The 9 Best Things about Japan

Also known as, “Why on Earth am I Still Here?”

So the bad news is, I shattered a wine glass all over my new carpet last night. The good news is, hey, I got a new carpet. See, there’s a bright side to everything.

So today I woke up with the window wide open and this terrifying headache and did a quick systems check. Do I have on underwear? Apparently so. Are they my own? Hmm, pink and satiny, yeah, those’d be mine. Is anyone beside me? Perhaps she left to buy a vacuum cleaner. Do I have many small pieces of glass embedded in my feet? Sure feels like it. Oh God, why am I still in Japan? Then I looked at the clock and Whoa, no time for that—-McDonald’s breakfast service ends in 9 minutes! I still can’t figure out why it’s physically impossible to drop a freaking frozen hash brown into boiling oil after 10:30 a.m., but apparently it is. Ah, science, there’s still so much you can’t explain.

First Time in Japan

Well, there’s nothing like an Egg McMuffin to clear your head, that’s what I always say. All that cholesterol does wonders for the old cranial arteries. So while I was hunched over my molded yellow table trying to decide if I was having a stroke, a hangover, or both, I briefly blacked out into this flashback of coming to Japan for the first time, in which I played the part of Dorothy landing in Oz—-everything was weird and funny and there were all these midget people running around. I had a band of friends with no brains or hearts, none of us could read or say anything that made sense, and everything we did was wrong. All that was missing was the annoying little dog, although there were plenty of stray cats. My first day, I went jogging and then couldn’t find my hotel again. Later I walked into an elevator and a guy in a suit hugged me. People helped me dress myself, showed me how to eat, and taught me how to use the toilet. It was awesome.

Nothing stays new forever though. Eventually the Yellow Brick Road ended and I could order my own potato salad in a restaurant. Then I stopped getting on the train going the opposite direction. At some point I figured out what the buttons on my TV remote did and quit talking to people with my hands in my pockets. Men stopped hugging me. I do kind of miss that.

But although Japan has become familiar, there’s still a lot I don’t know. Now, I’m sure you’re saying, What, Ken Seeroi not know something? And yes, I too find it difficult to believe, but there you have it. For example, I still don’t know the name of the street I live on after a year and a half. I’m starting to suspect it doesn’t actually have a name though. Anyway if it does, you know it ain’t gonna be like Maple Avenue or something. More like 紅葉通り. See, impossible. Not my fault.

Japan Versus America

So that’s part of what keeps me here—-the remaining Mysteries of the Orient. Like, say, my washing machine. I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave Japan before I figure out when to add the fabric softener. But that’s just me. I like soft clothes. At the same time, the U.S. seems increasingly bizarre. What kind of a country has no public transportation? And don’t say “Uh, the bus?” because I rode one of those once and it didn’t even go in a straight line. And where else in the world is it legal to carry a gun, but you get arrested for walking down the street with a beer? Why is there no permit which will allow me to keep a spare can strapped to my ankle? I promise I won’t use it unless provoked.

Which is to say that if I now see the downsides to Japan—-the concrete poured all over the hillsides, the power lines that mess up every picture of a temple I try to take, the waitresses who ask if I can use chopsticks because I’m, you know, white—-I also know that no place is perfect. Well okay, maybe Finland. But then I’d have to cross-country ski everywhere and wear like a reindeer suit, so that’s out. You gotta draw the line somewhere. Although I do look stunning in deer horns. So really, all countries, and all things, have good and bad, and I accept that. Donuts are delicious but fattening. Old men are wise but have backs that’re all hairy. Girls with big boobs have big butts. That’s just how God made the universe. Hey, it was his first try so, well, A for effort.

Nuts & Bolts

Then there are the practical considerations. Leaving Japan isn’t that easy. Probably should’ve thought about that before moving here, but well, I’m not real big on planning. I enjoy surprises. So now—surprise—I’ve got a crapload of stuff: a comfy couch, a rice cooker, and a miniature motorcycle. Not to mention an apartment, a job, a new carpet that glitters like glass, and more girlfriends than I can shake a stick at. Trust me, I’ve tried. On top of that, I hate cleaning and packing because they resemble work which I’m allergic to, so that alone is enough to keep me from moving forever. Then I’d have to buy a plane ticket for about a thousand bucks which I don’t have and when I got the States I’d have to live under a bridge until Starbucks hired me because I’ve now got a giant Japan-sized hole on my resume. So it’s not that easy to just pack up and move, is what I’m saying.

And if I did move back to the U.S., I doubt I’d ever visit Japan again. I mean, why would I, really? Pay tons of money for a plane ticket, hotel rooms, train passes, food—-all for like two weeks? Hell, I’m already here; why not just stay a couple weeks longer?

I’d almost certainly not live here again. It took a lot of time, cash, and effort to get set up in this crazy country. I can’t really see dismantling all that—quitting my job, giving away my microwave with all the buttons I still don’t understand, saying tearful goodbyes to everyone—-and then coming back a year later, like Just kidding! Now can I please have my tiny apartment back?

Learning Japanese

Then there’s the language. You know, I don’t like to say that I wasted ten years of my life studying Japanese. Instead, I prefer invested ten years of my life, because it sounds much better. Phraseology is everything. The truth is that learning Japanese has been ridiculously time-consuming, moderately interesting, and even marginally useful. And now that I’ve gotten to the point where I can finally use the telephone without paralyzing fear, it seems a shame to scrap the whole project. If I’d learned Spanish, I could travel to a dozen countries and use the language. With French, at least I could go to Quebec. But Japanese? It’s basically here or nothing, and why keep working on the language after giving up on the country? Well, at least I can now order sushi like a boss anywhere on earth, so that’s something. You should hear me pronounce “edamame.” In a word, Sublime.

Bored, Jaded, or Just Slowly Turning Japanese

After you’ve been here for a few years, you know, things change. Japan stops being a foreign country and just becomes, what? home? I mean, it’s not like you’re living in a hotel forever, even if the room’s the same size. The tourist attractions that were so fascinating at first, they become an everyday background, until you find yourself walking through Kyoto with a friend and you’re like,

“Whoa, look at that!

“Yeah sure, a ten thousand year-old temple encrusted with pure gold. Been there, so what.

“No fool, behind the temple—-a new Kentucky Fried Chicken!

“Daaamn. They have a new seasonal menu! Let’s go take photos with Colonel ojisan.”

So that Japanesey stuff—all the geisha, karate, robot, maid cafe business—-it’s not real life in Japan to me any more, just some bizarre thing I read about on the internet. Like no way I’m taking a picture of a sumo wrestler; I’m more interested in bumping him out of the way so I can get a seat on the train first. Hit low and catch them off-balance, is my advice. Still, there are a few things that I love about Japan, and that I’d really miss if I left.

The 9 Best Things About Japan

1. The food is amazing. I can get sushi at the 7-Eleven that puts to shame a fifty dollar dinner in the U.S. None of those California rolls and week-old sashimi that people rave about in the States. Then there’s the restaurant I stop at after work, where everyone says “welcome home, Seeroi-san.” It’s like my house, if my mom had been both Japanese and hated vacuuming. So it’s a little shabby, whatever. But I can get a full, home-cooked meal for around six bucks. That’s everything—food, drinks, tax, tip. It probably helps if you like Japanese home-cooking though. The meatloaf and green bean casserole are a wee bit different.

2. Okay, just the entire dining experience. Like, ever have a waiter come to your table just as you shovel in a mouth-load of food and ask “How is everything?” Not in Japan you didn’t. Here if you need something, you call for it, and if you don’t, they leave you the hell alone as God intended. And when you do ask for, say, a beer—Boom, it just comes. Like in ten seconds. Why the same exact request takes ten minutes in the U.S., I’ve never been able to fathom.

3. Japan is cheap. You can live in a clean, safe apartment in a reasonable neighborhood of Tokyo for 800 bucks a month. Or cut that in half if you live in a smaller city. I’m trying to imagine the rat-filled hellhole I’d rent in like Chicago or Seattle for $400 a month, and it’s pretty terrifying. Of course, if you want to live in a big place it’s gonna cost you more. So just live in a small place, is what I figure. That’s just less I have to clean. I mean, hypothetically, should I ever decide to.

