Ask the Outlander Guy

Scott Gardner


It’s time for everyone’s favorite column, in which sincere intercultural questions by friends of Japan are answered with sarcasm and condescension by the Outlander Guy (OG).


Q: Can you use chopsticks?

A: Yes, I can use training chopsticks, the oversized kind that are tied together at the top. I hope to have my string cut in another month or two.


Q: What’s your favorite Japanese food?

A: I like the chateaubriand at the Tokyo Prince Hotel.


Q: The Japanese language is difficult, isn’t it?

A: Sitting in the lotus position is difficult. Writing the kanji for gloomy (鬱鬱) is not only difficult but hazardous to your health. Saying the phrase loose vowels in conversation—either in English or its Japanese equivalent—without embarrassing yourself is humanly impossible.


Q: Which epoch would you consider to be the most important in Japanese history: 1) the Tokugawa period, in which all warring factions along the archipelago were finally united under the Shogunate; 2) the Meiji Revolution, in which Japan opened its doors to the West and began its steady march toward modernization; or 3) the late 20th century, when Japan’s technological adaptability made it one of the greatest economies in the world?

A: I would say 4) the Super Mario World 8 era, when the demon king Koopa was thwarted and Princess Peach was returned to the throne of the Mushroom Kingdom.


Q: Why did you come to Japan in the first place?

A: I heard the alluring call of the ramen cart and thought “Chinese noodles at midnight, with a grimy plastic curtain sticking to my back—that is the answer, yes.”


Q: Do you think Japan should switch to a daylight saving or “summertime” system to capitalize on the longer summer days?

A: If it stops me calling my mother in Dubuque at 4:00 in the morning to ask her how much oregano to put in tonight’s spaghetti sauce, it’s a good thing.


Q: What do you consider to be Japan’s greatest contribution to the world?

A: For me it would have to be those reality shows that force celebrities to participate in sadistic acts for laughs. I could have used a few shows like that back when I was growing up with two younger brothers.


Q: Have you learned any traditional Japanese arts such as ikebana (flower arranging), sado (tea ceremony), or kendo (fencing)?

A: I recently passed my first-class mondo weirdo (extreme strangeness) exam. I’m now qualified to recruit neophytes.


Q: Do you have a favorite musical performer here?

A: I used to have three favorite Japanese performers, until someone told me they were all Korean. Now I mainly listen to train station theme songs. I think it’s great how each unique theme alerts sleeping passengers to which station they’ve arrived at. I wish my school had a system like that between classes.


Q: What do you think of the Japanese train system in general?

A: Pretty boring, actually. Trains are so common and efficient here that they’re almost invisible. The rail companies now feel the need to paint anime characters on the sides of trains to remind you that they exist. The British rail system, on the other hand, makes things exciting by keeping schedules like soccer referees: the clock says it’s time, but you never know how many more minutes they’re going to add. In the U.S., passenger trains are so rare that when you see one go by you feel like you’re witnessing a herd of stampeding wildebeests. Interestingly, there are trains that leave New York six or eight times a day and arrive in Los Angeles about three days later, often with one or two people on board. Most non-Americans don’t know this. Most Americans don’t either.


Q: What is the scariest thing that has ever happened to you in Japan?

A: I freaked out the first time I saw those dried tuna shavings wriggling on a freshly cooked Japanese okonomiyaki pancake. I thought it was dozens of flatworms being roasted alive.