Why are you Still in Japan?

People routinely ask, “Why are you still in Japan?” and I guess the answer depends upon which phase of Japanese life we’re talking about. Because first there’s

1. Amazement

Living in Japan’s like being born again. Everything’s filled with wonder, nothing makes any sense, and you’re insanely pleased by the simplest stuff. Look!—-I’m riding the subway. It’s like a train, only underground! So many people! Man, I gotta take a picture of this!

You can’t understand a thing. Not a word, not an action, and it’s hilarious. You can’t even stroll down the sidewalk without knocking over office ladies and soba-delivery boys. Which side do you walk on? Are there no rules? It’s madness. An escalator? Whoa, how do you use this thing? Here, take a picture of me riding it!

And everybody treats you wonderfully. Japanese people are so polite! They show you around, invite you to events, buy you beers, meals, help you. You’re like, “How do I get to the airport?” and some old man says, “Here, I’ll walk you to the station.” He’s a hundred years old and the spitting image of Yoda, but he’s gonna limp you there with his Jedi cane. How nice is that?

So for about two years, if you’d asked why I was in Japan, my answer would’ve been, Because it’s awesome! And it was. I wish I could still see the world like that two year-old. Why I can’t any more, I don’t know. Maybe I need new glasses. Beer goggles help somewhat.

2. Annoyance

Then after a while, living in Japan’s more like living on top of Tokyo Tower.

You’re like, “Guess where I got a room? You’ll never guess. Guess!”

And your buddy’s like, “I dunno, where?”

“On top of freaking Tokyo Tower!”

“No way! You mean the Tokyo Tower, in Tokyo?”

“Yes way! That’s the one. You should see the view from my bathroom!”

Until after a while you’re like, Man, why does it rain so much up here? Ah jeez, I forgot to buy vanilla extract. Now how am I gonna bake apple pie? Ah crap, the elevator’s jammed with tourists again. Better take the stairs. Man, this sucks.

Living in Japan comes with some predictable minor annoyances. It takes forever to do the simplest things. You can’t read the newspaper, the television’s a blur of words, and forget going to the drugstore. There’s an entire aisle of painkillers, so how is it I can’t find one bottle of freaking aspirin? Consulting the pharmacist is like asking a leprechaun where he hid his pot of gold. Despite having spent years in school and holding an advanced degree, suddenly he speaks zero English. The bastard, you know he can. Later you figure out you were in the vitamin aisle.

Japanese Racism

Of course, everybody still treats you nicely. Only now that you speak Japanese, it’s slightly different.

You ask, “Which’d be better for getting to the airport, train or bus?”

And 100 year-old Yoda’s still there saying, “Here, let me walk you to the station.”

“Oh, sorry,” you say, “I was merely asking theoretically which transportation method would be most expedient.”

“Here,” he insists, tugging at your shirt, “the station’s this way.”

“I know where the station is. You freaking showed me five years ago! I just want to know…”

And then your Japanese girlfriend leans in and asks the exact same question.

“Oh,” he croaks, ”good question. That would depend upon your budget and time constraints. I’ll fill you in on the details after I finish taking this white guy to the station.”

Getting Stuff Done in Japan

So it’s no longer childish niceness you want—-it’s to actually get shit done. Go to the dentist, get a credit card, invest in a 401K, apply for food stamps, buy a car, buy a house, whatever. Heh, look at the foreigner trying to rent an apartment. That’s funny. Now where’s the Japanese adult who’s going to vouch for him?

So for the next few years, there were still moments of sunshine, but also periods of rain and darkness. Sleeping on a futon in a freezing one-room apartment, which seemed so Japanese at first, became a major pain in the ass. Then the lady next door killed herself. Then a friend of mine went into the hospital. Another friend had a stroke. I checked myself into the hospital and had an operation, after signing endless forms I couldn’t read.

The money ran out, and I went from champagne and ho’s to malt liquor and Fritos. I woke up at 4 a.m. worried I’d die alone. I woke up next to strange women and worried I wouldn’t. But that’s just real life. Sometimes all you find in your tiny Japanese fridge is an open can of Asahi. Is it half full or half empty? Anyway, if you cover it with Saran Wrap you can still drink it tomorrow. Keeps the freshness in.

So during that time, I stayed in Japan out of pure stubbornness. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t horrible, it just was. Well, every place is.

Why do you Hate Japan?

I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike Japan at all. Look, when your wife tells you to get off the couch and go to the gym, she doesn’t hate you. If she hated you, she’d divorce your ass, steal your kids, and siphon off all your money. She’s telling you to remove your face from that can of mixed nuts because she loves you and wants you to quit screwing up. And that, in a nutshell, is how I feel about Japan. I want this nation to quit dumping old TV sets in the forest, stop being so xenophobic, and to enact some anti-smoking laws out of love, not hate. I want Japan to be better, because hey, I live here too.

