Tag Archives: Living in Japan

Maintaining Your Sanity in Japan

Manatee Insanity Dugong!

Manatee Insanity Dugong!

For the last 6 weeks, I’ve been covering the various ups and downs of getting a job in Japan, taking people through the resume, interview process and beyond, until finally covering some of the basics of maintaining your job for the long haul.

Beyond the job, Japan can be a taxing place for the mind. Nothing ever quite appears as it seems, and you’ll always find yourself wondering exactly what’s going on. Whenever you think you’ve connected point A to point B, you’ll find that you somehow ended up at point C, or perhaps even back at point A again. This can drive you insane.

I’ve had friends that tell me there’s a ‘five year rule” with Japan. If you manage to stay here for under five years, you may escape with your sanity intact. Should you eclipse that time, you will be rendered completely and irrevocably nuts.

I’ve yet to approach that milestone, but when I do, I’ll be sure to drop you a line, possibly as a stark, raving madman, tearing off my face and howling, like those people that got too close to hell in that Sam Neil/Larry Fishburn flick with spaceships.

But here’s how I’ve done it for the last three and a half years:

Find People that Like Living Here


When I first arrived, it would have been so easy to for me to connect with the giant horde of ‘one year wonders’ that come here, those realize everything is different and fucking weird, and then proceed to drink out their year sitting in a bar complaining about everything in Japan.

They’re everywhere and they’ll poison you.

They came to Japan all wide eyed and joyous, perhaps ready to jump into loads of vagina, or run around in a samurai costume and cosplay outfits all day, but then couldn’t figure out why girls (or guys) didn’t want to come by their place for a home dinner and a movie date and why Japanese people don’t constantly run around dressed as Final Fantasy characters 24/7. This has left them dejected and angry.

I was lucky. When I arrived in my little land of Takamatsu, I fell in with a group of folks that really ‘get it.’  Seeing how much they love the place, whenever I get a bit down on Japan, I try to think of things from their point of view.

It really helps me to keep a good outlook, no matter how bad a day I’ve had, and they’ve been instrumental in introducing me to a ‘below the surface Japan’ that’s often hard to crack into. This is because Japanese people can smell “one years wonders” too and run screaming in the other direction, cept Roppongi whores.

On that same note, I’ve recently found that the Japanese Twitterverse has an immense collection of folks that really enjoy Japan in their own odd ways. Connecting with them is a great way to ‘feel the love.’

Eventually, you’ll have made it long enough in Japan where you’ll see the newbs arrive on the shores, all fresh-faced and new, and you can help steer them towards the “light side” just as others did for you.

Find Some Folks to Bitch With


Ok, I said it was poison to hang with folks that bitch about Japan all the time, and it is. But everyone needs to bitch about Japan sometimes!  While I’ve avoided crews of angry drunken foreigners that bitch the night away, we all need to vent from time to time.

You’ll go completely insane if you just have to keep frustrations inside over why the convenience store guy follows you around the store, or why no one sits anywhere near you on countryside train trips.

You sometimes need to laugh with someone about that creepy guy who requisitioned your for a “Can I practise English on You” session.

(PS: For the record, I always follow that up with “Only if I can practice Judo on you…”)

It’s Ok to vent, and I highly recommend a session where you can kick back and bitch about you various woes with a friend over a few beers. Just don’t let it become your life.

For me, I have a train ride or two a week that I share with a coworker for about an hour on the way home. We get a tall can or two, rotate a seat around, kick off the shoes, kick up the feet, and share a week’s worth of confusion and insanity.

I find that the hour’s good enough, and it’s fun when all the Japanese leave the train car because they can’t stand foreigners talking loudly (even though a similar scene with drunken salarymen is always ok). It’s like your own little form of rebellion, on a really small scale where rebellion is more like “inconvenience.”

For intense bouts of bitching, I get together with my friend every five months or so for a more epic session of good-humored, hate-filled drinking.

The key is, if you find that these bitching sessions are becoming the majority of your life’s time in Japan, it may be time to reconsider what you’re doing or who you’re hanging out with.

Have a Really Cool Panic Room


Keep a lifeline to something you enjoy from your pre-Japan life. For me, I love America Football and during the season, I lock myself away at odd hours in my room, watching the rent’s TV back home over Slingbox. I catch the local games and even the cheesey local commercials. Helps me feel a bit more in tune with the land of my birth.

My SuperBowl parties may be intensely lonely (One lone man at the computer at 8 in the morning with a few cans of that Kagome real fruit booze and some chips), but I’m connected.

I keep in touch with my silly American culture, movies, music, and TV via the internet and Amazon, and my friends with the various social sites out there. It’s really important.

My room is somewhere that I can always go to connect with all my non-Japan loves. When I get a little sick of folks, don’t feel like walking outside and having everyone stare at me, I just retreat to my little bastion of Fantasy Football, Bands that no one here knows, and TV shows not not named Lost, Heroes, 24 or Prison Break.

