Low-Rent Adventures in Japan

Many of you may have made the gamer's pilgrimage to Akihabara or Denden-town to see the birth land of games as we know them. But how many of you would be willing to give it all up—Hamburger Helper,

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Many of you may have made the gamer’s pilgrimage to Akihabara or Denden-town to see the birth land of games as we know them. But how many of you would be willing to give it all up—Hamburger Helper, more-than-single-room apartments, root beer, standing room—to escape the disgusting Western gaming environment and live the normal, boring life of an anonymous Japanese? 

I made that choice last year. I had no job prospects, no visa, and very little money, but I put all my stuff in storage except my chopsticks and my hachimaki and rushed off to the Land of the Rising Sun. Under the circumstances, I have to say that things ended up turning out pretty well, and after about three months I’ve started to settle in. 

Starting this month, I’d like to take you all on this journey with me, and to the verge of being entertained, in my fun-filled column.


In late July, I was getting tired of looking for work without a visa. It’s the “American Conundrum,” caused by the fact that Americans, unlike Australians, New Zealanders, and many other English-speaking nationals do not qualify for a “work holiday” or “foot in the door” visa. To oversimplify, this reality forces under-qualified Americans who don’t feel like waiting for a company to “sponsor” them from overseas to go against the wishes of Japanese immigration and enter the country as tourists to clandestinely look for work. This path can often lead to disappointment, but through a personal connection, I had gotten an interview at Capcom within my first month as an expatriate. And the best I had hoped for had been English teaching! 


When the first two letters crawled out from behind the frontward building in classic yellow on blue, my jaded, cynical, and clogged heart leapt into my bile-scarred throat, and for a moment, I was a child again. A smile crossed my lips, and I was almost hit by a bike as I stood lost in a daydream. I was 45 minutes early (by design—I still needed to change clothes, dry off, and most importantly I had needed to allow for getting lost), so I stopped at the first coffee shop I saw. Slightly ironically, I sat going over my notes for so long that I was almost late after all: Maintain posture; Don’t sit until asked; Don’t cross feet no matter how midgety a Japanese chair they force you to sit in; Passionately and reasonably defend opinion that Doom and Shenmue are the best games ever; and a whole page full of other shit my Japanese friends had warned me about.

To make a long and boring story short and slightly less boring (if only by virtue of there not being as much of it), I beat the odds and got the job. I was the first Westerner to get hired into a non-West-related position at Capcom, Japan. In fact, the idea was (and is) all but unheard of in the industry at large. I was a very rare breed indeed—so rare in fact that I would have to fuck myself to maintain my sub-species.


I’ve ridden Japanese trains plenty of times (hundreds, in fact), and I’ve always scoffed when people talked to me about how crammed they get. “Pfft,” I would say. “They’re not that crowded. Not in Osaka, anyway.” That was before I experienced the insanity of the TRUE MORNING RUSH. 

My first day of work was the absolute worst. I remembered the warning from a trusted Japanese friend on that muggy summer morning while I watched the train start to burst at the seams with the people getting on in front of me: “Don’t wait. The next train won’t be any better, so just get on the first one that comes.” But I just couldn’t bring myself to force my massive body into that sea of flesh, and stood dumbfounded as the doors shut. About nine minutes later the next train showed up, and I was the first in my line. I looked behind me and the sight I saw agreed with my ears—at least as many people had materialized behind me as there had been in front of me one train prior, and probably more. I wondered as I shouldered my way in if they were really all planning to fit in the train car that sat in front of me, which seemed tinier with each passing second. My eyes can’t tell you whether they did or not, because within seconds I was physically unable to turn my head around, but the rest of my body made an educated guess that they all had, based on the intense pain of being crushed by their bodies. 

