Life in Japan

Do Japanese People Really Keep Staring at Foreigners?

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.
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:
“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.


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?


  • Try being non-white in Germany
    People stare a lot at brown and black skinned people there
    And not only by curiosity but sometime outright animosity..
    I always find it so funny when white people complain about their treatment in Japan : The staring, the condescending attitude, people not wanting to seat next to you on the train, assuming you are a dangerous person or a thief etc…
    That’s the EVVERYDAY reality for many of the millions of non-white people living in Europe and in America to some extent
    Sorry but you should at least acknowledge this before whining about it…

    • Well, right now they certainly do, after what happened in Cologne around New Year’s. *sigh* ….
      And can you blame them? German women are terrified right now! You cannot go out as soon as it’s dark anymore, even when you’re not alone. You always have to worry that someone will rob and rape you. Thanks to some stupid (mainly black) refugees they’ve now made life difficult for any other refugee / black people living in Germany. It’s not fair.
      So, yes, no wonder that there’s more staring going on than ever before. :( ….

      Oh, and it’s not only white people who complain about their treatment in Japan! ;)
      There are several African-American Japan bloggers out there. Try to read there blog posts and you’ll see that they write about similar things on their blogs. :)

      I do acknowledge that people elswhere stare at other people. That doesn’t mean I’m not annoyed when people in Japan keep staring at me.
      Just because it happens to other people elsewhere doesn’t make it any better, right? ;)

  • I have lived in a small town in Mexico for 25 years as a foreigner. I still get the staring daily. In fact as soon as I leave my house the eyes start to follow me. I ride a motor scooter now and wear dark glasses. I am used to the staring as I walk around town but I honestly do not like it. Too many people have nothing to do all day and might stand on a corner staring at people.

    • Sorry to hear that. I’m well aware of the fact that staring is nothing unique to Japan, but I’m surprised that there are so many countries where this also occurs where I never thought it would.

    • That’s weird. Germany has become so multi-culti that the majority of people living here nowadays is not even German.
      So what you think might be “the Germans” are actually people from all over the world – and yes, I guess some of them do stare. ;)
      Not saying that Germans never stare, but we’re used to seeing people from all over the world every day. It’s completely different from Japan where some people in the countryside have NEVER seen a “real” Westener / foreigner (only on TV). ;)

  • Hi there i happen to stumble across your page whilst Google ‘why do Germans like to stare at foreigners?’ my husbands and i lived in Japan twice. the kast time we were in Jo waa from 2012-2014. we have since went back hime to the US until he recieved a job offer in Stuttgart Germany. so here we are now. i noticed Germans LOVE TO STARE at foreigners and they do not shy away from it. every single time my family and i go out. we get stared at constantly and i dont even mean a glance. its full on glaring. i am asian and my husband is white so yes ppl do generally find our multiracial marriage interesting but not to the point where we were stared at they way we are by Germans. japanese on the other hand would glance and shy away esp when u caught them looking at you so i really have no idea why you are complaining when your countrymen do the same to foreigners in your homeland. Thats all.

    • Hi Khristy,
      That’s very interesting.
      How can they spot you as foreigners? There are a lot of Asian-Germans here nowadays, so it’s not like they could tell you are a foreigner just by looking at you.
      And how do you know that the people who are staring at you are Germans? Just because it happened in Germany doesn’t mean it were German people who stared at you. ;)
      Germany doesn’t have such a large German population anymore nowadays. :)

      Also, are you sure they’re staring at you because of your nationality and not because of something else (e.g. colored hair, tatoos etc.)?

