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The Gaijin 12-Step Program

Someone died and made me king, prince and dictator-for-life of all gaijin. As my first responsibility, I have 12 tips for gaijin…

-1. Yes, I have changed a lot of my opinions here. I was wrong. I was bringing a lot of baggage and history from west of Japan. None of that belongs here; it is completely out of context. You need to…

0. Leave your politics at home. Japan is neither the post bellum southern United States nor contemporary eastern Germany. When something you don’t understand happens, and you feel a gnawing suspicion of racism, seek first to understand. Case in point: Japanese people kept asking me whether I could speak or read Japanese. And it annoyed the heck out of me, “what the questioning my literacy are you doing?”, I thought. It turned out they were just being nice, trying to look out for a brother, because too many stupid gaijin have come here with nothing but a shaky grasp of hiragana to their name and proceeded to fumblingly live here in ignorance for years on end and I’m not bitter. Three weeks ago [at the time of writing] I was in Korea, and I didn’t know Korean, and I was more grreeeeeatful than Tony the Tiger for people who could speak English. I know hangul now, so next time I won’t be a total noob. Speaking of gaijin…

1. That’s right. “Gaijin”. It’s not a racial slur. Get it out of your head that it is. It means “outside person”. You are an outside person. It’s OK; it’s not an insult. Gaijin, gaijin, gaijin, gaijin. Yes, I know it sounds like 怪人 and 害人, just get over it. What, you think putting a “國” in the middle will make the world better?

2. Learn Japanese. For crying out loud, what the front were you thinking coming to a country without knowing its language? Who do you think you are? If you’re going to live here, learn the language. And for crying-out-loud learn to read. It is not OK to be illiterate. I don’t care how many “kanjis” there are — find a freaking way: illiteracy is illiteracy is illiteracy. Do not ever expect to be treated like a full, adult member of society without such a basic skill. Yes, it’s like being a child again. Humble yourself…better yet, enjoy the journey, if you actually just plug in, it doesn’t take that long.

3. If you don’t like it…uh, leave. Were you brought here naked and beaten on a shipful of strangers under duress? Are you being held against your will? If it sucks so much here, go home — you know, where they speak your precious language and eat three square meals of fat every day…

4. If and when the cops stop you…why not ask them WHY they’re stopping you? Ask them if they don’t like gaijin. Give them a candy (I mean it), tell them to sit down (I mean it), and talk this thing out. What’s that, you don’t know Japanese? Go back to step 2. Pig…Policemen are problematic in every country in the world.

5. Leave the country. Not forever. Just for a break. Go back to your country or better yet to another foreign country. It’ll clear your vision like nothing else. Then come back to 日出国 refreshed and with a more lucid perspective.

6. Stay away from foreigners. No, poor word choice. Just, avoid clumping with foreigners…Still poor word choice. OK, here: go make Japanese friends! Hello? In step 2 you learned Japanese, right? Now go use it with people who speak it, champ — that’s what it’s for. Japanese is for communicating with Japanese people…other than your girlfriends…此れ下さい and 有難う do not count.

You see, the problem is that…Japanese people are often shy and quiet compared to other peoples of the world. And so this allows a lot of gaijeen far too much space to “fill in the blanks” and project what they think Japanese people are thinking. Which is dangerous because they’re filling in the blanks wrong. Let me give you an analogy — talking to gaijin trying to figure out how Japanese people are thinking is kind of like when guys try to get woman-advice from other guys, or women try to take man-advice from other women. Guys, you’ve all read Cosmopolitan once or twice, I’m sure. And I’m sure you found that stuff was whack. Stop being led in the dark by other blind people. You need to…

7. Ask Japanese people. If you have a problem *ask*. If you don’t know something, *ask*. People are dying to tell you; they think you’re the most handsome, beautiful, good-looking, desirable, attractive glass of something in the room (see  step 1) — go google “外人” right now, dude, whether you are man or woman you will find that people want to bed-you-right-now-to-day ベッドイン today! Japanese people L-O-V-E foreigners, even the people that don’t like foreginers L-O-V-E foreigners; they want YOUR GAIGENES IN THE CELLS OF THEIR BABIES! They want dark skin and “high noses” and rhythm and brown, curly hair! They want your gaijin ideas in their companies! They want your gaijin language skills spewed all over the text they read. They want your gaijin face on TV. They want your gaijin voice in their music. Refer to step 2.

8. “Wah, waah, waah. I’m gaijin and Japanese people don’t accept me”. Oh yeah, I forgot about the warm reception and full, unconditional societal inclusion that Japanese people receive in your country. There are fourth- fifth- and sixth-generation Japanese-Americans right now being asked “how did you learn English so well?” in their own country. Those slant-eye jokes are funny *any* day of the week, and those concentration camps were practically resorts, those families had a ball. Dehud, we get to use health insurance here, are you kidding me?

9. Tokyo people are not Japanese people. OK, they are, but they’re special. Tokyo is (1) a very big city, in (2) a first-world country. That means people are going to be colder than Queen Elizabeth on a Wednesday morning in northern Scotland with no shirt on; I’m not saying I have evidence that she does that, I’m just saying that my friend’s friend saw her and…Anyway, that’s what cities and first-world countries do — make people frigid. A trainful of lonely people. Weird, huh? If you’re from a more “agrarian” country, like me, this may come as a shock. Chill…Japanese people don’t hate you. They’re just far too busy and stressed out from working 37-hour days, to even put a smile on their face. That’s where you come in.

10. Stay the heck away from Tokyo (the London of Japan). If you live there, start looking for a home elsewhere. Saitama and Chiba do not necessarily count. You need to be at least 60 train minutes away from Tokyo should you ever wish to know happiness. I’m not saying Tokyo’s bad. I’m just saying it’s dirty and smelly and overpriced. I have good friends you actually like squalor, odor and high prices, so they Tokyo it up all the time.

