It’s been far to long since I updated this blog. I fear that spring this year has made me tired as the natural world around me blooms and procreates.
There are several things that spring brings in Japan.
There’s the wild vegetables we go to the mountains and ditches to harvest. For warabi, we trek to Kumamoto and climb tall hills that serve as cow pastures. The bitter plant is a fern that can be eaten while the fronds are yet unfurled. Tsukushi sprouts up in ditches and drainage spots, though to pick the plant from those locations means you brave dog shit. We like to go to the unplowed rice fields where the plant sprouts up in the inclined slopes that receive the most sunlight.
The winds from the West bring China’s smog and desert sands that blanket skies and savage our sinuses. It’s called kosa, which means literally ‘yellow sand.’ It’s terrible stuff and most of Japan hates China for it. Chine of course couldn’t give a shit, but I’m unsure what Japan would have China do… I suppose they could go “green,” but it’s not like China can control their deserts or the winds as much as they’d like to and contrary to their martial arts movies.
School ends and starts again in April. In Fukuoka spring is undokai season. America doesn’t really have “sports day” and if they did I’m sure half of the students would refuse to participate. Undokai is a day long even that mostly involves running, lots and lots of running. There’s usually some tug-o-war, dance routines, obstacle courses, and sand bag lifting tossed in as well. It’s a huge deal. Families will erect tents to watch their children compete just as their parents once watched them compete. The kids seem to love it, even the handful of ones who are on the thicker side.
So you’ve made it to Japan. You’ve left the plane, passed through immigration, convinced customs that those weren’t the droids they were looking for, and you’re officially a gaijin.
So after you get over the taxis with the SKYNET smart doors, smack your forehead a couple of times into low hanging door frames, and check into your hotel for your training; you’ll have to begin the long road of learning to live in a foreign country. Here are some pointers and insights to help you through the transition.
Be careful where you party
I’m not talking about avoiding places that don’t serve foreigners. I’ve never seen such a place and I probably wouldn’t be turned away anyway… I’m talking about partying efficiently. If you love bars/pubs then you’re used to spending plenty of $$ for a night out on the town. As for me, I was used to Kansas house parties and hot co-eds crowding around my keg-o-rator I kept stocked with Boulevard Wheat. When I did go out, my drinks were usually on the house or set over by groups of giggly farm girls.
Japan is connected by trains and the major cities will have large train stations full of stores and restaurants. Tokyo has lots of very large stations. Your training period won’t be in some little hick town, mine was in Tokyo, but Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, and Shizuoka are also popular training locations. Cities of that size will have decent sized main stations that are central locations that make for good landmarks for meet-ups.
A general rule of thumb is to avoid drinking at the station. Or if you want to drink at the station make sure your party is subterranean. Basement level establishments at the station and/or places that are 1-2 blocks away from the station have much lower rent and are much more affordable places to drink away your inhibitions or at least drink until that one chick with the dragon tattoo jumps from a 4 to a workable 7…
Sure, washboard abs, forearms that look like steel cables wrapped in skin, and a dark wash pair of jeans paired with any high quality wool top will show everyone that you have a gym membership and a subscription to GQ, but if you want to really impress a bunch of brand new gaijin then be a little prepared.
Don’t be that douche that knows everything about everything and won’t STFU about it. But keep a little notebook and write down some different foods you’d like to try. Then when you’re out and everyone is ordering off the pictures in the menu you can try something you’re actually interested in trying.
Two things you’ll want to ask about are nomihodai’s and tabehodai‘s. A lot of different restaurants and even karaoke joints will have a nomihodai option. It’s all you can drink from a limited drink menu, usually draft beer, red & white wine, and a few different types of sake. Yakiniku restaurants will often have a tabehodai option, which like the nomihodai, is all you can eat from a select menu.
Buy old sushi
Supermarkets typically close around 8:00 p.m. Around an hour before they lock their doors, all of the prepared food they have left-over will go on sale. This includes all bento boxes, onigiri, and sushi & sashimi. If you wait to shop then you can save a ton and still eat like a king.
I used to buy bento boxes with assorted foods for around ¥270. I bought shredded crab over rice for around ¥450. Boxes of sushi dropped down between ¥300-600 depending on the contents.
This, and raiding the local vegetable gardens is how I survived my first year in Japan.
