Life in Japan

Why You’ll Always be an Outsider in Japan

Living in Japan as a foreigner can be very interesting, weird, annoying and sometimes also frustrating. Japanese people might be scared of you, stare or even point at you shouting “FOREIGNER!!!

All of that happens because you are something exotic, you are the unknown, you are a phenomenon that just appears out of nowhere and then disappears just as fast as it came.

But what if you don’t?
What if you stay in the land of the rising sun and continue to be this “exotic, mystical” person called “gaijin” (外人, outsider)?

It’s okay. After a few years people will recognize you.
After all you’ve been in Japan for a very long time. You speak Japanese fluently, you know Japanese etiquette and how to use chopsticks.
You might have even married a Japanese citizen, drive a Japanese car and work in a Japanese company.
You live a normal life – not much different from any Japanese person! Right???


Disclaimer: The following is written based on my own experience.


5 Things That Make You Feel Like The “Eternal” Outsider in Japan:

I’ve been in Japan for many years now. I speak decent Japanese.
I have no difficulties traveling through Japan all by myself. I can handle Japanese hospitals without any problem. Japan has become my (second) home.

And yet the Japanese people around me remind me every single day, that it’s NOT my home. At least not in their eyes!
First of all there’s all this staring that clearly shows me that I’m different, that I’m an outsider.
I still get compliments for how well I speak Japanese although for me it’s just normal that I can speak it – now that Japan is my home and I’ve been here for so many years.


1. “Hello I live in Japan”:

I run into random people when traveling and usually there’s some small talk involved.
Often conversations go like this:

Japanese: “Oh, where are you from?”
Me: “XY City, XY Prefecture.” (obviously where I live in Japan)
Japanese: “Uh, no, I mean, where did you live BEFORE that?”
Me: “Oh, before that I lived in XY Prefecture for 4 years!”
Japanese: “Uhm …. no, I mean WHERE WERE YOU BORN??? You are not Japanese, right???!!!”
Me: “Originally, I’m from Germany!”
Japanese: “Oh, Germany!! [insert some typical cliché blabbering]”

Yes, conversations are not always going like that and I have to admit that I answer like that on purpose! smilie
But if they ask me where I came from (lit.: どこから来ましたか, “Doko kara kimashita ka?”), then I naturally answer where I live in Japan and not where I was born!
If somebody asks you this question, you would usually tell them in which city you currently live and not where you were born unless they explicitly ask for it, right?


2. “I was born in Japan”

Sometimes I stretch the conversation above a bit just to see how they react:

Japanese: “Where were you born?”
Me: “Oh, I was born here in Japan.”
Japanese: “………………!??! Oh!?”

To be honest, even after saying it, some just pretend they didn’t hear what I just said.
Or they say I don’t look like a “hafu” (ハーフ, that’s how they call people who are half Japanese and half foreign).
And when I tell them that both of my parents are foreign, it seems like their brain is about to explode. smilie

Of course I’m totally making this story up, BUT:
One of my previous co-workers is exactly like that! Her parents are from America, came to teach English at a university in Japan and just stayed for good.
She was born and raised here in Japan. Obviously she doesn’t look Japanese AT ALL!
However, inside she’s Japanese through and through. My former co-worker is fluent in Japanese as she went to a Japanese kindergarten, school and you name it!

How do you think people like her feel when they have a similar conversation like the one above?


3. “When are you going back home?”

This is just another question a lot of foreigners – including me – often have to face.
Japanese people don’t expect that you’ll stay in Japan forever.
They see you as a short-term visitor – even if you tell them that you’ve been in Japan for several years!

Again, imagine my previous co-worker! What do you mean by “going back home”???!!! Japan is her home!


4. “Keep the outsiders out!”

Japan is the perfect country to keep the outsiders out. After all it’s an isolated island!

Apart from its geographical feature there are some other things that “help” with the great endeavor to keep the outsiders out!
There are still some establishments with signs saying: “No foreigners!”
Foreigners are not allowed to vote. It’s almost impossible to obtain Japanese citizenship!
Japan also doesn’t allow dual citizenship, so if you’re a “hafu” you’ll have to choose eventually.
And if neither of your parents is Japanese, then you can’t be a Japanese citizen – even if you were born in Japan.
Home, sweet home!


