Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tokyo in 1979, 1984 and Today

(This article is being rerun for Michael McThrow and all the other Michael McThrows out there...)

All my life I've thought that having a diary was a good thing. I never started writing one because I was; a) way too lazy. And, b) Never really thought what was going on was worth writing about...

Actually, that last part is not exactly true... I thought it was interesting enough, it's just that I was always too drunk/high or fatalistic and figured that I'd die before I finished the book about my life's story... So why bother? I wouldn't get the royalties for the movie rights anyway. 

I reckon that makes sense in a twisted sort of way.

One guy, though, that seems to have been keeping a diary for all these years is my friend Andrew Joseph. He writes a blog called, "It's a Wonderful Rife." "Wonderful Rife" is all about his escapades as an English teacher in Japan in the early 1990's. Sometimes he has some really steamy stories that are quite full of ribaldry and sex. One such story is a recent posting about a hot babe named Junko. I think Andrew is in that story too somewhere, but I can't remember...

Read more about Junko and her other "friends" at


Well, as you can guess... I've never written a diary. That's why, sometimes, I use this blog for one. Recently, Andrew's postings have inspired me to tell a short story about what Tokyo was like when I first came to Japan in 1979... Then, in 1984, when I moved here for good.

Today, in 2011, Tokyo is full of foreigners. Foreigners are not unusual at all in today's Japan (excepting way out in the countryside I hear). But it wasn't that way not that long ago. It used to be that foreigners were like movie stars in Japan merely by the fact that they were foreigners. I know. I was here when that was the case.

I first came to Japan in December of 1979. I was a Southern California boy and a university student. The Socialists who were running the government in the California at the time had something they called, "Affirmative Action." What that meant was that they thought they could use your tax money to even things out for others. If the population of your town was, say, 50% Hispanic, or some other minority, then they did some social engineering and required that all schools, government positions, and scholarships had to be divvied up amongst the Hispanics and whites 50/50.

At that time, I was a half-Japanese American guy at university. Having a Japanese mom and American dad put me in the classification as a "Pacific Islander" (nonsense, sure, but I didn't make the laws). Most of the Japanese American kids I knew studied stuff like becoming a lawyer or doctor. I was studying television. I would find out later that, at my entire university, I was the only "Pacific Islander" studying television (those were the days way before Tricia Toyota and Connie Chung, and all these other beautiful Asian American women you see so often on TV nowadays). 

Since I was the only "Pacific Islander" and I had very good grades, that set me up for a scholarship... Are you sitting down?... That was in 1979 and the government of California gave me over $7,800 to go to university! It wasn't a loan. They just gave it to me!!! Can you believe it? I couldn't either.

Of course, I didn't waste that money on school or books or stuff like that! I wanted to use it to have fun! I found out how to go around the system (It's the government after all! Of course they were all messed up!) and I got the check cashed and immediately went and spent a large part of it on taking a one month vacation to Japan.

I stayed at some friend's house in Chiba but, most of the time, I stayed at my girlfriend's house in Kawasaki. I didn't have much of a clue as to what was going on the entire time I was in Japan because, even though I was half-Japanese, I was too stupid to bother learning any of the language before I got here. After all, the second language of the Japanese people is English right?... Wrong!

One day, my friend in Chiba decided to take me to a prostitution parlor... Er, I mean, a massage parlor, er, I mean a "health parlor" called, "Soapland." He  brought me inside and I sat in a waiting room. It soon became apparent to me what kind of establishment that place was and I got very frightened! I know! I know! I am a wimp, but I was only 19 at the time and had never, ever paid for sex and wasn't about to then.

I'm not that kind of guy!  

Yes. She could frighten me out of my pants!

Like an idiot, I ran out of the Soapland and into the "pink" area of town and was completely and totally lost. Like I said, I couldn't speak any Japanese so I was walking around trying to get someone to help me find my way back to where ever it was I was going to....

In Japanese, the word "lost" can be said a few ways. There is "makeru" which means like, "I lost the game" and there is "mayou" which means like "I am lost and can't find my way" (as well as a few others). I opened my Berlitz dictionary and looked up "lost." There I choose the first definition which was "makeru." Which means, "I lost (the game)"....

But, "Makeru" can also mean "discount" too! So here I was walking around the pink area of town and all these yakuza looking types were trying to get me to go into their parlors for some paid sex and I was looking for someone to help me get back to my friend's place. I kept mistakenly saying, "Makeru!" (I'm lost!) and they took that to mean, "Give me a discount!" They all smiled and nodded and welcomed me into their places.

I couldn't figure out why they didn't understand that I needed help. They probably couldn't understand why, when I asked for a discount, and they said, "Yes!" yet I kept walking on. Finally, after wandering around totally lost for over 2 hours, through a stroke of blind luck, I found a police box and the police helped me to find my way back. 

