In some respects, I’m the luckiest man in the world. I’m going to gush for a moment: my wife is amazing. She’s smart and successful, and because of her, I have the opportunity of a lifetime. While we’re crunching more numbers now than we did while we still lived in our parents’ houses, I’ve been pretty comfortable. I’ve learned to cook, and I realistically have all the free time in the world. Our apartment is small, but it feels like a technological marvel with our stacks of gaming consoles and computer equipment. I have more freedom to relax now than I ever did back at home, and all the while living life with my honey bubbly boo.
Mind you, I’m suddenly illiterate and can only communicate with most people through common phrases and hand gestures, but there’s a give and take.
Hey, I’m Calvin Trager of Gaming Trend. I started writing on and off for the website since late 2017, and if things go swimmingly, you may see my name up there more often. Before I had a presence here, though, I was pretty preoccupied with a very busy 2017; having to leave my job, getting married, and suddenly moving. The lovely Tiffany Trager had been working for a long time towards a job as an English Teacher here in Japan, and February 2017 she was accepted by the JET Program for departure that July. I remember that I was able to put in a three-month notice at work, which is absolutely bizarre.
We’ve been dating since 2010, and while we both knew where our paths would take us, we respected that high school sweethearts might need a little more time to become adults before taking the leap. That said, when she mentioned she was going to apply at the end of 2016, I made the future start rolling, and it was good timing because then everything kept happening so fast. After an early June wedding, she left for Japan late July; I followed a month later for various reasons. The culture shock is behind me now, but now that I’ve settled into a sort of routine, compared to what I expected growing up my adult life is absolutely bizarre.
I’m here to tell you stuff about life in Japan. I have first-hand experience, which is mostly comparable to what would happen if you were hired by JET or Interac to be an English Teacher, except the parts about being a house husband and not a worker.
THE NERD STUFF
I can’t play any Magic, man.
We live in the inaka, which is like saying the boonies for you western folk. Masuda-shi, Shimane-ken is a very beautiful city, and I’m told has a surprising number of common retail outlets for being out so deep in the country, but being surrounded by mountains still means we’re threatened by hours of driving if we want anything in another town (Costco, I’m looking at you). And while they exasperate this problem, I’ll expand more on the transit inconveniences in Masuda later in this article.
Whenever we drive out to major cities, like Hiroshima or Osaka, I can find nerd outlets that satisfy. Most of the time it’s where we can buy sweet nerd merch that will make you envious (retro gaming stores are a dime a dozen over here), but I’m always on the hunt for a store that specializes in Magic: The Gathering. Magic is a huge part of my backstory before Japan (I bet you I can beat anybody here at GamigTrend at it) I remember where I was standing when three friends assured me I can continue playing the game when I moved over to the Nippon. They lied, but at least I remember their names and faces so I know who to hunt when I return to the States.
The closest Wizards of the Coast approved vendor is a 45-minute drive north of us, so we’re already working with a pretty terrible commute. But hey, that be acceptable if they actually did anything with Magic. While I’ll fight anybody on Magic being the best card game on the market, Japan doesn’t agree with me, going so far as hobby stores being more likely to offer a robust pornography section before competently offering Magic, which is the case with this store 45 minutes from us.
Unless, of course, you specialize in Magic: The Gathering, which Yellow Submarine and Hobby Zone come across as whenever we visit them in Hiroshima (though only having a small amount of purchasable titty gear). They are, however, a two-hour drive away from where we live, and are also the second and third closest venues to our home. The Magic is in the city, and we, unfortunately, are not.
These characteristics are also found in other nerd outlets, like anime or video gaming. We don’t really have an opportunity locally to indulge in being nerds privately, let alone with a localized social circle, but these opportunities are bountiful in cities like Hiroshima and Osaka. Sure, there’s the occasional arcade here built into the supermarket, but they only offer stock entertainment like Taiko, Purikura, and all those Dragon Ball Super arcade games for kids (which admittedly is very exciting, but I can’t read Japanese nor do I want to hang out with 8 year old boys like a weirdo). Osaka had dedicated buildings to grand arcades, those bountiful retro gaming stores I talked about, and numerous merch shops for your cartoon interests. But as you get deeper into these gaming offerings, the closer you get to the pornographic side of things, and I’m just not quite comfortable with that yet, man.
