I’ve got one in the works. Of course, being terminally lazy as I am, it’ll take a bit of time. I’ve got a few other things taking priority right now, but hopefully I’ll get back on track soon.
I’m not entirely sure how you can still believe in Japanese politeness, outside yoshinoya.
My vision of Japanese politeness properly includes men walking into me rather than give a centimeter of pavement; the occasional shove without bothering to glance; the two average-looking guys in their mid-20s who headlocked and beat an Indian guy bloody within two meters of bouncers in front of a club in Roppongi the other night, with the bouncers keeping carefully void, tough guy expressions while this guy was pummeled and shouting for help; the college age guy who smacked his girlfriend on the ground on a major street in Shibuya and dragged her by her hair across the ground until I stopped him. Where is your glib and judgment-laden blog post on the small and at times random acts of violence that go unreported, perpetrated by normal looking ikemen-wannabes or rougher types smacking drunk women to “wake them up” in full public view? I think that aspect of Japan goes unacknowledged, certainly in media, and I don’t see politeness so much as carefully maintained distance and detachment. I’m assured these things happen Elsewhere too, so I shouldn’t get too ruffled when I see casual violence go unacknowledged, but I live here, not Elsewhere, and my memories of witnessing violence at home don’t all end in a shrug and deflection towards “what.you foreigners did to Japanese the other night” from the police.
Heavy stuff. Thanks for sharing.
Let me add to that tremendous comment.
The constant groping reports about young girls (many of them underage), recent news of a man accused of killing his wife and 1-year-old daughter, the Police officer arrested for assaulting a 13 y/o girl, fathers abusing her own daughters and please don’t forget the arson-killing events.
This clearly shows that japanese aren’t kind at all. That japanese politeness comes from a young age where they learn that they can’t show emotions, the can’t show feelings, they can’t express things because they will be judged, killed or crushed. Btw… If only ken could do an analysis of this topic it would be great.
As you say, happens everywhere, but japanese know how to portray themselves as the good ones, as the cutie-goodie (and this also goes for women). They love to portray themselves as the cutie little pies but in the inside you will see the frenetic/psychotic monster who has been hiding all his/herlife.
Japan’s politeness stand out because it is not kindness, compassion, nor empathy, it’s just a mere protocol.
Be careful folks.
I’d say expectation’s got a lot to do with it.
There are plenty of countries where you wouldn’t be surprised to encounter rude, unkind, or dangerous people. Somehow Japan’s convinced the world—and itself to some extent—that it’s an exception. That’s rather astonishing, considering its reputation during the Second World War as a nation of cruel savages, invading, torturing, and killing both the enemy and its own citizens. Somehow all those folks just vanished, to be replaced by cute girls in maid outfits and Hello Kitty.
Now, Japan’s a big place, with every sort of person. There are kind people and shitty people, and it’s certainly safer than some nations. But there’s a lot of crime as well, much (perhaps most) of which goes unreported. Virtually every woman I know has been groped, flashed, or otherwise physically and sexually assaulted. A lady I know told me about her childhood grade-school friend being pulled into a car by a man. The lady, who at the time was just a young girl herself, grabbed her friend’s hand and tried to pull her back out. Other schoolchildren joined in and suddenly they were in a human chain tug-of-war with the man, pulling the little girl back and forth. Finally, the man gave up and sped away. That’s just one of dozens of such stories I’ve heard.
Tourists and short-term visitors are unlikely to encounter this. As you point out, Japanese culture demands one present a pleasant exterior, and repress any actual emotion. When what’s inside actually comes out—after payday and well-fueled by alcohol—it’s wacky and unpredictable. Men strip off all their clothes in karaoke booths; drunk women vomit into plastic bags on the train; men and women pass out on the sidewalk and others simply step around them. People really do lose their minds.
But hey, lots of shit happens the world over. Japan’s a fine enough place. At least it’s got plenty of convenience stores and 100-yen shops. Just see the cracks around the edges and don’t buy into the myth of it being some sort of perfect, polite, and utterly safe nation.
I think people confuse social etiquette with politeness or niceness. In Japan, there are ways one is expected to interact with others based on their position. Boss to subordinates, staff to customers and so on. When visitors to Japan are treated as customers and see others around them in public holding themselves with a sense of decorum, they are often pleased to see this and assume that it comes from some kind of “goodness” within the individuals. In a sense it is. It comes from the Chinese sense of morality (Confucian, not modern so much) which, as opposed to the traditional Western sense of universal morality, is based more on how one interacts with others in specific situations. So, someone might be a horrible, evil person, but as long as they behave in the appropriate manner towards others in the context of their respective positions, they are behaving in the correct way as human beings. In other cultures, a member of staff can treat customers horribly and still see themselves as a good person based on other moral standards. Just throwing this out there based on what I’ve read. Could be way off….