5. How foreigners might feel about it:

When my family came to visit me in Japan, it was very interesting to see how they were happily answering questions and were glad that Japanese people approached them asking where they were from.
After a week they were so annoyed, so I asked them: “Can you imagine how annoying it must be when this happens to you almost every single day?”
Of course, they nodded.


How about you?

Have you been in a similar situation? How do you feel about it?
Can you imagine that it can be difficult to be seen as “the outsider” for almost all of your life when living in Japan?
Please share your opinion and / or experience! smilie


  • I know how it feels. I’ve even been attacked by a nationalist who told me to get out of Japan. And now I have a daughter who is a Japanese citizen. She gets an amazing amount of attention because of her white skin and brown hair. She has very Caucasian features, although her eyes are quite Asian-looking. When she’s older and speaking, if someone asks her where she’s from, I hope she says Japan. She is Japanese, whether people here want to accept it or not. This is her home country.

    • I’m sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience.
      Luckily that has never happened to me before, but I heard that there are nationalits like that out there.
      I hope by the time your daughter has grown up, Japan has become a bit more open-minded towards “mixed kids” and foreigners.

    • Hm, i’m facing the same problem with my son. He’s a cute little half, but he got nothing from his Japanese Mama. Well except the “Dumbo”-ears, maybe. When we go shopping, always a lot of people ask him where he’s coming from. In English. So everybody is surprised, when that cute little fella is very offended and start bubbling that he is a Nihonjin. Haha, did you ever see real terror in somebodies face? Anyway, i hope that he becomes big and strong enough, to make his way here in Japan.

      • I like that :) I really want to see people’s faces when they ask my daughter where she’s from, or if they tell her that her Japanese is really good. Well, of course it is! She’s from Japan!

  • I’ve heard this from several foreigners who’ve lived in Japan for years. So although I’d love to stay in japan for a year or so, I don’t know if I could live there for a long period of time :(

    • If you just live in Japan for a year, I don’t think you’ll be bothered by it.
      It’s really just if you want to make Japan your home. And I think that’s really an issue for many foreigners and probably also ONE reason why many leave Japan in the end.

  • I don’t live in Japan just yet, moving over in March but have travelled extensively throughout the country by my self. My experience is interesting in that I’m Mexican-American but look Asian. As such, I’ve gone relatively unnoticed, usually mistaken for Chinese or Korean if anything. I regularly got approached by people speaking Japanese actually, like the one time I was interviewed in Japanese by a local tv station in Kagoshima. They would eventually realize I wasn’t Japanese when I responded with my subpar speaking. We’ll see if anything changes once I move over.

    • It’s true that “Asian-looking” foreigners are treated differently. In fact, I want to write another blog post about it some other time!

      It seems like your experience thus far was rather positive! I’m glad to hear that! :)

      • I would LOVE to read that! Being ethnically Chinese, I always wondered if they would treat me any way less of a gaijin. Not keeping much of my hopes up, though, since the accent or a show of an identity card is all it needs to change perspectives.

      • When I was in Korea, I once went to an October harvest festival with two other people. One was Chinese and had never even opened as Korean textbook. The other was Korean, but lived in the United States all her life and had to speak to every body in English. So I had to do all the translating for both of them.

        But I was the one that strangers kept approaching with “Can I help you?”

  • Ohh, this was such a great article!! :kyah: A question I get ALL THE TIME is ‘what are you doing in Japan???’ because I don’t belong here I suppose. I’ve never asked anyone in America that kind of question (and D.C. is filled with a bunch of different nationalities) because it just doesn’t seem important I guess??
    But yeah, I get all of those questions too, but I don’t get approached randomly so often, mostly shop staff (Osaka is filled a lot of non-Japanese, so maybe they’re used to it..?).

