Life in Japan

But I AM speaking Japanese!

You can speak basic Japanese.
You know a few words.
Japanese people compliment you after a mere “arigatou”.

But what happens when you actually speak Japanese (pretty much) fluently?
Will the compliments stop?
Will people think you’re the most awesome person ever?
Will you finally be able to communicate with Japanese people properly?

Uh, maybe not!

This video is clearly an exaggeration, but I bet almost everyone who has been living in Japan for quite some time has had a similar experience at least ONCE. Possibly it happens on a regular basis. If so, it’s EXTREMELY annoying.

There are many different types of Japanese people when it comes to how they react to a “foreign” face.
I’ve had my share of them as well. The ones that are most annoying are those who just keep speaking English to you.


Why is this a bad thing?

Well, this is just my opinion, but here we go.
Imagine you’re in a hurry and you’re just asking a station employee for the right track number so that you can transfer trains.
But that person just wants to test their English on you and thus answers in – what he thinks is – English. In fact, it’s something incomprehensible.
You ask the station staff once again, implying that you’re in a hurry. But yet again, you just get some “Engrish“.
In the end you miss the train.

Well, let’s suppose you’re actually lucky and the Japanese person who is forcing their English on you is actually capable of producing something one could understand. But what if YOUR native language is not English? What if you’re fluent in Japanese and would understand a Japanese answer, but not an English answer? In that case, you’d also miss your train.

Sorry for the train example, but that’s just something that really happened to me once. emoticon

Last but not least, why would anyone speak English to you?
We’re in Japan. They’re fluent in Japanese, you’re (pretty much) fluent in Japanese.
Where’s the point?
If they want to speak English so badly, they just can travel somewhere else.
And again, I’m just thinking about all the foreign people in Japan whose native language isn’t English and who might be much more fluent in Japanese than in English.


Why would Japanese people use English then?

How the hell should I know? emoticon
No, I’m just kidding. I do understand it to some degree.
They grow up with the image that foreigners, especially Western foreigners, all speak English.
They learn some English in school, but rarely EVER get a chance to use it. When they see a foreigner, they just can’t help. It’s maybe a once-in-a-lifetime chance for some of them. It’s not like I don’t understand the urge to throw their English “skills” at a foreign face.

And how cool is bragging in front of your friends?
“I actually talked to a foreigner today!”
“Woah! Say what?”
“And in ENGLISH!!”
“Woah! You’re so awesome!”

Well, there you go. emoticon

But what about all those people who use English on you although they should have noticed that your Japanese is excellent?
It seems (though I don’t know) that some Japanese people just cannot comprehend what’s coming out of a foreigner’s mouth. It can’t be Japanese, because foreigners aren’t able to speak Japanese, right? So, in their mind, whatever comes out of a foreigner’s mouth is something a Japanese person cannot understand. But all foreigners speak English, right? Remembering the few words they once had learned in school, they just randomly throw that at you in panic.
Nah …. I really don’t know if that’s it nor not.


Isn’t it because most foreigners’ Japanese level is too low?

That’s something I get to hear very often. I don’t think that’s it.
And in my case I can even prove it. I’m sure it’s similar for most other foreigners as well.
Like I said, I’ve had my share of experiences with Japanese people who would just continue speaking English to me no matter what.
But I’ve only had that in face-to-face situations. NEVER on the phone.
Actually, I’ve been mistaken for a Japanese person on the phone more often than not (until they hear my name). I guess that proves that my Japanese can’t be THAT bad and it’s certainly understood by Japanese people.

I think it’s normal anywhere in the world that you would just switch to the language that both parties can somewhat communicate with. So, if one party cannot speak English at all, you wouldn’t use it. I’ve had that a few times in Europe. When I wanted to talk to Italian people who couldn’t speak English, but only French and Italian (which I couldn’t comprehend) – we somehow managed to communicate in Spanish instead.
So, I think it’s natural to switch to English if a foreigner’s Japanese level is just too low.

But what we’re talking about here (and what you saw in the video) is a different story. It happens even if a person is fluent in Japanese. And that’s what’s pissing people off.