That’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.
Now, from my perspective—and maybe I’ve just been here too long, but—I would never think to associate Japanese people with politeness. That seems off the mark.
I’ve made the comparison between Japanese society and the military before, and I believe it holds true here as well. I wouldn’t necessarily call a group of soldiers “polite.” Disciplined, yes. Pretty good at marching, standing in a straight line, obeying orders, sure. And so it is with Japanese society. Both are kept in line by strict rules and the threat of swift punishment. But polite, or nice…yeah, I dunno. Not particularly. They’re simply doing what’s necessary to get by as well as possible given the constraints under which they’re operating.
Western folks mistake bowing for politeness in the same way Japanese people mistake handshakes for friendliness.
I loved living in Japan, except for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
It doesn’t really faze me. It’s being unable to visit my family and friends in the States, regardless of the season, that bothers me.
More gold from Ken, for those that are new here or have just forgotten about his previous master pieces give this a crack.
Ah, an oldie but a goodie. Those were some fun times—thanks for bringing them back.
Whaa…? This is your last/latest post? I have to go back to my books n kdramas n youtube videos and twiddling my fingers? Dang.
It’s been a pleasure. And thank you for still being around and replying to comments, even though it’s like Back to The Future with current Ken talking to some stranger commenting on old posts. It’s interesting to see how you’ve transitioned.
You’ll hear from me again. I have some comments yet to be made on Japanese culture/life and what I love about it.
Wow, you write in English pretty well. Almost as well as you use chopsticks, probably.
Just kidding. Keep up the good work, Ken. Happy Valentine’s day, too. Hope you got some tasty chocolate raisins from your new hot Japanese girlfriend.
Having lived in Japan this long, both my English and, strangely enough, my chopstick skills have noticeably declined. On the plus side, I now fit right in, mumbling unintelligibly while shoveling food into my mouth. So things are looking right up.
As for a hot Japanese girlfriend, mnnnyeaah, I believe that’s an oxymoron.
What’s more likely to happen this month, WW3 or Seeroisan publishing a new post?
What a choice. So that’s what it’s come down to…write something or it’s World War III. Looks like it’s up to Seeroi to save the planet once again. Knew I shouldn’t have sent out my cape for dry cleaning.
If our beloved Seeroisan is running out of ideas (is that possible when discussing Japan?) I thought of something the other day.
Sooner of later Japan will open up again to foreign visitors who look forward to being confused about the culture and the train system. Travel and awkwardness go together in some odd symbiotic relationship. When the travel ban for Japan is over people like myself are looking forward to discovering that they really should’ve studied Japanese and Kanji more than the five minutes it normally takes to study a foreign language.
On this premise I suggest that you should write an article on the ten (or so) places that are really worth ones time (and currency) visiting in Japan. Now before you scream “There’s a zillion websites about visiting Japan you friggin’ moron!” or “Just Google it you idiot.” let me say that no travel website, blog or previous internet post on the interweb could or will ever match what you’re recommendations could ever possibly be. I can only imagine what absurd ridiculous places you could come up with. No stupid Maid Cafes or lame urine smelling Cat Island. No overpriced Benihana wanna-bes or overpriced Hello Kitty souvenir stores. I and your readers want the real sh*t. Now granted the real sh*t might scare us first timers to never go back to Japan but I’ve felt the same way about a number of places I’ve traveled to. And that’s here in the US! “I’m never going to ‘fill in the blank’ state again ever. Never!”
With your writing style I’m positive it will be an entertaining article that’s both satire and informative, something your readers will not never find in some cheesy “I Heart Japan!” crappy travel vlog.
Anyway, hope you give it some thought, I think you’ll have fun writing it as much as we will reading it while we all wait for WW3.
Here’s a few Tokyo-based ideas off the top of my head after living here past 5 years:
>Visit Shibuya scramble crossing. Cross it a few times. Don’t be one of those people who stops in the middle to take a video. Then walk a couple blocks and take an elevator up to Celavie cafe where you can enjoy a drink and enjoy the city view.
>Walk the triangle from Shibuya station to Omotesando station to Harajuku station. If you like, take a detour to Nezu Museum along the way. Allow plenty of time to stop at any shop, cafe or restaurant that strikes your fancy.