4. The trains. You don’t need a car. So I was talking to an American friend of mine about this and he said “No, I like driving.” Now, I feel that. I also like the idea of whipping through the ocean spray as my tires grip the surface of an endless winding road—that sounds great, but the reality is that I’m actually sitting in traffic for hours plotting to murder the person who cut me off while badly needing to pee. And that’s less great. Then there are the hundreds of thousands of dollars that buying, maintaining, and insuring cars costs throughout one’s lifetime that I’d rather use for something more useful, like beer, which I can drink plenty of and then safely pass out on the train ride home.

5. National health insurance. Even when I took a few months off from work (okay, like a year), it only cost 20 bucks a month and could still go to the doctor. Sure, maybe with ObamaCare I could go to a public health center in the U.S., if perhaps death or prison were my other options. Actually, I’d choose prison cause it’s less scary. Like I was in this clinic in San Francisco and everyone was crowded into one giant waiting room for hours. Somebody big on planning had thoughtfully equipped the place with exactly nine chairs for a hundred people, and so finally, when this big fat lady left her seat and walked out of the room, I sat down. Then she came back and screamed “That’s my seat!” I jumped up and started looking to dive out of the emergency window. Jeeez fatty, have your plastic chair already.

6. So I guess I’d have to add to the list that Japanese folks aren’t obnoxious. They generally dress like adults (even the kids), have less tattoos than a carny Ferris wheel operator, and don’t reek of cologne. They even have a reputation for being polite (basically a massive PR campaign enlisting every Japanese person to remind you, “We’re polite, you know”), although I wouldn’t go that far. They have plenty of ways of being rude, but at least they do it freaking quietly. Even the minor put-downs seem almost innocent just because they’re delivered so delicately. “Oh, you can eat sashimi and drink green tea—sugoi!” Really, that impresses you? Just wait till you see me slam a family-size bag of Calbee’s barbecue chips and a 12-pack of Kirin Lager. But anyway, at least they’re subtle about it, which I appreciate.

7. Japanese leisure activities. Singing karaoke until 4 a.m. and then sleeping in the booth until dawn. Floating in a bath under the stars at an outdoor hot spring. Sleeping in Starbucks and nobody bothers you. Passing out after a festival on the grass. Okay, I like to sleep a lot. It keeps my skin radiant and youthful. And the department store free samples, arcade photo booths, batting cages, all that stuff. Okay, I’ve never actually been to a batting cage, but it seems kind of fun, what with the flying baseballs and all. So maybe this weekend.

8. Convenience. Convenience stores on every corner. Color printers and fax machines in convenience stores. A vending machine at the top of a mountain when I’m out for a hike. Taxis everywhere. Underwear in the convenience stores for those times when you’re not feeling that fresh. Taxi doors that open automatically. Toilets that flush automatically and partitions that go all the way to the ground. All that adds up to time and energy saved that I can then use for other things, like, well, drinking beer. Man, I really gotta get a new hobby. Hey, I tried wine and look how well that worked out, so I guess it’s back to shochu.

9. All the little things. Taking off shoes indoors. Buying fresh vegetables outdoors. Not fearing for my life when I take a couple hundred bucks out of the ATM at night. The city workers that pick up cigarette butts and discarded cans of coffee and cut the limbs off the trees every November before the autumn leaves can litter the ground. Eating pasta with chopsticks.

Well of course I figured I’d write The 10 Best Things About Japan, but when I came back from McDonalds I got so busy dragging my new carpet onto the balcony and trying to de-wineglassify it that I got stuck at nine. Sorry, workplace hazard. And then when I put on the little balcony slippers I could kind of imagine they were ruby-colored, even though they’re in fact blue, and anyway I thought maybe I’d try saying “There’s no place like home” a few times just to see what happened.

There’s no place like home.

But then when I said it, I realized, Hm, yeah, there really is no place. No place like home any more, and that was kind of strange and a bit nostalgic. But I guess the incantation actually worked, because I had another moment of clarity. Probably shouldn’t have eaten those three hash browns now that I think about it. Anyway, the clarity said, Well Seeroi, you’re certainly not in Kansas now. In fact, you’ve never even been to Kansas. And hell, you’re not even in Oz any more. What you are is a tall white guy in satiny underwear and little blue slippers flapping a big red carpet off a balcony, somewhere in the middle of Japan. And then I realized how fortunate I am to have a balcony that gets such good sunlight, and that made me kind of happy.

97 Replies to “The 9 Best Things about Japan”

  1. There should be a draw or shoot for the fabric softener, and it goes in at the same time as the clothes. I guess you weren’t really trying to figure it out, but hey, now I can tick “do good on the internet” off my list for today 😉

    1. Alas, my pre Meiji-era washer has no such convenience. There’s a lamp that goes on after like 11 minutes when I’m supposed to add the softener, but since my attention span is only good for 45 seconds, I routinely miss the narrow window of softness.

      This isn’t exactly biggest problem in the world, but it is just one of those, you know, things. If only there were some device which could be used for timing—like maybe something I could craft from a candle, mousetrap, and bell. Probably be a big hit too. I’ll keep you posted.

        1. Downy ball . . . what witchcraft is this? You know, the last time I was back in America, I went looking for something like that, because I thought I remembered it from my childhood, but when I asked my mom about it she was like, What? A ball for softener? Never heard of it. So I thought maybe I just dreamed it up or something. Okay, so now I know two things. First, I gotta get to Donki and find one of these, and second, my mom’s been lying to me, like the time she said we were having all-beef hot dogs for dinner and then they turned out to contain fillers and by-products. Anyway, good to know.

  2. Ken, very emotional writing, thank you!

    I’ve been there – came to US from another world, was looking for “home”, calculating pros and cons of living here and there (spoiler: place where my favorite and good paying job was locating won.)
    Someone told me that you can MAKE a place home. pretty simple thought really, but we have so much power over the world, it’s scary. We can start a family, a business, join a military, or retire to a farm and grow something delicious for the rest of our life. You are right to admit that no place is perfect, and anywhere you will go – that includes back to US – will have enough cons. From my experience traveling to japan, thr drawbacks are worth putting up with. You could live your whole life there happily, I think.

    Another thought: have you considered a traveling job (marketing, software engineering, training, translating, etc.) with a an international company? In my line of work I know a few people who are really happy doing that – you will go between Japan and other countries, interpreting, meeting new people, seeing new places, making good money, and not worn out by the sameness of japan (Japan is big on sameness, as you surely would agree!)

    Big drawback to traveling job is it’s hard to start and maintain a family. But maybe it’s not in your immediate plans anyway.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. I’m trying to picture how much it’d freak people out to see a white guy in a Japanese SDF military uniform. I think I’ll probably have to settle for retiring and growing daikon instead.

      A job with an international company does sound good . . . like maybe be captain of The Love Boat or something. Just let me know where to send the resume.

    2. What Ken says in his “About” section of his website.

      “Moving on. After my Roppongi adventure, I flew back to Japan for a couple of weeks every year, before finally settling here in 2008. I’ve had a dozen jobs at this point, some of them good, and some bad. Well, most were pretty horrible, actually. Japan isn’t known for it’s easygoing work environment. I’ve made the yen equivalent of hundreds of dollars an hour (good), and other times got paid nothing more than beer and rice (slightly less good). What can I say, it’s a pretty bipolar country. But maybe that’s why I feel so at home here.”

  3. I like these kind of lists as each of them is unique.
    I’m sure that my list would look different, but I love reading about what other people like here in Japan. ^__^

    You’re absolutely right. Unfortunately there is no best place – if so, I’d live there.
    And I’m sure all of us have thought about “[Insert Home Country] vs. Japan” too many times.
    There’s a reason why you and me are still here, I suppose. 😉

    I agree that it’s very time-consuming to study Japanese. It’s probably the language that took me the longest to …. somewhat master. I’d never say it’s wasted time, so I like your “investment” approach. *g*
    I do admit that I stopped studying at some point – now that I can manage my everyday life here. I probably should work harder on my English instead. Meanwhile I’ve given up on my native language – as I’m the only person who speaks it here and there and everywhere and talking to yourself all the time becomes super boring.