Though to be fair, I rarely got into situations like that. There have been far more Japanese people who just spoke to me in Japanese like they would to a fellow Japanese person.


Speaking Japanese in Japan: What’s your personal experience?

Now, this video didn’t just appear yesterday. It’s been around for quite some time and it sparked some intense discussions back then.
After all, this is a topic that almost every foreigner living in Japan has to deal with. I’m really curious to hear your experience and – even more – your opinion!

Do you think foreigners who get annoyed by this are exaggerating?
Are you annoyed as well?
Would you even go as far as calling it racism?

Discuss away!


Because I’m getting a lot of comments complaining, I want to clarify something:
I write about Japanese people not because I’m saying that these things only happen in Japan. My blog is about Japan and that’s why I focus on life in Japan and Japanese people.
Also, I hate generalizing people. When I say “Japanese people” although I usually put words like “a few” or “some” in front of it, I don’t mean that each and every single Japanese person is like that. It only means that there are people like that and that I’ve personally experienced people like that.


  • I know you’ve had considerable problems with that, but for some reason I rarely every have that problem nowadays. I remember clearly my first time in Japan an trying to ask a shop lady where the postcards are in Japanese. She tried to reply in English, which was completely incomprehensible. I thought my Japanese was way better than her English at that point, so I tried again in Japanese. In the end she just showed me. To tell the truth, I don’t think my Japanese sounded that much better than her English back then :)

    That’s the only experience of that kind that stuck with me though. It sometimes happens in hotels (usually the fancier kind). The check-in folks see me and start talking in English (which is usually quite understandable). Sometimes I reply back in Japanese, sometimes I reply in English, simply because I want to know how good their English really is (I consider that research for my job). If I reply in Japanese, they sometimes stick to English (usually if they are not alone, possibly a supervisor?) or switch to Japanese. Either way, I don’t really care. It’s probably in their job description somewhere, so I’m not going to press them.

    With private persons, i.e. people I meet while travelling, that’s never really the case. I speak Japanese, they speak Japanese. There is the occasional person (usually an older business man) who starts chatting in English to test their skills. I can imagine that that gets old really quickly, especially if teaching English is your job. It does not happen that frequently though… I can remember two cases, I bet there were more, but I don’t remember them.

    Then there’s of course kids. Kids love to throw their English skills at you. Really, they’re kids. They see a foreign person and the only language beside Japanese they learn is probably English. So I pack out my “How do you do?” and “What is your name” and usually if you start replying they laugh and get scared/embarassed and run away. They’ll have something to brag about to their friends and hey, maybe they’ll consider learning English worth their time after all, who knows. It’s not like these “conversations” are really time consuming.

    I admit I’ve only lived in Japan for a year. I do travel frequently to Japan, but it is different from when you live there. Maybe it just starts getting to your after some time. It never really bothered me.

    • I think that it depends on how many people you meet. The more people you meet, the higher the chances you’ll get into that kind of situation.
      The longer you are in Japan and the more you travel and meet people who don’t know you, the higher the probability that this happens.

      Like I said it doesn’t happen that often, but it does. And yes, I think I didn’t even notice when I just arrived in Japan. First of all, my Japanese wasn’t that good, but you wouldn’t be annoyed by it yet. It’s – at least for me – when it just keeps happening … even if you’ve lived in Japan for a decade or longer. And I guess that’s what’s annoying. It’s not the fact that it happens often (it doesn’t / shouldn’t), but that it happens at all.

      I agree. Kids are kids. It can’t be helped. But then again, they grow up thinking that all people with a foreign face can speak English and that it’s okay to approach them in English. I guess the adults should teach them properly. At least that’s what I always try to do with my students. I want them to be more open-minded. And as a non-native speaker of English, I guess they’re more likely to listen to me. *g*

      Oh yeah, in certain hotels it often happens, but that’s their job and as soon as they hear me speak Japanese they switch to Japanese as well. I’m not annoyed by that at all. :)

      I have to admit that I’m not an angel, either.
      I just remember a very recent situation on Zamami Island when I wasn’t even LOOKING at the person I was talking to in the tourist information center. I just kept asking some questions about the island in Japanese. The other person explained everything to me while I was staring at the map, taking notes. Only when we were done, I was looking up just to see that I’ve been speaking with another Western foreigner. But we were both communicating in fluent Japanese. I just wonder what he was thinking when I approached him in Japanese. I swear I didn’t notice until I looked up from my map. I’m such a horrible person sometimes. ^^;; ….