Japan has 2nd hand shops that make the thrift stores I shopped at in Kansas look like… well… like thrift stores you’d expect to find in the middle of Kansas.
They’re called “Recycle Shop” and like you’d expect of Japan they’re clean, safe, and meticulously maintained. The electronics work, the clothes are clean, and the porn is… well… plentiful.
Shopping at a Dollar Tree in America is a mission to actually find something worth a $1… one that usually ends in failure unless you place a higher value on plastic harmonicas and bubble wands than normal people… The Japanese relative of the dollar store is the aptly named “hyakuen” which just means “100 yen.”
Now ¥100 shops are actually ¥105 with tax, but they’re still great places to get office supplies, hangers, dishes, eco bags, cleaning supplies, slippers, etc. It’s actually difficult to not find something that would in some way improve your life in Japan.
I always recommend getting on the National Health Insurance. If you work for Interac they’ll recommend a 3rd party international insurance company called Global Health Insurance. Japan doesn’t recognize this company. You’ll have to pay all costs up front in full, save your receipts, and then file more paperwork to get reimbursed. Being that I hate paperwork I opted to get onto the National plan as quickly as possible.
Now the National plan is based off of your salary from the previous year. As you are new to Japan, you did not collect any salary last year so there is next to no price difference between Global and the National plan. However… your second year in Japan your insurance rate will probably double, which turns some people off to the National plan, but you should still probably get on it.
Japanese companies are required by law to either provide company based insurance or enroll their employees in the National Health Insurance. How dispatch companies and English schools skirt around this I’m not sure, but there are plenty of angry bloggers who have already discussed that issue.
The thing that I want you to be aware of is if you’re in Japan for a long time and using a 3rd party international insurance and then want/need to switch to the National coverage, you’re up a metaphorical creek of excrement without any means of propulsion or steering… You’ll be expected to make back payments for those years you’ve been in Japan not paying for any health insurance that Japan recognizes. Now there are ways around this, or at least I’ve heard rumors of people who have been able to dodge the bullet, but again… that’s more work than I want to do.
I could go on and on about tips for living in Japan. But being dervishly witty and a humorous rake gets old after a while…
If I’ve made any mistakes or your experience has been otherwise please let me know. If you have any other hints that might help the 新外人, then please let me know!
So you’ve got your job in Japan. Congrats! Now, all you have to do is figure out how to condense your life into a pair of suitcases before you board your flight and start your overseas adventures!
Some of these things I brought with me, some of them I didn’t; I would have done it all little differently if only I could contact past me to give that handsome bastard a heads-up. Hopefully, time traveling email is just around the corner along with Archologies, cloning extinct animals, and 3 1/2 more seasons of Community plus a movie.
Presents for teachers
When you arrive at a new school it’s respectable to bring a present for the teachers and staff. It should be something edible as per Japanese tradition. Now, why the hell would you want to waste valuable storage space on something like candy or cookies? Well get used to not understanding why you have to do certain things. This doesn’t mean you have to make like a trafficker and line your suitcase with Mars Bars and Snickers though. It’s really thought or imitation of thoughtfulness that counts here so try to get something that’s compact and small, preferably packaged individually.
If you can’t fit anything into your bag and you refuse to leave behind a pair of jeans or that 5th box of condoms, then just wait and buy something in Japan. All airports, train stations, gas stations, and pit stops off the highway will have a decent selection. Pick something sweet over savory or spicy.
I left for Japan from Kansas City. So I bought a couple boxes of Bogdon Reception Sticks. They’re just candy sticks dipped in chocolate, there were maybe two dozen to a box. I brought 3 boxes, but I didn’t have enough for everyone unfortunately with six different schools.
Dispatch company:If you’re with a dispatch company and you’re going to be working in a public school and you know how many schools you’ll have (I didn’t know until after I left training), plan on there being at least 40 teachers at each school. My first year I had 6 different schools. So doing the math that’s about 120-200 teachers and staff you need to get a little some-something. Unless you just bring a big jar of jellybeans, this isn’t really possible to do… at least whilst keeping your sanity. Don’t worry. You’re not really expected to. Get enough for your first school and that’s pretty much all you need. Personally, I had 2 main schools and 4 schools I went to on rare occasions, so I gave those Reception Sticks to my 2 main schools and the other 4 got nothing.