    I feel really bad for people who were born and raised in Japanese and still can’t be considered Japanese :sweatdrop2: That must be so frustrating. It’s also why I probably won’t raise my kids (whenever I have them lol) in Japan.. America does have it’s myriad of problems, but at least there’s a way to fight against things like discrimination (and we acknowledge it’s existence… for the most part..). In Japan, you’re just left to deal with it really :hum:

    • Oh, yes!!
      That’s definitely another common question: “Where are you from?” / “When do you leave again?” / “What are you doing here in Japan?”
      Options for foreigners are usually: exchange student or English teacher – at least in the eyes of Japanese people.
      If you tell them you’re neither, I bet they’re rather surprised!

      I totally agree! I probably wouldn’t want to raise my kids in Japan either.

  • Well, Japan :peace:
    I was living in outskirt of Nagoya. Nagoya already not that crowded with ANY foreigners, actually I barely saw any, and that few was anyway in the city.
    In my place I got huge attention, the older neighbours right away came out and kept asking me all questions, the babies and toddlers were staring at me with REALLY OPEN mouth.. :ehehe: Some very old ladies even went so far, that they called me closer just to touch my skin and my hair! But eventually, I KNEW, what to expect, so, I just took all this as funny, and enjoyed the attention. And eventually everybody was so kind and curious about me. They helped me a lot with everyday dealings as garbage, and telling me where I can find cheap and decent rice at local rice-shop, etc. I knew, that I my status will always be the “gaijin” , but it actually never bothered me. I accepted the country, how it is. Japan so special, and it was always the place I wanted to live, I feel really as my home and the most perfect place in this world (-again, for myself) ..
    If Japan can be this special, as we all love it, it is because of it’s isolation. So, please, everyone, be more patient ;P … Just think, that this is the “price” of being there… Not that terrible isn’t it…

    ps. If there are places, where they do not accept foreigners, it is because many foreigners were causing troubles (clubs) fully drunken, and some are really arrogant, refusing to behave how is expected in Japan. Moreover it is true when it comes to American soldiers, placed in Japan, as they just being there for the duty. Cultural differences are bothering them too much.

    • You think so?
      I thought Nagoya has quite a few foreigners. Not as many as in Osaka or Tokyo, but definitely more than where I live! ^_^;

      It seems like you were really lucky and your overall experience thus far was rather positive. I’m glad to hear that! :D
      And of course there are nice and helpful people like that out there, too!

      I guess it depends on the individual.
      Some people just can’t handle being treated as the outsider plus all the staring . Others see it as “can’t be helped if I want to live in Japan” just like you said! :)

      American soldiers in Okinawa have done a few stupid things recently and I do run into a lot of lound and rude (English speaking) foreginers when I travel, so this doesn’t really help the image of “THE” foreigner, but I don’t like the fact that we’re often all thrown into the same pot! :/

      • I can totally agree with you, it very much depends on what kind of people one is surrounded with, and also how is one’s personality. My best friend was in Tokyo, she was always confused, she always felt, that people staring her, and talking behind her back, that sort of always being in the centre of negative attention. Even those ones who belonged to the family of her fiancee, and welcomed her really warmly in the family. (They were actually very open minded about westerners)
        She could not deal with many things – like not speaking up straight out our thoughts/feelings, etc, and finally she got some sort of nervous break down, so, she quit everything and returned home to Europe after half year.
        well, I think that being a Hungarian also helped me to get more friendly with Japanese people. Surprisingly most of people welcomed me warmly when turned out that I am Hungarian. They like them (what I actually knew it also before going there), but could not find out the reason myself, but might have been something of being Altai by origin, and Bartok Bela or Franz Liszt, who’s methods of music teaching is widely spread in Japan. However, this is all just guessing by me :) ….
        And me also I REALLY DON’T like being considered some nationality which I do not belong to. That can make so frustrating feeling. But what is interesting, I never actually realized the “speak English” urge when people saw me.. Maybe I do not look at all any sort of English..? Or I was just too into myself always to observe that… :hihi:
        Though the kids “Gaijin!!” shouts with happy face of discovering an interesting bug or a jumping bunny on the sidewalk is familiar :sweatdrop: ..
        I am sure that Nagoya has much more foreigners than the area you living, since you seem being in real countryside! wow, it can be so beautiful and lovely. However, as you also mentioned, one can attract more attention, when living at (more) remote place.
        Since you are there now 5 years ago, I think, you still didn’t lost your affection to that lovely country. I hope you will feel yourself better with the time, and enjoy your life :kyah:
        Unfortunately, I moved away, and now I live in Canberra (AUS) but I still hope everyday, that life and destiny will somehow place me back to Japan.

