10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama #5: Make Japanese friends!

Making Japanese friends is important, and can have the added benefit of helping you maintain your sanity. Here are my top four reasons why:

1- If  you’re studying Japanese, they are an invaluable resource for natural nihongo.

2– They can help you with the array of things you have to do to maintain your life in Japan

3– If  you want to experience Japan away from the typical Gaijin friendly places

4– Being with a Japanese person relaxes the other Japanese around you.

1-Studying Japanese will help you preserve your sanity, as I mentioned in #3 Learn that Japanese. What I neglected to mention is how Japanese friends can help. They are native speakers, so obviously they can speak fluently, duh! But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can teach it. I’m an inquisitive mofo so anytime something doesn’t make sense I always ask the magic question: why? Why is a question only a teacher or someone who understands the language, culture and history very well can answer. Most Japanese cannot answer why about anything having to do with their language, I’ve found. So, I did what any inquisitive mofo would do: I read books and searched the net for answers. Now, sometimes, I feel like I know more about their language than they do.

To be fair, the reverse is true too sometimes. Have you ever tried to take the TOEIC Test? If you have an ego about your English proficiency or grammar knowledge, do yourself a favor and don’t. It’s like something most of us native speakers have never seen. I have so much respect for my students who scored high on that test. Or, if you ask anyone who isn’t a wordsmith with a thorough knowledge of etymology to explain why, for example, in the word photograph the first syllable is stressed while in the word photography the second is stressed,  I’m sure they’d look at you and say, “Why is the sky blue? Why is water wet? How the fuck should I know?” These were the kind of why questions i was asking them.

As I mentioned before, one of my initial reasons for pounding the Japanese books was so that I could do some nanpa. Nanpa is basically flirting or picking up girls and frowned upon by Japanese, but as you know I’m not one of them. My first male Japanese friend was



Fuyuto. We met through an American friend of mine. He could speak English a bit and was kind of cool. He was a Salaryman, but a rock star in his dreams, so he moonlighted as lead singer and guitarist in a punk rock band. Life as a salaryman was plan B so he had tattoos on his fingers that he had to hide everyday by wrapping them with bandages. He was in love with white girls, any white girl. He fancied some bleached blond from Alabama he’d met on the internet and took to obsessing over her til I couldn’t stand him anymore.

He taught me my first nanpa. I can hardly remember it now. Something about Ocha shimasenka (Shall we have tea?) which was supposed to be code language for let’s get to know each other better right now, and kimi wa ichiban kawaii nanto ka nanto ka (You are the cutest girl…and something or other) Before Fuyuto  the only Japanese I knew I’d learned from books like Japanese for busy people series (which are pretty good actually) and the likes. But, were useless when it came to my new goal: getting my hands on some of this Kawaii-ness running around half-naked all around me.

I should’ve known Fuyuto was useless in this regard. While I was breaking my neck with every step at the over abundant eye-candy, he hardly noticed. He had about as much interest in Japanese girls as I had in Japanese guys. Having watched this movie I was watching for the first time for his entire life, perhaps it was difficult for him to get excited about it. What was exotic to me was totally commonplace to him. We started drifting apart. I needed someone on the same track as me, and so far that had only been my fellow gaijin.

Before we went our separate ways though he did school me about a few things. I’d been seeing a girl at the time and she’d taken to helping me with my Japanese as I helped her with her English (surprise surprise, eh). I’d listen to how she spoke and I mimicked her sentence structure and what not. She’d say things like: Oohhh! You sound like a Japanese! I’d smile ear to ear. (I’d later learn it was Oseji –apple-polishing flattery) When I got with Fuyuto I’d use some of that Japanese sounding Japanese I’d learned.

“Samui yo!” It’s cold!

Fuyuto smiled. I could tell he was trying not to laugh.

“Fuck you smiling at?”

“You sound like a girl!”

“Really?” I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was. “My voice?”

“No, your words. Don’t use Yo like that. Girls talk like that.”

That fucked me up. In Japan, you hear “Yo” and “Ne” all the damn time. Back in NY we use Yo for everything, too, so I thought I had found something that I was already comfortable with using. The text book says that “Yo” places a stronger emphasis on the preceding words so I thought “Samui yo meant something to the effect of  “it’s fucking cold!” But, according to Fuyuto it did just the opposite the way I’d used it. It made it softer. I sounded gay, he said, and finally released the laughter he could no longer contain.

