About 10 years ago, when I first came to Japan, I stumbled across an article on the internet called “You Know You’ve Been in Japan Too Long When…” It was basically a bunch of expats who – for better or worse – lived in Japan and had Japanized to some degree or another[i]. The list outlined all of the ways these foreigners had adopted certain (or many) aspects of traditional Japanese life.
I don’t know if this was a list compiled by a single person or by a forum or BBS. But only having been in Japan for a few months, I was intrigued by the concept. Of course, loads of other foreigners were going through similar experiences as me. Westerners tend to see themselves as not FOB, but come on, let’s be real: if you came here from another country, you were – and still are FOB[ii].
10 years ago, there wasn’t a strong online community of foreigners in Japan, but there definitely was something. Since then I’ve seen countless versions of “You Know You’ve Been in Tōkyō Too Long When…” posts.
Since I’ve started making more and more contacts with people who love Japanese History, and who, in fact, are passionate about the Edo-Tōkyō, I started wondering, “Hey, what if we tried this meme in the Edo Period?” I threw the question out to Twitter and this is what came back! This is a pretty nerdy exercise in Edo Geekdom. But for the n00bs, I’m gonna explain the more arcane posts, OK? Bear with me! The “You know you’ve been in Edo too long” thing can go on forever!!
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you ask for extra scratchy rope on your 下駄 because #BoysDontCry
下駄 geta are wooden “flip flops” that look like this. If you’re not used to wearing them, the hemp rope will chafe the shit out of the space between your big toe and second toe until it bleeds. Boys Don’t Cry is just a random reference to The Cure.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when they let you bring a sword (or at least a knife) into Yoshiwara.
Asakusa was town on the outskirts of Edo in the beginning. It wasn’t until the late Edo Period (or even thecreation of Tōkyō City) that these people were also considered 江戸っ子 Edokko, children of Edo – a term still used for a person who is at least a 2nd or 3rd generation Tōkyōite.
You know you’ve been in #Edo 2 long when Ienari’s syphilis & Iemochi’s beriberi are the punchlines to 50% of your jokes w/ the American legation.
Tokugawa Ienari, the party shogun, was riddled with syphilis. Tokugawa Iemochi, the died in Ōsaka shogun, died of beriberi – the 19th century version of “first world problems” for rich Asians. The American Legation refers to the original diplomatic envoys that came to Japan to establish and maintain relations with Japan. They were moved around, but were most famously confined to 善福寺 Zenpuku-ji in present day 元麻布 Moto-Azabu.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you see nothing wrong with using face whitening makeup made from bird sh*t.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you start to believe there’s a giant underground catfish wriggling about, causing earthquakes.
In Old Japan, there was an old wives’ tale that earthquakes were caused by giant catfish under the ocean and in the rivers.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when the people in Namamugi Village recognize you. … And you actually know where Namamugi is.
Namamugi was an insignificant village on the Tōkaidō that was the scene of the Namamugi Incident, which was not insignificant at all. Today it’s pretty much an unknown suburb of Yokohama. However, there is a Kirin Beer Factory there.
Fuck you, I was taking a walk along Tōkyō Bay listening to Perfume. lol. Anyways, this album came out about 6 years ago and was their first full-length, non-compilation[iii] album.
@RekishinoTabi You know you’ve been in Edo too long when you know more prostitutes in Nagekomi-dera than in Yoshiwara.
This is a really dark joke. 投込寺 Nagegomi-dera means “temple for throw aways” or “dumping temple.” It was originally a local pejorative nickname for one of the most depressing places I’ve ever been – 浄閑寺 Jōkan-ji[iv]. This is the temple where some 25,000 girls from the Yoshiwara were dumped after they died because they had no family and the teahouses that they were indentured to couldn’t afford properly burying STD havin’, always gettin’ pregnant, no money makin’ liabilities. If you ever need a good cry, stop by Jōkan-ji, home of the only people who cared enough about all those girls to memorialize them. (Please see the footnotes about this).
In 1868, Edo Castle was handed over to the Imperial Family, there was a massive gray area that lingered. Did the Emperor control all of Edo or just the castle? Well, the imperial court assumed they owned everything and they named the somewhat ambiguous Edo to Tōkyō. None of this was really clear until 1871 when a clear definition of re-administration was implemented – at the same time, all feudal lords were stripped of their holdings and the first incarnation of the modern state of Japan was born.
The Edo Period was a martial society… I don’t understand this particular reference, though. My first guess is it’s a reference to a book or drama.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you walk from Kanda to Akanebashi and your feet don’t even hurt.