        • Well, there are a lot of foreign tourists nowadays on the Zamami Islands. Even I was surprised.
          So, I guess they really needed someone like him there.
          I still feel a bit sorry, it wasn’t my intention, but I wonder what I would have done if I noticed right away. Maybe I would have spoken Japanese to him nevertheless – and only would have switched to English if he didn’t speak any Japanese?! ;)

          • Well, but why would he speak English? Maybe his mother tongue is not English either, so speaking Japanese would be the same to him as speaking English. And most of all, maybe it is just fun. I guess if he does not like speaking Japanese he wouldn’t work there.

            I experienced the problem you described more in large cities or tourist destinations. When living in the suburbs (done that) or on the countryside (did not do that) where you see another foreigner once every two or three months, nobody talks in English. I guess approaching in English is just a nuisance to them, and maybe they have also noticed that the usual foreigner would not come to non-tourist spots if he speaks no Japanese. Also, the whole customer procedure is standardized (especially in chains), so they will just say every time and don’t care if the customer has any problems (and I think that this is a good thing!).

            I also heard it through the grapevine (ha! funny English. Just wanted to use it :D) from some restaurant staff (even in Kyoto), that more and more foreigners can speak Japanese nowadays, so the staff may also have noticed that and adjusted their behaviour towards them.

          • The island recently become very popular among foreign tourists, so it’s quite obvious that they hired a seasonal English speaking staff just for that.
            Of course, just because there’s a Western foreigner working in a tourist information office it doesn’t mean he can speak English.
            It would be more of a problem if he couldn’t speak Japanese, though. But I’m quite sure they hired him because he can communicate in English with all the foreign tourists who cannot understand Japanese at all. :)

            I agree that it happens more often in bigger cities. That’s also my personal experience as I’ve lived in the Japanese countryside for 7 years and it rarely happens there. ;)

  • I’m not good in Japanese.. Really.. When it comes to normal conversation, people in Japan realizes. But until that point, until normal conversation about every time things, they do not realize. So when I ask for a train station, the way to a special building or something like that, people in Japan understand me. Most of the time I ask at Koban. And I never got an answer in English.
    The only situations were in shops when I, for example, asked for an adapter for my camera cable. That’s when they throw English at me.
    In restaurants they sometimes ask me if I want to have an English menu, but they are doing it this way “English menu?”. When I don’t take it, they will not further bother me with English.
    My experience in Tokyo is, when not being at a tourist spot, I can perfectly live without bothered by English.
    But there are two other situations I remember..
    Last New Year, I asked some students in the countryside how long it takes to reach a temple by foot. They just came from there and I was on the way to visit it.
    Of course I asked in Japanese.
    At first, they just tried to walk along, but then stopped midway and turned towards me. I think that was when they realized that I was asking in Japanese.
    But they were really uncomfortable with me foreigner in their foreigner-free countryside. They didn’t know how to react to me. (Perhaps also because they were a group of male students and I was one single foreign woman in nowhere Japan.)
    After a while they chose to answer me in Japanese. I bet they considered, if they should answer in English, but their shyness won.
    An other situation was when I saw a family obviously got lost in Tokyo’s metro system. So I asked them if I could help. They where tourists and not able to understand or speak English. Only shook their heads and continued trying figure out their way.

    And yes. When there is one party not able to speak English for example, we choose a language everybody can understand. When I came to Japan, it often was German, although among my Japanese friends. Now it switched to Japanese, because that it the language, most of the people are most comfortable with.

    When it comes to business related things, I’m also more comfortable with Japanese. All those special terms I just don’t know in English. But business is also when I am forced to use English. With customers or.. with colleagues, who want to practice English or don’t want to forget it.
    Everybody is now watching towards Tokyo 2020 and thinks, he has to polish his English..

