Why all the White People in Japan?

I interviewed to teach English in Japan in a sunny office building in downtown LA, naively believing that Japan needed someone with my unique skill-set and stunning good looks.  But then I’m the kind of dude who watches late-night infomercials and buys a Ginsu knife set, so I guess that shows how discriminating I am.  Actually, they worked pretty well, and for $19.99, how can you go wrong?  I’m such a sucker for a bargain.  Anyway, sitting in that conference room, drinking green tea and listening to the recruiter explain the job, I assumed that Japan didn’t have enough English teachers.  Turns out I was wrong.

Just as well, since I find being right all the time to be interminably boring. I like to mix things up once in a while, just to keep life interesting.

Perhaps it was my over-sized American suit or freshly-minted TESL certificate, but somehow I fooled the interviewer into believing I was a person of character and responsibility, and the company sent my ass to Japan to teach in an eikaiwa.  So apparently anybody can be wrong.  And I’d been here for almost six months before a coworker told me the real deal.  I was secretly hoping to sleep with her, so I’d invited her out to this post war-era restaurant and ordered a pile of beers, some shiitake mushrooms, and deep-fried skewers of octopus.  They taste way better than they sound, since Japan does this thing with batter that’s akin to witchcraft.  That really locks in the juices, no lie.

“You guys have it great, you know,” she said.

“Howzzat?” I said with half a skewer hanging out of my mouth.

“Your apartment is subsidized, right?

“Yeah partly,” I said.  “Isn’t yours?

“Uh-uh, and I don’t make half of what you do,” she replied, and downed the remainder of her beer in one enormous gulp.

“You’re crazy,” I said, and proceeded to order a couple of glasses of white wine.  The plan was proceeding quite well, I must say.

The two Kinds of English Teachers

In our eikaiwa, four of the teachers were—ah, how to explain this?—I guess what you’d call “foreigners.”  And eight other teachers weren’t.  They were “Japanese.”  That seems like a pretty clear distinction, but really it’s not, since a couple of the “Japanese” English teachers had been raised in the U.S., including my date for the evening, one of the “foreign” teachers had been in Japan for half his life, and another “foreigner” was American-Japanese.

“So wait,” I said, with a mouthful of octopus and wine, “why do you make less?  We do the same job.”  I like Japan because you can talk with your mouth full.

“Because I’m Japanese,” she said.

“I thought you grew up in Hawaii?” I said.  “You’re as American as me.”

“I lived there till I was sixteen,” she said, “but then we moved back to Japan.

“Yeah, but why do you make less?”

“Wrong color passport,” she said.  This seemed to bum her out, and I decided to pursue a different line of conversation:  sports.  Always a good tack.  Didn’t rescue the situation though, I’m sorry to report.  Must’ve been all the wine.  Gotta remember to stick with beer in such cases.

English Teachers are a yen a Dozen

But where was I?  Oh yeah, English teachers.  The truth is, even way out in the Japanese countryside, you can’t swing a tanuki without knocking a couple over.  There’s a lot, is what I mean.  They just happen to be Japanese.  So one of Japan’s great mysteries is, why bother importing foreign English teachers if Japanese folks can already do the job for less money?  Let me just take a moment to personally thank whoever brainwashed the Japanese nation into believing the following three lies:

1. Foreigners know English better
2. Foreigners have a better accent
3. Foreigners have interesting cultural knowledge

Actually, nobody believes number one, since all Japanese English teachers study grammar and pass rigorous certification tests that would fry most foreigners.  My own grammar knowledge is limited to vague memories of sleeping through 9th grade English class and what I picked watching “Conjunction Junction.”  Like the other day I was teaching in a Junior High, and the Japanese English teacher suddenly turns to me in the middle of class and asks, “Is ‘danger’ a noun?”

I was like, what the eff?  “Danger?”  A noun?  What the hell’s a noun?  All the kids are staring at me and I’m going, person-place-or-thing . . . person-place-or-thing . . .

“It’s more of like a concept,” I said.  Whew, that was a close one.

Check out me Amazing Accent

So then there’s the pronunciation thing.  Now maybe in some Oz-like world all Japanese people speak with Charlie Chan accents and foreigners all sound like they were raised in the Kansas cornfields, but the reality is way different.  Quite a few Japanese English teachers have great pronunciation, even ones who’ve never lived abroad.  Guess they watch a lot of “Sex and the City.”  And the foreigners . . . well, I’ve met “native English speakers” from India, the Philippines, China, the Ukraine, Texas, all kinds of places with wacky accents.  And you ever heard an English guy?  I don’t know what language that is, but Blimey, it sounds bloody awful!  Somebody seriously needs to send those guys to an American study-abroad program.

The fact is, pretty much any-damn-body can make good money as a “native English teacher” in Japan . . . so long as they’re not Japanese.

Now, I don’t disagree that for mid- to advanced learners, having an honest-to-God person from abroad can be a good thing, assuming he or she actually has something like teaching experience and wasn’t just waiting tables back in Kansas City.  Okay, maybe that’s asking a bit much.  Still, that’s hardly what’s at the root of this fixation with “native speakers.”

Which brings us to number 3, “Your culture,” also known as “Cool, a white guy.”  Nowhere is this clearer than in the elementary school system.

Teaching in Japanese Public Schools

After my stint at the eikaiwa and a couple dozen other gigs, I started teaching in the public school system, where, throughout Japan, thousands of foreign English teachers (ALTs and JETs) instruct complicated topics such as Names of Fruits, Days of the Week, Zoo Animals, and Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.  And alongside of them, Japanese English teachers, teaching the exact same things, for far less money.   The English ability required to do such a job is virtually zero, which begs the question:  Yo, why all the white people?

Not that I’m complaining, since it gives me a job with plenty of time to perfect my Japanese.  Like last week, I worked at a grade school.  Outside it was pouring rain, and I was walking down the school corridor with the Japanese English teacher, Ms. Kuroda.  The windows were all foggy with condensation.

“Sure is raining,” she said in English.

“It’s monsoon season,” I said in Japanese, which I like to do just to keep her on her toes, “but our crops need it, so that’s good.”

Then we passed a group of students.  They all bowed and said “konnichiwa” to Kuroda Sensei, then started waving madly at me and shouting “hello!”

“Do you ever think it’s strange that they don’t say ‘hello’ to you?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“You know, you’re an English teacher, after all.”

“Well,” she said, “I’m Japanese.”

Hmmm, I thought.

“Hmmm,” I said.

Don’t Speak Japanese at School

All Japanese children learn through the school system that when they see an Asian face, they should use Japanese.  And when they see my white face, they’re supposed to speak English.  That’s just common sense.  While “Japanese” English teachers can use Japanese, Rule #1 for “foreign” English teachers is “No speaking Japanese.”  I mean, you start doing that and somebody’s likely to mistake you for a regular person, which is crazy.  Then it’s just a slippery slope towards equality, and nobody wants that.

