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Thread: Are Japanese more hypocritical with foreigners ?

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Are Japanese more hypocritical with foreigners ?

    Foreword

    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 14:11.

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  2. #2
    Your Goddess is here Ma Cherie's Avatar
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    First and foremost, I want to ask has there been any kind of attempt to educate the average japanese about different races and cultures? From all the rumors I have heard it seems to me that some japanese tend to display their ignorance about other cultures. I am not trying to sound like a racists, but I wonder if there has been an effort made to try to educate some japanese people about other races. And most importantly, will they be open minded to learning about other cultures?
    "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot."
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  3. #3
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ma Cherie
    First and foremost, I want to ask has there been any kind of attempt to educate the average japanese about different races and cultures? From all the rumors I have heard it seems to me that some japanese tend to display their ignorance about other cultures. I am not trying to sound like a racists, but I wonder if there has been an effort made to try to educate some japanese people about other races. And most importantly, will they be open minded to learning about other cultures?
    It may seem very contradictory, but many Japanese are interested in foreign countries and cultures, and are ignorant about them at the same time. Fore example :
    - Japanese do travel a lot - for short periods, though, and rarely attempting to learn about the local culture apart from the food.
    - There are more foreign language schools per square metre in Japan than anywhere else in the world, but Japanese are famous worldwide for being poor at speaking any foreign language.
    - Japanese have imported and copied so much from the West and other countries that it would seem natural for them to feel somewhat international. Al Japanese can read the Roman alphabet although it isn't used in Japanese.
    -There are thousands of foreign (mostly English) katakana words in Japanese, and the number increases fast each year. What other language on earth continually imports so many words from outside nowadays ? But yet, the words are often given a different pronuciation and meaning from the original ones, principally because of the ignorance of the masses who use them and the little care of the authorities to educate them.
    - Japanese are often eager to learn about "foreign countries" (gaikoku), but always seem to end up with the simple stereotypes and not much beside. At worse, they mix all countries up and create false stereotypes that are valid for all foreigners.

    So it seems that there is a real desire from many Japanese to learn about the "outside", but they very rarely seem to have the ability to get it right(even among those who have lived abroad). I think it may be due to the influence of an overly prejudiced and simplistic society. Another cause is the lack of critical thinking instilled by the Japanese education system, as well as a general tendency of the Japanese population to be interested in simple things (food, sex, manga...) or stress too much the importance of emotions over rationality (as seen in Japanese TV programmes, series, movies and manga). Unfortunately, emotions without critical thinking lead to easy stereotypes, or when negative, to prejudice and racism (even dormant or non-violent, it's still racism).

    One of the results of the lack of critical thinking of the Japanese is that many of them do not hold strong opinions, and indeed are very influenceable. This may seem bad, but it can also be a very good thing, as most Japanese will not have the self-motivation to act "in an extreme manner" without support from the group. So, even being racist, they are hardly aware of it themselves, because they care little about what it means, and don't think much about the implications. Most Japanese have little interest in politics because they are too fickle to hold strong opinions that requires a critical or rational judgement. I think that this is not only typical of the Japanese, but all (South-) East Asians. To illustrate, throughout China's history, people's loyalties could shift easily from the losing to the winning side, because they didn't fight for a cause or principle (including religion), but for more down-to-earth reasons such as food, money or power.

    I believe that East Asian societies share this lack of critical thinking and strong practical sense, in addition to a strong collectivism (as opposed to individualism). The positive side is the lack of extremist movements and people fighting for their beliefs or ideas. The negative side that people are fickle, influenceable, and have difficult to have their own opinions and judgement (easy targets for casual stereotypes and prejudice).

  4. #4
    Gavin Gives Italian Ducks mr.sumo.snr's Avatar
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    Wait another four years and you won't really give a damn. Of course you could take action like that ***** 'Debito' in Hokkaido - perhaps picket outside shops where obassans routinely push in front of others at the check-out.

    I am fortunate to be blessed with a bulk sufficient to make squeezing around my colossus at the cash register a total non-starter (it's a hobby!).

    You can also play the: "I'm sorry but I don't have my glasses with me so can't read the display. Therefore could you please repeat the total amount due; speaking in clear, precise, and suitably honorific Japanese" game with the high school reji-girls at the local JUSCO (it's a favorite personal pastime!)

  5. #5
    Cute and Furry Ewok85's Avatar
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    It depends on where you are I think. Sitting up north in Saitama and south in country Chiba (country = no keitai reception ) people were generally nice and fairly unassuming, first glance I'm a foreigner, may or may not know Japanese so I'd get a smile and slow simple Japanese, and depending on my answer they'd sometimes pick up a conversation (had a memorable one in a 7-11 amd another in Mos Burger on a quiet evening).

