“Let’s Have Sex Under That Crying Statue!”- What I Learned From the Onsen Ordeal

So I’ve made it back from Hakone alive and in one piece (relatively speaking).  This time around, our shift corresponded with perhaps the busiest travel season of the Japanese work year.  What did that mean for the relatively underplanned and ill-prepared Mecha-Ike Onsen?  Lots and lots of guests.  Way more than we probably knew what to do with.

The first time around, back in July, daily guest numbers ranged around 1000 with the weekend occasionally bumping things up to 2500 people or so.  In August, visitor numbers jumped to somewhere around 4000 people a day, many of whom all decided to visit the newly opened Mecha-Ike Onsen right around one o’clock, meaning two or so hours of hell a day for the staff, along with another ten or so hours of “Well, now what?” Continue reading

An Update (August 2016 Edition) or Hot Spring Hell

Sorry for the relative dead air over the past month.  After the surprising amount of free time that came after the release of WHAT’S MANZAI?!!!, my schedule suddenly went back to being meanderingly busy.

As it turns out, summers are a relatively busy time in the Japanese entertainment world, what with summer events, festivals, the usual live schedule, and several projects that I’m not at liberty to reveal yet.

So what have I been up to (that I can tell you)?

Well, over the last half of July, I’ve been up in the mountains in the popular resort town of Hakone, living in staff lodgings and working 13 hour days running a hot spring attraction for a popular television show.  Well, not just me, of course, as my comedic partner has actually been bearing the brunt of the workload (yay, language barrier!).

It’s long, unforgiving work and honestly probably pays horribly (we don’t know how much money we’ll get until it’s actually in our bank accounts) but, when you’re a first year dude, any work offer is a good offer, which means you accept these stints no matter how much you may hate them.


And believe me, this work does suck.  You wake up early, work until nine, work seven days a week, and stand in ankle deep people broth all day, resulting in the soles of your feet resembling stale bread crust, making your workday a living hell.  Even though it’s been a week since I’ve returned from Hakone, I still find myself waking up in the dead of night with foot pain.  I know, I know.  It comes with the territory.


There’s supposedly a valley behind those clouds.

And since this is workaholic Japan, I’m going back for another shift in two weeks.


But hey, at least the view isn’t horrible.

You’re a Minor Netflix Celebrity, So Now What?

One minute you’re a broke dude who occasionally performs on stage and does menial tasks for money (aside from the whole having to hide the fact that you filmed an entire “documentary thing), the next minute your sweaty face is being shared all around the world by multiple Japanese news services, Netflix official social media outlets, and, on rare occasion, random people on the internet.  And through it all, you’re still broke.


What’s Manzai?!!!, a documentary (using the term incredibly liberally here) meant to help introduce the west to the Japanese form of comedy largely resembling the legendary vaudeville acts of old (but don’t tell people here that), came out on Friday morning as part of Yoshimoto Kogyo’s, Japanese largest comedy conglomerate, push to internationalize for the twenty-first century.

For whatever reason, dumb luck, or somewhere in between, I somehow wound up being the star, being thrust into a project for which I was and still am completely unprepared.  Were this an actual documentary, I’d imagine that things would have gone a lot smoother and easier, but, as you can probably pick up in spots in the film, it wasn’t really that.  I’d imagine that actual documentaries don’t have scripts and countless rewrites until after the fact.  I’d imagine if they did, they wouldn’t be written completely by (very talented) Japanese screenwriters with no English skills and then dissected and re-assembled by a crew of dozens of people, none of whom have actually really worked on an English project before.

So yes, there were challenges.  Lots of challenges.  And to be completely honest, I probably could have handled a lot of the situation better.  Being tasked with, in the minds of the people in charge of this project, the introduction and explanation of an entire form of comedy to the English speaking world (and many other countries through the magic of subtitles), there were times where I simply crumbled to the pressure.  There were and still are other times where the things I was being asked to do or say completely clashed with the idea of this program being a documentary and I wound up having to play a version of myself that frankly isn’t me (unless you think that I wander around the streets of Tokyo at maximum velocity shouting about “the Japanese dream”).  This being a Japanese company, there were times where my American creative voice and ideas simply clashed with what the other people had in mind for the program.  There were compromises and, me being the hardheaded bastard I am, I didn’t necessarily take things completely in stride.