Of course children learn a lot of other good things at school too, like it’s okay to flash-mob your foreign teacher and ride him like the pony he is.  They reach out to feel my hairy arms during class, unexpectedly grab my junk, and stick their fingers in my butt.  They respect me so much, they can barely contain themselves.  At the end of the class, they line up to give me high fives.

“Yeah, I don’t do that,” I say.  No way Ken Seeroi’s coming in physical contact with 400 children a day.  Eighty percent have snot on their hands, and the remainder have my butt on their fingers.  I’d be dead of the plague within a month.

“Why not, Ken?” asked this little boy named Mr. Maeda.

“It’s Seeroi-Sensei, remember?” I said.

“Kevin-Sensei always gives us high fives,” said a small girl named Ms. Iwata.

“Yeah, I don’t know who that is,” I said, “but do you high-five Ms. Kuroda?”

“No,” they laughed, “She’s Japanese.”

It took me a while to figure it out, but it finally dawned on me why white people have been brought to Japan.  Kuroda-Sensei helped me understand it.

“Just play some games,” she said.  “The kids just want to have fun with Ken-Sensei.

“Yeah, I know I’m fun and magical and all that, but I don’t suppose I could just teach English class?

“They really want to hear some funny stories about your culture,” said Ms. Kuroda.

“Well, last time I did tell them Americans all ride zebras and wear meat hats.  So are you telling them about the years you spent herding kangaroos in Australia, or just doing a regular English class?

“Just a regular class.  But then . . . we’re different.

“I know, your English is better than mine.  But we’re still both English teachers, and we both live in Japan.  So what’s the difference?

“Well, you know,” she said, “you’ve got different . . . blood.”

One of These Things is not Like the Other

Oh, check and mate.  There’s no arguing with science.  So the truth is that nobody actually flew me to Japan to teach Seasons of the Year or how to pronounce “broccoli.”   They just wanted the chance to touch the hairy arms of a real, live foreigner, to see how high his nose was, and to marvel at his use of chopsticks.  I guess if that’s “cultural exchange,” then hey I’m cool with it.  It’s like busing, only for teachers, not students.  And without it, there’d be a few thousand white and black and miscellaneous Asian “English teachers” out of a job.

At the same time, it seems a little uninspired to prime people to look for differences rather than commonalities.  By the time they leave elementary school, the kids have all read the textbooks showing that French people wear berets and Africans greet each other by saying “Jambo.”  School’s prepared them to say “hello” when they meet white people, serve them coffee instead of tea, and hand them the English menu.  They’re a different race, so why would you treat them the same?  Stop with that crazy talk, already.

Japanese School Lunch

So after I finished a class in which I told everyone that Americans fly to work using umbrellas constructed of one hundred hot dogs, the Principal asked me to eat lunch with the kids. “They’re excited to learn more about your culture,” he explained.  Ms. Kuroda stayed and ate in the staff room.  Then while the kids and I were eating our bean stew and I was telling them all about how I invented the Beer Helmet and Giant Foam Finger, little Mr. Maeda tugged on my arm hair and whispered in sad Japanese, “Will you go home today, Ken?”

“Of course I’ll go home,” I said.  And then little Mr. Maeda started crying.

“Whoa, easy with the waterworks,” I said.  “Hey there, it’s okay, Seeroi-Sensei will be back tomorrow.”

“But I don’t know him, and you’re going to America,” he sobbed.

“No, silly,” I said, “I live in Japan.”

And then little Mr. Maeda looked very confused and even sadder, as though just I’d told him that Santa was merely some dude in a red suit.  “Japan?” he said, and kept on crying, while outside it looked as though the rain would never end.  Sure enough, going home in the middle of the monsoon was going to be gnarly.  I was glad I didn’t have to ride the train all the way to America, though I sure wished I’d remembered my meat hat and hundred hot dog umbrella.


87 Replies to “Why all the White People in Japan?”

  1. Ken,

    This is one of your best pieces. A lot of complexity in this one. You walk the line wonderfully; I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or cry. Loved the Hmmmm! I had to read this one 3 times it was so good. Bravo!

  2. Yeah, it’s hard to walk that. Props to my man Johnny Cash.

    Actually, I was hoping to say the same thing in about 1/3 less words, which would have enabled you to read it 8 times and still have time left over for coffee. I really gotta work on my editing skills.

    1. I’d like to ask if it’s okay to take a nap during the day. It’s my 3rd day now and I feel really bored doing this job. I’m only sitting the whole day in the faculty prepping and I almost finished it half a day. What can you suggest? Thank you.

        1. Thanks for your quick reply. Seriously yes. I was just hired last week of Sept because the teacher already left. I had my training last week and I always finished working on my lesson stuff. I would have my classes beginning next week. All the preps looks fine now and I just dont want to sit here the whole day. I wasnt really had the orientation for the school`s house rule but I only take a break during lunch time. Now, I’m struggling with the boredom and it kills me. I always feel sleepy.

          1. Ah, feast or famine. Welcome to Japan.

            Generally, it’s not frowned upon to doze off at your desk here, i.e., keeping your hands on the keyboard but slowly passing out. Putting your head down for a full-on sleep, well, you see it, but that may pushing it a bit, depending on where you’re at. My basic rule—wildly radical though it may be—is to simply follow what everybody else does.

            If you’re bored, get an online Master’s degree. If you’ve already got that, then start surfing for a better job. But for God’s sake, don’t waste your time studying Japanese. Nitey nite.

  3. I love that the kids think I ride my bicycle back to Australia every day…

    Seriously though, this idea that ALTs get paid more than Japanese teachers is a crock of the proverbial. I’m on JET, which is probably the highest paying ALT gig there is, and it is less than 2/3rds what a new JTE gets paid. There’s nothing wrong with that, they work much longer hours and have more responsibilities etc etc, but I do get pretty sick of hearing how high my salary is. Anyone with a degree in Australia is earning more than a JET. I gave up a much better paying job to come here because I wanted to move to Japan~ yet I have been told more than once that “you foreigners just come here because you get so much money”.

    1. Yeah, I gave up a job paying triple what I make here. But you only live once, so no regrets. Okay, maybe a little regret, but whatever.

      Anyway, I think this one of those “Japan things” where two people see the same thing but perceive it differently. Like, you see the glass as being half empty, while I’m more like, You know the problem is that the glass is just too damn tall . . .

      What I mean (more or less) is that if you compare our jobs to the part-timers who make 2000 yen an hour, we’re killing it. Did you ever work out how much you get paid per class? Oh wait, I forgot all the time we spend “preparing.” People underestimate the skill required to make realistic-looking green peppers for the pizza lesson. That construction paper’s not going to cut itself.

      And if we compare to the full-timers . . . man, those people are at work 12 hours a day, six days a week, sometimes seven, without even anything you could properly call a lunch break. That’s insane. You couldn’t pay me enough to do that job.