Eikaiwa: If you’re teaching for an English language school then it’s a lot easier. You’ll just have to get something for the Japanese staff at your school. Or not. You’re basically fodder that they use to keep their fires going… not that your situation is much different for a large dispatch company, but when you go the the public schools remember that the teachers are not involved in that aspect of the business, plus they’ll probably get you presents when they go places.
If you can get something that’s specialized from where you’re from with a little back story then you’re really doing things right. Of course it is Japan… we don’t have Jolly Ranchers, Starburst, or Tootsie Rolls… the less genuine among you could just tell your schools that your home town invented them…
I heard a story years ago that in Japan, even robbers remove their shoes. While that’s proven not true time and time again, Japan is normally very much a take-your-shoes-off-at-the-door society.
I don’t know how eikaiwas work, but at the public schools everyone takes off their shoes and changes into other shoes. Most Japanese teachers have at least two pairs of shoes at school, sometimes more.
I have two main schools currently and I keep a cheap pair of Nike’s at both locations. The school will assign you a shoe locker (or multiple lockers if there are multiple entrances).
I brought over several pairs of shoes so I didn’t have to do any unnecessary shoe shopping before I started work. For the schools that I visited infrequently, I brought some indoor shoes with me whenever I went, or if I forgot (I forgot most of the time), I borrowed the slippers they have for guests, which don’t fit and reduce the friction force to nearly zero.
Keep in mind also, that “indoor shoes” and “gym shoes” are not the same thing. If you plan on doing activities in the gym you’ll either do them in your socks or you’ll have to get another pair of sneakers.
Leave your high lacing boots for the weekends. You want shoes that you can slip on and off quickly and easily.
Shoes & clothes
Shoes make the list twice for an entirely different reason. This pertains to anyone with large feet. If your hoof needs something bigger than a size 12US then chances are you’re going to be doing most of your shopping online.
Also Japanese sizes run snug. There are Nike, Adidas, the GAP, and Banana Republic stores around, so it’s not like you can’t find sizes that make sense… But if you’re really tall or really… well wide, or really muscular, you’ll have difficulty finding clothes, especially dress clothes. Now there are big-and-tall stores in Japan, but there aren’t many big-and-tall stores in Japan and I have my doubts how truly “big-and-tall” the clothes at the big-and-tall stores here are…
I’m lucky enough to fit into Japanese sizes, but I do run into some trouble because Japanese men typically have very little muscle mass so clothes are often tight across the chest, shoulders, arms, and thighs.
Most Japanese women have tiny feet, are really thin, and fairly short. I imagine this would make it more difficult for taller girls.
Also Japanese bra sizes are different. If you wear a C-cup in America then in Japan you might have to get an E-cup. My friends with lady bits have told me that the fit is often a little off for them as Japanese girls tend to be tiny
Men-Try not to be so tall, lose some weight, and don’t lift weights.
Ladies-Bras are highly over-rated, and I’m notwilling to do cup-size guesstimates by email… so stopemail me boobie pictures!
This seems like a strange and large item that would be something you could get in Japan easily. But Japan’s view on rice is completely different from mine. For me, rice is rice… I’m not ricest..
I went to 3 different stores in Japan before I found a rice cooker. “Why did you go to 3 different stores?” you might ask. Well, I am not a picky person unless it comes to pizza or literature. I went to 3 different stores because it took me 3 stores to find a rice cooker for under ¥6,000. Keep in mind this is just a device that cooks rice, quite possibly the easiest thing to cook outside of sushi prepared by Bear Grylls. Japanese rice cookers range in prices from ¥5,000 of over ¥100,000. (any rice cooker that costs over $1000 better double as a jet pack…) I paid around ¥5,500 ($68) for my rice cooker and that’s with a discount because it was out of stock, discontinued, and I took home a very dusty floor model with no box.
My first day of school I woke up and tossed some rice and water into my brand new Japanese rice cooker for breakfast.
Twenty minutes passed.
Thirty minutes passed.
Forty minutes passed, and I had to run to school with an empty stomach.
The silver lining is that the rice was ready for me when I got home after work…
Now this is a cultural thing that is maybe more psychological than science. Or maybe my Asian genes are broken. Or maybe Japanese people have evolved special rice-tasting-taste-buds that can tell the difference between rice coaxed for 50 minutes to be soft enough to eat and rice boiled violently for 20 minutes…
As a gaijin who just wants to eat when he’s hungry, I often miss my K-Mart bought rice cooker from Kansas.