I figure this walk is from 1 hour to 1.5 hours, could be shorter if you walk as fast as I do. Most people drive, or in Japan, take the train. An Edo Period person could probably outwalk most modern people…[vi]
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long if you spend more than 2 minutes in front of a mirror messing about with your mage.
A 髷 mage is a top knot (hair style). In modern day Japan, girls might put their hair up in a ball called お団子 o-dango. But in Old Japan, 髷 mage means men’s or women’s hairstyles that look like this. Truth be told, in the Edo Period, maintenance of this hairstyle would have been taken care of by a woman (wife or otherwise in the case of man; a subservient female to an elite woman).
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long if instructions on how to wear a cod piece can be found in a rangaku book.
This is a weird Sengoku joke mixed with a weird joke about a weird habit of European 15th century aristocracy wearing a bra-like piece of clothing to enhance the size of your cock[vii]. This is a codpiece. Rangaku is “Dutch Learning.” When Japan was a “closed country,” there was still a slow trickle of information from Holland.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long if you drink 6 flasks of sake while partying but hardly feel buzzed (sake was usually cut to 3.5% alc)
In the era of turning everything up to 11, I’m sure we could out drink any Edo Era pussy. I would have liked to challenged Tokugawa Ienari to filth-a-thon, though.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long if you stay up partying all night every 60 days so the 3 worms inside you can’t tell your sins to 青面金剛
I’ll admit it. I have no idea what this one means! Sounds like a Buddhist thing to me, but I don’t know…
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you wonder if these hakama make your butt look big…
Hakama are a type of formal “pants” worn in Old Japan. The type worn by samurai looked like this.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you’re drinking with the shōgun and he hands you a #Tenga Egg and calls you 上様.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you hear 天誅! and think to yourself だよね!!!!
天誅 tenchū divine retribution is what 尊王攘夷 son’nō jōi revere the emperor/expel the foreigners supporters would shout when they assassinated samurai who supported opening the country or even interacted with foreigners.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when they fast track you through 関 on every 街道.
A 関 seki was a checkpoint on the highway. A 街道 kaidō was a highway.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you can’t tolerate translations of the word 神
A 神 kami is a Shintō deity. It’s often translated as “god,” but it’s very different from the Judeo-Christian word “god” which carries a lot of cultural/historical baggage. Granted, 神 doesn’t come baggage free either.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you find yourself drunk in 大名小路 on a horse and everyone wants to talk to you.
大名小路 Daimyō Kōji Daimyō Alley was the nickname of a long street in modern Marunouchi, an area technically within the confines of Edo Castle. The street was lined by mansions of the daimyō who had the closest historical connection to the Tokugawa Shōgun Family.Pretty sure this is a reference to a certain translator and man-about-town.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when a procession from Dejima or Ryūkyū is a breath of fresh air compared to all these asshole daimyo
I’m getting really tired of explaining these tweets… Dejima is where the few foreigners who could conduct trade with Japan were forced to live. Occasionally, they had to make trips to Edo to meet with the shōgunate. The Ryūkyū Kingdom is modern Okinawa, but at the time was an independent state that paid tribute to Satsuma Domain. Occasionally, they too had to make trips to Edo. It wasn’t every day that an Edoite got to see such exotic people.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when 従六位上 upper junior sixth rank still confuses you, but you know you best bow deep or else!!!!!
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you know the correct gesture while saying「失敬」
How can I even explain this?失敬 shikkei is the samurai way of saying すみません sumimasen “I’m sorry.” The hand gesture was raising the left hand as if in prayer in front of your face. The correct way would have been both hands, but the manly way was just one.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you 土下座 while talking on the phone… … or texting.
It’s a famous thing that Japanese people bow when talking on the phone just as they would bow during a regular conversation. A土下座 dogeza is the most formal bow of all. It’s done on the floor with the head down to the ground. It’s rare today, but it would have been normal in the Edo Period when speaking to a person of significantly higher rank.
@RekishinoTabi You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you know where to buy fundoshi that chafe the least… for a good price.
Fundoshi are traditional Japanese underwear that feature a fat, towl-like g-string.
Conbini are convenience stores. They are everywhere. There is one 1 minute from my house. There are 8 within an 10 minute radius. Hence the word “convenient.”
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you can shamelessly rut with your spouse while the kids are “sleeping” right next to you.
Rut… lol. Anyways, traditional Japanese nagaya had a single room for sleeping in which the entire family slept together.
You know you’ve been in #Naniwa too long when you know the spot price of rice at this exact moment.