      1. Hey Ken, I’m a Canadian male and I’m planning on teaching English in Japan. I was told by someone today that unless I’m white (I’m not) chances of them hiring me are very slim. Is this true?

        1. No, that’s not true. It’s pretty much the same as working for Hooters.

          Okay, steady yourself for a horribly sexist analogy, but it’s a challenge to find such institutionalized discrimination out in the open, other than Hooters and the entire nation of Japan. So here’s the deal:

          You can be the world’s greatest speaker of English, but if you’re “Japanese,” that’s like being a male waiter applying for a job at Hooters. Probably not gonna happen. But if you’re a woman, or in the case of Japan, a native English speaker, you’re about 99% qualified for the job, regardless of any actual ability.

          Being a white person is like being the gal with huge boobs. No experience teaching or serving food? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s not why we’re hiring you, so Welcome to the team! But since we can’t seem to find enough double-D’s to serve all them buffalo wings, ah, guess we’ll take other applicants as well.

          That’s basically the deal here. I’ve known people born in the West with backgrounds from Africa, the Middle-East, Korea, Taiwan, and China who managed to find plenty of jobs teaching English. You might have to work harder, or actually have teaching experience, but it’s clearly possible. Although you might want to ask yourself if you’re really going to be happy, forever being the flat-chested girl at Hooters. Just saying.

  4. I have to agree with Bud Martin! This is probably one of your best pieces and I enjoyed it A LOT!

    Although I haven’t worked as an ALT, I’ve been working as an eikaiwa teacher for 6 years now.
    I’ve experienced almost everything you describe in this blog post myself.

    It’s true that “Japanese teachers” in an English school earn less than the “foreign teachers”. In my previous school the Japanese teachers had to work 6 days a week and did a lot of overtime work while the foreign teachers could leave on time and only worked 5 days a week. Yet the Japanese teachers earned less.

    Oh, did students try to do kancho with you? Luckily that never happened to me before.
    My kids don’t want to high-five me – apart from the large group of kindergarten kids I teach once a week. ^^;

    I have an even harder time sometimes as all the kids think I’m American and that English is my native language and when I tell them I’m German – at least the younger ones don’t know that English is not the native language there … T___T ….

    And just today in my last class of the day my jr. high kids said:
    “Teacher your face is so slim! Your nose is so long! Your eyelashes are so long! You are so tall! Your blah ….”
    And I just replied: “Yeah?! So, what??”
    This is the first time in 6 years that ever happened to me, but I’m sure that’s what many kids or Japanese people in general think whenever they see a foreigner. *lol*

    1. I think the kancho thing is more of a guy thing. I mean, who’d want to kancho a girl? That’s just gay. Anyway, consider yourself lucky.

  5. It’s a hot topic, and I’m sure Ken will write about it more, as living in Japan means you will be stereotyped every day.
    Sometimes these stereotypes are silly, sometimes outright bonkers. But the culture of Japan is so focused on making “guests” and “customers” feel good, that non-Asians get treated predominantly very well. I feel for Asians though, but hoping that increasing tourism and business from Asia will change that.
    Then again, equating looks with other qualities is hard to change in just a few generations. I think even most modern and inclusive nations are still struggling with that. It’s wired in our brains somewhere to discriminate, and we have to fight it to stay civilized and fair.
    I try to tread softly when talking about this to Japanese, because I find that most of the time they are just trying to be nice. If fact, I would pick that as my #1 favorite thing of Japanese culture – they are trying to be nice on the daily basis, sometimes even to people that they don’t like.

    1. Man, you’re right about treading softly. This is not a topic that Japanese people feel comfortable discussing. Mostly it’s like a ton of bricks—they’ve never considered treating people the same. The idea is just so, well, foreign.

      I’m a bit of two minds about the “just trying to be nice” thing. I used to feel that way, but these days I see more it as being patronizing, especially since I speak Japanese 24×7. When I’m at the station and ask for directions in Japanese, I really don’t want to hear “reft, reft, up, up” in broken English just because I’m white; I’d like the same freaking explanation they’d give anyone else in this country. Is that really “nice”? Because it seems like their doing it for their benefit, rather than mine.

      Ah, I know I’ve just gotten too sensitive, and it’s not like anybody’s throwing rocks either. There’s a lot of worse countries to be a minority in. I should probably get that tattooed on my forearms, just as a reminder. Maybe I’ll try it out in ballpoint pen for a couple of days and see how that works.

      1. Oh god I can’t stand that- you speak Japanese and it’s awful english they keep replying to you with. I told one guy point blank once, “Speak Japanese,” because I couldn’t understand a word and he just stood there, blinked at me, said ok, and spoke Japanese. I think the ‘english replying’ battle is seriously uphill, but I can’t help but pick it for some reason when it happens even though my Japanese is crap. You’re in Japan, so speak your own language. Like that whole “This is Amurrca- speak english!” thing but the opposite. It’s odd, mildly fascinating, but also rather demoralizing, too.

        Thanks for this post- I really enjoy reading your stuff, so thanks for sharing it with us. 🙂

        1. A great number of Japanese people I’ve spoken with believe it’s polite to speak English when they see someone who doesn’t look “Japanese.” Mention that they might just try treating everyone equally, and you’ll be met with a jaw-dropping gaze like you just discovered a new dimension. Equality? Doesn’t that defy the laws of physics?

          Of course, the legions of ALTs and JETs who operate under a no-Japanese-at-school policy only reinforce the notion that when you see someone who doesn’t look Japanese, you should speak English.

          There’s also an n-word sense of pride around the Japanese language, like We can say it, but you can’t. It often seems that Japan is a country that wants to become more international by spreading out into the world, not welcoming the world in.

      2. Maybe you should just look at them trying to speak English to you and say “I’m sorry I don’t understand English” in Japanese and see how they react. Probably blow a mental fuse.

    1. An idea is a noun? Get the hell out! Doesn’t that by extension make everything a noun? Like, what’s not an idea? Let me not think of something . . .

      1. An idea or concept is a “thing”, just not something concrete. Process of elimination: “danger” = not a verb, adjective, adverb, etc… so it’s a noun. Try putting “the” or “a” in front of it, if it fits, it’s probably a noun. “The danger was palpable.”

  6. When people start talking about blood it saddens me as it is totally meaningless, yet undefeatable boundary. I once met a girl whose father was Pakistani and whose mother was Japanese. Despite being entirely born and raised in Japan, the girl’s friends still referred to her as a gaijin, not nastily or anything, but (in my impression at least) drawing that “them” versus “us Japanese” line.

    However, as alienating as it can be being a white person in Japan, it can at least be considered a good alienation, in comparison to the treatment foreign, Asian people often receive. To quote the opinion of a university academic interviewed for Yomiuri article: “There is an open contempt for Asian students, especially Chinese, at universities in Japan. I’ve seen professors condemning Chinese students for not being fluent in Japanese, while being happy to speak English with Westerners who could not speak Japanese, for example.”

