Sunday, 20 September 2015

Dating, sex and love in Japan

Note: I was thinking about writing this kind of blog post for a long time. It's a huge topic and quite tricky to write about without sounding like a misogynist, a player or simply a bragging douchebag. But I read so many articles and blog posts about love and sex in Japan and almost all of them only touch the surface and never go down to the nitty-gritty details, the terrible but intriguing truth of it all. So I thought I should really write something honest about it from my humble point of view. So bear with me on this and try not to be offended with what is just a recollection of my personal experiences.

The Traveler

In 2010 I had my first ever relationship with a Japanese women back in Berlin and only in hindsight I realize what a troubled and selfish person she was. Of course she was beautiful, kind and supportive and almost like the Japanese girlfriend stereotype men all over the world dream of, but she also fulfilled many other clichees that are not so good. We got together because she cheated on her current boyfriend and she cheated on my while she was in Japan with an aquaintance of mine, whom I even introduced to her. They became a couple later as well. She went through so many guys in order to find her happiness and missing piece (more about that later), I was just a number in the end. For me it was different in the beginning of course, I enjoyed the learning experience, the exoticness, the support I received. I was clueless about the characteristics, upbringing, values, desires and hopes of a Japanese woman. So I just went with it while it lasted and enjoyed it pretty much. She went to Japan for around 3 months and while technically being still together, she not only cheated on me, she ended the relationship officially without me knowing about it. When she came back, we ended the relationship on that very day on a mutual basis. I didn't even know about the cheating, I just thought it was time to move on. All good, so I thought. She then showed her true cold self and I finally put all the strange puzzle pieces of our relationship together and made sense out of it.

After her I met a couple of other Japanese women living abroad and they all share something, in fact all the types on this list here share it. The search for the "missing piece".

From my experience, they all do the same thing; they "fall in love with the local guy". It can be the next guy they met after arriving at the airport, it can be every single guy they ever sleep with while being abroad, but there is almost always some local guy who they cling to very fast and strongly. Could be in order to survive, to start a multi-cultural family, to get a visa, to just enjoy the exoticness and have fun, it could be anything really. It's rarely about real love though I believe. The Asian women I met in Berlin, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, you name it; they all have this unstable mix of desperation, desire to rebel but sticking to their traditional values at the same time. An unbalance I yet have to make full sense of. Especially the Japanese try to throw all their masks and restrictions overboard and explore the full scale of free, unfiltered emotions, without having any real experience in them. If anything, it's a rollercoaster ride to be with these women, exciting and thrilling, but sometimes on a rollercoaster ride ride you lose your wallet or you need to throw up.

Back then I didn't understand it much since I have never lived abroad in my life before. Now after almost 2 years of living in Japan, I mostly understand them now, even my Japanese ex-girlfriend and her reckless bodycount. She tried to make the best out of a difficult, extreme situation, only trying to find that "missing piece".

Stock image of Asian tourist looking for guys..maybe (www.dreamstime.com)
By the way, I call them traveler because many of them don't stay in one place. They move on. They keep on searching, never really reaching a place to find their piece peace. Most of them were still trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

The Gaijin hunter

But back to Japan. The most common type you run into as a foreign male here is the average Gaijin hunter. It's a derogatery term, I know, but so is Gaijin (literally "outsider"), so I think we're even here. Those women like foreigners, simply as that. They want a white, black, Indian, South-American or whatever type for example. Or they only go for blue eyes and blond hair. Or sometimes it's good enough if you just speak English and are not Japanese. You can meet them in Roppongi or Shibuya clubs and bars, and it's usually them who approach you. So far, so easy you'd think...and sorry, it simply is.

They want a trophy boyfriend or just (another) foreigner to have sex with, so you they get it. The love hotel system in Japan makes that extremly convenient too. One-night-stand paradise. Cheater's heaven. Casual sex candyland. Back in school, I learned that the place where supply and demand meet is called a market. So some clubs or bars in are nothing but a meat market here. Japanese and foreign meat market. There are dozens of mixers and "language exchange" parties in Tokyo every month as well, so finding your next trophy foreigner is ridiculously easy. But so it is for the foreigner; even easier since you pay less entrance fee and just need to stand around, sip on your drink and wait for the next girl to approach you. Here is an excerpt of an event description of a fairly popular and seemingly harmless international party organization. It's funny how they focus on "ladies" here.
In our parties a lot of ladies come early or on time so we recommend you also get there for the start of our parties so you can meet the most people and get the best value and some good food while it is not crowded! Also sometimes the ladies arrive but don't come in, or leave early after half an hour or an hour if there are not many foreigners . So let's arrive for the start of the event and enjoy it to the utmost!
So why should I be bitter about such an easy way to meet new people women? In the beginning, the average foreigner in Japan doesn't know that this cute girl is not really interested in him as a person, it's just because he is a foreigner, an exotic oddball, a rebellious statement sometimes, too often a trophy. So if you think that this party pick-up you had an amazing conversation with, who you could really connect to, who was surprisingly open with you and enjoyed a great night with, is really girlfriend material, take a closer look. You'll probably be dissapointed. I was. Too many times. If you can live with the fact that women simply want to have fun and you're just an exotic sex-object sometimes, no problem right? Fair chances for everyone. The door swings both ways in Japan and sexual freedom is actually a thing here without too much of a social stigma. Well, it's complicated...

The one who has been abroad

I don't want to bother you with sub-types but there are some differences I noticed while meeting the women who prefer foreigners. While the above type is just out there because they like a certain type or thing, the ones who studied/lived/traveled abroad are a bit more refined. Just like me, who developed an affinity for Japan and its culture, those who've been in Europe or America, develop a certain taste for the things they learned to enjoy. It often starts with the language. Often, under the pretense of language exchange, you meet women who want to practice with you. It's often to their own advantage and you're (again) nothing but a tool. But sometimes they legitimately want to study the language and culture of your country. It's up to you if you think this interest for the most random and normal things of your own culture is weird and awkward or not. Of course you feel flattered at first, enjoy the attention and the fun times that language exchange can bring, not to mention the money if you're actually charging for your lessons. But sooner or later you'll realize where this was intented to be heading. One girl I was teaching, who was a weekly student completely broke off contact with me just because I didn't really give in to her subtle hints and shy advances. Rather than having a fun time with her, I needed the steady income and not a girlfriend. Or the sister of another of my regular students who just broke up with her foreign boyfriend, who met me simply under the pretense of language exchange but then couldn't hide how fucked up she is over her recent break-up. 