    Never had any trouble with the police, and the one time I approached them to see about getting my bike back after it was stolen went well (they originally blanched at the idea of me rocking up at the local station as noone spoke Japanese, so I had to wait while they got someone who 'knew english'. Ended up speaking Japanese anyhow, which kinda voided the original idea). But I have to admit its nice that they make the effort.. (same thing here in Aus, I've dealt with 2 customers over the phone who were Japanese, their english is good but its nice to have someone who knows what you mean in your mother toungue... or at least sounds like they know :P)

    There are thousands of foreign (mostly English) katakana words in Japanese, and the number increases fast each year. What other language on earth continually imports so many words from outside nowadays ? But yet, the words are often given a different pronuciation and meaning from the original ones, principally because of the ignorance of the masses who use them and the little care of the authorities to educate them.
    Hilarious segment on the evening news on day, I think it was the NHK news... they were on about this. They got 2 fairly recent imports, 'simulation' and a political related one, I forget it right now... and asked people if they knew the word "oh simulation? of course!) and what it meant (ah.. umm... *insert something waaaay off the mark). Was interesting to watch.

  6. #6
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mr.sumo.snr
    I am fortunate to be blessed with a bulk sufficient to make squeezing around my colossus at the cash register a total non-starter (it's a hobby!).

    You can also play the: "I'm sorry but I don't have my glasses with me so can't read the display. Therefore could you please repeat the total amount due; speaking in clear, precise, and suitably honorific Japanese" game with the high school reji-girls at the local JUSCO (it's a favorite personal pastime!)
    I think you completely misunderstood my point. I don't have any problem with being pushed at the counter; my example was just to show how Japanese apologize differently whether the person is Japanese or foreign.

    As for showing that you speak well Japanese, I did it, as I sometimes go and buy my bento with my wife, and talk a lot to her (and quite fast by Japanese standard), so that the staff clearly sees that I can speak Japanese. But if I am with my wife, they tend to be more courteous and even smile. If I come back the next day alone, immediately they treat me as if they had never seen me befor, avoiding to smile just for me (not for the Japanese customers present), and speaking differently, with visibly less politeness. That is not only in one particular shop, but neither is it in all shops. I'd say it's about half of them. In some places they actually like to see foreigners and ask me many questions about me or my country. Still, half of the Japanese I meet in everyday life having bad feelings toward foreigners (even good customers) is bothering enough.

  7. #7
    Regular Member quiet sunshine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I think that this is not only typical of the Japanese, but all (South-) East Asians. To illustrate, throughout China's history, people's loyalties could shift easily from the losing to the winning side, because they didn't fight for a cause or principle (including religion), but for more down-to-earth reasons such as food, money or power.
    About the "influenceable" and "rational judgement", i'd like to write down some of my feelings. In some popular Chinese bbs, I can feel the radical emotion strongly. Some people's words are even rude and uncivil. Not everything under the name nationalism or patriotism is correct, I think, sometimes too nationalistic seems parochial. I don't know if it has relation with our education system, but i remembered when I was a teenager I knew nothing and cared about nothing except study. Teachers like to see this phenomenon I guess, and they never taught us thinking independently. That's just my personal exprience and feeling, things may have been changing.

  8. #8
    I jump to conclusions mad pierrot's Avatar
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    Yes, Japan does has some deep seated issues

    when it comes to dealing with foreigners. (In general.)

    I think it mostly has to do with cultural elitism. Now, before everyone starts jumping all over me for saying this, keep in mind exactly what I said. I didn't say other cultures aren't guilty of this as well, or that this is the most horrible thing in the world.

    My case in point: The types of questions I get asked. Because of my job, I travel frequently and come into contact with new groups of people all the time. The most common type of questions I get asked by students, (encouraged by the teachers) are "what Japanese things can't you do" kind of questions. I think everyone who has been to Japan has heard these kind of questions, but my point is that most Japanese people are only interested in hearing about what makes Japan unique. This can then lead to the attitude that Japan, and by extension Japanese people are better than foreigners. What bothers me the most is that this attitude is encouraged by teachers. By itself, this is mostly harmless, but coupled with xenophobia it can potentially be troublesome.

    For example: Police starting to single out foreigners. A friend of mine living in the nieghboring town has been hassled twice by cops, just walking down the road at night. I've been stopped twice riding my bike, and asked to show ID and submitted to a variety of questions for as far as I could tell, no good reason. (This is a town of 2,000 people...)

    Of course, this is an extreme example. Otherwise, it's just mostly annoying when people who have known me for two years treat me like I'm mentally retarded. It's annoying as hell when a school you've been to 20 times still thinks you can't use hashi, eat fish, read a menu, sit seiza, or do anything else that a foreigner stereotypically can't.

