Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries, by Tim Anderson

Amazon Encore has kindly given Boing Boing an exclusive excerpt of Tune in Tokyo, a true story by Tim Anderson.

Tune in Tokyo is the true story of what happened when a tall, white, gay Southerner decided to move out of the country to escape a rut. Although he didn't speak a lick of Japanese, he spontaneously chooses to teach English in Tokyo, a decision that will change not only the next two years of his life, but the way he views the world forever.

Tune in Tokyo contains 16 howingly funny stories of culture clash as Tim jumps into his new life, feet first. As a "gaijin" (outsider) in Japan, he finds himself playing drums in an otherwise all-Japanese noise band, trying to rein in a dirty-minded female student in his English classroom, seeking out a giant Buddha, and scoping out the latest in Harajuku fashion, be it at a noodle shop or a risqué club. Tim explores the city with gusto, learning that in order to truly enjoy life, one must let go and let life happen.

Excerpt from Tune in Tokyo, by Tim Anderson
I have a free period and decide I'll pop in on Bob, a gigantically tall teacher from Wales who is in what we call the free-con room with about ten students.

I open the door and hear him saying, "Yeah, I really don't like the taste, it just doesn't appeal to me."

I put on a smile as I look around at the students, all of whom have a look of utter horror on their faces.

Bob turns to me. "Tim, do you like manko?"

"Manko…manko…" I think aloud. "Oh, manko! Isn't that that bean paste stuff?"

He nods, looking around and wondering what the students find so horrifying about someone not liking manko.

"Yeah, I don't like that either. The first time I ate manko I was expecting it to taste like chocolate and it just didn't at all." I screw my face up into a look of distaste. "I was so disappointed. Because, really, what's more delicious than a creamy chocolate-filled doughnut?"

The students are still in shock about something, and a few of the ladies cover their mouths and giggle, red-faced. Things are clearly getting a little uncomfortable, so I do what I usually do when this happens. I walk out of the room and let the other person deal with it.

A few minutes later the bell rings and Bob comes into the teacher's room looking redder than any Welshman I've ever seen.

"Oh, my God, oh my God!!" he bellows in his resonant baritone. "I've just made an awful, terrible, horrible mistake! I can never go back into that room again! I want to die and be buried immediately. Immediately! Shit! Fuck!"

Between his exclamations of "oooooooooh, I wish I were invisible" and "aaaaaaaaah, I want to go back to Wales," we get his story.

In class, they'd been discussing Japanese food, and the students had asked Bob what food he really doesn't like. Bob answered that he really doesn't care for bean paste, a perfectly reasonable answer. It is the answer I would have given and, in fact, had given when I'd stuck my head in. Unfortunately, he'd used the wrong word for bean paste. Instead of "anko," which means bean paste, he's said "manko." Manko means pussy. He'd just told the class he really didn't like eating pussy.

And I had, too.

All the teachers squeal and cover their mouths.

Right on cue, in walks Jill with a smirk on her face, oblivious to the atmosphere of confusion and despair engulfing us all and still intent on bringing the America empire down, colloquialism by colloquialism.

"You know my least favorite American word?" she squeaks. We are dying to know, absolutely can't wait for her to tell us.

"Mom. Why don't you just say mum?"

I wrack my brain trying to think of a good reason why we Americans refer to our mothers in such a venomous and disrespectful way. But I'm too appalled right now to take this bait.

I flop into a chair and look sadly at my Japanese book, wondering if there's a handy way to politely apologize not only for saying the word "pussy" at least four times in a ten-second period but also for expressing that I don't really like eating it.

I decide maybe I should go down to Burger King and get some fries. I've got a really horrible taste in my mouth.

Buy Tune in Tokyo on Amazon.com


  1. Does anybody remember a graphic novel that was also about a white American working as an English teacher in Japan? Rural village, I think–maybe featured here on BB?

  2. For those who like this sort of thing there was a fantastic series of articles called “I am a Japanese school teacher” that seems to have dropped of the web but is preserved in the internet archive.  Some of the articles are uproariously funny.

  3. I was an English teacher in Japan, fresh out of Uni, in the early 90’s.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…  I am totally buying this as I am sure I can relate to most of it!