In closing, Japan may not be perfect. But it’s pretty durn close. We all came here of our own free will with anime sparkling in our eyes…(except for some Koreans during let’s just say “the first half of the 20th century”). Anyway, we all came and remain here of our own free will. It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing everything that’s not right and how no one’s reaching out to us  and letting us “fit in”. But let’s ask ourselves this: how much have we done? How much are we really trying? How much have we reached out? What are we contributing to Japanese society — what have we given? And if something is wrong, have we tried to go and tell someone? Have we asked a Japanese person? Or did we just run and whine about it to other gaijin at a gaijin party in a gaijin establishment using our gaijin language while eating gaijin food? [Cue poignant ending] I know what my answer to all those questions is. What’s yours?…[pregnant silence…]

BTW for anyone who has dry/”ashy” skin — have you ever tried using olive oil on your skin instead of store-bought lotion? Dewd…it’s the wiping bum with silk feeling all over again…mmm…Olive oil + skin = win.

I’m serious.

  58 comments for “The Gaijin 12-Step Program

  1. Cornfed
    September 10, 2008 at 22:09

    Olive oil soap is really nice. I’ve had dry skin for years and someone gave me a bar of the stuff from some shop in Tokyo. You could double it with the lotion and have like, extra virgin skin or something.

  2. lin
    September 10, 2008 at 23:01

    You are out of control… as usual. Another great post in a long line of great posts. Keep it up.

  3. pook
    September 10, 2008 at 23:24

    Good tips. One might reconsider changing “concentration camp” for “internment camp.” While incredibly shameful, Americans weren’t making lampshades, you know.

  4. Rob
    September 10, 2008 at 23:46

    This was an interesting post. Unfortunately the people that need to hear and understand this message are probably not the ones that come to this site. Just like Agent Smith hypothesized, “human beings define their reality through suffering and misery….,” there are some out there that are just born to whine.

    When I lived in Thailand (the expatriate capital of the world) I would run into people (mostly British sorry) all the time that would have absolutely nothing to say about anything other than contempt for Thailand. They could not speak a word of Thai and of course expected all the lowly Thais to communicate to them in English. If you meet people like this, in whatever country you are in, just turn around and run away. They are just miserable people and I doubt anything could ever change them.

  5. nest0r
    September 11, 2008 at 00:39

    Awesome, the Japanese want my riddum.

  6. Ivan the Terrible
    September 11, 2008 at 00:55

    Heh. Expat bitching about the country they live in seems to a simple fact of life no matter where you are. If you think the JAPANESE expat community is bad, trying looking around for some of the comment sections in Korean expat blogs. There’s such intense contempt for the country…depicted as a mass of people alternating between work, drinking, eating kimchi, ranting about Dokdo/Takeshima/Liancourt Rocks/Who-honestly-gives-a-damn-it’s-a-borderline-uninhabited-patch-of-rocks, bitching about the evil American/Japanese imperialists, eating kimchi, writing essays about the terrifying foreigners who come to steal their women and smoke marijuana, cheating those same foreigners for every dime they can get, rioting over beef, and eating kimchi….that it’s hard to imagine why any of them want to stay there.

    And, of course, I have a friend who has lived in China for well over a decade. In his words:

    “What’s so bad about it? Not much, if you like 1950s London smog x100; strangers every day meting out the unholy trinity of discourtesy, selfishness and incivility to each other; racial hatred and innate implacable belief in their own superiority; the utter disregard for nature and animals, only seen as things to be eaten, beaten, petted or tanned; and , finally, a revolting, unquestioning patriotism in their own country manifest in dogmatic ideals which they never practise and bigoted, but sublimated, disgust in other nations. In short, the mainland Chinese- en masse- are the biggest bunch of self-serving, alexythimic hypocrites I have ever encountered. Don’t take my word for it, live here for a few months, you’ll be crawling the walls- unless you’re mainland Chinese.”

    He doesn’t speak or read Chinese, of course.

    Honestly, I think when anyone reaches that stage, they REALLY need to get out of their host country for a long, long time. Come back new and refreshed later, perhaps, but that is a lot of repressed contempt coming to the surface.

  7. vgambit
    September 11, 2008 at 01:55

    Yo, you just said “gaigenes.”

  8. Alyks
    September 11, 2008 at 06:11

    Give the cops candy…what?

  9. September 11, 2008 at 08:49

    Whatever dude, Tokyo is awesome! I got plenty of Japanese friends in the

    Still a great post, but you might wanna add that if you are an out going person it doesn’t matter where you live you are gonna meet people. Funny and great post, but pretty friggin biased (aren’t we all), you love the country, some people love the city. I grew up in the country and hate it worse than a bastard step child who still doesn’t call me “dad” (thats a lot of hate btw <.<), I LIKE the country, but I don’t see myself living there til I am too old and have to pay young boys for sex in Thailand (seclusion baby awwww yeaaaah).

    The reason why people like the cities is because they are big and always busy. Its a living canvas of LIFE in the cities, in the country side it is quiet and sure the people might be nicer, because they HAVE the TIME to snoop on their neighbors and make assumptions/gossips about them, you might be a nice dude, but they might not care, just like anywhere else.

    I <3 my concrete jungles (vines on sale 1900円 @ ドンキ now!!!).

    Anywayz, you know you rule right??? Like I don’t know, but a friend of a friend I know told me, like that one guy from that movie that was out last year with the song that was popular and stuff….that was YOU right?

    awesome post, you know I wouldn’t have started your method if you weren’t so god damn funny in your posts, keep up the good work as well as a couple other bodily appendages 😉


  10. phauna
    September 11, 2008 at 09:09

    All my students from Korea, Japan and China, when they come to Australia to study, continuously complain about it. Australia. They complain about Australia.

    Apparently Australia has too many Asian people in it. Have you heard anything more ridiculous come out of an Asian person’s mouth? Asians are ruining asians’ good time in Australia. Apparently the trains don’t come often enough, ie every three minutes, in Australia. This is because the Australian population is about one sixth of Japan’s, spread out over twenty times the area of Japan. There is nothing to do in Australia, there is no nightlife. I think this is because people are not obligated to go out and drink with their bosses and are allowed to see their families every day. There are plenty of pubs which don’t serve snacks unfortunately. There is a high minimum wage, there is contract law, there is not a million hours of unpaid overtime needing to be done. It’s quite cheap, it’s not polluted, all things which I couldn’t say about Korea, for example.

    Also going out in the sun is bad so the beach is out. Typical conversation with a student. “there’s nothing to do here”, “have you been to the beach yet?”, “no, I can’t swim and I’m deathly afraid of having a skin colour even three shades darker than a week old corpse.”, “why did you come here then?”, “I wanted to go to America”. Then go to America, and you can be disenchanted with your movie fed ideas about it instead.