Connect to Something Here


You’re not going to like everything here.

I think Tea Ceremony is the most boring thing on earth. I would actually rather go to a seppuku seminar that ended with us all killing ourselves. My girlfriend does it, and I’m ok with that,  but I politely decline most invitations to sit for hours on the floor waiting to drink a cup of tea while someone fawns over a thousand-year-old tapestry.

I’m not really going to change my opinion on that.

In Japan, you’re going to find (just like anywhere) that there are things you like and things you hate. Embrace your loves and maintain an open mind about the things you hate, but feel free to continue on hating them.

People sometimes come here and get sucked into all that is Japanese and feel they must do everything.

Perhaps it’s because Japan always keeps us in that little “gaijin” box and some people believe that if they drink enough tea and understand noh plays, that suddenly they’ll transcend the label.

Well, you won’t, so just do stuff you like and leave the rest to others.

I think tea ceremony is what hell would be like, I can’t really appreciate flower arranging, and I’m a little tired of undokai, but if you call me up and tell me there’s a taikodai that needs throwing in the air, I’m there.

I’m not big on the modern Japanese sex/gore cinema (RoboGeisha, Machine Girl), but if you toss on some 70s Chiba Era flicks  my eyes glaze over (Etsuko Shihomi, yay!).

I don’t actively pursue Japanese through lessons (instead speaking dirty Sanuki-ben like some kind of mongrel human), but I do enjoy studying Kanji symbols and writing them, although I’d never get into calligraphy because it just seems ungodly precise and just the art of copying some other master’s style as closely as possible.

Don’t feel you need to take in everything. You wouldn’t do that in your home country, so don’t stress out about it here.

Find something interesting and Japanese that you really dig, and go diving on into it. Leave the rest for someone else!

What do you all think?  What are some ways you manage to keep your insanity in this wacky land we call Japan?

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Maintaining a Teaching Job in Japan

So you made it to these hallowed shores of tentacle monsters and underwear vending machines. You covered my tips in the five-part “Getting a Teaching Job in Japan” series and now you’re sitting back, lounging in a bath full of Pocky.


(Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4)(Part 5)

But you can’t just sit around chewing black-black gum all day while visiting maid cafes! You got a job here! You gotta work!

How do you wow your employers and clients so that you can maintain your lifestyle in this wacky land of the rising sun?

Let’s begin!

Dress to Impress

Great Suit for Teaching.....Clowns...

Great Suit for Teaching.....Clowns...

I mentioned this a bit in the last post, but let me restate it:

A lot of people come over here in a patchwork quilt of a suit. Wearing green plaid pants, wacky hiking shoes, a tweed blazer with patches on it, purple shirt, and yellow tie isn’t going to get you anywhere. Who normally wears suits like that?


First Impressions are huge here, so if you look sharp and look like you’re here to do business, you’ll do just fine.

Another slightly unique idea in the realm of dress is to dress for your clients:

Where I work, we teach a lot of businesses, sometimes to people wearing overalls and coveralls. Those “down and dirty” guys feel a bit put off when they enter a classroom and have a man in a suit (not Man-in-Suit!) lording over them. I’ve seen a few teachers borrow some company coveralls, grab a helmet, and dress to their level. The students really warm up to it, although I’d recommend coming in your regular pristine wear and changing.

Dressing like your clients really helps them accept you and feel comfortable.

If you come to Japan dressed like a clown, it’d be perfectly acceptable for you to teach clowns…

Be on Time
If you're late here, it's 'off with your head' time

If you're late here, it's 'off with your head' time

There are a lot of cultures out there where time doesn’t matter. Just across the pond, if you tell a Korean to be somewhere at 7, they have an extremely loose interpretation of 7 and will perhaps show up at 9.

That’s not true in Japan. People are exacting in their timing and arrival. They’re usually not off by more than about 30 seconds plus or minus.

They don’t come early because they don’t want to catch you off guard. They don’t want to be late because that might offend.

I was recently hosting a party at a restaurant where I went outside about 5 minutes before the “stated arrival time” and there were just about 20 Japanese people standing outside waiting for the clock to strike the proper time.

You will crash and burn if you miss classes or come late.

Here’s a recent conversation I had with a client:

Student: “We really like you?”
Me: “Oh really, why is that? Is it because of my teaching style?”
Student: “No, we really like you because you come.”

I’ve known some amazing teachers that had issues with time and dressed badly. I consider myself a mediocre teacher that dresses well and gets to clients early and prepared. Guess who got better client reviews? Showing up is half the battle.

Don’t Date Students

Give me Engrish!

Give me Engrish!

I’ve seen some recent blog posts on this topic that covered the prospective dangers from the teacher’s point of view. This isn’t even the biggest danger.

Listen, I come from America. In America, we often seek some kind of mutual copacetic end to a relationship. This leads to about 6 months of pain and suffering, drunken encounters, retarded text messages, and general foolishness. At the end of that, sometimes those people emerge as friends, sometimes not.