3. Ah, Fuck it

Finally, living in Japan’s like living at your mom’s house. It’s pretty safe. It’s clean. You can get some rest, maybe save some money, or just sit in the recliner wearing underpants all day playing the guitar. You gotta put up with some minor aggravations—-Ken, here’s the English menu. Damn, Mom, why you always discriminatin’ against me—-but all in all it’s pretty calm and flat.

You can still throw parties, maybe that’s okay, but you know you can’t get too wild or Mom’ll chew you out for mixing plastic bottles in with the paper garbage. There’s a lot of rules. Going to somebody else’s house, like Korea or Taiwan, okay that’s better. So for fun, you do what most Japanese people do—-take trips out of Japan.

Best Reasons for Being in Japan

A reader asked for these, but let me explain why it’s tough to provide any.

Not saying there aren’t some cool things here. I’ve had plenty of barbecues on the riverbanks, gone camping in the mountains, stayed in ryokan overlooking the ocean, taken snorkeling trips in Okinawa and skiing excursions in Hokkaido. Rode the shinkansen to Kyoto sipping wine, and cable cars over the Hakone hot springs snuggling with random girls. But those are just vacation photos, not exactly exclusive to Japan. Spend twelve years anywhere and you’re gonna come away with some colorful snapshots.

Real Life in Japan

Most days, you just shower, shave, go to bed, then get up, have a natto-rice-and-miso-soup-packed breakfast, shower again, then go to work. It’s ordinary existence. You water the plants, wash the sheets, get the oil changed in the Honda scooter, buy some Q-Tips. if you pass a temple, you wouldn’t think to take a picture any more than you would of a church. A new seasonal flavor of Kit Kat? Okay, that’s exciting. Japan’s all about convenience. All those signs that used to be so cool with their kanji, you can read them now. “Stop abandoning kittens here.” “Dumping trash in the lake will result in a fine.” Apparently convenience takes many forms.

So replace “being in Japan” with “living at your mom’s house” and maybe you see why it’s a hard question. It only works if Japan’s some exciting, exotic thing.

Japan’s actually—-well, not boring, but what’s the opposite of exciting? Okay, so whatever that is. You want stimulation, hey, go to a Gathering of the Juggalos or something. Here you’ll get plenty of practice sitting on packed trains, silently staring at your smartphone while discreetly sipping bottles of green tea. But hey, no place is perfect. In Japan, you trade excitement for order, innovation for process, and conversation for privacy.

Why are you Still in Japan?

So why am I still here? Well, for starters, where would I go? Move to some foreign country? That’s a little extreme, don’t ya think? It took me years to build a life in Japan. It’s not easy to get a decent job anywhere, and now I’ve got that and a bunch of other stuff: health insurance, a Japanese driver’s license, credit cards, one car, two bikes, and actual furniture. Like a freaking bed. Do you realize how incredible that is? So just ditch it all and move to some bizarre country where everyone’s covered in tattoos and cologne, toting guns and wearing red trucker caps? Heh, if such a place actually existed it’d probably be awesome, like the greatest country on earth.

The Japanese Lottery

Every once in a while, I buy a Japanese lottery ticket. People sometimes ask what I’d do if the numbers came up. A hella lotta things, I guarantee you that, including taking up residence in the Playboy Mansion and strolling around with a pipe and an open bathrobe. But the truth is, you’re not gonna win. Not now, not ever. So what’re you actually gonna do? I’d say it looks like, barring an act of God, I’m gonna end up living with Mom a while longer.

95 Replies to “Why are you Still in Japan?”

    1. Hell, I’m surprised that it did in the U.S. And now everybody just vapes and smokes pot. Guess that’s progress for ya.

  1. The only way to get Japan to change, like actual change you’re talking about, is for it to collapse first – Shuji Nakamura.

    1. I kind of wish Japan wouldn’t change. Not like we need any more KFC’s and Starbuck’s. But I’m pretty sure it will—not in the way we expect or even want—but it will. So I guess I might as well put in my bid for how I’d like it to.

      1. A 2016 Global CEO Outlook survey by KPMG asked “In which regions do you see the potential for decreasing your focus over the next 3 years?” The results were:

        Russia: 21%
        Middle East: 21%
        JAPAN: 20%
        North Africa: 20%
        Sub-Saharan Africa: 19%

        Not some great company to be in for Japan. Companies here need to get with the global program or face some serious consequences soon. They don’t want to budge a centimeter though.

        1. The only way Japan’s “getting with the global program” is by foreign companies moving in and doing what Japanese companies used to do, only better.

          But talk about a hard market. Japan’s resistant to change, so I can understand why businesses would rather focus on regions anxious for progress.

          People don’t change when things are comfortable. For that, you need pain. And right now, Japan’s all about comfort.

          It’s a cycle. And we wait.

          1. Waiting for Japan to change?
            From what you have written, you may as well be waiting for the Easter bunny. Or the tooth fairy.
            Is that a unicorn I see over there?
            Waiting for Japan to change is waiting for something that will never happen.
            There’s no reason compelling such a change.
            If the real estate market crash, the stock market crash, ever-declining birth rates arent enough, what possibly could be?
            Just being real

            1. I hear you. It feels like it’ll never change. And to that just let me say,

              Black president
              Orange president

              Or if you prefer, Female governor of Tokyo.