Generally, I felt that those who had lived abroad do understand you a bit better, respect your values more and don't just like you for having blue eyes for example. If they have good memories of the place they visited, they are almost desperate to associate these emotions with you, giving you a good chance of making yourself and your culture look good while enjoying time with a lovely, rather open-minded women. Since they most likely had a relationship while they were abroad, it's even easier to enter a serious relationship with them sometimes.
But all of them share the one thing that I found the most painful to realize in the past. They don't really like you for who you are, they like you because you are different. Or even worse, they simply like you for not being a Japanese man.

Then there are the party girls who spent a year in the US or Australia and come back and want the same action they got so much used to. Parties, freedom, randomness, good looking western guys. Especially in the early months of coming back to Japan, you'll see these girls frequent the common clubs and bars, trying not to lose their momentum of good times. They often don't like being back in Japan either because it means to put on the masks and get serious again. So it's a good chance to keep them in their happy-memories-land by being super extra foreigner with them.

I met a rather simple minded Japanese girl who just came back from a year in Australia. She enjoyed it very much and funny enough, her best friend over there was a German girl. One of the first things she said to me was "oh I love German people" (see the stereotype already?). Even though she wasn't really the brightest bulb in the box, she was super hot so I couldn't resist dating her for a couple of times. Our dinner dates were actually quite fun and a physical attraction was more than obvious. The drinking habit she developed from her time in Australia or already had before made her quite drunk one time, I mean terribly drunk, so drunk I had to support her. Not having enough cash on me and having been used to split the bills with her before, I asked her if she had some cash so we could pay our bill. In her drunken state she was not much of a help, instead she snapped at me for not paying the whole bill. It was just a matter of not having enough cash on me, I tried to explain, but she didn't listen. Instead she made a big scene out of it, scoffing at me for not paying everything like she expects her boyfriend to. "In Japan guy always pay!" she screamed at me. I wasn't even her boyfriend!! We had two dinner dates before (just dinner) and split the bills everytime, but now this hysterical fit? She headed off in a taxi, almost falling over in public because of her drunkenness. She then proceeded to delete me off Facebook and LINE right away. It was ridiculous. After I told her what a fool she was and how bad her behaviour and expectations were, she called me pathetic and repeated her complaint that guys in my age should always pay in Japan, everyone would know that. It later dawned on me why she suddenly went from nice party lady mode to full-blown crazy mode. On that night I had told her how much money I made...obviously a mistake...

She was clearly in the red area...

The Japanese one

After 8 months of fooling around and making mistakes, I decided to get serious and find a real relationship, even a possible marriage partner. Japan is pretty big in the marriage partner thing, despite the declining birthrate. So I registered with Omiai, a fully Japanese dating website. It was good practice and a good insight into Japanese online dating culture. I'm kind of a pro when it comes to online dating, so I wondered if things pay out as well here as they did back in Germany.

The first girl I met turned out to be...I don't even have word for it. Hard to describe our relationship either. But it was basically all about sex. She was very young, very Japanese, didn't really speak a word of English and was super submissive. I could do whatever I wanted with her, explore new things and test each other's limits. A great experience, for her too I believe, but ironically exactly NOT what I wanted to find on this dating website! We had the same intentions originally, partner, family, kids, and had some really good talks in the beginning too. But then ended up indulging ourselves with earthly pleasures after all. I asked her why she was doing all this with me and to my surprise she never ever hinted because it's that I am a foreigner, it was simply because I treated her nicely and with respect. I didn't lie to her, didn't abuse her trust. Something she didn't get from her abusive ex-boyfriend, her sleazy boss or her difficult family.

It's a stereotype again, but often Japanese women consider a foreigner to be more of a gentleman, more attentive to their needs and even more romantic. Some very Japanese women are interested in the average foreigner because of how they are depicted in media, Hollywood and even Japanese drama. In contrary to the clichee of the always over-worked, cheating, selfish and rather weak and insecure Japanese man, some Japanese women prefer the strong, more forward type. The motivation for these women is less that of having an exotic affair but more to build on the strong foundations they see in a foreigner's character traits compared to the strict and traditional rules and values of Japan. I met a lot of dissapointed women who wanted just that, but ended up with a typical Gaijin in Japan, getting into whatever Japanese pants they could get into, the reason for the bad reputation of white guys in Japan in a nutshell. A very Japanese woman will probably not try another foreigner again after being with the generic Gaijin asshole.

But looks also play an important part. Everyone hypes the half-Japanese beauty here in Japan (literally called  ハーフ, meaning half). They are huge in media all over the country and there is no TV show without the token Hafu. While they actually faced a lot of discrimination in the past, the problem is slowly dissolving. A half African-American, half Japanese becoming Miss Japan sparked a new debate recently. So of course, some women dream to have that perfectly attractive mixed race baby. Because as we all know, attractive people have it easier in life...

On Omiai I once ran into a bit of a strange profile. The Japanese woman depicted had some clearly visible tattoos on her arms and back, something you don't seem every day in Japan. We exchanged some messages and she was testing me with a lot of weird questions. It felt like an interview. Turned out it actually was one. She was actually a lesbian and got her mind set to one single thing; to have a baby with a foreigner and raise it on her own. She offered me to pay for a health check-up, the love hotel for "doing the deed" and any expenses that might arise from getting her pregnant. She always wrote suuuuper long messages, going into every detail, freeing me from any parental responsibility afterwards, even setting dates when she was most fertile! Which meant, having sex for more than once because it might not have worked on the first try. Being weirded out at first, I caught myself actually thinking about it for a moment. After all she was hot, with nice tattoos and willing to have sex with me. Then there is the decling birthrate in Japan and I'm always glad to help out, haha. But my first instinct proved to be true; this woman was obviously crazy. Of course, being a lesbian over 30 with no interest in fake marriage to either produce or adopt a child, her choices of raising an offspring were surely limited in Japan. Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the saying goes. But her manical focus on having a mixed race baby, the way she planned this thing out completely on her own and most importantly how incredibly weird her page-long message monologues were written made me back out of it. Well, that and also that I couldn't seriously let a crazy person raise another person that I had a role in creating before. My real family is already crazy enough.