    And, as long as I'm on a rant.... ;)

    Man, it drives me nuts when I'm asked, "Do you have this in America?" when it's something obviously not from Japan. Especially words, like "virus."
    (Rolls eyes.....)
    I've compiled a list of things I've been asked if are in America....
    1. 4 seasons
    2. convenience stores
    3. Disney Land
    4. Snoop and Winnie the Pooh
    The list goes on.....

    Now, of all the problems in the world today, these are fairly insignificant, and I know I'm nit-picking. I love Japan and I've had wonderful experiences here. Just because I'm criticizing doesn't mean I'm Japan bashing, but this is something that needs to change.

    Also, I want to back up what Ewok said. Ironically, I didn't notice most of these issues until I ended up living in the countryside. In Osaka, most of it went by unnoticed.

  9. #9
    Banned Mike Cash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mad pierrot
    when it comes to dealing with foreigners. (In general.)





    Of course, this is an extreme example. Otherwise, it's just mostly annoying when people who have known me for two years treat me like I'm mentally retarded.
    I have long maintained that the greatest unfairness about Japan is that while foreigners are often treated like idiots, idiots are never treated like foreigners.

  10. #10
    I jump to conclusions mad pierrot's Avatar
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    I have long maintained that the greatest unfairness about Japan is that while foreigners are often treated like idiots, idiots are never treated like foreigners.


    Good stuff. The question is, how do idiot foreigners get treated?

  11. #11
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Thanks for your explanation, Mad pierrot. That is exactly how I feel about the treatment of foreigners in Japan. There doesn't seem to be any difference at all between central Tokyo and rural Wakayama. Japanese are the same regarding their attitude to foreigners everywhere (as far as I know, from hearing stories from people living al around Japan).

    The solution I have found to the "being treated like a retarded" situations is to make them feel as if they are the one to have asked an utterly stupid question, so as to culpabilize them on their ignorance and hope they don't reiterate (even with someone else) later.

    For example, if they ask me if there are 4 seasons in my country, I smile and ask them whether they don't know that all European countries had four seasons (and I think to myself "haven't you learn about geography and worldwide climates at school to ask such dumb questions ?").

    When somebody is surprised that I like sushi, I have to explain to them that (according to our polls), sushi is the favourite Japanese food of more than half of the foreigners, and that indeed, the most common type of Japanese restaurants in Western countries is sushi bars.

    When I explained my irritation to such questions to my wife, and asked her why even her friends (who know how long I have been in Japan, etc.) ask me the "can you use chopsticks and eat sushi" questions, she replied that "they were just trying to be nice". "So", I continued, "why are they doubting my ability to use chopsticks just because I am a foreigner. That's very insulting, not really what I'd call 'trying to be nice'." She claimed not to have thought about that before. Anyway, that doesn't help improve my opinion that the vast majority of the Japanese, as polite as they may be, are shallow and act in a stereotypical manner, as if they were all robots using an identical programming.

    But what I find the most shocking is when Japanese think that they invented everything they use, see or hear in everyday life in Japan, when in fact so many things are Western. In the same way as Mad Pierrot explained how some Japanese don't seem to know that Winnie the Pooh is English and not Japanese, many Japanese think that many Western things are originally Japanese (but are not). Here are a few examples that spring to mind :

    - New Year's cards (nengajo). I heard so many times "In Japan, we have a tradition of sending greeting cards for the New Year; what about your country ?". In fact, the Japanese copied the Western tradition of Xmas and New Year wishes. Even the date of the 1st January as the New Year is from the Western Calendar (since late Roman times, as Janus was the 'Roman god of presided over doors and beginnings', and marking the beginning of the year). The traditional Japanese New Year was not on 01/01, and it is still not on 1 Jan. in China, Thailand, India, etc. where they keep celebrating their own traditional New Year.

    - many famous pieces of music used in Japanese TV (esp. commercials) are in fact classical music from Europe, or traditional folk or military music from Europe or the USA. An incredible amount of music on Japanese TV is not Japanese, but as they often rearranged them, sometimes with Japanese lyrics, many Japanese think that this or that music is Japanese. For example my wife thought that "Jupiter" (from Gustav Holst' Planets) was Japanese music, when it's some 100 year-old English music.

  12. #12
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    - Japanese do travel a lot - for short periods, though, and rarely attempting to learn about the local culture apart from the food.
    This is so true

    You can also play the: "I'm sorry but I don't have my glasses with me so can't read the display. Therefore could you please repeat the total amount due; speaking in clear, precise, and suitably honorific Japanese" game with the high school reji-girls at the local JUSCO (it's a favorite personal pastime!)
    Hahaha, if I didn't already wear glasses, I would try that one out! Maybe I'll just tell them my eyes are bad with them on anyway. Hilarious!

