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The 12 Most Common Questions People Ask Me

Can you eat natto?

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As much as I love chatting with strangers in Japan, the first couple minutes of nearly every “conversation” tends to follow a particular pattern. And yes, I intentionally put “conversation” in parenthesis because sometimes talking with a stranger seems more like a scripted Q & A than an actual, free-flowing dialogue. But that’s another post altogether.

comic-qa

I’m sure everyone’s experience is different, but the most common questions I get as a young, white female in Tokyo are:

1. Where are you from?
2. Do you speak Japanese?
3. How long have you been studying Japanese? At school? On your own?
4. Why did you come to Japan?
5. How long have you been in Japan?
6. What is your favorite Japanese food?
7. Can you eat sushi/raw fish?
8. Do you like natto (fermented soy beans)?
9. Can you eat using chopsticks?
10. Does [insert stereotype about your country/state/city] really happen in [insert country/state/city]? (example: “Does everyone in Texas have a gun?”)
11. Do [insert nationality/religion/ethnicity/etc] like [insert generalization/vague thing]? (example: “Do Americans like ninjas?”)
12. Is your family okay with you living in Japan?

And other such questions. It’s fun answering these questions every once and a while – especially when I feel like I’m doing my part to change stereotypes of both Americans and Texans in one swoop. I have no idea if any of it actually sticks, though.

I’m sure your experience is different. What kinds of questions do you get?

Topics:

  • Alistair Troublesome says:

    You’re talking race. American and European are not races in this context, but more like nationalities or citizenships. And i’ll raise hell if you say i’m russian or american >.>

  • Alistair Troublesome says:

    I sincerely curious if you ate blue [mold] cheese before? if so, did you like it?
    I had some a few weeks back for the first time. I personally liked the part with blue mold better than the part without it. It also tasted better for me, when combined with rice.. I didn’t have much … but enough to last me a decade. -_-

  • Mapo says:

    No one ever asks me about chopsticks, or natto, but pretty much every other question has been a daily thing. I’ve found that by answering the very first question in Japanese instead of English (’cause usually this routine is English practice for the Japanese person talking to me) I can derail the whole thing and actually force a more normal conversation. I still get some variations of most of these questions, but using Japanese allows for follow-ups and discussion about each one, which is way less repetitive.

    I’ll add that young men often ask me if I like Japanese girls. I get this one from high school and college aged boys so much that I was starting to think Japanese must think white men only come to Japan to meet Japanese women. Sadly, some do… I die a little inside when I meet one in Japan.

  • primalxconvoy says:

    Top ten questions people ask Japanese people outside Japan:

    1/ Where in China are you from?
    2/ Can you do (insert martial art here)?
    3/ Do you read “manga” comics or play videogames all day, everyday?
    4/ Do you eat sushi/whale/dog/cat/etc everyday?
    5/ What’s your favourite Pokémon?
    6/ (For males) Do you like Schoolgirls/Underaged girls/other stereotypical Japanese sexual fetish?
    7/ (For females) Are you a schoolgirl/Underage girl?
    8/ You look young! How old are you?
    9/ You are so tiny! How tall are you?
    10/ (For males) Is it true that you are tiny, “down there”?

  • しのぶ アンドリュー says:

    i’m asked a lot,”Are you a professional basketball player?” Haha…I’m a 6’2 black guy, so I get it…

  • mjpietro says:

    Be happy someone is taking the time to speak to you.

  • philnolan3d says:

    I often wonder if these sort of questions are just asked for the sake of asking them, without the asker actually listening to the answer.

  • linniea says:

    Always fun when they ask me where I’m from, because they then assume (I guess I look young?) I’m studying here and I have to correct them and tell them I teach English here.

    The reaction usually goes something like this “HAAAHHH wait wait wait is English the official language in the Netherlands?????”

    And since it’s not, I tell them. They then immediately follow up with “Teach me/my kids!!!”

    Also a chart topper: “Are Japanese men okay?”

    • 餅ちゃん says:

      I have been asked about Japanese men so many times, for me this is the most difficult question to answer. I don’t know enough Japanese men to answer it, and I already have a bad stereotypical image of them.

      • linniea says:

        I usually answer along the lines of “I like them the same as men from other countries, but it all depends on the person” and give them a look, and then they usually realize they’re being weirdos.

        If your japanese isn’t great you can just english at them until they get the message 😀

  • Jamming James says:

    I get asked most of these questions pretty regularly. I don’t mind answering them, although it is a wee bit tiresome having to answer the same questions again and again. I just wish Japanese people were a bit more creative with the questions they ask.