    I’m not saying there’s nothing wrong with Australia (I mean it’s really close to New Zealand unfortunately), but I think people naturally like to complain even in the absence of actual problems.

    Now for my complaints about Japan. Why can’t I get money from an ATM at night? Why can’t I pay for things with my credit card? Why do I have to pay in cash, thousands of dollars in cash, to my travel agent when they book me a trip? Only cash? That, my friends, is worth complaining about.

  11. September 11, 2008 at 09:43

    Your best post ever. Nice one.

    :: 10. Stay the heck away from Tokyo (the London of Japan).

    The ‘london of Japan’ is Osaka I reckon, London being the best city in the world! (!!!! 🙂 ) At least that’s the place in Japan that most feels like home from home for me.

    As far as the advice about the Big City living – (and I bleed concrete and pollution if you cut me!) is that it’s all personal taste init (as said before)? Safe to say smaller cities are going to be more fun and easier to make friends in than a sprawling metropolis though. Join some clubs/get a hobby/chat up you hairdresser and see if they’ll show you around (they [the hairdresser] are a captive audience)/hang out at the sports/arts/computers/etc section at the bookshop and talk to whoever’s there to make friends (similar interests); If you’ve lived in big cities before, big cities in Japan are no different you have developed techniques to intergrate yourself into things.
    Everyone puts their game faces on on the way to/from work; I’m sure I make small children cry when I walk past! But, we’d all welcome some friendly interaction with someone not a freak and interesting though wouldn’t we?

  12. Rob
    September 11, 2008 at 12:55

    Sorry – very off topic topic question. Has anyone used or know about the website:

    It looks like an incredible resource of sentences, just type in any word and get tons of them, but didn’t know if perhaps the sources were not verified?

    I heard the word “ちゃら” used in the movie Pulp Fiction, but couldn’t find it in any of the normal dictionaries (yahoo, sanseido, etc.), but I just tried it in and it gave me the meaning plus example sentences.

    Anyone know anything negative (or positive) about this site?

  13. David
    September 11, 2008 at 13:26

    外人 <- lol

  14. nacest
    September 11, 2008 at 18:02

    I think ALC’s not a safe source of sentences for the SRS. At least that’s what I think I’ve read somewhere (but I could be wrong).
    However it’s FANTASTIC when you are looking for the meaning of a slang expression, that obviously you can’t find on a normal dictionary. That’s what I use it for, at least.

  15. Tom
    September 11, 2008 at 18:15

    Sure, non-Japanese living in Japan tend to complain alot about the country they live in. People blame their problems on the Japanese society and feel that their problems are beyond their control. Khats here is blaming problems on the individuals people, and saying that if only they understood Japan better, they would be able to live here more comfortably. Its true, that helps, but that is not the only difficulty to overcome.

    Don’t hate on other foreigners in Japan. In fact, I would say that among non-japanese livng in Japan, the pastime of bitching about other “gaijin” is second only to bitching about Japanese people. The fact is, we’re all having a tough time here, regardless of language ability, number of friends, or location. Living Japan is not a competition, it’s learning to be yourself, in Japan. And in that end, we should stop criticizing each other and start supporting of each other.

  16. captal
    September 11, 2008 at 18:29


    “It’s quite cheap”

    Are you living in the Australia I was living in? Australia is the most expensive place I’ve ever lived, including Chicago and Tokyo (though I wasn’t paying rent). The only thing more expensive in Japan is rent, and I’m in the country right now, so rent is cheaper too. Everything is freaking expensive due to that ridiculously high minimum wage, and nothing stays open because businesses can’t afford to pay people that wage. Oh, aside from McDonalds. Booze/tobacco is ridiculous- $50 for a case of Corona (on sale) and $13/pack of cigarettes? (I don’t even smoke) That said I loved the piss out of the place- the Gold Coast and Brisbane is where I spent a year and a half and highly recommend it- I just ended up spending twice as much money as I expected (I went out a lot, that helped).

    Oh, and I love the piss out of Tokyo too. It’s just that there are too many English speakers for my liking, and darn it, I’m trying to learn Japanese!

  17. Homebound
    September 11, 2008 at 20:33

    It’s really sad, but I’ve heard of people living in Japan for 10 years + who are MARRIED, with KIDS (who don’t/can’t/won’t speak English) without having learned a SIGNLE PHRASE of useful Japanese. …That just doesn’t even make sense to me. How lonely, too.
    And just last night I met a guy who’d lived there fivw years and couldnt speak a word really. “I don’t have the talent for languages” he said. If I’d’ve thought he’d listen, I would have told him about this site.
    @ Captal; Cigarettes and alcohol ARE expensive in Australia, not because of the wages, but because of tax. The government has decided if you’re going to damage you’re body, they may as well make some money off of it. Ok, so only joking – no one knows why we get taxed so much on them. But neither are *essential* items.
    Our minimum wage is only like 10 dollars for an over-18. If that’s ridiculous … well, …tell that to the people earning it. They aint doing so well (better, though, than those earning minimum wage in say, America)

    Again, the good and bad things about each country thing.

  18. Daniel
    September 11, 2008 at 23:08

    Khazt, you’re awesome.

    When I came to Japan, I did so with the intention of exploring a new lifestyle, learning a new a language (to fluency, not to ordering-生ビール-in-a-bar-like-a-champ-proficiency), integrating and interacting with a culture different from my own while simultaneously offering what I can of my own previous culture and lifestyle, watching dope anime, reading manga, playing awesome video games, getting the chance to stroll down to the most awesome arcade i’ve ever seen and the oldest most bad-ass temple i’ve seen in the same day, no, THE SAME HOUR….and of course make tons of Japanese friends. Because, why not? All that stuff is awesome. And why else would you come to Japan?

    Well, apparently another reason to come to Japan is to get drunk in a foreigner bar every goddamn night, complaining to your exclusively foreigner friends about crap only other jaded I-wish-I-was-back-home foreigners care about, while doing your damndest to avoid anything even remotely Japanese.

    I don’t know why it bothers me so much. Its their life, not mine. And I don’t even hang out with those types (obviously). But it seems so irresponsible to me, and for every stupid foreigner who lives like that it increases the chances of the next Japanese person I meet having to go through the whole ten minute long convo of the history of why and how much Japanese I know/can speak before we get to a real conversation.