        • Thank you! :)
          I certainly do enjoy my life here, otherwise I wouldn’t be in Japan anymore!
          However, I understand your friend’s feelings. I sometimes get too negative and probably see things or interpret things in a far too negative way.
          I consider that as a challenge for myself to work on it. My surroundings won’t change, but I can change the way I handle it!

          I’m sure Australia is great as well, but if you really want to, I hope that you can make it back to Japan in the future! ^__^

    • I think I know why your experience has been different from that of german alien in japan:
      It is because you’re living in a small community.

      When I was in Bolivia, I learned that the best way to learn a second language is to look for the smallest community you can find. There, I didn’t have to tolerate people speaking to me in English like I did in the big city.

      There are two possible reasons for this. Maybe the people in the smaller communties were less educated in English than the people in the big city. Or maybe the people in smaller communities do not have as many foreigners to affirm their ugly stereotypes.

      My next overseas venture was in Korea. There I got a job in Janghoweon. It was delightful. In the school building where I worked, one could see a rice field out the back window and Main Street out the front window.

  • Oh, das hört sich hart an.

    Gerade, dass man kein japanischer Staatsbürger sein darf, obwohl man dort geboren ist finde ich einfach nur verachtend. :huh:

    Deine Kollegin ist für mich klar Japanerin. Für Japaner anscheinend nicht. Das muss sie sehr treffen.

    • Jeder geht damit anders um. Manchen Leuten scheint das offenbar gar nichts auszumachen.
      Letztendlich muss jeder für sich selbst entscheiden, ob er das “aushalten” kann.

      Zum Glück ist sie ein Sonnenschein, ein etwas dicklicher, gemütlicher und grundauf fröhlicher Mensch. Sie steckt es mit viel Humor eigentlich ziemlich gut weg.
      Sie ist übrigens mit einem Amerikaner verheiratet und hat 3 Kinder mit ihm, die jetzt auch in Japan aufwachsen. Das ist also die nächste Generation von Kindern, die keine japanischen Wurzeln haben, aber in Japan geboren sind.

  • As I live in Tokyo, people don’t approach me randomly and ask me where I’m from, but when I talk to shop staff or doctors, they always ask. At least everyone likes Germany… I don’t have the feeling that I’m being treated any differently, but when we went to Korea over new year’s, I noticed that Koreans approach foreigners completely differently: While Japanese won’t talk to you, because they think you can’t understand them anyways, Koreans will talk you to death, even though you make it obvious you don’t understand them. :sweatdrop: I actually like that attitude more.

    My manager at work is half-German half-Japanese, a Japanese citizen, and she gets told that she speaks great Japanese, because (from a Japanese standpoint) she looks very European. This must be super annoying. If you asked a foreigner in Germany where they’re from, they would most likely tell you “Germany” (or hit you.), but I think that has to do with just how many there are. I think only 1% of the Japanese population are foreign, vs. 10% in Germany (excluding everyone with German citizenship).

    I hope that soon, being half-non-Japanese (or completely non-Japanese) will be more accepted and considered “Japanese too”. From what I hear from people who have half-non-Japanese kids in and around Tokyo, especially young kids just don’t care. If there is any animosity, it usually comes from adults and is mimicked by the kids. When we have kids, we will probably have them in Japan, and it would break my heart, if they were ostracized because they are different. (Though usually ハーフ are considered to be really pretty, because… IDK)

    • I haven’t been to Korea yet, so this is really interesting information!
      I wouldn’t be able to understand them if they approached me! *g*

      I wonder what it really is. Even very young kids and toddlers stare at me. They’re too young to be influenced by their parents.
      They just stare because they see something they haven’t seen before.
      And I taught “half-kids” and saw that some Japanese kids are not very nice to them if they’ve never met a “half” before.
      Questions like: “Why can you speak Japanese?” and “What are you doing in an English school anyways?”
      Luckily once they get used to them, it gets better! :)

      I truly hope things will change in the future. Just because the percentage of foreigners is very low in Japan, doesn’t make it more acceptable when they’re treated as outsiders.