    • I really think it depends on what kind of people you meet and how many people you meet.
      One can live in Japan for a decade but rarely get out of Tokyo.
      But if you live in Japan for several years and travel all over the place including big cities and the deepest inaka (*countryside), then you WILL run into such a situation a few times.
      It doesn’t happen very often, but the more people you meet, the more likely you’ll run into such situations.

      And in super popular tourist spots like Tokyo’s Asakusa for example, I can’t even blame the people there to think that you are a foreign tourist, because 98% there are. *g*

  • I don’t have that much of a problem with this any more for whatever reason, but it is an annoying thing that happens occasionally.

    I can remember when I in my first year of living here, going to a hotel in Hokkaido with one of my friends, which had been booked for us by one of our Japanese friends who was arriving later. We talked to the person at the reception desk, and he asked us if we could speak Japanese, to which we replied yes, but for some reason he then started talking to us in completely incomprehensible English anyway, even though we made it really clear that we could understand Japanese. He then complained to our friend that we couldn’t speak Japanese, which our friend was very confused about!

    I think for some whatever reason Japanese is built up as this impossibly difficult to learn language in Japan, so some people really have problems getting over the fact that it is something that people who look like they weren’t born here can actually master. It’s really strange coming to Japan from my home country (England) where you sort of assume that everyone should be able to speak some English, no matter what they look like.

    On the other hand though, I think there are probably more people who don’t look Japanese in Japan who have very low level Japanese or can’t speak Japanese at all, than there are people who have native level Japanese, so I don’t think you can blame people for trying to speak to you in English, although I do wish that people would recognise that not everyone can speak English! Whenever I see groups of non-Japanese people walking around I try to figure out what language they’re speaking in, and 9 times out of 10 it’s not English, so I always wonder how many of them can speak enough English that they would be able to understand if someone else spoke to them in English.

    I think though in Japanese the bigger problem is people looking at you and obviously thinking “OH MY GOD I HAVE TO SPEAK ENGLISH!” and then trying to run away (this has happened less since I moved to the Tokyo area). I can’t count the number of times that I have started speaking to someone in a shop or restaurant and seen them look immensely relieved when they realise I can speak Japanese!

    • Haha, yes! That’s definitely a problem that a lot of Japanese people actually told me about, especially in the countryside.
      You see, I often travel alone and when I’m in the deepest inaka, I have to ask for the way. And often the people – after kindly helping me out – tell me they were so afraid when I approached them because they cannot speak English. They were so happy when they noticed I can speak Japanese well.
      This seems to be one of the biggest fears. ^^

      I remember being at a tourist spot where a Japanese couple had a Japanese guide. They were talking to each other and eventually the couple suggested that the guide should explain everything to foreign tourists as well. The guide then said that he cannot speak English well enough and that the foreign tourists wouldn’t understand anyway.
      I stood right next to them (of course understanding their whole conversation) – and wasn’t sure if I should say something or not. *g*
      The couple was probably referring to me. And I would have loved to hear his explanations as I just bumped into them when he was almost finished explaining stuff in Japanese to the couple. But the guide would have never approached me as he thought I could only understand English.
      How often do you think situations like the occur?
      It’s kind of sad. ^^;
      Because … it’s like people are giving up before even trying, right?

  • Yeah, I have had to tell some people, “This is JAPAN, speak JAPANESE to me!” (in Japanese, of course) because they kept speaking English to me even after I had asked them not to repeatedly.

    Now, I’ve lived in Japan for almost a decade and I can say that–in my experience at least–about 70% of the time people will deal with me normally in Japanese with no problems; about 25% of the time people will try to speak to me in English but switch to Japanese after I reply in Japanese and/or ask them to speak to me in Japanese; and about 5% of the time I’ll have to get nasty with someone to make them stop trying to use me for a free English lesson. I have noticed, however, that if I’m out with foreign friends and speaking English, about 80% of the time people will use their (normally broken and barely understandable) English without even bothering to see if we speak Japanese (all my foreign friends speak some, and about half are fluent speakers). I also get SUPER pissed off when servers bring me the English menu without asking–especially when I walk in chatting with my friends in Japanese.

