My name is Alex Bradshaw and I have been living and working in Kagoshima, Japan for the last 16 years. I work for the 800 year old Shimadzu family, former daimyo of the Satsuma domain at the estate and gardens Sengan-en, which is also a World Heritage Site. I also practice a 400 year old style of swordsmanship unique to this part of Japan and have even been privileged enough to demonstrate for the current Emperor of Japan. AMA!

Proof here...

Interview about what I do here...

UPDATE: Thanks for the questions but that's all the time I have today! If you want to show some support for what I'm doing out here follow People of Kagoshima for interviews with interesting locals each month.

Also check out our weekly podcast Small Talk Japan on all kinds of topics.

Comments: 593 • Responses: 121  • Date: 

GeorgeEliotsCock1582 karma

What do 800 year olds even talk about?

zealuk1704 karma

The old days of course! And how the younger generation are a bunch of workshy snowflakes.

0ut0fMyD3pth609 karma

What do you do in an average workday?

zealuk1541 karma

Depends really. My main job at Sengan-en most people arrive about 7:30 to 8:00 and clean up the grounds and the office. Then we have a morning meeting at 8:40, followed by a section meeting at 8:50 before starting work. I do a lot of work at my desk on websites, ticketing, digital marketing. I also go out and arrange and oversee video shoots, do media relations, meet tourism stakeholders. I also go on a lot of business trips to different regions of Japan to advise on their tourism content. I have lunch at my desk usually - often a bento my wife made for me. Don’t really take a lunch break. Work till about 7pm and head home or go training after that. When we are super busy working till 9pm or later is normal. Managers like me don’t get paid overtime by the way.

0ut0fMyD3pth645 karma

That is a long workday!

zealuk535 karma

Yeah Japan is trying to sort out people working too much at the moment. Getting better than it was, but some people just don’t go home!!

acebush1157 karma

I’ve heard about this before and I’m curious. You say “managers like you” don’t get paid overtime. Is this culture of overwork mostly concentrated in desk jobs? I know that Japanese executives tend to take more direct responsibility for their companies and I have a theory that this culture of overwork stems from this sense of responsibility combined with the outdated association of white collar jobs with upper management, and now that most people work desk jobs they all have to overwork themselves.

zealuk307 karma

You are correct, mainly desk jobs. There's a lot of presenteeism in Japan. I work remotely a fair bit and even I feel I have to write more in our daily work diary to prove I'm pulling my weight. It's a strange social norm that Japan is trying to fix.

At our company the senior management tend to go home early to allow the other management staff to leave. I think we have finally nailed it but there are still those that linger on late into the night. Maybe they just don't want to go home.

MegaTiny175 karma

I think we have finally nailed it but there are still those that linger on late into the night

You just described a 13.5 hour work day in your above post (7:30AM to 09:00PM).

Are you going to to keep pushing for less hours or is that just the best you think it's ever going to get?

(Reading this back I realise it sounds like a challenge. It's not, I'm just genuinely curious on your opinion of the way Japanese work culture is going. This is one of the most interesting AMA's for a long time.)

zealuk162 karma

Over the last few years there has been a dedicated effort to reduce working hours generally in Japan. There was a "no zangyo" (no overtime) thing a few years back and things like Premium Friday in Tokyo which had some effect.

The culture is changing and work hours are getting shorter. Companies are also trying to improve productivity. Still kids go to school on Saturdays and go to cram school even on national holidays so there are still remnants of this in the education system.

MrBananaStorm57 karma

Has there ever been talk of a state-mandated overtime pay? Seems like that would very much encourage companies to cut down hours, and if they don't at least the workers get paid for their long days.

zealuk88 karma

There is already. Managers are not included though. Also the workers have to actually claim their overtime.

My company is pretty proactive with working hours and we've managed to slash overtime in the last few years for regular workers. At management level the change is a bit slower but getting there.

Tyekim23 karma

How does the pay compare to jobs in the West?

zealuk90 karma

Japanese wages are generally lower than western countries. Per capita GDP is less than the UK.

DarkEquinoxSpore26 karma

You can take naps at your desk though and that's acceptable in Japan because it is considered you work so much overtime or something like that.

zealuk88 karma

Some people take naps in the day and that is socially acceptable.

I can't even sleep at night in a bed so no fucking way I'm sleeping in the afternoon at a desk.

gwhh94 karma

How often do you have to fight off evil ninja attacks?

zealuk195 karma

Nightly. They are the bane of my existence.

gwhh44 karma

Is your clan an friend to GI Joe snake eyes clan or an enemy of his clan?

zealuk147 karma

Snake Eyes is our ally. Storm Shadow our nemesis.

BIRDsnoozer49 karma

Those hours are insane... I understand culturally it's typical in japan, but you mentioned you're gaijin... Im genuinely curious how you justify working like that and not receiving overtime pay.

After the second unpaid 14-hour day within a week I'd quit.

zealuk123 karma

It's not everyday. You do get used to it. Nobody is actually forcing you to stay - this is the strange part.

Mind you our company now regulates time pretty well and most staff go home at 5:30 or 6pm. Takes me about 1.5x longer to write a report or answer emails in Japanese than a native speaker so that factors in as well.