    Where was I? Oh, yes, THE LIST!

    Certainly I love the fact that you don’t need a car. I hate driving (especially in my home country where speed limits on the highway don’t exist …).
    I’ve managed to live in Japan without a car for 4 years, but since moving I need a car for work and it’s great! I prefer that to being squeezed into a train with hundreds of others. For traveling, though, I still prefer public transportation whenever possible! 🙂

    Can’t agree on the health insurance part, though. I guess it depends where you’re from.
    I have to go to the doc regularly and so I have to pay a lot of money in addition to the monthly fee I pay for health insurance. In my home country I only pay a monthly fee and can go to a clinic as often as I want, no extra money involved.
    Oh well, who knows when that’s gonna change. Seems like everything is going down the disaster road back home recently.

    Anyways, thanks for your list. Was a pleasure to read as always.
    I wish I could write like you, but I fear my English makes me sound like an elementary school kid – and if I were to write in my native language, then only a few people could read it. So, I’ll just continue with my primary-level English blog entries! Yay! 😉

    1. Thanks always for your comments—I think you’re a good writer, and I love your photos.

      I probably don’t need to tell you, but many Japanese people carry supplementary health insurance, since the national insurance only covers 85%. That extra, private insurance can cover the remaining 15%, and it wasn’t too expensive when I had it. If you don’t have that, you should definitely look into it. Just a thought.

  4. I bursted out laughing at that part about Finland, I’d just like to add that ice-swimming and a blazing hot sauna are also a mandatory part of any proper visit here 😉

    Seriously tho I love your writings, might just be the next best thing to actually visiting Japan one day. Keep up the good work! 😀

    1. Gaaaa~ ice swimming? Are you people insane? Hot sauna I can deal with, since it helps me sweat out the potato chips, but otherwise I work hard to preserve my core body temperature.

      I hope you do visit Japan some day. At every onsen, there’s usually a cold bath as well, so maybe you’ll feel right at home.

      1. Hi again Ken!

        I somehow got the feeling that you don’t know how the proper sauna works. No offence intended, just trowing some numbers and few more crazys in the mix as a Finn… ^^
        Proper sauna is one using wood sitting next to your cottage, which is next to a lake. If it’s good one, you can (or at least I try to) get temperature between 120-140 celsius, stay there 10-15 minutes and run buttnaked to the lake to cool off. Grab a beer and rinse and repeat for a whole day. Maybe you can stop for a moment to eat some sausages wrapped in aluminium foil with some beer mixed in. Those are cooked on sauna stove by the way.
        During winter you just run outside, roll in snow and speed back to sauna when you feel your balls are trying to leap at your spine. Not to mention that shrinking part….

        I just hate electric saunas we have in city areas because it’s hard to get to even to 100 celsius for an extended period before it cools down too much… ._.

        When you’re fresh out of sauna and floating in a swimming pool, gazing starry skies and auroras with scenery windows in front of you that keep that -20 degree air outside. With a beer in your hand. And my hairy ass flashing occasionally to the security camera (you weren’t supposed to be naked in that pool). Ah, the old times in seasonal job after workday…

        But anyways, again good article from you (Finland part made me chuckle for a some time) and I’ll be waiting my random dose of your articles in future as well. These should come in handy if I get in that exchange proram next year from May to July. Or then I’m gonna get labeled as one of those crazy finnish guys. Meh, would most likely get labeled as one eventually anyways so it can’t hurt (too much) to try out some things while visiting Japan?

        1. Wow, that sounds fantastic. I feel like I could do that all day, every day. Still not too sure about the whole rolling-in-the-freezing-snow thing, but I like the beer and sausages part. If I ever leave Japan, I’m heading straight to that cottage by the lake.

      2. Hey Ken,
        If you get enough groupies on this blog that decide to visit you in Japan you could end up becoming a tourist guide. But you could be the kind of guide that shows Japan from a non-traditional tourist sense.

        Now imagine taking your tourists to izakaya bars, meeting the Japanese ladies that want to get married, riding the train to wherever, participating in Japan’s national holidays when they come around, hitting up that new KFC, sampling the sushi at the local 7-11, giving the smackdown to some Yakuza thug, and much, much more!

        1. You know, I have thought about that. It sounds a lot like getting paid to take people out and get them drunk. But if there’s a market for that, then yeah, I’m your man.

          1. There’s a market for private tour guides, and it pays pretty good too.

            I’ve heard of agencies that will set you up with people, but of course, the pay is better if you go solo.

            Count me in as a blog groupie, I’d love to take you out for a beer or 12 next time I’m there. I married in to Japan, we go back nearly once a year to see my wife’s family.

            1. Somehow I can just picture me leading half a dozen people out for the evening, winding up in a smoky izakaya way too late, sprinting through the streets for the last train, and then having to tell everybody, “Well, we didn’t make it, but that’s okay, I know a noodle shop where we can sleep at the counter until dawn.” This seems a completely realistic possibility.

              Thanks for reading. Maybe I’ll take you up on that beer one of these days.

  5. I think you’ve done an outstanding job this time.

    I’ve done all the thinking on many items in this list, and recently did one level further. You’re talking about home is here in Japan now, and I’ve had similar thoughts. Nothing is really new anymore, nothing is particularly strange, and I am quite happy with where I am and what I am doing. So I decided to look into citizenship (not just permanent residence).

    Want a way to rock that “homey” feeling? Read about full citizenship. After the “must renounce all other citizenships” to become Japanese part, it really made me question whether I actually felt like this was home, or if I had just become complacent. The thought of giving up my foreign citizenship (when so many countries in the world allow dual status, including my own) just drove out any thoughts that I was particularly comfortable being here for the long run.

    It’s a weird set of feelings I tell ya.

    1. Yeah, I’ve also looked into becoming a Japanese citizen. It seems like a reasonable next step. Or maybe unreasonable, but well, a step for sure. I think if someone really wants to live in Japan for the rest of his or her life, and assimilate as much as possible, then it’s worth considering. On the other hand, of the few people I’ve heard about who’ve done it, none of them seem very happy. Personally, I love the idea, but then I do a lot of dumb things so I’m probably not the best role model.

        1. Hah, that’s about it! Citizenship brings with it all the benefits of righteous indignation and perpetual resentment enjoyed by immigrants throughout the world. Greatest idea ever.

  6. I really enjoyed this entry! I was in a cranky mood, read this during a break, and looked up to a student inviting me (with a bow and the invitation turned toward me) to the “manner lunch” tomorrow. Looked up with a big smile. I’ll bookmark this entry for those times when the cons stick out a bit much. “Floating in a bath under the stars at an outdoor hot spring” was a really good line, by the way.

    1. Thanks much. I know, I try to remind myself daily of all the things I like about living here, both big and small.

      I love about 92% of everything in Japan; it’s a great place. But once in a while the small things add up. Someone who hasn’t lived overseas for an extended period of time would probably struggle to understand how completely miniscule occurrences (like the waitress who handed me a fork just yesterday, seriously) start to add up. It’s like Ah Japan, so close! You’d be perfect if you just fixed like one or two little things.

      But I figure, if you can’t change the world, you can always change your outlook. Well, maybe. Coincidentally, I did buy some new sunglasses today that make everything bright neon yellow, and surprisingly, they help. Think I’ll just wear those everywhere from now on.

      1. Yeah, I have almost no culture shock compared to the next person, but I do have days when I think everyone/everything is stupid (usually when it is winter and I am freezing and everyone says “ganbatte” instead of “how about central heating?”) What has helped me most is thinking of my cousin, who did this program about twenty years ago (heyday, but hey!). She moaned, “If only I could go back, the good old days…” So I try to look at pictures of farewell parties and know that those crying people would want to stay just a bit longer now that all the good things are rushing back to them, to just do this or that. I keep going from there. Keep reminding myself that this is fleeting and that I will miss it a lot. Then I am not sure if I ever want to leave. That and I return to my desk with a chocolate dropped there. Mysterious omiyage gods.