    I mean, aside from the ones who continue being rude after I ask them to speak Japanese with me, I don’t blame individual Japanese people. They are only doing what they have been brought up to believe is polite. But it annoys the crap out of me that in 2k15, Japanese people are STILL being educated to treat every non-Asian as a foreigner and every foreigner as an English speaker. How Japanese people are taught to interact with foreigners and Japanese people who do not look ethnically Japanese is institutionalized racial discrimination, plain and simple, and it needs to be changed. I love Japan and it frustrates me so much because I know for a fact that Japanese society can do better.

    • Thanks a lot!
      I think I can pretty much second the numbers. That’s my experience as well.
      And I can only nod while reading your comment. I have nothing more to add! :)

  • Having lived in the countryside of Japan for a while, before moving to Tokyo, I really feel that there is a huge difference in the reaction of Japanese people when I talk to them in Japanese. In Tokyo, only once in 5 months an elderly man at the post office tried to answer me in English, altough I had asked my question him in Japanese, – everyone else, be it shop staff, waiters, police officers, etc. always just answer my questions normally in Japanese. I was even asked by staff at Uniqlo once, if it was okay to speak in Japanese (in English), which I think is much better way to approach a foreigner than just assuming that they can`t speak any Japanese.
    But I also think that Tokyo has only slowly been changing in the past few years. When I was studying here a few years ago, I experienced much more situations, where English was “forced” on me or where people would only look at my (Japanese) boyfriend, when he was with me, when answering a question, although I was the person asking them.

    Compared to Tokyo, people on the countryside where often very surprised, when I talked to them in Japanese. Although they complimented me for my “jouzu” Japanese every single time and were amazed by my “foreignness” overall (which can be unnerving, as you probably know), I was happy that almost noone tried to talk with me in English after I spoke to them in Japanese. But I think that is because they really really couldn`t speak a word of English and were just relieved that they could communicate with me :P

    • Like others have mentioned here it’s not something that happens all the time. It’s more like 5% or less of all encounters you’d have in Japan.
      If you don’t meet a lot of new people every day, you wouldn’t run into such situations very often, I guess.

      I noticed that they’re used to foreigners who can speak Japanese fluently in Tokyo now. I also agree that it has changed in the past few years.
      However, it really depends where in Tokyo you are. Like someone else said, the tourist spots are still likely to treat you as a foreigner who’s just visiting Japan and thus cannot speak / understand Japanese. :) Cannot blame them, though. Most of the time it’s true. ;)

  • I always hear about those stories, so they must be real, I guess.

    However, in three years in Japan, that pretty much never happened to me.
    Actually people speak to me in Japanese pretty much all the time, even after I tell them that I don’t really speak at all, they keep on talking in Japanese.
    And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way, that would indeed really annoy me if random people spoke to me in English (outside of an English-speaking context).

    What is starting to annoy me is people that will speak English to my daughter (while speaking Japanese to me), when she doesn’t know English and knows more Japanese than I do.

    • That’s weird. Why would they rather force English on your daughter?
      She’s of mixed blood, right? I’ve seen how my students treated “half” kids – and of course everyone assumes they naturally can speak English.
      I even had a half Japanese, half French student once. His English level was the same as those of other Japanese boys his age, but everyone assumed that he was fluent in English and couldn’t understand why he would attend an eikaiwa. ^^;

      That’s a mindset that really needs to change. T_T

      • It happens a bit less now that she’s a bit older (almost three years old), but when she was a baby, that was ridiculous, strangers would always speak to her in English, when really it didn’t matter what language you spoke to her at that time as she couldn’t answer anyway.

        And yes, I’m a bit “worried” for her future on that matter. And yes, I know what you mean about half kids in Eikaiwa, I have a few students too like that. I currently have a half-Danish girl, and I used to have a Peruvian girl, not even half, both parents are Peruvian. And kids always look at them pretty confused as to why they’re there.

        • I really hope she’ll be ok.
          From my experience “half kids” are treated well. It’s just the first time they meet someone, they might not be treated that well.
          Once kids get used to the situation, they usually fully accept a kid of “mixed blood”.
          Though, I guess, in reality it’s often not that easy.
          At least I’ve never seen that a “half kid” was being bullied.