    I always hate getting asked question 11 though. There’s no way to really answer that question correctly to a Japanese person because they usually take your answer to the extreme. To give you an example, I, as a Biritish person, quite often get asked “Do British people eat fish & chips a lot?” If I say yes, they imagine that means that every single British person eats fish & chips regularly, but if I say no, they don’t understand why people don’t gorge themselves on fish and chips when Japanese people have been told they do. I could answer with the honest answer of ‘some do’, but you can say that about anything. “Do you British people like to swim naked in rivers in the winter time?”. Honestly, some do.

    I think it’s a cultural difference that makes the question so difficult to answer. I think it is easier for a Japanese person to imagine British people all being the same, rather than being individuals with different likes and dislikes. I mean, I can’t imagine any situation where I would ask someone such a broad question and expect a ‘real’ answer.

    Another question that comes up a lot that isn’t mentioned above is age. I always get asked how old I am, and how old my wife is. This is by far my most hated question, not because I don’t want to answer it, but because people have asked me this question before and straight up refused to answer when I have returned the question, saying they don’t want to say.

    • Designer says:

      It is not only japanese, I can assure you. I’m brazilian and we always ask the same stuff to foreigners here. Another day I asked all this stuff to a chinese lady and she was sooo sweet to me and my friend, we spend almost an hour chatting to her. I guess it’s common doubts anywhere outside US, because americans tend to think “US is the best country in the world” so they don’t have any doubts about why people would want to live there. In other countries people ask themselves “why did this person left his/her country and choosed mine? Does he/she like our food? Our language? Is it easy for them?”. Pretty normal.
      PS sorry If I sounded offensive about US, that’s what I think about the lack of interest in america about the foreigners. I didn’t want to sound offensive, really. 🙂

      • Julie Hale says:

        As an American, I don’t think what you said is offensive but I do believe it’s a common misconception toward Americans. I can’t speak for all American’s of course, but I don’t believe we really think that the “US is the best country in the world”…foreigners do. I’ve been many places in the world and have heard SOOO many people tell me that they wish they could live in America. When I ask them why, they have some bizarre notions of what America is like. A cab driver in Singapore told me that he wanted to live there because the streets are lined with gold. He didn’t believe me when I told him they aren’t. A man from Ghana that I met in Malaysia told me that he was working his way toward America so he could be rich. When I asked him how he was going to get rich, he said that America would give him a job so he could be rich. No amount of discussion could sway him from his view that America would be a better place to be than his home in Ghana. A friend from India said that before he came to America, he literally thought that the rivers flowed with milk and honey. He was angry that America had lied to him. America is a nation of foreigners, built on the belief in opportunities. We don’t ask why you are here, not because we believe we are the “best”, but because we assume that you came for the same reason everyone comes…opportunity and “The American Dream”.

  • Eve says:

    During my time in Japan, I got the same questions as mentioned in the article. It made me laugh 🙂 There is another one I got frequently: Can you cook Japanese food?

  • F.Y. says:

    #1 is BY FAR. ____したことある? You can fill in the blank with your best guess, you’d probably be right.

  • Enricopallazzo says:

    Why are you so tall?
    How can I become taller?
    Are you teaching your children English? How? (I make them regret this one as I have an answer that could go on for about an hour. Most excuse themselves after a couple of minutes.)
    Which language do you use at home? If I say both, they say “mottainai”.
    How many girlfriends have you had? (including your mom?)
    How old is your wife?
    Where did you meet? (heeee! Nampa?)
    Do you like Japan? (No, it’s too hot. Some of the people are ok.)

  • Hanten says:

    Many of the questions on your list are the same as the one on mine plus

    What do you do?
    Why did you come to Japan?
    Are you married?
    Do you have kids?
    I’m from Australia and these most Japanese people don’t assume I’m American, anymore. That makes me happy. I actually find more Americans have stereotypes about Australia than Japanese people do. My new Japanese friends usually tell me how much they want to go my country or that they’ve been and they want to go back.
    What I want to know is what you are asking them? What questions do many foreigners ask Japanese people when they first meet?

    • Julie Hale says:

      I am an American living in Okinawa and the first question I ask anyone I meet is “Where do you live”? Then if I’ve been there, I generally go into my experience there and how much I enjoyed it. If I haven’t been there, I ask them about the place, what’s there to see, what’s there to do, and if they’ve ever played “tourist” in their own town and discovered something new. I’m curios what stereotypes my fellow Americans have of Australians. The only one I can think of is that you all must be descendants of criminals but that’s awkward since, historically speaking, many of us would be too.