  • concerning the citizenship, there are similarities in Germany : you are not German even if you were born in Germany when your parents are foreigners ; if one of your parents is not German, when you are grown up you must choose between German nationality and the other nationality.

    anyway, Japanese people are still not used to immigration. they have a long way to go, in order to understand foreigners issues in their country. and maybe while the number of foreigners is rising, the number of racists will rise too (look at Europe).

    I hope my comment is clear, as English is not my mother tongue. ^^

    • @lechatdupaf
      Sorry, but that’s dead wrong. Born in Germany = German, same as in Japan.
      It completely doesn’t matter what’s your parent’s nationality. And of course you
      can have double citizenship in Germany. Where did you get your info?
      Also, if one of your parents is German, it doesn’t matter where you came from, you can
      always get the German citizenship. In Japan, that’s impossible. Once you’ve chosen another
      citizenship, you can’t go back to Japanese citizenship, even you’re born in Japan.

      Great article, but it doesn’t say anything especially about a female Gaijin’s life in Japan.
      That’s what we all want to know, sweetie…….

      • Im sorry to say that coolia, but you are wrong, lechatdupaf was absolutely right. Nationality in Germany is determined by the nationality of your parents and not the place of birth like in the US.

        That means, if your parents are german and you are born in the US you automatically gain both nationalities. German nationality from your parents by german law and the US citizenship from the place of birth according to US laws. However, german law requires you to choose by the age of… I think it was 21. There are only rare circumstances that allow you to keep dual citizenship in Germany.

        On the other side, if your parents are US citizens and you are born in germany, initially you are left without any nationality at all, although german officials will asssume US citizenship according to their law.

        In effect the Japanese regulations are quite similiar to German law. However, it’s much easier to gain citizenship in Germany if you lived here long enough. In Japan it’s virtually impossible as far as I know.

        • Again: Get your facts straight, before you answer to something, you don’t know about. It takes just 30 seconds with Google and even you’ll be enlightened. If foreigners give birth to a baby in Germany, the baby gets the German citizenchip. Additionally it also gets the Citizenchip of the parents, if BOTH of them are from the same country. That is called a “dual citizenship”. So the baby definitely has a citizenship, it is not “left without any citizenship”, as you say. And as long as its living in Germany, nobody gives a shit about the 2. citizenship. When this baby is 18 (not 21…..), it can decide about the citizenship OR hold the dual citizenship. Yes, it’s difficult, but NOT impossible. All this is German law, not “blabla” that you “think” it’s right, torquata…..

          • coolio, please keep calm and stay friendly. :) Would you?

            I followed your advise and searched google. Sure, in even less than 30 seconds we can find good (German) information on this topic, e.g.:


            I must confess I wasn’t aware that the laws were changed in 2000. Of course, mainly due to EU regulations. Yes, obviously I had the pre 2000 situation in mind.

            Nevertheless, this change still doesn’t mean that any child of any foreigner born in Germany will automatically gain German citizenship. There still are prerequisites based on the nationality and legal status of the parents.

            In case of dual citizenship the child still MUST (not can) make a decision, not as I thought at the age of 21, nor at the age of 18 as you said, but between the age of 18 and 23 actually (according to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited above). Especially the “Turkish” community here in Germany is not happy about this.

            However, what really matters in the context of this blog is the fact that
            a) other, non-Japanese countries can have difficult, strict, and as it were disadvanteous laws too.
            b) Japan has much stricter laws than most other countries on this planet.

            Can we agree on this? Without any blaming for “blabla”? :)

            And to come back to Jasmines post. I think it’s good to see not only the beautiful pictures of cherry blossom and Japanese temples but also to read about the drawbacks of the real live of a Gaijin in Japan. The Gaijinlife in Japan obviously can be very ambiguous and challenging.