  • First, thanks for including that hilarious video! I just subscribed to Ken’s youtube channel. (You should do this more often, help people discover new channels or blogs).

    I commented on your blog before about the experiences of an Asian-American living in Europe (Switzerland specifically). And I burst out laughing while reading this blog. Every foreigner who doesn’t speak German get the same the same “English” treatment. Yes, the Swiss assume that every foreigner speaks English. Especially if you’re not white. And we foreigners assume that other foreigners speak English as well. How else can we communicate?! :-) I find it hilarious rather than annoying.

    I have asked my Swiss co-workers about this. Obviously I speak High German with an American accent. And I sometimes speak it the same way I speak English. Using “die” for all nouns and the verb not at the end. “Entschuldigung, ich möchte bestelle ein Kaffee”. The locals want opportunities to practice speaking English, and they will reply back in English. At this point, I give up and switch to English. Because their English is much better than my German. And that’s why the expats here have trouble learning German. You have to be brave to continue the conversation in half broken German.

    BTW, thank you for the blog. I asked you about travel tips before. I’m actually in Japan right now. In a ryokan in Kyoto! I like Kyoto a lot better than Tokyo. Doing cultural things is more interesting than the nerd crowd in Akihabara. :-)

    • Glad to hear that. I love sharing other people’s blogs, videos etc. when I think they’re interesting. ^____^

      Haha, I have the feeling back in Germany many assume you can speak German. At least where I used to live we didn’t get many tourists, so if you meet people, even if they don’t look European, we just assume they live in Germany and thus can speak German. *g*
      But yeah, it’s a good idea to switch to the language every party can communicate in the best.

      To each their own. I prefer a more quiet, traditional spot over the big cities in Japan as well.
      Enjoy your trip! :)

  • It’s interesting to compare your experiences with some experiences in Italy. Although the situation is probably much less extreme, there are some similarities, I think. Italians are, especially in smaller places, not so good at English, and they often have a strong accent, and they know about it, so the feel a little bit shy when it comes to English.
    Yet, when they meet a foreigner (and they recognize that he/she is a foreigner as soon as he/she starts to speak), they feel the urge to speak English, no matter how bad it is. When I answer in Italian (which, I think, is comprehensible), sometimes they are glad to go on in Italian, but sometimes they continue speaking English. Why do they do so? I think there are several reasons. Some just want to show that they can speak English, that they meet “international standards”. Some might think that the situation – communicating with a foreigner – requires English (it is not a “home situation”, so to speak). And maybe some think that it is more polite to make the effort to speak English. I remember one funny situation. I was waiting in a small village for the bus. A group of elderly men was sitting around. Even before opening my mouth I was recognized as a foreigner ;-) I asked for the bus direction, and the timetable in Italian. One of the men was the English teacher of the village. He was so proud of demonstrating his capability in English to his fellows that I had to talk to him in English for about an hour until the bus arrived ;-)

  • Well Gaijins speak English, that’s an established fact, right?!

    But that actually _can_ backfire, and I finally got my revenge:

    Wife+me are living in Germany now. With credit cards issued in Germany. And last year my wifey wanted to withdraw money from an 7-eleven with that credit card.

    Puts her card in the ATM.

    And the ATM welcomes here with the following language choices:


    Four languages, and she speaks none of them. I laughed so hard. You’re a considered a gaijin now, you’re no longer Japanese, I said. You need to start learning English!

  • Yes, thats annoying. But I think it is some way of politeness. We do the same in Switzerland when German people or other foreigners come: We try to speak Hochdeutsch, so that they can understand us better. That happens automaticly and its hard to control. We even do it when we know that people have lived many years in Switzerland and should be able to understand the local dialects (which are actually not so hard to understand).

    However, I think you are not quite right with what you say. I definetly doubt that there are many nonnative English speakers who understands Japan much better than English. At least not those with a white face. Only russians come into my mind, but those of them who move to another country mostly speak reasonabla english.