  7. Hi Ken, I really look forward to your posts. Read them immediately and share on FB. I lived in Japan 10 years and came back to NYC last April. Having to get rid of my stuff, and leave a spotless apt. totally stressed me out. But between gomi, sodai-gomi, and the random “take my junk away” man, I did it. Also, I was not moving directly back to the USA, rather taking a week to do business in various parts of Italy, so I left Japan with just a backpack – after 10 years. Talk about a purge. But tearful goodbyes? From japanese? uh, no. But I went through that “no place feels like home anymore” phase. And then i said, “wimp!”. In fact, I admire people who are rootless and can live out of a suitcase and work anywhere. Anyway, the reason I went to Italy was to sign papers for my dual citizenship. And since Italy is in the EU, pow! – i’m now a citizen of 17 more countries, plus the US. You should investigate whether you are eligible, through genealogy, for dual citizenship. Then you won’t have to choose between Japan and the US. Because, yes, Japanese people are polite and New Yorkers are the reigning champs of rudeness. 78 years running, I believe. After 10 years in Japan, those people got on my nerves too. But now that I’m back in NYC, I miss those little tykes. Can’t wait to try Europe, and see what their damage is. I’ll definitely go back to visit Japan sometime.

    1. Man, leaving after 10 years, that sounds—what? traumatic? fantastic? Gotta hand it to you for getting rid of all your stuff and the one-backpack approach. For me, permanent residence is probably the way to go. Either that or the citizen-of-the-world patch. I have a jacket that’d look good on.

  8. I’ve been reading your post from some time now and I wanted to thank your for sharing them. It’s wonderful to see the goods and bads of a foreigner’s life in Japan, and to get a shared slice of that life. I myself am a foreigner as was not born here (Italy), but came because of my parents 9 years ago. And many things, including the cultural wall is a thing I’m not new to, even if Japan is on a whole new level.

    Again, thank you for sharing a slice of your life, it really warms the heart to get to live it, even for a few minutes, even only by reading.


    1. Thanks a lot. Well, at least if you look fairly Italian, you can blend in to some extent. I’d pretty much need plastic surgery to get any further here. Hmmm, I probably would look good with a flatter nose.

  9. What a Masterpiece, not just a CM but a real work of art. Ken, you keep raising the bar mang… BRAVO!!!!! I believe that you’ll write that book soon, you definitely have the talent and are truly a Gaijin Sage!!

    I think there is an ideal job for you once you write that book: Playboy. Yes, you need to become the NEXT Hugh Hefner of Japan, (to solve their population problems) and kindle the new baby boom that they desperately need. You need to get the Japanese to have a sexual revolution and love us Gaijin enough to have our babies!! I know you can do it, you are the right man to save Japan. Go Ken; Fight, Win and Populate!

    1. “Fight, Win, and Populate!” does have a nice ring to it, I must admit. Of course, Hugh Hefner was a lot cooler like 40 years ago, before he became all old and Skeletor, but anyway, I’ll see what I can do.

      As for masterpiece, I think it’s the other way around. You just keep raising the bar on your comments, Bud. But thanks for the encouragement!

  10. BTW:

    Throughout his career, XXXXXX remained one of America’s most controversial and colorful authors, combining literary genius with a penchant for the glittering world of high society (as high as you can afford). Though he wrote only a handful of books, his prose styling was impeccable, and his insight into the psychology of human desire was extraordinary. His flamboyant and well-documented (TBD at a later date Mr. Hefner) lifestyle has often overshadowed his gifts as a writer, but over time XXXXXX’s work will outlive the celebrity.

    This section above is from Wiki on a famous author and your last two posts, especially the funny comment on this page about man in the elevator… all reminded me him… I do mean this as a compliment too! Can you guess who it is?

          1. President Capote also wrote “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood”. Truman is from my State and was a close childhood friend of Harper Lee, who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird” and would you believe(FYI): one of the characters, “Dill”, in Ms. Lee’s book is based on Truman Capote, hmmmmm… but I don’t know if that’s really relevant or not?

            Ya know, here’s some more irrelevant stuff:

            In 1976, I was attending the Worldcon in Kansas City Mo., where I was stationed at the time (at the USMC Finance Center). I was listening to a speech given by Robert Heinlin (who also was very similar to you in his irreverent attitude and sexual openness) and afterward, I was stopped by a slender, nerdy, clean-cut looking, bright eyed man who asked me about my military service (since I was dressed in uniform) and in our discussion of where I was stationed at, I just happened to remark that I had been accepted to go to the Naval Academy thru the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport Rhode Island and we talked about what academy life would entail. He asked me if I read “Analog” science fiction magazine and whether I watched Star Trek and I remarked that Yes I did read it and I had met Spock (Leonard Nimoy) at a NASA event and had gotten his autograph, which led to me talking about NASA, since both my parents worked there.

            We then bantered about the hard science of Star Trek and I mentioned that I knew Dr. Von Braun through family connections (My mom was his secretary) and I had been listening to his speeches on traveling to the Moon and Mars and exploring the solar system for years at the summer kids expos and picnics at MSFC (Marshall Space Craft Center). We talked at length about space exploration and he told me about an article that he was writing (and hoped to get published in Analog) about a military space academy of the future. That article turned out to be “Ender’s Game” and it was later turned into an award winning series of books. Just recently, it was released as a Full Motion Picture movie on November 1st of this year, so please go see it, since it’s probably still showing in Japan too. His name was Scott Card.

            The article that Scott wrote when he was 26 took 37 years to become a movie and there were many hiccups along the road, but Scott persevered and he is certainly well off today for all of his hard work, so remember that reaching the pinnacle of writing starts in small steps and you often have to deal with many rejections before being published. I truly believe that your writing is every bit as good as Scott Card’s (I’ve read almost all of his books) and you have a much broader viewpoint and world view than Scott has ever had.

            You weave a story just as well as Scott does and you’re not afraid to speak your mind, as Scott does (sometimes to his detriment). You have a better sense of humor and hyperbole than he does. You’re also not prudish (Scott is a Mormon). You both have lived in different countries and have a great understanding of human nature. The only difference I see as in capabilities as a writer between the two of you is your work ethic (as Scott is second to none on that) and maybe you’re not quite as motivated as he can be. One good payday for your writing work could probably change that feeling overnight.

            I don’t have any connections to the writing profession other than knowing a few good writers personally, but I have a gut feeling about you, that tells me you are definitely capable of writing a great book (“Gomennasi”, I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record player). I’ll be waiting and cheering on the side, hoping that you get some lucky breaks soon, so “Ganbatte ne”!

            1. Bud, I swear when I write my first write a book, I’m gonna have to dedicate it to you. I sure do appreciate your faith in me. Just gotta reform my work ethic, I know. It’s just that I’m so good at being lazy—seems a shame to let such talent go to waste. But okay, I’ll get down to business now, just as soon as I figure out where I left that corkscrew.

  11. A very nice post, so I had to share with a few (foreign) friends that are living in Japan with me.
    We all go through phases where we start to resent small things and before you know it those small things have grown into a huge, dreary cloud over your head. For me, it didn’t occur until after my first full year here, but for others it was much sooner.

    I agree 110% with every great point about Japan you’ve shared. I’m not sure how much longer I will stay here come summer next year, but I will definitely miss all those beautiful things you’ve mentioned. Fried chicken conbini runs at 3am only to find out they are all gone (every time!). That little ‘sold out’ light next to the Mello Yellos. The ‘authentic’ local Italian restaurant that puts mayonnaise on every pizza it sells.
    The all sound like terrible examples, bu they’re the things I’ll think most about with a sly smile when I finally head back home!

    1. Yeah, it’s funny how the small things add up until they’re big things. I think it has to do with constantly being “othered,” which is to say, made to feel like a perpetual outsider. It’s hard to live like that for a long time.

      On the other hand, there are many good points to being outside the system. For the most part, it’s a system I wouldn’t want to be a part of even if I could. And then there are all the little things you mentioned (all food items, by the way (Japan’s best point)), that I would sorely miss if I left.