>Take the Yamanote line up to Shinjuku. Walk slowly throughout kabukicho and goldengai. Marvel at the variety of shady services offered to you. Do not stop, interact with anyone, or reveal that you have cash in any way. Possibly make an exception for the robot restaurant if it reopens, as an example of a JP spectacle, knowing that it is a tourist trap.
>If you love Korean food or shopping, go one more stop on the Yamanote to Shin-okubo and get some food. Option to walk from golden-gai.
>Take the train to Kagurazaka and walk around. If you are a fan of french food, make a reservation at of the the restaurants in abundance due to the French school formerly located here.
>Take the shinkansen to Nagano and go for a hike, or head to the Karuizawa shopping street popular with JP tourists and fans of tasty mochi or ice cream snacks. Option to stay at Hotel Wellies, owned by Rolling Stones-loving guy from the UK.
>Take the train out to Kichijoji station. Walk around Inokashira park and enjoy the seasonal foliage or flowers. Grab a coffee or craft beer at Sidewalk Coffee. If you an anime fan, visit the Ghibli museum near there.
>Take the train to Shimokitazawa and walk around the eclectic shopping streets. Get a burger and craft beer at Coasters. Practice your French with the owner.
>Recall during your trip that the best places for free and no-hassle wifi will be independantly owned cafes and pubs (like the ones named above). The chain cafes and ‘free tourist wifi’ spots all require irritating email signups with limited time access.
It certainly sounds like a good idea, so props for the suggestion.
Thing is, most of the truly interesting spots I’ve been would be horrible for visitors. They’re frequently smoky, dilapidated, have no name, no street address, and you definitely need to be comfortable speaking entirely in Japanese. They’re often unwelcoming and you’d probably have a terrible time. Hell, even I don’t enjoy going there, if I can even remember where the place is. But it’s like trekking to the South Pole, you know? You don’t do it for fun and comfort.
I think most folks really want Japan Lite—something a little Disney, but not dirty, skeevy, or hostile. Somewhere people are at least moderately friendly and you probably won’t get your wallet boosted. Yeah, so that’d be an Irish bar. But for whatever reason I’m always, in the words of Paul Simon, “seeking out the poorer quarters where the ragged people go.” If that’s your poison, Japan’s got plenty of it. Just look for the side of the station with all the crowds and neon. Then head the opposite direction. Take lots of cash, watch your back, and look for places only open to Asian-looking people. And welcome to Japan.
Those are just the sort of areas that I like. When came to Japan I stayed in Meguro and spent ages wandering the little back streets, just wandering around for the enjoyment. A couple of times people asked if I was lost.
When I used to live in Hong Kong I lived in an area which was essentially just a couple of levels above “shanty town”, a hundred or so houses built on top of each other clinging to the side of the cliff.
Pls Ken write more I am so bored without you! D:
I hear you.
Dude, did you run off to get married and are working on baby number two?
MISS YOU! ;-; <3
I’m convinced he’s married with a couple of kids. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The man is a mystery for sure, he seems to thrive in his secrecy. I dare anyone to attempt to find a picture of him. How old is he? Where does he live? Is he single or married? Is he even a he, or is he a she? It wouldn’t surprise me to find out he leads a double life working as a sushi chef, train pusher or vending machine placement scout. Perhaps he’s the infamous D.B. Cooper of plane hijacking fame or ex CIA rouge. Some day in the future someone will write a biography about our elusive Seeroisan and sell a few dozen books or so.
Thrive in his secrecy? You guys are hilarious.
So a couple of things about that:
First of all, I never intended this site to be about me, but rather about Japan. I know that might be hard to fathom in the Instagram-famous world we’ve built for ourselves, but I’ve really no interest in posing shirtless on a yacht surrounded by half-naked models. Of course, I realize I factor into the stories because, well, I’m here, but still, I’m really just trying to accurately portray Japan, albeit from my perspective.
Secondly, to me, what you’ve described seems backwards. Why would anybody allow their pictures and personal information to be posted on the internet? And people upload them voluntarily? Are you out of your mind? I can think of a whole bunch of reasons why you wouldn’t want to do that. That’s why Ken Seeroi has a no-phones-allowed policy on his yacht, although women occasionally try to sneak them aboard in their bikinis. I really hate to strip search you, but hey, rules are rules.
When I still wrote blog (in the olden days of the internet) I had pretty much the same policy. No pictures of me and mine and if pictures then blurred.
But some of my readers kept badgering me, so there are a few pictures with faces on the internet somewhere I suppose. It never hurt me, luckily.
Almost done with a new piece. Just a few days more…
Thanks for your concern, but the answer to that would be no and hell no. Just bizzy doin other shit.