Taking the Train

Ask any Gaijin friend (or enemy) you have, and every one of them will tell you the same thing – they invented the train. Despite this well-known fact, no Gaijin countries do the invention justice quite like the empire of Japan. The trains here are fast, efficient, and best of all, cheap – all reasons why Gaijin like taking the train.

The system is perfect, except for the glaring fact that it is against the law for 2 Gaijin to ride the train by the same door. The Constitution of Japan (written by Gaijin in 1947) clearly stipulates that 1. Gaijin are allowed to ride on the same train as Japanese people, 2. multiple Gaijin are allowed to ride in the same train car, and 3. two or more Gaijin are NOT allowed to ride in the same train car by the same door. Talk about too many cooks in the kitchen.

Look around you – you’ll never see 2 Gaijin riding dirty next to each other. Perhaps you have noted the following phenomenon. You’re waiting for the train in the morning. It’s so early. Where is your coffee? Why can’t you smoke on the platform anymore? Oh look, there’s Gaijin #1 waiting to get on the train. He looks so happy, with his spot next to the escalators, with his earphones cranked to high heaven and his smartphone playing Angry Birds against a bass-heavy backdrop of Taylor Swift. Until Gaijin #2 comes barreling up the escalator like a pale-skinned bat out of Hell.

If you observe the situation carefully, you will notice that Gaijin #1 has cocked his head and flared his nostrils, sending a clear signal to Gaijin #2 to back the fuck down and get in line by a different door. A silent dance of mental dominance ensues, with the weaker-willed Gaijin giving up his claim to the spot by the best door. This Constitutional safeguard was put in place to keep Japan’s transportation system from being overrun by foreigners, who are generally very bad at disembarking anything.

Japan Train.jpg

[Roppongi]

Azabu-juban_0147

Gaijin like Roppongi because it looks and feels like every other major city in North America. Look left, look right, Gaijin are on the menu tonight. This notable nightlife district is also home to a sake cask full of themed-restaurants and bars, keeping foreigners entertained into the wee hours of the drunken morning with everything from potentially dangerous airsoft guns to magical airship academies. Even the Japanese admit that Pizzakaya is pretty cool.

Roppongi started out as a cemetery for foreigners near the end of the Edo Period. However, it quickly evolved into a cemetery for foreigners’ money after the end of World War II and local laws restricting Gaijin gambling were lifted in the wake of Yukio Mishima’s failed coup in the 70’s.

Ever eager to flaunt their parent’s money, Gaijin show a pronounced preference for living in Azabujuban. While most Tokyoites simply aren’t feckless enough to pay the outrageously high rent this posh neighborhood demands, foreigners don’t even bat an eye. This steady trend of gentrification has kept Roppongi free of annoying chonaikai duties and fiscal responsibility.

 

[Speaking English]

ImageGaijin like speaking English.  It makes them feel powerful, like alcohol or firearms.  In fact they like it so much that they often don’t have time for other, less important languages (nor the people speaking them.)  The average Gaijin’s stubborn refusal to abandon their mother tongue is a hotbed for comedy, and inevitable hilarity follows them wherever they go.

It’s not that they are unable to master the intracacies of Japanese, it’s that they simply refuse to try.  Because really, what’s the point?  English is AWESOME.  It’s the only language that was good enough for both the Declaration of Independence and the King James Bible.  Never forget that English gave us both George Washington AND Lady Gaga.  English also managed to free the slaves and grant women suffrage AT THE SAME TIME.  English is and always will be the most important language of all time.

Unfortunately, this spells C-O-N-F-R-O-N-T-A-T-I-O-N when it’s time for the Gaijin to feed.  Unless you’re ordering a pizza in Niseko, the typical waiter will try to serve the foreigner up a steamy dish of Japanese.  But, Gaijin like speaking English, and they will have none of it.  What follows is a linguistic version of “Who’s on First.”  The situation quickly devolves into trench warfare with hand gestures instead of hand grenades.  When the dust settles, the costumer gets what he wants – a giant plate of ketchup fries with a giant hamburger, no wrapper.  A Gaijin would rather sleep in a sleeping bag full of alligators than soil his carefully manicured “Into the Wild” image by eating a hamburger with a wrapper.

[One-Upping Each Other]

外人ケンカMost gaijin live in a fantasy world where they are the only white person to ever set foot inside of Japan. Dejima and the Dutch aside, everything they do is new, different and deserving of a medal. When they step into a soba shop, they are breaking new ground. They were the first (and the last) gaijin ever to buy a melon from that road-side vegetable stand. For a gaijin, every time they eat a beef bowl it is a news-worthy event. Watch them as they take pictures and post them on Facebook like it was their firstborn’s baby shower. This is why it is so hard for them when another gaijin busts up on the scene and ruins everything. The Battle of Words begins to establish alpha-male supremacy, because no one likes playing second fiddle. It is a well-known fact that gaijin like one-upping each other.