            PS: And Yes, Jasmine, not to forget. I’m also looking forward to reading your blog entry about the female side of a Gaijin in Japan. :-)

    • But the difference is (correct me if I’m wrong) that you CAN get the German citizenship even when both your parents AREN’T German.
      In Japan it’s (almost) impossible to get Japanese citizenship in that case.

      • That depends on how long your parents were in Germany by the time the baby was born. I’ll speak from family experience, but my cousins were born in Germany and did not acquire the German nationality automatically. That is, my uncle and aunt had to go to their respective embassies and getbthem passports.

        When my uncle and my aunt naturalized as German citizens, then it was that my cousins also became Deutsch.

        But if your parents have been legal residents 8 years in Germany by the time you are born then you do become German at birth.

        • Thank you very much for the informative input, glennwolf.

          However, what I was saying is that in Japan it’s almost impossible to become a Japanese citizen if your parents are not Japanese. Not matter how long the parents have stayed in Japan.
          So, rules are much stricter than in Germany. Immigration rules, too. ;)

  • it must be really frustrating to live in a place where people are unused to seeing non-tourist Caucasians :( just reading the example conversations above makes me feel slightly irritated! it’ll prob be quite some time before these perceptions change, sadly.

    and i guess people from Korea or China living in Japan may face different problems too. as for me (a singaporean chinese person), i’ve only ever lived in japan as an exchange student – during our ‘socialising sessions(??)’ the other japanese students wouldn’t talk to me as much because they think i’m japanese too :notamused: and when i return to japan as a tourist, japanese people ask me for directions :ehehe:

    • Asian-looking foreigners certainly get treated differently. If that is now a good thing or not depends on the individual, I guess.

      Overall your experience in Japan thus far sounds rather positive, though. Am I right? :)

  • I think, that Japan is a little bit special when it comes to this question..
    It’s true that if you compare it with other countrys there are only a few foreigners living in Japan, perhaps except Chinese an Korean people.
    Although every Japanese says, that they can tell Chinese an Korean people apart, I don’t really believe them. So of course European, American an other people get’s lots of attention, because they look totally different.

    And.. I’m not Japanese. Even if I will live here for many years, I will always stay a little bit German. So I think I don’t mind if people will ask me where I’m originally from.

    And.. German people are not even better.. All those Turkish people will be Turkish people forever.. Even if they are living in Germany for the 4th generation. If you ask one of those “foreigners” in Germany where they’re from they will of course tell you the city where they’re born in Germany and not the country their ancestors are from.
    And that’s the only difference.. In Germany we perhaps ask where the parents or greatparents where born..

    Maybe in a few years I will think a bit different about it.. But in the moment I don’t see so much differences about Japan and Germany. And here where I live, everybody accepts, me as a foreigner living in Japan. They are happy that I like their country so much, that I want to live here a bit longer. And as long as they ask me things about Germany I always have enough to talk about and don’t have to do smalltalk about the weather… Ok.. we are in Japan.. I always have to talk about the weather…^^

    • I also doubt they can tell if somebody is Chinese, Korean or Japanese.
      Sometimes you can. Sometimes even I can. But nobody can do that with a 100% accuracy!

      I think with the Turkish people in Germany it depends. Some of them just don’t want to be properly integrated, so of course it’s hard to see them as German.
      Other Turkish people have integrated well and often I don’t know they have Turkish roots until they tell me.

      If you try your best to assimilate to a new country and try to blend in, then this SHOULDN’T happen.
      I’m not saying that Germany is much better, but I can’t really compare it as I’ve not been a “foreigner in Germany”.