Damoklessword40 karma

Considering your long hours and little free time, would you describe your compensation as fair?

zealuk90 karma

My priavte sector work is fair. Public sector work for the Prefecutre definitely not fair.

mollila32 karma

arrange and oversee video shoots, do media relations, meet tourism stakeholders. I also go on a lot of business trips to different regions of Japan to advise on their tourism content.

I watched your proof video, on which you describe arriving at the location, not finding it, then being kinda snubbed off as what are you doing here.

After your years of public relations work, how differently would an interested tourist be received?

zealuk76 karma

Don't get me wrong Kagoshima people are incredibly open and welcoming. They are usually more than happy to show people around or help them out while travelling. Jigen-ryu is a slightly different matter, but if someone is genuinely interested they will of course be able to watch training and try it out. When you actually join you become their problem as they have to teach you. That's when they start to become standoffish. It's just the Japanese way of teaching though. Stick it out and one day you will find you are truly on the inside - in a way not really possible at work.

Gawdsauce-152 karma

Digital marketing. Advertising via AMA. Boo

zealuk128 karma

I think I’m being honest and answering questions put to me in as much detail as possible.

Would I like to have more people know about Kagoshima and what I’m trying to do here? Sure!

If you have a question I’d be more than happy to answer it.

y_nnis25 karma

Don't pay attention to that troll. You're doing an amazing service to the country of Japan and the Japanese culture. Greetings from a Greek in the Netherlands!

zealuk19 karma

Thanks! Thought it might be of interest to do this since I guess I’ve had a fairly unusual experience.

goblin_welder524 karma

Do your employers speak to you in English or do you speak to them in Japanese?

Also, after working there for 16 years, how is your home life? Do you live a Japanese lifestyle or an a semblance of an English lifestyle with what you have available in Japan?

I find this fascinating because here in Canada where there are a lot of immigrants, people that I’ve met have different kinds of home life. It’s mostly based off of what they have from their native lands making the best of what’s available to them.

zealuk1230 karma

All Japanese at work. Unless I’m dealing with overseas agents or media.

At home it’s a mix of both. Most meals are Japanese but breakfast is western. We also do Sunday roasts and English stuff from time to time. I speak English at home, wife and kids a mix of Japanese and English.

Kind of got a better idea of what it’s like to be an immigrant in a western country through this experience. Also less tolerance for people not willing to learn the culture and language of the country they choose to live in. Making the effort is totally necessary.

Zombiehype294 karma

Awesome video and very interesting life. We are about the same age, and in the interview you said that before moving to Japan you neglected a lot of social obligations in favor of practicing with the sword. So is it safe to assume that while I was partying, you studied the blade, and while I was engaging in premarital sex, you studied the blade?

zealuk335 karma

I’ve never neglected the pork sword or the steel one my friend. If there was training then I didn’t go out until it was done. After that though business as usual.

Zombiehype153 karma

I was just pulling your leg mate, but I'm glad you're breaking the stereotype. Awesome stuff

zealuk135 karma

This guy is my new role model.

circit240 karma

What has your experience been like as a foreigner in Japan working in your field?

zealuk504 karma

I work in tourism so there are a few foreigners around and we mainly deal with foreign visitors, but I have to do a lot of work with national and local government, and a number of private companies.

Can be tough being a foreigner, especially making your level of experience known and being respected fully for what you do. Communication issues always come up regardless of how good your Japanese is. Probably the most challenging part is the balance of maintaining your identity as a foreigner and fitting in in the Japanese work environment (my company is 150 Japanese people, a Taiwanese lady, and me).

G_Neto67 karma

Is the word "gaijin" as bad as the third Fast and Furious made us believe?

zealuk96 karma

Not seen that movie but with all words I suppose it depends on how you say it.

rologies39 karma

What did you do before moving? Did you have anything lined up or were you just planning on taking a sabbatical that first year?

I've actually been trying to find work overseas, but it's been a struggle. I'm a mechanical engineer for medical devices and there really just doesn't seem to be room for any mech-e outside their homeland or social network, it's been a few demoralizing years of looking for this.

zealuk59 karma

Went on the JET Programme and packed in my job. Was in IT working for a large ISP in Europe.

flyingjesuit203 karma

How did you feel about Tom Cruise portraying you in that movie? But seriously, what was the initiation process like and, after spending all this time with them, have any of your own cultural practices rubbed off on or been adopted by them?

zealuk394 karma

Last Samurai was actually based on Saigo Takamori who was from Kagoshima. I asked his descendant what he thought of the movie and he said he liked it FWIW!

There are a few levels to joining Jigen-ryu. Being allowed to practice isn’t that hard to do, but becoming an official student of the Togo family takes about five years. They were pretty standoffish at first but if you work hard and show willingness to learn they will teach you.

Doing keppan (blood oath) was a very unique experience and one that most Japanese people would never be able to do. Can’t really explain the details more than in the video linked in the OP.

As for my influence on them? We put the website in English but took 10 years for them to agree to that. We do discuss things a lot more openly now. I had to earn their trust and maybe it’s just being in the inner circle of senior students but I think everyone is a bit more willing to discuss things than before.

darcmosch153 karma

Nice to e-meet you! I've followed a similar path as you have (though I don't think as badass as yours)

This is always my favorite question to ask anyone who's settled down in a foreign country: What is something about the culture that still leaves you flummoxed/shaking your head/staring after all these years?

zealuk292 karma

Hey nice to meet you! For me I guess it’s the way Japanese people seem to take everything super personally and can’t seem to have a discussion. That or the lack of motivation when it comes to trying something new. Maybe fear of failure or standing out which I understand but it kind of gets on my nerves. Not everyone though certainly. There are some Japanese people pushing the boundaries in what they do just not all that common.

darcmosch111 karma

Super interesting answer. Yeah, I am also a very obvious outsider where I live as well, and I'm still flabbergasted that if I make the suggestion, it kind of gets dismissed, but then if someone who's a local makes the same suggestion, then they become agreeable. It doesn't happen too often, but when it does, I am still nonplussed about the whole situation.

