A Life in Japan

by Bill Mutranowski
(Kanagawa, Japan)

A Life in Japan

For most of my time in Japan I've lived in Yokohama. It's less cramped than Tokyo, but there is also a lot less happening here.

One of the biggest challenges has always been finding a reasonably quiet and affordable place to live. As someone who rents, I've had to deal with everything from other people's dogs to Yakuza to being denied housing outright because of the color of my skin (white). The place I'm in now in terms of location and cost is the best of the bunch. Also, hard for me is the Japanese tendency toward passivity, and the frequency with which people resort to a "it can't be helped" mindset as an avoidance mechanism. I've come to choose my battles more carefully than before.

I'd been here for about a week and had already lined up a job interview, which required me to board a train and travel to another city. The English school manager on the phone told me to come to Kashiwara. Her directions were simple and unmistakable, so I pulled out the English language map that I had removed from a National Geographic magazine while still in the United States (this was my first trip abroad). There it is, I confirmed to myself, Kishiwada. In reality, my destination, more a hamlet than a city, wasn't even on the map.

After a 90 minute train ride I alighted, found a public telephone outside the station and called the English school. "Can you see mountains?," asked my would-be interviewer. No, I could not. Suddenly I was lost. I didn't panic, but as I craned my neck to check the landscape and the station map a Japanese salaryman must have gotten some inkling of my plight. He asked, in English, if he could assist me, and I gladly handed him the phone. After working out the details with the English school of how to get me back on track, this Good Samaritan said that I had an hour layover before the next train and asked if I'd ever eaten sushi. I hadn't yet, and wasn't feeling particularly adventurous at that moment, but he seemed eager to extend even more hospitality. Or perhaps he was just hungry himself and was curious about me. Anyway, he treated me to lunch, I ate sushi (I didn't and still don't care for the taste of wasabi) and after receiving his business card (he was a Buddhist altar salesman) he sent me on my way to Kashiwara, where I was eventually hired by the English school in question.

Because I'm neither patriotic nor nationalistic and understand that where anyone happens to have been born is owing merely to a roll of the cosmic dice, I don't think of any place as either more or less "my country." Having said that, it's a trade-off. Living in the United States would probably mean more choice in most things. However, violent crime, for example, is much less of a concern in Japan.

Bring a thick skin, as well as a lot of flexibility. Assuming you're coming from an English speaking country, you're likely to encounter a lot of contradictions, and it will be helpful to appreciate that things are not always as they first appear to be.

You might be interested in my book:

"Know You`ve Been in Japan Long," available at
Know You`ve Been in Japan Long

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