Seen especially in 30s-50s inaka-variety gaijin, this ritual of verbally besting your opponent with tales of your Japanland conquests is a time-honored tradition dating back to Commodore Perry himself (see “Gunboat Diplomacy” and “Townsend Harris” for more.) You win by shaming your opponent, shaming him with the sheer awesomeness of your Japanadeeds. Did you climb Mt. Fuji with a twisted ankle? That is one point. Did you go snowboarding down an abandoned dam wall? Cha-ching! Did you buy some land out in the middle of nowhere and build a house with a chainsaw and your own bloody sweat? Wow, you get all the points. If your opponent starts to get out of hand with his “tall tales,” try shouting him down in a loud, stern voice. The weaker-willed gaijin will cower into the corner like a NOVA English Teacher, and you will know you have won the day.

When the encounter is over, both gaijin will go back to their homes that they built with their own hands, running straight into the lukewarm embrace of their Japanese wives, who will inevitably have supper waiting for them. And if they are early enough, it will still be hot.

Two ALTs – Conversation #1 – The Telephone

Phone with a Banana

Two ALTs Hard at Work

phenster> yeah
but mark
what do you do when you have a bad case of the tuesdays?

8:52 broccoliTerror> stephen
i read wikipedia articles
about 在日
and then i dont feel so bad

8:53 phenster>hahaha
yes!

8:56 broccoliTerror> stephen
today you should practice answering the phone
HAI

8:57 MATSUE KOU KOU DESUUUUUU
HAI

phenster> i dont get to answer the phones

broccoliTerror> DENWA KAWARIMASHITA

phenster> sometimes i try and then they take it from me

broccoliTerror> 3NEN2KUMI NO TANNIN STEPHEN DESUUUUU
snatch it up
today is your day

phenster> im always like KYOUIKUINKAI- KYOGAKU SHIDOKA – STEPHEN DE GOZAIMASU

8:58 OSEWA NI NARIMASU
but i always do it in a kurayon shin chan voice

8:59 broccoliTerror>HAHA

9:00 I always answer the phone like this
MOSHI MOSHI
HAI
BAI BAI
click

9:03 phenster> thats pretty good

broccoliTerror>i do it like that because i hate my job

9:04 phenster> do you have classes today?

9:06 broccoliTerror> do i ever

9:07 but not until 5th and 6th period

phenster> woot woot

9:08 broccoliTerror> i know

9:15 phenster>okay
grading time

9:17 broccoliTerror>graaaade that shit
graaaade it

 

phone-Dairanger

[Token Japanese Friend]

[Token Japanese Friend]

Browse through any Gaijin you know’s Facebook (read: Gaijin Mixi), and you will notice two things.

1) Every night is a party.

2) Every party is filled with Foreigners.

3) Every party photograph will inevitably include one Japanese person. (If you can’t find them right away, check the corners of the photograph in between the scroll and wizard hat.) This last point is very important to Gaijin who enjoy being in Japan and consuming Japanese goods, but may not necessarily want to assimilate into a culture that brought the world both Natto and Pearl Harbor. This is why no matter what picture you look at, there will always be one (in extreme cases of bi-culturality, two) Japanese people hanging awkwardly around. The token Japanese friend lets Gaijin engage Japan on their own terms, just like Commodore Perry.

While parading around in your Yukata at the local festival may get you scorns of derision from your Gaijin compatriots, bringing along a Japanese acquaintance is instant cultural cool points for all involved. Need a reservation at a restaurant? Token Japanese Friend. Trouble figuring out what is in this bread at Seven Eleven? Token Japanese Friend. Police Officer shows up at your door? Token Japanese Friend. What they lack in witty conversation and party banter, they more than make up with their winning smile and ability to find good parking.

Shying away from conversations not about food, TJF (token Japanese friend) is just happy to be along for the ride. They may like to fancy themselves as the host of the evening, and most Gaijin are content to let them go on with their minor delusions of grandeur. Their karaoke choices usually consist of timeless classics by the Carpenters, a bold choice most Foreigners tend to avoid. At some point in the evening, TJF will get a text from a real friend and then suddenly announce that they “have to go.” This is normal, and serves as a reminder that it is time for all the Gaijin to put away the shochu and get “really drunk on imported PBRs” now.

[Joining an Activity for a Few Months and Then Quitting Abruptly]

Man, that Geisha's badunkadunk was this motherfucking big, I tell you what, I don't know how she got in that rickshaw without having to pay for two."

If there’s one thing Gaijin are good at, it’s finding something to do.  Sometimes this means getting the nearest foreigner (ten towns over) to ride the train down for a night of Susukino debauchery, but mostly this means you end up pulling potatoes in some neighborhood granny’s garden; your only reward, a bowl of sticky beans, a real treat in post-war Japan.  That sweet taste is just one reason why Gaijin like joining an activity for a few months and then quitting abruptly.

