When I first arrived in Japan, I intended to stay for two years. After meeting my first other foreigner in Japan, I suspected it might not even be that long. He was here for the long haul, a lifer, and was also what I believe is commonly known as a genki arsehole. His name was Paul and he was absurdly enthusiastic about anything and everything. He was a man that you could peg in an instant as a complete dork. Unless you were one of the Japanese who are the food of the genki arsehole; one of the ones who didn’t see him as a first class tosspot but rather as just being full of beans and overflowing with eau de westerner, like the foreigners on the telly.

Paul’s optimism manifested itself most in his choice of hairstyle. He had a combover, a barcode as the Japanese so wonderfully call it. That in itself was unusual in a man just on the cusp of thirty, but he had gone to the trouble of dying it peroxide blonde. Granted it kind of killed the barcode joke, but I’m of a mind to think that if you are a man who opts for the combover, the colour of the hair isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference to your attractiveness. Paul obviously thought differently.

He was a teacher at the school which had foolishly hired me, and he had been sent to meet me at the airport. It was then that I found out the school had thought I had been arriving the day before.

‘I came down here to meet you yesterday,’ he said, beaming with joy as if that in itself had been just great!

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Oh, don’t worry about it,’ he said. ‘They’re not pissed that you got your dates wrong.’

‘I didn’t.’

‘Hey, it’s cool,’ he said. ‘Really.’ And then, once we were on the bus into town, bouncing with unbridled energy on the seat next to me, he said, ‘So, whaddaya wanna know?’

‘Sorry?’ I said.

‘About Japan! Whaddaya wanna know? You can ask me anything.’

I wanted to ask if he thought Japanese people didn’t realize he was bald.

‘Well, I said,’ resting my greasy head against the bus window, ‘I’m a bit tired just now, so I can’t really think of anything. I’m sure I’ll have lots to ask you soon enough though.’

Paul told me that would be just fine and then he sat grinning at me with widened eyes and saying nothing. And when it looked like he was just going to continue sitting and grinning at me for the whole journey, I felt a bit uncomfortable about going to sleep and decided to ask him how far it was to my apartment.

‘Right,’ he said. ‘So what’s happening there is that you can move in tomorrow. Tonight you can stay at mine!’ And then I squeaked a little through my fake smile.

He told me he had made his home here in Japan and had no plans to return to the States, because there was nothing there for him anymore. He was one of the many guys I would later meet who appeared to be hiding out in Japan because they couldn’t hack it at home. They were people who had found a place where they could walk down the street without fear of a wedgie, people who had discovered that somehow, somehow, they had found a place where reasonably pretty girls would shag them. People, I was sure, quite unlike me.

Paul had a friend called Don. He was about 31 and had a huge Ned Flanders on his top lip. Without the mustache he would surely have had the nickname ‘Plug’, with it he looked absolutely ridiculous. I first met him in a bar with a Japanese girl whom he proudly and loudly proclaimed his girlfriend. She was pretty and slim and so far out of his league that you would be forgiven for assuming he was making a pathetic joke, like a sleazy uncle hugging his niece in front of friends and thinking it funny to try to pretend she is a conquest. But he wasn’t joking, and she was his girlfriend, and it was all I could do to restrain myself from taking hold of her by the shoulders and giving her a thorough shaking while pointing at Don’s top lip and shouting, ‘Look! Just look at that for fuck’s sake!  DO YOU UNDERSTAND?’

I used to laugh at Paul and Don, but I could hardly blame them for staying. When you’re a loser like that, staying here, marrying a local girl and teaching English for a career is the best you can hope for in life. Oh, how I pitied them!

It’s been over a decade in the classroom. I’m bald and my wife is Japanese.


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7 Responses to Lifers

  1. sixmats says:

    I’m not at ten years yet, but I’m getting there and my hair isn’t getting any thicker.

  2. sendaiben says:

    So true! I originally came for two years (was going to go back to the UK and join SIS) but here I am ten years later with a job and a school and a wife and a family. I’m not bald but I have put on way more weight than I should have…

    I quite like it though. I suspect I am going to end up happier this way. After all, I’d probably be in Afghanistan now pulling people’s fingernails out if things had worked out the way I wanted them to 😉

  3. Jeffrey says:

    One of the best post I’ve read about this “lifestyle choice.” It seems, given the time frame of your story, that Charisma Man lives on yet in smaller towns, where it seems you now find a lot of lifers like Paul and Don. They wouldn’t get the time of day from most Japanese in Tokyo or Osaka let alone gaijin ex-pats. Out in the sticks, we’re all henna gaijin of one sort or another.

    I’ve done two stints. Snagged the wife on the first (yes, she was a student). The second stay, again for three years, was as a rep for a “export firm.” We probably would have stayed longer then if I hadn’t hate my job so much and if the wife could have returned to work after our daughter was born, something still nearly impossible to do by all accounts.

    We joke about how we’ll be retiring to some abandoned farm in Gifu since we’ll probably never be able to retire in the States. Since the Great Recession, it’s a lot less of a joke.

  4. Stephen P. says:

    No want wants to be Charisma Man, I agree. I remember looking around a table of foreigners and being like, am I the only person that’s not a loser here? You start this whole narrative: I’m married to a Japanese woman, but a) she’s older than me, b) we speak in Japanese, not English, c) I didn’t meet her in class, d) I could pull a girl in my home country, I swear, etc. etc. Oh man.

    Anyway, sorry to leave a comment on an older post, but this is great, as usual.

  5. David says:

    Guys you are making me scared now.
    Let’s see:
    -I want to move to Japan (but definitely not to Tokyo)
    -Until recently, my main source of income was being a French teacher.
    -I’m married to a Japanese woman.
    -I met her in France and I never cared about Japan before meeting her.
    -When living in the US, I could date girls way out of my league. Not in France though…
    -I’ve started to gain weight lately.
    -My hair is still ok, but I see it receding more and more…

    Will I become Paul and Don?

    (@Jeffrey: all of the French Paul & Don types I’ve met/seen in Japan lived in Tokyo. Except for a few exceptions, all of the French people I’ve met in small towns were great people, most of them I’d be friends with anywhere in the world… go figure)

    I’m scared…

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