Having been in Japan for 9 months now, I have come to realize the many prejudices Japan holds over the rest of the world. Most, if not all, of them are pretty negative. Let’s start off by talking about each different type of prejudice you will encounter during your stay in Japan.
The western lover
Ok, so maybe this one isn’t so much as a prejudice, as something that is rather noticeable and sometimes quite annoying. Much like (whom I like to call) junkies in America, these people are obsessed with all things western. They don’t care if you are from America or England, they just want to know any all things that they can about western culture. They will also tell you all things that you are wrong about with it comes to your own culture. I once had a person tell me that there are no sushi restaurants in Arizona, and that Halloween is a Christian holiday. There are many others but these ones bothered me the most. No matter how many times I tried to correct them, they insisted that they knew my culture better than me.
The sympathy speaker
These people annoy me to no end. I appreciate that they are being mindful of my language limitations, but they don’t need to be THAT mindful. Just maybe change what you say if I don’t understand a particular word or phrase. These people talk extra slow, pausing after every word, and even increase their volume when speaking. Why? Is all of that really necessary? One person wanted to ask me how long I had lived in Japan. It felt like it was taking 5 minutes just to hear the question. “Jeny wa, pause pause pause, donna gurai, pause pause pause pause, nihon ni, pause pause pause, sunde, pause pause…” “9 MONTHS! 9MONTHS!! I have been in Japan 9 freaking months!!” Is what I want to scream at them. I just patiently wait for them to finish. Letting the angered expression sit on my face, so they know that I am offended, and politely answer their question at a normal pace. They, however, will forever refuse to hear my Japanese comprehension level.
These people have it in their heads, that any white person they see, speaks English, and ONLY English, and they happen to be learning English. So they will run up to you and proudly use whatever phrases they have memorized that day. It is funny at times, but having watched some people get embarrassed, they need to lose this assumption. Not every gaijin that visits Japan speaks English. I have seen many gaijin come to Japan not speak English. They maybe know just as much as Japanese do. Assuming that every white person you see speaks fluent English, is just dumb. When I studied abroad 3 years ago, I met some people from Europe who didn’t hardly know English. The only language we had in common was Japanese. There are also a high number of half Japanese citizens, that may look like they are American, but have been born and raised in Japan and speak absolutely no English. So while it is great that you want to practice your English skills, why not first ask them if they speak English, before blindly speaking to them, and save the embarrassment.
These people get on my nerves the most. I cannot tell you how many times I have been refused service because Japanese refuse to believe that I am speaking to them in English. Usually, I just let it go and move on, but this past week, while visiting Kusatsu, I was pushed over the edge. Kusatsu is world famous. World famous locations employ people, whose only job is to provide information to foreigners. They have people who speak: Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, English, and other languages. So how does it make sense, to refuse service to someone, just because you think they don’t know Japanese? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Story time tangent.
When we arrived in Kusatsu, we knew what we wanted to do, but didn’t know how to get there. They had pamphlets in many different languages, but English was not one of them. I asked for a bus schedule, and they hand me one in Japanese, listing only the stops. As if, visitors know where exactly those particular stops are without also consulting a map. Anyway, we politely asked the information lady that speaks English how to get to where we wanted to go, and she gave us the information. Even writing it down. So we waited for our bus. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. But the bus never came. So I went back down to information and asked her what was up, she said to talk to the ticket counter. So I did. And oh my goodness was this guy rude. I walk up to the counter holding my paper with the stop name on it so I knew what to ask for, and he just rips it out of my hand and starts talking very loudly and slowly in horribly broken English what I “wanted” to know. I didn’t want to know what he was telling me, because what he was telling me was nonsense. I told him in Japanese, that I was trying to get to Mt. Shirane and I guess all he heard was “help me I’m a lost gaijin” or something because he kept cutting me off and not letting me finish. He hands me 2 tickets and says to pay him, and I had no idea what I was paying for, all I wanted to know was when the bus was arriving. I tried to talk to him again in Japanese and all he heard was “English English English English.” Somehow, I was able to get the right bus tickets from him for both me and my husband, but my afternoon was just ruined by his rudeness.
Another time, during that same trip, we were buying food from a combini. During the check out, I was waiting for them to ask whether we wanted the food warmed up but he just pointed to the price, not saying a word, and threw the bag of food at us, then shoved us to the side to make room for the next customer. My husband was about ready to walk outside with his cold food, but I was not having any of it. I stepped back where I was and insisted that he heat up our food and give us chopsticks to eat it with, in Japanese. Red faced, he takes our food and warms it up for us.