      Even more than the questions discussed in this blog post I hate this one: “You are American, aren’t you?”
      I hate when they throw all Western foreigners into one pot.
      When Japanese people stare at me I can almost hear their thoughts and all the stigmata they have ready for “THE AMERICAN” foreigner.
      I’d love to have a huge sticker with a German flag on my clothes for these kind of situations. *g*

  • yeah, I totally get where you’re coming from and have seen all these.  I’ve developed some fake personae just to mess with people too ;-) I’ve been here for 15 years.  Sometimes when “kids” are shocked that I know about natto or taroimo or how fast a shinkansen can travel or whatever, I have to “enlighten” them that I’ve lived in Japan longer than THEY have. But, what bothers me is at work when vendors and clients don’t give me appropriate respect or try to take advantage of the “gaijin”.  That really pisses me off.  Even colleagues from other companies.  It’s taken me 5 or more years as a manager to establish respect for my knowledge that any Japanese person would have been granted on site without proving anything. This is where I wonder how much longer I can really take it. 

    • I hear you! I had that problem at work as well.
      Not only at work, but at some other places, too. Japanese people think a foreinger can’t understand Japanese and doesn’t know about Japanese etiquette, so they don’t have to treat them like they would treat a Japanese person. Oh, so wrong!
      I hate when people call out to me: “Oi, kimi!” or something. What’s up with that?
      And some even don’t use polite Japanese with me. They probably think I wouldn’t notice, but OH YES I do!

      Is leaving Japan an option for you?

    • Hi Eric,
      I has only experience with Koreans, as I was working for some years in a huge Korean company, and unfortunately the attitude is quite the same. I really didn’t like that they called me by my first name,without the polite “ssi” (san) – ( like only the very young korean coworkers) while the same aged, but Korean coworkers were called by family name, and added the “-ssi” (san) naturally. And while being included to company dinners and things, I could always feel that they think I am more retarded then they are (well, not only me, all other westerners there).
      I think, I tried to accept that, as no other choice, but in longterm it really develops the “underdog feeling” .. In the end I also regarded myself somewhat inferior to them, which is quite saddening…

      • I’m really sorry to hear about your bad experience, but I find it very interesting that this seems to happen in Korea as well.
        I realize that “discrimination” happens in every country, but I suppose “language-related” discrimination is unique to certain countries. After all I’m not sure if that’s even possible in every language.
        Totally “off topic”, but I’d LOVE to read a study about this some day! (^___^’)

  • I’m relatively new here, all these issues are still a novelty or still to experience. I’m from Scotland which is fun as although it’s a part of the United Kingdom I’ve always been Scottish first, British second, so that’s hiow I answer when asked. So many people haven’t heard of Scotland before. Quite interesting that Japanese sometimes just assume I’m American.

    I live in the wee town of Tokuyama 徳山市 which is now part of the larger Shunan City 周南市 located in the Yamaguchi prefecture. I used to like it as it reminds me of my home town of Falkirk – it has a big ugly industrial complex on the horizon.

    Brilliant article by te way.

    • Hi John!
      Don’t worry, Japanese people often assume that a Western foreigner = American. It’s not only you!
      I hate the fact that we’re just all thrown into the same pot.

      Oh, I know where that is. I’ve been there. I’ve travelled quite a lot in Chugoku and also in Yamaguchi Prefecture! :)

      Thanks and I hope to see you around here more often from now on! :D

  • I think a lot of negative experiences come down to individuals. My experiences in Japan have been overwhelmingly positive. It’s actually quite funny, because I often get asked for how long I’ve been in Japan and when I tell them I’m just here on vacation they seem surprised.

    But then I mostly travel to places that not even Japanese go to very often and my Japanese is quite decent :)

    I know what you meant about it getting on your nerves when being asked where you’re from and “oh my god, your Japanese is so good”, but even if it’s the 1000th time for you, those people are meeting you for the first time, so it’s expected, I guess. It’s what I would ask as well if I had a visitor from a foreign country. I guess as it will never actually stop, just bare with it or you’ll go bonkers :stressed: It’s all a matter of perspective after all :D

    In general I rather like the extra attention. My “foreignness” gives me a bonus most of the time, with people feeding me local specialties, showing me stuff, taking the time to explain, generally making sure I go home with good memories. I can’t say if I’m being treated different from Japanese tourists, but I’d tend towards yes. I can’t tell for sure though :)

    Concerning citizenship: We’re having quite a few problems in Austria now. During the war in former Yugoslavia we received a lot of fugitives. Many applied for asylum here and in the meantime had children and became part of the communities they live in. Only some are now being sent home as the asylum was denied. So of course the children have to go with their parents even though they’ve grown up in Austria and went to school here. I’m not sure if they have the Austrian citizenship, I doubt it though. Either way, sending their parents back effectively makes them go with their parents, no choice there.