Gaijin will try anything once.  Cigarettes, Buddhism, Gay Sex; you name it, they’ve tried it.  But if there’s one thing that sets Gaijin apart from the rest of humanity, it is their inherent inability to stick with anything for too long.  Piano Lessons.  Mathematics.  Space Exploration.  History is rife with examples of foreigners skipping town with the turkey still in the oven: the Confederate States of America, the British Empire, the 1994-95 Major League Baseball Strike, etc; the list is endless.

Similar to America’s attempt to desegregate public schools by busing poor kids to rich schools, Gaijin are purchased abroad by dispatch companies and sent at random to unimportant towns by the Government of Japan, who give them a small allowance.  The money is enough to stave off death, but it is not enough to support fancy hobbies (Roppingi Hills Gaijin are an exception.)  This means at some point, a bored Gaijin will be coming to a club near you.  Maybe he will go to your gym and swim in your pool for a few weeks before mysteriously disappearing for forever.  Did he try to swim after hours and meet a watery grave?  His powerful butterfly stroke says no, but that empty locker says yes.

And who is that new girl at Ikebana?  She has such beautiful brown curly hair and a tall nose.  She says she likes flowers and Japan both the same, and that her name is Catherine.  While most in attendance have been going to the same ikebana stitch-and-bitch since 1946, Catherine will come three times and then disappear never to be seen again.  Japanese call this “神隠し.”

Should a random Gaijin happen to show up at your meeting unexpectedly, the worst thing you can do is panic.  Instead, take three deep breaths and offer them something to eat: cheeseburger and coca-cola if American, Koala Burgers for Australians.  Most of us don’t keep fish and chips around, but if they happen to be British, a simple beer will do.  Ask them what country they are from to show that you have perceiving eyes, and your eyes have perceived that they are not from around here.  This will immediately make them feel at home, and give them a chance to talk about themselves, at which point you can relax and stop listening.  Most won’t come back next week (having gotten what they wanted already: free food), but for the few that do, expect them to stick around for 6-8 weeks before they have to hurry back to their country.

Darryl, after a long night of drinking, mistakenly wandered into the Yokohama Minna to Miria's Traditional Looming Convention Center's "Loom All Night Party."  He was just looking for a place to sit.

[The Japanese Language Proficiency Test]

不合格っ!The Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT as it is known lovingly by Gaijin from Okinawa to Hokkaido, is the benchmark of social and linguistic progress held in highest esteem by Foreigners the world over.  For Gaijin, their current JLPT level is more important than the meaningless 4-year degree they picked up at some state school.  That being said, most have never actually taken the test.  That is okay.  The magic of the JLPT is the level you are currently studying for and/or are pretty sure you could pass is just the same as passing itself.  There is no such thing as overguesstimation when it comes to ranking your own Japanese Ability.

No Japan Message Board is complete without several recursive threads dedicated to the JLPT.  Most will develop a detailed plan of action guaranteeing their success “this time around” only to abandon it after a week and a half.  Studying for the test, or rather talking about studying for it, produces a mild euphoria in Foreigners similar to the rush they get when looking at Facebook.  This, among other reasons, is why Gaijin love the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

The JLPT was originally devised as a Ponzi scheme before the Bubble burst back in ’89. It is held twice a year in Japan, in July and December, and once a year in the United States.  Other countries don’t have the JLPT because their relations with Japan are not very good.  If you can’t find the testing site nearest your town, just look for a bunch of people speaking Chinese.  The test is held on December 7th for clever reasons.  Historians among you will note this is the same date as the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor; 70 years later Gaijin gather at testing sites around the world to remember.  A traditional moment of silence is held before the start of each section.

The test is divided into three parts: Reading, More Reading, and Listening.  Traditionally the lowest scores are in Listening, a skill not particularly valued in the Gaijin community.  Most find the readings to be difficult and are geniunely distraught by the lack of furigana accompanying the harder kanji, like they do in Ranma 1/2.  Most will go home feeling “pretty good” about the test, and nine months later when the results finally arrive in the mail, will be surprised to learn they failed by a slim margin.  Foreigners always fail by a slim margin.

The test is divided into five levels, from N5 (lowest; can say things like “sushi” and “bai bai”) to N1 (highest; can form basic sentences in Japanese)  As much as people like to talk about it, the JLPT can’t actually do anything for you.  It won’t get you a job.  In Japan you have to know somebody to get a job.  Due to time constraints brought on by demanding study routines, those aspiring to reach the highest heights of the socio-linguistic ladder often do so at the cost of becoming social-shutins and hermits.  Lastly, when gathering for parties, Gaijin will often compare JLPT levels.  This is similar to the “who has been in Japan longer” pissing contest and should be taken very seriously.