Last one, I promise. We were wanting to go to an onsen and as I walk in, the guy was scrambling to prepare an English translation of everything. I didn’t need it because asking for 2 adults and 2 towels is super easy so I just said that in Japanese. He, I guess, didn’t hear the Japanese part. He kept pointing and pointing at different parts of their sign in English, and asking if I wanted one or the other. I politely told him again, in Japanese, what I wanted, but he kept pointing to the English sign he was holding. I never spoke English once, and just pointed to what I wanted while also saying it in Japanese. Needless to say, that day was the worst day I have had in Japan.
This person believes that no one knows Japanese except Japanese, and it is near impossible to learn unless you are Japanese. So when you do happen to say “arigato” they will compliment you as if you are an angel who just fell from heaven. After the showering of compliments, you will get asked how long you have been in Japan. When I tell them how many months, they freak out and just go crazy with compliments. For some reason, they don’t understand that you can learn Japanese in other parts of the word without having to be in Japan. I have to explain to them every time that I have been learning Japanese for 5 years and they just loose it. They cannot contain their excitement in the fact that I know Japanese. It was nice at first, but now it is just annoying and they come across as extremely ignorant. Strangely enough, it is the older generations that do this the most. The younger ones, tend to just look surprised that I speak Japanese, but say nothing on how long I have lived in Japan or how long I have been studying it. They just proceed to ask where I am from and what Arizona is like. The older people, seem to believe that Japan is in a bubble, and the rest of the world has no idea that Japan exists. I guess they need to watch the news more.
The gaijin hater
Finally, you have the hater of all gaijin. This person will be super rude to you. He will purposefully speak Japanese extra fast, saying difficult words and phrases to try and confuse you or hurt you. They hate that any gaijin would come to Japan at all, and they believe it is ruining their lives. They are the ones that will say rude and racist things in your presence, mostly believing that you don’t know what they are saying. You can easily put them in their place by just telling them you speak Japanese, but there are times when they intend to hurt you so that you will leave and never come back. This hasn’t happened to me that much in Gunma as it had in Tokyo. This is more likely because Gunma is the least visited prefecture in Japan.
When thinking about why Japanese act this way, I believe it is because of the other gaijin who have come before me. After traveling during golden week, I have come to realize where we get our person prejudices from. JD and I witnessed several instances of Asian gaijin (Chinese, Vietnamese, Philippian) being just the rudest people we have ever seen. They were insane! We were heading to an empty table with food on our tray ready to sit and eat, but a Vietnamese person ran to the table and removed the chairs from us and just sat down. She didn’t just happen to get there before us, she literally ran to the table. Another time, while we were shopping in a store, they were just pushing and shoving people out of the way and cutting other people in line. Then on their way home as they boarded the train, they literally ran and shoved people out of their way so they could have a seat. I get that in China or Vietnam they have to act that way to get things done, but it isn’t like that in Japan.
I have worked with people from all over the world, and have built up many stereotypes and prejudices as a result of meeting these people. We need to remember, that how we act, is not only a reflection of our own culture, but other cultures as well. What I mean by this, looking at several white people, how can you tell if they are from Poland, Canada, or America? You can’t. Same with seeing a person from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or India. You can’t tell the difference based on looks alone. We need to be aware of how we act around other people. Of course not all Chinese people are rude and maniacal, but almost all of the Chinese people I have met/worked with are. Of course not all people from Arab countries are angry and selfish, but most of the ones I have been are.
I never realized I held prejudice against Mexicans, until I had students from Mexico. All the Mexicans I have ever worked with or met before, were so selfish, rude, and thieves. They had no respect for anything. They expected Americans to cater to them and speak Spanish, even though I heard them speaking English to each other right before they started speaking to me. The students I had from Mexico, were completely opposite of that. These students were the nicest and most polite people I have ever met. They were kind to each other, and even apologized for other Mexicans and their behavior in Arizona. These students were so happy to be speaking English, and really wanted to learn about American culture. They showed me, that prejudice, just only closes doors for you. They also taught me, that we reflect other cultures. Try and keep this in mind the next time you travel or meet someone from another country. I am guilty of doing some of these things I listed myself, but being aware of it, is the only way we can change and make things better.