But I also wanted to follow up with what you mean by taking things super personally? Do you mean like criticism? A light teasing or ribbing?

zealuk108 karma

Mainly criticism. Are you in Japan as well?

Making locals think they had the idea you are suggesting is the trick. I have the same thing all the time!

darcmosch89 karma

China. I think a very similar, homogeneous culture kind of lends itself to these trappings. Yeah, criticism can be really hard here as well cuz you gotta beat around the bush so much before actually saying your piece. Luckily in professional settings, they do listen to me more, but I've still had pushback on some of the just silliest things, even 10 years into my career.

zealuk69 karma

Ah makes sense. Similar culture in China isn’t it. Often makes me wonder how long I have to be here to become an insider. Probably not possible.

darcmosch62 karma

My profession is translatin. It's my job to be an insider and every single day I'm proven without a doubt that my journey is far from over. And of course, when it comes to acceptance as a whole, I feel that's unobtainable. It's too easy to be judged as an outsider based on how you look, so I just look for people to get to know me and accept me as I am, and that's good enough for me.

zealuk33 karma

Wise words!

HarRob6 karma

In some ways, the Chinese deal with change very well.

zealuk27 karma

This is true I think. Very quick to implement new things unlike Japan. Speed is key for China, for Japan its reliability.

konbanwa_bitches144 karma

You don't have to answer this, if this is personal.

Interestingly just today I was chatting with someone about the difference in the meaning of loyalty in Japan and the West. I am given to believe that the Japanese being a collectivist society insist on extreme loyalty from their employees.

How is it in a clan? Being that they are traditional and will hold the same notions (or somewhat similar notions of honor) for many centuries, how would you say they'd want to see in you as an employee (loyal to the core, even disregarding self-interests). And as someone who grew up in an individualist society who'd think mindless loyalty is wrong, how'd you see your own loyalty.

zealuk352 karma

This is a pretty tough question. Japanese society is certainly collectivist and people are really worried about how they will be perceived. This is often as strong as a sense of loyalty in making someone do something.

People say Japan is a complicated web of “giri” and they are not wrong. The roots of this are in neo Confucianism I think and founded in the Edo period. The smallest unit of responsibility was the family. You mess up and everyone gets punished. That meant family, friends, neighbors were all monitoring each other. No wonder people are stressed here.

As a westerner I always had the attitude that I don’t care what anyone thinks, but the reality is that as a member of Shimadzu and Jigen-ryu my actions reflect on my employer, teachers, and peers and that is something that I have to consider before doing anything.

I even thought for a while about doing this AMA and whether it would be OK or not considering my position!

Sonder33263 karma

That's a very strange notion to me, the idea that my actions reflect on those around me. I get the concept, but it feels very restricting. It feels almost like being suffocated, paralysis through analysis. Every decision HAS to be the right one.

zealuk113 karma

Welcome to Japan!
Seriously it is very tiring. You do get used to it though.

Orientalism114 karma

I saw you on Tokyo Lens! You really showed him some fantastic places and I learned a lot from your explanations. There are great YouTubers in Japan, are there any that you like to watch?

zealuk148 karma

Yeah thanks for watching! Norm makes great content and works really hard to keep producing quality videos.

Don’t watch too many YouTubers on Japan but Norm and Chris Broad I do watch.

Did this video with Chris at the end of his cycle of despair across Japan! He was utterly exhausted on and off camera. Feel bad about making him hit a tree trunk for an hour now.

rharvey809046 karma

I was wondering if you were the same guy from Journey Across Japan. Kudos on your work.

zealuk81 karma

Thanks! Yeah that was me.

When they got in touch with me about Chris coming to Kagoshima I had no idea who he was. I only tended to watch British comedy on YouTube cause I’ve already got my fill of Japan. Chris Broad the cyclist is what I was told so I was expecting a Bradley Wiggins type to turn up in lycra and all that. Imagine my surprise!

Anyway great guy and absolutely killing it on YouTube with his cool new studio.

snakespm13 karma

When they got in touch with me about Chris coming to Kagoshima I had no idea who he was. I only tended to watch British comedy on YouTube cause I’ve already got my fill of Japan. Chris Broad the cyclist is what I was told so I was expecting a Bradley Wiggins type to turn up in lycra and all that. Imagine my surprise!

Would you mind going into detail about how those things get organized?

zealuk43 karma

A couple of friends told me a YouTuber was looking for something to do in Kagoshima so I sent over some ideas by email. Then Chris and Sharla turned up one day. That's literally it. Hung out and shot the training at the dojo and the onsen (the owner really did not care that we were filming in the middle of the afternoon). I think I phoned them the day before and went to explain, but because I've been going there for years they were totally cool with it.