  12. You wouldn’t be the first person to come here chasing love. I’d only add that you may find Japanese people behave quite differently abroad than they do in their own country. There’s not much to worry about on vacation. In everyday life, there’s a whole other set of concerns and needs that people have to address. But if you have her e-mail, yeah, I’d probably drop her a line.

    1. Thanks for noticing. Well, my current workload is much less than before, so I have a bit of breathing room. Also, I figure if someone goes to the trouble of writing a comment, I should try to reply if possible. And it’s probably good for my brain as well, since it’s nice to use English for a change.

      As for your friend, well you know, every person is unique, so no telling what would happen. It could work out great. You might just want to consider, if it did work out well, then what? I think that’s the math a lot of people don’t seem to do.

  13. Hey Ken, I really enjoyed this one. I think I’ve read it though at least 5 times in the last few days cos it struck home (pun intended). It’s coming up to 5 months since I moved to Japan (where has the time gone!?) and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting about life here versus my home country, Australia.

    I don’t know if I’ll stay for longer than a year which makes me a little sad and even though I’ve got a long time still to go before I have to go, I still feel weirdly nostalgic? But anyway, thanks for writing this. As everyone’s said before, it really was a great piece!

    1. Man, has it been five months already? I always say time passes in Japan much faster than it does other places. Something to do with latitude and the rotation of the earth, I think.

      So why are you going back?

      1. Sorry for the late reply – I blinked and it was a week later. Damn it, Japan!

        So I guess you kinda touched on it in your piece above – the whole “Japan-sized hole in the resume” thing. The longer I stay, the bigger the hole gets, you know? If I knew I wanted to do something Japan-related (translation, embassy work, interpretation etc) then maybe it’d be OK, but based on the fact that I still can’t speak much Japanese (though that’s probably due to my own laziness), I don’t think I will.

        And then of course, there’s friends and family back home. I guess I’ve still got close ties with them and I’d hate to not go through things with them in person..


  14. Great writing there ken.

    I am just a few months from starting my ( I hope really long ) journey in Japan and finding by myself the things that I like or the things that I don’t like about the country, but something is sure:

    When you are trying to get to another country ( emigrating from my country right now is pretty hard ) stuff just doesn’t go as you expect.

    Sometimes I questioned, whether or not I will be able to even put my feet on the country, but then, I will come across an old song, the (lit.) thousands of pages of 漢字 that I wrote or a blog post like this one and that will remind me, why I started this journey two years ago.

    Thanks for this entry Ken.

    About the McDonalds’ thing we can launch a joint research project about that, who knows what we may find.

    1. Yeah, I think there’s a lot of things to like and dislike, the same as anywhere. It’s interesting to see how these things change over time too. What’s great when you first arrive isn’t great later on, but something else is. And the food, well, that’s always great. Good luck with your journey!

  15. Thanks!

    I guess that moving to another country is a lot like marrying, you know a lot of married people always tell me that at first they loved this thing or that thing, later on, they don’t like those things anymore but like other stuff.

    1. I’ve often thought the same thing—living in a foreign country is very similar to the phases of a relationship, or even a job. Everything’s fun and new at first. Then later, it isn’t. But if you’re lucky, something else develops to take the place of it. I’m still waiting to see how lucky I am with Japan. Waiting, waiting . . .

  16. I love your posts. This one made me reflect on my life here in Canada and I really don’t think I could come up with 9 things I love about living here. I realize that’s entirely my fault though as there’s a lot to enjoy about living here if I bothered to ever leave my home anymore. I’m increasingly becoming a Canuck version hikikimori.

  17. This is absolutely amazing! I’ve been thinking about moving to Japan now that I’m done with college. I’m pretty scared to leave my home country, but Japan is beautiful and I’ve been dreaming about working and living there for so long now. I’ve been to Japan thrice, took a lot of train rides and did a lot of stupid hand signs just to get the point across. Despite the language barrier, living there seems like the best thing I can do for myself and for my future. I probably need to gain a lot more courage (and money obviously) before moving there though, it seems difficult (yet fun). Thank you for sharing this and all the best of luck to you!

    1. Hey, that’ s great—if you’ve had the courage to travel here, and enjoyed Japan, then moving here might not be that big of a step. Either land a job teaching English or enroll in a language school—either way, they’ll set you up with an apartment and the essentials for living here. Companies and schools that recruit overseas generally have lots of experience relocating people to Japan, and they can manage most of the major details, like getting you a bank account and a cell phone. Sure, having money helps. I mean, it always does. So find a way to earn, save, or steal $100 a week, and in a year, you’ll be all set. Okay, don’t steal it; get a job at McDonald’s or something. I just read that 1 in 8 Americans has worked there at some point. Big Mac here we come.

  18. Whilst consuming others’ words I constantly find that a good 20-30% of the CPU hovers above the content, working in parallel, conducting ego-massaging analysis in real time, wondering why more keyboard pounders don’t have a go at well-crafted, Fullerian run-on sentences. But occasionally, about half-way through a piece, I’ll slowly realize that ambient levels of executive-grade snobbery have dropped into single digit percentages, I’m actually enjoying an article, and I now have someone new to despise ooops I mean take seriously as a writer. Sincerely – this is excellent work.

    1. I had to cut and paste your comment into Google Translate and select English<->English in order to fully appreciate what you wrote, but thanks. I think.

  19. This is a bit convoluted but bear with me here. I’m a translator and work at home, so I often find myself sitting at my desk when I’m translating something particularly boring (like today) wondering why, for the love of peanut butter, did I ever bother learning Japanese. So I google that phrase, or something like it, and I get a link to this page. I skim a few titles, but to be honest, now that I’ve been in Japan for nearly a decade now, I tend to avoid websites about Japan. For some reason I leave the page open and go back to working. It’s teeth-grindingly, want-to-jump-from-my-fourteenth-floor-apartment-balcony kind of boring. And it’s due today. So each time I save the massive file (which, incidentally, takes about four minutes each time), I wander back to this site, and I start reading articles against my own inclinations. And I start to like what I read. I’ve experienced similar things to what you’ve written, and also very different things. Like I said, I work from home, so I tend to live in a little niche that not too many people inhabit (and the ones that do don’t meet each other often), so I actually forget sometimes that I live in Japan. I’ll be sitting there eating in a food court and suddenly think “Hey, there sure are a lot of Japanese people around here”, and then remember what a lummox I am and slap myself in the face. I actually did leave Japan, convinced that I didn’t need it anymore, and influenced by plumes of radiation spewing out of the north, so I left to go back to the States (the sudden presence of a newborn child can make you do weird things. Whey can’t they just learn to wear hazmat suits on their own like the rest of us?). So I spent a ton of money to get back there, throwing away seven years of accumulated stuff, selling a car, only to find out, two months after arriving, that I had made a big mistake. I waited, hoping I’d get used to living in the States again, but I found out, that you can go home again, but home has a tendency to shift places. I’d left mine back in Tokyo. So less than ten months after moving back, I convinced my wife and daughter (she was easy, I just lied and said there was more ice cream in Japan) to sell all our stuff again, including another car, and move back to Tokyo. It’s been a year since I’ve been back, and I know now that I’ll never leave again. Despite all that I dislike about Japan, it is truly home. This piece here, although we like different things, resonated. Thanks.

    1. Thanks. I have a feeling that if I ever move out of Japan, I’ll feel exactly the same way. There are just so many things here that feel familiar and normal. I don’t know when the U.S. started to seem so weird, but these days I can barely comprehend what’s happening there. It’s like some anti-universe where everyone does things backwards. And I think you’re right; there is more ice cream in Japan.

      1. Haha. Yeah. It’s like the reverse of #6 in the article. Speaking as an Australian, I’m pretty sure a quarter of Australian males are obnoxious as f**k. When I went to visit home last month it was freaky watching how many young adult males were into projecting some image of themselves as cool or macho, as opposed to say “employed”. It was like the goal for a lot of guys was to look about 18 even if you were in your early thirties.