              So sometimes change happens slowly and gradually, and sometimes all at once. No one wants to wait 3 minutes for the Cup-o-Noodles to be ready—we’re hungry now.

              But let’s take a bit longer view. From the 1990’s, Japan’s changed a lot. From the 1950’s even more. And from before the war, wow, a ton. I mean, I’ve only been here for a bit over 10 years, and already we’ve gone from using paper maps to smartphones, feeding coins into the payphone at the station to Line-ing anyone at the drop of a hat. I used to have to search for someone who could speak English; now so many workers are Korean and Chinese that I have to ask for someone who speaks Japanese.

              So I don’t know how much Japan’s gonna change in the next 10 years. But give it 30, 50, or 100, and we won’t recognize the place. If you think Japanese racism’s bad, just wait till we get discriminated against by robots.

          2. As far as business/economic situations are concerned, I’m concerned. So many companies try to break into the market and fail. Then they finally succeed on the third try only to learn after a year that no one wants to do things differently.

            Sure, there are a few exceptions, (Nike, Apple, uh.. others) but it is a really strange place for businesses. It compounds when they localize by hiring away Japanese execs and managers from shoshas only to find the company name doesn’t automatically infuse company culture.

            “I can understand why businesses would rather focus on regions anxious for progress”

            ^That’s where things seem headed on the global scale anyways. But it’s a win-win-win, no one “soils” Japan’s market, businesses expand, “developing” regions turn into “developed.”

  2. Your stories are one of the few things that actually make me laugh out loud. I really appreciate them. Please keep up the good work!

  3. I can’t remember if anybody ever asked me why I’m still in Japan.
    Japanese people often asked me how long I’ll be in Japan. Although I was already in my 30s, they still asumed I must be an exchange student.
    And now, people always asked me why I’ve left Japan.
    Seems like you can never escape those questions. 😉

    Oh, and say Hi to Yoda when you see him next time. ;P

    1. That does seem to be the progress of questions:

      Why are you here?
      Why don’t you leave?
      Why did you leave?

      Thinking about visiting Japan? Start preparing responses now.

        1. Heh, yeah, that question has become almost a national obsession.

          As I’m sure you know, there’s a long-running TV show where they run around Japan chasing after foreign-looking people with a camera and asking “Why did YOU come to Japan”:

          I’m still waiting for someone to make a video where they flip the script.

          1. Man I hate that show…but yeah I usually respond to the “Where are you from?” with Tokyo…and if they kept pushing, I’d say Minami-Azabu but planning to move to Meguro, but before all of that, Kyoto. So where are you from? ;p

              1. The only thing that I find irritating about that show is that they always just scout out people at the airport, at least in the few episodes that I have seen, so almost all the reasons are touristy ones. It would have been cool to hear more from long-term visitors here, or even people who have settled down here. I don’t really care about the people who come here because of some niche hobby that they have, but I would love to hear why and how some people have stayed here for their entire adult lives. Although, that show isn’t really aimed at someone like me.

                1. The show’s not really aimed at anybody who thinks much. It’s a minstrel show trading on two common Japanese tropes:

                  1. People who aren’t Japanese are different from “us”
                  2. Japan’s a unique place and “you” would naturally be amazed and perplexed

                  The moment you become one of us, we’re no longer interested in you.

                  1. Ah but YOU can never become US…YOU just get less interesting…

                    Then again I lap it up too, I love watching things like 秘密のケンミンSHOW…oh wow, I can’t believe this prefecture does this weird thing with tempura!!! Japanese shows are great about just turning off your brain…

  4. “living in Japan is like living at your mom’s house”. I’ll be using it for long, lol.
    Such a good comparison.

    1. Yeah, more and more that’s really how it seems. Somehow Japan went from Lake Havasu at Spring Break to, uh, Lake Havasu the rest of the year.

  5. Hi Ken,
    Love the absolute realism. You don’t BS yourself (nor your reader) at all. So basically, you’ve built a life there, and why give that up? for what? Any other place would simply be a different flavor of nonsense to deal with. A different place, same kinda nonsense. And you would be starting over again.

    You make a good point that day to day, it’s mostly ordinary, and that you don’t deal with all the examples of ridiculousness that you post in your blog. These are highlights that you share. You can navigate all of it when you encounter it…because it’s an old hat to you. You must say to yourself, “Here we go again”……

    So, in short…..there’s nothing great about living in Japan (and the counterpoint……nor anywhere else). You’re just invested there and you know the landscape. You’d move for something better, but show you something that’s ACTUALLY better. I do remember that you wrote what most Japanese truly want…is to get out of Japan. Curios, isnt it?

    And thanks for the post!