So anyways, back to some less weird shit. I met this very nice and very Japanese girl on Omiai. She was a nurse, 27 and perfectly normal. She spent some time in the US, but that was ages ago and I would never think of her as a Gaijin hunter at first. We talked in Japanese all the time, about feelings, values, future, kids, just what you would expect from a serious dating platform. Our dates were nice too, just as I remembered how a relationship was about to start. Harmless, but with the right spark to kindle something bigger. So I thought. She made some weird comments about my behaviour one day, how "foreign" I behaved. I was throwing a napkin on my plate in a restaurant, after whiping my mouth with it. I didn't fold it, didn't make it look nice and my hand movement suggested carelessness. For her, it was a "foreign" thing, a weird thing. For me it was one of these microaggressions. I was taken aback, even turned off by that statement but didn't think of it as a big deal until later. We spent the night together, all was good and I really felt this was going somewhere. She was serious about having a relationship and so was I. We liked each other and were not shy about it. Then a week of practical silence. She didn't reply to my messages or often very late, didn't want to meet, saying she was busy. Then one day I got a message saying: "Sorry, but I found a guy who I want to be with. I can't meet you anylonger. I also only want to have sex with someone I really like instead. Bye." I was like...WTF?! I didn't even care for her explanation so I told her she's a heartless person and deleted her right away. I learned a new word that day from my Japanese friends too: キープする. It means "to keep (someone)". So I was simply not her first choice, she dated another guy or more at the same time and simply dropped me when things got better with no 1.

Then there was this single mom I talked to for months but never managed to meet. She was incredibly cute and sweet, her daughter was even more so. I actually considered meeting her and following this thing to the possible end if we could make it work, despite the fact that she already had a child with another man. I admired her for being a single mom in Japan actually. But to my surprise, after originally agreeing to a meeting she suddenly became completely quiet and ignored me. I have no idea what happened, but I guess it was the same situation and someone else outran me.

While this might not surprise some of my readers, it was quite a shock to me. It showed me that honesty isn't a trait often found in the Japanese dating scene, especially not in the race for the right marriage partner. It also showed me how calculating and rational some Japanese women can be. At least the Gaijin hunter or the ones abroad are a bit more emotional about things. But when it comes to marriage, even the ones with a steady job do look at your paycheck and how they could finance their future and kids with it. Unfortunately, the Japanese society and labour laws are to blame for that kind of compulsion.

It's also a reason why there are so many frustrated married Japanese women out there, looking for that little bit of excitment or love they can't get in their marriage (anymore). For some it's easier to sleep with a foreigner than a Japanese man. Less guilt, less trouble, more freedom. More bang for the buck, literally. One of my worst experiences was the one when the woman told me she is 2 months married...we were on the bed already, naked...I thought it was just about casual sex...nope...it was something like her hobby...I kid you not.
Other married women play the "my husband ignores me" card and actually seem pretty desperate for love and attention, physically and emotionally. So being with them almost feels like doing the right thing. You think "why the heck is this guy ignoring this beautiful, fascinating woman?!". "How can he cheat on her with other women instead when he has the perfect one at home??!". It's a very complex situation. Japan is a country with very different moral standards, and to some of it I am still not used to. It's a story for another time, but let me assure you that nothing of your Christian concept of right and wrong really means anything here when it comes to love and sex.

One of my best friends, the perfect image of a Japanese wife, smart and caring, beautiful and dutiful, was cheated on by her husband with a co-worker a while ago. I felt her pain, it was so unfair and mean. She cared for two kids and bended over backwards for making their marriage as good as possible, but her reward was a cheating husband. She was always faithful, even though she had opportunities a plenty. Trust was a big pillar of their marriage I believed.  She didn't deserve that, not in a million years. In the end they somehow tried to make things right again, but knowing her, something in her was destroyed forever. Surprisingly, the women her husband cheated on with paid my friend a certain amount of money as compensation. A normal day in Japan...

But let there be not only whining and negativity. A former housemate and friend will soon marry his Japanese girlfriend, and to me they are a good example of a working, multi-cultural relationship. They way they met each other for the first time (university) and how they stayed together is truly adorable. Then there is the lovely Japanese woman who I only briefly met when I was a tourist in Japan for the first time (link to 2010 blog post in German). Noe moved to Australia, found her husband and they have a cute baby boy together. At least on Facebook her/their life looks very happy.

There are other international couples that I know, each of them with an individual story. They all share a desirable connection; the adoption of each other's culture and willingness to compromise. All the failed ones I know, including mine, are often always about one partner being "too Japanese" or "too foreign" without the mutual understanding or patience on how to deal with that. From my experience, a typical Japanese woman doesn't compromise much though. You have to conform with what Japan's society standards tell you...and what your wife tells you. I envy those couples who managed to make the perfect or even imperfect harmony of each other's cultures and values.

The other foreigner

I think most of the crazy, dramatic and emotional shit in Japan happened when I was dating or hooking up with other foreigners here. It goes back to my earlier visits too, having sex in semi-public space which I would have never thought feasible in Japan. So there are the tourists, the short-terms, the long-terms and the in-betweens. After almost 2 years, I would consider myself a quite stable in-between, becoming a possible long-term one day. The average language teacher is often a short-tem, in plans for the future and in spirit. Same goes for a foreign exchange student or an intern. They share the same hunger for excitment with the tourist; to get the max out of their stay and to experience Japan to its fullest.

First of all, the obvious thing that connects you to another foreigner is that you're both in Japan (duh). Very likely that you share a similiar interest in the country, culture, language, etc. So that's common ground to build on. But this also means that you share most of the same problems, struggles and frustrations. Which is also a good emotional connector, I think. You always have something to talk or bitch about, sharing your experiences and interests while enjoying in Japan together. Being in the same shoes creates a fast bond, a satisfying bubble of trust and intimacy. Together with gratuitous exciting activities and drinking, you can hook up with a foreigner much faster and much stronger. It's not limited to sexual adventures but it often begins with one (see Tinder below).

It's all a bubble though. Quickly you realize that this person isn't really on the same page with you. There is no correlation between being in Japan and having the same values. What seems to be common ground often turns out to be a very different view on basic things. You begin to ask yourself: would I have dated this person back in my country? The bubble bursts. The quirks and characteristics you liked in the beginning begin to show you how fast you went forward with this person without checking for the basics. The awesome international relationship in Japan you dreamt of before proves to be an artificial construct that was based on misconceptions, misinterpretations and misunderstandings.

This doesn't just apply to dating or sex partners. This is especially true for friends. As a foreigner in Japan, you often lack the social safety net of good friends and family to support you. So you feel alone, vulnerable and sometimes not even yourself. Some of the in-betweens and long-termers often have a limited group of friends, depending on how and when they came to Japan. Some are looking for foreign friends because they only hang out with Japanese. Meeting new people is sooo easy here, just walk into a foreigner-friendly bar or club and sooner or later you'll meet someone who you can talk to (unless the Gaijin hunter isn't getting you first). It's so random and so rewarding. If you can keep that friendship going that is.

One thing that I'm peculiarly sensitive about is when people cancel dates or meetings without the re-scheduling part. If they are not even sorry about canceling, that's a big no-no in my book of everyday rules for social interactions. The abundance of people to hang out with once you know where to meet them really impacts how people treat each other I think. 