Great. Him, with his perfect hair he spent half a day in the hair salon getting done, calls me gay. But, he had explained why I had been getting giggled at by my students and being called Kawaii by all the girls I’d spoken to before gleaning this info from Fuyuto. Most Japanese won’t tell you if you’re making an ass of yourself because you’re a foreigner and the expectations are very low for foreigners here anyway. And, this illustrates my point about the value of Japanese friends: They can give you the inside dope that those textbook writers may not be privy to or overlooked. Thanks Fuyuto-san!

2- When I first came to Japan, I came under the aegis of NOVA. They were totally responsible for me. And, as a benefit I totally took for granted at the time, they took care of everything from getting me an apartment to arranging my healthcare benefits. They even got me my first Japanese cellphone. Very convenient. Of course NOVA had relationships with these Japanese companies which gave them an unfair advantage over the competition, but that’s  how it goes. It also cost us instructors a little more for we could have gotten these services for less money in some cases if we could speak Japanese and had shopped around…or if we had friends who spoke Japanese. But few did. So, the headache / expense ratio was acceptable at the time.

After I met my first true friend in Japan, Aiko, I learned most of this. I told her about my cellphone and how much I had paid. she laughed and took me to a another company where I got a better deal and a better phone. She handled all of the conversing and I signed  all the contracts. I told her about how much I paid for rent and she laughed and took me to a neighborhood realtor so I could learn that my Japanese neighbors were paying in most cases a third less.


One day, I had taken a nasty spill off of my Mamichari and had to go to the hospital. Aiko was right there beside me explaining everything to the doctor and to me like my handy translator. Another time I threw my back out. If you’ve read “ducking and Bobbing” you know my drama with my back. Aiko’s mother also used to have back problems. Until she found this Chiropractor / miracle worker out in Saitama. Aiko brought me there and he, using a combination of Western & Eastern techniques he’d learned in China, sent me home feeling like a new man.

I was a very independent person in New York. As a bachelor, I did everything myself for many years. Whatever I didn’t know how to do I could learn how to do or hire someone to do for me. But, in Japan, I felt like an invalid. A man stripped of his ability to see, hear and speak. A friend like Aiko took the sting out of this feeling so much. I wish I could have done half as much for her as she did for me but she was a totally self-sufficient person.aiko-chan1

Now, that I can speak a little I can handle some of the above tasks. I still can’t handle a good number of the tasks required for a full life here, but I haven’t given up. I’m still studying and practicing whenever I can.

Thanks for all your help, Aiko-chan! You were the best!

3- I used to ask my students of a certain age for recommendations of cool places to hangout in Japan.

“You should go to Roppongi,” the majority of them would tell me. I’d already been to Roppongi of course. Not a foreigner in the Tokyo area hasn’t. But, I wasn’t keen on the place, for a number of reasons. It’s a dodgy place, first off. It’s the Tokyo version of Bangkok, only much more expensive and you get less for your money. Secondly, it’s full of foreigners and the Japanese girls who prey on them-usually pretty skanky. If I wanted to hang out with Americans and skanky girls I wouldn’t have come to Japan to do it. There’s plenty in NY.

“Why Roppongi? Do you like Roppongi?” I’d ask them. “How often do you go there?”

“No,” they’d inevitably say. “I  don’t go there.” Of course they didn’t. Only skanky hostesses and future skanky hostesses or girls that had been dragged there by their skanky hostess friends, or Japanese guys who like skanky hostesses and are willing to confess that to me go there.


“It’s so crowded!”

“Oh, I see.”

“Abunai, deshou?” Dangerous isn’t it?

“Why would you recommend that I  go to a place you don’t like and you don’t go to?”

“You are foreigner, deshou? Many foreigners go there. Foreigners like Roppongi! And many beautiful girls go there to meet foreigners dakara.”

I’d let it go…sometimes. These conversations were my first insight into the Japanese mind, especially when it comes to foreigners. The fact that the person didn’t see any problems with what they’d just confessed about themselves and about their culture spoke volumes to me.

Sometimes I didn’t let it go.

“So, you recommend I go to a place you think is dangerous? Do you think I like dangerous places?”

“Eeetooo.” Well…..

“Oh, wait! I understand now. Because there are other foreigners there, and beautiful girls, I won’t mind a little danger…is that what you mean?”

“Eeetoooo” Well….