  6. I think that if you avoid the negatives of Japan, the positives are quite high compared to other countries.
    I mean, if you have money and a social support system (international culture friends), then there are some pretty great things to spend your money on in Japan. When you are a customer in Japan, you get treated pretty well and more universally well than in other countries. The infrastructure is more reliable, safer, cleaner then other places. Well, everything is more reliable – more predictable – and when annoying things are predictable it is easier to avoid them. Food good, lifestyle is healthy – as people are expected to walk and bicycle in the city. While you’re walking around, more people are appealing to look at and are less potentially threatening than in other places.
    So, if you can just afford a private secretary to deal with all the Japanese paperwork, should be pretty good compared to living in other countries with a private secretary.

    1. Yes. Good customer service. It is one of the only things I would really want if I move from my home country. It is dog shit here.

      1. Man, try living as a Farang in Thailand. You get downright glared at just for existing in the same space as them by most shop staff.

  7. Hi Ken!

    This post hit hard because as a long time reader, I remember your posts with some excitement back from 2008, the hospital episode, your comments on a lack of intellectual stimulation in friendships/conversations, and your tussling with Japanese racism. It especially was meaningful to hear that your criticisms are because you love the Japanese society.

    I am curious about what you think is improving in Japanese society regarding racism because that seems to be your greatest complaint (as you seem to have figured out how to make appliances do what you want). Specifically, after the government collected data on the prevalence of racism, how optimistic are you that things will change and what sorts of changes do you think you will see on the short and long timescales? If you could run for office, what policy would you push that would make life better for foreigners, while maintaining the Japaneseness that lured you in the first place? Basically, I am curious what you think will happen and what you want to have happen.

    1. Great question.

      I’d love to think there was a policy- or education-based solution to alleviate racism in Japan, but the Japanese public couldn’t begin to accept it.

      There are many, many Japanese people with noses just a little too big, eyes a little too round, hair a little too curly, or skin a little too light or dark who muse privately about their family histories. But nobody knows, because even within their own families, nobody can discuss it. Grandma died without anybody acknowledging some incident with a Filippino, Chinese, American, Mongolian, Russian, or Korean person.

      You don’t have to know much about Japanese culture to know that personal discussion is virtually nonexistent. If people can’t talk about race within their own families, how’re they going to entertain it in public dialog?

      So I honestly don’t think there’s anything anyone can do. Unless maybe Jesus flies down with his cape and tights and magically turns everybody purple. Miracles. Could happen, just saying. The bible tells me so.

      But…it really doesn’t matter. Because demographics trump everything.

      You asked what I want to have happen? Man, I’d love for Japan to go back to some mythical time when there were only be a few random foreign outcasts here and for everything to stay all tea-house geisha and tatami like in the movies. Maybe I could tolerate racism then, because it’d be somewhat warranted.

      But what will happen? Hey, California provides a great, instructional model. It used to seem like the land of white people. Of course, there were always brown people, otherwise known as “kitchen staff” and “landscaping crews.” Then the brown people had some babies. Then a few more brown people arrived. Then they had a bunch of babies, thanks to Christianity. Now the most populous U.S. state is less than 50% white. Really, that’s a good thing, although it seems to have more than a few white panties up in a bunch.

      Sorry, but where were we? Oh yeah, so right now, Japan’s being flooded by people from every nation. Chinese, Pakistani, British, you name it; they come and go, but a few stay. And they have babies. The Japanese response is to laugh at the minstrels, put them on TV, make fun of them. But while they’re laughing, Japan’s changing. Slowly at first, then faster and faster.

      Did you know Warren Buffett started with $6000, and now he’s got 73 billion? That’s compounding for you. Something similar happens with populations. But if half of Buffett’s wealth could’ve had babies with the other half, he be even richer today. And that, essentially, is where Japan’s headed. Just like money, all you gotta do is wait.

      1. Brown is beautiful…unless it’s a Hollywood movie or TV show, then everything gets whitewashed and misappropriated…but at least the produce is cheap!

        Yeah if you move to West LA or Gardena/Torrance, it’s pretty much a more open and diverse Japan except the public transportation isn’t as good, you have to tip, and you can’t take cool trips to a ryokan.

      2. As you say, Japan’s at an earlier stage in the immigration-propelled transformation of entrenched racism. Little different from the Australia of 20 years ago, which was horrible for anyone who didn’t look Anglo.

        Loneliness, or at least a lack of genuine connection, seems to be a bit of a theme for many gaijin commenters here. It is definitely harder to make close friendships as you get older and people’s time is consumed by work and family life. Still, have any of you found good ways to meet new people? I was under the impression that lots of Japanese people take evening classes, for example.

        Surely there are lots of similarly lonely Japanese people who hunger for friendship and deep conversation. Is there no truth to the stereotypical ideas of Zen philosophical enquiry and, I dunno, grokking stuff at its essential core? Wabi sabi n that shizz.

      3. Great blog Ken, but I don’t see how it’s a “good thing” for California to be less than 50% white. After all, them honkeys build countries that other people want to move to, and rarely the other way around. And seeing all those “Make America Mexico Again” just shows that living in a place doesn’t turn you into a local. The Mexicans there think of themselves as Mexican, just as you consider yourself to be American.

