Oct
26
2012
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A German Alien in Japan – Staring

It’s time for another post in the blog series “A German Alien in Japan“.

There are so many things I want to share with you, but I should have started writing about them right after I came to Japan.
Why? Because after a few years most things seem so normal to you although they felt so strange in the beginning.
If you’ve gotten used to things, you usually forget about them. They become routine and you certainly don’t write about them in your blog.

One thing that is always present and that most people living in Japan won’t be able to get used to is THE STARING IN JAPAN! [/ insert horror background music]

I know that a lot of you are worried about how you will be seen or treated as a foreigner in Japan.
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot, but you shouldn’t trust everything you hear and just experience things yourself!

Of course it’s a good thing to get some information prior to coming, but always keep in mind that things are never 100% accurate and your own experience might be completely different!

Life as a foreigner in Japan: Staring in Japan

 

Staring in Japan is everywhere:

If you come to Japan just know that you WILL be stared at if you don’t look Japanese.
How intense, how often, how many people will stare .. all that depends on various things.

I expected to be stared at when I first went to Japan as a tourist, because that’s what I heard anyways: “Japanese people stare at foreigners.”
At that time I went to major tourist spots such as Tokyo and Kyoto.
YES, people stared, but not as much as I expected them to. I was almost disappointed. *g*

However, if you live in Japan for a certain time – NO MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE – you will experience a certain degree of staring.
Usually at the major tourist spots they’re used to seeing a lot of foreigners, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be less staring.

I have always only lived in the Japanese countryside where there aren’t many foreigners, so there is some staring going on – EVERY SINGLE DAY!
When I go to a bigger city, I usually expect to get less staring than back home, because … it’s a BIG city, lots of FOREIGNERS, right?!
Interestingly there’s often even more staring going on there!

 

Who will be stared at:

Personally I hate being the center of attention, so I try not to stand out.

In Japan I stand out no matter what I do … just because I look different.
And in my case I don’t even look THAT different, I’d say! I’m not that tall, I have dark brown hair and dark eyes.
From behind people have confused me with a Japanese person.
But it’s my Western face that seems to not blend in at all.

I can understand that people are staring when there is a super tall or big person. They literally stand out in a crowd of Japanese people.
Or if there’s a tall, blonde and blue-eyed foreigner.
Even I stared when there were two blue-eyed, blonde and apparently foreign children speaking Japanese fluently with their foreign mom on a train.

That’s something you don’t see every day!

Foreigners have become quite a common sight, at least in bigger Japanese cities and yet there’s all this staring!
As long as you don’t look Japanese they will stare. [/ can I have the horror background music one more time?]

Another thing I noticed is: there might be less staring when you’re alone.
Simply because one foreigner doesn’t stick out as much.
You’re aware of the staring a lot more if you’re alone, though.
If you are with a group of foreigners, you’re usually busy talking to them and you don’t notice so much what’s happening around you, but there is in fact more staring going on.

 

The Daily Stare:

If you have to deal with staring in Japan every single day for many years it can get very exhausting. smilie

You can never really relax, because you know some people are watching every single step, every single movement.
You can’t even sleep in peace on the train without being stared at.

I’m sorry to tell you that, but you can’t avoid the staring in Japan!
Most Japanese people will look away the second you look at them (whereas Chinese people often keep staring).

While what I just mentioned might be true for adults, it’s a whole different story for kids!
Children can be very persistent and annoying when it comes to staring.
Kids stare at me every single day. And a glimpse is not enough! They want MOAR! Even when they pass by their head turns in my direction so that they can keep an eye on me. smilie

Speaking of Japanese children and staring there’s just one story out of many I’m going to share with you for now:
I was sitting in a Starbucks smilie and there was this little girl with her family right next to me.
The little girl turned over and had her face only a few centimeters away from mine.
She kept staring and staring … I couldn’t enjoy my coffee at all. smilie
I was waiting for her mom to say something, but despite being well aware of the situation, she didn’t do anything!

Eventually I asked the girl in Japanese if there was anything strange in my face.
A “normal” young girl would have probably turned away immediately, but this girl just shook her head and kept staring.
IT WAS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO ANNOYING!
I tried to turn away from her as much as possible, finished my coffee very quickly and left.
Yes, there ARE days like that!

But things could be worse. After all staring is pretty harmless, right? It’s annoying, you might feel uncomfortable, but it doesn’t really do anything to you.

What if it’s not just staring, though?
I had kids point at me, screaming: GAIJIIIIN!!! (Foreigner!!!!!!)
Of course, everybody else immediately turned over to “look” at me. smilies
I was thinking about just pointing back, screaming: NIHONJIIIIN!!! (Japanese!!!!) smilie

In this situation as well the mother didn’t do anything about it.
Usually a mother would say: “Stop that! You can’t just point at people!”
I think that’s ONE reason why Japanese people stare so much. They weren’t taught that it’s a bad or rude thing to do.
If you ask a Japanese person about it, you often get the answer: “I thought foreigners are ok with it. It’s normal in foreign countries to stare at people, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, sure. Just like the flying pink elephants here in Japan …”

Sometimes the staring is accompanied by random comments. Luckily I mostly get nice ones, but to me it’s still annoying most of the time:
“Beautiful!”
“So tall!”
(I’m only about 173cm and I never wear heels!)
“Look, a foreigner!” (“Look! A three headed monkey!!” …)

People often tend to suddenly speak English or change the topic to something about America (because they think you are American) when they see you.
This goes far beyond today’s “staring topic”, so I’ll do a separate post for that at some point.

 

How to deal with staring in Japan:

Well, there are people who mind and people who don’t mind.
It might even depend on your mood on that specific day.
Even I have days where I just HATE being permanently stared at and then I have days when I barely notice it or just don’t care.

If you don’t mind being stared at at all then congratulations! smilie Tell me your secret! smilie

I have no idea about good ways to deal with “The Daily Stare“, but here are some ideas you might (NOT) want to try:

You can stare back.
You can just say something. Anything is fine.

“Is there something funny in my face?”
“Are you in love with me?”
“Have you never seen an alien before?” (“Michael Jackson was one, too!!”)
“I know I look like George Clooney, but in fact I’m a woman!”
“Could you just stop staring at me? Please?? PLEASE!!!!”

You can cover your face, start crying, start screaming or just make funny faces!

Why do Japanese stare at foreigners? - Staring in Japan

Photo Credit: Arni Kristjansson

Or you can get this awesome book cover for free!
The title of the book translates to: “Why do Japanese stare at foreigners?”
I’d love to get it just to see what would happen! *g*
Obviously that only works when you’re in a train or sitting in a café, not when you’re walking through streets or in a department store.

 
Now it’s your turn! Please share your experience! smilie

How do you deal with the staring in Japan?
What’s your weirdest experience?
Do you have the ultimate technique to stop staring?
Do you even mind when people stare at you?

Thanks so much for reading! smilie

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