I refrain from confronting Japanese about their bullshit nowadays, because maintaining a smile while discussing something like this is still a struggle. Some kind of emotion peeks from behind the smile and spits at them. I wind up unintentionally showing some kind of feeling and then they get all uncomfortable and shit goes downhill from there. But, back in the days, I used to get a thrill out of it. it was like getting revenge on them for the ignorance and offenses they had no problem flagrantly displaying before me.

But, if you make a friend, then you can get some solid recommendations.

They’ll hip you to some places that’ll bend your ears back. Every onsen I’ve ever been to was recommended by a friend (who usually accompanied me). Every cool bar or club, not located in a gaijin-friendly zone, I was directed to by a friend (often accompanying me.)

Satoshi: Coolest Mofo you ever want to meet. I was looking for a cool ass nihonjin- male for a change– that I could hangout with and could hip me to some cool places to hang out (I’d had it up to here with Roppongi and Shibuya and the other gaijin-friendly places.)

There was a beauty salon next door to my job. Sometimes when I’d go out to the smoke area there’d be this guy who worked at the salon out there puffing his Seven Stars. seven-starHe had perfect bleached dirty-blond hair, a big smile and a goatee. One of them cool guys I’d see around Tokyo who’d whisper to each other like girls whenever I pass by them. When I’d see him through the salon’s main window, massaging conditioner into some cutie’s hair, I’d say to myself, “Now there’s a job that’ll- if he isn’t gay- turn any man misogynistic after a couple of years. Chances are he’ll have an edge.” I like people with an edge. Most New Yorkers are edgy in every sense of the word.

It wasn’t long before we bumped heads in the smoke area and he said what’s up. And, over a smoke, he asked all those typical When nihonjin met gaijin… questions, or rather, When Nihonjin met kokujin… (When a Japanese met a black man) cause he seemed to zero in on what seemed to be race-related inquiries. I’d gotten used to it. It’s my selling and repelling point in Japan. He couldn’t speak a lick of English, though, which was good.

I’ve found that most of the Japanese people who can speak English tend to be overly arrogant. Like their English speaking ability makes them special (which, unfortunately, it does in Japan) and that having been exposed to the West (which is, I’ve found, the only way a Japanese person can learn English to any significant degree) they feel obligated to show you in an overt way that you don’t intimidate them at all. Perhaps to compensate for all the years they’d felt intimidated by English speakers before they’d gone bilingual.  And, God forbid, their exposure to the West was in England. FORGET IT! You want to throw them thru a fucking window, they’re so goddamn arrogant! (No offense to my British readers…gomen ne!)

“You like Hip Hop?” He asked, while I grimaced inside.

“I guess so. You?”

“Of course.”

“Who do you like?” I asked, bracing myself to hear Emenim or Snoop Dog. At that time, I’d spoken to several Japanese Hip Hop heads who knew Eminem very well but couldn’t tell me who Slick Rick was if I’d shoved my I-Pod up their asses.

“Rhymester. Do you know them?”

“Rhymester? Nah, never heard of them…”

He whipped out his handy I-Pod and plugged me in. It was Japanese, with a lot of English mixed in, and the shit sounded tight, like old school Hip Hop. I started having visions of myself rapping in Japanese. he obviously had decent taste in Hip Hop but I had one question I asked of any Hip Hop head:

“Who do you think is the best Hip Hop artist of all time?”

I told myself, even if he says Tupac, which I would whole-heartedly disagree with, I’d give him a pass.

“Nas,” he said without hesitation. My jaw dropped. We were going to be friends.

“No, make that Rakim!” he said. Make that Best Friends, I thought.

The next weekend he invited me over to his crib. His roommate, Takuto, from Hokkaido, is a DJ, and they had cartons of albums, two turntables, a  mixer with a chalice on top.

Satoshi & Takuto

Make that REALLLLLLY good friends I decided then and there.


We got lifted listening to some 80’s Dancehall reggae I’d hipped them to. Just like I used to do with my friends back in NY. Sometimes they come over to my crib and we just hangout, bungle communication and laugh. I love these guys!

At a time when I was coming to think that Japan just didn’t have any cool people (just nice people) cool places (that would let me in the door) or anything worth listening to, I meet Satoshi and Takuto and they prove me wrong. If you hang around long enough, Japan will surprise the hell out of you. Big shout out to my boys, Toshi-kun and Tak-kun!!!