        1. Thanks for the comment. I do appreciate it.

          I respect your right to have an opinion, however I’m struggling to find a sentence I could agree with.

          So rather than step on each other’s toes, maybe we should just leave it at that.

        2. Couldn’t agree with you more. I lived in California and will no longer – doesn’t seem part of the country, and it has nothing to do with skin pigmentation as some predictably charge. I loathe the thought when Japan ceases to become the homogenous country that many find fascinating to visit, yet lament when they’ve permanently invested their time in joining. It doesn’t necessarily make Japanese racists nor Americans who want what most societies expect – cultural homogeneity.

  8. Seeroi – san just remember the great outdoors, the smell of the plastic cherry blossom trees, and the convinience of the english menus. Makes it all the worth while

  9. I always stop working when I see a new Ken Seeroi post. It’s been years, and unlike some other things in Japan your posts never get boring!

    I’ve been living in Osaka two years now with my Japanese wife and two kids (with #3 on the way). That makes for a rather different experience. It’s been fantastic seeing the kids become bilingual (which was why we moved here), I have automatic family that I’m part of, and things like renting an apartment and getting a bank account are no problem (at least no more so than for regular Japanese — all the damn paperwork! “Oh, your hanko mark is a little off-center — we’ll have to start over — many apologies…”). But I still love reading your single guy’s stories.

    And I’m still at the fun point of the language learning. Me: “Honey! That sign says this crossing is exclusively for bikes and pedestrians. I read the whole thing!” Her: “Congratulations. The painted crosswalk, green light of a walking person, and picture of the bike on the ground didn’t give you a clue?” Me: “Yeah, this is awesome!”

    I expect if we stay here long enough then Japan may pass the “best before” date for me, too. When that day comes, I’ll rest easy knowing I can always look to your next post for a boost of schadenfreude. 🙂

    1. Schadenfreude? Easy with the doitsugo there, meister, this is a bilingual site, not a free-for-alles.

      But thanks much, seriously.

  10. Whoa! Stop it already, Seeroi. You are spoiling us. 5 posts in such quick succession. It doesn’t feel special anymore. Golden week’s becoming a norm. So that’s your quota of flattery in this comment.

    I guess I am somewhere in between Annoyance and the third stage right now. I was in Amazement for just a couple of months. After about 2-3 months of landing here, I could see the real Japanese face behind the curtsies and the bows. It started to feel more like a battle than a roller coaster ride. Both exciting, but one is filled with anxiety as well.

    Anyways, really well-written post, this one. You have a small typo, somewhere – misspelt “exciting”. You may want to edit that.
    Waiting for another hit soon. Addicted, may be.

    1. Thanks for catching that typo. You wouldn’t believe how many times I edit stuff before it goes live, only to immediately notice a million things I missd.

  11. The comparison with living at your mom’s house was quite illustrative. Yeah, it seems they will always treat you like a child.

  12. Dude, you shave at night? I wish I could get away with that.

    “Here you’ll get plenty of practice sitting on packed trains.” I think you mean STANDING. That’s my experience, at least.

    I love the Mom’s house metaphor. Also, “Stop abandoning kittens here.” lol

    1. Standing? You’re riding the train into Shinjuku. Or out of Shinjuku. Sitting? Maybe riding the train to Saitama, or Yokohama off hours on the weekend.

      Shaving at night is the ultimate luxury. Although it depends entirely upon the job I’m doing. Anything like a meeting or an important class and we’re definitely doing it morning-of. But for a casual work sitch, 5 o’clock shadow be damned—I’m shaving after 10 at night.

  13. I can relate to this post as I lived in Los Angeles for over 30 years. When I would visit out of state and inform people where I lived I would get a reply of “Why do you live there?”, “Are you crazy?” or my favorite “That’s a form of self imposed punishment”. I heard the latter from a Texas native on a cross county motorcycle tour, this will always be my personal favorite. I finally realized it was better to say I lived in San Diego rather than Los Angeles as I would get a better response. “Oh, I heard San Diego is beautiful!” rather than “Are you a Crip or a Blood gang member?”

    Yeah, LA is a jungle no doubt full of scam artists, phonies, cretins and creepier women. You name it, LA is full of it, literally. But I totally enjoyed living in the city, there was always something to do and something going on. Once you are ‘hip’ you can make your way around and separate the wheat from the chaff. Stay by the beach and LA is friggin’ awesome but yes…crowded. Very crowded.

    Let’s face it, there is no perfect place to live on this planet. As long as homo sapiens run the show you know things will get messed up anywhere and everywhere. We, as a species, are a pretty screwed up lot. All you can do is make the most of where you are be it Canada, Japan, the US or where ever.

    1. There may be no perfect place to live on the planet, but damn, Santa Monica comes close. Especially if you’ve got a ton of money. Still, a cardboard box on Venice Beach isn’t looking too bad at this point.