    It's annoying as hell when a school you've been to 20 times still thinks you can't use hashi, eat fish, read a menu, sit seiza, or do anything else that a foreigner stereotypically can't.
    Preach on! I HATE It when you've been talking with people for like an hour over dinner, in Japanese, and then it finally comes out, ohh you are so good with chopsticks!

    What the heck!! Why the heck would you expect that someone who has learned conversational Japanese could not use chopsticks!! Unbelievable. Even babies figure out how to eat before they can speak....

    I love you guys.

    Hey check out the book ダーリングは外国人。 It is written by the Japanese wife of a German guy. It's in most bookstores in Japan now and selling quite well. I think it does a good job at explaining to the Japanese the types of things that well..

    tick us off.

  13. #13
    Regular Member quiet sunshine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mad pierrot
    Man, it drives me nuts when I'm asked, "Do you have this in America?" when it's something obviously not from Japan. Especially words, like "virus."
    (Rolls eyes.....)
    I've compiled a list of things I've been asked if are in America....
    1. 4 seasons
    2. convenience stores
    3. Disney Land
    4. Snoop and Winnie the Pooh
    The list goes on.....
    Your posts are sooo long! The examples are really funny, I can't help laughing... can't believe who will ask those questions?

  14. #14
    Cute and Furry Ewok85's Avatar
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    Wait until you let out "yeah, we have four seasons but its the opposite in Australia, when its summer in Japan its winter in Australia", call me mad but hardly anyone I met in Japan can get their head around that one...

  15. #15
    もうすぐ卒業するんだ! ragedaddy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mad pierrot
    Man, it drives me nuts when I'm asked, "Do you have this in America?" when it's something obviously not from Japan. Especially words, like "virus."
    (Rolls eyes.....)
    I've compiled a list of things I've been asked if are in America....
    1. 4 seasons
    2. convenience stores
    3. Disney Land
    4. Snoop and Winnie the Pooh
    The list goes on.....
    Yeah, here goes the strangest thing I have ever heard a Japanese ask a foreigner, it comes from one of my buddy's homestay Brother.... Do all Americans own a gun, and have you ever shot someone? I have been asked that a couple times as well, if all Americans carry around guns. That is utterly lunacy at it's finest. I know a lot of US news that makes it to Japan is related to violence, murder, and other negative aspects, but to contemplate that everyone in the US has guns is ludicrous.

    I agree with Maciamo's point to a certain extent. When I was living in Tokyo I noticed too that many of the tenins' would give the formal greetings to Japanese customers, but when it came to me I'm lucky that I got a Doumo. However, it seemed like the majority of these people who displayed the lack of politeness to me tended to be older. Although, there have been many times where younger aged workers would actually be polite to me as they would to any other Japanese person. I remember this one time when older guy rang my stuff up, and after I received it I told him "arigatou gozaimasu," and the guy forced out a muttered "doumo." Therefore, with my experience I have noticed younger people are likely to be more respectful than older generations. This is what I gathered from living there, but who knows that's just my opinion.

    I think that some reasons of people asking me like, "You can actually use chop sticks," or "You can speak Japanese," comes from the fact that there are many Japanese who have never been exposed much to Western cultures. In my opinion, it seems that some people tend to be a little more "Naive," than ignorant. It may seem insulting to Westerners, but I think there are Japanese people that have never fathomed the concept of Westerners actually being able to do such tasks.
    ビール。。。Its what's for dinner......

  16. #16
    Chukchi Salmon lexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ragedaddy
    However, it seemed like the majority of these people who displayed the lack of politeness to me tended to be older. Although, there have been many times where younger aged workers would actually be polite to me as they would to any other Japanese person......Therefore, with my experience I have noticed younger people are likely to be more respectful than older generations.
    Very interesting you say that, ragedaddy.
    I've been wondering:
    Why are most of the Japanese I've met in school so cheerful, polite, easy to get along, mature, (mutually) respectful, and absolutely without obvious prejudice, whereas quite a few of the aged people I've met are often rude, illogical, stubborn, and "child like."

    Your observation solves some of my long-held mystery about the strange differences I've seen.

    But then again, young American's were so much more natural and friendly than some of my older neighbors who seemed starkly prejudiced if not racist.

    EDIT: seemed shoud be acted
    Last edited by lexico; Jan 31, 2005 at 11:58. Reason: vague word choice
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  17. #17
    JREF Resident Alien Pachipro's Avatar
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    Am I missing something here or has something drastically changed in Japan? I have never felt the way some of you do in my 16 years living there and my yearly visits. Like Maciamo, I rarely met any foreigners, save for a few friends and none of my Japanese friends spoke a lick of English.