We do a lot of work with TV at Sengan-en and its nothing like the rigmarole involved exchanging drafts of scripts or doing endless location scouts. Downside is with YouTube you never really know what you are going to get. Have to trust them a lot to be honest.

tkir14 karma

Please tell us if you've seen Dogen's videos, especially concerning your comment elsewhere about the finer points of Japanese meaning and pronunciation his shorts really do convey that in a funny way.

Thanks for doing this ama, I'm a bit of a Japanophile so am always envious but proud to see fellow Brits who've taken the jump to the other side of the world and make it work.

zealuk31 karma

I've watched Dogen's videos before and his Japanese is very good. His scripts are very funny to me but less so to native Japanese speakers, but I'm not sure that is who he is aiming for. Lives up the road in Oita so should make a visit sometime.

random800280 karma

curious: how did you get to be the director of overseas business for shimadzu? would you say your dedication to samurai training had anything to do with that?

zealuk232 karma

I had been living here for 10 years already when Shimadzu headhunted me.

They knew me from Jigen-ryu of course but I think me taking part in their poetry recital called Kyokusui-no-en was a major turning point. I think I showed how serious I was about promoting the culture here by writing my own poem and brushing it in hentaigana.


I had IT experience and the skills they needed to reach out to the western market so it was a good match. Admittedly they didn’t know what to do with me at first, but I took care of finding work for myself. After that worked hard and got promoted basically. Winning international awards for tourism also helped!

imadethiswhileatwork57 karma

Way to follow your truth man! This is so cool!

zealuk39 karma


gollumullog69 karma

We visited Kagoshima and Kyushu for two weeks when we visited my brother in law and his wife. Absolutely gorgeous area.

What do you find is the hardest part living and working in Japan?

zealuk368 karma

Great to hear you have been out to Kagoshima! Hardest thing about living here is probably the endless battle of communication.

I speak, read and write Japanese pretty well but even now I make mistakes due to lack of communication. For example two days ago I gave a 90 minute presentation in Japanese to some important stakeholders using Zoom. Unfortunately the person who organized the meeting communicated with me in English and I misunderstood the requirements of the talk. His English is pretty good but the small nuances of what he was saying came across wrong and I prepared something that was different from what he was expecting. This kind of thing happens all the time, regardless of how well you can speak Japanese. The Korean ambassador to Japan once told me in perfect English “the language is an endless battle. Just be yourself and don’t try too hard to fit in. If you do try to be Japanese, you’ll only be as good as the worst Japanese employees and you will lose everything about you that is special.” Good advice.

urionje83 karma

Such wise advice from the ambassador. I immigrated to a new country as well and have my own struggles with lack of robust vocabulary and nuance in the local language.

A CEO I was tutoring gave me similar advice— that I may not have the language skills on the level of a local, but I am a native English speaker and have a deeper understanding of culture in the States than anyone else around. That’s my advantage. I think about that a lot and it’s significantly influenced my perspective professionally.

zealuk67 karma

The balance is always tough isn't it. On one hand you want to show how much you fit in, understand and respect the language and culture. On the other hand you know if you spoke your own language you could have so much more eloquence and feeling to the way you speak. Always a hard choice.

urionje24 karma

Absolutely. You mentioned this before, we’re also so much funnier in our own languages! That always gets to me but it’s also an interesting challenge to find ways to be funny in the adopted language within the existing framework of our abilities, even if it’s not the same kind of humor you might expect from a native speaker. Encourages experimentation to get people to giggle which, as someone super into how language is built, can be really fun if I have the energy for it.

zealuk21 karma

Totally agree. Being consistently funny in another language (even your native language) is very hard. Making people laugh now and then anyone can do - doing it on purpose is much harder.

afakasiwolf64 karma

How do you and your colleagues feel about foreigners and japanese people with neck and or face tattoos in your profession?

zealuk169 karma

I don’t care about tattoos personally - your body, do with it as you will.

Generally speaking though any form of tattoo has a bad image in Japan - most people associate them with organized crime. Hot springs generally won’t let people with tattoos use the facilities, and the martial arts community which is to be honest a bit right leaning won’t be too accepting either.

Japan has a culture of tattoos but not mainstream and will almost certainly be a hinderance living here.

Mind you I do know a few Japanese people with insane tats as well.

ahuffaPUFG63 karma

What’s your favorite part of you day?

zealuk243 karma

Probably finishing up work in the office and looking at the volcano Sakurajima on the walk back to the car park.

That or beers after training!

SlickVerglas76 karma

I stayed in Kagoshima briefly on a volunteer trip and watching Sakurajima launch huge ash clouds while the locals didn't react a bit was such a surreal, awesome, unexpected experience for me! (No one warned us it could happen so we all thought we were gonna die until our hosts started laughing 😂)

zealuk104 karma

Haha yeah there was a 3,500 meter high eruption the other day and I didn’t even notice.

People in Fukuoka were asking me on Zoom “ARE YOU GUYS OK???”

Even in Japan Kagoshima people are weird. And I’m becoming one of them lol

wagamamalullaby28 karma

I was on sakurajima about 10 years ago in an outdoor onsen and I was in a constant state of anxiety watching the volcano! Didn’t see an eruption in the 4 days I was in kagoshima but I noticed there was lots of street sweepers so I think there was an eruption shortly before I arrived.

zealuk44 karma

Yeah eruptions happen fairly frequently but it’s been quiet this year. No need to worry really. The last major eruption in 1914 the wells on the volcano boiled and fish in the sea died before it erupted so you can tell a big one is coming.