    2. Wow, not sure who you talked to but everyone tells me that I grew up in a great place when I talk to anyone from out of state/country…and I grew up in East CPT!

      I grew up in LA, went to school up in the Hey Area, lived in London, New York, Hong Kong, and years in Japan…now I’m in the Hey Area, but I keep hoping to get a tap on the shoulder to give me an excuse to move back to LA. Like you said, it’s pretty intimidating at first, but once you figure out how to deal with the suck…it’s pretty awesome.

  14. I like to remind myself periodically of some of the good things about life here. Most of these are relative, much better when compared to that country I used to live in.
    Let’s see…
    I regularly see/meet/work with attractive women.
    Good food. Even the bad restaurants aren’t that bad.
    I can drink a beer practically anywhere I want.
    Most of my regular errands (grocery store, post office, etc.) are within walking distance. The rest are within biking distance.
    I routinely go for long stretches without encountering a belligerent asshole, and even when I do, he is unarmed.
    The police don’t bother people much.

    Of course, I live way up in the mountains, so fresh air, clean water, lots of public green space, and cheap, delicious fruits and vegetables are also on the list.

    I haven’t been outside of Japan for nine years. Wouldn’t dream of going back.

    1. That’s really true. There are a lot of good things about living in Japan. Of course, lotta good things about living with my Mom too. Now if I could only get here to move over here, everything’d be all set.

  15. Hey Ken, thank you for sharing this! I really enjoy your writing and have been reading your blog for a while.

    My comment doesn’t really relate to this blog post, but I’ve been listening to Tim Ferriss podcast about travelling, and he mentions the Beginners Mind when it comes to finding yourself in a new place where you get amazed by the simplest stuff, like riding a subway or buying Qtips. I immediately thought of your recent articles. Just wanted to share in case you’re interested: https://www.google.ca/amp/tim.blog/2014/11/04/rolf-potts/amp/

    Do you get to travel around Japan? I’m not talking about taking vacations or having weekend trips, but actual long term travel around the country and or beyond. Would love to hear your thoughts and stories on travelling in general!

    1. I generally like taking trips that last a week or more, and tend to stay in one place rather than rush around trying to see everything. I feel like it takes at least a week to get a general understanding of a place and its people.

      I’ve traveled fairly well throughout Japan, spending weeks and months in various parts. I lived in Tokyo for years, and still don’t feel like I know it that well. There are a lot of different areas, and it’s a freaking huge metropolitan area. A city like Kita-Kyuushu or Sapporo, on the other hand, was far easier to comprehend, especially after living in Tokyo.

      I’ve gone overseas to a number of different countries, probably 25 or so. Invariably, they seem strange, exciting, and new. Just like Japan felt when I first arrived.

  16. Seeroi-先生,

    Liking your writing immensely. Also, malt liquour. You’re probably quite right in regards to your (indirect?) assertion that no country is substantially better than any another irrespective of one’s native country.

    I’d also like to request you speculate a Japanese society without 8-10-12-18+++ hours of native 日本人 ardour. I’ve (personally? … exclusively?) arrived at the conclusion that the culture of flagrant amounts of overwork is at least partially responsible for quite a few of the peculiarities of the Japanese society. What would Japan look like without strident quantities of overwork? Is that even a feasible scenario to fantasize about? What is your perspective?

    Any insights as to what extent the culture of “Ganbatte!!1one” that by and large ignores the importance of results influences the common psyche of the Japanese layman?

    You may have discussed some of these things previously in detail, but allow me to reiterate or at least inspire a new blog post…!


    1. Work is part and parcel of Japanese culture. It would be a mistake to think that people work long hours simply because their boss makes them. People here work because that’s what they do.

      Even on their days off, they’re cooking and cleaning, sweeping the sidewalks, raking the dirt. I never dreamed one could do laundry and grocery shopping on a daily basis, but here it’s pretty normal.

      One of the things that most surprising about going to America is how much time for hobbies everyone has. It’s like a sports festival, with people rock climbing, mountain biking, running, bungee-jumping, whatever.

      So what would Japan be like without all this work? I don’t know, but it damn sure wouldn’t be Japan.

      1. That’s so true, everything – even hobbies – are turned into work. I used to go to a local Korean class because I thought it’d be fun to learn another language. It was fun… until I got promoted to Class Committee Chairperson and it became my JOB to arrange what room the class would be using next week, payments etc. lol.

        Lately at work I suggested to everyone that we should have a summer BBQ, just for fun. You guessed it, I’m now the BBQ Planning Committee Chairperson, holding meetings every week to plan the idea of maybe getting around to thinking about seeing the BBQ put into action – gah! Way to go and suck the fun and spontaneity out of a simple BBQ everyone!

        Maybe Japanese people don’t know what to do without making themselves busy? I mean, everyone races to work in the morning, but come home-time it’s like watching a zombie apocalypse movie – everyone just grudgingly shuffles home like, “oh no, free time! What will I do?”