    …and I kinda disagree about the gaijin thing. Ok, granted, its not exactly a racial slur. But I know many people that go out of their way NOT to use it, mostly the younger crowd, I’ve noticed. And I appreciate that, because the word just rubs me the wrong way. Not to mention the occasional person that apologizes for saying it (外人と言われてごめんなさい). Or the local bartenders that will scold customers for saying “変な外人” around me. Just because I’ve had experiences like that has shown me that the word, while not as strong as say, American racial slurs, is not exactly nice.

    Anyway, this post was a breath of fresh air, for sure. Japan needs more foreigners like khatz, and all the dozens of commenters and supporters on this site that are making a genuine effort to learn the language. I think this self-inflicted linguistic barrier is the heart of all these problems.

    Cheers! To Japanese fluency!

  19. captal
    September 12, 2008 at 10:27

    Cheers! I’ll drink to that- at a gaijin-only bar! Just kidding- I spent last night in my little 8 seater local bar talking to the bartender in broken Japanese. That was after going to free Japanese classes- woohoo!

  20. Benni
    September 12, 2008 at 13:17

    yup I agree for the most part, good post.


    I would like to state that, as an expat who lived in Japan, who did the best he could to work full time, learn the language, make friends with *good* people (japanese, korean, thai, american, canadian etc.), learning the Japanese language is not just about repeating fricken sentences over and over. And, it’s not about making only *japanese* friends to practice these sentences on, either.

    Don’t you hate it when people come to you for “friendship” because you have something to “offer” not because you share something in common?

    Anyway. I felt that way a lot in Japan and loathed it when people came up to me to practice their English. It was an everyday occurrence and made me wonder which people were truly my friends. All of my Japanese friends knew that I was studying Japanese, but never helped me or talked to me in Japanese. Never.

    Now I work in a Japanese company. My Japanese is ok.

    It is still the same thing though. No matter how much I speak, how well I speak, I am and always will be a *gaijin*. You can say all you want about how it is just a word and means nothing more than an “outsider”. However, when your job is to be a part of the company and you always try your best but your best is never even close to good enough because you are a foreigner, it is a little disheartening.

    There is my 2 cents.

    Take it or leave it. I guess I can give advice until I am blue in the face but until you find out for yourselves you won’t really understand.

    I gotta say though, that I have met one or two really friggen awesome Japanese people who have helped me tremendously. I love them like they are my family. It is the group mentality that kills me….

  21. Madamada
    September 12, 2008 at 14:41

    I feel a short rant coming on (not directed at anyone here by the way).

    I swear there are people for who one of the main reasons for coming to Japan is to get incensed at being called a gaijin. They practicaly salivate at the thought of it. “Japanese are racist aren’t they. They call us gaijin don’t they, means ‘barbarian’ doesn’t it.” The same people sometimes seek to educate the Japanese about cultural sensitivity by the curious means of thowing a fit unless the Japanese do things the way they do in the U.S, Australia or wherever.

    OK rant over.

  22. Newbie
    September 12, 2008 at 15:49

    Great post! Very helpful reminders, haha.
    But I was kind of wondering about Benni’s comment – when you said all your Japanese friends never helped you… Did you ever flat out ask them to? Most of the people I’ve run into have offered without me asking, or have definitely tried to help whenever I say “oshietekudasai.” I guess everyone’s experience is different, but it was just a tad surprising to hear.
    Thanks for posting!

  23. phauna
    September 12, 2008 at 17:30

    @ captal

    I used the modifier ‘quite’, meaning not really cheap but still cheap. Of course the high taxes put on cigarettes and alcohol by the government to encourage people not to use them too much makes those two things expensive.

    But let’s talk apples. Or melons, peaches, grapes, meat, butter, in fact any food, things you have to buy every day, and sometimes don’t buy because of the cost. Almost every consumable good in Japan is really expensive, and services too. Maybe one off purchases are cheaper, like cars or electrical goods, but when you can’t buy an apple for the cost, that is an expensive place. I’d rather be able to eat an apple a day than get a new mobile phone every six months.

  24. phauna
    September 12, 2008 at 17:32

    Oh, and rice. What the hell? Rice is expensive in Japan? And the shinkansen, it costs as much to fly! And flying, oh my, how expensive is flying in Japan? You’d think you could hop on over to Thailand for the weekend or something but no way.

  25. Alex
    September 12, 2008 at 22:12

    Khatzumoto-san. Wise man from the west in Japan. It was really good to read this one. Even now that i’m living in Japan but about to go home in a few months. Until then I may try to enjoy its best and taking your advices and tips to have a good time here. It’s really boring the “all gaijin-all-the-time-in-Japan-” schedule wich so many foreigners are use to be into.

    But, I enjoyed Tokyo! heheheh…
    cheers and congratulations for this awesome web page.

    ちおっと さよなら。

  26. old soul nippon
    September 13, 2008 at 12:04

    For the most part, I agree with your assessment of those who come to this country and make a resolution to NOT learn the language, NOT seek out Japanese people, and congregate in foreigner/English-speaking ghettos. Those people have no business coming here to Japan and complaining. However, I think your opinions are quite unbalanced.

    For one, you say to make Japanese friends? That can be a problem if your aim is to learn the language. I have Japanese friends, and guess what? Most of them WANT to speak english with me. I, on the hand, wish they spoke Japanese. For me to say “SPEAK JAPANESE AND NO ENGLISH!” would sorta be selfish and leechy, ne? I don’t want to suck value from people nor do I want to turn a relationship into a linguistic tug o’ war. How about Japanese people who don’t speak Japanese? Hell, the fact that I look Japanese but do not speak Japanese makes the Japanese people’s brain tired–the fact that I look Japanese and do not speak the language (at least fluently) creates a huge disconnect in their brains. Some of my students in 中学校 still ask me if I’m Japanese, even though my name is blatantly 外人-esque. For the most part though, Japanese-only speaking people find it ちょっとめんどうくさい to try to get to know me. Perhaps its the novelty factor that I lack, perhaps they’re shy, perhaps they’re racist towards other Asians (which Japanese are notorious for), perhaps it’s some other reason. The point is, I don’t think it’s as simple as “go make Japanese friends, yay!”. I don’t want to be a language leech (Lord knows how I feel when someone wants to meet me just BECAUSE I know english–I mean I’m pleased to help someone, but I am not like an SRS machine. If you want to talk to me, do so because you are genuinely interested in me, not in my language), I don’t want to make people play tug o’ war with me, and making Japanese friends who don’t speak english (and I do have these kinds of friends) is not as easy as you put it. Maybe next time you can teach some of the J-newbs out there how to make Japanese friends while learning the language without running into the issues I’ve outlined above? Not to say all Japanese people are like this, and I do plan to join more clubs (perhaps Judo or a Shooto gym..its a shame the art I study is in Tokyo), but my description above pretty much fits my experience to a T.

