For those who are unaware of the stale and the fresh tea, I am bi and generally find myself more attracted to women than men. However, I married a man, Michael, for reasons that would embarrass him were I to share them here. We moved to Japan shortly after our wedding so Michael, who actually speaks Japanese, could teach English, while I, who do not speak Japanese, could labor endlessly to prove myself in the Land of the Rising Sun. With any luck, the Japanese would notice my diligent efforts; however, the White Devil has no luck in this land.
I love my husband very much, and that is why I gladly followed him to Japan. That said, we have come to an agreement regarding my sexual agency: if I want to sleep with women, he is present and “involved” to whatever extent I and the other female present permit (he is, after all, a respectful gentleman). In return, he lets me use him as gay bait in Japan. Japanese men want his oats, and I want to find the gay hangout spots (which, incidentally, are not indicated by rainbows: those indicate car dealerships). In principle, it is a good arrangement; in Japan, it unfolded as a psycho-sexual melodrama.
Michael and I were at the mall to study in a cute cafe when I spotted them: a man and a woman. But this was not just any happy couple. While women are impossible to clock with gaydar, the man was one of the gayest I’d recently seen. Still, I was unsure.
In Japan, gay men look more like “straight” men, roughly analogous to masc-4-masc gays. To complicate matters further, actually straight Japanese men have much better skin care practices than I do, so I can’t be sure of their sexual orientation by the usual functional indicators. Michael pointed out that he was walking with hips and shoulders, which was enough for me to send him over to investigate. My husband and I are pack hunters, and I wanted to talk to the girl and suss out how she was swinging. Michael walked over and struck up a conversation, commenting on the man’s pants. One thing led to another, and we ended up getting drinks together and talking at the cafe. The woman was horny—like, really horny, practically throwing herself on me. I had no complaints. Seriously, best day ever.
I asked if she would like to get lunch with Michael and me sometime, and she responded by moving my braid and stroking the nape of my neck. She asked if I had ever been to a “love hotel,” where one rents a room for the night just to bone instead of bringing someone home. (Prostitutes also frequent these establishments.) I was ecstatic; it was time to reel it in. We scheduled a date for lunch and the hook-up.
Unaware of all that was to come, we showed up to a lunch place on a Wednesday afternoon. She was radiant, and she was alone. Michael was overjoyed that he had successfully excised the man from the engagement, accurately communicating the “no men” and “not gay” limits of his involvement.
We learned that her name was Saiko. Once we finished eating, she announced it was time to go to the hotel. My heart palpitating with excitement, I almost missed the addendum that followed: Her friend, Yuta, the guy from before, would meet us there. Unfortunately, this took another half hour for us to properly understand, and by the time we did, she was Japanese-angry (which comes off as white-apologetic and awkward).
It turned out that Saiko and Yuta were, in fact, married, but that their marriage was a cover for them to act as each other’s beards. Moreover, they believed that Michael and I were in a similar arrangement, which we incidentally confirmed by approaching them for sex as a couple. I had thought that we were pretty clear that it was Saiko and not Yuta we had asked to lunch and bone; however, because love hotels sometimes won’t rent rooms to same-sex couples, she believed that we were going to rent two separate rooms and sort ourselves by gender.
Once she understood the mistake, Saiko went into bargaining mode. She basically told Michael, “Hey, Yuta isn’t fucking you, you’re topping in this situation, so, like, don’t freak out,” but Michael was just horrified at how bad he had to be at Japanese to have even put himself in this situation. He didn’t have time to consider the root of the problem: no matter what he says, he comes off as a little gay.
The problem reared its ugly head again several weeks later during a cultural fair at his school. These fairs are the only such events where I am allowed to be near Michael’s work, presumably so I don’t pollute the middle school with my whiteness. I went on my best behavior, buying the wares and eating a nasty-ass red bean paste so as to not dishonor Michael. Somewhere along our trip around the fair, a gang of middle school girls swarmed us.
Once we had finished exchanging pleasantries, one girl looked Michael dead in the eyes and asked him what it was like to be gay. Assuming the question was about what it was like being gay in America, in general, for a person who wasn’t Michael, he bumbled along in search of an answer. Unsatisfied, the girl soon grew impatient with Michael’s deflections. “No,” she interrupted, “you misunderstand, White Pig.” She clarified by repeating her question, but this time, she gestured toward Michael’s bottom, pointing at his juicy ass. She used the Japanese word for “bottom,” but I was unclear whether the girl was using the term to refer to the sexual role or the submissive personality type.
I wondered to myself whether my Japanese was really so bad that I had mistranslated what she said. But Michael, dejected, just looked at me and asked: “Do I seem like a bottom?” I reminded my husband that I am not a gay man and cannot access those senses. Michael looked at the crowd of Japanese school girls, laughed awkwardly, and said, “We don’t know what you’re talking about, young schoolgirl.”
The confidence with which Japanese children conduct themselves has convinced me that they are born vibing their racial superiority to whites like us. One of my Japanese masters, my neighbor’s 5-year-old daughter, told me without reservation that I was an idiot when I cautioned her that Santa might not bring her gifts if she were naughty. “He’s not real, Dumbo,” she said. “I also don’t have a fireplace.” Another told me that my chocolate was gross because it was white. Well, the chocolate wasn’t, but the wrapper was—it was written in English.
Michael’s own students are equally reticent about accepting his explanations of the world and its workings, especially when it comes to life in America. Whenever Michael insists to his students that, “No, we do not eat hamburgers for breakfast,” and, “No, we do not have high-speed internet everywhere,” and, “Yes, people really do drive everywhere instead of biking or taking public transportation,” and,” Yes, little Satoshi, it can take days to drive to the ocean,” they look at him like he is a liar.
I’ve found that the failure to properly conceive of the United States extends well into adulthood. Shortly after America’s presidential election, I went to the Board of Education offices in my town of Yasu to deliver baked goods to Michael’s bosses. I sought in particular Suzuki-sensei, our English liaison, and Fujito-sensei, whose 12/10 MILF energy I just like to sponge around. I was delivering a batch of cornbread, because the Japanese are obsessed with corn.
Fujito was out to lunch when I arrived with the gift, but Suzuki received me warmly. “Oh my God, so nice,” she said, “stop dishonoring my family by beating me in the Gift War!” She proceeded to counter-gift me a muffin tin, an item I hadn’t been able to find since arriving in Japan. I thought all was going well, but then Suzuki, glancing around slyly, leaned in and asked, “Sooooo…Election fraud, so dangerous, right? First time, election fraud?”
I looked around at the 15 other Japanese people in the room staring at me, their eyes boring into my soul. Clearly Suzuki was asking not only for herself, but for the room. Alarmed, I tried to convey FUCK no as politely as possible.
Luckily, I was prepared. The Japanese are nothing if not predictable, and I knew they would try this with me. Anticipating such a query, I learned the word for “sore loser” (matasuzugiri) so I could explain all of Trump’s lies despite my limited language skills.
“So really Joe Biden and Ka-ma-ra Ha-ri-su?” Suzuki pressed.
“Yes, really, really!” I insisted, at which point everyone in the office who had been eavesdropping got up and started clapping, bowing, and thanking me. Toward the back, two people hugged like this was the goddamned moon landing. I wondered how Fujito and her MILF energy would have taken the news.
I returned home with my new muffin tin, and noticed one of my old lady neighbor’s three grandchildren dicking around in the empty lot next to my house, making a big ruckus. Normally I just old man, “Ugh, those kids on my lawn again,” but on this occasion, I had to go back outside to water my plants.
The kids were playing soccer. How cute, I thought, I’ll play with them, and then they will like me more than Michael (Japanese children always like him more than me because he can speak Japanese on their level, so he is Cool White Devil and I am the dumb one). I went and changed into some shorts. Upon my return, they decided to change the game to one in which they just threw golf balls at me—not what I signed up for, but OK, I don’t know why I thought it would be anything else. I became the “keepa” until the eldest noticed my legs, which I never shave because fuck beauty standards. Once she noticed my leg hair, she alerted the others, who then proceeded to pet and rub down my calves until their mother fetched them for dinner.
With that I took my cue and went back inside to watch another episode of a live-action Japanese TV show I’d been getting into recently. It’s about a country bumpkin lady who comes to the city for school and immediately tries to crush her neighbor’s dick (like in the first episode). There’s just one problem: he a pussy. I thought it was a romantic comedy. When Michael came home and saw what I was watching, he laughed so hard he started crying. So I was like, WTF is going on? He then used his Japanese literacy to inform me that the name of the show, and I shit you not, is: “My Husband’s Penis Won’t Fit Inside of Me.”
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After the love square debacle with Saiko and Yuta, Michael made me promise to communicate more carefully, especially in public settings with strangers around.
Things were going well—well, better—until I let my guard down at a social gathering with some of our Japanese friends. (This was before the third wave of coronavirus rattled our prefecture with a record 18 new cases, and Japan raised the apocalypse alarm to level 3 of 4.) My husband and I were amusing ourselves at dinner when Michael stole my last dango. I wasn’t heartbroken (I don’t care much for mochi), but playfully flipped him off all the same. Immediately, all of our friends dining with us dropped their jaws. I had sort of forgotten that they were there, observing the invasive whites in the wild.
Oh my God, I thought, they’re going to think he and I are crazy perverts and deport us back to Devil Land. Seeking to deëscalate, Michael spoke their tongue, explained something, and soon they were laughing and saying that I was “so cute.” He later told me that in Japan, flipping someone off means “go die, you piece of shit,” and that there is no Japanese analogue for the English “fuck.” Our friends had been confused that I said such a horrible thing with a smile. Despite Michael’s explanation, they continue to sincerely believe our relationship is verbally abusive, although they seem to have deemed the level of abuse acceptable. I’m not sure what is worse: that our friends could think I insult my husband viciously in public, or that they are totally cool with a little verbal abuse in marriage after all, excusing it as some tsundere-type shit.
I really can’t be sure of anything here. Whenever I think I have a bead on a situation in Japan, it usually turns out that I have misread some crucial detail. Our local Nichiren Buddhist cult took full advantage of this weakness when they invited Michael and me to what I thought would be a low-key dinner. It turned out to be an abduction ceremony. They gave us stale rice and pickled plum for dinner and then ushered us into a dimly lit room for a showing of organization-approved testimonials on a 1980s TV. All this we received for the low price of reciting the Lotus Sutra (which would have been easy but for my illiteracy in Japanese). We left knowing: “Jesus, dead. But you, Jesus alive. Therefore Buddhism.” We also left not knowing that we had been given a monthly subscription to the cult’s newspaper, which has made excellent kindling for BBQs. I suppose that I am simply grateful to be alive, though less so for all the gifts of overripe fruit and whole fish our scared neighbors gave us after hearing of our ordeal.
I thought I would be happy when the neighborhood housewives befriended me, but all they really do is ask me to do weird shit with them. Seiko (not to be confused with Saiko, my lesbian suitor) is the most frequent offender. She once asked me to sing the song “Yosakoi Bushi” to her daughter’s kindergarten while she played shamisen. I was to wear a yukata at the performance, despite my protests.
“You wear yukata, OK?” Seiko said.
“Oh no, I can’t,” the White Pig protested, “it wouldn’t be appropriate. Like, I’m not Japanese.”
But Seiko insisted. “No. It’s daijobu, and extra big size! No one will see… [gestures to her bust, which, for anyone interested in women, was a bangin’ 12/10].” Reluctantly, I acquiesced.
As I stood there singing in my yukata a week later, I wondered why I was so uncomfortable. Could it have been that I was butchering the anthem of the prefecture where I reside? All the jeering, laughing, and finger prodding they subjected me to once I was finished? Or could it have been the way the teachers talked to me like I was intellectually impaired? I was about ready to seppuku myself. In retrospect, I wonder how much cultural appropriation is committed by those who are hesitant, if not entirely unwilling. How much of it is, in fact, coerced or insisted upon over the White Devil’s protest?
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By the time summer came around, my quest to net a couple gay Japanese friends had still yielded no results. I was desperate to escape the housewives and get some time to myself, so I started hanging out at the beach.
I was jamming to some tunes one day when two young, fashionable men came up to me to chat about music and weed. “You can smoke that, right, in America?” one asked. He had some intense tattoos, though not yakuza style. “Tell us of your ways, America-senpai!” (We, the Americans, are the Japanese’s favorite whites.)
Because these were the first Japanese people my age I had interacted with since the love hotel fiasco, I decided it was time to put on my big girl panties and make friends (I also needed an onsen recommendation). We exchanged contact information and soon began trading messages, trying to find a time to get takoyaki. I thought everything was fine, but no, not so.
Don’t get me wrong, they were cool dudes and definitely gave positive vibes; but when I asked Michael to translate a text one of them had sent me, he said the man was trying to seduce me. My husband tends toward a “let me lock you in a cage with safe words”-type of possessiveness, so I playfully dismissed his translation. “Nah, he isn’t, you’re just jealous.” He looked me in the eyes and said: “Buddy, the rando just asked you in no uncertain terms to suck his dick on Saturday. He even followed up with a time and address.”
Upon this revelation, I recalled several instances in our initial face-to-face meeting where these two men were exceedingly curious. For example, they asked me at least 15 times in the span of two hours whether Michael and I were daisuki or aishiteru. The latter indicates an everlasting love, a kind of love that is almost too much, the kind such that you would perhaps express to a spouse of 50 years, whereas the former is the lesser, more generic “love ya” kind of love. Michael insisted he “chaperone” me at our next meeting. I don’t really want to see them again, but sis, I have to step my pussy up if I want to find the gays. It seems that possible gang members have the same “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy here, so I hope these two hooligans can eventually direct me toward the community of Japanese homosexuals.
I had a much easier time finding the Japanese abortion advocates. While buying some bok choy at the farmers’ market for mad cheap (like, 50 cents—thanks, Grandma, for breaking your back to bring me those good deals), I caught hold of a flyer with an aborted fetus and a bunch of Japanese writing on it. Several copies of the same pamphlet fell indiscriminately across the produce in front of me, landing in the hands of my fellow patrons. Behind us, two dapper young men stood sentinel next to a cardboard box of Xeroxed propaganda, periodically stooping to replenish their supply of windborne missives.
At first I thought it was a pro-life flyer because the birthrate is tanking here. But Google Translate via picture was the opposite of helpful, so I consulted Michael instead.
The flyer made three claims: First, that abortion is good to make room for better babies if the bun in your oven is defective (they used the kanji for “unformed” and “wrong,” so I assume they meant birth defects). Second, that modern abortions are more humane than the wet towel they used to use in the Edo period, and they are also more humane than forcing shitty kids to live sad lives. The third and final claim basically amounted to: Don’t feel bad! Jizo (the Buddha Buddy they invented to help with their abortion guilt back in the day) will go down and preach Buddhism to your throwaway fetus in Buddhist Hell. Compelling arguments overall, but their community outreach should have been more targeted than “making it rain” over a farmer’s market crawling with families and impressionable children. Little Akiko didn’t need to read up on that, but maybe all of America does.
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I’ve been in Japan for three-and-a-half years now, and I’ve adapted as well as can be expected. On one hand, I still can’t eat rice with every meal; on the other, I <i>can</i> speak Japanese about as well as the average 2-year-old. I sometimes imagine a day when I have mastered the mother tongue sufficiently to regale our hosts with some of these tales. Japan is a land of beauty and grace. Its people are kind and systemically racist, and they will pretend to welcome anyone at face value—until you try to extend your visa more than 5 years or to do something other than teach English.