  17. Yeah, living in Japan long-term is like living at mom’s house, or better, mom’s basement. I am in Japan for three weeks after an 8-year absence and I am taking a hard look at the male gaijins who came over on my wave (very late 1980’s – very early 1990’s) and are still here. They have all made good lives for themselves and seem happy enough. Not everybody can be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, or even a dentist or lawyer. But down to the person, and there is no exception for a long-term MALE gaijin in Japan, they are ALL low-testosterone underachievers. After 15 years in Japan, I saw it happening to me – and I got the hell out. Had I not, I’d be just like them today. That is what playing the gaijin-game will do to you.

    1. I’d say that’s exactly right. In the nation that punishes failure without rewarding risk, mediocrity rules.

      And it’s certainly no help for a man to find himself incompetent in virtually every situation, and dependent on his wife or girlfriend just to read the mail.

      Welcome to Japan. Please check your testosterone at the door.

        1. You laugh, but I actually try to limit soy for that very reason.

          Since I don’t typically eat meat, I was eating a ton of soy. This was maybe like five years ago. I mean, it’s a health food, right? Well, damned if Ken Seeroi’s gonna let anybody be healthier than him, so I was powering down a block of tofu a day, plus a couple cups of soy milk.

          Then after a few months, I just didn’t feel right and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe it was the fact I’d grown breasts and was crying all the time, I don’t know.

          Anyway, I did some internet research—which we all know is never wrong—and found a bunch of anti-soy literature. Something about estrogen that I can’t remember and am now too manly to bother googling for. Whatever, I cut it down to reasonable levels (maybe a block of tofu a week and a cup of soymilk) and things seemed to go back to normal.

          Nobody’s messin’ with my testosterone.

          1. That would make a great meme: Mustachioed square-jawed masculine guy in cowboy hat–Got Beef? Effeminate hipster dude–Got Soy Milk?

            1. Except for the fact that a mustache is about the gayest thing ever. But if we could remedy that, I agree it’d make it make a great meme.

  18. Replacing conversation for privacy. Love it. Dude, you have a quiet underground army of readers that love your shit. You are the voice of the silent struggling long term gaijin minority. You should definitely start a cult or a secret society of some sorts. May even be able to cash in and get that open robe and mansion. Respek

    1. An army of readers? That’ll come in mighty handy after North Korea invades Japan. I’m feeling more secure in my trench already. Pass the Lucky Strikes.

      But seriously, thanks man.

      1. So witty, Ken! You are such a good writer.
        I sailed my little boat to Hong Kong from Seattle long ago, via New Zealand, home of the Maori.

  19. I’ve read many pieces on people’s thoughts on Japan, etc. but yours has to be among the best. You have a very entertaining style of writing – very witty, and you don’t lose that sense of realism, either. Glad I chanced upon your blog. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ah, thanks much. Although I do fear I’m losing my sense of, if not realism, then perhaps reality.

      Sometimes everything’s just so weird that I gotta think Elon Musk’s right: we’re all just living in a massive simulation of reality.

      Still, thanks for the nice comment. See ya in the Matrix.

  20. Thought inspiring blog, as usual. It’s mildly depressing to see that, while you’ve accurately chronicled the transition from the honeymoon to bored housewife phase, you don’t seem to have any more insight than myself on why things turned out that way, or how to get back that original high. Maybe just being here is equivalent to daily heavy drinking ( in practice daily heavy drinking is of course involved ); in the sense that at some point there just isn’t enough vodka in the bar to get you back to the adventures of your first alcoholic binge. A guy I knew would occasionally get out of JP for a few months to try to regenerate that high, which I guess can be mildly successful.

    Things I found conspicuously absent from this entry : I recall you mentioned somewhere that beer and ladies were significant in your keeping on with the momentum here, but I don’t see either of those topics (directly) addressed –

    Anyways thanks for the interesting read.

    1. When it comes right down to it, I don’t think booze and broads are really what’s keeping me in Japan.

      Like, I used to work at a place that had “Donut Day” once a week. And for a while, it was great—free donuts! But after a bit, you get used to it, and free donuts are just another part of the job, like having light and heat (things which, interestingly, aren’t necessarily guaranteed in a Japanese workplace).

      So although it’s nice to get donuts in Japan once in a while, it’s not the main thing.

      1. Interesting perspective. Like living near the ocean, after a while you just don’t make your way there so often.

        Still, there is something to be said for having access to the ocean. Knowing you can have a swim if the mood strikes you.

        And as physics teaches us, ‘momentum’ is a force to be reckoned with

        1. Well said.

          Japan’s a very steady, predictable, normal place. And the people as well. It’s exciting at first because you’re exited to be here. And then it just becomes a steady hum, with one day bleeding into the next.

          There’s a lot to be said for personal momentum, although it takes a force of will to go against the gravity of culture. Life’s a lot easier if everybody else is doing the same thing.

