My roommate thinks he's Japanese

He eats ramen with lacquered chopsticks, but he's just an American joe!

By Cary Tennis

Published November 16, 2004 6:00PM (EST)

Men! Have you heard? It's Masculinity Month at Salon! Send your questions about masculinity to, and I will answer them over the next few weeks in conjunction with an upcoming series in the Life section.

I'll leave it to you to define "masculinity"; I figure if it sounds like a question about masculinity to you, then it probably is. Please write soon, as I am on deadline. I look forward to hearing your questions. Thanks. -- ct

Dear Cary,

I have a serious problem. I live in a college dorm and my roommate is a Japanese wannabe. No, he is not one of those overweight balding fellows who wears the kanji/anime shirt, although he does have some anime DVDs. He is one of those regular American joes who has a serious interest in martial arts that just exploded into a terrifying orgy of trying to consume all things Japanese.

To understand the extent of this problem consider the following: He eats packaged ramen out of a cheap black lacquer bowl with cheap, lacquered chopsticks; he has literally a dozen books on Japanese martial arts including karate, aikido, judo and kendo; he had J-Pop music on his iPod that he only plays when Japanese students are nearby; he has Japanese flashcards, kanji books and a dictionary; he brags to his friends that he can speak Japanese while the truth is that his vocabulary is literally less than that of a Japanese toddler; he has Japanese sayings plastered on his desk; he cherishes photos of himself with Japanese students; and he attempted to pursue a Japanese girl with limited success (while rejecting overtures made by white girls).

As you might have been able to ascertain, I am part Japanese, three-quarters to be exact, but I might as well look 100 percent. I cannot speak Japanese, but I am casually interested in the culture. This is not some sort of jealousy on my part, although I admit there is some innate irritation when witnessing such a spectacle. Something inside of me, a subconscious belief that I am somehow more entitled to a Japanese identity, is what gives rise to this irritation.

The ironic part is that this roommate is incomprehensibly inconsiderate. Every single Japanese person I have ever known is astonishingly considerate of others, which is partly a byproduct of their self-consciousness and the dependent group-mindedness of the culture. However, my roommate couldn't care less about the feelings of others, and his inconsiderate actions are too numerous to mention. I am naturally a considerate person, and in the first few weeks I made an effort to be quiet if my roommate slept, to tolerate his sloppiness, and to not cringe at his Japanese wannabe exploits. I quickly realized, however, that he would not reciprocate, and have subsequently undertaken passive-aggressive warfare that has mostly failed because I am still too considerate.

I just don't know what to think of this person. I cannot stand his hypocrisy and his pathetic attempts to become Japanese anymore. As I write this, glancing over at his kendo shinai (wooden sword) and his amateurish drawings of himself as a karate warrior on the beach, hung among the photos of himself and the Japanese students, I cannot help shaking my head in disgust. It would almost be funny if it weren't so completely pathetic.

I plan on moving out as soon as the semester is over and my dorm contract expires, but I don't know if I can take two more months of this. Any advice?

Hara Kiri

Dear Hara Kiri,

You might not think you can take it, but you can.

Just avoid doing certain things: Do not Super Glue his kendo shinai to his naked karada. Do not break his boru into a thousand pieces with a kanazuchi. Do not invite the members of Shonen Knife over to your dorm room to meet your "Japanese roommate."

Avoid doing those few things -- and a few others that might come to mind -- and I guarantee you can get through the next two months. Consider it a learning experience crucial to surviving graduation and the eventual onset of adult life, or PLAA: Permanent Life Among Assholes.

But why just get through, when with a little initiative you can make the next two months rewarding and fun? You see, I chose your letter not because your awful plight stirred my deep reserves of human compassion, but, in truth, because it was just so darned amusing. This guy is a hoot. And your writing is great. I love the undercurrent of bitterly restrained fury. I even love the idea that in some twisted way he doesn't even know he's offending you -- he thinks he's making a grand gesture of homage. It's so gruesomely pathetic I can't stop laughing.

This guy is great material.

So if I were you, I would stop trying to ignore him. Instead, show some interest. Find out everything you can about him -- what his family life was like, how he first became interested in things Japanese, if he's seen "Dodeska-Den" and "Dersu Uzala," what his favorite toys were as a young child, what his early romantic life was like, who he went to the prom with -- basically, learn everything you can about this young man. Make a character study. Write it all down. Send it to me. I want to read more.

If you do this with sufficient dedication and energy, it will not only keep you busy for the next two months while you endure his presence, but the end result will be your gift to the world -- or, at least, to me. Later, I promise, you can write the screenplay.

Also: Send photographs.

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