    Sure, I get frustated sometimes over the "20 question" routine I get over, and over, and over again, but I've become accustomed to it. This is Japan after all and you are going to get it again and again. Get used to it.

    Here are my thoughts on the subject:

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    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.
    Why was she "careless"? Isn't that a mistake that ALL people, regardless of race make? She started to apologize, but when she saw that you were a foreigner, she probably became flustered and was at a loss for words. She assumed that you didn't speak Japanese and she didn't speak another language and she more than likely, became embarrassed and didn't know what to do. That "strange look on her face" as you put it was, more than likely embarrassment. It will happen to you again and again.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    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.
    They are right. Why must they always be "prejudiced" excuses? Why must you assume that because she was probably flustered that their excuses to you were prejudiced? And why do you think they are "excuses"? They are probably telling you the truth.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    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).
    Have you tried addressing them first like, "Good morning. Nice day today isn't it? I hope it doesn't rain today." Do you have a conversation with them everytime you go in there? I did at the places I used to frequent for dinner and such and I was always treated the same as other Japanese customers. I never felt any different. And here again you say they "...still act in such prejudiced ways." Again the word prejudice pops in. Why?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    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.
    Again, why assume that if they don't say anything or mumble a quick arrigato that they may be angry or treating you different? Can it not be that they are shy or flustered when it comes to dealing with foreigners? Again, why not engage them in conversation each and every time?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    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).
    Look, you are a foreigner in Japan, and like myself, you will be stopped now and again on your bicycle and asked for proof of ownership, etc. Foreigners, as well as Japanese, are known to steal bicycles. Hell, I even stole one out of frustration one night when no cab refused to pick me up. I will post that story shortly. Why assume that because they stopped you they were prejudice? It's their job to stop foreigners on bicycles. It never bothered me when I found out why they stopped me. It's just a fact of life there for foreigners.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    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).
    Again, I am just amazed that you use the word prejudice again. Why assume that because he asked you if lived there over 10 years that he is prejudiced? Can't you say "I think it's very prejudiced..." instead of "..that is very prejudiced.." Why make a blanket statement like that? He is more than likely surprised and impressed, as the Japanese find that any foreigner who can speak their language fluently must have lived in Japan a very long time as the Japanese themselves find it very difficult for them to learn a foreign language. When the police stopped me and found out that I also was fluent, I was usually treated with respect and I never felt that they were prejudiced just because they asked me how long I lived in Japan.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    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).
    Here we go again with a blanket statement of "-which in fact conceals a deep-rooted cultural prejudice that foreigners are inferior to Japanese." Do you know this to be a fact? Or are you just assuming again? Can't you understand and accept that the Japanese will always flatter you with your use of chopsticks, or the fact that you eat sushi, or sleep on a futon, or can speak Japanese and read kanji? They are genuinely impressed because most foreigners DON"T or CAN'T. It is not a "fake expression of amazement". It is real. Sure it can be annoying, but I came to accept the fact that it will happen again and again and again and again. Just because they do it, it does not mean they are prejudice unless you know something I don't.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    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.
    Another blanket statement. It is not hypocrisy. You may want to feel like you were treated like some weird animal, but I am sure you did not receive the same treatment in all stores in your own country, just I do not here. I may have been treated with a little aloofness now and then in a Japanese store, but I did not feel like I was a weird animal. I knew it to be out of frustration or embarrassment at not being able to speak the foreigners language.

    One chooses to feel how one wants to feel and if one wants to feel like one is always being prejudiced against, or being treated like some weird animal, or that no one likes you because one is a foreigner, then that is one's right. But take it from me, with over 30 years experience with Japan and the Japanese, I think you are way off the mark with your blanket observations and statements as I have never felt the way you do. Don't get me wrong here, in some instances I was angry, or upset, or thought "Oh no, here we go again with the praise and questions." But I have learned to understand why and accepted it without thinking that the Japanese are prejudice or hypocrits, because in my opinion they are not. Sure you have your typical few who do not like foreigners under any circumstance, but it is the same in any country I think.

    How do I know this? Because I have many Japanese friends who do not speak English and have never been to a foreign country and have asked numerous Japanese over and over again why are they are so amazed at foreigners who know their language and customs. Why are we always praised for our use of chopsticks and such? Why is it that some Japanese refuse to acknowledge in a store that we are speaking Japanese and the answer is always the same: "We are so impressed when a foreigner learns our language and customs that we must say something as it is very difficult for us to do the same. (Translation:mental block) We sometimes are so tuned in to the fact that 99% of the foreigners that we do meet (which is not often) cannot speak Japanese that we sometimes do not hear that they are speaking Japanese. (Mental block again) If we encounter one, we become so embarrassed, shy, or flustered, that we do not know what to do so we say nothing or something real quick and leave." Thus the lady who stepped on your foot, the policeman who was surprised at your Japanese, the constant praise you get for something as so simple as using chopsticks.