    Second, I don’t think you should downplay the xenophobia/subtle racism that goes on in this country and I ain’t even talking about being called an “outside” person. I had (along with two friends of mine) to leave a church (of all places, a freakin’ church!) because of the discrimination and unfair treatment that foreigners received in the church and that the leaders in the church would not apologize for or admit to or discuss. People say “ahhhhhhhhh it`s not very Japanese to discuss these things! Tatemae! Just accept the cultural difference!”. All I have to say is bullshit to that. People, and yes that includes foreigners, are humans, not screws to make a system run efficiently. I won’t get into the church thing, but I believe this can serve as a microcosmic example for Japanese institutions. I have friends saying the same thing, and these guys are no ex-pats. One is a hapa with dual citizenship who went to 中学校. Another is an American missionary who basically grew up here and married a Japanese woman and therefore can speak pera pera nihongo and know the ins and outs of this society. Perhaps expats should write with more reserve about Japan, because it is a beautiful country with interesting things going on in it, but there is some truth to what these many voices are saying. Perhaps it would be too much to call it hate, but to say Japanese people love you is….either a disingenuous rhetorical tactic on yer part or you are in denial.

    Also, just because Japanese people have been on the butt end of insults (I can understand, I’m also Asian), does not mean that they can do the same thing here in Japan. Ask Japanese people. If you have a problem *ask*. If you don’t know something, *ask*.

    “People are dying to tell you; they think you’re the most handsome, beautiful, good-looking, desirable, attractive glass of something in the room (see step 1) — go google “外人” right now, dude, whether you are man or woman you will find that people want to bed-you-right-now-to-day ベッドイン today! Japanese people L-O-V-E foreigners, even the people that don’t like foreginers L-O-V-E foreigners; they want YOUR GAIGENES IN THE CELLS OF THEIR BABIES! They want dark skin and “high noses” and rhythm and brown, curly hair! They want your gaijin ideas in their companies! They want your gaijin language skills spewed all over the text they read. They want your gaijin face on TV. They want your gaijin voice in their music.”

    I know you are being facetious here, but there is something off about what you wrote here. I don’t really appreciate being a gaijin celebrity…this is what I love about being Asian in Japan. Nobody is up in ya biznatch. No お母ちゃん is forcing her kid to go up to you and do a self-introduction in engilsh. And this is why I don’t give two squirts of piss that Japanese pop-culture (which I assume yer referring to here) have nothing to gain (besides my English speaking skillz) from my culture (from me..that’s a different story, I’m a cosmpolitan post-modern type of kid. I was born in the Philippines, grew up in Toronto, am interested in classical martial arts, read Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, dress ilke Japanese b-kei, and have rap skillz ta pay da billz). Besides, I would not be happy if peeps just wanted me to be in TV just because I have a high nose, can speak French, and have blonde and blue eyes. It’s prolly good for the money but I’m the inward, reflective type of guy that does not appreciate being liked for these things. In my experience though (in the church I left and in the schools I worked at), this enthusiasm for gaijin and gaijin ideas was, well, not present.

    Oh before people assume that I’m an J-expat, I ain’t. I’ve been here in Japan teaching english in 中学校 and 小学校 for a year and will continue to live here for another 2 or 3 or maybe even 4 more years. With my last year hopefully in the East Capital. Does it seem like I’m complaining here? Ya perceive wrong. If I were, I would be the stereotypical whiny eigo ghetto dwella. If I were, I’d also prolly be gone. It’s actually interesting (I’m a social masochist of sorts) to experience the alienation and discrimination that I sometimes face here in Japan. Makes me a much stronger and non-needy person that doesn’t need the validation from others. And I love living here, rolling dolo and all. I get to study Japanese and philosophy making good money out of it, it’s mad safe here, the food is frigging umai, I love Japanese elementary school kids,and sometimes I love my Japanese junior high school kids (only when the 中ギャル are not trying to grab my balls and saying rude sexual things to me or when the baseball boys are not asking me how long my penis hair is), I love the martial arts they have here, and well…日本語 is just damn interesting to me.

    P.S.–why don’t you type in かんたん日本語 if you are zealously alljapaneseallthetime?
    P.P.S.–do you know any good Japanese soul, reggae, and rap music? I thnk Japanese soul is an oxymoron, Japanese pretty much worship Jamaica and have no need for Jamaican DJS-toasters, and Japanese rap frigging sucks. I don’t want to replace Ghostface Killah with M-Flo, nor do I want to stop listening to American soul music or rocksteady reggae.

  27. Enki
    September 13, 2008 at 19:47

    Not dissing anyone’s Japanese skillz or anything…but people who complain about Japanese people speaking only English to them: Just how good is your Japanese?

    I mean, with friends who speak multiple languages, the strongest common language always becomes the one of conversation. Can you talk about many different topics, be humorous, or generally fun to talk to in Japanese? If not, then it might be an inconvenience for your friends– not some dude paid to hear you talk- to continue talking this way (just like we kinda roll our eyes at the odd man in a business suit near the train station who “wants to learn English by speaking to foreigners” while the only thing he can say is tired phrase book nonsense and boring small talk YOU KNOW WHO I’M TALKING ABOUT).

    I have two gaiiiiiiijin friends- one is almost fluent in Japanese and the other, while not very advanced has a certain fluency and humor in Japanese. Whereas my Japanese skills? Not so much. So it’s natural that our mutual friends will feel more comfortable speaking Japanese to them, and English to me. You don’t wanna have someone ask “what’d you say??” every other line when you’re trying to discussing things…

    To avoid talking about “the Japanese” in some kind of pseudo anthropological BS kind of way, I’ll use the example where I’m from: kinda bilingual Montreal.