I met incredible people during my time here. Had romances, affairs, break-ups and dramas with a couple and each was a valuable lesson for me. You learn a lot about yourself, being in an extreme situation away from home. Sometimes it's a ticking time bomb if two oddballs (let's face it, all Gaijins are) try to make a relationship in another country work. After all, some women people are nothing but travelers again, away from home to find their happiness with all the complications I mentioned before. I had one or two time bombs blowing up at me. A couple more that turned out to be extreme drama of the batshit crazy type. And I played my part in it as well, especially when things got dark in 2014. Hearts were broken and tears were shed. Nothing to be proud of, I honestly regret being so indecisive and greedy. One reason for it was the infamous app, Tinder.

http://www.gotinder.com/

Tinder in Japan

Oh Tinder, you beautiful disaster. This app is becoming more popular in Japan recently but is already huge in the US and Europe. I started to use it after I saw a gay friend talking about his usage of Grindr, the gay equivalent. Before I always thought that Tinder was just a late copy of Grindr but now I can't really find any facts to prove that. Anyways, it's a simple "dating" app to check out people around you, swiping left or right for yes or no. But here's the thing, it's not really about dating (hence the quotation marks), it's simply about hooking up...sex. At least that's the original intention I believe. Japanese don't really know that, although almost all foreigners do. That lead to some awkward moments when you matched and quickly engaged in a one-sided, sexual conversation, only to realize that the Japanese girl on the other end is far from being interested in casual sex or anything related. Fair enough.

Tinder is like shopping. You shop for attractive people. Some bad eggs sometimes of course (talking weak in the upper storey), a huge amount of Gaijin douchebags I was told, but all in all, you can meet good looking women extremly easy and without the time-consuming "getting to know each other". The married woman who had sex with foreigners for a hobby? Yup, met her on Tinder. The crazy girl who scolded me for not paying for her? Yup, met her on Tinder as well. I realized the pattern a bit too late...

Just like shopping, Tinder is very addictive. With an almost limitless supply of new people downloading the app and the increasing popularity in Japan, it's even worse. You swipe all day long and see so many attractive people, hoping for that mutual match, but actually waiting for another, even more interesting profile or girl with hotter pics than the one before. It's like in a candy store, trying out all the different flavors but there are too many to pick! And your stomach already hurts and you feel kind of gross for trying so much. But then there is another match with an interesting girl.

I maded dis
It's also a bit competitive. A couple of friends around me use(d) it and just as you expect guys to be, talking and comparing each other's conquests quickly becomes a regular thing. Matching with the same girl on Tinder was often funny and more helpful that you'd think. It's a constant story generator and keeps the typical Gaijin in Japan rather busy if he knows how to play his cards right. Even though I met more than one person on Tinder that I would consider a good friend now, Tinder is as superficial as it can get and left me with a bad aftertaste, more than once. So I uninstalled the app. Didn't care for it for a couple of months......aaaand re-installed it again later.

It really is addictive. Fun and easy, nothing serious, a neverending temptation, for both women and men. I liked it for a time. But then the last incident of epic craziness made me uninstall and delete my profile once and for all.

So I was with this American girl I met on Tinder. She was a very cool person and we had lots of fun together. Nothing serious but absolutely cool and easy for the both of us. We both knew that we're still using Tinder, me a bit more than her I guess. I matched with a Filipino girl who was quite the firecracker and I was more than interested in meeting her. Having been with the American girl for quite a while now, I actually felt it was time to put an end to it before I meet another girl (yeah, I'm totally a nice guy, I know). But meetings got re-scheduled and delayed and I found myself in the weird situation of meeting both girls in the same week. No big deal you'd think. But then the inconceivable happened.

If you know this movie, you are awesome (and probably old).
One night I was texting one girl and suddenly the other one replied with the answer to my question to the other girl. I was confused. It turned out that the Fillipino girl moved in right next to the American girl! A couple of drinks later they openly discussed their sex life and Tinder and bam, here comes the German guy into play. Talking about odds...it was hilarious and the American girl, cool as she always was, had a blast. The Filipino girl however wasn't very happy about the fact that I had a history with her new neighbor and pulled the plug of our scheduled meeting. I had to break the news to the American girl that I wasn't really into her anymore and that I was honestly interested in her neighbor. But as cool as she was, she didn't even care much. She even offered to help me ge the Filipino girl! So funny.

In the end, I met the American girl one last time, we had fun and agreed to stay friends. All cool. The Filipino girl eventually decided to meet up with me too, so I went to see her in her flat. Of COURSE I had to run into my American friend at the station. It wasn't really that awkward though. The person who was awkward as fuck was the Filipino girl though. I got a bad vibe right from the beginning. Her dirty-minded joke-cracking that I found funny during our Tinder chats suddenly looked like her trying to hide something. I couldn't engage in a single serious conversation with her, it was all so weird! I hoped that cooking and booze would break the ice, but instead it broke her brain I think. At some point she completely lost her shit, started crying when she finally told me something true about her past. Then she started giggling again, provoking me with names, then suddenly getting butt-naked and inviting me to her bed. She staggered around the flat and hit her head so many times, even while on the bed. I had to beg her not move anymore. In all honesty, I had my share of drunk sex in the past, but this was ridiculous. When she started slapping me, calling me more names and altogether being a person completely out of control, I decided to fuck it (not her) and leave. I was soooo pissed off. Trains were all gone, so I had only one choice and asked my American friend next door if I could crash with her. I'll be forever grateful for her being so cool about it. The Filipino girl though had no idea what happened that night and thought it was all giggles and shit. I told her everything, every embarassing detail. Oh and how embarassed she was. Needless to say we've never met again.

And that was when I decided that my times on Tinder are over if all of the interesting girls turn out to be crazy stuff.

Rumour has it that some people do find their soulmates on Tinder and are able to enjoy a healthy and maybe kinky relationship ever after ;)

Conclusion (the missing piece)

Thanks for making it this far. I wrote for weeks on this, remembering more and more weird things that happened to me every now and then. So what you just read isn't everything, but it's definitely the stuff with the strongest impact. But what is my conclusion you might ask? What's the missing piece?

One could argue that the missing piece is in every one of us; the single reason why we search for a partner (other than the biological reason of creating offsprings). All of the stories above could have happened in your respective home country without any intercultural or interracial complication. But this is Japan and this happened to me and to many other people I know. The missing piece in this country is much more obvious, much stronger than I've seen it back in Germany. Japanese society and its traditions force people to accept who they are and what they have, so looking for something more, something to complete them is almost considered a nuisance or waste of time. For some women the foreigner is the way out of that. It's an escape route almost, for it is sometimes easier to focus on something new and different than to deal with the demons inside you. After all, I myself am a foreigner who is looking for the new and different, a way out of gridlock, so I understand it quite well. As someone just mentioned to me, the reason why I keep running into all these people is that I myself am not happy with my life and still search for that missing piece. Which is true to some part. I still search for it, despite having quite the fulfilling and happy life now (definitely not 2014). One thing never changed however; it's the one thing I keep telling people who tell me "not to look for someone". I simply want a family. A loving partner and more sooner than later kids. With over 36, I feel it's more than about time. No matter how happily I can live my life now, even with completely avoiding the dating game perhaps, this fact will not change and might the catalyst for everything described herein. So for myself, I know what my missing piece is. There is no need denying it. For those women in Japan, it is often just the same but more often a bit more complex I believe.

My conclusion is, that with many other things in Japan, this is nothing but a symptom of how poorly Japan's society deals with the many challenges it is facing right now. Globalization, racism, cultural awareness, integration and inclusion, sexual freedom, emancipation and feminism, declining birthrates, and so on and so forth. There is probably a possible historical aspect of this as well, being a country occupied by the Americans for many years. But this is just a blog post. So if you know what TL;DR stands for, that's for you.

TL;DR: You can have a lot of sex in Japan as a foreigner if you want. Real love is a lot more difficult to find. Also, Tinder is cool but toxic but awesome but ohgodnomakeitstop.


Tuesday, 30 June 2015

My love for Japanese Ramen

If you are my friend on Facebook, there is no way you could have missed my growing obsession fascination with Ramen (ラーメン), a Japanese noodle soup originally from China. It comes in many, many different variants and local flavors, being a popular dish all over Japan. In the West you might know Cup Ramen but believe me that is but a poor example of the delicious tradition that is Ramen cuisine.

I guess I had my first real Ramen back in 2010 when my then Japanese girlfriend urged me to visit Ichiran Ramen. Being rather helpless and having no idea what's so special about Ramen, I ate this first bowl of delioucisness in a more naive fashion. I remember clearly that I was thinking "woah, this stuff is heavy on garlic. How do they get the meat so tender and the egg so so perfectly balanced between soft and hard?!" It was a good memory and I took my stepbrother to Ichiran the year after, not just for the taste but also for the experience that comes with Ichiran.

Fast foward to 2013 when I deciced to live in Japan. Being without a lot of money, I had to find a way to keep my belly and wallet full. Difficult task. I didn't eat a lot of good food back then. Lots of instant food and quick meals from Matsuya near the station where I lived. One day I decided to give the neighboring Ramen shop a try. I was quite hungry that day and bored of the sad food I had for the whole week. Yes, bad food can actually make you sad.  The main reason this place attracted me was the use of strong colors in their shop design. Simple red and black with white Kanji, reading 横浜家形ラーメン, Yokohama family-style Ramen. As with most Ramen places, ordering was done via a vending machine. Insert the money, choose your Ramen and toppings, get a ticket and hand it to the staff. Easy, especially for foreigners.

I think at that time I realized how unique and rich Ramen can taste like. I loved the taste immediately. The thick noodles, the rich broth with a dance of garlic, salt, fat and sweetness. The soft meat and a the perfect half-boiled egg. Additional some nori seaweed at the side and some slices of ginger added a whole different kick to it.

One Ramen to rule them all!
This particular style and very much popular style of Ramen is called Tonkotsu Ramen (豚骨ラーメン), meaning that the soup stock is made from boiled pork bones. Other basic soup stocks are Miso (味噌), Shio (塩) and Shoyu (醤油) and even fish based. While each has their unique taste my all-time favorite will always be Tonkotsu. Rich flavored broth, fatty but soft pork slices, thick round noodles and the half-boiled soft egg. Bliss.

What tips the scale for me is the type of noodles though. The Ramen could be amazingly delicious but when they are using those cheap thin instant Ramen type of noodles, I'm turned off. It almost ruins the whole experience. I prefer the thicker noodles, almost like the one you get when you eat the Ramen variant called Tsukemen (つけ麺), where you dip cold noodles in an often very spicy broth. Amazing taste most of the times, but I am just not a fan of cold noodles.

Tsukemen
For many Japanese Ramen is nothing but a quick and filling meal, perfectly after a night of heavy drinking (the equivalent of a Döner Kebap). They eat it super fast, doing the infamous noodle slurping sound "tsurutsuru". I wasn't particularly fond of this noisy way of eating food but as with many things in Japan I got used to it eventually. It's actually quite practical when done right. It's much easier to eat the steaming noodles this way than by the Western method. I can't help but to feel rushed when doing it though.

For me, eating Ramen is not only about the taste of the meal, it's the whole package. The atmosphere of the shop, the selection and arrangement of the toppings, the mix of colors, the type of table (preferrably a wooden one), the decoration of the bowl and other details. All together they can make a hot bowl of noodle soup taste like a warm embrace, a kiss of flavors to make a grown man smile upon such an evanescent thing as food.





Of course I am not the only one who loves Ramen more than as just a meal. Many of my friends enjoy the same unhealthy "hobby" sometimes, foreigners and Japanese alike. Most of them enjoy hunting for new and yummy Ramen places too, so sometimes we pick a place with high review scores and head to another Ramen adventure. With some I even went to the annual Tokyo Ramenshow where we stuffed ourselves with at least 3 bowls each, some of us even 4 in one afternoon! It was a great way to experience Ramen from different parts of the country. The presentation wasn't the prettiest due to the plastic bowls, but there were some fascinating flavors no doubt. Can't wait for this year's show!





The health aspects of eating Ramen for a hobby should not be unmentioned. The dish is heavy on oil, salt and occasionally MSG. I tried to balance that by not eating Ramen too often in a month but while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. My growing belly tells a story of its own (not just Ramen, there is too much yummy fattening food here in this country, damn).

Without further ado, here are some pics from my Ramen collection.
























Sunday, 29 March 2015

A German trip to Gunma

Going through my photos I realized I left out quite some interesting experiences in Japan in the last 1.5 years, so let's rewind time and go back mid-January 2014.

Following an invitation by the Japanese-German Association Tokyo (日独協会), I went on a trip to Takasaki in the prefecture of Gunma. Surprisingly enough they had their own group of German enthusiats over there, but there were no Germans in Gunma to join their meetings. So Germans from around Tokyo would regularely visit Gunma to keep the exchange more interesting. Since I've never been to Gunma and since my expenses would be paid, I felt it would be a good opportunity to get out of Tokyo and experience something new.

That's the fastest route. I took the cheaper (and longer) one.
Everything was organized and set up very conveniently for me. I was picked up at the train station by Suzuki-san after a loooong ride during which I had to change trains at least three times. Suzuki-san was the head of the local association but couldn't really speak German to my surprise. He was already in his 60s and he and his wife were very much into some German folk dance, including the traditional Dirndl and so on. I've never heard about this dance in particular, not to mention that I don't care much about anything traditional that is from the southern part of Germany (except beer of course). But they were extremly nice and never missed a chance to explain their city and the sites we visited.

First on the list was the famous Shorinzan Daruma temple (少林山達磨寺). The temple was filled with Daruma dolls of all types and sizes, some of them piling up outside where the wish-makers have left them. The story about the Daruma is a fascinating one too. It is based on the Chinese monk Bodhidharma who is not only the founder of Zen meditation and Zen Buddhism, but also the first to have taught the monks of the Shaolin temple their legendary Kung Fu. There is more legend than truth to this, but it is intriguing nonetheless. Thinking of how Shaolin Kung Fu basically started my fascination with Asia as a young boy, it's another of these magic moments when I found myself at this temple, consecrated to that very character. Shorinzan means nothing else than Shaolin Mountain, written in the same Chinese characters 少林.

Lots of large Daruma dolls on a pile


Temple stone garden and pond
But there was something even more fascinating about this temple. For a brief time in the 1930s, it was home to a German architect named Bruno Taut, who fled from the Nazi regime and followed an invitation from a Japanese architect in 1933. He was the designer of some quite famous residential areas in my very own home town Berlin (Hufeisensiedlung, Onkel Toms Hütte), places I've known by name and seen so many times in my life. Again, this was more than a coincidence for me, it connected me to Japan in a magic way. 

The Berlin horseshoe estate
Taut and his wife and people of Takasaki
The temple had a little museum room about Taut and his work. Apparently, he spent 3 years in relative solitude, even though his wife was him. Only later he was able to do actual architect work, but for the main time he was studying Japan's culture and even crafting wodden furniture to survive. From all I could gather, his life wasn't the happiest one, being far away from home and in a strange but alluring environment. I felt even more connected to this unknown man.

He lived in a small, traditional Japanese house on the same hill that the temple was on, overviewing a beautiful scenery with several mountains in the back. How beautiful and how lonely it must have been in the 30s for him there. A lonely paradise on the mountain.

View on the temple and the city in the back
Part of a quote by Immanuel Kant: "...the starry sky above me and the moral law within me."
Painted by Bruno Taut in 1934
("I love the Japanese culture")

Bruno Taut went on to become a professor in Istanbul, Turkey and died on 24 December 1938. He was laid to rest at the Edirnekapı Martyr's Cemetery in Istanbul as its first and only non-Muslim.

After buying some little omiyage, including a couple of Daruma dolls for myself and friends, we picked up Suzuki-san's wife and headed to a good sushi restaurant. I tried my best to do conversation with them while they very curious at what this German fellow would like to try for sushi. I've tried most of the sea food variants so far, so they might have been a little bit dissapointed.

After we stuffed our stomachs with some good food it was time for the German-Japanese association meeting scheduled for today. It was held in a local tea shop with a large variety of (you guessed it) German tea. One after another, the members joined and I was introduced to most of them, especially the fluent German speakers. My Japanese level was at a very low small-talk level, not much more than a friendly conversation starter. But people seemed to be delighted that a German was amongst them for a change.

The members were quite mixed, most of them around retirement age, some in their 30s and 40, not many of a younger age. It was clear to see that the majority was interested in the old history, nature and the food of Germany. They went to romantic, historical places like Rothenburg, Heidelberg, Neu-Schwanenstein and took cruises on the Rhein, sometimes even together as a group during their annual trip to Germany. Typical retirement trips if you ask me.

The younger ones in the group were all more focused on technology, science, the free education and engineering possibilities. One guy was getting helpful tips and ideas for his first semester abroad at a German university.

There was one guy who was just plain weird. What he thought to be a normal conversation was just him throwing all the German words, places and food names at me. Like reading a list. I had no clue what he actually wanted from me. Was he looking for a reaction? Was he bragging? Showing cultural insight? After he didn't react to my first couple of questions about his trips, I just let him finish his list and focused on the more interesting people.

The coolest guy was one of the board members. He used to be an coal mine worker in his youth, which must have been the 1960s! He was quite a tall and charismatic guy. The stories about his life back then were fascinating. What a life he must have lived! Who would have thought that a Japanase guy was working the mines back then.

Another interesting member of the evening was a middle aged women coming to visit with her teenage daughter. Her husband was about to be transferred to Germany because of work and they came all the way down from another prefecture to learn more about their new country of residence. Both of them seemed a bit worried about their future, speaking no German at all. They didn't say it directly, but they seemed to be worried about security as well. Everyone was very supportive and assured them that they would actually have a great time in Germany as a family.

The actual meeting was a little bit dry since it followed a stright agenda. There were reports on various topics, e.g. the deposit system (Pfand-System) for bottles in Germany. The head of the local association and my host for the day held a long monologue about his findings and even showed a TV report about himself. Couldn't tell if people were actually intersted or not. I couldn't really add anything, not just because of the language limitation but mostly because I've never compared the system with the one in Japan.

When Suzuki-san mentioned that people in Germany are not taking off their shoes when entering houses or apartments, I had to formally protest. I stated that's actually not the case, most people take off their shoes. From all I knew it's pretty common in the US not to do that, but even there I took of my shoes when I visited friend's places. A short discussion ensued and I felt like I have sabotaged the whole "oh look how different Germany is" idea of his report.

In general, it was fascinating to see how people were engaging in this hobby. It was very abstract and from a distant point of view, much like people in Europe see Japan and don't really get it or only see a certain, weird part of it. Like the obsession with German Baumkuchen here in Japan. In Germany, it's just a standard cake with no remarkably different recipe, same as Sushi is seen by us Westerners as the peak of Japanese cuisine (it's not, trust me).

When it was time to say our farewells, I was given a 10,000JPY note and dropped off at the station. The money wasn't really necessary, but it definitely made my experience even more of a lovely memory.


Monday, 9 March 2015

6 things I love and hate about Japan

Oh there you go, another one of these "XX things I love blabla" posts you might think. I mean there are so many of them out there and most of them basically complain or praise the same things. But I'd like to try something different here. A Japanese friend taught me the expression 紙一重, which means basically it's a very thin difference between things sometimes (thin like a piece of paper).

Most of the foreigners I met in Japan share the same love-hate relationship with Japan. There are so many beautiful and amazing things in this country, contrasted by many super shitty things that it's hard to stay fully positive or fully negative about living here. Of course it's easier to be all bitchy and negative about it, and I was for a while when life was particulary hard, but if you take a step back and look at things from a distance, there are always two sides of the medal. So here's my very own personal and naturally subjective list.

1. Cute women

Even if the Asian/Japanese type is not your cup of tea, it's hard to ignore the amount of cute and attractive women in Japan. There are everywhere, on the streets, in your local izakaya or konbini, in the trains, but mostly in Japanese media. The ads, shows, music videos, etc. are filled with beautiful young women, a lof of them being half-Japanese (ハーフ) actually. They are "easy on the eye" so to say, from being just cute and adorable (e.g. idol groups) to simply jaw-dropping hot. But most of the times, you have the kawaii overload. But as an admirer of beauty, I am pretty happy to being exposed to that on a regular basis actually.

Riena Triendl, an Austrian-Japanese model and tarento
But here's the thing. If you're a model or hostess or just someone attractive in public (tarento), you play a role and it's expected to act in a certain way. Cute women or actually women in general in Japan are expected to act in a very particular way. It's hard to explain, but it's a mix of using a certain higher voice, typical female words and phrases, facial expressions and body movements, clothing, and especially with certain submissive behaviour towards men. I'm not talking about the ever-smiling morning show host, I mean the super happy genki attitude they have to have, pretending to be super-interested in everything their male conversation partner/superior is saying. It's more than aizuchi (the culture of active listening), it's how women subordinate themselves in being cute and lovely as if they'd have no other chance of getting taken seriously otherwise. It almost hurts to see highly intelligent women having to act all submissive to their male superiors or peers just to be considered "equal" or respected. An office lady, in her late 20s, with a decent education and job shouldn't have to play the helpless 12 year old and shouldn't talk like a 6 year old either!

2. Train convenience

Tokyo has the most dense and convenient public transport system in the world (probably). The trains are fast and on time, covering great distances all over Japan.The competition between more than 4 big companies in the Greater Tokyo area alone, most of them with their own track system, ensures an affordable and a constant development of their services. The trains are used by thousands of commuters every day, making them a vital part of the infrastructure. Wherever you want to go, there is at least one or two train stations nearby. It's not cheap, but not too expensive considering the convenience.

...and this is just JR and Metro railways!
But here is the catch. You have to take the trains. You live in the east side of Tokyo but work on the west side? Good luck going there by bus or bicycle. No normal person here has a car or the means to sustain one, so the only option is to take the train. Like the rest of the 20 million people every day. It gets you there in no time but for the price of the ever annoying rush hour trains. Every morning and every evening, the commuter trains are packed with people, PACKED! People are getting pushed in from outside, there is no space to even turn around. You are so close to people you never met and most of times never want to be be so close, but you have no choice. No one has a choice, they all have to take the train. Or the train before, or the train later. Oh snap, they are all packed! It is ridiculous and inhumane. Not to mention rude! People are still pushing in, even when the train is already full. Elbows are frequently used.There are even people working for the train companies who push people in from the outside
People waiting for the train at Akihabara station (not even rush hour)
The urban and business development in the Tokyo created a hub for companies in the metropolitan area of Tokyo, creating more and more satellite cities around the center, so called sleeper cities. In addition, since space is limited and extremly expensive in Tokyo, people have no choice but to commute. So the whole problem is all self-made and almost impossible to solve. But the government is already aware of the problem and slowly trying to solve it. Companies are offered considerable tax savings if they move their offices out of the metropolitan, attracting more workers from the rural areas in return. Flexible working hours are also a new way to counter the rush hours. I'm quite sceptical that they can solve this problem until the Olympics in 2020.

3. Alcohol(ism)

The legal age to drink alcohol in Japan is 20. Coming from a country where it is allowed to drink beer with 16 and liquor with 18, I was almost expecting a moderate handling of alcohol in society. It's surprisingly easy to buy alcohol. Every konbini has plenty of various types of beer, liquor, sake, shochu, etc. It's not expensive either. You can have all-you-can-drink hours at Izakayas for as low as 1500JPY! It is perfectly fine to drink until you're wasted with colleagues, your boss, friends, with anyone really. A lot of ceremonies and traditions involve a ceremonial sip of o-sake, like on weddings or new year's eve. There are even traditional social gatherings like the bonen-kai (忘年会) near the end of the year and then the shinnen-kai (新年会) where the old year is reflected upon and the new year is welcomed. In short, alcohol is everywhere and widely socially accepted. Being totally wasted in public is not really a stigma, not even for women. There is even an unspoken rule that when you're shit-faced drunk and yell at your boss during your after-work drinking, all is forgiven the next day. A lot of Japanese people go out of their way when being drunk, but as I mentioned before, it's all good, everyone is fine with it. I have a lot of good memories while being out drinking with people here in Japan.

But what happens to a society where alcohol is such an integral part of daily life, available everywhere and being advertised excessively? Of course, alcoholism. While it seems fun to some to go drinking with your friends or colleagues on a regular basis, it surely isn't doing your health any favours for a longer amount of time. With the tough working life here, the overtime, the social pressures, the long commuting, the emotional coldness, the earthquakes, a lot of people find it perfectly normal to turn to alcohol everyday. That might be one or two beers every evening, a cliché that I'm quite familiar with as a German of course, but it can also be a considerable amount of liquor in an izakaya every night or weekend. I personally drink a lot more than I used to drink before coming to Japan. It's quite difficult to not drink here to be honest. It gets even worse. There is a whole range of tonics and supplements to counter the effects of alcohol and hangover to take before or after drinking. Available in every konbini, right next to the alcohol, propagating a false level of security. Oh and don't think that the higher age of 20 is helping to avoid alcohol abuse. It's super easy to buy alcohol, no one really checks anyways. Not in an izakaya and especially not during peak times in a konbini, even though most of them make you confirm via touchscreen button touch that you're of legal age. I saw youngsters press it casually, no problem there.


To say it clearly, a lot of people in Japan are alcoholics and it's a growing problem. But what often leads to dropping out of society eventually is happening here a lot slower than in western countries I believe. It's not seen as big problem here, not even as what it is, an addiction, a disease. Instead there are TV/train advertisments with young attractive women coming home from work only to open their beer-filled fridge and enjoy their beer to the fullest. It's encouraging, almost sexy. Not very different from western ads you might say, but it's on a whole other level here, believe me. In general, with having worked with alcoholics in the past, I'm quite concious and honestly worried about the issue. There is an interesting article about it here.

4. Politeness

I started to learn Japanese because I liked the complicated beauty of the language. The different types of addressing persons on a different social level was intriguing. Starting with the polite form of Japanese first, I was almost disapointed when I eventually learned how normal talk to each other (some beauty gets lost I think). Then there is art of saying a thing, but not really meaning it, but insinuating another at the same time. Being ambivalent about it, 曖昧 (aimai) and not saying it bluntly, always trying to keep a harmony between the speaker and the listener. A complicated and beautiful art.



But learning all these different levels, the rules of when to say what and the different words can be such a pain in the ass. When you're already struggling with how to express your thoughts and desires in a normal way, it's more than a surprise when they tell you that you actually have a whole different set of language to use, depending on the situation you are in. You buy stuff at a konbini, no worries, use simple form. You inquire at the bank about something, you better use the normal polite form. You're talking with your colleagues about your boss, oh better use an more polite/humble form. You have to talk to a customer? Aaaaannd there is keigo (敬語) for you with it's long sentences and structured rules of interaction. For a Japanese learner it's even difficult to be addressed in the very polite way because the actual information is embedded in all this polite sugar-coating, making it hard to find, especially when talking on the phone.

Then there are many rules of politeness for handing out business cards, addressing people at work, bringing/receiving presents. A small mistake can be considered impolite. Not knowing the rules can be one already. Which brings me to the next one.

5. Rules

I like rules. I like to know what I am supposed to do and what I am not supposed to do. I like to understand rules and regulations, even laws. Mostly to not breach them but also to find the possible loop-holes. I like to know my options and my challenges. But in the end of the day I like rules simply because they make the world a bit easier to understand, especially if they make sense. Rules can also provide and enforce quality when applied correctly. I'm a big fan of ISO 9001 quality management in fact.

Japan is full of rules to make each and every citizen know its place and guide them through their more or less predetermined life. You get told where to walk on your way up to the train platform, where to wait for the train, where to sit and not to sit, how to fill out forms, how to politely operate the elevator for your superiors, how to dress. There are rules how to drink your tea during tea ceremony, how to pray at a temple/shrine and how to shout, stomp and hit when you practice Kendo, just to mention some more traditional aspects of rules in Japan. There is probably a rule for everything. So when in doubt, just ask and you'll probably end up hearing about a rule that has been in place forever already and you better remember not to break it from then on.

But there are too many rules. Too many unnecessary ones I believe. When you have to fill out a form here, you will see what I mean. Often in combination with people having a middle name. If you leave it out sometimes, for example when taking an exam at a test center, you run into some annoying trouble when people check your details. They clearly see your birth date, the name and even your face. But still, it's not enough. Rule is rule, it has to be the full name. It also has to be in the exact same order. Sometimes even in capitals when it is written like that in on your residence card.

Because of the common micromanagement and the strict hierarchy at most workplaces, everyone is well advised to follow the rules to the tiniest detail in Japan. Stamping, filing, regularly filling out Excel sheets, printing them, then comparing them with other Excel sheets and so on and so forth. There are a lot of rules at Japanese offices, most of them are not necessarily well thought through but often superfluous or redundant. So glad I never had to work at Japanese office, I'd die of "process pain".

At my new work I have to pick up my access cards every morning, so all I have to do is show them my ID and enter my PIN code. Every guy working at the reception in the morning is always doing the same thing, asking the same questions, in the same order and in the same way. Yes, I want the same access cards, yes that's me on the ID, no I don't have anything in my bags...dude, you did the exact same thing with me yesterday!! My colleague once startled one guy at the reception when he was asked how many cards he wanted. "How many are available then?" That confused the reception guy quite a bit. Wasn't in his handbook I suppose.

But then again, my work is a high security data center, so these things make sense and the guys are just following their work orders. Pilots are also following their check lists every time to avoid routine mistakes. I wouldn't call that a superfluous rule. Just how they carry it out sometimes is pretty annoying. But does Japan really have to be so strict with everything? Like with the rule that tattoos are not allowed in public baths for "sanitary reasons". Everyone knows that's not the real reason but is actually a way to keep the organized crime members, the Yakuza out, since they happen to be tattooed. But even if you're clearly not a member of the mafia but still sport some tattoos, you could get denied access to a public bath because of that stupid rule. I haven't tried it yet though, I'm not much into having an argument while only wearing a towel...
Tattoos are also not allowed for public servants, even if they are not visible. Just the rumor alone could get you into trouble there. But luckily, times are changing (interesting news here).


6. Japanese TV

In the west and even more on the internet, you'll find a lot of hilariously funny and weird snippets of Japanese TV shows or commercials. Some of them with a clear sexual innuendo, some of them just plain WTF?! Funny enough, these shows and commercials exist and are a normal part of Japanese TV. Zapping through the channels everyday, I often see a new CM that amazes me or a new type/episode of a show that gives me the chuckles. Just yesterday, I watched a show where they had 6 different Japanese girls act out a scene between a couple that is about to "fall in love", each girl with scripted lines but in her respective local dialect, very different to the normal Japanese they speak in public. It was adorable to watch, especially as Japanese language afficionado. The show hosts and my Japanese housemate and me had a good laugh. A simple show idea, but a lot of fun.


What I also love about Japanese TV is the use of emotions in their shows, news reports and commercials. I'm kind of an emotional guy but I usually don't have to fight tears when watching a 35 seconds CM on TV. Somehow they manage to pack in so much meaning and emotions, even meta-emotions (is that a thing?) into it, often by not clearly saying anything at all. A clever usage of sad music, images and story-telling will leave you sobbing even if it's just a report about a loyal pet and its owner.

But what I really despise is how the news shows cover crimes here. Media in Germany is very careful when reporting anything about victims and suspects in general, but here you'll get their names, faces, address, everything in a matter of minutes. It's still part of an ongoing investigation but no one seems to care. The police and the TV crews basically show up together when arresting the culprits. What follows is a meticulous analysis of the crime, let's say a rape/kill of a 12 year old girl. The last known location, the family's house, even the last short messages the child sent to a friend before getting killed, all of it is shown in detail on TV. It's an emotional analysis of a horrible crime, exploiting every painful detail with next to no respect for the victims' or the suspects' privacy. It's even worse when reporting about the occasional suicide of a well-known person. I find it almost disgusting that they are discussion the possible reasons and the details of the death within the same hour they are showing the newest technology hype or restaurant. It's like a part of daily life to show the latest murder of suicide. The underlying root cause or problem of this is not really touched, all that counts is the big headline and the above-mentioned emotions. Eulogies and speeches at funerals are often recorded live if the deceased was a famous person. I find it tactless to have the deceased' wife or daughter go up and speak in tears while the whole country is watching. Japan has a weird sense of public interest I guess.

So in general every morning show in TV consists of the same 4 things. Latest news, latest gossip, murder/death/suicide, some sports and the weather. Good for them that there is always a guy, estranged by this society, who stabs some people or rapes a young boy. Keep the cameras rolling guys.