Usual-Owl-977761 karma

Hi. Are there any particular core values at the heart of an 800 year old samurai clan that stand out? I imagine they have a strong work ethic.

zealuk137 karma

Good question.

Kagoshima is located right at the southern part of Kyushu and is historically where any ships traveling up the coast of China would eventually reach if the headed towards Japan. In fact it’s the same place where the first Dutch and Portuguese traders made contact with Japan.

Because of this the Shimadzu were always aware of their vulnerability to the outside world. Their distance from the capital in Kyoto and later Edo meant they had pretty good autonomy over their own domain and basically ignored most of the Shogunate edicts that came down to them.

One example is how they leveraged Ryukyu (Okinawa) to trade with the outside world when all foreign trade was strictly banned by the Shogunate.

Essentially their willingness to forge their own way, to make use of skilled subordinates, to adapt to change, and as much as possible to stay out of politics left them in a strong position. Creating an environment where those under you can do their best is probably the key to this I think.

tennesseewaltz52 karma

what are your favourite plants in the gardens?

zealuk96 karma

I like the plum blossoms in February and irises in May. Samurai were fond of flowers and often used them as motifs on clothing and armour.

Alec_Eland47 karma

Wow, that's a great story! Nice to meet you!

I have two questions:

  1. What made you to come to Japan, and how did you get this job?

  2. Are you married to a japanese woman? And if answer is yes, have you ever been stumbled upon any cultural differences on the way?

Thank you!

zealuk203 karma

Thanks for the comment.

  1. Came to Japan because I practiced Japanese martial arts in the UK and wanted to study them in more depth in Japan. Had wanted to go to Japan since being a kid though.

  2. Yeah my wife is Japanese and she’s currently cooking an English Sunday roast! Cultural issues not so many these days. Tends to be the small stuff. I make a sarcastic British joke and she doesn’t get it or she tries to make a British joke and it’s waaaaay too dark. Nobody laughs at my jokes in Japanese unfortunately. Seems comedy is the final frontier.

Jisamaniac51 karma

Dad jokes international shall rise again!

zealuk57 karma

This is important historical work.

Scummmbag19 karma

Out of curiosity, what would be an example of a British joke made by your wife that's way too dark?

zealuk53 karma

She used to watch Brass Eye and thought that kind of humor would fly well with my mum.

themanifoldcuriosity20 karma

Actually in tears thinking about this one.

zealuk21 karma

For some reason I recalled an interview with Armando Ianucci about how they used to swap the storyboard cards for "Last of the Summer Wine" with fake ones they had made. His favourite was "Compo bursts puppy with cock".

MD_Misery46 karma

As someone who practices swordsmanship, do you watch movies about sword fights and laugh at how fake they are, like tech people do with "hacker" movies or military people with war movies?

zealuk97 karma

Yeah unfortunately this does happen. I got into Japanese martial arts from watching stuff like Shogun Assasin and the Kurosawa movies. Now a lot of the stuff I see looks kind of dumb.

Japanese TV is particularly bad actually. They have their own style of cinematic swordsmanship called “tate” which is actually very hard and needs a lot of skill to do but it’s certainly not effective or realistic swordsmanship.

Mind you if realistic sword work was used in movies they would be pretty boring I imagine.

pilot203112 karma

Why can they be like the movies??

zealuk77 karma

Movie fights have to be dramatic, exciting, and hopefully tell a story. Real fights tend to be messy, uncoordinated, and over quite quickly.

lestratege44 karma


zealuk120 karma

I feel a sense of annoyance but at the same time know that it’s probably for the best.

All the best American actors are British though right?

boj4o32 karma

Was japanese hard to learn?

zealuk171 karma

Initially yes but I suppose it gets easier. Grammatically speaking Japanese is pretty uniform so learning basic conversation isn’t that hard. Reading and writing is a real chore but once you get the kanji down it’s not so bad.

Unfortunately now my Japanese is at a level where people pick apart the particular nuance of the words I use in presentations or when speaking. This is a whole new level of challenge and really stressful when talking about complicated topics.

mikhel25 karma

How do you progress your Japanese studies past the initial stages while living in Japan? I'm about to do a grad program in Tokyo, studied Japanese for 3 years and did study abroad, but I'm kind of unsure how to go on with formally studying the language while I'm there.

zealuk66 karma

I’ve never formally studied Japanese. Grammar can be a bit wonky I guess but better than most.

Put yourself in a position where you have to use the language. Jigen-ryu nobody was remotely interested in English or speaking it so had to learn Japanese to understand what was going on.

Make it necessary for yourself to learn or you won’t. Simple as that.

PlasticGirl22 karma

I gotta agree. You can study all you want, but using it day after day is the best way to memorize it, retain it, and use it comfortably. I can hear my Japanese improving after being there for a week, and then I lose it soon after coming home.

zealuk11 karma

That eventually gets better though. At some point it just kind of sticks. Best to keep it sharp through practice though.

shododdydoddy32 karma

That's fascinating! Unfortunately I can't watch the interview right now (so I don't know if this is answered in it), but how did you find yourself in Japan? Was it a spur of the moment decision, a long time appreciation and planned idea? Also, how was it when you first moved there?

zealuk122 karma

It was actually quite spur of the moment. Was working in IT in the UK and just felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. A friend had come back from Japan and suggested the JET Programme.