    Me, I've learned to live with it and go with the flow because I know it will happen again. Just look at the "gaijin tarento" on TV. They get the same questions and praise.

    You run a great place here Maciamo and my hat is off to you, but I do hope you come to look at Japan and the Japanese like a glass of water that is half full instead of half empty.
    Do What You Love And You'll Never Work Another Day In Your Life!


  18. #18
    "Die, ugly." JustJosh's Avatar
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    Maybe you just look shifty?

  19. #19
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ragedaddy
    Therefore, with my experience I have noticed younger people are likely to be more respectful than older generations.
    That is true to a certain extend, but there are also older people polite and respectful to foreigners (esp. if they have had contacts with other foreigners before), and young people that are downright racists (I have had a few yakuza-like men shouting at me in the streets as I was quietly riding my bicyle). I have also noticed than young teenagers and especially children tend to be more insulting toward foreigners. It is not that they stare, point their finger and giggle (like bad-mannered children do all around the world), but listenning to their remarks, you can see how their parents or environment has already instilled them prejudice against foreigners.

    For example, the other day a 10-year-old or so boy was near my house when I came back home (I think his grandmother lives in that street), but he kept looking at me with suspicious eyes and followed me till my doorsteps. He asked 2 or 3 times with a contemptful voice "nani shiteru no ?" ("what are you doing here ?"). So, as I was going to open my door, I turned to him and replied politely "koko ni sundeimasu" ("I live here"), and he just said in a surprised and still suspicious way "nihongo dekiru no ?" ("oh, can you speak Japanese ?") and he ran away. I could feel that he was not the kind of boy happy to me a foreigner, but at the contrary looked at me as if I was a criminal.

    I think that some reasons of people asking me like, "You can actually use chop sticks," or "You can speak Japanese," comes from the fact that there are many Japanese who have never been exposed much to Western cultures.
    That's not true. It's impossible not to be exposed to Western culture everyday in Japan. Most movies at the theatre and many movies and series on TV are Western (while there are virtually no Japanese or Asian movies showing in Western countries). There are so many Westerners in Tokyo that it is impossible to take the subway without seeing one. Then with tens of thousands of NOVA, AEON, GEOS and other language schools where teachers are all native speakers (so foreigners), and millions of Japanese attending these classes (even if just a few times), there is a much higher chance that the average Japanese has already met, talked to or at least observed Westerners on TV many times, rather than the average Westerner having met a Japanese (except those living near very touristical spots).

    In my opinion, it seems that some people tend to be a little more "Naive," than ignorant. It may seem insulting to Westerners, but I think there are Japanese people that have never fathomed the concept of Westerners actually being able to do such tasks.
    These are fake excuses. I know many Japanese people who have lived in Western countries and still ask such dumb questions. Even the Japanese who were introduced to me by a Western friend (and thus having at least one Western friend) still ask these routine questions. Maybe its' just a custom of greeting foreigners in Japan to ask them if they can eat natto or sushi and if they can, try to ask for other kind of food until there is one sort of Japanese food the foreigner cannot eat. But I can feel that they want to be unique and want the "foreigner" to appear inferior for not being able to do such simple everyday things as eating such or such food, using chopsticks or reading kanji (when in fact many Japanese are not very proficient themselves).

    Last week, as I was substituting a group English class and reading an English/Japanese article, a 50ish woman seemed very surprised that I could read the kanji for such "difficult" terms as pledge (公約), catastrophe (大災害) or refugee (難民), although these are all pretty basic kanji. When I hesitated for the first kanji of a word (援助資金 : relief fund), she said "aah, anshin shita yo !" ("aah, I feel better now !") as she just couldn't accept the fact that a foreigner could read Japanese after staying only 3 years in Japan. I could feel that deep inside this person wanted to feel like the Japanese were superior to the rest of the world. It didn't help when she proudly said a few minutes later that, "the news on TV said that Australia had pledged the largest relief fund for the Tsunami victims, but in fact it was Japan that had already donated the highest sum so far, and that Japan was the biggest donor in the world". I had to correct her that it was actually the EU (but she didn't seem very happy by that truth).

  20. #20
    Go to shopping PopCulturePooka's Avatar
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    Can't you understand and accept that the Japanese will always flatter you with your use of chopsticks, or the fact that you eat sushi, or sleep on a futon, or can speak Japanese and read kanji? They are genuinely impressed because most foreigners DON"T or CAN'T.
    Oh bollocks!