    1. Yes, it’s sad to see people make a distinction based upon “blood.” And that’s really the role of education, isn’t it? Explaining things that aren’t obvious. Like, it’s not obvious that we’re on a spinning rock in the middle of a vast universe. But once someone explains it to you, you’re like, Oh yeah, that kinda makes sense. And the idea that people who look different aren’t necessarily different isn’t immediately obvious either. Education is supposed to fix that, to show that you might be way off in your perceptions about a person. Instead, the system we’ve set up in Japan often serves the opposite purpose. It’s designed to make “foreign” people stand out, not blend in.

      As for the “good” alienation, I feel a little differently, but I see where you’re coming from. The first year or so I was here, I enjoyed being given a free pass to make mistakes. But after a while, I grew tired of being treated like a child, which is the flip side. More and more, I’ve come to expect to be treated just like everyone else. Being treated differently is one thing if you’re coming for a vacation. But being alienated for years while living in a society isn’t exactly a wonderland.

      1. I think this mentality- at least the Asian racism part- is changing a bit. Korea has been on a HUGE PR kick for a couple years now to the point where I think the PR campaign is an official government department now, I’m not sure. But I’ve had several kids who would’ve gladly taken korean over english and had one girl whose english notebook was filled with korean instead. I wish so much that they had a choice in foreign language like students in the states do, and I told her that, too. I tell a lot of my students that. But I think it’ll be their generation that will help stop some of the silly nationality hate and I’m really excited about that.

        Sorry for two comments on the same post!!

  7. Great article, Ken. My Caucasian friend just got back from a short trip to Japan and I asked her, “Did people stare at you?” and she said that lots of kids did. As you wrote, I can understand why Japanese children grow up with this fascination of foreigners – it’s not like they’ve ever been taught otherwise.

    But what about the adults? When (or is it an “if”?) do they start to realise that there’s more to foreigners than the stereotype? Based on what you’ve written, it seems like many adults never move away from their misconceptions, but that they just hide it better somewhat? I guess I find it weirdly contradicting that Japan can be such an advanced and developed nation, but they’ll still perceive Westerners with fascination and treat them differently. But I guess that kind of fits Japan – it’s full of crazy contradictions and things that don’t make sense.

    As other people have written before me, despite the frustrations of being constantly prodded and stared at, the Japanese /do/ treat Westerners relatively well, compared to other nationalities like Asians. I just hope that when I get there, they’ll understand that despite my Asian heritage is just one aspect of myself – because I’m definitely more Australian than Chinese in the way I act.

    1. As an Australian who looks Asian, I’d say you’ll be in a vastly different position than I am, that’s for sure. From my side of the fence, that grass looks greener, but you know how that goes.

      As for the adults, as a general rule, I’d say “never.” We’ve created a real self-fulfilling prophecy in this country, where foreign people are brought here, told to act genki and amusing, and then rewarded for doing so. By the time most Japanese people have reached adulthood, they’ve likely met lots of these amusing foreign folks. I don’t really see them as hiding this conception of foreign people—they openly display the fact that they think (in my case) white people are fundamentally different. And to be fair, a lot of white people (especially those only here for a year or two) don’t try very hard to fit in.

      1. @Ken.

        This got me thinking, where does this leave the people from say, the Indian subcontinent? or Middle East?

        From a Japanese perspective, they are neither white, not do they look ‘Asian’. I am assuming by ‘Asian’ here, we are talking about the Far East Asian descent people. How do they ‘categorize’ them? What is their behavior/perception towards people from these regions? Is it the weird semi-idolizing semi-condescending that Caucasians are subjected to, or is it the open contempt reserved for people who look of Far East Asian descent?

    1. Thank you very much. I try to maintain a balance of sunshine to tears. Or is that beers? Well, either works, I guess.

    1. That’s the beastie. They’re the racoons of Japan. And on a slightly-related note, racoons are “washing bears.” Yeah, okay, it’s a strange country.

      1. Haha “washing bear” made me laugh.
        Here in Sweden the word for raccoon is alo “washing bear”, tvättbjörn in Swedish.
        So the Japanese are not alone on this one 😉

        1. Ah, you Swedes, with your cute washing bears and delicious gummi fish.

          And man, I gotta get me a couple of these washing bears quick. My laundry and dishes are really starting to pile up. Put them little buggers to work.

          1. Haha yes those washing bears do know how to wash.
            You should try to get 3-4 washing bears and put them in a metal box add some water and finally put your clothes in the box, all done in about 5-6 weeks.
            Thats how we came up witch the washing machine.

            btw love your page, keep up the good work!

            1. So they go in the washer, not outside of it? All this time I’ve just been sending them down to the laundromat with change. No wonder my clothes never seem clean.

  8. “It’s more of like a concept,” I said. Whew, that was a close one.

    The witless, White wonder saves the day! Ever thought about becoming a grammatical superhero? LOL!

  9. I’m planning to attend a Japanese language school in Japan… while I enjoy your writing, I’m not 100% sure on this: Is your link to yamasa.org an actual plug or sarcasm?

    If you were so inclined, an entry on schools like this (if you’ve had enough amusing contact with them) could be fun for you and very useful for some of us. Just a thought. 😉

    1. Yeah, I guess that’s understandable, since I’ve heard my writing referred to as sarcastic. Funny, I don’t really perceive it as such. Well, maybe a little. But I guess it’s kind of like how you don’t really know how your own voice sounds until you listen to it on a tape recorder. Oh, that’s how I sound? I thought I was much more Samuel L. Jackson.

      Anyway, whew, long lead-in, No, I wasn’t being sarcastic, I was being serious. I think going to that school (or one like it) would be a great idea.

      Thanks for the idea. I’ll throw that in the hopper and see if something emerges one of these days.

        1. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense too. Hmmm. Guess I’ll have to add that to the list. Thanks for the prodding, though, really.

  10. Great post as always. I don’t know the situation in other schools around Japan, but I know of many Japanese English teachers who couldn’t make conversation with a 5-year-old. The fact that your fellow teachers were hired by an eikaiwa school tells me they’re probably better at English than the average Japanese English teacher. The pay, however, is completely unfair. Japanese companies could learn something about meritocracy, or something like that (equal pay for equal ability).

    Unfortunately, the vague goal of “cultural exchange” has been lost on a lot of schools because they don’t know what that looks like. I think it’s valuable to have kids learn about American, English, Australian, etc. cultures, but unless you train ALTs how to teach kids about culture in a valuable way, the stereotypes will continue to be propagated. I think if the Japanese schools really want the kids to learn about other cultures, they need to make that goal clear and figure out effective ways to get past the novelty and surprise of foreigners, to get to actual understanding, even if just at a basic level (for the younger kids).

    Of course, the best way for Japanese people to get over their stereotypes about foreigners is to either travel abroad (and experience culture shock, which eventually leads to understanding), or have enough foreigners immigrate to Japan that they get over the shock.