  20. Love your sense of humor, Ken!

    I’ve been reading your articles one by one. I have things to do but I just can’t help it! 😀

    I also love the fact that even the comments make a lot of sense. I enjoyed reading what Arturus said, it was quite profound and I love the way you ended your reply: ‘And I think you’re right; there is more ice cream in Japan.

    I will be staying there for about a year starting next month and I wonder what it will be like for me.

    Hope to see you there!

    1. Thanks very much, Sarah. I have a feeling you’re going to love it. I’d say a year, year-and-a-half, is the perfect amount of time to spend in Japan. You’ll be blissfully unaware of most of what’s happening around you, which is awesome. Try to make that last.

  21. I only yesterday found your blog and have been binge reading it since then. Great writing! A lot of it resonates with me, especially above when you talk about the sheer inertia that makes it hard to leave Japan. I’ve moved from other countries with little or no effort, but now when I think about leaving Japan it feels so.. “medokusai”.. (Mostly the idea of having to empty my apartment of all its furnishings is the big one, but also having to start over in a new country with no guarantee of a job etc.) Plus if I move again it would be my 4th move in about 10 years and I’m starting to get tired of that 🙂

    Your other post about getting a job in Japan definitely resonated with me too. Having a plan is so important! I was transferred here by my company and I thought “Sure, Japan, why not?” only to arrive here and find that they have this whole language of their own (of which I knew “Konnichiwa” and “Arigatou” prior to moving here) and for recruiters to tell me “Yeah.. your resume is great, but if you don’t speak N2 or fluent Japanese there’s not much work for you here” so I feel kinda trapped in my current job (even though I actually like it) unless I leave Japan.

    After 3 years here it does feel like home though, but in the last year I’ve occasionally gotten “Wow, I love Tokyo!” random moments, usually just as I’m taking the train home from work or walking through some station.. just little “This place is actually pretty cool” feels 🙂

    tl;dr – Great blog, keep up the good work! 😀

    1. Thanks much. Yeah, those little moments are important. It’s so easy to forget that you’re actually in Japan, you know? Like I’ll go all week without noticing a thing, and then suddenly realize, Oh yeah, this is actually cool, having a vending machine with hot and cold drinks on every corner, or riding a basket bike with an umbrella in one hand, or being able to find actual food in 7-11. It’s good to remember that you’re living the dream, even if it’s not perfect.

  22. Hi,

    I find your blog very addictive, more interesting and informative than a lot of plain old, cliche articles about Japan on the mainstream media. While I understand that your background from a developed country largely affects your view of Japan for both the better and the worse (that’s how I feel from reading your articles), I wonder about the situation of people moving to Japan from developing countries. You can teach English for a living but what about those whose English is not their first language? I figure the wage for labour jobs must not be as good as for an English teacher, so how do they get by?

    I’m from a South East Asian country myself and I know that if I want to live in Japan, I would have to work extra hard, maybe even harder than the average Japanese person. Before investing a lot of time, money and effort in studying Japanese and planning my trip, I’d like to know if this is worth it. Do you know any real life cases like this and can you share their experience?

    Thank you in advance.

    1. Yeah, thanks for reading. So you’re right, I am from a developed country—well, the U.S., but still—so no doubt that colors my perception, as it were. Still, for what it’s worth, here’s what I see in Japan.

      As with a lot of places, the jobs that people from “developing” countries take are often…restaurant jobs. Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Korean, whatever you can cook up, somebody’ll probably eat it. In particular, I see a great number of Indian and Pakistani people working in the restaurant industry. I’ve also known a couple of bartenders. But then I hang out in a lot of bars.

      I would think that most “labor” jobs, like construction work, would probably be filled by Japanese workers, unless the job was particularly undesirable.

      Quite a number of women from developing countries, I have to say, seem to wind up employed as “massage therapists” or lower-grade hostesses. As career choices go, I’m not sure those are exactly the best.

      Now, somebody asked a similar question on another website, and the author told them that if they wanted to pursue their dream, they could study Japanese, work hard, and someday eke out a life here. And that’s true. But is it worth it? I gotta say, maybe not. I mean, you can work in a restaurant or digging ditches or as an “adult-entertainment worker” in a lot of countries—so why Japan? Also, many countries are more open to foreigners and provide better opportunities for advancement, two things that Japan is particularly lacking in.

      Japan has a kind of mythical PR surrounding it. It’s the “Far East,” land of karate, kabuki, and kara-age. And it’s a pretty good place. But it’s kind of like Las Vegas, in that it looks amazing, even if it’s just a bunch of brightly lit buildings in the middle of a desert. If you get what I mean.

      So what I mean is, no, I probably wouldn’t put all my chips on this bet. Most of the people who come here eventually go back to their home countries, if they have the option. That should tell you something.

      Still, the food sure is good. Especially the Indian food.

      1. Thank you very much for your insight.

        I’ve been brooding over your answer and some others’ advice this whole time because this is pretty much a matter of life decision for me. I don’t intend to go to Japan and do manual jobs for the rest of my life, though I guess I’ll have to do A LOT of labour jobs before I could get anywhere. But I’m determined to leave for Japan (Europe is my dream land but that may forever remain a dream). My plan in brief is:
        go to a language school for 1-2 years => go to a vocational school (senmon gakko) to study interntional business and trading practices => find a office job in Japan (I’m not sure of the market but Vietnam-Japan business partnership is one the rise perhaps (?), so there must be demand for billingual employees (?)

        However, my concerns are:
        1. Is it possible to get an office job with a degree from vocational school? In my home country, most office jobs are
        offered to university graduates.
        2. Do vocational schools in Japan provide good education? I know a lot of scam vocational schools in my country, it’s
        where the very poorly-educated kids go 🙁

        I read a report from MEXT saying that the number of students going to senmon gakko has been decreasing in recent years. That should be a sign of something. You may not know about vocational schools in great details but just an overall picture is good enough for me. I don’t have any connection in Japan so I could only turn to this site and foreigners-in-Japan’s forums to ask.

        Again, thank you very much.

        1. Good morning.

          Sure, to answer your questions,

          1. Yes, it is. I know many Japanese people here who work office jobs after having completed a technical training school (senmon gakko).

          2. I’d say that in general, they do. A reputable school will likely provide a thorough education, and passing the inevitable certification test will be challenging.

          Your plan sounds ambitious, and getting your Japanese to a high level will be essential.

          Or you could just come here and teach English, like everybody else. I’m pretty sure you could get a TESL or CELTA certification in a lot less time. Smiley face.

          1. I wish I could just go and teach English in Japan. The problem is I’m not a native speaker and English is not one of the main languages used in my country. I doubt they would hire someone from Vietnam to teach English in Japan…sad face. That’s why I have to take such a long, expensive and potentially exhausting route.

            One more thing, job, school and living cost-wise, Tokyo or Yokohama?

            Thanks and have a good day, sir!

            1. >”I doubt they would hire someone from Vietnam to teach English in Japan.”

              I’m not so sure about that. There are plenty of teachers here from the Philippines and India, and a few from China and Korea.

              >”job, school and living cost-wise, Tokyo or Yokohama?”

              Yokohama’s a more liveable city, and probably cheaper, but the overwhelming majority of jobs are in Tokyo. The risk would be that if you lived in Yokohama, you’d end up commuting into Tokyo every day, simply because there’s more work there.

          2. Tough choice.
            Hearing so much about the crowded morning train in Tokyo, I’ve grown to dread it. Don’t know if I can handle the level of crowdedness over there. Hmmm.
            Thank u, u’ve been very helpful and kind with your answers.
            Best of wishes to you and this awesome blog.

            1. And thank you for reading.

              I just want to mention that the whole Japan-is-super-crowded thing falls off rapidly the further one gets from Tokyo. There are lots of nice cities where you can sit down and ride the train without dealing with a million guys in suits who smell like grilled fish.

              There are also people in Tokyo who live close enough to their workplace that they can bike or even walk. Well, I knew one guy like that, but still—hey, maybe you can too. I mean, somebody’s gotta win the lottery.

              Just something else to think about.

