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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Jul 17, 2002

    Are Japanese more hypocritical with foreigners ?


    I know some people are going to call this thread "overgeneralization" because I am talking about "the Japanese", a group of 126 million people. Let me say from the start that for the sake of discussion I will use the term "Japanese" not to refer to "all the Japanese", but to "the average Japanese in the streets (of Tokyo where I live), based on my observations". The purpose of this thread (and other ones with such generalization) is to compare one another's opinion based on our personal experience. This seems obvious to me, but I need to explain this if I don't want to be misunderstood.

    Are Japanese more hypocritical with foreigners ?

    I have now been living for 3,5 years in Japan, during which time I have assiduously analyzed the behaviour and mentality of people around me (just for the record, I very rarely meet foreigners in Japan, apart from Thomas once in a while )

    I am pretty good when it comes to understanding people's emotions and guessing what they think. My wife is often surprised how I express her own feelings better than she can herself. I often predict correctly what the person I am talking to will reply to some questions - be it about their opinion, feelings or knowledge for something specific. When I ask the question, I can see in their eyes what they are going to say before they actually say it. I rarely mistake (esp. with Japanese people, which I usually find easier to understand than Westerners).

    After these few years of mind-reading and careful observations, I am left with the feeling that the average Japanese have awkward and prejudiced feelings against anybody that doesn't look Japanese. (let me define that "the average Japanese " are not those who come to practice their English with the first foreign-looking person, or those who have lived abroad, but the real average Japanese that don't speak English and know little about other countries).

    For example, no later than today, as I was queuing at the supermarket cashier, the careless woman in front of me walked back and stepped on my foot. She first started a typical "ahh, suuumimaseeen !", but as she turned and saw that I was not Japanese, her voice faded before she finished her "sumimasen" and she just walked away with a strange look on her face. This has happened to me times and again.

    First, when I mentioned that to my wife or some Japanese friends, I heard "excuses" such as "they think you don't understand Japanese because you are a foreigner", or the like. But these are really just (prejudiced) excuses. At the place near my house where I usually buy my bento, and have been going for 3 years, the staff (you should know m by then), still hardly says anything to me and when they have run out of one kind of bento, make signs crossing fingers and speaking in strange Japanese as if I couldn't understand. They have heard me speak fluent Japanese with my wife, and could not possibly not remember me, but still act in such prejudiced ways (while I always speak Japanese with my Japanese friends, and the have no problem understanding me at all). The worst is when those kind of shop's staff thank the previous (Japanese) customer with "arigoto gozaimaashitaaa, mata okoshi kudasaimaseee" then when it is my turn, they just don't say anything or mumble a quick and dry "arigato gozaimass" as if they were angry.

    This week again, as I was riding my bike at lunchtime in crowded central Tokyo, a police car stopped with the policeman rushing toward me and asking if that was my bicycle and checked the registration number. There were other bicycles around, so my intentionally stop me for no reason. That is very embarassing in front of hundreds of people (and made me come late to my appointment, as it took a few minutes). The policeman was also surprised that I spoke so well Japanese and asked me if I had lived for over 10 years in Japan. Again that is very prejudiced to think that foreigners can't speak decent Japanese just after a few years's stay (or maybe because he couldn't do the same in English).

    Westerners usually see the Japanese as polite, well-mannered and respectful. But do they behave this way because of social-pressure or because of genuine good feelings ? Very often it is due to social norms. But taking things a step further, I'd like to say that the attitude of many Japanese toward foreigners is very different from the one they use between themselves. When the "foreigner" is a "customer/guest" (kyaku-san) and people treat him/her even better than they would treat a Japanese, with lots of blatant flattery (sometimes annoyingly so, like the fake expression of amazement at how well a gaijin can use chopsticks or eat sushi - which in fact conceals a deep-rooted cultural prejudice that foreigners are inferior to Japanese). But when the foreigner is not a "kyaku-san" or reluctantly so (esp. in small shops), we can see how this was really hypocrisy, as this time the gaijin is treated like a weird animal and not even like a standard Japanese customer.

    Any thoughts ?
    Last edited by Maciamo; Jan 29, 2005 at 15:11.

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