    I have met scads of westerners that use chopsticks. My 70 year old quite conservative grandmother can use chopsticks.
    Almost every foreigner in Japan I've met eats Sushi and can sleep on a single matress on the floor.
    Its plain ignorance to be shocked, amazed or even complimentry to assume we can't. In fact its downright insulting, its an assumption that we aren't as good as them in some respects.

    And in terms of language, my father has been here two days and can say 'sumimasen'. Yet for some Japanese that would be enough for them to start laying on the over done compliments about how good his Japanese is.

    Its patronising.

    Anyway I have a tale I've told before.

    Being a poor eigo sensei living alone I hit the local Lawsons konbini for my dinner bento about two or three times a week. During holidays I go more than that. Have done this for a year. Heck even had a friendly chat or two with one of the young guys there and tried to get the number of one of the girls.

    So theres an older women who works there most nights.
    She serves me a lot.
    And EVERY time she serves me, she wont speak a word except to ask if I want it heated and EVERY time she uses gestures to ask if I want a fork, and EVERY time I ask that I instead want chopsticks (in Japanese).
    This dance has been danced for a year. I'm a fairly obvious gaijin with big punk spiked hair and occasionally flashy clothes.

    Yet she always asks if I want a fork.

    Stupdity.

    When I worked high volume retail I served scads more customers than she would and managed to remember regular customers and some small facts about them.

  21. #21
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FirstHousePooka
    I have met scads of westerners that use chopsticks. My 70 year old quite conservative grandmother can use chopsticks.
    Almost every foreigner in Japan I've met eats Sushi and can sleep on a single matress on the floor.
    Its plain ignorance to be shocked, amazed or even complimentry to assume we can't. In fact its downright insulting, its an assumption that we aren't as good as them in some respects.
    Same for me. I don't know anyone who has lived in Japan and still can't use chopsticks.

    And in terms of language, my father has been here two days and can say 'sumimasen'. Yet for some Japanese that would be enough for them to start laying on the over done compliments about how good his Japanese is.
    It's only natural. I learnt hiragana and katakana in a week.

    So theres an older women who works there most nights.
    She serves me a lot.
    And EVERY time she serves me, she wont speak a word except to ask if I want it heated and EVERY time she uses gestures to ask if I want a fork, and EVERY time I ask that I instead want chopsticks (in Japanese).
    I know. Same with me, and not only at combini. Even at the dry cleaning, local cafes, etc.

  22. #22
    Cute and Furry Ewok85's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I have also noticed than young teenagers and especially children tend to be more insulting toward foreigners. It is not that they stare, point their finger and giggle (like bad-mannered children do all around the world), but listenning to their remarks, you can see how their parents or environment has already instilled them prejudice against foreigners.

    ...and the other stuff...
    This is a mixed bag, you can be sitting on a train and some young child will sit and stare at you (and I'll make faces back, its only fair ) and thats OK, I can definitely understand it in Pookas case. Then you have the ones that ask slighty strange questions to their parents who give stranger answers back.

    I helped teach 9-12 year old children a martial art and they have to be the most open and unassuming Japanese I've ever met (2nd being university students from a medical university, great people, would love to meet them all again). Apart from an initial "oh, you speak japanese" it was on, they'd just let loose with their favorite tv shows, what had happened at school that day, all the latest playground goss, and afterwards their parents would say Hi and they soon knew me and accepted me as just another person in the group, no assumptions, no special treatment, no strange questions.

    I guess if you look hard enough you'll find something, but otherwise you'll just be stuck in a crappy loop...

  23. #23
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ewok85
    I helped teach 9-12 year old children a martial art and they have to be the most open and unassuming Japanese I've ever met (2nd being university students from a medical university, great people, would love to meet them all again). Apart from an initial "oh, you speak japanese" it was on, they'd just let loose with their favorite tv shows, what had happened at school that day, all the latest playground goss, and afterwards their parents would say Hi and they soon knew me and accepted me as just another person in the group, no assumptions, no special treatment, no strange questions.

    I guess if you look hard enough you'll find something, but otherwise you'll just be stuck in a crappy loop...
    I have met kids as you describe, but so far they have been a minority of the younger Japanese (under 15) I have met. What surprises me is that such kids would come at me and say strange things in the street (or make comments about "gaijin"to their friends/parents assuming I can't understand what they say).

  24. #24
    I jump to conclusions mad pierrot's Avatar
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    @Pachipro

    In respect to the "blanket statements" that have been made, I urge you to look over the post again and look at the disclaimers! I don't think the half empty/half full argument is the point here; rather, it's the way Japanese people in general react towards cultural outsiders. When I first came to Japan, I spent a year living in Osaka. And, like it's been said, I was subject to the same inane questions as every other foreigner. It didn't piss me off. It never has. It might get annoying once and awhile, but obviously it hasn't driven me to hysterics. It has made me more interested in why Japanese people perceive foreigners as being so. I'm simply curious as to the underlying social aspects of this. Again, this isn't just groundless complaining, but rather a critique in general. Calling all sociologists...

