Tag Archives: culture

#7 Milk is Poison


Here’s an important discovery I made while visiting my Japanese teacher’s house for dinner.

So, we’re sitting there, doing some small-talk and eating Japanese food made by his wife. We’re 8 people by the table: my Japanese teacher Ishiguro-sensei, his wife, their two children, both under 6 years old, and 4 international students.

At the end of the meal we get some dessert- a very nice and elaborate looking cake with super cool icing. The kids are offered some cake too, but they refuse it politely asking to have some milk instead. The wife brings a bottle of milk and pours half a glass for each kid. Their eyes sparkle. The kids down the milk like an Eastern European downs vodka.

Putting their best puppy-eyes on show, they ask for more milk.

The teacher looks at us, foreign students, curious with the situation, and unwillingly pours a quarter of a glass of milk. He then adds they shouldn’t drink so much milk because it’s bad for them, and swiftly takes the remaining milk away from the kids’ eyes.

Now, what can you learn from this story?

By no means does it mean you can no longer drink milk in Japan and that each time you take that bottle of milk in SAEKI everyone will realise you are indeed, a gaijin.

However, there are some steps you should take to maintain your thoroughly worked upon Japanese identity:

  1. When you go food shopping, don’t fall into the habit of putting milk as one of the first items into the basket as that reveals you consider it a staple item.  It should be something you put in your basket last, as if it were a sinful treat
  2. If you own a small food store, consider storing milk by the cashier, you know, where the impulsive, hard to resists buys like chocolate are kept. Good marketing practice.
  3. For god’s sake, do NOT have milk for breakfast (with the exception of holidays)
  4. Do not consume more than one glass at a time
  5. Never ask for milk if you’re at someone’s as a guest. It’s like asking for Moet & Chandon (in terms of not every family having it, plus you’d be setting a bad example to their kids)
  6. Do some research so that you know why milk is so evil. Then you can complain about it to your Japanese friends and/or teach other gaijin the right way. Reading the book “The Lifestyle that Doesn’t Make You Sick” could be helpful (if you run out of reasons, there’s always the golden one of gaijin smelling bad because they consume dairy products)


(And no hot milk with honey before bed, your neighbours are watching you)


Why the Japanese don’t shave

OK, now this is something that often takes many a gaijin by surprise, especially when it comes to western men having sexual encounters with Japanese women. Indeed, neither women nor men tend to care for their intimate zones to the extent that us, foreigners, do. I guess, it comes like such a shock because we are so used to seeing picture perfect Japanese, armed with numerous makeup tools, shamelessly doing touch-ups on the trains, escalators and whatnot, so it’s natural you’d think with such an importance placed on appearance, they’d go all the way.

But, alas, the reality is very different.

Perhaps, one of the reasons hides in the tradition of the onsen? The public hot spring baths are usually entered wearing nothing but your own fur. On the other hand, the Japanese are also known for being rather shy and express a strong undesirability towards nudity. For example, it is considered rude to flash your belly and you’ll rarely see deep cleavages during the day (the Japanese miniskirt tends to be a phenomenon though).

So perhaps, in order to enjoy the pleasures of the onsen with minimum embarassement, it is crucial to keep all you’ve got to cover yourself as much as possible. But on the other hand, why didn’t it become more common to wear bathing suits in the onsen?

And moreover, there is a rather strong preference in the Japanese society to adapt, rather than to stand out. In fact, you should want to avoid to stand out at any cost. According to a female Japanese friend of mine, if you do enter an onsen or a similar setting with a “brazilian”, people would most likely question your choice, seek for an explanation of such an extraordinary behaviour. Moreover, quite possibly others would feel intimidated by such an outrage and as a Japanese, you would want to avoid that by all means, right?

Since I haven’t had a chance myself to enter an onsen yet, I’m curious if foreigners feel the same pressure to “cover up”? Do you get curious, or perhaps even reproachful, looks…?

Even the monkeys in the onsen like to “cover it up” :)


Onsen (hiragana:おんせん; kanji: 温泉) is a Japanese hot spring. Soaking in an onsen is a common way to relax after a workout, hence onsens are rather popular in skiing resorts and sometimes even in gyms! I guess the only downturn on bathing in an onsen is that the warm water is a good way to transmit infections, like the Athlete’s foot and such.


I am a gaijin. I come from Europe, and speak so little Japanese, that I actually take pride in writing the title of this blog in kanji.

Since living in Japan is full of awkward, funny or plain disturbing experiences, I would like to share them with those who have the hots for Japan through a safe distance of thousands of kilometres, but nevertheless want to get some inside scoop.

And of course, those, who are going through a similar period of gaijin-hood and seek to share their exciting experiences. Like, when I’ll be writing a post “Why no one shaves in Japan”, perhaps you’ll be the one nodding enthusiastically, saying “YES!!!YES!!! I noticed that too!!!! Let me tell you my story…”, which I am very curious to hear! Afterall, being a gaijin in Japan at times makes you long for some sort of AA type of group counselling, right?

Well, and at the end of each post I’ll include some translations of the too-cool-for-school phrases, for those less familiar with the local slang:

Gaijin (kanji: 外人; hiragana: がいじん) is a shorter and slightly slangy version of the word “gaikokujin” (kanji: 外国人; hiragana: がいこくじん) meaning “foreigner”. Often heard in combination with “baka” (kanji:馬鹿 (horse + deer); hiragana:ばか) meaning “idiot, fool”. I say that loudly to my gaijin friends when they struggle with their suica cards…and watch the Japanese reactions. Few can keep a straight face! Some even look mortified. They probably think I read their minds.