Most foreign residents in Japan have probably been called upon to perform duties with a neighborhood association — known here as a chōnaikai or jichikai.

The nature and extent of these duties vary widely from council to council. American Matthew Apple picks up trash and pulls weeds with neighbors in the Nara countryside twice a year. Moreover, meetings lead to barbeques and other enjoyable gatherings.

Others don't feel so lucky. When assembled for neighborhood chores, John Williams, a retired kindergarten principal from England living in Gifu, recalls: "Women would split into natter groups, and a few disgruntled-looking lone Japanese men looked sorry they couldn't be out playing golf. Nobody really seemed to be doing much."