    There’s a joke that says “you know you’re in Montreal when a group of 9 French speakers suddenly talk English cause one English speaker walks in the room”. It goes the other way around too, if I see someone is obviously uncomfortable speaking English, I’ll switch to French. It’s not being condescending or not wanting to help them learn (I hope not…) but it’s natural to want to speak with your friends without hindrances…

    I’m actually not studying Japanese, I’m in Korea and learning Korean. I appreciate the all Korean environment and opportunity to evesdrop on Korean speakers (>:D) but I won’t go around looking for language exchanges or the like until I have a fair level of fluency. Cause my Korean right now is at the “do you like kimchi?” and “when did you arrive in Korea?” stage and, no, I can’t base friendships on pickled cabbages and timelines.

    In conclusion: Friends are not tutors. That’s why in Khatzumoto’s post, step 2 (learn Japanese) comes before step 6.

    • ダンちゃん
      April 30, 2011 at 18:14

      Two and a half years two late reply ftw, woot!

      So yeah. Ditto. I’ve been here for a month so far, got to know a whole heck of Japanese people, and not a single one has attempted to use me for English practice. The only time I hear English spoken is when I’m around foreigners, or if a foreigner enters our group who has a poor grasp of Japanese.

  28. Adam
    September 13, 2008 at 20:35

    Well said Enki. And great post khatzumoto.

  29. September 14, 2008 at 03:20

    I agree with everything in your post, except for two things:

    1) I lived in Japan for 3 years and my husband lived there for 9 and I don’t agree that gaijin is not a racial slur. It may not be as bad as calling a black person the N-word, but it is not a welcoming friendly word. The connotation is negative and in my experience with Japanese friends and coworkers, they made a point to use 外国人 or 外国の人. It was always people who acting in a less than welcoming way that used 外人. It really does mean “outsider” as in “not Japanese” as in “not as good as Japanese people”. I have had friends use 外人さん which is a little… 微妙.

    2) I like Tokyo. But it really doesn’t give the experience of living in Japan.

  30. Ember
    September 14, 2008 at 16:10

    I’ll have to jump in and back Enki up here. Far too many people expect to make large circles of close japanese friends in their first year and complain that the people who do hang out with them are trying to leech English out of them, and then claim thats why they can’t speak Japanese. Many other factors come into play here, such as where you meet people and how you behave. Join clubs at the local volunteer center, avoid language exchanges, get involved in local activities and so on. Find a job that you need Japanese for everyday even if the pay is worse than McEnglish. You don`t need a Japanese girlfriend to learn the language or make friends, either. Sometimes just letting people know how much you like Japan and Japanese works wonders.

    I`m a Kyushu man, so can`t say too much about Tokyo, but theres plenty of people out there who will get to know you for who you are in Japan. Old nippon soul sounds like he has a two ton chip on his shoulder, and while I can recount all of the racist remarks and astounding ignorance i’ve experienced from some induviduals in Japan i can out weigh them considerably with positive experiences, and recognise some aspects of those negatives as personal struggles with either myself or the culture at large. Just compare the kind of racism you could treat yourself to in areas of Leeds in England for example, and it puts things in perspective i think.

    Looking forward to more stimulating posts.

  31. old soul nippon
    September 14, 2008 at 17:09

    Ember, you should read thoroughly and see that I’ve mentioned a lot of good things about Japan. Living here is not just a random decision for me. Just to make things clear, I’ve experienced some BS here in Japan, and I’m grateful for it. It makes me stronger. Nevertheless, if you think embracing the truth about my experience sounds like I have “two ton chip on my shoulder”, so be it. BTW, are you a white european by any chance? If you are, then ‘racism’ would be a totally different dynamic for you. I’m Non-Japanese Asian…and well…Japanese have some issues with other Asians. There is no denying this.

    “people who complain about Japanese people speaking only English to them: Just how good is your Japanese?”

    I’m not complaining. I’m just saying, it’s one logistic that you have to handle when learning Japanese. I can have conversation with a Japanese person and I usually do (with my students) and usually have a blast talking about the girlfriends they want to know so much about and how long my penis hair is (damn those baseball boys) but they understand the level where I’m at, and speak at a level where it’s fun and humorous. The teachers who do want to talk to me talk in either butchered ass Japanese or butchered ass English. It’s really no value to me when they speak kantan nihongo to me as far as learning Japanese to fluency is concerned. But like I said, people are not SRS machines…and I appreciate them and their company all the same even if they are ruining my chances for Japanese fluency.

    In any case, you are correct. People who are capable would speak to me in english if communicating in Japanese was too difficult. But I’ve also met my fair share of those who want to speak English to me because they want to practise. And perhaps this is not the point you’re trying to make, but to fault someone for their language skills and thus their inability to make friends with Japanese people who don’t speak english and thus fault them for not taking their Japanese to the next level.

  32. Enki
    September 14, 2008 at 21:42

    old soul nippon
    Actually, I think we’re pretty much agree with each other on a major point. You said “For one, you say to make Japanese friends? That can be a problem if your aim is to learn the language” and I agree. Making friends for the *purpose* of learning is generally not going to work. I think one of the biggest lies in modern foreign language teaching is the idea that you can be fluent in a language by just “going out there and talking to native speakers”. I disagree for 3 reasons. 1) (selfish reason) it doesn’t fit my personality. If I don’t chat up random strangers in my native language, how can I do it to strangers in a foreign language?? 😉 and 2) it places an incredible burden on people to just plop yourself next to another with the expectation of “OK, teach me how to speak now”. In my opinion and from what I’ve seen, those kind of situations are just tiring and frustrating for everyone involved. 3) you’re having a conversation….great, but if you don’t know anything besides a few greetings and phrasebook expressions, it’s gonna go nowhere fast. You neeeeed the listening, reading, sentences, vocabulary, ect. first….

    So, I think we kind of agree on this

    Agreed for the most part, but I would say that language exchanges aren’t a total waste….if your Japanese (or whatever language you’re learning) is at a good enough level to converse! Or, if you want to be Machiavellian and evil about it, pick a language exchange partner whose English is way below your Japanese >:D Like I said, the strongest language will dominate the conversation, which is why a lot of language exchanges are usually one sided towards English.