    1. Agreed. We could do a lot to provide cultural sensitivity training—both for students and teachers. Of course, that goes both ways too. A lot of foreign people come to Japan expecting to find a place that doesn’t really exist.

      I read in the news this week that 870,000 people came from overseas for work or a visit in just the first 5 months of the year, an increase of 31% over last year. That’s a lot of foreigners! The highest number are coming from India, followed by Thailand and Taiwan. Of course, to the extent they look Asian, they blend in much more readily, and I doubt their numbers will do much to change peoples’ perceptions about people who look white and black.

    2. While I agree with you for the most part, getting over cultural stereo types can be done right at home in Japan. All they need to do is actually think about themselves and their own people, make it clear that there are multiple versions of Japanese and Personal culture within Japan, and then have them learn a bit more from the outside. (Well that and stop trying to teach it to them at such a young age where you can ONLY reinforce stereo types because that’s how we see the world at that point, in generalizations)

      Unfortunately, to get to that point requires having your brain turned on and thinking a bit, which seems to be pretty much against the flow in most of the system. It takes me a few months to de-program the kids in my multi-cultural class in 3rd year SHS to the point where the kids can actually understand that there is more to culture than big drinks and big cars in the US. By the time I’m done, they can actually think about their own culture and understand others in relation to their own beliefs, values, and behaviours which make them uniquely Japanese.

      1. Yeah, I’d agree with that completely. A good start would be recognizing that there are people of various heritages living in Japan. That, and that people here don’t actually look as mono-race as one might like to believe. There’s a lot of variation in skin tone and facial features. Everybody’s family came from somewhere in order to get to this island, some recently, some a long time ago. Either way, it doesn’t have to be some shameful secret that needs to be hidden.

        1. +1
          In Japan the thinking goes that you’re always a part of a group. Individual culture, talents, quirks and nuances, are often suppressed.
          There is that uchi/soto division, that is very clear. For example if someone calls your office, your whole office is uchi, and you can’t refer to a coworker as “Yamada-san”, now he’s just “Yamada”.
          Group-think encourages generalizations, and makes people try to fit in the group, no matter what. This begets all stereotyping, even within Japan. Foreigners just have another flavor of it.
          Many of my friends who came from Japan and stayed in US for a bit realized this difference very soon, and looked at Japan differently after coming back.

          Now I won’t go ahead and say that this is good or bad, because I don’t know if we can make such calls. There are plenty of cons of individual system as well. I see, for example, that Japanese bosses take responsibility of employees as a rule. Here in US blaming your own employee, and escaping scandals unscathed is a fair game for bosses. 🙁

  11. I agree with all of this except that the English teachers I work with are actually pretty terrible at English and at the elementary schools some of the teachers aren`t too hot on the alphabet.

    1. That’s certainly true of the full-time elementary school teachers I’ve met. For them, English is the least of their priorities. (And it really shouldn’t be.) I was speaking more of the JTE’s, who I find to have a generally high level of English proficiency. They’re doing virtually the same job as the ALTs and JETs, only for a fraction of the pay.

      The middle school teachers are all over the board. Mostly they seem resigned to a life of misery, working long days and dealing with kids who gradually grow to hate them. They’re the salarymen of the education world.

  12. I remember my first week as an ALT. At the nomikai, the principal said (and loudly enough so everyone around could hear): “See Tanaka-sensei over there? He’s the same age as you. He just started. And his salary is much lower than yours.”

    In contrast, (I’m not sure if this is true for other companies, but in JET’s case..) the ALT does not get a pay raise. The ALT also gets no bonus, which for regular employees can sometimes be 3-5 months of salary. Many Japanese people tell me that without the bonus, they couldn’t live. ALTs also don’t get this weird fund accumulation at the office that pays for the end of year parties and other small expenses. I remember we had a 7000 yen (100 USD at the time) end of the year party, and no one had to pay but me. They had their secret “teacher fund” that took care of it. And while other teachers can work like crazy and aim to be a homeroom teacher, principal etc.. ALTs will never get such an opportunity. So if you’re looking to climb up the education ladder in Japan—forget it.

    Are other ALT schemes the same as JET? Or is it possible to get a bonus/raise/promotion working directly through the BOE or another organization, such as Interac?

    And yeah, looking white and the English correlation. I always wondered about the Asian American/European ALTs—it must be way harder for them to get respect and feedback from the kids. I’m half Asian and look white for the most part, but many kids would ask me why my hair was black. When I told Japanese people I was half Vietnamese, they ignored it like I just said I had some STD or something. I think most Japanese people are super bias against other Asian races.. Chinese/Vietnamese/Laotian/Filipino… it’s these folk who really have to work hard to succeed in Japan, while us ‘white folk’ can say ‘hello’ and drink beer and are instantly loved.

    Anyway, long post! Still love reading your posts as always, Ken, keep up the good work.

    1. I am a direct hire ALT and I am in the same boat as you really. I don’t get a bonus or a raise. But there are opportunities from time to time for ALTs to take on more responsibilities though, but I have no idea if this comes with more money or just as a way to avoid losing your job.

    2. JET now has a new pay scale according to years in the program that started in 2012. While a 5th year JET is getting paid more compared to the old pay scale, since in the new one the 1st year JET is getting paid less than before, the pay works out to probably be about the same IF you stay on JET for the whole 5 years. If you don’t, then the government is saving money on you now.

      Your office fund sounds rather unique. Mine doesn’t do anything like that, everybody pays up at the end of the night/ahead of time by a deadline/at the entrance at the same time, so there’s no singling out.

      ALTs are meant to be assistants anyway. Perhaps if we were direct hires instead of 3rd party hires, even if that 3rd party is the Japanese government itself, it might be different. ALTs take the back door into the Japanese education system, and while that back door has less hassles, less responsibility, and a higher entry-level income, it has very little credibility at the end of the day. The position is inherently a temporary one, and no one’s going to bother promoting somebody in a temporary position. I’ve heard of ALTs getting outrightly hired by their BoEs before, though, and in those cases those people do become justifiable english teachers with all the bells and whistles, but that involves long-term commitment that 98% of ALTs are not interested in and a willingness to play the game without any special backup while still carrying the non-Japanese bias.

  13. Sucks for those teachers, I can’t imagine how it feels. I hear that white people get treated better than Japanese people do in Japan.

    1. Yeah, I’m going to say that’s true in a lot of cases. It’s a weird place. There’s something about Japan that just makes it impossible to treat all people the same. But maybe that’s anywhere. Anyway, it’s still weird.

      1. I’ve been trying to work up the nerve to go to Japan or another Asian country for a while now! It would help to have a friend to go with.

        1. I think you definitely should. And while it’s comforting to have a friend along, sometimes you meet more people when you’re by yourself.