  • CA Edington says:

    My answer is that I expected Japan to be a very quiet country, and it’s terribly noisy. That, and the sameness everywhere.

  • maulinator says:

    I am American and when I am in the States I get asked quesitons 1-5 except replace Japan/Japanese with USA/English.
    After they realize that my English is, in fact, better than theirs, these type of questions stop.
    I figure that most people need to ask these type of questions to get a feel for who you are, and as a starting point for some real conversation.

  • Xavier xavier says:

    I have asked these questions from ALL OF INDONESIAN. And I don’t mind to answer it because I am foreigner for them. Local people always think their habits and customs are special and they think foreigners can not adjust to it.( Kinda testing I think) Why so serious people?? I guess those people who feel uncomfortable when they got asked these questions, they haven’t visited not so many countries.

    • Designer says:

      I don’t believe is that. I guess it is more like curiosity.
      I’m brazilian and we always ask the same stuff to foreigners here. Another day I asked all this stuff to a chinese lady and she was sooo sweet to me and my friend, we spend almost an hour chatting to her. I guess it’s common doubts anywhere outside US, because americans tend to think “US is the best country in the world” so they don’t have any doubts about why people would want to live there. In other countries people ask themselves “why did this person left his/her country and choosed mine? Does he/she like our food? Our language? Is it easy for them?”. Pretty normal.
      PS sorry If I sounded offensive about US, that’s what I think about the lack of interest in america about the foreigners. I didn’t want to sound offensive, really. 🙂

  • fm64 says:

    I don’t think the average japanese know where my country is so Q10 and 11 are out

  • fm64 says:

    is natto that bad for them? lol

  • Hugo van der Heide says:

    People always ask me if I’m American….. Such an insult, seeing as I am Dutch. Europeans don’t like to be called American…

    And they are also always so surprised when I say I like natto.

    • primalxconvoy says:

      I’m British and just as annoyed. I usually ask them if they are Chinese.

    • mjpietro says:

      That’s okay Hugo. We Americans don’t like Europeans called Americans either.

    • philnolan3d says:

      Thanks for insulting us Americans.

    • fm64 says:

      and people who is not from the United States don’t like to be called american, but they even say amerika to the whole continent, so we’re doomed

    • Vivian says:

      Most of Easterns couldn’t distinguish Americans and Europeans, American drama was the only option to view western world in our childhood, that’s why we always think Western is equal to American.
      But should be improved much now.

  • Romain Touillet says:

    “Does your twin and yourself have a mind connexion?” Fuck it, sooo many people ask this !

  • alchechengi says:

    “What do you think of Japanese men?” “Who do you like better, Japanese men or men fron [your country]?” And I used to think Japanese people were discreet. Silly me *sigh*

  • Mikey says:

    I take full responsibility as an English teacher. All we seem to teach them is how to ask these questions… I dont know why, maybe to be prepared for small talk, rather than real conversations.

  • DJ Rose says:

    Why would you mind answering any of these? Isn’t it natural for Japanese people to have these questions?

    • CA Edington says:

      Because they’re shallow, don’t really address me as an individual, don’t help the person get to know me any better, plus I’ve been asked most of them about 1,000 times (not an exaggeration!) in my 27 years here.

  • Pedro Romao says:

    I love nato!!

  • When I stayed with a host family in Kanazawa, some of the cousins would declare that eating vinegared rice was a ”
    チャレンジ.” I suppose they didn’t have high hopes for me.

    Also, I seem to disappoint many Japanese people because I actually like natto, various horumon and rush hour in Otemachi station.

    Jonathan

  • Tundi says:

    The first question is always the same as in your list. After answering them that I am from Hungary, they almost always ask if English is the official language in Hungary. I don’t understand why like 80% of Japanese people think that in every Western country English is the official language???

    • Mira says:

      this is strange, when I talk to them, they know where our country is and they even heard about the hungarian language, they never asked me if our official language was english…

  • Bernie Low says:

    I think Q1-6 is the ‘standard’ few to be get asked, and if they’re still talking to me sometimes I get asked about Singapore (“Oh, Singapore…Merlion!!”). A common question I get is “What is your first language?” because most people assume it’s Chinese or have no idea where and what Singapore is like. I also seem to get asked how many languages I know/can speak. And my favourite places in Japan or if I experienced any culture shock etc.

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