  33. September 15, 2008 at 01:01

    While I generally agree with khatz on MANY points, I think he’s going at it in a most distasteful manner.

    khatz, just one URL for you. .

    Have fun. And remember, even the whiners have a small grain of truth in them.

  34. Daniel
    September 16, 2008 at 03:13

    Gotta chime in with Enki here:

    To put it bluntly, if Japanese people are not speaking Japanese with you, your Japanese sux. Straight up. I’m not trying to discourage anyone here, nor do I wish to gloat, but this is a rule I’ve learned through experience. And it was admitting the reason that Japanese people weren’t speaking Japanese with me was because my Japanese sucked is what drove me to make my Japanese…well, not suck anymore.

    You’re gonna be speaking in whichever your most common strongest language is, period. Even with the types who really wanna learn English; I’ve got friends and aquiantences both who speak far better English than I speak Japanese. But I’ve asked them about it: it’s tiring. Speaking in your second language is tiring. Simple as that. They prefer to speak in Japanese with me, provided I can keep up. In fact, in those situations, people use exactly as much English as they perceive I need to keep up a natural conversation. And that lets me know exactly where my Japanese is. This is all following the pretty obvious rules of bilingualism.

    Stop exempting Japan from this simple and obvious reality. If you are speaking in Japanese to a Japanese person and they’re responding in English, that’s a polite way of saying “your Japanese sux, buddy.” Japanese isn’t like some hobby of yours, some second language you’re learning in college; not if you’re living in Japan! People are going to be catching every little teeny tiny mistake you make; pronunciation, fluency, grammar, intonation, vocab…friggin’ everything! If those mistakes pile up too heavily in someones mind, they’re going to be seeking an easier way to communicate with you: English.

    Ember also mentioned some great things…do things which have absolutely no relation to English, things you’re gonna need Japanese for. Hang out at the community center, go to the free classes, join some clubs, a sports team, anything! Any place or situation where you’re expected to speak Japanese is gonna be a 100% confidence boost that makes you forget all about that annoying jerk in the bar you met who was treating you like their own private English tutor when you were just trying to kick back, drink some beers, and have a good time.

  35. Ember
    September 16, 2008 at 12:59

    old nippon soul – yeah, I’ll have to admit that I`m white eurpoean and that definitely colours ones experiences in Japan. Didn’t mean to be presumptious about your life / personality ect. Everyone seems to pretty much agree with each other but I think the “forget about the jerks, work hard and keep a sense of humour handy” keeps most long timers sane.

  36. km
    September 18, 2008 at 19:07

    Cheers of agreement to Daniel and Enki.

    If you want it bad enough, it will happen. Look at yourself before you claim knowledge of others. Good discussion!

  37. Roderik
    October 3, 2008 at 15:34


    Try to avoid using terms such as ‘Japanese-Americans’ , ‘Afro-Americans’, ‘Italian-Americans’ and ‘Native-Americans’ in the future. It is the usage of terms such as these that promote racial segregation and keep groups of people apart. If you are trying to make a point about the acceptance of other cultures into your own, just refer to everyone as Americans will you?

  38. Diana
    October 24, 2008 at 23:53

    I loved u mentioning about Japanese Americans. I am 4th generation Japanese American and YES I have been asked in America where did I learn English. sighs. And I disagree with Pook… I think the correct terminology IS concentration camp. It was a concentration of Japanese Americans. I’m not saying it was a Nazi death camp–and those were concentration camps too. Those camps were a concentration of Jews, except that was more for genocidal purposes. While the ones in America weren’t genocidal…many people also unnecessarily died in the American concentration camps because of the lack of health care, etc. 🙁

    I also disagree with Roderik. Of course I identify as Japanese American, and/or Asian American! Not everyone in America has the exact same experience, thus you need to make distinctions to know what is being talked about.

    I am in Japan right now, exploring my roots. My family speaks ZERO Japanese, and I was surprised to learn recently that my grandparents spoke it very well, even though while they were alive, I never ever heard them speak a word of it, except if you count saying “sushi” or some other food names. They after all were born here, and went through the the scary racism during WWII which made them not want to speak Japanese for fear of more racism than there already was. Anyways, I am experiencing what it’s like to be an actual foreigner here in Japan. When people thought I was a foreigner in America I was pretty annoyed, but now when people realize I am a foreigner here, and comment how good I am at chopsticks, it’s nice because I actually AM a foreigner this time!!!! Good times. 🙂

    Anyways, just stumbled over your site, and I hope to learn Japanese during the year (or maybe more) I plan to stay here. Thanks!!!

  39. Eric
    December 6, 2008 at 23:04

    Awesome list!

    I especially identified with the 外人 part as it drives me up the wall when foreigners act like Japanese people are flinging racial slurs at them on a daily basis. But overall it is in the nature of expat communities to complain, it’s not just japan.

    Nevertheless after moving to the far East I’ve found that if you know the language (rule #2) and interact with the Japanese public at large as opposed to going to popular expat hangouts like Roppongi, the kinds of foreigners you run into are very different then what you come across on online message boards.

  40. austria-jin
    April 12, 2009 at 02:33

    thank you… just… thank you…
    i was just watching the two videos from you and that friend of yours,
    went on youtube, and watched some of the related videos, where they show signs with stuff like “no foreigners allowed” “japanese only”
    it scared the sh** out of me…
    then i went back here and found this blog-entry
    you always tend to cheer me up, khatzumoto…
    i usually don’t like fanboyism, but you, sir… are one of my internet-super heroes <3

  41. July 22, 2009 at 16:46

    You really hit the nail on the head with this post. I dropped Japanese years ago because of personal baggage. I recently decided to pick it back up with a fresh perspective. I’m starting slowly, since I’m learning another language at the moment (Afrikaans). Your site has reminded me of all the GOOD things that got me interested in Japanese in the first place.

  42. dkoleary
    September 10, 2009 at 10:25

    I’m gonna have to disagree with the last point on Tokyo being dirty/smelly and a bad place to live. I have personally lived in Tokyo for 9 years and I think you just have to know where to look to find the goodies. I suppose it also depends on personal preference.

  43. Daniel
    September 10, 2009 at 10:27

    I’m gonna have to disagree with the last point on Tokyo being dirty/smelly and a bad place to live. I have personally lived in Tokyo for 9 years and I think you just have to know where to look to find the goodies.

    I suppose it also depends on personal preference.