    Sadly every country has their problems :rainy:

    • Well, in your case I bet they are surprised. Your Japanese is perfect after all, so they must expect you live in Japan! ;)
      I often get to hear: “Wow! You’ve only been in Japan for xx years and yet your Japanese is soooo good!” (T_T) ….

      I know that it’s the first time for them or that they rather get the chance to talk to foreigners, BUT it doesn’t change the fact that it’s annoying as hell for me! null

      Our experience is really quite different.
      I wish they’d treat me special and show me around (well, that happened, too), but I also had it often that a guide did his best to explain something to Japanese people and when he was done and the others encouraged the guide to go over to me and explain it to me, he just says “No, I can’t speak English …”.
      They should at least FREAKING try! After all it’s ther job!!! *g*

      That’s true. If there is a perfect country, let me know! I’ll move right away!

  • Even here in Germany, in Duesseldorf where I am currently living, there are japanese shops where there is a “No foreigners”-sign at the door :notamused:

    • Is there really a sign with “No foreigners”? Because that would mean that the Japanese themselves aren’t allowed to enter as they ARE foreigners in Germany. *g*
      Or does the sign say: “Only for Japanese”?

      • :huh:
        XD Of course it’s “Only Japanese”! :hihi: I was writing it in the middle of the night… :ehehe:

    • Thats not true! Im also from Düsseldorf and lived here nearly my whole live, and i know, i guess, all of the Japanese and Japan related shops.

      There is only the Video-Rental which says: “Service only in Japanese”.

      So, if you are not a Japanese Citizen, but if you are able to speak Japanese to a certain extend, you can enter the Shop and rent Videos as anyone else (I have entered the Shop several times and wasn’t been kicked out^^).

  • The concept of nationality and ethnicity is rather rigidly defined, universally accepted and rarely debated here in Japan. As we all know, In UK you can be ethnically English and your nationality British. Equally speaking, you can be ethnically Indian but your nationality would still be British. This makes UK a multicultural nation accepting ethnic and cultural diversity, at least on the surface.(some may argue the issue of racism there is much more severe than it looks, and UK is no utopia for immigrants or their descendants) However, in my opinion at least they go through the motion of allowing for diversity.
    In contrast, Japanese people are used to the idea of ethnicity=nationality, and in their head there can be no contradiction between the two.
    This ties in with your frequently asked questions:”where are you from?” , “when are you going home?”
    People ask these questions because for most of the them, it is almost inconceivable that there are non-Japanese(ethnically speaking) who consider Japan their home, and it isn’t because they want to deport you back home. lol
    I personally find this uncomfortable, for it is a clear reflection of their intolerance towards irregularity, but it is also important to note that it is also this unchanging obsession towards absolute uniformity that gives Japan its exotic nature attracting millions of tourists from all over the world. After all, if you take away “exotic” away from Japan what are we left with? Sushi?
    On the practical front, when I am in Japan and feel isolated or ostracized in extreme cases, I always make the effort of thinking beyond simple “why” “how” questions and take into account their background, the very environment they grew up in ie: everyone looking alike, following the same social code, saying the same things, etc. This mental exercise helps me to accept their way and their mentality. Long and verbose comment, but I hope this may offer some remedy(consolation?lol) to your problem :shiawase:

    I’d love to hear your opinion on this too:)

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Masa!

      Of course, I understand what you’re trying to say. In my blog post I just want to rant about my daily experience in Japan.
      It didn’t go as deep as actually looking for the reason WHY Japanese people might stare so much, but of course it’s important to understand this as well. Thinking beyond the “why and how” is definitely essential. You make a good point there!

      Thank you very much for sharing your honest experience with all of us! :D

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