Naniwa was the ancient name of Ōsaka. Whereas Edo was the samurai epicenter of the country, Ōsaka had a merchant culture which was used to paying close attention to prices. Rice was more or less the standard for currency in the Edo Period. To this day, Tōkyōites will mock Ōsakans as “the sort of people” who will ask for a discount at any store – something the samurai culture of eastern Japan found extremely shameful (and still find shameful).
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when #Naniwa means Ōsaka is shit.
Just rude. Since the Edo Period (and especially after the Meiji Coup), there has been a rivalry between Ōsaka and Edo-Tōkyō. The source of this contention comes from the fact that Old Japan always had dē factō rulers. One day, I’ll more about this.
Samurai polished their swords. Just look at the picture and you’ll get it. Work safe, btw…
You know you’ve been in Edo too long when you no longer mind staring down at your mud splattered tabi while bowing when a daimyo passes by.
Daimyō processions keep coming up, don’t they? Anywhoo… when a lord passed by you, you had to stop what you were doing and get down on the ground (dogeza) and wait until the entire retinue passed by. After all, you were a piece of shit and they were a daimyo. Tabi are traditional Japanese socks. (I have a feeling if you could see your tabi, you’d be killed.)
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long if you’re a samurai dandy & you’ve got more gold on your tsuba than Spain’s central bank reserves.
If removed from the sword, they looked like vaginas.
@RekishinoTabi you know you’ve been in #Edo too long when a certain mon on a certain pillbox is scarier than an earthquake.
This is a reference to the old TV show 水戸黄門 Mito Kōmon where the vice-shōgun displays his 印籠 in’rō, a lacquered pillbox or purse that bears the crest of the Tokugawa family and everyone does dogeza (bowing on the ground).
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when the sight of a woman’s nape sends you into a ravenous, erotic frenzy.
Clothing in the Edo Period covered the entire body. Even to this day, the sight of a kimono wearing woman’s nape is a fetish. Yours truly is even a victim of this.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when a women asks to see your “hanzo,” you leave the katana sheathed but start loosening your fundoshi.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when all the nagaya in the low city don’t all look the same… and you know which ones house the hotties.
Nagaya are the traditional row houses of Old Japan.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when spending the afternoon watching executions in Minami Senjū just ain’t what it used to be.
One of Edo’s 3 famous execution grounds was in Minami Senjū. The area still bears some stigma today (but is gaining notoriety among backpackers, artists, and foreigners who are slowly changing the image of the place).
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when your #iPhone autocorrects “hijinks” to “Hijikata.”
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you know the kanji 袴, 褌, 裃 and your Japanese wife doesn’t.
Since it’s a kanji joke, I’ll let you look those up yourself.
You know you’ve been in Edo too long when you always add the words “late, great” before the name Arashi Rikan.
This is a kabuki reference. That much I know. But I’ve never seen kabuki and so I can’t say much about this. That said, if anyone wants to go see kabuki with me, let me know. I’m dying to go!
You know you’ve lived in #Edo too long when you’re on a first name basis with most of the 飯盛女 working in Kita Senju.
飯盛女 meshi mori on’na (literally food+fuck girls) were girls who worked at teahouses in 宿場 shukuba post towns in the Edo Period. They were waitresses and conversationalists who were also available for sex. Kita Senjū was one of the first and last places into Edo.
[i] Japanize – (vt, vi) to become Japanese, to adopt Japanese styles, mannerisms, and/or culture. [ii] Fresh off the boat. You’re a first generation immigrant or temporary expat. [iii] Non-compilation but Japanese music industry style, because every Japanese album is comprised of previously released material plus some new stuff. Don’t get me started on the Japanese music industry, I could rant for hours! [iv] I briefly alluded to this about a year ago in a really shit blog entry about Yoshiwara. I plan to re-write this blog entry, I was still figuring out what my blog was at that time. In the meantime, I recommend you check out this excellent explanation and photo essay on Jōkan-ji. [v] In the shōgunate’s defense, they weren’t being racist as much as they were actually trying to protect the foreigners from racist attacks from hostile samurai who didn’t agree with the shōgunate’s view that opening the country was a good idea. If all the foreigners were safe and accounted for in restricted areas, no one could kill a diplomat. Killing a diplomat meant advanced foreign military technology would rain down upon Edo. The shōgunate were playing their cards VERY CAREFULLY. [vi] That said, I’d put myself up against any of them. I can easily walk around Tōkyō for 6 hours (maybe that’s my max). [vii] I doubt this was ever used in Japan. It’s use in Europe even seems to be limited to aristocracy.