First application got sent to Northern Ireland and burned by Royal Mail apparently. I was stoned when I sent it and put the wrong postage on it seems.

Second one got through and I got placed in Kagoshima. Also stopped smoking weed.

When I first got here it was just HOT. The humidity was nuts. Kind of got used to it now but I remember that more than anything. Fun times though back then.

snuff3r52 karma

This is such a human response lol. I love this AMA.

Both my kids are obsessed with Japanese culture. My teenage son is several years into Japanese lessons in high school. I hope he gets a chance to visit sometime. Their year 12 trip was supposed to be Tokyo, but.. pandemic :(

E: I'm Australian.

zealuk28 karma

Sorry to hear their trip got cancelled man. I hear rumors that the borders won’t be closed much longer, but probably have to wait for the present peak to pass. Keirendan applying pressure to the government at the moment. Hope they are able to get over here soon!

snuff3r17 karma

Thanks for responding!

The kids were pretry heartbroken but our family will get them over there eventually.

I had a friend in high school who was into hardcore swordsmanship. He was part Japanese (mum Japanese, Aussie dad).. used to do insane lesson hours. Moved to Japan as a translator, married a Japanese girl. Always seemed so fucking cool to me.

I wish I was fitter, I would love to get into swordsmanship. Always been a secret desire. The best I can do is being the home chef and obsessed with Japanese steel/knives.


zealuk11 karma

Well best of luck getting out here. Martial arts are a great way to learn some Japanese as well so highly recommended!

thespicyroot12 karma

What year were you in the JET program there? I have a few good buddies who were in JET in Miyazaki circa late 90’s.

Ps. Tokyo-ite here.

zealuk11 karma

Nice one! I came in later in 2005. Still a few of the 90s guy around here mainly working in private education or University.

Tman12530 karma

No way! Is this the same family from the video game Total War: Shogun 2, the Shimazu Clan? I never really considered that the liniage was still going strong

zealuk40 karma

Yeah this is the same Shimazu (we spell it Shimadzu as you can see here), now in their 32nd generation. If you're into the history stuff I wrote a few articles here.

Elvaanaomori16 karma

Even Oda Nobunaga family is still going! Don’t expect the glorious estate etc though

zealuk21 karma

Yep descendant is a figure skater. I know most of the other extant families as well through work. Interesting to have dinner with a bunch of names from Japanese history!

Fav028 karma

How is the KFC Christmas bucket?

zealuk68 karma

Lol never had one. My Christmas dinners are a thing of legend and envy here in Kagoshima.

Deetchy_6 karma

Could you explain? Why would it be legendary or envious?

zealuk13 karma

Just we do a full English style Christmas dinner with a full roast chicken and crackers and all that. Not many people have an oven at home so they can't really do a meal like that at home. Put on Instagram every year so getting quite well known for our spread.

RafflesGentlemanThug28 karma

If you run into the foreigner hired by Choshu can only one of you leave or has a more modern, dance-off kind of setup been agreed?

I lived in various prefectures over five years and brought my Kendogu with me from the UK. Massive congratulations on realising the dream Mr. Bradshaw.

zealuk26 karma

Thanks and great to hear about your musha shugyo!

If I run into a foreigner from Chosu we either fight to the death or slowly do the gaijin nod at each other and keep walking.

I'm northern so I can't help saying "hello" - usually just after passing by.

Jackimus2718 karma

How northern we talking on a scale from "drinks Yorkshire tea" to "never seen without flatcap and whippet"

zealuk10 karma

Ferret down trousers northern.

No_More_And_Then24 karma

Have you played Ghost of Tsushima? If so, what were your impressions?

zealuk84 karma

Yeah loved it. Some historical things annoyed me. Wearing waraji and sitting in seiza outside. Tatami in rooms despite not existing in this period. Uchigatana being the prevalent sword type. Too many one handed cuts and jumping. Basically Edo period look everyone is familiar with doesn’t fit the time period at all.

Did I create a badass ronin look with a dope straw hat? Fuck yes!

bobthepong17 karma

What's the difference between japanese swordmanship and european swordsmanship?

zealuk33 karma

Not knowledgeable about Western swordsmanship apart from a bit of fencing in high school. From what I have seen of skilled HEMA practitioners there is a lot of overlap. Some very similar movements and angles of attack. Perhaps a bit more thrusting in western arts and use of the sword upside down (holding the blade and striking with the crossbar) is something that would never happen in Japan.

Would be interested to learn more about European treatises on swordsmanship actually!

teateateasider16 karma

Hi mate, where in England are you from? and have you ever noticed any similarities between England and Japan? Is there anything that reminds you of home or do the Japanese share anything that you might consider English or vise versa? Thanks!

zealuk35 karma

From Sheffield originally. Yeah some similarities - stiff upper lip and that kind of thing. They like food more than we do, we like sports more than they do.

iron_annie15 karma

What do you eat in a day?

zealuk43 karma

Had eggs benedict for breakfast and roast chicken for lunch today. Probably keihan (chicken stock poured over rice topped with shredded chicken, omelette, and mushrooms) for dinner!

knd10h14 karma

hi alex, interesting job and video. i've got a couple of questions.

you said in the interview that you wouldn't get certified in jigenryu even after training for 10 years. how long does it take to become a full-fledged master? do you plan to open your own jigenryu school one day?

i see you and your wife run gotoku--was it difficult to set up your own consulting company?

i'm also interested in working in overseas business/tourism promotion, so i'd like to hear if you have any advice on where/how to gets started joining a similar company.

zealuk23 karma

Jigen-ryu takes about 5 years to join as an official student, about 15 years to 1st dan and then anywhere up to like 40 years to achieve 4th dan which is menkyo kaiden. The only place to practice Jigen-ryu is at our dojo in Kagoshima City - we don't intend on opening any other schools and I won't ever open my own school.

