In this article, I’d like to tell you about the opposite scenario:a white guy living in Japan. When I lived in Japan, I had a buddy who we will call ‘Red’ since he has red hair. He was a good guy with a good heart. He studied Japanese for several years, so he knew how to speak Japanese very well, and he knew the customs. But, my poor buddy had a lot problems I didn’t have to deal with because he stuck out like a sore thumb in that homogenous society. Even today, Japanese are not comfortable with foreign people because they have very little contact with foreigners. They have a tendency to be intimidated by them, and ignore them, or they do the opposite and stare at them. Oftentimes, kids will yell ‘gaijin!’, which means ‘foreigner’. It’s not the most friendly greeting, you know. It’s not that they are consciously being racist, but they definitely do some things which make foreigners feel different, uncomfortable and upset.
I remember one day we went in to a ramen shop. We looked over the menu, and we decided to order. My buddy was vegetarian, so he wanted no meet in his ramen. Anyways, when the elderly waitress came, he started to order in his very good Japanese. But, the waitress being very nervous, wasn’t hearing anything he said. She obviously wasn’t used to dealing with foreigners. She was expecting him to speak English since he was white, so she didn’t even look at him, and was looking at me to translate for her! She asked me what Red wanted, and I ended up ordering for us. When I looked at Red after she left, his face was bright red, matching the color of his hair. He was so pissed off! He was upset for being ignored, and for not being heard. This sort of thing happened to him all the time.
Anytime Red would ride the train, half the people in the car would be staring at his long nose and his red curly hair. When he would try to talk to kids, they would giggle and run away. When people did listen to him, they would praise him when he spoke the most simple of Japanese sentences. At dinner, they would always be amazed that he could use chopsticks. Many foreigners have to deal with this, and many just lose it. They start getting nasty and mean, and start hating the Japanese people. More than anything, they just want to blend in and forget that they are foreigners sometimes, but they are constantly reminded that they are different. It’s a very weird dynamic.
But, on the other hand, the Japanese are very welcoming once they get to know you. They are curious about your upbringing and ask a lot of questions. I’m sure there are racists in Japan who don’t like foreigners, as anywhere. But, the majority are just ignorant of foreign people, and will do/say things that might rub them the wrong way. I think the overall racism there is mild compared to the racism we experience here.
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