  23. Hey Ken

    Must say that I enjoy reading your blog – it’s a lot more critical of the shortcomings of Japan than other websites out there, which is kind of refreshing, but also kind of scary. I have an ambition to train in aikido in Japan, and for the past few years I’ve casually wondered about the tantalising prospect of throwing away my safe, cushy job, complete with bright prospects and an enjoyable quality of life, to pursue a life of enduring hardship and uncertainty in Japan.

    Part of me feels totally crazy for considering this, but the other part of me says, “suck it up! Life’s can be a glorious adventure if only you have the balls to make it one!” I’m a little undecided still, but the fact that I’ve fantasised about this prospect for several years now suggests it won’t up and away any time soon. So, supposing I do have said balls, do you think it’s feasible to work part-time in Tokyo, learn Japanese (preferably at a school), and train in aikido, whilst still making ends meet?

    Thanks for reading and I look forwards to reading your next blog post.

    1. It’s eminently do-able. Japan is a very cheap place to live, probably about half the price of the U.S. Whenever you meet someone who says “Japan is expensive,” you can be sure they have no idea what they’re talking about.

      Now, I don’t know if that’s good news or bad news. Throwing away a nice, cushy job in nice, cushy America is probably something no Japanese person would do. But what do they know. I did it, and look how well that worked out. Now I’ve got a stylish basket bike and an apartment where I can extend my arms and touch both walls at once. See me rollin’.

      1. Thanks for your response. I’ve been looking a lot more into the facts and figures, but what I’m coming out with so far isn’t working. Japan is cheap, but the jobs I could get would pay less too. Full-time I could manage it, but then I wouldn’t have the time for the language lessons, and the Japanese work ethic is, well, a bit of a buzzkill. If I can set myself out a plan to make it viable, I reckon I’ll do it, but I’m still struggling with the numbers.

        I’m interested to know, though, what was it that really made you really quit your success in America to accept difficulty and misplacement in Japan?

        P.S. I’m actually from the UK!

        1. The answer to that could certainly occupy a full post, if not a book in itself. To put it as briefly as possible though, I’d say that first of all I’ve always liked adventure, and have taken chances on a variety of things in my life (new cities, new jobs, new relationships). Generally, things had worked out pretty well so far. So when I stumbled upon Japan, it was like the ultimate new adventure. It even comes with a fun new language. Bonus.

          But the second half of that answer is that I fundamentally misunderstood Japan, partly due to all the crazy misinformation that I’d read about it. I wanted to believe that I’d be welcomed with opportunities for jobs, friends, and lovers. But what I found was a competitive and subtly hostile environment, which in retrospect shouldn’t have been a surprise at all.

          Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad country, by any means. It’s just a place, like many others, in which immigrants aren’t greeted with showers of roses. It’s a good place for a year or two working holiday, in other words. Then get the hell out.

          What keeps me here though, well, that’s another story.

          1. I appreciate you sharing your insights. After almost a week of consideration and research, I think a year’s working holiday is what’s seeming the most viable – learn some of the language, train and visit a few places. Then decide what to do from there.

            If I make it over there I’ll buy you a beer.

            1. You mean not burning every bridge you have in a massive, flaming conflagration? What kind of rational, well-reasoned plan is that? Well, I guess you could always try it.

              Thanks for the offer of a beer. I’m frequently thirsty.

          2. Hey Ken,

            How’s it going?

            Well I wrote the above comments last summer. Around that time I put both my hands in the air and, in a quietly dramatic moment, decided, ‘I’ll do it!’ In that instant I threw caution to the wind, and now it’s blown away somewhere, so since then I’ve been slowly stuffing my maneki neko, saving for my trip.

            Last time I wrote you I said I had a cushy job complete with bright prospects and an enjoyable quality of life. They’re kicking me out, Ken! The oil industry has taken a bit of a dive lately. I was going to save for a bit longer but I feel like it’d be more exciting if I just go early. Yeah, that’ll work. According to my ideas I’ll be in Tokyo by October.

            I do wonder though, whether I’ll just enjoy it so much I’ll just kind of stick around… And burn my bridges in the fun-while-the-flames-flicker-but-ultimately-not-worth-it conflagration you mentioned previously. Oh well, probably figure it out later.

            I did really want to ask you though – and this is actually why I came to write a message – what do you think you’ll do when you’re finished teaching English? Could you ever go back to corporate life in America? Or will you teach English forever?

            By the way, I wanted to do something a bit different, so I started a blog. I like your writing, so if you ever check it out, please feel free to leave me any tips.

            1. Glad you’re making the big move. Congrats on that. I can certainly see some parallels between our situations.

              So, the future—what’s that? I’m still trying to figure out which girl I’m going out with tonight. But on the real though, I’ll probably teach English for a good bit longer. I’ve gradually gotten better and better jobs over the years, and found a reasonable balance between work expended and yen received.

              Now, could I go back to corporate America? Yeah, I believe I could. Work in the U.S. is comparatively easy and stress-free, and the compensation’s generally better there. Buuuut, the real question is, Could I go back to America at all? More and more the answer’s coming up no. My thinking and values have just changed too much. I can’t really say I’d recommend getting to this point either. It seems much better to just say “foreign” and retain the option of going back.

              Good luck with your blog. That’ll be a good way to chronicle your transition to Japan.

  24. Hey, Ken. This was the first post I ever read on your site, and after becoming an instant fan and going back to the very beginning of your blog, I’m finally caught up to here again. I hate to think how sad I’ll be once I’m fully caught up and have to *wait* for you to publish the next installment of dripping deliciousness.

    One question. In a comment in a past post you said something about how you loved Tokyo and Kyoto, but “… Osaka, er, not so much.” I’d love to hear what you’ve experienced as the differences between Tokyo and Osaka and why you’re not a fan of the ol’ capital city.

    1. Well, you know I’m mostly just funning. I’ve spend maybe a week or ten days in Osaka, and it seems like a nice enough place, but it’s definitely a little—how would I say—rougher? than Tokyo or Kyoto.

      You know, Tokyo’s got that electric glamour about it, while Kyoto’s got the traditional appeal. But Osaka’s much more of a working-class city. As for actually living somewhere though, I’m sure a lot depends upon who you happen to meet and what job and housing situation you end up with. So don’t count me out as a fan yet, is what I’m saying. I’m sure Osaka could be good too.

      1. > As for actually living somewhere though, I’m sure a lot depends upon who you happen to meet and what job and housing situation you end up with.

        I think you nailed it, Seeroi-sensei. That probably accounts for 95% of anyone’s experience.

        I spent 5 weeks last summer working “in” Osaka. I’m fortunate to have a business I can run remotely, so I got some temporary office space in a ServCorp office just a block from the amazing Shinsaibashi mall (arcade? dream world? I’m still not sure what to call it). I was surrounded by working professionals all day, and the energy of the area was electric (not to mention all the great food you could ever want).

        Then I would take the subway and kintetsu line “home”. My wife is Japanese, and we were staying with her parents. They are a working class family with a modest, traditional Japanese home. While I see and appreciate the customer service politeness everywhere (even though it’s mostly just a “working face”, as you regularly remind us), my wife’s family has a sincere warmth like I’ve never experienced before. Including all her aunts, uncles and cousins. I don’t just feel welcome there — I feel like the long-lost son returning home. My motivation for learning Japanese is simple — so that I can talk with my family there (and so that my wife can actually eat and enjoy herself rather than constantly translate, which is exhausting work even with her bilingual fluency).

        Also while I was there I dropped in on a local Meetup group for locals and foreigners, which was a ton of fun. And I looked up local alumni from my alma mater (MIT), and met up with one – an American who’d been living there for 10 years. He took me to two tiny hole-in-the-wall bars, both run by French guys, that I never would have found in a million years on my own, filled with the friendliest folks, mostly Japanese.

        Overall, I’ve taken maybe a dozen trips to Japan, many in the past for business, and have spent about the same amount of time in Tokyo and Osaka overall. Tokyo is still my favorite city ever (the mega-ist megacity on earth – I love mega), but I’ll probably always feel like a visitor there. Even though we’re still living in Boston currently, Osaka almost feels more like home to me. If all goes well, next year it really will become home.