4- I was kicking it with Satoshi one day on the train to his apartment. He was standing against the door. A women beside him was writing a text message. A TV above his head was showing this commercial:

A man beside me on my right was not flinching. A woman on my left was standing against me and not looking freaked out about it.  He noticed me looking around and nodding my head and asked me what was I thinking about.

“My life in Japan,” I said.

He asked me, for the first time, what did I think about Japan, so I told him quite directly since he was my friend, “Japan would be great if it wasn’t for Japanese people.”

He laughed. The woman besides him smiled, too, revealing that she was listening to our convo though she appeared to be engrossed in her cellphone. Satoshi likes my sense of humor and he’s getting to know me well enough to know when I’m fucking around and when I’m serious. He knew my answer was half both.

“What’s wrong with Japanese people?” he asked.

I didn’t know how to say, “nothing a little waterboarding couldn’t fix” in Japanese so I said “Nothing right now, because you’re here.”


Something was happening at that very moment that he couldn’t notice because it was way below his radar. But my antennae are always up and alert like a cockroach’s. Anyone who’s read my previous posts knows what the trains are usually like for me, but to sum it up: daily hell. But, the difference between my daily experience on the trains every morning and that moment right then was I was with a Japanese person.

When you’re with a Japanese person Japanese people react differently to you. Mind you, it’s no less offensive because of the contrast with how they behave when you’re sans nihonjin. It’s like by virtue of your being with a Japanese person, it suggests to the Japanese in your vicinity that you’ve been vetted, appraised by a trustworthy authenticator (one of their own) and found true.  Actually, I’m trying to be nice. It actually feels more like you’re some type of animal that if allowed to roam free is dangerous but in the hands of a master trainer (one of their own) you’re safe to approach and in some cases even pet. I’ve noticed this phenomenon hundreds of times over the past five years so trust me this one is a sure bet. If you can forget the statement this change in behavior makes and just luxuriate in these moments of normality, it will do wonders for your sanity.

I couldn’t express any of this well enough in Japanese, either so I just told my friend, “You’re so ugly you make me look good.” (-:


Up next: #6 : Avoid Gaijin,  Gaijin Bars, Gaijin friendly areas and the Japanese girls who dwell there


16 Responses to “10 ways NOT to go loco in Yokohama #5: Make Japanese friends!”

  1. December 9, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Loco, GREAT post. I posted this at BT. I hope that I’m helping you pick up new readers. Your blog is truly informative. I must say that I am a big fan because some of your posts remind me of the stuff I went through when I first hit the scene in Japan back in 1981.



    • 2 Locohama
      December 9, 2008 at 1:34 pm

      Thanks Zurui-san,
      Yeah, I checked out your post on BT. Thanks for the big up!!! Yes you have helped me pick up some new readers. Thanks again.


  2. 3 Andy
    December 9, 2008 at 1:24 pm


    So true, I don’t even go out trolling the clubs unless I have a Japanese
    friend or two with me. My Japanese is still poor, but, I’m only here a year
    now. The girlfriend helps a lot also, although there are times when I think
    she is stupid, it is just because she takes for granted the stuff that is
    new to me.
    I am surprised that Satoshi struck up a conversation with you… very rare
    thing here.

    • 4 Locohama
      December 9, 2008 at 1:31 pm

      Hey Andy, thanks for the shout! (-:
      Yeah, Satoshi is one of a kind! I was very lucky he did.


  3. 5 Joe
    December 9, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Whats wrong with the ones from Britan, is it cause they speak the reeeal english! 😛

    damn satoshi has good taste, I need to meet someone like that!

    nice blog btw, got here through japansoc

    • 6 Locohama
      December 9, 2008 at 11:32 pm

      Hey Joe, thanks for the shout!
      Man, some Japanese come back from Britain with that atitude nuff said.
      Satoshi is one mad cool cat. Takuto too.
      Thanks for the heads up on Japansoc


  4. 7 Kyon
    December 10, 2008 at 12:16 am

    Hey, Haven’t replied in ages, I picked up most of my pronounciations from
    anime and Japanese TV only thing is, that most of these animes have mostly girls in them and although I know quite a bit of Japanese I now know why the person at Zushi thought I was cute when I spoke Japanese> I hope they didn’t think I was gay!
    Nothing wrong with gay people just I’m not one!

    • 8 Locohama
      December 10, 2008 at 12:32 am

      Hey Kyon, thanks for checking in!
      Nope nothing wrong being gay…(-:


  5. 9 Aka Gaijin
    December 22, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    You didn’t wonder what kind of emphasis “yo” adds? 🙂

    You’re a lucky guy. I’ve been in Sasebo for a year now, and nihonjin think that every American here is a baka Navy sailor. Nobody sane bothers to talk with Americans around this city thanks to that stereotype. …and I don’t want to learn from some half crazy female bartender looking for a marriage visa.

    • 10 Locohama
      December 22, 2008 at 3:39 pm

      Hey Aka Gaijin, thank for the comment…
      nope, never questioned “Yo” (-:
      I don’t know where Sasebo is but you might get lucky and meet someone of a higher caliber. It’ll probably happen when you least expect it though… Stereotyping is the order of the day for nihonjin. It’s the only way they know to deal with the big world out there: keep it simple and reduce it two groups: Nihonjin (good, boring, safe, smart) and gaijin (bad, fun, dangerous, stupid) The ones adventurous enough to step out of this paradigm are far and few between…

      Good luck!


  6. 11 redD0g
    December 23, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Hey Loco san. Good to see you’re getting some traction. Been following for a while now, and this is my third post. Thanks for the nod on “yo”. I knew about feminised speech but that one passed me.

    Thanks for Josey Wales as well. Saw the ole timer back in Jamaica last Xmas. Still keeping them rocking and swing. Slong dang!!! Got lots to say but one thing you hit on is the need for Japanese friends here and at the same time the amount of new relationships that pass through your hands like sand. Another blogger mentioned the disconcerting feeling he felt as despite the numerous and filled engagements, he felt that no one actually knew or wished to know the real him. I am trying to explain this to friends back in London (yes Britain, suh ‘ease up nuh yout. Dem JP ppl only know Hugh Grant), as this is the first place I’ve met 100s of people in such a short time, and then they simply exit out of your life. No room or time to discuss here, but like the way you’re tackling the subject. Congrats on the visa. Dunno if I’ll stay longer than next year though.

    “100 weight a cali weed coming from Skateland!” Laaawwwwwwwwd!

    PS. Heard Yokohama was so much more tolerant, but didn’t really feel any special love from the locals. As a matter of fact saw many hip-hop wannabees walking round with screw faces acting up anytime I came in proximity. Well suppose any carbon copy feels threatened when the real deal comes along.

  7. 12 Locohama
    December 23, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    Big uP Red Dawg, Wappun Star! Wat do ya?
    See me as a man! ANyting come from mi rassclod mout! Cuz mi no fear no man! Only JAH mi fear. Seen? Laawwwwwwwd!

    Actually, I’m most fond of Lui Lepke, seen?

    Hold up yo hand like you have a M-1
    Like a soldier inna vietnam
    I’m Lui Lepke come fi ram the session…

    Mad love for Lui, boy!

    Yep, a little traction…it keeps me going, knowing people are reading.
    Yeah, Yo is tricky. It’s got a few meanings so you might not sound like a girl. Depends on how and when you use it.

    Yep, Yokohama is still Japan, and the hiphop carbon copies are intimidated for sure. Luckily the b-ball heads aren’t. At my gym these cats be bringing the noise. I gotta sweat and everything (-: But I am getting up there in years, playground legend status. Done flipped from strong forward to cagey veteran with a jumper, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

    Thanks for the big up, mi brethren red dawg,

    one love


  8. 13 K.Green
    May 4, 2009 at 1:53 am

    Dude I smell a survival guide in the making. I really love your blog

  9. 14 Dana
    September 16, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    This is gold! And it made me want to go hug all of my Japanese friends. They really do make life here exponentially more fun and interesting. 🙂

  10. 15 Dan
    October 8, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Just stumbled across your site for the first time, and it’s already bookmarked. I’ve been in the Yokohama-Yokosuka area for 7 years now and I swear, you stole the thoughts right outta my head with this one. Having to spend ten minutes convincing someone that:

    1) Yes, I do speak Japanese (sorta kinda well enough, anyway) and then
    2) No, I’m not Japanese, even a little, not even a long-lost relative

    every… single… time… is enough to drive a guy crazy! I’ve found Super Chu-Hi to be a pretty effective coping mechanism, though 😀

    Awesome commercial, by the way. But no discussion of English in Japan is complete without the obligatory Nova-tomo reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0njG5WxxAyE

    Keep up the good work!

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