  21. Off Topic here: I just read this BBC article on commuting in Tokyo, some amazing pictures here. I’m not sure if you have covered the subject of commuting in Japan, thought it might make an excellent topic for later:


    It looks horrible! The people look like they are in a death-like trance. And I thought Los Angeles freeways were bad.

    Speaking of cars, I do hope you will be writing about driving in Japan soon. I’m hoping you own a Nissan Skyline with an oversized rear spoiler and coffee can exhaust!

    1. That was pretty much my life for a few years. Seriously, I can understand why people throw themselves in front of trains here. Driving a car is like going to heaven.

      Yeah, I’ll write about that next. Maybe I can hire an old guy to drive me to work while I drink beer and type in the back seat. Cause that’d be awesome.

  22. Every time I read this site I realize the Divine luck in play that prevented me from moving to Japan to teach English when I had the inclination and instead got that out of my system via a 5 day stint with a girl from Moriya, Ibaraki, (8 years my junior, I would add) in which the actual reason I wanted to go to Japan (i.e. the girls) was essentially fulfilled without any long term negative consequences. And for that reason I will continue to read and be grateful.

  23. What about cute girls advocating national socialism on youtube? Reason to stay, leave or what?

    Sorry, still blown away by this youtube channel…

    1. That’s pretty messed up. Sorry, I couldn’t even bear to leave in the link you included. If somebody really wants to see it, they can do a search.

      Aside from the fact she was speaking Japanese, I couldn’t see any connection to Japan. And not to be mean, but she didn’t even seem cute. So I guess I’d choose “or what.”

  24. I guess the longer you stay in Japan, the more the ‘magic’ starts to fade away. But I guess that’s with everywhere you go to. By the way Ken, how can I contact your email, I just dropped a message via your Facebook. There’s something I would like to ask.

  25. Alright

    Long time reader, first time poster.
    This hit home hard, after 6 years of living here and going through the motions, I finally get a decent, good paying job for a Japanese company. No longer part of “the English teacher” dynamic, thinking this is what would make the whole experience complete… Finally can use Japanese right, do something a little more productive… I’ve become the company mascot basically, paraded around at meeting to show off the global side.
    “I’d like to introduce you to a new member of our company (I’ve been here almost a year) he speaks Japanese!!” every bloody time.
    Quitting at the end of next month and moving back to my mum’s house, the real one.


    1. Dude, I totally know where you’re coming from. I…well, yeah…I know.

      Every year I say I’m gonna give it one more year. And every year I keep staying. It is the very definition of insanity. The better play is to go back. You’re smart to leave, I really think.

  26. You’re having a mid-life crisis, which has less to do with age and more with where you are in this adventure. Even Paris gets dull after too long (traffic, dog poop) when you lose Beginner’s Mind. Excitement for life comes from within. Take a leap. Fall in Love. Live for someone else for a change, look up from your navel. Find ways to reach out (you can start by planning my itinerary for my 2 month Japan visit beginning in September). Don’t be the poster boy for “Youth is wasted on the young.”. And don’t plan on moving back — I sold the house for an upscale RV…. All my love, Mom.

    1. Thanks, Mom. Appreciate the love. Stoked about the RV.

      You’ll have a great time when you visit; Japan’s a wonderful place for tourists. Feel free to stay several years, because—for better and worse—Japan’s not like anywhere else. Sure, it could be just a problem of age or mindset, but hey, it’s a nation where even Japanese people are dying to get out.

  27. That’s actully a really interesting part in the last paragraph. I stayed in Japan for a year 3 years ago as a high school exchange student (although I was technically graduated already), and thought it was exotic and excitig at first. I was already able to read and speak on an okayish level so communication wasn’t as big of a problem, but it was my first time out of America. As time went on though and I acclimated, it just became business as usual. Occasionally I’d fall off my bike or run into grandma on her motorized chari but it was kinda just same ol’ Gunma everyday. I’m feeling nostalgic for it now that I’m back, but I think after a certain amount of time any place can become boring it just depends on your attitude.

      1. People always want somethin’ new, no matter what they’ve got. Guess that’s the way of the world. Seems to work for iPhones anyway.

        And thanks for the props!

  28. Dude, I’m from Montreal and I moved to Tokyo in September, and all of this is already so true. My number one annoyance though has got to be the smoking. I love a good izakaya but whenever I see people at the table next to me take out a cigarette, I die a little inside. In Montreal, smoking has been banned from all public places since May 2006 and I didn’t realise how great that was until I came here.

    1. Same. The U.S. transitioned really quickly from smoky bars and restaurants to a blissful smoke-free environment (although outdoor seating quickly became a hell). Japan’s way behind the curve on this one. The price of cigarettes is far too low, and smoking is simply overlooked, as though it had no negative effects. My shampoo and Fabreeze budget alone is through the roof.

  29. Many times they asked me:”why you are here?”,
    before i get the question from the wrong point of view.
    It wasn’t something in the racist way, it was really because the cannot understand why someone from a nicest country take the decision to came here to live.
    After few years spend here i can say they was right.

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