Tiffany doesn’t want me to harp too much about it, like in previous iterations of this article, but it needs its own paragraph or two at least: if you’re a nerd, Japan will try and associate you with the porn target audience. On one such trip to Geo, a local Gamestop equivalent, I was buying Super Mario Maker and at checkout, I interrupted the cashier lady from her task of unpacking a large shipment of hardcore DVDs. The cashier dude to her right had the sense to cover his half of the workload with a black cloth, but that didn’t save me from infinite huge titties and butts from peering deep into my soul from the countertop.
We were in Hiroshima trying to find another Magic outlet, and in one of those multi-story nerd stores, one floor was half every card game that wasn’t Magic. While mindlessly browsing, and being ignorant of what bold warning Kanji could possibly mean, I stumbled to the other half of the floor to discover a long library of hentai, walls of anime titties peering into my soul, and as I tried to escape I noticed that this side of the floor was busier and seemingly more profitable than the other half, with a checkout line stretching wall to wall.
Another note is that, as we traveled Osaka and discovered all the nerd stores in one place, Tiffany noted we walked into the “shady” part of town, at unease from the outdoor salesmen making her worry about being scammed, as well as it not being as clean as the rest of Osaka. All of this paints a picture of sorry association; while still unable to find a community to happily play and talk about my favorite games with, searching has brought me to unsavory elements of, well, otaku culture and expectations here in Japan. Yes, you can ignore it as Tiffany once pointed out to me, but it’s always there; back in the States, we would at least discourage ecchi-type gaming accessories from public play spaces, while here it’s necessarily there almost before a play space is negotiable. The layout of Japan tells me I’m assumed the same target audience, and that’s unsettling.
Passively engaging in gamer culture is a dream, though. Every foreigner I’ve met has, in some way or another, been able to express themselves vividly with those one or two passions with Japan’s extensive supply of nerd merch. Just today before I started writing this iteration of the article we bought a Cosmog for $2 out in Hiroshima and the quality of the plush feels at least $50 if I wanted to get it back at home. Because of how prominent retro gaming stores and supplies are here, I’ve seen more than my fair share of Pokemon game consoles, such as the Pikachu N64. Our friend’s apartment is covered head to toe with a lady character from the anime Angel Beats!, and you can find Dragon Ball Super in literally every single store you ever go to, ever.
Of course, things like Dragon Ball Super and Pokemon are better examples of pop culture than nerd culture, sort of in the same vein as Rick and Morty or Marvel Movies in the West. So living here I can find plenty of things unique and interesting from the perspective of “gamer from the West,” all while Japan maintains itself as a country where “gamer” isn’t a mainstream label.
There are some exceptions; through the other English Teachers, we met with a group of locals that love board games, and we play with them once a month at an event one of them runs. They introduced me to a board game shop an hour north of us that rents gaming space to play any of their provided board games, and through them, I was able to get an extra night of Magic out of Japan. But from what I’ve learned from everyone, this is only possible because Masuda is lucky with how established their foreigner network is, but that just reminds me that the secret in life is to network.
Furthermore, a lot of my complaining comes from the fact I’m trying to live life in Japan (or at least write this article) through the lens of a gamer, or some derivative of that. Besides the association with those terrible otaku types, I haven’t encountered any truly crazy or truly uncanny and bizarre. Maybe some of you were hit with a viral post on Facebook recently about a Penis Festival in Japan; the first and last time I heard about that was on Facebook from Americans. It’s easy to find the silly in Japan because “gamers” are the target audience of their silly.
THE NOT NERD STUFF
Aesthetically, Japan is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to; it makes Michigan look like a bunch of boring flatlands, and I don’t even want to think about what Ohio will look like when I return. This might be in part because we were placed in the country, but being surrounded by lush mountains on every side that isn’t the vast ocean creates expectations on what natural beauty should always be. Also, all of Japan is decorated with cute mascots and little designs that make American cities seem like bland enterprises of sadness and boring.
Back in Michigan, I always figured we had one of the prettier States in the country, always been so close to water and what comes with that. After living here, while that opinion hasn’t changed, I dread the next time I have to see Ohio’s flatlands of sadness. Being surrounded by lush mountains on all sides except where land gives way to the ocean spoils my expectations of natural beauty. As the roads twist up and around, contorting as to fit with the shape of the land, traveling here is always beautiful.