      Thank you very much for sharing your experience. That was very interesting. :)

  • I’d stare at them back. :D I mean, screw them, if their world is so small that you are an attraction, make the best of it. Relax, feel at home on the train, when you notice someone staring at you, stare at them back. If they are gonna (intentionally or not) gonna give me a hard time, I’ll give them even harder time. :D

  • I’m a 16 year old girl, who’s tall, thin and has olive skin, due to my half Indian-half Australian heritage. I visited Japan twice, once last year with my family and loved it so much I visited again with my classmates for school.
    When I first went to Japan, I had first expected to be unnoticed, just as us Australian’s act with tourists here, but was surprised at how much attention I got. I continuously got stares and point’s when I walked around the street’s. I had no idea what to think at first, for I had no idea if it was because they liked my appearance or were surprised at it. When I returned to japan earlier this year, I was actually approached (mainly by men) asking for photo’s with me and my Homestay family told me I was really beautiful, along with other stranger’s I had never been introduced to, who were often surprised at my age. I found this gave me a lot of confidence in my appearance, but still find it surprising at how obvious the people were when they looked at me.
    I had no idea it was so common for people to be so obvious when looking at someone.

    • Hi Nutella,
      Yeah, it still surprises me how bold some Japanese people can be in this regard although they don’t intend to be mean or rude.
      And it either boosts your confidence or you’ll be super annoyed. For me it’s usually the latter. ^^;

  • Hallo Jasmine!

    Probier doch mal folgenden Satz aus:


    Wenn “mushi” und “muki” nicht weiterhelfen, macht “haji” vielleicht das Wunder möglich? ;-)

    Zumindest kann ich dir versichern, dass ausgehend von deinen Beschreibungen diese Feststellung der Richtigkeit entspricht. Ich war vor kurzer Zeit in der Provinz-Hauptstadt Lanzhou in China (6 Mill. Einw.) und von Scharen von Chinesen umgeben, die sich einen Scheißdreck darum geschert haben, dass ein blonder Ausländer unter ihnen wandelt. ;-)

    Ich bin vielleicht zwei, drei Ausländern begegnet und abertausenden Chinesen, die sich an meinem Beisein weder gestört noch interessiert haben. Rückblickend muss ich gestehen, dass ich mir das durchaus etwas erhofft hatte. ;-D

    Ich dank dir vielmals für diese spannende Blog über mein herzallerliebstes Japan. Deine Schilderungen haben mein Bild vom “Touyou” schwer bereichert (sodass ich letzte Nacht bis 4 in der Früh deine Artikel gelesen habe :-D )

    Ich schau auf jeden Fall wieder vorbei!

    Sore ja, mata ne!

    P.S.: Spricht man deinen Vornamen ganz normal deutsch aus? Ich frage mich, wie ich mit dem letzten “e” umgehen soll?

    • Hallo Christian,
      du kannst meinen Namen aussprechen wie du willst. Hab mich schon daran gewöhnt, dass den jeder “Englisch” ausspricht. ;)

      Freut mich, dass dich mein Blog so lange beschäftigt hat. :D

      Ich war selbst noch nie in China und kann daher nur von den Chinesen sprechen, die mir in Japan so begegnet sind – und da ist mir der Unterschied schon extrem aufgefallen. ^^;

  • I’ve read the blog looking for advice and comparing my experience. Black hair and dark eyes, in the begin it was wonderful everyone staring and notice my presence, whit time that emotion tends to fade away. To be honest I get use to it an even try to talk with people when I’m not a hurry, I often hear the word 面白い (interesting) describing me, even had a couple of stalkers, fortunately nothing quite negative had happen to me (not yet). Sometimes wear mask (cold days and winter) and try to focus and other subjects. Occasionally When got a little bit upset by the staring, I play little glaze contest to scare them and it works most part of the time. The cover book is a good one, worth a try!

    I hope this helps to easy this little annoyance.  (๑◕ฺฺܫฺ←๑ฺ)

  • This is the exact opposite experience I’ve been having in Okinawa where I am currently visiting my daughter and her very blond, blue-eyed son. I DO stand out in a crowd- I’m a female, practically 5’10, light brown hair with green eyes. I came expecting to be stared at. It’s like I’m not even here. Ditto my grandson. People don’t even glance my way. Walking down the street I may try to make eye contact and smile. It barely happened. In fact I found your site wondering why the Japanese steadfastly avoid looking at the “elephant in the room” ;0)

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