I ran an English school for about 7 years previously so kind of knew how to do things. Better to get an accountant to help you out with the taxes and everything if you don't know the ins and outs.

Best advice is to get a set of skills nobody else has. I learned this the hard way through my own business but I'm sure there are better routes. Japanese people like precedent so proof of something you have done before is great. Bad time for tourism now but once things get moving again I expect some DMO positions or the like to open up.

0GG139 karma

How good is that Kagoshima Imo Shochu? Best drink in the country and I will fight anyone who says different. What is your favourite brand to drink?

zealuk14 karma

Yeah shochu is great and spoiled for choice here. Check out Manzen Shuzo in Kirishima.

Random_Guy4798 karma

How do you stay so dedicated, so focused? What's the trick? BTW I just watched your interview and it's awesome sir. Appreciate it!

zealuk14 karma

Thanks for the kind words! Don’t know really. I guess doing something you enjoy and always learning. I’m a curious person by nature and a bit obsessive about things I guess. It’s not always easy certainly, but I guess just doing what is in front of you to the best of your ability and then facing the next thing that comes in the same way.

You have to be of a certain mindset to want to beat a tree with a stick all day long I suppose!

Random_Guy4796 karma

Wow! Thanks sir! I'll try to implement your principle and stay focused on my field too.

zealuk2 karma

Great! Takes time I guess.

Sometimes when you think you are making no progress you are actually learning a lot. If you keep at the grind will get something out of it eventually!

George_E_Hale7 karma

Hi from Osaka. You mention having lived here 16 years--what has been your journey to learning Japanese? Would you say your reading/writing has caught up to your comprehension/speaking?

zealuk19 karma

Depends on what you need out of it. At first just chatting in bars was good enough for me. Could speak pretty good Japanese after five years or so.

Then as I got deeper into training I wanted to read the historical documents of the school. Also around this time was running my own business so needed to learn keigo otherwise people would hang up the phone on me.

Necessity is the mother of invention!

roxykell7 karma

When you were a kid, did you ever picture yourself doing anything like what you are doing now? And what do you think your kid-self would say to you about it! I find it really interesting to draw connections between our sort of dreams as kids and adulthood. Thanks for doing this, such an interesting life!

zealuk18 karma

No idea at all I would be doing a job like this when I was a kid. I used to love looking at books of swords and stuff when I was a kid. One was called “Arms and Armour” or something. Also Greek and Norse mythology. Splash of Star Wars and Tolkien as well. Probably would be amazed that I’ve come this far!

SangEntar7 karma

Am I correct in that you recently did a video with Norm from Tokyo Lens where you went through the gardens at around 6am?

If so, they were very nice and lots of interesting titbits of information about the buildings there and their history.

zealuk7 karma

Yep that was me. Was a bit hungover I recall and 7-11 coffee wasn't doing the trick.

Then my mate Mitch did a walk through town with Norm the following day.

Repulsive-Expression6 karma

How do you care for kids if you work from 7-7 on a good day? Is it just expected that one spouse stays home?

Sorry for such lame question, but as a working western mom, I am curious how this works on a societal level. Our daycares are open from 7 to 5...

zealuk8 karma

Not a lame question at all. Basically there are two types of daycare - Hoikuen and Yochien. The former has less of an educational aspect and is basically daycare looking after the kids. Yochien is more like a kindergarten and has a more educational vibe.

Yochien tends to finish earlier with a bus to take the kids home but there is also an after care service where the kids can stay behind and get picked up by a parent.

Hoikuen really depends on the facility and there is a lot of variation. Some kids get picked up really late - like after 7pm. I've seen some people as late as 9pm. Others work nights and there are special Hoikuen that tend to that requirement - although it is a very small minority of people that do this.

"Tomo bataraki" (both parents working) is more and more common these days, but in the regions its still kind of expected that a mother will sacrifice her career for kids. Then there is all the PTA and neigbourhood association BS that women have to deal with down here. Very hard to break out of that cycle without being judged by society and gossiped about.

Certainly not easy for women here.

letmereaddamnit6 karma

Do you ever miss England?

zealuk41 karma

Yeah mainly going to the pub with a few mates for a laugh. Drinking in Japan is great but the banter is never quite the same.

Oikaze6 karma

How did you learn about or first discover Jigen-ryu? How much experience did you have with Iai before taking up Jigen-ryu and how much did it differ/overlap with your previous ryu?

From my own sensei I've heard stories of westerners moving to Japan and studying Iai, but that they all seem to need letters of introduction or similar. I've heard that anything other that the most prolific ryu are usually only practiced by families that would have historically been samurai families, and it can be quite a small social group because of that. What has your experience of it been?

zealuk7 karma

Read about it Nihon no Kobudo book while on a seminar in Canada. Did Iai for about five years. Not much overlap to be honest, but understanding tenouchi and koshi helps.