This spoiled perception doesn’t end with nature but instead extends into modern life. The design of storefronts, logos, products and the city overall capitalize on Japan’s tendency to make everything cute and pop out at you. Just Google search your home state with the word “mascot” (Or Michigan Mascot if you don’t live in the US), and compare it to Googling “Shimane Mascot.” The striking, cute cartoon style of Shimanekko is the standard for almost everything here in Japan. If they can make it adorable, they did, even the things you weren’t even thinking about.
Japan is also home to that very kind population you’ve probably heard so much about. Part of it probably comes from the fact that, as an American, they expect only so much of me, but more kind people have offered us help or conversation than what we’ve experienced in the States, with the inverse being true when people are rude to one another. This also isn’t just a foreigner effect; watching the locals interact with each other, and generally how business culture is structured teaches just how much care they put into being kind to one another. Study Japanese long enough, and keigo will show you how this can become excessive at times, but it’s a part of life I appreciate more than the alternative in the States.
Of course, all these blessings come with a downside, downsides very real and imminent for me personally. Because I’m here for my wife, I don’t have a worker’s permit, so I can’t get a job. We’re completely dependent on her income. Furthermore, I didn’t study Japanese my whole life towards being able to work abroad, so I’m startlingly illiterate in more places than comfortable. Japan has a surprising amount of English littered across everything that’s posted, but that doesn’t stop the jarring reality that common conversation and behavior that you used to never even consider as something to take for granted are now impossible.
Masuda is also deep in the country. While being a jewel within the country, offering more modern support than the average country town, if Masuda doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you’re hours away from any city that does. This is exasperated by Masuda’s surprisingly poor public transit system. Major cities, like Osaka and Hiroshima, have efficient trains and subways systems to get you around town, while in Masuda, having a car is mandatory to do anything.
Besides the transit inconveniences in Masuda, there are still things that shake me whenever they punch me in the gut. Winters are an exercise in discipline, as houses have no heat in the winter. They have no heat in the winter to compensate for how brutal summers can be, offering airflow through the house to combat the awful humidity. Being somebody who enjoys games, I have some appreciation for my technology, but Japan exists mostly on a pen-and-paper, cash only operation. Aside from public transit in the major cities, things are surprisingly low tech, and God save me if I ever need tech support for our fancy computer.
And I’m not even going to get started on the bugs, I’d rather not jinx jynx myself.
But being deep in the country doesn’t change the fact that the quality of life is just better. I don’t hear gunshots once a month and joke to whoever I’m with “Just another day in the life of Inkster.” We both have quality healthcare off of her job alone, even if hospitals have weird hours as compared to home. Everything besides maybe technology is cheaper here, with deliveries taking place in one to three days for up to $10 instead of a week for $15.
And without being surrounded by a billion fast food places, aside from moderately healthy ones, this is the best I’ve ever eaten in my life, though I sincerely miss Taco Bell. I’ve become a pretty good cook since coming over here, pulling my own between spouse and spouse, and now after years of Tiffany telling me that the smell of my spicy food is too much for her, I can “accidentally” pour too much black pepper into meals to teach her. Train her. Make her stronger, a stronger Tiffany. And stronger than anybody else here in Japan because Nothing. Is. Spicy. NOTHING.
Japan isn’t a weird place, but it’s weird if you’re looking for your gamer stuff. If you’re the kind of person that associates Japan mostly with games and anime titties, Japan thinks you’ll pay good money for that, which means the rest of us have to deal with being associated with that market. If you’re the kind of person that associates Japan mostly with cherry blossoms and vacations, I have a video montage of our recent vacation through the Kansai Region maybe you’d have fun watching. We visited a figure museum and plenty of gaming outlets, so if you wanted something to trend your gaming on there are options. And lastly, if you’re the type of person that associates Japan with other cultures, language, and opportunity, and you’re looking into the JET Program but are worried about a significant other, I can tell you from firsthand experience that, despite the trouble, it’s been worth it. I just wish I could play more Magic.
Also if you can find the real Pokemon pun in this article and not the easy one, you earn 30 Gaming Trend points. I have no idea what you can redeem them for, but I’m writing this in here and seeing if it makes it past the editors.
(It made it past the editors because none of them earned those 30 Gaming Trend points. I’ll give you a hint: the pun isn’t bound in a single sentence, but from context put together. Like a puzzle. Puzzle pun. Puzzle Pokemon Pun, coming soon to Nintendo Switch.)