来いよ、4級

[Failing the Driving Test]

負け犬Everyone knows that 92.7% of Gaijin will be in and out of Japan inside of a year, packing all that invaluable cultural experience,  cheap trinkets, and omiyage no one wants  into a reasonably-priced Louis Vitton bag to be placed on the shelf to sit and die, because no one back home really cares about how many temples you went to.  For the other 7.3% of white people that manage to stick it out beyond their IDL’s expiration date, there is a clause in the Japanese Constitution stipulating that all foreigners must take a test in order to retain their Geneva Convention-given right to an automobile.  The 登龍門 (Japanese Driving Test) is a type of religious pilgrimage participants embark on to find themselves.

The first step is finding the DMV.  This is made difficult by the law that dictates it must be located as far away from white people as humanly possible, which means it is usually hidden behind or beneath other government buildings.  It is also written in the constitution that everyone must fail the test at least once, and some thrice, before passing.  This is okay because Gaijin love failing the driving test.  The test itself is a type of Popularity Contest.  From the moment a Gaijin walks into a J-DMV, they are being judged.  Judged by the lady who does the paperwork, judged by the lady who takes the picture for 5k yen, and lastly judged by the lady who does the eye test and administers the bilingual written test that no foreigner has ever failed since William Adams first set foot in the Promised Land.  If the Gaijin gets enough points based on three categories, outfit, party banter, and number of smiles, they advance to the final round.  There they will be judged by a surly old man and invariably fail a few times before finally eaking out enough popularity points to drive home.  Less popular winners are forced to wear a small, leaf-shaped sticker on their car window to let everyone know they barely passed.  This burning sense of shame makes them better drivers.

Holding a Japanese Drivers License in your hands feels better when you have the lingering taste of blood in your mouth.  Like a goodbye kiss from an ex-lover, the license is both desirable and intensely painful at the same time.  The system may be harsh, but Gaijin are no strangers to defeat.  It is a well documented fact that losing makes foreigners stronger (see the Crusades, War of 1812, Roe v. Wade, etc., for reference).  Most, if not all, are currently in Japan because they couldn’t cut it in their own countries.  Many fall for the bedtime story of a land where ladies cover their mouths, beer comes from vending machines, and suit jackets left behind in hotel rooms are magically mailed back to you within three business days.  Others get lost and die in Akihabara.  Regardless of what your particular Gaijin friend/soon-to-be-friend is in to, asking them how they got their Japanese Drivers License is a good way to get them to talk about themselves.  When they are done with their gripping tale, be sure to complement their unsurpassed navigation skills with a warranted comparison to John Blackthorne.

寝癖はやっぱりひどいよね

[Hitting the Taiko Drum at Festivals]

All gaijin are born with an innate sense of rhythm that makes them superior dancers.  Some say it is all that fast-twitch muscle fiber.  Some say the meter of the English language lends itself to music.  They are both wrong.  Look inside every game center in every small town in this country, and you will find the real reason why all gaijin love to beat the drum – Taiko no Tatsujin.

The game that never made it to America despite the success of its sister ship, Guitar Hero, Taiko has been delighting audiences in Asia since 2001.  Standing on the shoulders of game-changers like DDR, Tatsujin makes you don the headband and then puts you in that tower in your town’s oBon Festival, beating a depraved rhythm growing ever faster with each maddening lap done by the dancers below.  What better way to welcome the dead back for one night than to have an old-people rave?  You have probably seen the gaijin in your town unbuttoning his shirt in the middle of the game center, tails flapping dramatically in an airconditioned breeze, so he can get closer to the “authentic experience.”  Gaijin love to have authentic Japanese experiences, because their day to day lives are often anything but.

All this changes on Festival Day.  Suddenly, Henry Q. Foreigner is Mr. Popularity – eat this meat on a stick!  drink this beer!  don’t park your bicycle there!  take these sticks and hit that drum, Henry, we are counting on you! says the drunken salary-man by day, Taiko Taisho by night ossan. All eyes are on the gaijin as he takes a wide stance with his impossibly long legs, impossible to find pants for in any store in Japan.  His mind stills and centers on what he learned at the game center beside Lucky Pachinko Parlour – red circles = center, blue circles = rim shots.  He closes his eyes and begins.

The mob roars.  Henry Q. can’t see anything for the August sweat stinging his eyes, but he knows from the cries of pleasure from the crowd below that he is giving the public what they want and they are loving him for it.  He remembers the time he got the high score in the Round 1 near his house – H.Q.F. forever etched in white for all to see and know that he was there.  That he mattered.

Climbing down from the tower, the other Taiko Team members pat his back, congratulating him on a fine performance.  They will invite him to their next practice, cooing constantly that it is a “good idea,” but then never tell him where it is or bother to get his contact info.  That is the way of the Taiko.