I knew that I had better not take a chance and get lost like that ever again!

A few days later, my same friends took me to Shibuya to drop me off so my girlfriend could pick me up and take me to stay for the remainder of my trip at her home. What a relief that was! At least her English was pretty good.

I was taken to a very famous landmark in Shibuya. It is known by all Tokyoites and visitors to Tokyo as 109 department store. It still stands today as an extremely well-known landmark and meeting place. When I was taken there to meet my girlfriend, 109 had just finished construction and it was the pride of Shibuya.

My friend dropped me off and told me to stand in front of 109 department store, but I was early by an hour or so. Even with that, I was quite leery of going off and adventuring by myself because of the recent experience in Chiba so I thought I'd better stay put and wait for my girlfriend.

So that's when it happened. And that's the first amazing part of this story. I told you that there were no foreigners here at all. There weren't. While I stood there waiting for my girlfriend, all sorts of people were walking by me and pointing and staring. Some people said, "Hi!" I said, "Hi!" back.

After about 10 minutes of waiting an extremely beautiful girl walked up to me and said in very good English, "Why don't you come and have a coffee or tea with me?" I thought, "WTF? I didn't know this girl. What was going on here?" Even though she was a babe, I declined because my girlfriend was a babe too and, after coffee, what was I going to do? Where would I stay?

I know what you are thinking: "Duh! This Rogers guy is a real moron!" And, yes, I would agree with you.

Well, I said, "Thanks, but no thanks" to the beautiful girl and just thought, "Wow! What an awesome babe!"

But it wasn't just that girl. After her, three different extremely gorgeous women walked up to me and, in very good English, basically asked me the same thing! The last two really blew my mind. One said,

"Oh, I'm sorry. She's not coming, you know. Why don't you just come along with me?"

The last one was even more brash and said, 

"She called me up and told me that she can't make it, so she wanted me to take you to dinner." 

I thought, "You know my girlfriend? Are you sure? Wait a minute!" 

Finally, not being the sharpest tool in the shed, it dawned on me what was going on. These girls were actually trying to pick up on me. I couldn't believe it!  In all the years I had lived in the USA not once did a girl ever ask me out for a date excepting Shanda Shinkaruk, my very first date which was a Sadie Hawkins "Backwards dance" when I was in ninth grade. Now, here I was in Japan, standing on the street corner and, all within an hour, four different girls... NO! Four different extremely awesome sexy Japanese girls who you'd die for were trying to pick me up!

It was like I'd died and gone to heaven!

"What a wonderful country Japan is!" I thought. "I want to live here!"

That was 1979. You may think I am totally stupid, but, my girlfriend, by the way, was a famous model at that time and was on the cover of magazines... That's why I thought twice about dumping her for these hussy women... Today? Absolutely not! I wouldn't think about it for 1/2 a second before I'd be massaging their toes and cooking dinner for them every night!

Anyway... Between 1979 and 1984, I came to Japan many times and, each time, I never wanted to return to the USA... Finally, in 1984 or so, I got fed up with the USA and my job and decided to move around the world. I wrote about that in Working With Thieves Liars and Crooks. But the first place I wanted to live was, of course, Japan.  

In 1984 foreigners were still rare in Japan - and popular with the women, and that led to my first divorce as I was unable to control my hormones.

I still feel sorry for my ex-wife and kids about that. Forgive me. The How to Survive Women Blog has an excellent article about that entitled: Cheated on - Now What? 

But I digress.

By 1984, when I moved to Japan, I had taken several courses in Japanese language at my university and was one of the top students in class (it didn't hurt that there were many Japanese exchange student women living in the dorms with which I could, er, "exchange" lessons with.)

I landed a job with an English school in Shinjuku, then Iidabashi. Since I could speak some Japanese, I was the liaison between the Japanese staff (managers) and the few foreigners on roster. 

Those, my friends, were the glory days of English teaching in Japan.

Yen to dollar rate from 1985 to 1989. From 1985 to 1989, the US dollar lost 1/2 its value against the Japanese yen. English teachers were being paid $50,000 a year - or more - working part time teaching English!

In those days, since I was in management, I know, there were English teachers at our company getting paid, I'd say, on average, ¥700,000 per month. Some were earning over ¥1,000,000 per month. ¥700,000 per month, in 1985, was "only" about $2,756 per month in USD. By 1989, that was about $5,512 per month... And that was for 20 hours a week of classroom time!

Think about that! English teachers were so rare in those days that they were earning, on average, more than $60,000 a year in 1989. People who couldn't get a job mowing lawns back home were pulling down $60 thusand dollars a year teaching part time and sleeping with their students! Since I was a measly liaison, I was only making $80,000 a year to babysit those dumb foreigners (maybe not so dumb, eh?) I even knew a few guys who were making twice that amount.