But overall, it was a great learning experience, not just in my own development as an on-screen presence but in terms of my understanding of the Japanese entertainment industry, which I’ve come to learn takes the whole getting things done perfectly and as written in the script seriously.

Which brings me to the actual release of the program.  We had actually finished filming (and dubbing) of this project two months ago but I was never actually told when the thing would drop.  Lo and behold, while I was hard at work on another undiscloseable project, the program essential dropped without my knowing with me actually finding out when I came across my own face staring back at me on my Twitter feed, a Japanese media blitz resulting in dozens of articles spewing the same rhetoric about my quest to become a manzai star.

International media?  Not so much.  Makes sense right?  Yoshimoto’s a Japanese company with a strong hold on Japanese media outlets.  America news media?  Probably not.  Any non-Japanese attention I’ve gotten in the few days since the documentary went live has largely been from friends and family and random Japanese people living in the states who apparently have nothing better to do with their lives than watch questionable documentaries about Japan.  It looks like a Tonight Show appearance isn’t in the cards.  Which is cool.  I’m not sure I’m all that ready for international attention.  Not after this.

I just wish I weren’t broke.

Follow Stephen on twitter @STEPHEN_TETSU for updates on showtimes, weird things he sees in Japan, and angry basketball rants for some reason.

Oh, Japanglish 2015 Winter Edition

As the country gets more and more tourism oriented in the run-up to the 2020 Summer Olympics, Japan’s collective English level has been slowly rising, which still doesn’t prevent the occasional awkward gem/ odd cultural misunderstanding.

Going to the Movies in Japan


So unless you’ve been living under a rock with no connection to the outside world aside from this blog for the past two years (in which case, thank you and get a life), you may well know that this week saw the release of perhaps the most anticipated film of perhaps the last decade, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Part 4.

Since this is Japan, most new Western film releases generally show up in theaters after a several year delay (only a slight exaggeration), meaning that the new addition to the apparently lucrative Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise will show up in your nearest Tokyo theater around the time that I am married with several children.  So rather than watching everyone’s third favorite bunch of talking tree rodents, I had to settle for some movie called Star Wars instead.

Apparently, though I’m not quite sure, this movie was a sequel of some sort and just another cog in the Disney hype machine if I may say so myself.  Talking robots, spaceships, and laser swords, this movie will probably never catch on.  A box office bomb, I’m certain.

Anyways, even though I’ve been living in Japan for the past two years plus now, I broke my solemn vow of curmudgeonism and ventured for the first time ever to a movie theater in the hustling and bustling heart of Tokyo.

Now, if you’re ever planning on going to the movies, there are probably a couple of things you should know…

Continue reading

Hello from the Japanese Entertainment Realm

It is December 14th and I am sitting in a so-called “family restaurant” by myself typing this on my increasingly finicky laptop while lamenting the fact that I tore off a chunk of skin on my ass in the name of Japanese late-night television.

Pretty glamorous right?

My transition from faceless Japanese teacher to “entertainment talent” under the umbrella of the largest, most powerful entertainment agency in Japan has had its bumps and derailments but has certainly been, well, “something”.

R藤本 Guest Appearance

One of the highlights of my foray into Japanese showbiz? Guest appearing on a Dragonball-themed TV show. Yes. That’s a thing. And it’s fun.

Continue reading

Stephen Versus the Japanese Apartment Key, Part II – The Time Candy Crush Almost Won

So there I was, trapped outside my small crappy, 450 dollar a month apartment in Mito, Japan but with the sudden hope that it wouldn’t be like this for long.  With the help line phone number given to me when I signed my lease in hand, help would surely be on the way and I’d be back inside my nice, less-cold-than-outside apartment before long.  That was what I thought.  And I was dead wrong.

That's okay, I didn't want to go inside my apartment anyways.

That’s okay, I didn’t want to go inside my apartment anyways.

Since it was Saturday, my first call into the national center was immediately sent to the robotic call system, where I was subsequently met by a fast wave of words and the typical “For mental counseling and health services press pound and three, for rent information press pound and four” goodness.  By this time it was around 8 PM and I was beginning to doubt whether or not I’d ever see the inside of my apartment again.  While I can understand a lot of Japanese, it’s slightly more difficult to understand a language when it’s (a) coming at you through a small iPhone speaker and (b) being spoken into what sounded like a 1930’s style rotary phone.  Damn these Japanese apartment companies and their insistence that they give their employees a weekend.  Nevertheless, I forged ahead, traversing the gulf in telephone techonology between the 1920s and the 2000s, and dug down deep to figure out what needed to be figured out.  (Actually I just randomly dialed numbers until I got to the key desk.  Then and only then was I fianlly able to talk to another human being.

The thing about Japanese is that it’s a hard language to learn and Indian dudes aren’t naturally predisposed to speak it meaning Raj from Mumbai isn’t going to the guy on the other side of the line pretending that he’s actually Larry from down the street.  (On a semi-related subject, Slumdog Millionaire is still a really good movie.)  Instead, you encounter some worn out Japanese dude who’s probably been sitting at his desk for ten hours straight imagining that he’s on a date with a cartoon character while waxing his dolphin to convenience store porn mags.  Maybe this is a slight exaggeration but I would not be surprised if this was the case.  Japanese white collar workers love their convenience store porn  (More on that subject to come in a later post).

The encounter pretty much went like this:

Me: “Uh yeah, so my key isn’t working.”

Dude in some office somewhere: “I see… Have you tried putting the card in the right way?”

Me:  “Yeah.  What am I? Five?”

Dude: “Have you tried putting the key in upside down?”

Me (realizing at this point that this was not going all that well):  “Yes.”

Dude:  “And did anything happen?”

Me:  “No because the key isn’t working.”

Dude: “… I see.”  (Long pause) “May I have your address?”

Me: (Address omitted because I don’t want stalkers)

Dude: “And how long have you been living there?”

Me: “About four months.”

Dude: “And what is your name?”

Me: “Stephen Tetsu.”

Dude: “Well, it’s listed here under (name of my company).”

Me: “That’s who I work for.”

Dude: “Okay…”

A minute of awkward silence follows.

Me: “Hello?”

Dude: “Yeah… Uh, we’ll call you back in a bit.”


And so I was left in frozen silence again, the ass of my nice pair of slacks now tan from the fact I’ve been sitting on the cold concrete outside my door for the past thirty-something minutes.  At this point, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to hear back from them and that it would be a better bet to abandon ship and just start looking for a hotel, but, not being one to quit on anything, I decided to wait all the same, each minute bursting with the ache of an eternity.  Three or four minutes couldn’t have passed before the dude from the apartment company called back but it felt like a couple of weeks.

Different (but similar sounding) dude: “Sorry for the wait.  We’ve spoken with the locksmith company and have determined it will possibly be at least two and a half hours before someone can reach you.”

Me: “Hubu-bu- Whaaaaa?!”

Dude:  “We apologize for the inconvenience.  Please be sure to have a proof of identity with you to present when they arrive.”

It occurs to me now how much trouble I would have been in were I not a crazy hoarder person who pretty much carries every single potential item of identification with him at all times but rather a normal human being who just carries a wallet and phone around with him.

Me: “Okay but-”

The apartment company dude hung up on me before I could finish.  And thus the long arduous wait began.

Really, I should have taken the guy at his word when he said the door people would come around in two and a half hours.  But, this being prudent, ultra-timely Japan, I was, for some reason, fairly certain the dude was joking when he said it would take two hours and that the locksmith would be pulling up at any moment to save the day.

It can be said that, to that point, I was but a naive little boy.  The ordeal of that night hardened me into the cynical man that I am today.

It was going to take the key guy a couple of hours to get to my apartment despite the fact I lived in a city with a population of 225,000.  Why?  Well, first off, it was Saturday night.  Secondly, my apartment’s wonderful state-of-the-art lock system requires special attention that normal key people can’t provide.  Lastly, it’s Japan, so you know there was probably half an hour worth of standing at the magazine rack in a convenience store looking at a manga girl’s boobs to account for somewhere in that two hour time frame.

So with this massive wait ahead of me, what did I do?  Did I abandon ship and head somewhere warm to wait out the frigid night until the key man got to my apartment or did I do the dumb, manly thing and spend two freaking hours waiting out there in the cold?  Hint: When in doubt, just assume that I’ve made the stupidest choice possible.

So I waited.

I waited two long, frozen, blustery hours.  I waited and felt the heat radiating from my extremities, leaving me shivering and chittering in the Mito night.  In the process, I saw my neighbor for the first time, some dude in full business attire leaving his apartment to presumably go to work at nine at night.

The wait was so unbearable that I fell into crevaces so deep in my soul that I hardly even knew they existed, the depths of my depravity knowing no bounds.  Yes, I was so distraught, so traumatized that I almost floundered into the cold, lifeless depths of playing Candy Crush, the storm ocean from which there can be no return.

A fate worse than Hell.

A fate worse than Hell.

Then finally, when all hope seemed to be lost and my numb, frost-bitten fingers inched closer and closer to the ‘download’ button, a phone call.  It was the door guy.  He was on his way.

Were my tear ducts not frozen solid by the below freezing weather, I would have cried tears of joy.

By the time the locksmith showed up, it was rounding 11 PM, almost a full four hours after the ordeal began.  But of course, this being Japan, there was tons of administrative time wasting stuff to get through first.

“Do you have a form of picture I.D. ready?”

Whipping out my California Driver’s License, I gave an emphatic, frozen croak of agreement.  One problem:  It didn’t have my Japanese name on it but rather my American one which is obviously an issue because my Japanese name was on all the paperwork.

“Let me make a call,” said the pasty pencil-thin dude tasked with letting me into the safety of my home.  Two minutes on the phone later, he could confirm that the California Driver’s License was in fact a picture of me but not proof of my identity.

This wasn’t going to stop me though as, my hoarding tendencies shining through, I quickly whipped out a copy of my Proof of Residence certificate.  After a brief glance though, this also would not prove to be enough thanks to my company being supernice and signing my lease for me.

“Do you have anything with your company’s name on it?”

Panic quickly set in once again.  This time I was sure I was screwed.  I knew I had a bloodstained copy of my contract somewhere in my backpack but (a) I didn’t want to have to deal with the surefire questions about how the blood got there in the first place and (b) I was pretty sure the contract wouldn’t serve as proof of my existence.  At this point, I was just digging through my backpack in an effort to not look like a total moron who was permanently locked out of his apartment.  Then, to my luck, I struck gold.

Deep within the recesses of my backpack, lodged somewhere between the family of rats and the video tape that proves Bigfoot is real, I found an envelope stuffed to the brink with loads of important health insurance stuff that I had completely forgotten about.  (I’m a relatively healthy 22-year-old, what the hell do I need health insurance for?  YOLO, amirite?)  Without really thinking, I retrieved the small packet from its dark, synthetic fabricky grave, really grasping at strings at this point like a dude who was completely unprepared for a marathon around the 20 KM mark.

As it turns out, this was good enough as my blue healthcare booklet thing was registered with my company (Health insurance in Japan involves a lot of, surprise, surprise, paperwork.  Thanks Obama.)  After a quick call to the mothership back in Tsukuba (a convenient one and a half hour car ride from my city, helping to account for the time discrepancy), the man was right on the task and my long nightmare was finally drawing to a close.

As soon as the key guy pried my door open with a crowbar like an enforcer infiltrating a crack den in an HBO copshow, I was inside my apartment with the heater on full blast, desperately trying to regain feeling in my extremities.  It was but a matter of minutes before my skinny, pale savior had the old lock and keys replaced with an identical set.

“Maybe you should try opening the door more slowly,” he said with some of that trademark Japanese hesitancy that comes out whenever they have say something that isn’t glowingly nice about another person.  And then he was gone.  No money exchanged hands, my apartment company apparently eating the cost of having a guy drive clear out from the other side of the prefecture on a Saturday night (I suppose I’ll find out when next month’s bill rolls around).  Total time spent waiting for the locksmith? 3 hours.  Total time the locksmith spent replacing my keys and lock? 10 minutes.   And did I learn anything from the experience?  Probably not.

This goes without saying but I slept like a baby that night.

Stephen versus the Japanese Apartment Key Part I

So, as I’ve made perfectly clear in just about every post before this one, my life in Japan’s been pretty cushy and awesome thus far.  While the weather’s been cold, it hasn’t been unbearable and, while my utility bills haven’t been cheap, I’m not really spending my money on much else at this point.  That all being said, a few days ago, I had my first Japanese horror story experience (aside from the unfortunate choking baby in the classroom experience, of course), an experience that I shall share with you as follows.  This is the story of the new David and Goliath:  Me and my apartment’s faulty door system.

#@$$ you, mother#!$$er!

#@$$ you, mother#!$$er!

As most anyone who knows me can tell you, I am among the most unorganized, scatterbrained klutzes you will ever meet, somehow skirting the line between being a functional member of society and being one of those people that winds up being on TLC for hoarding newspapers or whatever.  Thus, it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that I made it halfway back to my apartment from my office before I realized that I left my key sitting in the pocket of my sports coat (I like to leave one of my suits jackets at the office so I don’t have to wear one walkign to and from work everyday- I know, I’m lazy.  Deal with it.).  On any normal day, this would probably mean that I would be S.O.L right there and then as the office would have been locked up and the back entrance to the entire building shuttered for the night (Things tend to close reallllllly early in the not-Tokyo or Osaka parts of Japan).  As luck would have it, however, it was a Saturday, meaning I got to leave the office a half-hour earlier than most of my co-workers, meaning that I managed to slink back into the office and retrieve my key before the school manager shut things down for the night.

I bet at this point most of y’all are wondering what the big deal is with all this.  “Why is this even a blog post, Stephen?” you ask, one furtive brow furrowed in disgust at the minute of your time wasted on the previous two paragraphs.  “You got your key back before you got locked out of your office, dude.  What’s the big deal?”

The answer: Yes, I got my key.  But that didn’t prevent me from getting locked out of my apartment anyways.  You see, this being ultra-modern Japan, my apartment company couldn’t just settle for a normal phallic shove-it-in-and-turn key like the rest of the world.  No, they had to go all twenty-first century on our asses and equip each and every one of the apartments in their vast empire (some 60,000 rooms in all) with a hotel-style key-card system.  Sure this sounds cool and dandy on paper but, as anyone who has ever stayed at a hotel with a guy at the front desk who isn’t a meth-head can tell you, key-cards maybe the single faultiest product of human innovation since Caveman Jack invented the square wheel.  Seriously, for something created to make locking and unlocking things easier, having to re-insert your key-card twenty times until the door finally registers it and lets you inside sure is time consuming.  But since this is ultra-modern Japan (the 1980’s version of the future), they couldn’t just stop there.  No, my apartment lock combines the best of both words: electronic key coding AND turning things.  In other words, my door is malfunction/ pain-in-the-ass paradise as I unfortunately found out on Saturday.

I got home around 7:30, my innocence still intact, blissfully unaware of the ordeal to follow.  My first attempt at opening my door was met with mild amusement.  “Must’ve put the key in the wrong way,” I mumbled to myself, still thinking about what I wanted to eat for dinner.  So I tried it again.  And again.  By that point, I was pretty damn sure I was sticking the stupid piece of crap in there the way the apartment people had told me to.  Maybe I just wasn’t putting the key in fast enough.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

So I tried again.  And again.  And again.  Panic began to set in.  Even though it was below freezing outside, I could feel the nervous sweat welling up in my pores.  Where could I go?  What could I do?  It was a Saturday, was the apartment company even open on the weekends?  How about a place to stay?  Was I going to have to break the bank to get a hotel room for the night?  With the Kairakuen Plum Festival season in full bloom was there even going to be a room available.  Doomsday scenarios poured through my head lift mental diarrhea.  I was screwed, S.O.L.

Thankfully, that was the point where my hoarder tendencies finally came through.  (See mom?  I told you me keeping every single scrap of paper ever given to me would pay off one day!)  Buried deep within the recesses of my book bag was a crumpled copy of my initial lease agreement and on it my potential salvation: the phone number of the company’s national trouble line.

Maybe, just maybe, I’d be sleeping in my own bed after all.  Hope sprang eternal once again.



But, as with everything, life had a few more dog turds to throw in my path…