One of the things I try really hard to do with this blog is keep the positive vibes flowing. I don’t really want to bring negative energy into the mix, because eww.
That being said, I feel I should warn you that today’s culture post is pretty heavy. It’s not negative really, but it’s something I feel you should all be aware of in the event that you travel to Japan or decide to live here. Unfortunately, when I first arrived I didn’t really have any idea that it would happen and I kinda wish I’d done a little more research.
This post is all about racism.
What do you mean?
I think this post will get pretty lengthy, so bare with me.
I grew up in the southern part of the US. What this means is that I’ve seen people be really ugly to one another simply because of the color of their skin. Japan doesn’t usually go that far, for the most part it’s more covert. Still, I’ve had people be flat out racist and rude to my face more than a few times.
The best way to explain all of this is to break it down into two parts, I think. We’ll take a look at some of the blatant ways people have expressed racism and then we’ll take a look at some of the subtleties.
Sometimes knowing what the people around you are saying is a blessing, as well as a curse. I suppose if you had no clue what people were going on about, you could feign blissful ignorance, even if you did feel the conversation was about you. It doesn’t bother me when they talk about my ‘high nose’ or say things like ‘I’d love to be blonde, too’ (I’m not blonde, but I suppose compared to black hair it looks it). What does bother me is when people say things about ‘外人’ (gaijin, a rude way to say foreigner).
I suppose being called ‘外人’ doesn’t really bother some people. It does bother me. Quite a lot. The correct way to say the word is ‘外国人’ (gaikokujin) and the main difference is in that middle kanji. It means country. Leave it out of the word and you’re saying very bluntly that I do not belong here. I’m an outsider. I’m part of the ‘other’ that you can lump together in one group because they’re not ‘you.’
One time, I was in the supermarket buying vegetables and an old man pointed a shaky finger in my face and YELLED “外人!” Ok, supermarkets are generally noisy, but this was LOUD and literally everyone stopped to look. All I wanted to do was buy my eggplants in peace. I was mortified. He was angry, but I have no idea why.
Another time, I was jogging in my neighborhood when I hear (but don’t see) another old man yell, “外人帰れー!” (a really forceful way to say GO HOME FOREIGNER). I stopped and looked around, but I couldn’t see where he was and luckily there wasn’t anyone else around to hear him.
Still, the older generation thinking the way they do won’t change, so there’s really nothing to be done about that. What can be changed though, are the children. At least with my students, I try to explain to them why that word is ugly by getting one of them to write the kanji on the chalkboard and then asking what the difference is. They get it pretty quick, but say that ‘gaijin‘ is easier to say. My reply is that a lot of ugly words are easier to say, but it doesn’t make it ok to say them.
There is a nightclub in Nagoya that doesn’t allow foreigners inside. It’s for Japanese only. I asked one of the people that I drink with a lot what he thought about that and his response was, “Japanese people can’t relax around a lot of foreigners.” WHAT THE LITERAL HELL. I asked him what he thought I was and he said “you are you, that’s different.” I just left the bar. He didn’t understand why I was so upset. They usually don’t.
If you move to Japan and decide to live in your own apartment instead of company housing, you will find that it is a little difficult to find a place that will rent to foreigners. I wish I were kidding, but a lot of landlords have it in writing that they will only rent to Japanese people. Oh, but if you pay extra money to a guarantor company (sometimes over $300 US), they might let you rent. The catch is you have to pay that guarantor company every time you renew your contract.
Subtle Racism – Microaggressions
There is a wonderful article here that really hits home for a lot of non-Japanese living in Japan. I definitely suggest giving it a read.
I guess I’ve talked so much on racism up to this point, if I were being honest, I don’t really want to go much into microaggressions. I don’t want it to seem like I hate living here or that I don’t like Japan at all. Far from it!
That being said, let’s just look at a couple of things that non-Japanese regularly experience, then call it a day! 🙂
This is something that every non-Japanese commuter experiences pretty much every single day they use public transportation: the seat gap. What I mean by that is even on a super packed morning train, a person would rather stand than sit next to a foreigner. I’ve had people flat out GLARE at me while standing in front of me, even though there was a perfectly good seat next to me, but they didn’t want to sit in it. I seriously don’t understand the logic behind it, lol. More space for me!
Then there are tons of little questions or sayings that seem polite, but are actually quite rude. For example, “you can use chopsticks really well” to which I want to reply “you are a freaking fork master(!!1!1)” but still manage to keep my mouth shut. Ah, there’s also “your Japanese is so good” after only saying one word. This sounds like a compliment, but how can it be after only hearing the speaker utter a single word? Last is my favorite, “Japanese OK?” when asking me if I speak Japanese. I can’t even wrap my mind around how fast an American would twist that into a lawsuit if they were ever asked “English OK?” in the States. XD
Those last questions have an opposite too, though. It’s like some people’s minds kind of short-circuit when they see my face and all they can hear is FOREIGNER TALKING instead of Japanese. That’s pretty frustrating, honestly.
This video sums it up pretty comically:
Oh, and people stare. Like a lot. You cannot walk down the street without being stared at. Own it. XD
I love living here. I really do. I’ve made wonderful friends, have a great job and an awesome life in Nagoya. In no way to I want to sound like living here isn’t a dream come true, because it really is. ❤
The thing is, racism is everywhere. It’s in every corner of the globe. It’s ugly, it’s something to be embarrassed of and it’s something everyone denies; but it’s still present in every culture on this planet.
I was almost afraid to post this. Is it too ‘white privilege’-y? I don’t mean for it to be.
I just want us all to act like decent humans. We don’t have to all like each other, but we should all damn well respect each other. No matter what color, class or creed we are- we’re all humans. Let’s treat people how we would want to be treated, yea?