Like I said, those were the Golden Days of English teaching in Japan. No matter how much I warned other foreigners around me, people played and spent like the gravy train would never end. So don't tell me that teaching English in Japan is a crap job, I remember when it was an awesome job!

Like I said, English speaking people were a rarity and we were always short of them. My old boss, Mr. Hasegawa, and I would go to Shinjuku station and hang around looking for foreigners to teach classes for that evening. We were desperate! If the foreigner was walking and breathing, then they qualified for a teaching job.

We even hired white guys with the names of Ewvig and Euwie (from Austria and South Africa) and told them to say their names were Eric and Ernie, just to save, er, "confusion"... Oh, and don't forget to say that you are from "Canada" or "Nevada"... That's to "explain the accent."

I remember a guy named Arya who, during class, wowed the students with some great phrases like, "Someone explain me this!" or "How to someone say that?" Seriously, he really did say things like that. I cringed...

But it didn't matter...

Those were the days. Us foreigners were rare and oft sought after. We got paid gross amounts of money. Even if we were the dorkiest jerks in town, we got the hottest girls... And why? Not because of our training or education, but just because of our looks, even if they weren't good. Just because we didn't look Japanese. We had the place in the top of society just because of who our parents were and where we were born. Pure and simple and stupid blind luck.

Today, being a foreigner in Japan is no big deal... In fact, in many circles, it is now a detriment... It used to have style and pizzazz! Not anymore.

There is no real moral to this story excepting that I can say that Japan, up until the mid-nineteen nineties was pure men's heaven... I thank god to have been able to have lived through that, in the right place, and at the right time.

Seriously, she was one of my students... Well, at least several girls who look exactly like her were.

NOTE: Later on, I'm going to have to write about when I was a teacher at a girl's high school... Now THAT was a dangerous job. There were at least 9 awesome girls in my class. Or the time I was teaching another class and a girl that easily scored a 10+ wanted to talk to me after class and she started unbuckling my belt while we were discussing her score... Of course, I gave her a 100... Both jobs I quit immediately... Like I said, they were way too dangerous.


Andy "In Japan" said...

Hey Mike san, how are the page views for this blog post of yours?

This particular blog post is absolutely intriguing and I have reviewed it on several occasion to make certain that I absorbed all of the details. And I actually read the words one time, I swear.

Andrew Joseph said...

You know Mike... I only just read this blog. Thank-you very much for posting it ON my birthday. Your are indeed a good friend to mention my two blogs (Crap! No wonder the views are going up! I thought it was me!)
And I love your diary.
I swear... if you can recall half of what happened to you, it'll make a damn fine book.
Oh... and your wife is gorgeous! Definitely a keeper!
Thanks again, my friend!

Jeffrey said...

Our time line for Japan is nearly identical. My first visit was for the summer of 1979 after my sophomore year at university. Tsuyu started about a week after I arrived in Nagoya. One of my fondest (and dorkiest) memories is a "Singing In The Rain" walk home from the school where I was "student-teaching." The rain came down so hard that it was lapping the sidewalk and my umbrella was useless. I'd never seen it rain like that before and have, naturally, hated tsuyu and Japanese summers ever since.

Unlike you I didn't have a "model" girlfriend to help pass the long and mostly boring evenings - Nagoya was pretty quiet in those days and I spoke about as much Japanese as you. If there were few gaijin in the Tokyo area in 1979, there were fewer yet in Nagoya and I probably knew half of them because they worked at the same school.

I visited once more for a couple weeks in 1982 with my parents as a graduation present.

I returned to Nagoya to teach at a women's senmon gakko from 1987 to 1990 - ah, the golden glow of the Bubble years. Yes, children, the money was that good.

Returned again in 1995 for another three year stint in greater Tokyo.

We hope to retire in Japan for at least part of the year, if we can afford it.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

I'd love to meet with you and have a beer and share fond memories of the times we spent together, separately apart, in Japan. Ah! Those were the days!
Thanks, my old friend.

Anonymous said...

In late 80's and early 90's, I, as a young guy, was just wondering why women in this country were so easy with white guys (of stupid faces), just because they were white. That was crazy and envious.

Carl said...

Great Post! I lived in Japan from 79-84 and liked it so much I brought my future ex-wife back to the states with me. I was a jarhead stationed in Iwakuni, south of Hiroshima. I taught english on the side three times a week for a few years, learned to read and write Japanese on about a 3rd grade level and pretty much went native. I went back in 97 on business installing Robotic drug research equipment and boy had things changed!

Anonymous said...

"...looking for foreigners to teach classes for that evening. We were desperate! If the foreigner was walking and breathing, then they qualified for a teaching job."

Damn, I'll bet I waked right by you while telling someone how I'd like to teach English and how can I make money here?

Talk about missed opportunity. I can't say I enjoyed reading about it.
I'm glad you had fun though.

- IndividualAudienceMember

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