Memoirs of a Gaijin

kenchoji.jpgI’ve been enjoying reading several blogs from Japan recently, written by foreigners living there, or“gaijin” as they are known to the Japanese. I’m sure there are countless Japanese bloggers out there who write in English, and one day I’ll hunt them down as well, but as one who was actually in Japan only six months ago I am for the moment enjoying the like-minded, non-Japanese perspective of these fellow gaijin. Like myself, each of these bloggers each went to Japan for their love of the country, and write about the lives they are leading there with a mixture of fascination and endearment, rather than empty curiosity or worse.

I have also just added a few of my own stories about Japan here now that we are on the topic. Considering that I only spent a single week in Japan my stories may in truth be somewhat light in actual content, yet the very fact that I wrote thousands of words speaks something of the experience…

Recommended blogs on Japan

School Yanki
Given the choice between a BMW convertible or a $15,000 shopping spree anywhere in the world, this graduating American high school student chose neither; instead requesting her parents allow her to spend her last semester in Japan:

“I think that took them off-guard. Mom really regrets dropping that mint julep glass. The set is worthless now that one of the glasses is broken.”

Pandora has only just started her blog, and is writing almost in real-time about her adventures in a Japanese school. This blog will only get better, especially now that the rumour is out that she is“Yanki” (a notorious type of anti-social punk).

Firefly in Japan
Firefly (not his real name) came to Japan from Australia five years ago with no Japanese, little money and no friends or contacts, to study martial arts for a month. After one week of living in Tokyo he decided to stay:

“I felt like Japan was testing me. Seeing if I had what it takes. One guy at martial arts often talked about the“martial arts god”, who looks after people who come to Japan with the serious intent to learn martial arts.“If you just commit yourself to martial arts, things will happen,” he told me, as we sat on a train speeding through the Japanese countryside.”

Firefly’s blog has proved to be enormously popular in a short space of time. An only cursory sampling of his writing might leave you with the impression that he is a typically“ignorant” gaijin, but you would be mistaken—enthusiastically and sincerely written, his posts are filled with valuable insights into Japanese life and culture, and his roadside encounter with a yakuza is one of many classics.

At the time of writing the evil Chad‘s blog has vanished, perhaps under the strain of the traffic that comes making the front-page of Reddit, but hopefully he will soon return, as his “Helpful advice of how to mess with Japanese people” was a blogging classic:

“When you’re about to cross a 1-lane road with no other cars for 500 meters in either direction and there is still a mob of people waiting for the crossing light, proceed across without breaking stride. Bonus points if there are mothers holding their children back for whom you can provide a bad example, and further bonus points if anyone follows you who was previously standing there.”

Chad probably is a typical gaijin, yet his candour and irreverence are refreshing.

Terry Dobson’s story
Not a blog, but a great story about a 70 year old using Aikido to“disarm” an aggressive drunk on a Tokyo train. Hint: Aikido translates as“the way of harmonious spirit.”

“C’mere,” the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk. “C’mere and talk with me.” He waved his hand lightly. The big man followed, as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in front of the old gentleman, and roared above the clacking wheels, “Why the hell should I talk to you?” The drunk now had his back to me. If his elbow moved so much as a millimeter, I’d drop him in his socks.

  • alf
    Posted at 20:33h, 06 March

    Hi John, I know I have made it in the blogosphere now I am on your links. I will return the favour soon, when I remember how to update my links – as I am not so code savvy as you. May I add that I am really impressed by your prodigious output here, Seriously, you must be freelance now! I am intending to read a book about Japan soon called The Pure Land by Alan Spence. Do you know it? I still dip into the classic Mushashi every now and again, it is such a great tale.


  • Jaitra Gillespie
    Posted at 22:15h, 06 March

    Thanks Alf. Yes, it may be true that I have spent a little more time on“for love” activities than my bank balance would appreciate recently, but happiness is seldom found through the lining of a wallet as someone may have once sort of said.

    I spent about half an hour in one of the best book stores I have ever been to (in Bangkok) recently, debating whether to pay a rather exorbitant price for a copy of Musashi, which I have been desperate to read ever since this rather good review. Financial sensibility got the better of me that day, although it doesn’t always.

    I have yet to read The Pure Land, turning it over recently for a quite forgettable novel by a distinguished Chinese author during a recent round the world air trip (story of that here).

    I must say with all of this blogging, one does wonder whether one is starting to live to blog, rather than actually live any more. It seems I can quote a previous blog entry now for just about anything I have to say…

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