In that situation, maybe that student would continue taking lessons from the teacher they slept with. Maybe they’d just switch teachers (for lessons, not sex…although maybe revenge sex).

Japanese people are a more cynical and (secretly) emotional bunch. When they rip off a band-aide, they rip that shit off in one fell swoop, not slowly trying to tear it off while wincing in pain.

You’re going to find that the person you slept with changed their cellular number and basically disappeared off the face of the earth.

From this standpoint, if you’re working for a company and sleeping with all the customers in failed mini-relationships, you’re going to find yourself absolutely destroying your company’s business. Eventually they’re bound to sniff out what’s going on.

Point A doesn’t lead to Point B

Like this, but with less direction

Like this, but with less direction

Listen, in Japan, nothing makes sense. You’ll often find yourself trying to make logical sense of the culture, people, and country.


It’s absolutely hopeless to try and make sense of it all.

You’ll try to understand why it’s rude to use a cell phone on a train as an airplane buzzes overhead with loudspeakers blaring, trying to get you to shop at the local mall.

You’ll live in a conservative little neighborhood next to a soapland district.

You’ll wonder how people who work 16 hours a day accomplish less than French workers who work 7 hours, and how a government that does nothing somehow brought a country to be the 2nd most wealthy in the world.

Don’t think about any of that. Your mind will explode and you’ll go insane.

Nothing makes sense here, and yet it somehow all works out. Don’t ask questions. Just smile and laugh at the nonsensical nature of it all.

Keep an open mind too. You’re going to come here, and you’re going to see all the weird and wacky differences and you’re going to feel resistant to it all.

“Why the hell do they sweep with that wacky broom that looks like Bear Grylls made it in the wild? My country’s brooms are so much better!”

I’ve seen more than a few ‘high-minded’ teachers come over here and decide to educate their students on why their country and ideas are so much better than Japan’s.

That didn’t work out so well.

Omiyage Chain of Doom

Spend at least one day of your life in here, shopping for mochi that's all the same

Spend at least one day of your life in here, shopping for mochi that's all the same

Listen, Japanese people are going to shower you with gifts. It’s not really cause you’re special, they shower everyone with cheap gifts.

When people travel, it’s perfectly normal for them to spend a day picking out “omiyage,” or small gifts to give to relatives, coworkers, and friends after their travels. Even when Japanse go as little as an hour away, they usually come back with something for others.

Do they expect you to do the same?

No, not really, you’re foreign and they know you play by different rules.

Will they absolutely love you if you do it?


Am I saying you should bribe your students with gifts?

Yes, Yes I am. They’re basically bribing you too.

Besides, it’s fairly win-win. I’ve had a lot of teachers that make grand statements to their students like “I don’t do your Omiyage thing, so I won’t bring you anything when I travel.”

Just jump in! If you’ve got a class of 5 people and you occasionally bring a little something to share in class with them, they’ll do the same. This is going to land you at least 5x your initial investment, usually more.

They’ll like you more for your sense to try out Japanese culture and enjoy the travel stories that come with your present, and will do the same back to you.

Work is Life

If you don't know what this is, you'd best learn

If you don't know what this is, you'd best learn

I have loads of students that invite me to stuff. Unless I really can’t go, I always make an effort. I don’t always want to go to an elementary school sports festival, but it’s good business.

In Japan, your job exists beyond the hours of work.

You’re always working even when you’re not. When students invite you out, it’s part of the student-teacher relationship and a way of solidifying relationships. You can be one of those folks who declines to do everything your students want, but A) you’ll miss out on a lot of interesting things and B) you’ll be keeping the students distant from you.

Learn to Drink

Learn to Drink....from small glasses!

Learn to Drink....from small glasses!

Japanese people can’t drink a lot (unless they’re Kochi people), but they do drink often. Drinking after work with coworkers is a continuation of work. It help reduce stress and cement relationships as the alcohol greases the release of what people really think.

When clients take you out to drink, it’s half to have a good time, but it’s also so they can drink a bit and tell you more about how they feel, as well as hopefully getting you drunk enough to hear a bit more about you.

I can actually say that drinking with clients has helped renew contracts as well as land new ones.

It’s an integral part of Japanese culture and an integral part of business relationships.

If you don’t drink, it’s ok. If you’re a women it’s fairly accepted, as many women don’t drink here. They’re often too busy managing their silly, drunk male coworkers at the end of the night.

Although I encounter a fair share of Japanese men who can’t drink or won’t, their expectations are that foreign men drink and can drink a lot.

As such, they will normally attempt to ply you with alcohol.

If you don’t drink, they will be accommodating enough. A good excuse is to be a driver, as the Japanese are very serious about not drinking a drop of liquor before driving.

But If you are a drinker, do expect that there might be a few more days of your life where you’re sharing a few drinks with colleagues, clients, and friends after work.

(That’s it for this week, hope you enjoy the new direction for the series!)

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