  44. Faustian Slip
    November 10, 2009 at 01:49

    Interesting post. I agreed with some of it, but to hop on the gaijin train, I’m going to side with those who say that while it’s not the N-word, it’s not as innocent as you’re making it out to be, either. Personally, while I was living in Japan, whether I got offended by the use of the word “gaijin” depended a lot on context. I’m not stupid- I can tell whether someone’s using it because that’s just what they’ve always called foreigners, and they don’t realize that it can be offensive and whether they’re using “gaijin” as a substitute for “asshole.”

    For instance, while in Japan, I studied kendo. This was a club made up entirely of Japanese. I went for rank testing, and it was also an all-Japanese gig. During the testing, one of the judges, an older guy who had made a couple of cracks to/about me being a foreigner before we really got going, called for me by going, “Oi, gaijin!” Now, I was just going to let it go (despite the fact that my name was in big katakana right on my belt, which he could see), but before I had a chance to say or do anything, my coach jumped in and corrected the guy on the spot, saying, “Don’t call her ‘gaijin.’ Her name is ‘Faustian Slip.'” That wasn’t the first time I heard one Japanese correct another for using “gaijin,” and it wasn’t the last, but it sealed my opinion that there are definitely some negative connotations to the word, and people trying to pretend that it has no undertones of racism are (no offense) fooling themselves. Now, does that mean I went around flying into a rage every time I heard that word used? Of course not- like I said, it’s about context. But I never used it around my students (at the request of one of the Japanese teachers of English- again, why ask people to avoid using it if there’s nothing wrong with the word?) or used it myself in interactions with Japanese people, because I do think it promotes a xenophobic attitude towards foreigners, and I’d prefer it to fall out of use on its own.

    To me, the word “gaijin” is somewhat analogous the Hebrew/Yiddish “goy.” Is the word inherently racist, by definition? No, but it can certainly be racist by connotation, and its frequent association with negative situations and characteristics isn’t exactly accidental. You see this far more in ultra-Orthodox/Hasidic circles, fortunately, but the fact that the word’s definition isn’t discriminatory doesn’t mean that the word hasn’t gradually adopted a negative connotation. Do I go on a verbal rampage any time I hear someone throwing around the word “goy” (which, being that I don’t live in a Yiddish-speaking community and attend a progressive synagogue, isn’t often)? No, but I won’t use it myself, and my friends know that I don’t care for it and so don’t use it around me. There are other, better and more accurate ways to refer to non-Jewish people when the need arises, just as there are better and more accurate ways to refer to non-Japanese.

    Oh, and I have little use for Tokyo, but Osaka is made of win.

  45. Wisam
    December 16, 2009 at 23:42

    I think you mean google “外人” in google images, right, right? 😉

  46. Fadlan
    January 1, 2010 at 19:58

    Haha wow Gr8 article… I’m1/4 Japanese and have studying the language for about 9mounths, however 2munths ago I’ve scraped all my text books and Im learning like 1000000x faster thnx man!

  47. fosho
    May 20, 2010 at 18:30

    Dam you funny! Seriously, very entertaining post and straight up correct.

  48. June 2, 2010 at 12:48

    Well said! And your writing style is very entertaining.
    I really have a low tolerance for complainers. Not because I think there is nothing to complain about here. If you live here you know that is not the case. I just think that if people channeled the energy it takes to complain into something more productive like, as you mentioned, learning the language, then they’d have less to complain about. I used to complain quite a bit (as anyone who reads my blog can attest to) but I try/tried my best to make my complainng at least entertaining…and at best well thought out and thoroughly valid. I think that’s key. It’s also key to be entertaining when you’re tearing complainers a new one. You run the risk of sounding like an obtuse jerk with a kanji dictionary shoved up his arse. Your style avoids that designation, though. Well done!

  49. Jon
    July 23, 2010 at 16:19

    Hey Khatz,

    Cool article as ususal. I totally know where your coming from! Although, I do reckon that you don’t give Tokyoites enough credit though. I mean there is nothing cooler than being able to relax on the train with your fellow sardines, enjoying the aircon, and just be in your own little world, which is pretty much where people from Tokyo are most of the time in my experience. Also, they are pretty cool about things that I imagine that townies might be less inclined to let slide (you can pretty much be whatever you want to be here with no sterotyping, OMG what is she/he wearing!, etc., which is nifty too!). Finally, don’t forget the old one JET/ALT to one town situation that some gaijin get themselves into – I think sometimes being the star of the show can be pretty detrimental yo! (I’m talking about being the unofficial town idol with a similar lack of privacy and often just as many photos – with the whole expectation that you will be just like your fellow Japanese educator co-workers – moderately respectful closet alcholics [just kidding alchy thing]).

    Well, laterz,


  50. Eastwood
    February 1, 2011 at 21:36

    Howdy Mr.元,

    Just wanted to drop a post and say and explain my thanks! I jumped onto your method right after this past Christmas. I found a pretty good pace, but recently, I binged. 100 new items a day /is not/ the correct pace for me, atm, anyway. It was a great high for the day that it lasted, but the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, and now a week later, I’m paying for not staying on top of my reviews. So, as usual, I came back to your site to see if you had posted the secret magical formula to instant Japanese (a stable USB port in the back of the head /would/ be nice). And lo and behold! I rediscovered it. Just do it. #2 in this post really hit me. I feel like I’ve read most of your posts, but I keep finding more gold mines. Just restating it is sometimes all that I need to get back on the horse.

    So, thanks for being prolific and for keeping the site up. Here’s to hoping more people will read before they start to ask about that which you’ve already made available to them.

    • serge
      February 3, 2011 at 00:15

      Hey, I just started learning the Chinese characters, was it Mr. Dollar or Mr. Yuan you wanted to write? Just seemed strange, that’s all

      • February 3, 2011 at 22:50

        He wrote Mr.Moto
        元 from 勝元

  51. Eastwood
    February 1, 2011 at 21:40

    Also, greetings from my snow fortress in 青森県! (^-^)/

  52. Mets
    January 4, 2012 at 23:52

    About gaijin… It’s not a horrible word, but to avoid controversy, you might as well just use gaikokujin. It’s not so hard to say an extra two syllables…

  53. Amanda
    February 22, 2012 at 20:13

    Everything I have wanted to say and more.

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