With a book bag jabbing me in my ribs, the elbow of someone who insisted on reading a magazine chocking me, and at least one hunched over old lady checking her text messages somewhere inside my colon, I tried to force sane, calm thoughts into my mind. It didn’t work. The next time the train stopped, I didn’t hear or see, but again felt more people forcing their way into the car, pushing my waist into a metal rail and forcing me to stand bent over, my ample man-bosom resting on some old man’s head. (And if you’re wondering if any ample bosoms or hot pink nipples found their ways into MY mouth, the answer is sadly no. The former because they don’t exist here, and the latter because God hates me.) When the herd finally flocked out, I tried to do the same and realized that the top half of my body had numbed significantly. The sensation embarrassingly brought me to one knee, and at the same time to the decision that I was taking the 5 a.m. from then on, which I did and continue to do.


For my first 45 minutes or so working at Capcom, I felt like Charlie in the chocolate factory. I mean, Mikami looked right at me and said “good morning.” Yes, the man who had uttered the instantly classic phrase only a year or two earlier, “Don’t pee your pants!”, was riding the same elevators as I was, and shitting in the same toilets when he couldn’t wait until he got home. It was the most awesome feeling since I discovered what would happen if I touched myself while watching the Pink Ranger.

After a good hour or so, however, I realized that working at Capcom was going to be just another low-paying job in a list which was starting to look Guinness-worthy. Don’t get me wrong, it was the best job in that list (and the one with the highest potential for permanence); but there was nothing magical about it. Mega Man didn’t roam the hallways dancing gaily, the fried pork cutlets weren’t cut into the shape of a roasted chicken, and worst of all, my Gaijin Powers had become useless. 

You see, when you’re just dicking around in Japan, it’s easy to get the feeling that you can do no wrong. People stare at you like you’re Ronnie Fucking Dobbs, girls fight over your vital, throbbing member, and nobody gets mad at you. (If they do, you can just pretend not to understand.) But once you’re on the clock, you’re no longer a perpetual visitor. You have to be ready to talk the talk, and walk the walk. Now, the former I had down pretty well, but the latter was something in which I was seriously lacking.

The first shock I had was finding out that every word in the Japanese language is replaced by a single phrase once you enter your place of business. I knew this phrase and that it was frequently used as a kind of greeting, but the sheer frequency and ubiquity of “otukaresama desu” just plain blew me away for my first few days. 

“Otukaresama desu,” translated most literally (which is always the funniest way), means “You are mister honorable tired.” Keep in mind that the only less tiring job that playing video games is perhaps sleeping. In any case, as a greeting it can mean “hello,” “good evening,” “goodbye,” “nice vending machine” and, in perhaps the worst case, “I know we’re here taking our pisses and I don’t want to talk to you while I’m pissing but I have to utter these eight syllables every time I see anyone or else the bugs in the walls will report me and I’ll get fired from a cannon, while being forced to scream my last ‘otukaresama desu’ as I fall to my death on threat of the murder of my family and cute little terrier, Wiener.” On only my second week at work, it already takes all the will in my soul to muster up a phony smile when I’m forced to return six barrages of “otukaresama desu” every time I go to get some coffee.

But when something so trivial ranks so high on one’s list of annoyances, one should really consider oneself lucky. And one does, for now. (“One” means me, by the way. I remember that from one of the few days when I forgot to take my Gamepark to class in college.) How can I seriously complain? After all, I work for Capcom. Bitch.




Japan is famous for mangling English. Why do they bother when they have a perfectly good language of their own? The implications here are actually quite deep and intriguing, and would take up an entire article (and they probably will when I start to run out of ideas), so for now let’s just sit back and bask in the awe-inspiring wonder that is WACKY JAPLISH.

This month’s wacky Japlish is from some glasses I bought at the local 100 yen shop. Japlish is usually hilarious because it’s un-natural, but these cups are just the opposite. They’re a little too natural. In fact, a closer look makes it obvious that the designers just copied phrases and definitions of verbs right out of the dictionary, verbatim—including the alternate wording brackets! What will those zany misusers of our beloved native tongue come up with next? Tune in next month to see!

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From 2005 to 2009

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