        Long way to say, yes, it all depends on who you meet! 🙂

        Love your posts and comments, Ken. Keep ’em coming!

  25. A lot of that is perfectly right about Japan. I love the food and the people are almost always friendly even if they’re trying not to be. However there is a big difference in living in a city in Japan and living in the country side like I do. I thought I’d point them out for a different point of view.
    The fish is fresh! I mean like….they just caught it this morning and put it on my plate fresh. If you love fish, it’s great.
    A downside is there are limited markets and most of it is only local food (which is awesome! It’s fresh and you know it!) However there is a limit to how many dinners I can make with daikon, cabbage, potatoes and carrots. It’s really hard to find ‘exotic’ foods. I found myself jumping to joy the other day because my grocery store had a stick of celery. (By stick I mean one, just one)
    The people are even friendlier and they all have farms. I get bag and bags of free food like Mikan and potatoes and whatever is in season in my area.
    Unfortunately there are some areas in Japan were you just HAVE to drive a car. If I didn’t have a car I’d be eating frozen food from Kosmos everyday. The buses in my area are far and few between and take many many transfers to get you anywhere. So I have a car. It’s not all bad, but I’d rather not drive. Not in Japan. In a way I have more freedom with a car though because I don’t have to wait on trains or buses or worry about their schedules and if I really don’t want to drive a long way I can drive to the train station and take a train. Another downside though is parking in Japan is ridiculously expensive and tolls are even more expensive, avoiding tolls though makes trips take twice or three times as long, so you have to weigh your options.
    Also there a no convenience stores in my area either. I have to drive to the next town over to get to one.
    I complain but it’s super nice here. I have a great of view of the ocean and get to see the sun set over it every evening and it’s perfect for my photography hobby. I mainly just wanted to point out some differences between the city and country side.
    Many of my co-workers say “you must hate living in the country.” But I shake my head. It takes me 30 to drive to a relatively big city, in comparison to the American countryside that’s nothing. More like a suburb.
    Anyway I’m glad to see many other enjoying Japan. It really is a great place to live and when I visit the cities I love taking the subway and trains. They’re always on time! So nice!

    1. I think that’s right. Japan’s a completely different place depending upon two things: how much Japanese you speak, and whether you live in the country or city. Well, that and what job you do. Oh, and what race you are. Okay, and your age, and gender, and whether or not you have a Japanese significant other. Okay, there’re a lot of factors. Anyway, yeah, the food’s consistently good.

  26. Hey. I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks.It’s the first time I’ve ever read a blog profusely, nice job.

    This is the first time I comment, I’m confused about something. What is the down side in girls with big boobs and
    a big butt?

    1. Well noted, Sir Mix-a-Lot. Having once viewed what is known as “online porn,” I’ve concluded that there’s nothing that somebody doesn’t like. (Good luck parsing that sentence). Anyway, yeah, perhaps nothing, although I think it’s a matter of degree.

  27. I’ve been slowly working back through all your posts, starting with the most recent. (I only recently stumbled across your blog; truly, I knew not comic writing before now.) This has got to be the best article I’ve read yet. In a portfolio of five star work, this is that one constellation that’s bright enough to outshine big city light pollution. (Sorry for the stretched analogy? I live in Shanghai. I miss stars.)

  28. Hi Ken. I’m Mousse from Montreal, Quebec.

    I’ve been going a little bit crazy recently. I’m gonna be 25 soon and haven’t done anything yet to settle down my life, my path, my purpose. Or should I say : I don’t know what to do for a living later.

    Sorry for the psycholog/patient approch. And sorry for my poor english, as I am a french Canadian. Bonjour !

    I’m currenty learning japanese at university. Always wanted to learn languages. The thing is, the more I go on, the more I question myself. Why do I learn japanese ? Why ? I’ve tried so many things in my life that now, If i I do something, I want it to have a clear purpose. I was actually searching for a subject for the speech I will have to make in my japanese course two weeks from now and find your blog.

    Well. I don’t really know why I am writing all of this but… I’m glad I found your blog. And I’m glad it makes me rethink my choices.

    If you had the choice to do all of this japanese craziness all over again, would you do it ?

    Make me a sign if you want to practice french. 😉

    1. Ah, thanks but no thanks on the French. I’m busy just trying to remember the English words for Japanese stuff.

      Well, we’re turning into quite a tidy little life-advice column here, aren’t we? But okay, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’d say. First of all, everybody feels the way you do. Once you get out of college, then it’s time to spend the rest of your life saying, Oh, what should I do with my life? Where should I live, What job should I do, Should I get married, Oh why’d I get married, Oh why’d I get divorced? That’s known as the human condition.

      So there’s a lot of choices, and we realize that making one walls off others. But also know this: making choices is the hardest thing to do in life. Absolutely, the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But you gotta make them. Otherwise, you’ll live the default where they’re made for you, and you won’t be happy with that either. So think well, then nut up and make some choices. Afterward, you’ll realize some were good, some bad, and some you’re still not sure, and that’s normal too. It’s impossible to get everything 100% right, so don’t beat yourself up trying. Hell, I’d be happy to settle with Pretty Okay.

      So was the whole Japan thing a really good idea? Hell, I dunno. I mean, I guess I could’ve stayed in a corporate job in the U.S., driven my douchy Mercedes-Benz, and married my high school sweetheart. Pretty sure I’d want to kill myself then. Or I could’ve just backpacked around the world my whole life and now be living in a beach hut full of rats and eating cockroaches. So I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. It’s okay. But of course, there’s a part of me that wished I’d moved to Amsterdam too. Don’t think that feelings going away any time soon.

  29. I have ALWAYS wanted to visit Japan. Me and a group of friends are studying the beauty of Japan, and we hope raise enough money to visit. Thank you for writing this article and letting me see how great Japan is. I think everything being cheep would be AWESOME! The only thing that would be hard for me is learning the language. And your right, there is no use on buying a ticket for around $700 per ticket and just staying for a week, worrying about all the expenses later. So, maybe when I get up enough money, I will come live in Japan. I just have one question… are there many American folk there, because I will have to communicate with people I actually understand. Thank you

    1. Depending on where you go, there can be a lot of Americans (and assorted other Westerners), or none at all. But you can absolutely get by without any Japanese, at least some of the time. You won’t be able to accomplish everything, but you can get your needs met.

      In fact, I’d say that a lot of folks who think they “speak Japanese” actually don’t. They’ve just learned what to expect in given situations, and developed work-arounds, using pidgin Japanese, body language, and simplified English. On the flip side, even if you spoke great Japanese, you could still be stymied by not knowing what patterns to expect. So yeah, don’t sweat it too much.

  30. Thank you for returning my little writing. I have been up to my knees in research papers, and my finals are coming up, but, and an 19 year old, basically an adult, I make my own decisions. For my parents are against the going to Japan, but me, my friends, and a friend I met at a restaurant, are going to live in Japan. We just purchased Pass Ports. We are so excited. I recommended this blog to all of the friends coming along and living in Japan. We all have one question for you. Are there centers for learning the language. It is a quite peculiar language, and so interesting. Thank you for the inspiration.

  31. You should make a listt of obnoxious thing about Japan, For starters they can’t improvise unless it is in their Manuel, or training. Ie… Next time you go to your favorite McDonald’s ask for a cheese burger without the cheese, and they will argue that they can’t do it…it has to have cheese on it. Or the obnoxious repetitive “welcome” message at convenient stores that all 5 attendants scream out loud when someone enters “yasaimasen dozo”, (it is like hearing…GAIJIN ALERT) or how about the sucking teeth Ojisan makes in trying to help you.. Or the girls who think it is cute to be the American version of the “Dumb” blond chick, when they point to their nose when you call their name, “watashi?” (No the other Sayuri behind you…..Duh..). Or the 60 minute lunch break that is broken down by waiting 30-45 minute standing in line just to get a 600yen bowl of noodles, you have to slurp down in 10 min… But what is worse are the people you meet, conversing in Japanese (days weeks or months) only to find out that they speak and understand English ….well…. (You canaiving SOB).. Making me suffer useing google translator, which never seems to get your phrases correctly.

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