Something to Talk About

Odd as it may seem, a number of neighbours have been talking about me over the last year or so. I'm the only foreigner in the community who has bought a home rather than rented and, unlike a lot of men my age, I don't leave the house every morning in a suit. In fact, the only time people see me leave the property is when I'm taking either the boy or Nozomi out for a little walk1. Land in Japan is not cheap, nor is a house, so the question that's been on a lot of people's mind is how I can afford this lifestyle. Earlier today, while returning home from a short walk to the park, I fell into a conversation with someone I've seen from time to time walking their dog, but have never spoken to. We talked about the neighbourhood, our kids, our dogs, and eventually our careers. When I explained what I did, the response was something along the lines of "Ah, that's quite a bit different from what we've been thinking", to which I asked what has everyone been thinking?

"At first we thought you might be yakuza2", my neighbour said. "Because you were always home during the day and don't shave very often." He has a point. I generally shave every five days if I can manage it. By the fifth day my facial stubble is about 1.5mm long, making it just long enough to do something about. Working for the Japanese mafia does not seem like a good long-term career, though.

"Then we thought that maybe you didn't work, but that your wife did." Stay-at-home dads are exceedingly rare in Japan. Exceedingly rare. This is primarily due to the unfair practices that many companies use to ensure that women who become mothers are incentivized to quit. A parent who puts their child before the company is deemed "troublesome", and women generally choose their kids over their careers. Most men would like to do this, but will find their careers stagnate just as quickly as their female colleagues. As a result, a lot of guys are afraid to put family before company. The culture is changing for the better … but very slowly.

"Yamaguchi-san3 said that you have a Juku4 face, so you might work at one of the nearby offices, but we don't see you wear a suit in the afternoons."

The neighbour listed off another four guesses before coming to the last theory.

"My wife said that every time you go out, you're carrying an iPad5. She thought that maybe you were a pro Pokémon Go player and that you sold characters you find to people online."6

Of all the possible careers that were mentioned, I don't think I could do any of them for very long. My skills and qualifications make it possible for me to work at a cram school to teach either English or some sort of computer-related skill, but the pay would be about one-third of what I earn today. This would make owning a house in this neighbourhood all but impossible unless Reiko was also working full time. The first theory, working for the yakuza, would probably result in a world of hurt very quickly. I have neither the temperament nor the ability to intimidate, which means I'd be a lame member bussing tables and maybe running errands. This is not exactly my idea of a worthwhile job.

That said, now that more people know what it is that I do and who I do it for, I'm going to hope that the gossip dissipates a bit.

  1. I do get out a little more than this, but people tend to see what they want to see.

  2. A Japanese gangster.

  3. The area leader for this year.

  4. A cram-school. These are generally open from 3:30pm to 10:00pm.

  5. This is true. I carry the work iPad when I'm out of the house so that I have an active Internet connection and can also respond to questions from colleagues.

  6. People can do this? I've never played the game, but would be surprised to discover this is possible as it seems about as volatile a revenue stream as BitCoin mining.