There are second hand stores called “recycle shops.” They usually have great stuff, well maintained and for good prices. There are also discount stores like TRIAL, D-MAX, and Don Quixote where you can find cheaper rice cookers.
I’m sure that there are normal modern can openers in Japan. I’m sure that they also probably cost around $35 or so. No idea why. Save yourself the headache of looking for one and toss one in your suitcase.
I care about hair products like I care about Albanian economics, but I’ll admit that I have dandruff and having an itchy head is more annoying than 80’s music. I didn’t think that finding dandruff shampoo in Japan would be so hard. There were plenty of suggestions I found online, but really only one that I tried that worked. That’s a lot of worthless shampoo I bought!
I tried Merit, Sea Breeze, and Pro Tech. Merit seemed to actually encourage my scalp issues. Sea Breeze didn’t make things worse, but it didn’t help… Pro Tech did the trick for me, plus they hire hot girls to wear skimpy outfits and hand out samples in the city earning them much coveted bonus points.
Korea has Head & Shoulders… I have it sent to me by my S. Korean smuggler contacts.
A DVD player
Japan is a different region code than America. If you’re a dinosaur like me and you still have a DVD collection then you won’t be able to play your DVD’s on a Japanese DVD player.
Either convert your DVD’s to digital files, bring a DVD player, or buy a region free DVD player in Japan.
I’m talking over the counter stuff here… don’t go bringing a bottle of OxyContin with you without doing the legal paperwork.
Mainly stuff like allergy medicine, Advil, sleeping pills, cough drops, and Benadryl.
It’s not like Japan doesn’t have medicine, but when you’re breaking out in hives because you’re having an allergic reaction to some strange clam-like-looking creature you ate, you don’t want to have to look on the internet for an anti-histamine equivalent.
Be careful with prescription medication. You might need a doctor’s note and you might need to have that doctor’s note translated. Refilling prescriptions isn’t exactly easy in Japan either, but as I have no prescriptions that I take I can’t tell you first hand what it entails.
Japanese food doesn’t use a lot of spices that you’re used to, duh. You’d think that be obvious. Well, I didn’t really think about it until I was stationed halfway up the side of Mt. Fuji where the local supermarket’s spice collection consisted of salt, pepper, salty pepper, crushed red pepper, and ginger…
Now some people have disagreed with me on this issue while others have clamored in agreement. I think it must depend on where you land on your first assignment. (Of course finding most everything will be a pain in the ass those first few months)
Now I’ve been able to find most spices over the years through import shops and larger supermarkets in more urban areas. If your part of Japan has a large immigrant community, like Hamamatsu City has lots of people from Brazil, then you’ll be able to find lots of spices easily, but the catch is it’ll be spices that the large immigrant population like to use, so Hamamatsu has a lot of Brazilian spices. Now I know as much about Brazilian spices as I do about Lithuanian marriage rituals, but I’ve heard Brazilian food is delicious, but that only really helps me if Brazilian cooking uses the same spices as that Dillons stocks on their shelves…
But that first year on my side of the mountain, I wanted to recreate a little flavor from home at times, but I simply couldn’t find paprika or cilantro…
There are some Costco locations in Japan and I hear some people use the internet, though I’m not a big online shopper unless we’re talking about Star Trek memorabilia…
I can find oregano, thyme, cumin, sage, basil, and a lot of other Italian spices in Japan as Italian food is very popular everywhere because it’s delicious. I have trouble recreating Mexican food though,and even those simple Italian ingredients might not be on your supermarkets shelf if you find yourself out in the middle of nowhere…
Backpack with a rain cover
Japan could also be called the land of the pouring rain. I’ve lived in two different places in Japan and they were both wet. Being that umbrella tech has yet to catch up with the incredible things they can do with tents, if you’re wearing a backpack in the rain while holding an umbrella then you’re bag is going to get soaked. (your legs and shoes and socks too probably)
If you’re like me your bag carries important stuff that doesn’t like water, like dSLR cameras, laptops, ipads, food, and work related papers.
I picked up a new Timberland backpack before I left for Japan at TJ-Max. It just happened to come with a rain cover. Talk about a lucky break, especially if you’re going use public transportation and even more so if you’re going to ride a bike to your schools… speaking of which.
A poncho with waterproof pants
This is only if you’re planning on biking to school, though waterproof pants would be helpful for walkers as well.
You can buy them in Japan of course, but make sure you remember to do so… My first day of school it was raining so hard I couldn’t even see the school, I passed it and then had to back track through the torrential pour. Oh yeah, and I was wearing a suit… And I didn’t eat breakfast because my rice cooker… oh well, you get the point. It was a shitty first day.
It’s not that Japan doesn’t have toothpaste. It’s that Japanese society has much different views on dental hygienics…
If you’re worried about it a few tubes of Crest is an easy last minute purchase.
Recently I’ve been finding Aquafresh at the drug store!
If you have bad BO then you’re probably not Asian and your ear wax is probably wet not dry like mine. I’m not making any sort of inappropriate joke here, there are actual scientific studies correlating ear wax with body odor. It also explains why, after I work-out, I just smell a little salty and not like rotten eggs.
There are deodorants in Japan, but they’re not often used by Japanese people and they’re not very good, or so I’ve been told. If you have issues then bring some extra to last or you’ll just have one more thing that makes you stand out.
You’ll never realize what you miss about your current life until you don’t have it. Be it some sort of candy, animal crackers, goldfish, sunflower seeds, video games, pizza that doesn’t have mayonnaise or squid parts on it, or whatever else you take for granted.
Gifts for the teachers
A rice cooker
Seasonings and spices
A backpack with a rain cover
A full body poncho
Stuff you can’t live without
Was this list helpful? Did I leave something off? Disagree with anything? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below! If you’re headed for Japan soon good luck!
Valentine’s day in Japan is a day where women give men chocolate and men eat chocolate.
It’s not all fun and games, as you must remember who gave you chocolate and then a month later return the gesture on March 14th, which is called White Day. Your return present should be worth about 3x the gift you received on Valentine’s Day.
Women will give chocolate to, not just lovers, crushes, and spouses, but also co-workers, bosses, friends, and family members.
So what seems like a giant ego boost is really becomes an obligation to empty your wallet later on.
It’s truly a time of year where dashing good looks are a curse…
The best Valentine’s Day gifts I’ve received has been bottles of sake. On White Day I simply bought more bottles of sake as a return gift and we all drank them together!
Younger girls will usually make chocolate by hand, as they don’t have the money to spend on expensive candy. They’ll buy wrapping paper and decorations to make their gifts cute. It’s called 「手作りチョコ」(tezukurichoko), and I think it almost means more than fancy expensive chocolate. (though I still prefer sake)
I come from America and more specifically the southern area of the United States. I grew up in Florida, West Virginia, and Kentucky primarily. I spent the last three years of high school and all four years of college in Kansas, which always seemed like they were trying their hardest to either emulate Texans or convince me how much better they were from Nebraskans and Iowans. But to me that was like saying the ‘eggshell white’ is better than ‘white satin’ or ‘ivory tusk’… while there’s a difference who actually gives shit?
Aside from the easy Charlton Heston jokes, guns played an important point in American history. They helped conquer the indigenous people, win independence from the British monarchy, they helped us kill each other when we battled for states rights and wether a black man could or couldn’t be sold like livestock. Guns let Germany try to conquer Europe twice, they also helped the world stop Germany twice. And guns are just a phase. They replaced swords, bows, and sticks and stones. Guns themselves get replaced and will get replaced. I’m still waiting for a light saber…
Gun laws in Japan are strict. As I was never an “official” or “legal” gun owner in America, not having a gun or being able to quickly get my hands on a firearm is unsettling.
Wait did I say unsettling? No, sorry, the longer I’m out of America the more my personal lexicon shrinks. Soon I’m gonna sound like I’m from Georgia or Kansas… What I meant to say is it’s relaxing.
People don’t own guns here. It’s kind of a weight off my mind. Occasionally you hear of someone going crazy on a slashing rampage with a kitchen knife, but compare a kitchen-knife-rampager to a pysochotic maniac able to get his hands on weapons easily and readily and which is going to make you more nervous? Even if you carry your own gun for protection, which makes you less nervous: fighting a guy with a knife barehanded or a full out gun battle where you have a handgun and your opponent looks like he’s ready to hunt graboids?
Guns in Japan are viewed more like movie props and samurai swords in comics. If someone walked around with a gun on the street people would probably think it’s a toy, because seeing an actual firearm capable of killing is so rare here.
Now Japan has these things called ‘Love Hotels’. You can rent rooms by the hour or even overnight for affordable prices. It’s a place away from home where married couples can reaffirm their marital duties, prostitutes can ply their trade, married men and women can get some alone time with their boyfriends/girlfriends, and high schoolers can experiment with their brand new bodies; you can rent outfits for cosplaying/roleplaying, order food and drinks, rent movies, and even play video games.
Japan doesn’t have gun violence. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why… but oddly enough they do have problems with their citizens not having enough colitis… Before I came to Japan I assumed that the Japanese were busily performing kinky sex acts that included gymnastics, bondage, and school girl skirts, but in reality the country is dying off simple because Japanese people are becoming more and more like pandas, not even willing to screw to save their own species. This phenomenon is well documented and studied.
So strange. And I don’t have any words of wisdom or anything. I like that the probability of me dying by gunshot is significantly lower in Japan than America. But I’m befuddled by the so called the ‘herbivores‘ of Japan. And from my view point it’s not for lack of trying.
Are the Japanese slowly devolving?
I bring all of this up because of one of my favorite bars in Fukuoka called The Shooting Bar. Located just south of the major shopping areas, it’s a snazzy little drinking spot where you can shoot airsoft guns at paper targets shooting range style. You have a menu with guns, ranging from James Bond’s PPK to the US army’s M4 rifle, and prices are fairly reasonable, a few dollars gets you the cheapest go around.
This bar is situated in a Love Hotel area oddly enough, but it’s kind of genius. Shoot some targets, impress the ladies, then take them over to the love hotel for bon bons and Wii…
People ask me about Japan. I’m at a bit of a loss of what to tell them. It’s Japan for starters. “What is the culture shock like?” Well, it’s like doubling up “the different” in a move from New York to West Virginia I suppose. I guess Japan is pretty different, but in the end it’s a place full of buildings and cars, with people inside those buildings and cars, with blood and tissues inside those bodies.
It is a little strange how I can silently blend into any crowd if I want. It’s not like I got many strange looks in a crowd of white people in the states, maybe in Kentucky or West Virginia a little. I don’t get slammed for looking Asian by anyone at least. There’s no one who mimics Chinese-eyes when they pass me on the street. No one has thrown rocks at me here. I’ve not heard the terms gook or chink at all here.
This is like our “N-word”
But there is a gap that exists between myself and the Japanese people. I guess it could be the cultural gap, or the language barrier, or separate prejudices. I’m not sure what it is, but it is at times as invisible as feelings while other times it is as strange as fashion and as glaring as driving west before sundown. It’s varied from person to person, but not so bad that you’d notice too much. Of course they have preconceived notions of what an American is, fed mostly by, surprise surprise, marketing images and celebrity spreads.
The chopstick question seems to have taken the burden as the poster child for subtle social clashes that has probably happened to every single foreigner who has ever lived in Japan. In fact it happened to me before I even came to Japan. It was sometime after I graduated high school, maybe I was 19 at the time.
High school was something that breezed by for me. I played some baseball, went out with a lot of blonde girls, saw too many shitty movies at AMC, studied infrequently, and passed with a 4.54 weighted GPA. I made hardly any friends aside from girls that wanted to get to know me a little better and kids from my churches youth group, half of which who probably saw me as some sort of charity case. After I transferred from Kentucky, I spent one year taking my lunch to the school library where I read running magazines and random books about Aztec history. The second year I did pretty much the same thing. The third year I spent half the year eating with some Korean friends a year younger than me, Michael and Jason, until for some strange reason I became popular and then I ate with mostly blonde girls and artsy people.
or artsy blonde girls!
After I graduated I sort of regretted my limited interaction with Asian people for some strange reason. I can’t put my finger on why, but something in me changed, as subtle and small as tectonic plates moving a few inches, but as violent and upsetting as a fucking earthquake on the surface. I had a friend named Sang who was always interested in hanging out with me, but I’d never made time to because I’m horrible with scheduling stuff. For some strange reason I’ve never had a shortage of Asian guys that want to hang out with me and while no Oriental girl has ever asked me to hang out with them, I did have a small group of them that I would catch following me around in high school. So, I called Sang when I was nineteen and he took me to a Korean restaurant with a few friends.