  4. I taught in South Korea from 1996-1997, and wrote about 15 articles about my life there, published here and there. Amazing times (and I am sooooo buying this book).

  5. This is a shout out to Amazon. I followed the link to purchase this book. At checkout I received a message basically informing me that I already purchased this title and to check my library before continuing. 

    Now that’s customer service!

  6. I taught Conversational English in the Japanese countryside for two years and have been pressed by friends to write a memoir of the experience based on just a handful of the WTF moments I have shared. Most accounts I have read from others tend to focus on being in the City and how absolutely off the wall that can be as a Gaijin. The rural experience is just as full of its ups and downs and often adds some very peculiar old world Xenophobia that is just difficult to explain in words.

    I can’t wait to get a hold of this.

  7. I’ve been one for six years now.

    Gets old being forever the gaijin, let me tell you. The shine wears off, but, unlike living as a foreigner in other countries, you never really get to step inside. I could go on, but I won’t.

    1. “unlike living as a foreigner in other countries, you never really get to step inside”

      I intend no offense, but really, speak for yourself. 
      I’ve been moving inside and outside, virtually at will for years – if such ridiculous terms are even viable in such a discussion.I’ve lived in Japan for a decade, but after my first half year or so, bit by bit, I’ve made a life for myself here. 

      I’m not picking on you here, but threads of this sort always devolve into the “Xenophobia,” I’m such a victim, boo hoo hoo-ing fests. I’ve seen gaijin come and go and I’ve met countless disgruntled foreigners who are unwilling to recognize that it is THEY who are the soft-bigots who see everything in terms of “us vs. them” and ultimately cheat themselves out of a possible experience. 

      If you are a foreigner in Japan, ask yourself a few questions – they changed my experience forever.
      Do you have both feet in or only one?Are you making an effort to understand the language and the CULTURE to which it is tied?Do you understand the concept of “empathy?”
      Do you make an effort to get involved outside of foreigner circles or participate in activities that don’t involve drinking at Irish pubs? 

      With respect to Tim Anderson, Tonoharu, and others (since I have not read their works) I think I’m going to write my own account of life here. I had a hell of a lot of downs here – including the unpleasentness of being homeless for a year and a half – and it was in those darkest moments that I met some of the kindest most generous Japanese natives in my life – many of whom remain lifelong friends. 

      Most of that change came about when I dropped my bad old American habit of assuming that I was always in the right, right or wrong and adopting a more positive attitude.

      or hell, maybe it was all because I live in Osaka and not Tokyo! (I kid, I kid)

  8. “Manko” does not idiomatically translate as “pussy”, it’s more accurately translated as a much more offensive four-letter word beginning with “c”. Knowing that makes the story funnier for me.

    The difference between Americans and Japanese? Japanese people compliment your Japanese, no matter how wretched. Americans wonder why you can’t speak English better.

    Japanese like to start speeches by apologizing; Americans like to start with a joke. If confronted with a mixed audience, apologize for not telling a joke.

    Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.

    Seriously, I passed JLPT 1 and worked in a Japanese office for 2 years, and I think that institutionalized racism is waaay more prevalent in Japan than in the US. On an individual level though, Japanese may be more open to foreign-seeming foreigners than in the US, where our primary emotion tends to be annoyance, not curiosity, when confronted with someone acting differently than us.

    1. I passed JLPT 1 as well. Congratulations on our mutual test-taking ability!

      Seriously though – way more prevalent than in the US? In what terms do you gage this bold statement? 

      As an White(tm) American male I never experienced anything near racism when I lived in the USA. Certainly, in Japan, I felt many times that I stood out and was treated differently. But I would never go out on a limb and say something as egregious as that, for example, I have experienced equal if not worse racial discrimination than, say, Mexican or African Americans.  

      And treated differently in what way? Why? Those are important questions too. Usually, I was treated better than I deserved (and the result was not what I truly desired) other times I was refused service (usually because of someone from my country’s military personal behaving badly before I got here) but those incidents account for less than 1% of my daily life here.

  9. Ran right out and downloaded it: Fantastic writing, hilarious stories and pithy observations so far, and I’m barely into Chapter 2. Bravo! Many Thanks for featuring it Mark!

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