Musings of a Gaijin: First Months in Japan

By Guest Writer Simon Adams

Editor’s note: For us who have been living in Japan for so long, it is refreshing to occasionally read the account of someone who is fresh off the plane, and still living in wonder everyday at how this country ticks. This is an article that Simon wrote when he had only been here for a few months. It bought a nostalgic smile to my face, so I hope it does the same for you.

Bike attendant in JapanApparently, it’s common-knowledge amongst thieves in Japan, that your typical bicycle here – with its typical handcuff-styled bike-lock through the rear wheel, can be easily picked using an umbrella. At least, That’s what the local Police told my wife and I when we reported our fifth stolen bike in only a few months after arriving in Japan.

Even though we were reporting our bicycle theft, out of nowhere we got a, “What is it that you like to eat in Japanese food?” from the duty Policeman. The question set us back, as it seemed so out of place. He added that this was the only sentence he could remember from his junior-high English lessons, with a haughty laugh that portrayed that he couldn’t care less where our bicycle was.
We asked, what is he going to do about our unusually high bike-theft problem.
“Not much — since on a rainy day, everyone in Koshigaya is a suspect”, he returned.

We found the missing bike ourselves parked at the 7 Eleven. The thief had even locked it. (Probably to stop us stealing it back?). The 7 Eleven bike-attendant said the bike had been parked there since 6am. He moved it ten meters at 6.30am and it had been there ever since.Bike attendants in Japan are responsible for the tidy arrangement of all the customers’ bikes. One bike attendant I met has the most challenging attendant job of all. His bike-park is in a very windy spot and he has to re-arrange the bikes every time the wind changes, to prevent them from falling over. (Editor’s note: will soon be bringing you the “Only in Japan” series of videos, which feature an interview with this dedicated bike attendant – otanoshimini! )
On a completely different note, another thing which we found is that it is a “good challenge” that the Japanese love most of all. At a recent BBQ, my wife’s boss handed me three cans of beer. I told him that I already had one. He handed me another. “Challenge yourself.” He said.

Never-ending dinners are something that we have been going to a lot of, since my wife and I are the token foreigners that the whole city seems to know. I have found myself returning waves of “konnichiwa” in the street to people I can’t remember ever meeting. And Lara gets followed home by groups of small children. So with all these great new friends, every week we are invited to a dinner.

The food is always amazing, but the hosts don’t usually join us. It is the norm here to invite someone around for dinner and then wait on them all night. You are not allowed to leave until you have eaten everything and are completely pissed. Beer is served in a tiny kid’s tea-set styled glass, but you still manage to feel the effects.

Most of the dinners we have been to have ended with a musical performance of some sort. One of Lara’s co-workers has a room full of guitars, amps, mikes and keyboards, but told us he wasn’t musical. After dinner, he got up and played guitar and sang for us like a pro.

Karaoke in JapanThat’s probably why Karaoke is so big here. The Japanese seem to be all proffessional singers. Karaoke in Japan isn’t like it is in Australia. Here, you hire a private room (usually themed) for a few hours and get served food and drink. Walking down the corridors of a karaoke club is a feast for the ears. I like to peer in as I pass each room – a bit of Bon Jovi in one room, the Carpenters in another, someone with a tambourine, dancing on the table in the next…

In our karaoke room, I’m getting better at some Beatles numbers. Our Japanese friends get so ridiculously entertained when we have a go at singing. They get really, really excited. And I don’t think they are being sarcastic, since sarcasm isn’t humorous here.

On that note, some of my jokes just get blank looks from Japanese people. Maybe it’s my crap Japanese, or their crap English…or just maybe, my crap jokes. Example: While training at the Kyudo Dojo in Japanese Archery, someone asked where I was from. I said, “Australia.”
“My sister is living in Australia!” she replied.
“So is mine!”, I replied. But of course, she didn’t get it. I just gave an uncomfortable grin, and so did the rest of the Kyudo class who had gathered around to hear me speak some English.

Kyudo is fun… and boring. I thought when I started, that I would get to shoot some arrows like you do in regular archery. Two weeks into the course, I was still being taught how to do the special Kyudo walk. Apparently it’s not about whether you hit the target or not – it’s all about the process before you fire the arrow. Which is fine with me, since I never hit the target once. I was better at it than others though. One woman managed to fire both the arrow and her bow. The whole lot just flew out of her hands – I pissed myself laughing, but everyone else stayed completely straight-faced.

What they do find funny, however is me speaking Japanese. I know a few words and phrases pretty well now, but whenever I say them, everyone kacks their heads off. It’s not because I’m crap, because they say I’m really good (yeah right..).
Anyway, I’m off to check that no one has stolen my bike again.

6 thoughts on “Musings of a Gaijin: First Months in Japan”

  1. Something to keep in mind about the Japanese is that their complimenting your English is really a backhanded compliment. The better you speak, the less you will be complimented.

  2. You mean complimenting your Japanese, right? Not English.
    The better you speak Japanese the less people say you are umai and jyozu. Yup thats about how it is.

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