          Japan is very safe and orderly. Because of the language barrier and the crowds of people, it can feel confusing and overwhelming (especially in Tokyo), but as long as you’re not pressed for time, you can get around just fine.

          The first time I visited here I had zero language ability and I managed just fine. I was lost a lot of the time, but I didn’t starve to death or get eaten by wild monkeys, so any time that happens, I call my vacation a success.

  14. SURPRISE, I have another question….

    Since the Japanese are so slim, can you explain their adoration with Sumo? I was watching “Shima no Sensei” the other day and there was an episode where the local island people have a festival and one of the events at the festival was when all the male kids and adults had a Sumo tournament in those silly looking jock straps. All the women in the village privately giggled at it, but at the event they made it seem all serious and an important event.

    Though the plot line used this event to resolve an issue with school bullying, it looked pretty silly and all of the participants (except one small child) were stick thin and not Sumo looking at all. I’ve read that Japanese women throw themselves at Sumo champions hoping to have their child, but isn’t that sort of contradictory if they all want to be thin and skinny. Something here doesn’t compute right, maybe you know someone in Japan that could explain this to me.


    1. Hmmmmmm indeed. That’s a good question, but perhaps we might be reading a bit too much into the sport. Sometimes I think if we look at things from a Western perspective, things in Japan take on that hazy “oriental” feel, all water lilies, reed flutes, and koto strings. But it’s really just a sport, like any other. It’s fun to watch, particularly because it’s so basic: just two dudes in the ring: no equipment, no complicated rules, no pants. What’s not to like?

      So to say that Japanese people have a fascination with these over-sized sumo wrestlers seems a bit off the mark, like saying basketball fans are enamored with tall people or hockey fans are drawn to guys with no front teeth. People like the sport, and huge, fat guys are good at it, so naturally they like those dudes. But if a skinny guy could do it, I’m sure he’d be adored by fans as well. My training begins tomorrow.

      As for women, that seems pretty easy, but just to make sure I asked a lady friend of mine. Her response was instantaneous: “Well, it’s all about the money, right?” Granted, that’s a sample size of exactly one, but it seems to make sense. You don’t have to look too far in any venue to find women attracted to famous and wealthy men, regardless of their appearance.

      1. Your answers are the best Ken, I laughed my Kabuki off. I probably should have posted this question on the Beach essentials as it had a lead in there, Gomennasai. I really admire the Sumos, since I was a collegiate wrestler, but they have such a hard lifestyle on the way to become a Yokozuna. I think they earn between 150-500K US dollars equivalent a year (not including endorsements or bonus money) depending on their rank, but shorten their life expectancy by 20 years or more due to the extreme training they have to go through.

        I can still remember the first time I was impressed by a Sumo; it was when I bought my son a Nintendo with the “Street Fighter” game. There was a Sumo fighter on it called “E Honda” and he was the only character I could win with (I just loved the 100 hand slap and belly flop attacks). Ever since then, I’ve had a soft spot for Sumos and I really did enjoy the “Shima no Sensei” episode that portrayed the Sumo core values of fighting spirit and bonding of competitors. It very nicely addressed the issue of school bullying in the episode and might be the real solution to solving bullying; can you imagine if they made all bullies wear those crazy looking noodle napkins and wrestle one another in front of the entire school…LOL!

        One of the most incredible Sumo matches I watched was where a 280 lb. Sumo leaped completely over a charging 400 lb. Sumo to win the tournament. The audience reacted very strangely, they pelted the wrestlers with pillows and some even tried to spit on them. It must be bad form to leap over your opponent?

        1. Yeah, I have great memories of sumo from my first trip to Japan. Day 4 of my trip I finally crashed out in one long exhausted, hung-over, and jet-lagged day spent mostly atop my hotel bed, watching horrible TV that I couldn’t understand. Like, what good is it laying around the hotel if you can’t enjoy TV? Fortunately, sumo was on, so I watched that for hours. That at least was easy to understand and enjoy, and for that I’ll always be thankful.

          Don’t know about the jumping over your opponent thing. If it’s the start of the match when they’re both charging at each other, I guess I can see how just jumping out of the way could be kind of a puss move. On the other hand, it also seems pretty cool, like something Jackie Chan would do if he was Polynesian.

        2. Sorry to intervene in this thread, but I just had to give my two cents about how (some) people become sumo wrestlers.

          The jr. high school I taught at in Japan was actually famous for sumo wrestling, and kids were sent from all over the country to study at my little village’s jr. high and high school. These kids were sent from home at age 10-12 to live in a dorm full of other kids training to become sumo wrestlers. I had kids from Chiba, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, all over—they were separated from their families to come to the absolute middle of nowhere and try to become the next yokozuna.

          They would practice sumo after class from 3-12 (yes, that’s midnight) every single day (weekends included). I remember the first time I saw some of my kids with black eyes. I immediately clutched one student’s shoulders and screamed “are you ok!? What happened!?” In response, they just laughed and said that they get black eyes, bruises, cuts etc… all the time during their training. Out of all my students, they would always be the sleepiest in class because they would stay up all hours of the night training.

          We gave them two portions of school lunches, and the villagers always gave the sumo dorm (sumo house, rather) extra vegetables and food so that they could fatten them up. My students said even if they didn’t want to eat, they were forced to, otherwise they couldn’t keep on the extra weight.

          One of my JTEs was an ex-sumo wrestler, and I was shocked, because he was fairly thin. He said he used to be much heavier, but in order to gain the weight he had to eat like crazy. As soon as he stopped his ‘get fat’ routine, the pounds dropped instantly.

          So yeah, sumo wrestlers aren’t fat on accident. They train to be that way. Like all the Japanese dedicated to a sport, they really make it a way of life instead of a hobby. I used to watch my kids practice and squeal whenever they butted head with each other—sumo is brutal!

          Still don’t know why girls go gaga over the sumo wrestlers. They didn’t in my jr high, so I guess Ken must be right about the money thing!

          1. Mary,

            Thanks so very much for that first hand account. I had guessed they started Sumo training young, but that is incredible that they begin the training at 10-12; I had no idea. Is that school associated with any of the Sumo clan training groups? I heard the training regimen for the Sumo stables for professiojnal status are even harder.

            I was reading up on Sumo champions after I wrote my earlier responses and I believe that the Sumo that jumped over the other was named Chiyonofuji Mitsugu. I remember thinking that it was the coolest thing I had ever seen since it happened at the end of a long match was done so fast that the charging Sumo plowed into the people on the side of the ring.

            I know that there was a huge scandal in 2011 about bout fixing and 12 or more Sumos were expelled from the sport, but I still think its a very honest sport and nothing like the spectacle and crazy behavior of professional wrestling here in the US. I wonder if Japan has professional wrestling like we do (I mean with all the crazy theatrics and the emphasis on entertainment and not competition).