    • Of, course.
      But would you keep speaking “Hochdeutsch” with them if they speak perfect “Swiss German” with you?
      That’s the point of the video, I think. Although the foreigners there have proved that they’re fluent in Japanese, only English is used to reply to them.

      That’s what you’d think. And statistically it’s probably correct that most foreigners no matter where they’re from are more likely to understand English than Japanese.
      But it’s something we shouldn’t just assume.

  • No, i would not keep on speaking “Hochdeutsch” if the other person speaks Swiss German perfectly. But honestly, this situation hardly ever occurres. I do have some friends who BELIEVE they speak Swiss German, but in fact they dont do. It just sounds weird and wrong and this still triggers my reflex to change to “Hochdeutsch”. I asume thats also the same situation in the video where the foreigners just THINK that their Japanese is awesome.

    • Actually their Japanese is pretty good. :)

      But of course, I know what you’re talking about. I’ve met a lot of Asian people who keep speaking English (maybe because they think their English is good enough) but it’s impossible to understand what they’re saying. ^^;

  • Mostly what happens with me is I will be at a store (hardware, convenience, it doesn’t seem to matter) with a Japanese friend or my S.O. and when I open my wallet and pay in cash for my item, the cashier hands them back my change and receipt.

    It’s annoying because for one thing, when a cashier hands you your change here in Japan, they do so by carefully balancing a stack of coins on top of the rather small strip of paper the receipt is printed on, rather than handing you those things separately or simply slipping the receipt into the bag, so this gives you two things to negotiate with one hand, as the other is already holding your wallet.

    You’re also expected to quickly vacate that spot for another shopper, so you will need to do your change juggle and sweep the basket over to the bagging table, hopefully in one fluid motion.

    I’ve gotten used to this receipt-change-balancing act, so I’ll be standing patiently with my wallet open in one hand while reaching up to receive the receipt and change in the other, except that the cashier will then ignore me completely in favor of the Japanese person I’m shopping with.

    This means that in order to quickly get out of the way and go bag my purchased items like everyone is expected to, I then have to juggle the change and receipt with my shopping partner vs whatever it was they were already holding, cram this crudely into my pocket rather than waiting wallet, put my wallet in the same pocket, grab my basket and go.

    Mind, this doesn’t happen all the time. Merely enough that it’s become rather grating.

    Another odd thing is getting asked if I have blue eyes. I guess it’s some kind of official badge thing that all Caucasian foreigners (aside from also all being American, apparently – which is also annoying) must have blue eyes, so they’re really surprised about my hazel eyes.

    What I don’t get is that in back in America we have all kinds of people. All kinds, quite literally every corner of the globe has some sort of representation in America.

    So… why only Caucasian? In fact it’s worse than that, many of the ethnic Japanese here that I know personally usually say “American” when they mean “Caucasian”. It seems to be deeply ingrained. About as deep as thinking that Japanese are a different race from other Asians, and that the (ethnic) Japanese people have a special lobe in their brains that exists specifically for the Japanese language, and that this is the reason why foreigners can never ever properly learn their language, and that there is a separate part of the Japanese brain for other languages.

    Some of this stuff is pretty out there… and perpetuated by TV shows and the news, which is accepted as rote.

    • I wrote about the “white foreigner = American” thing somewhere else on my blog already.
      It’s true. I’ve experienced it many times.
      What I have never experienced thus far is that anybody asked me if I had blue eyes.
      What I sometimes got instead (after telling them I’m German): “Huh? I thought German people are all super tall!!??” (I’m 1,72 m-ish.) *shrugs*

      Oh yeah, that balancing act (cash + receipt) is really annoying. I almost completely forgot about it. I guess I already got too used to it. ^^;

  • Thanks for your sincere and frank explanation of how native people react to foreigners while hear their own language from different nationalities. you are with no doubt right. unfortunately we do not want to hear the reality of what is going around!!! just we would like to hear great and good compliment mostly in our favor or in the favor of our packet. the same history has happened to me while i lived in switzerland and i know how you feel. of course comparing japanese with swiss people is a kind of humiliation but the best way to express myself. japanese are great and positive people and i love them.
    jasmine please go ahead and let us know more about everything you have learned. it is fair. you are really great.

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