Most traditional ryu are a small social group. Letters of introduction go a long way but aren't always necessary. If you introduce someone you are responsible for them so I am always wary of introducing people.

Keycuk6 karma

Have you read Shogun by James Clavell?

zealuk5 karma

Yeah good book. TV show was alright as well.

raktim20165 karma

  1. How is a Samurai clan different from Yakuza clan ?
  2. And yubitsume still a thing ?

zealuk9 karma

  1. Yakuza are criminal gangs that do extortion, drug dealing, prostitution, etc to make money. Samurai were a historic societal warrior caste that served feudal lords called daimyo and for the most part were civil servants. The kind of person who works at your town hall. But wearing a giant sword.

  2. Don’t know any Yakuza so not sure. I imagine some nutcases somewhere do it, but best not to stand out in an increasing hostile society to organized crime. The gang headquarters in Kagoshima all got shut down like 10 years ago.

fuckedbymath5 karma

Would you perform harakiri if your employer's asked nicely?

zealuk6 karma

Haha not a chance.

worosei5 karma

Favourite type of ramen?

zealuk7 karma


Tantanmen is my absolute favourite though.

KyTitansFan4 karma

Is the sword new or old? Who made the sword? How heavy is it? TIA

zealuk24 karma

Which sword?

The one I own is an iaito - an unsharpened practice sword. Weight is 1.2kg and it was made by a Japanese company in Gifu.

My friend in the link below has a shitload of swords…

Lots of swords

NugdedAOL4 karma

You mentioned that you have practised 400 year old swordsmanship from that part of Japan. Were you also taught a hand to hand style of martial art? if so, was the training different from what you've seen?

zealuk16 karma

Jigen-ryu only focuses on swordsmanship, though there is a small amount of grappling with an armed opponent.

There are a few unarmed styles here with Kurama Yoshin-ryu being one of the oldest. Japanese police arrest techniques were based on their curriculum in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Japanese traditional arts use very little striking compared to karate and much more joint manipulation. Not my specialist field so YMMV.

frustrated-nerd4 karma

That was a very interesting interview!

I too wish to take a few years(2ish) off my usual life and live in Japan but what I'm most worried about is that I'm a vegetarian and living in Japan would be very tough for me food wise. Do you think it would be manageable for a vegetarian to live in Japan, where fish and meat is pretty core part of cuisine?


zealuk14 karma

Recently there are loads more vegetarian options than there used to be. I would look into the region you are hoping to visit and see if there are any vegan or vegetarian restaurants. Getting in touch with that community makes a world of difference.

We have a few vegan restaurants here in Kagoshima and I personally know a few Japanese vegetarians as well.

Good luck with your journey!

xforeverlove223 karma

Does your mother's name happen to be Carrie?

zealuk4 karma

No but if she was it would have a lot of cache with a certain demographic here in Japan.

She’s also not old enough to be my mum I’m sorry to say.

jus2guys1thunderd0me3 karma

What do you think western culture could learn from Japan, and vice versa? Also, what is the funniest thing you've seen while living there? Good luck- sounds like you've found a neat place for yourself!

zealuk3 karma

Things to learn from the west - flexibility

Things to learn from Japan - sense of social responsibility

Funniest thing was a giant sign that said SERVICE CUNTER in a motorway service station.

That or a snack bar which is literally called HEIL!

decentlyconfused3 karma

Where is a good place for food in Kagoshima?

zealuk15 karma

Loads of them to be honest! Depends what you are after!

Japanese food Western food

isthisneeded292 karma

His did you got this gig? Also are they hiring?

zealuk2 karma

Got headhunted. Not hiring at the moment though. When Covid settles down who knows!

Irish_drunkard2 karma


zealuk4 karma

Came out here on the JET Programme back in 2005 speaking no Japanese and with no clue about Japan.

wolleesel2 karma

Do you notice any racism towards foreigners?

zealuk5 karma

Yeah a little bit but not the “go home” type. It’s very nuanced and polite so hard to tell it’s even there until it’s too late quite often.

OleaC2 karma

What is your favourite onigiri?

zealuk5 karma

I like the basics. Umeboshi.

nicka1632 karma

Have you learned the legendary smithing techniques and would you be willing to share them?

zealuk8 karma

Unfortunately no. And even if I did I wouldn’t share!

hldsnfrgr2 karma

What's it like to be a gaijin samurai?

zealuk13 karma

Well I’m no samurai. Mind you I do work for the feudal lord’s family and practice swordsmanship…..

Seriously though who would want to be a samurai anyway? Pretty shit job if you ask me. Having to disembowel yourself if you make a mistake or piss off your superior. No thanks!!

Setagaya-Observer1 karma

White or black Dragon Society?

zealuk3 karma

Dark question. Neither. Toyama Mitsuru had a strong connection with Jigen-ryu though.

Jam_On_It_84-8 karma

What does your skin color have to do with it?

zealuk3 karma

Not a thing!

Bard_Bromance_Club-10 karma

How is the mission of stealing the culture going brother man?

zealuk13 karma

Yeah great embedded 16 years now and plenty of thievery going on. Actually worried I might be giving something back now.

Bard_Bromance_Club1 karma

Brilliant response, it seems others have taken my comment too seriously.

Sounds fantastic though! How did you ever get into that trade?

zealuk1 karma

Yeah I got the vibe man. Pure luck and dumb determination really.