    I wasn't going to post this next story originally, but I think it's relevant now.

    I've been living in a small town in Wakayama now for about two years. The people here are always nice to me, and incredibly friendly. Consequently, I've done my best to take part in the community, volunteering with people, visiting my neighbors, etc. I have never known such great people. Example: When I was sick during Christmas, EVERYBODY took care of me. My neighbors brought me hot soup, took me to the hospital, my boss brought me TONS of food, people were always calling to see how I was doing. Those were the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. My neighbors even came over and did my dishes. (The tried to clean my whole house, but I stopped them. )

    That's the good story. Next comes the bad one. The bad reflects quite negatively on these same people, but it makes a valid point. Not sure if I'll post it yet.

  25. #25
    JREF Resident Alien Pachipro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mad pierrot
    Man, it drives me nuts when I'm asked, "Do you have this in America?" when it's something obviously not from Japan. Especially words, like "virus."
    (Rolls eyes.....)
    I've compiled a list of things I've been asked if are in America....
    1. 4 seasons
    2. convenience stores
    3. Disney Land
    4. Snoop and Winnie the Pooh
    The list goes on.....
    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    But what I find the most shocking is when Japanese think that they invented everything they use, see or hear in everyday life in Japan, when in fact so many things are Western. In the same way as Mad Pierrot explained how some Japanese don't seem to know that Winnie the Pooh is English and not Japanese, many Japanese think that many Western things are originally Japanese (but are not).
    Let's reverse this. Is it not the same in America and Europe? Don't most, especially the younger generation, feel that most everything they see was invented in their own country?

    My wife and I have been asked similar things here in the states. It's always hot in Japan isn't it? Do you have TV's, satellite TV, highways, CD players, etc. Most people assume that Japan is still a third world country. They are ignorant of the fact that Japan is a modern, industrialized country much like the US or Europe. Heck, most Americans don't even know that a large majority of what they perceive to be American products are in fact foreign. Shell oil and Toyota come to mind. They, mostly the younger ones, are shocked when they find out that Shell is in fact Dutch, and Toyota is a Japanese company. A few even assume that "Cup of Noodle" is an American invented product. Much the same as in Japan with your observations above. It must be the same all over and I don't think it is unique to Japan.

    Does it bother my wife and annoy her that, after 16 years in the states, she is asked similar things by Americans? (She's even asked often if she eats meat!) No, she just tries to educate them and has come to understand that a majority of people are not taught about Japan. It's a sad but true fact.

    Therefore, while in Japan as "educators" why not try and educate the Japanese rather than being annoyed to the point of irritation? After 30 years experience, I do not think it is going to change. Those questions will come time and time again until someone educates them. So far, I don't think it is going to be the educational institutions.

    Personally, I enjoyed answering the "stupid and dumb" questions over and over and over again, after laughing out loud first, as it was an opportunity to teach somebody something they didn't already know. Afterwards, I'm sure they would not ask that question again of a foreigner as now they were enlightened. I used to love watching the kids, Junior and High, and even some college students', faces light up with shock, disbelief, and surprise when they were informed that Disneyland is not Japanese, Snoopy was born in America, and the "Circle K" and "7-11" combinis are American among other answers. I think I remember reading somewhere that "7-11" is now owned by Ito Yokkado.

    I used to answer in Japanese, "Of course I can eat with chopsticks, eat sushi, sleep in a futon, cook my own rice, etc. etc. I've lived here for 16 years!" My polite answer to their "dumb" question kind of humbled some of them and I'm sure they felt awkward asking that question.

    Don't get me wrong here, I was just as annoyed during my early years in Japan as some of you to the point of wanting to scream at the top of my lungs, "What! Are you all a bunch of idiots! Are we all nothing but talking dogs to you people, here for your amusement?" But I learned to study, observe, and learn from the Japanese people and culture and why they acted in this way. I asked many questions of the Japanese. Soon, my thinking slowly turned 180 degrees and it no longer irritated me as I learned that, no matter what, the Japanese are basically not prejudiced, xenophobic, or have an underlying dislike of all foreigners. They are just a curious island people who were taught that they, their history, and their ways are unique to the rest of the world and any foreigner that adapts, or tries to adapt, is the most curious and unique of all. Answering "dumb" questions, I hope, helped set the record straight with those I came in contact with.

    Therefore, I looked at myself as a kind of unofficial "cultural ambassador" as it was obvious that no one else was going to educate them.

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