  15. Good read, nice to see humour mixed in with the story, I remember being in a Fukuoka Yatai one night where the guy serving the noodles was fascinated by the ‘size’ of my nose and the short sleeves I was wearing … come on don’t these guys get out and watch tele or the movies, your little students fascination is fair enough, but adults …

    1. Yeah, something about people here . . . they can be pretty blunt about pointing out physical features in front of everybody. It’s kind of strange because a lot of people don’t like to stand out. You’d think they’d be more sensitive about it. But then you’d think a lot of things. Probably helps to remember that the Golden Rule doesn’t apply in a hierarchy.

  16. I’ve recently discovered this site and all of the topics are really hilarious! Keep up the good work man!

    There’s one thing I wanted to hear your opinion about though. While I fully agree with the things written in the article, I can’t help but wonder about some of your replies, namely the ones where you say that people often try to talk to you in English. Is it really true or are you just exaggerating for the laughs? Cause I had pretty much the same experience for about 3-4 months when I first arrived (probably cause I constantly looked left and right like an idiot), but it quickly disappeared after that. People not only started to answer me in Japanese only when I asked about something, but they actually seemed relieved I wan’t talking in English. So were your replies really honest and if they were how would you explain this situation?

    1. Thanks very much for reading. So yeah, that’s a good question. Although there is one breed of Japanese folk who staunchly refuse to speak Japanese to white people, they’re pretty much the exception. They tend to spend excessive amounts of time in eikaiwas and Irish bars, and they’re rather easily avoided.

      But there’s this other thing, and yeah, this is like a daily thing, where people interact with you differently than everyone else. The cashier offers everyone else a bag, but not you. The waiter interjects his speech with English-esque phrases, “okay okay” instead of “kashkou marimashita,” or “one more” instead of “okawari.” “Thank you” in English. It’s really small stuff (although sometimes bordering on “microagression“), but it perpetuates a process of “othering.” If you’re only here for a short time, you may notice it very little and probably care even less.

      What happens though, is living here and speaking Japanese all the time, you start to forget that you’re “foreign.” You might even think you’re just a normal person living in the society. That’s crazy. And it won’t be very long before somebody reminds you just how different you are by handing you the English menu or commenting on how good your Japanese is. How much this bothers you depends upon your personality and how much you feel like you’re “one of us” versus “one of them.”

      So in my writings, I try to highlight snippets of conversations that actually occurred, although perhaps with less frequency than it might appear. On the other hand, I certainly don’t have to look very far to find examples. Happened today at lunch, in fact. But that’s another story.

    1. I know, right? I keep checking too, but that damn Seeroi guy—it’s like Japan’s his own private vacation. Gotta hire somebody competent to replace that dude.

      So my life, seriously, it’s crazy. So many wonderful nights drinking beer in izakaya, getting dragged places by unseemly characters, missing the last train. And I’m constantly thinking, Man, I gotta get up early and write something tomorrow.

      But then so many horrible mornings. I’m like, Gaaa, why are there empty champagne bottles in my sink and why is it noon? I’ll write something as soon as I find my pants. You’d be surprised how long that can take.

      So yeah, my apologies. I wrote something in my mind yesterday—does that count? Probably not. Okay, I’m pretty sure I just have a genetic defect, and I’m just waiting on science to come up with a cure for Lazy as Eff. It’s a verifiable disease, I checked. Apparently, there’s a lot of people with the same affliction, and they just need your support. So as soon as I finish organizing this telethon I’ll get this next post out there.

      1. Hahahaha oh ken! That’s fine I think I have that disease too, I haven’t done any of my holiday homework and school starts again on Monday!

        As long as you actually are going to write another in the future, that’s okay! I was worried you’d left us for some beautiful japanese woman or something hahaha 🙂

  17. She doesn’t make less because she has a wrong-colored passport. She makes less because she accepted those terms of her contract. No one made her do that. She did that. If she could better, she’d be working elsewhere.

  18. Yo Ken,

    I have found you some funny ass Japanese and Korean TV shows and movies that I think you’ll get a kick out of.


    This TV series is hilariously wierd and perverted, so Japanese. Its about High School kids that suddenly get different psychic powers. You’ll love the teleportation dude, he is absolutely the funniest character of them all and remember these words: the spider crawl can be dangerous to others!


    This Korean Movie is also strangely funny and interesting; sort of a date movie for those that are avant garde. It has a great ending too.

    Happy watching Ken and thanks again for all the great reads!

    1. Thanks, Bud! I always appreciate your recommendations. Summer’s here, so hopefully I’ll have a bit more time to lay around and watch movies, and maybe even get a bit of writing done. Nah, that’s crazy talk. But thanks.

  19. Very funny, yeah it’s pretty scary being a Gaijin here. I’ve been wondering if ‘Shingeki No Kyojin’ isn’t some kind of allegory for Japan the horrific Kyojin/Gaijin who are breaking down the walls and need to be slain.

    1. You mean the manga with the giant, unintelligent monsters that devour people? Heh, there could be a bit of that. The notion of protecting “us” from “them” is a common theme, and not just to Japan. Perhaps the surprising thing is that the Japanese people seem generally unaware that they’re dividing the world into exactly two groups: “Japanese” and “everyone else,” also known as “gaikokujin.” And that so many “gaikokujin” go along with it.

  20. Ken, you sound like a pretty cool dude. If I was, for say, planning to move to Japan, what school should I goto to learn Japanese, or should I go the online learning route? Also, should I try a foreign exchange student program? Thanks!

    1. Foreign exchange, if it’s an option, sounds like a good route. Hypothetically, you’d get to live with a Japanese family and get an authentic experience. During the day you could go to school, and at night, I dunno, help the mom peel carrots or something.

      Online learning would be a good solution until you get to Japan. But there’s something about real face-to-face education that seems to make things stick better. If I had the chance, I’d enroll in a full-time program at a professional language school, like the Yamasa Institute. Might cost you a bit of cash, but you’d get results.

  21. I’ve always wanted to ask, and no offense, but has it ever occurred to you that the Japanese people who meet you for the first time have to assume you’re fresh off the boat, because you being a resident of Japan is a far more remote possibility? But I guess you’re more sensitive to such treatment because you come from America, where you won’t be surprised if you see an Asian-looking man speak in English.

    1. There’s probably some of that, the assumption of fresh-off-the-boat. Which is strange, really, since you can usually tell immediately how long someone’s been here just by looking at them. I really gotta stop wearing a backpack and walking around staring at guidebooks. But that aside, a lot of Japanese folks seem to operate with the assumption that you couldn’t possibly know what we know. Because you’re, well, you know. So it really doesn’t matter whether you’ve been here for decades, or even that you were born and raised here. Your skin color says it all.

      Now, you’re right that having been raised in the U.S. shaped my view of how people should deal with others unlike themselves. When I meet someone who’s Asian or black or in a wheelchair or with a nose ring or who’s got curly hair, I try not to automatically assume, well, anything. I mean, how would you know anything about that person? That’s what I was taught, both explicitly and through experience. But the Japanese school system and media literally teaches the exact opposite. In Japan, skin color defines the person.