I wasn’t asked the chopstick question directly. Not like here in Japan. It was really just one of the girls half-surprised, half-complaining who said, “Look, he can use chopsticks better than me.” I guess the difference was they all spoke Korean, had Korean parents, and have been using chopsticks at home at least as frequently, if not more, as they use a knife and fork. I wasn’t really upset by the statement. And I’ve never been upset by any Japanese person asking me in Japan. But I can understand how it can rub things the wrong way.
The kids in kindergarten are all using chopsticks, I’m a grown-ass man (or woman) of course I can use chopsticks. Is probably what they’re thinking. For the most part they’re mistaking just friendly conversation, reading too far into it and getting hurt. I’ve never straight up asked anyone if they can use chopsticks. If you are eating with them it’s something you can usually tell fairly quickly. And for the record I don’t use chopsticks correctly. At least not Japanese correct, thought I don’t know if there are different styles. But I am extremely good with chopsticks with either hand, and yes it makes me feel superior. And while I’ve never asked if someone was proficient with chopsticks I have made fun of people for not being very good, or at least noticeably terrible, but that’s just the sort of person I am. Besides if you can’t make fun of yourself you probably aren’t too friendly with me.
In all fairness a lot of Americans probably can’t use chopsticks. But to be fair to the disgruntled gaikokujin population here it is relative common sense that persons coming to a foreign country would at least familiarize themselves on that countries most basic culinary practices. I’ve heard a lot of questions from Japanese people, I’d guess over half of them over foods, weather I’ve tried them, heard of them, or are even capable of eating them. It’s partly because it is easy to ask those sort of questions. It is partly because they are obsessed with food.
So what is Japan like? What are Japanese people like? Well, they’re people pretty much. They’re pretty polite, they like traditions and long ass ceremonies for anything of significance, their television is loud and repetitive, the girls are cute, the guys are skinny, the trains are convenient, the 7-11’s sell sushi, the cities are busy, the towns are sleepy, the mountains are green and the oceans have fish. In all places I’ve lived; Red Bird, Tampa, Man, Bradenton, Sarasota, Largo, Corbin, Overland Park, Lenexa, Manhattan, San Diego, Fuji-shi, and Sue-machi; I have discovered that I don’t really care where I live and I have trouble answering simple questions that people really just want me to answer simply.
So I’ve been asked to talk about what it’s like being Asian in Japan. I don’t really know how to answer that so well, because I’ve always been Asian in Japan. I can’t really compare it first hand to being something else in Japan…
I guess the biggest advantage is that I can blend in. As long as I’m quiet no one pays attention to me and as my Japanese improves I can even keep my cover through simple conversations. When I’m with my more ethnically diverse friends, and in Japan that means whites, blacks, Hispanics, middle-easterners, Indians, and everything else, I do notice that people tend to stare. Now maybe they’re staring because they’re not used to seeing someone tall. Or a lot of foreigners are very muscular, or at least more muscular than your average Japanese person, big muscles are very interesting in Japan. Maybe you dress funny, or your shirt’s tucked into your underwear or you wear your cell phone on a belt clip. I don’t know, but if you’re different you’ll draw some stares for sure. Not from everyone… but probably most people, at least a glance. Maybe a stare or an ogle. I do get stared at sometimes, but usually it’s from groups of Japanese girls… no clue why…
this happens way too often…
I don’t know how difficult it is to do things in Japan, because most things, like legal things are taken care of by either Yuuki or one of her family members.
I have no proof but I felt like, when I was applying for teaching jobs in America, that applicants that looked more gaijin were given some preference, but I have not proof of that, its just how I felt at one of my interviews.
One thing, I can’t break into TV roles. All the TV roles that go to Asian looking people go to Japanese people, and the gaijin roles in commercials and TV shows go to more gaijin looking people, but I’m not really interested in that stuff.
I auditioned for both roles…
I have the luxury of taking my Japanese name and slipping into Japanese society without anyone batting an eye, and I kind of like that.
I’m the second one on the left…
I do have one funny story. I was doing an interview for a Japanese news program. They have a spot in their show where they introduce a foreigner living in Fukuoka. They ask questions like, What food do you like here? Where do you like to go? What do you like to do?
When I showed up to the interview, they looked at my name and looked at me and of course my American name didn’t really match what I look like. So they asked me where I was from and I told them “America.” They looked confused, so I quickly followed up with, “But I was born in Korea.” They looked relieved or something, they smiled and said “Ahhh, sodesu ne.” and then wrote, “KOREAN” next to my name in their notes…