      But hey, whatever. We’re here. We’re white. Get used to it. Remind me to print up some t-shirts.

  22. I have been reading your blog religiously for the past three nigts. I think im close to finishing since I started towards the end and worked my way back to the beginning. I havent read this much since I powered through the last Harry Potter book in one sitting back in 07, but i digress…It is honestly some of the funniest, most insightful and brutually honest writing I have ever come across. It has come up many times in the comments, which I read and appreciate the time you take to respond to most of the comments, but back to what i was saying…you really should publish this blog into a book. It has changed many, many misconceptions ive had about Japan, but in return has made me want to live in Japan even more.

    One thing i have been curious about, and has been a recurring theme in your blog, almost to the point of ad nauseam for you especially, is the discrimination you recieve simply for being “Foreign” or not Japanese. My question is why does it bothers you so much when you know it will happen and there is nothing you can do about it. I am obviously naive since I have never experienced it, but I feel like it is almost a waste of time at this point to feel slighted because it is expected. You have described situations where you are treated as foreign despite intiating conversations in perfect japanese, which would probably piss me off as well so I am with you there, but getting annoyed when your students automatically converse with you in English without fail, especially when it’s when engrained into them like “The Manchurian Candidate”, seems to be like crying over spilt milk, well milk that is spilt every day like clockwork, but still, you it will happen. Do you expect different reaults? The defenition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, not that your insane…Well the late nights at the Izakaya and the copious amount of Sappor might be catching up…But in all seriousness will you ever accept that it is just going to happen and brush it aside? At a certain point i would probably just just it go myself, but then again I am not Ken Seeroi.

    Also, speaking of the national mindset of “They are not like us”, are there Japanese people who do try and fight back against that mindset? Even Martin Luther King did’nt have to fight the good fight on his own. (By the way i would totally support you if you decided to become the Martin Luther King of “Foriegners” in japan).

    You have earned a new fan so continue to what you do. I look forward to new stories.

    (P.S. would it be too much to ask for a story about the worst date you had in Japan. I am sure you have a classic Ken Serroi story for such an occassion)

    1. Why racism here bothers me at all is a question I ask my white face every morning in the mirror. And then I see a new crease and think Eh, maybe that’s why. I really gotta stop sleeping on my beautiful countenance, or get a new pillow or something. But what I mean is that, nothing ever worried Ken Seeroi The Younger. Democrat, Republican . . . heh, like there’s difference. The environment, religion, abortion, littering, smoking tobacco, smoking crack, gays, guns, drunk driving, dog fighting—-not only didn’t I care, I couldn’t fathom why anybody else cared either.

      But lately I’ve noticed that I do care and it’s not just me. People seem hell-bent on fighting for some cause. Any cause. It almost doesn’t seem to matter, since half the world’s fighting for the opposite and anybody not directly involved doesn’t give two shits anyway. Like why would a couple dozen guys risk their lives on the open ocean trying to stop a nation with a thousand years of tradition based on eating whales? I’ve no idea, but if that’s what they want to do, eh, fair enough. I guess I’d rather we didn’t eat cows, pigs, and horses either, but I’m not going to make a big deal about it. That’s not my fight. I don’t know why.

      What I see is that people the world over believe so strongly in their personal causes that they find them worth protesting, fighting, and dying for. So objectively, I’d say it’s probably programmed into the human species to search out perceived injustices and then rail against them. If you don’t have your own yet, eh, just wait a bit.

      And somewhere along the line, this racism thing came out of nowhere. To me, it just seems wrong to treat people differently based upon how they look. Although, again objectively, it makes a bit of sense. Why would anybody treat a man and a woman the same? Or a black person and a Hispanic person? Clearly, they’re different. I mean, everybody is. But me, personally, and for only me, it just seems really effed up. I can overlook all kinds of other stuff that other people feel super strongly about. Maybe I don’t really care. Why I picked racism in Japan to be bothered about, I don’t know. I guess that’s just what humans do: latch onto some cause while blatantly ignoring others. Everybody needs a hobby, it seems.

      As for my worst date…I probably just blocked that out. That’s why I drink Tanqueray. On the other hand, in terms of best date ever, I’d say there are some candidates, but that’s another drunk story.

      1. I can respect that. I grew up in colorado with nexicans being my best friend and you still see a lot of racism towards them. Not to mention all the racist in America seemingly have come out of the wordworks in past year with the current election cycle. It is going to happen whther we like it or not unfortunately. Also what you have described in your experiences in Japan is the first time I have ever heard of racism towards white people on that scale. Granted it is not nearly as racist as other forms of discrimination, but discrimination it is nonetheless. Again I am speaking from naivety, but it seems to me that many Japanese people mean well when they address you in english, on the simple grounds of trying to be friendly and accomidating. You have stating before, in the comments, that the discrimination is a small matter but the small things add up over time, and furthermore that it is the small things that make the difference. So i guess it falls in the category of, pick your battles. The story about the homeless guy in the park was particularly funny even though it was as you described, the most racist experience you had yet encountered in Japan. Die, Octupus! Literally had me in tears.

        I finally caught up on all the blog posts to my dismay yesterday at work. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself and look forward to knew stories.

        One quick question if you dont mind. I am going to college…err well I am going to finish my degree, why I had to stop is a long story…and I am majoring in history with a minor in education because I always wanted to be a history teacher, but in my study of history I came to love japan and have always wanted to live there. So my question is, would that degree suffice to become either an eikaiwa or ALT? I have no problems with teaching english because i always wanted to be a teacher to begin with and i have to say my english is quite good too. Well i think so anyway, I’ve been told my whole life that i don’t enunciate my words.

        1. Ken should have a good answer for you–and maybe he can say I’m way off base but–in my opinion, getting a degree and then working in an eikaiwa is a bit like finally getting admitted to the Playboy mansion but then instead of enjoying the women you go off in a corner and repeatedly slam your junk in a refigerator door. 😛

          1. That sounds right, with a slight amendment. I mean, it’s kind of hard to equate Japan with the Playboy mansion once you’ve lived here. It more falls somewhere between a played-out frat party and a scary bar in the backwoods of Kentucky, depending on where you live and who you hang with. Either way though, yeah, getting a job in an Eikaiwa is indeed like slamming your junk in the fridge door. Hang on a sec though, lemme check that.

            Rest assured that at Japanese Rule of 7, we always fact-check, and yep, that’s what it’s like all right. Great, now I have to sit to pee for the next week.

            Getting a job as a JET or ALT, on the other hand, is a great idea. It’s pretty mellow, the money’s not terrible (on a per-hour basis) and you’ll get a glimpse into real-life here. Most importantly, it’ll help you understand why children grow into the kind of adults they do. A History degree from a “native English-speaking” country should be fine. Sounds like a plan to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *