An Asian Foreigner’s Perspective On Living In Japan

By

Photo by Tokyo Bling
August 12, 2014

Two years ago when I first arrived to Japan, I was all starry-eyed with wonderment and beyond excited for what life in a Japanese university would bring. I barely knew any Japanese beyond basic travel essentials and my image of the country was glamorized by movies, dramas and songs.

I believed I was coming to place of dreams. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Japan, but I am beginning to understand and learn more about the country beyond the shining lights and glittering sights.

I’m a Chinese Singaporean and have lived in Singapore all my life. My native language is English and my second language is Mandarin Chinese. Culture wise, Japan isn’t so different from Singapore; there are common Asian values so culture shock was not an issue.

Adapting to life was not too big a problem, while trying to deal with all the paperwork and procedures took some getting used to, and I still struggle with it, but everything was still fun. I made new friends in school, other foreigners in my batch, and when classes started I made friends with both exchange and Japanese students.

I started to realise the extent of just how different I was being treated.

Things were fine, and I thought everything was the same for everyone. Then I heard stories, read blogposts and saw articles about how foreigners are treated in Japan – unwanted attention, wide-eyed wonder, random English shouted at them on the street, and many other stories. Some funny, some weird, some disturbing. But nothing happened to me, I had no stories, no incidents. No one paid me any attention and I flew under the radar. I was fine with it, believed myself lucky that I had nothing bad happen to me so I should be thankful.

And I am, except that I started to realise the extent of just how different I was being treated. When you are Asian, or look Asian, somehow, Japanese people seem to think your Japanese is good. At restaurants, they look at you when you’re with Caucasians and expect you to be the one who has the best Japanese, but in reality you have no clue what is going on and desperately need that English menu which they don’t bring to you.

I remember I was at a cafe with my Australian friend (who was very fluent in Japanese), they came over with menus, apologized that there was no English menu, then turned their gaze onto me and expected me to place the order. I was clueless and lost and when my friend started translating the menu for me, the look of surprise on the waitress’s face was priceless.

There also seems to be a misconception that being Asian equals bad English ability. Basing on appearances alone, there is a belief that if someone looks ‘white’, their English is better or they’re native English speakers. The notion that Asians can be native English speakers too seems to not exist in Japan.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been told my English is good “for an Asian” before I have to explain that the first language in Singapore is English (though this probably is not a problem exclusive to Japan). Sometimes I also get mistaken for being Japanese and when I start to speak English they are shocked and ask if I am a ‘mutant Japanese’.

Once, on the train, I was conversing with a fellow Singaporean in English, and being the easily excitable person I am, was probably speaking at a volume louder than acceptable. Behind us, a Japanese guy made a snide remark to his friend in Japanese which was something along the lines of “Look at them showing off by conversing in English.”

I’ve also noticed in school or on television that every time there is a survey for foreigners, no one seems to approach Asians. If they do, you realise that it’s because they do not fit the typical Asian stereotype – darker skin, special cultural attire etc.

talento

While the ability to fly under the radar may sound like an attractive situation, the problem arises when you look Asian but do not conform to the stereotype. I am loud and opinionated which somehow is not acceptable. I joke and dress just like my friends but feel like I am judged more for my decisions and actions than they are.

A senior once told me I was “loud and noisy” just because I was actively asking questions and taking part in discussions in class, when the norm in Japan is to keep quiet and ask questions after class. Sometimes when you forget a custom or do something wrong, it is easier for Caucasian foreigners to play the ‘Gaijin Card’ and get away with it but as Asian I don’t have that option.

In social situations where having or easily drawing attention becomes an advantage, flying under the radar definitely doesn’t do an Asian foreigner any good. Somehow, your Caucasian friends get given special treatment – they’re always offered help, always complimented, always talked to, approached and wanted. People prefer to be friends with them, and more often than not don’t talk to you at all.

I joke and dress just like my friends but feel like I am judged more for my decisions and actions than they are.

They’re also higher up on the dating preference list for Japanese; while we see ‘yellow fever’ in Western Countries, in Japan there definitely is a form of ‘white fever’. Asians trying to get a Japanese significant other? Good luck. It’s not impossible, but the odds are probably not in your favor (just look at the perfectly coifed Japanese girls/guys you’ve got as competition!).

Every foreigner will face their own individual problems when acclimatizing to Japan, though somehow when you’re Asian there are more things to deal with. With a lot of literature and gaijin tips coming from predominantly Caucasian points of view, having a very different Asian experience can come as a bit of a shock.

Two main tips to all the Asian foreigners coming over: don’t expect any ‘superstar treatment’ and don’t be surprised if you’re expected to be the default translator.

Topics:  

Selfies, J-rock and bento-making in Kansai.

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  • Duncan says:

    That is ashame. Australia was like that but its really good now. Sorry to hear you have experience all that. Why don’t you move then?

  • Duncan says:

    Wow… that kills my dream of being stalked by gaijin hunter. I’m so looking forward to it. Looking at stirring up dome shit if they still think like that.

  • w03chu says:

    I really want to live in Japan one day and get married, but I’m scared of how I’ll be treated there. I am a half Tibetan half white mix which is pretty rare, and everyone here mistakes me for Japanese or Korean. I’m uncertain because it seems like most Japanese would either go for a full Japanese person or a full Caucasian person. I am still very determined to travel there one day, because I can already speak conversational Japanese, and plan on improving.

  • Kim minhye says:

    I know that feeling..but I’m a Korean singaporean so I get that they think I know their language but I only know a little:( i had one Friend who is a Korean and legit dissed my other friends for not knowing Korean although they are Asian:( this concept sucks like literally..I’m Glad I’m not her Friend already though.

  • Jey says:

    I had a similar experience. I am a caucasian (Spanish but fluent in English). I lived and worked in Thailand for 3 years with all the good things that came with it (local women loved me, general rockstar treatment, getting to play the “farang” card anytime I accidentally commited a taboo) and all the bad things too (getting stared at, random people yelling “hello” on the street, being charged higher prices, never being able to assimilate). During that time I got quite good at Thai language (at least speaking and listening as I still can’t read or write). During my last year there I befriended a Filipino guy who was new to Thailand. We would often talk English or Spanish together but he knew zero Thai.
    Waitresses, barmaids etc would often go to him as default and they had a shock when the farang had to play interpreter!
    Everyone assumed he was Thai and that I was the clueless foreigner. We often discussed what it was like being an Asian with no Thai language or a farang with good Thai language and it was eye opening to see both perspectives.

  • duburu says:

    Go to new england we don’t care what your accented is. But becareful of placing an order in a fast food with a deep chinese accent(me) and if the register is indian and have a deep accent too….you wont get anywhere

  • MF says:

    You’re a white, person, I take it. And not an ugly one. Anyone who writes overwhelmingly positively about their experience in Japan must be white. Because they get the “superstar treatment” there.

    Sadly enough, whites in the US get superstar treatment from ALL ETHNICITIES, while Chinese Americans get the WORST treatment from all ethnicities. Even American-Born Chinese hate other Chinese, especially immigrants. ABCs have internalized all the racism thrown at Chinese their whole lives.

  • MF says:

    Sorry about your experience. I’ve seen Indonesians here in the US, and if they’re more brown and Southeast Asian-looking, they’re treated WAY better than if they look Chinese. In general, the smaller someone’s eyes, the flatter their face, and the flatter their nose, the WORSE they’re treated. There’s a hierarchy, even among Asian Americans. I consistently see Southeast Asian types treated much better, and having more friends, than the ones that look more Chinese or East Asian. If you looked more like your dad (I assume he looks more ethnically Indonesian), you’d be better off in the US, Japan, and everywhere else. People actually like the Southeast Asian look – bigger eyes, taller noses, more chiseled bone struture, and a more “Western” look

    I’ve noticed that Vietnamese who look more Southeast Asian get treated better, and have more friends, than those that look more Chinese or East Asian. People just hate what they think of as the stereotypical “Chinese” look. You can bet that a Chinese person who is more handsome, and has bigger eyes and a taller nose, would be treated better everywhere than a Chinese person with slanty eyes and a flatter face. Very unfair, abusive, and judgmental treatment in the world.

    Yes, if you’re white, it’s suddenly ok. I receive a lot of this unfair treatment in the US, though I’m 2 generations away from China. White people get let off the hook A LOT easier than people of Chinese descent.

  • Renma says:

    As someone who grew up in Singapore 80% of my life and 98.5% Asian(I look Eurasian, just a little), coming from an international school background who was fluent in Japanese(Meaning you can’t tell I’m not Japanese if I spoke just in that language) way before I started living in Japan in July 2014. I can tell you my part of the story. The thing with us Singaporeans is that, we are quite a rare species. I have to make one thing clear though, I’m only talking about Singaporeans who have a “mostly chinese heritage”. With that said, there are barely any steoreotypes about us(apart from the no gum law, that it’s a really nice and clean place). To most people overseas, Singaporeans are a whole new race altogether. We are rarely grouped together with Chinese. Though, I can’t speak for all of us because I barely look “Chinese”.

    I would say we get the best of both worlds. Being able to blend in with Japanese(the ones of us that have Chinese ancestors),being able to communicate with the mass of Chinese living here and also the “Caucasians”. Apart from slight difficulty in looking for an apartment, I had no problems in everyday life. Making friends = piece of cake as long as you speak Japanese and even if you don’t(You can get a friend who can and they’ll take care of your social needs) From personal experience, girls(both Japanese and Caucasian) don’t care if you’re not Japanese as long as you look decent. Usually if you’re attractive in one place, you’re attractive in another so it’s not an excuse.

  • Clayton (Tetsuo) says:

    100% of these blogs, posts or and videos stating his or her personal experiences are for the most part useless, as 100% are all just Anecdotal evidence.

    “Anecdotal evidence is not necessarily representative of a “typical” experience as it is a personal testimony”

    Or in other words very subjective to the individual. I am a Japan born and raised naturalized Japanese American (fluent in Japanese of course as its my 1st lang and English, I been in the US for about 15yrs now) guy who is married to a Tokyo girl.

    I do agree that Gaijins do have it hard in Japan as it’s no secret Japan is very prejudice towards non Japanese or non Asians. Its why 99% of non Asian foreigners can only work as English teachers or club hosts etc. I mean you can count all the Gaikokujin’s (外国人) on a single hand their so scare back home and you usually see em in Osaka, Shibuya and of course Okinawa.

    Also another reason why these “living in Japan” sites or videos don’t help anyone is natives like myself or people that are Japanese decent do not post or comment.

    An example would be like those videos where people ask Japanese about Gaijin topics, so if you asked a Japanese person these type questions, they will reply in a polite manner and or positive manner but they will not be truthful as most of us do not say negative things when asked. Hope I make sense. Lastly if you are a Japanese or Asian foreigner or foreign born? You will have it a 1000 times easier as you will blend in and again we are more comfortable with other Asians verses say a Caucasian. Not all are like that but most.

    I am a state trooper in CA and I’ll say one thing Japan is not as violent as the US regarding these questions. My wife (10yrs in US) hates it here sad to say and my job does not make that easier and a change might be coming for us in the future. I like it here but it is a drastic change but again my experience would not mean anything to anyone.

    • Brian Del Pilar says:

      I disagree. I know for a fact that southeast Asians and Koreans are treated with much more disdain than a white person as this has all to due with white privilege.

      • guest623 says:

        My thoughts exactly. The Japanese generally treat white foreigners better than Asian foreigners. If you look white, whether you’re American or European, you’ll get the so called celebrity treatment most, meaning lots of attention and compliments and, of course, a huge ego boost.

        That’s why there’s the cliché that when unattractive, white people land in Japan, they suddenly become attractive but also develop an ego.

        Sure, if you look East Asian, I think you can try to blend in by learning Japanese well but if you’re only going to visit Japan for a few weeks, it’s better to be just white.

  • scobie says:

    Whether you are in Japan, Bhutan or Burma, Indian will be treated as Sub Continent of Middle East regardless of the religion and not as a Asian – Don’t be Donawanbe or dumb-ass Arab Indian monkeys.

    Indian have to get use to this rather than trying to walking around the differ racial categories.

    Learn – European want to be European Only & this is nothing wrong with it and Asian will do the same, separating their own continent in due time is a must.

    • kit7 says:

      India is not in the Middle East, nor are they Arabs. Fact. So what exactly is it that they have to ‘get used to?’ Asian also isn’t a race; it’s a geographic term that encompasses the entire continent of Asia, – not just East Asia, but all of it, including India. Like it or not.

      Indians and others of the subcontinent have no desire to be considered East Asian; I’ve never even seen evidence to support this bizarre claim. Not one point here was fact based, but rather glaringly comes from a place of hatred solely on the basis of physical appearance, and it’s sad. Be better than that. You’ve made it evident you don’t share the sentiment, but the fact is we’re all human.

  • John Chung says:

    My perfect day in Kansai …
    ———-
    “[ジョンさん。全然大丈夫だよ。] It’s no problem , John. Here are the translated
    documents for your presentation on the data-linking model. Just take
    them to Suita station, and give them to Yamamoto-san, he’s your contact
    for the venture capital company. What station are you at now?” asked my
    manager Ito-san over mobile phone.

    “Oh right, I met Yamamoto-san last year. So that’s fine. I’m at Shin-Osaka station at the moment.” I replied.

    “Great! Just get on the Kyoto line train and you’re there in two stops
    maybe 10 minutes. I’ll call Yamamoto and tell him to go to that station
    now. 頑張って!” replied Ito-san.

    OK. So I got dressed, grabbed the Fedex package, hauled-ass to the JR Shin-Osaka station, and jumped on the Kyoto line train.

    On the train, I was sort of lost in thought for a while about what I
    wanted to do for dinner (Should I head up to Kyoto to eat, or should I
    go back to Osaka and perhaps head further south to Kobe….) I eventually
    realized that I had been on the train a LONG time for two stops… so I
    asked the salarymen next to me.

    “「すみません。いつ吹田駅に止まりますか?」Excuse me, when do we stop at Suita station?” I asked.

    He looked at me in surprise. “Oh, sorry, but you got on the
    super-express train. We passed Suita station around 20 minutes ago.”

    “Oh…” I said. “What’s the next stop?”

    “The next stop is Kyoto (40km away). You’ll need to stop there and
    catch the train back to Suita. “ he said with one of the most insincere
    smiles I’ve ever seen. I knew what he was thinking, “stupid gaijin… “

    The phone rang. It was my boss, Ito. I knew what he was going to say.
    He was going to bitch at me. “John-san, where are you? Yamamoto-san is
    waiting. Japan is a very punctual country, this isn’t America?” Jesus
    Christ… I decided not to answer.

    When i finally got off at Kyoto
    station. I saw that I had 11 call attempts from Ito-san. I also saw
    that the next super-express train back to Shin-Osaka was in 3 minutes.
    Unfortunately, the trains going the opposite direction required me to
    run up a flight of stairs, then over the tracks and then down another
    flight… so I hauled my fat-ass.

    When I ran down that last flight
    of stairs, the doors had already begun to close. I lunged to the door,
    stuck my arm in the doorway to stop its closing, yanked the doors back
    literally for dear life, and threw myself in… at this point, I freely
    admit, I has half delirious, sweating and panting… but who cared, I made
    it.

    I noticed people were staring at me, which was to be
    expected… crazy foreigner… but after a few seconds i realized they were
    not staring at me, but rather at the door behind me… which was still
    open… somehow, it got stuck …

    The train driver made an
    announcement. “Ladies and gentlemen, we seem to have a problem with one
    of the doors closing. We will have someone come to check this
    immediately. We thank you for your patience.”

    A team of
    technicians dressed in what looked like fashionable swat attire came
    over to assess the damage… a few minutes later… they gave their
    prognosis…. negative.

    “Ladies and gentlemen. We are very sorry,
    but one the train doors has been damaged and cannot be repaired. We
    unfortunately now must cancel this super-express service to Osaka. Will
    everyone please disembark as soon as possible. We thank you for your
    understanding.”

    Ito-san has now called me 23 times. The next
    train to head down to Osaka was a local train that stopped at EVERY
    station. I decided get on that. I put on my headset and looked down at
    the floor the entire time…. I generally don’t understand Osaka-dialect,
    but I do understand the sentence “some crazy foreigner broke the door on
    the last train”, which I heard several times.

    When I had finally
    arrived at Suita station, two hours later, it was already dark.
    Yamamoto-san, as expected, was nowhere to be found. I decided to leave
    the documents with the station chief so that Yamamoto could pick them up
    later. At this point, Ito-san, who had attempted to call 36 times,
    called me again. I decided I needed to answer. I got myself into apology
    mode.

    “もしもし。ジョンです。 Hello, this is John.” i said rather slowly. I readied myself for the yelling I was about to receive.

    “John-san, this is Ito. We tried calling several times.”, he said.

    “I know. Sorry, but my phone battery died and I just noticed it.”, I
    replied, which was a blatant lie. “I don’t see Yamamoto here.”

    The next sentence was literally the perfect way to end the day,
    “John-san, we gave you the wrong documents. We let Yamamoto-san know so
    he didn’t arrive. However we couldn’t call you so you must have been
    waiting at that station the whole time… we are so sorry… is it possible
    you can go again tomorrow…?”

    • Kona says:

      Didnt ito-san said Yamamoto-san was waiting? Your boss lied to you too, he wanted you to get the hell there as soon as possible even though you were 20mins away from Suita station and even talked about punctuality even though Yamamoto-san wasnt there )=

      Yet he decided to call you so many times to let you know they have told Yamamoto-san not to show up because they gave you the wrong packaging while you were in kyoto trying to get back because he said Yamamoto-san was waiting.

      Your boss, is like my boss, omg…. Im told to meet someone at a certain time but i wait for 2 hours before they arrive because they were told i was meeting them at that timing.

  • Mr.nobody says:

    I don’t understand people complaining about Japanese people speaking Japanese to a Japanese looking or asian looking person in Japan. If they notice that you don’t speak Japanese adequately then they will try their best to accomodate you but they would not automatically assume your main tongue is English unless you tell them it is. The logical reason why white looking or foreign looking people get approached more often then you is because they would assume the language/cultural aspect between you won’t be that interesting/different since you are both asians rather than someone from Europe or America. There are many many reasons why someone will choose to talk to you or not. Have you ever considered that maybe you are unapproachable? Just a thought.

    • K says:

      What about Asian-Americans or Asian-Europeans? They would likely experience similar treatment in Japan as a foreign Asian from an Asian country would. Does it not make sense to you that a presumption of their lack of cultural contrast might be annoying or hurtful? The misconception that an Asian looking person is more Japanese or less foreign by default is founded in ignorance and racial bias, albeit an ignorance and bias probably unintended to harm. It’s misleading to brush over that fact by stating something like “Japanese people just don’t think other Asians would be interesting to talk to.” —Which, by the way, I’m skeptical about as a statement in general.
      Perhaps you do not have the ability to experience this specific misunderstanding or discrimination first-hand and thus are biased yourself? I don’t mean to assume anything about you so by all means if I’m wrong I’m wrong, but your seeming lack of awareness of there being Asians not native to Asia indicates to me that you may be one of the more approachable white looking people you mention in your post.

  • Yon says:

    Cannot agree more on this post as I have lived in Japan for near 2 years.

  • Becks says:

    I remembered the last time I read and joined the fray into this article was 1 year ago, and I still can’t get enough about it. Now. . . I just want to add some more pointers about my living experience in Japan. Last year I visited Japan twice as a tourist. Oh by the way I am just an ordinary Indonesian guy who has tan skin and and extra weight on the belly, obviously with those two aspects, it may sounds not too promising, as most Japanese are slender (sometimes skinny for my standards) and admire fair complexion. Anyway. . . Finally by the end of 2015, I became a student in Japan and I’ve been living in here for about 6 months. Sure my Japanese Language still crappy, but so far I’m still not complaining about anything other than I feel terrible about myself that I still can’t speak Japanese properly. Ok next point. . . Do I get stares from the locals? Sure, pretty much yes especially the girls ~_^. Do Japanese feel uncomfortable with a gajijn like me? No, very much no. In fact it’s the other way around, sometimes I feel awkward when Japanese people came to me and speak Japanese as if I can speak their language properly. That being said I also have a chance to do a part time job here in this country as an English Teacher, and I have to say it ain’t half bad, as matter of a fact I quite enjoyed it 😀 and then I realized something, in my line of work, the students that I tutored, they keep saying that if I am an Okinawan. And I said “no”. So in the end I googled it how Okinawan look like, and to my surprise they look a little bit like native Southeast Asian people and fyi try to google it under the name “Begin Okinawan Band”.

    In my school we are consist variety of nationalities, there are Europeans, Americans, Taiwanese & Koreans. Except for the Koreans and the Taiwanese, I have to say my western brothers and sisters might facing a little bit of challenge in order to intermingle with locals. They told me that one of them while sitting in the train, some Japanese sliding further away from them and others said that when they speak Japanese they always got responses back in English even though their Japanese is alot better than me. They may feel being discriminated, but I would say Japanese have tendency of “The Gaijin Complex”, (try to read that article from gaijinpot.com). All in all not everything is bad in Japan, being “gaijin” in this homogeneous nation there is always plus and minus in each one of us, and all we have to do is just exploit it, and I am sure you’ll do fine.

    • Tia Franz says:

      Hi There, may i know how did you find a part time job in Japan? I’m planning to enroll in a loal language school in Japan and would also like to work. would be helpful if you can share with me your experience. Thank you

  • Ervin Ang says:

    Very interesting.I am also a fellow Chinese Singaporean.I heard from my Grandmother that Japanese people of the older generation do discriminate other Asian races such as Chinese as they think they are better than us through World War ll in the past when Singapore was conquered by Japan.But I personally feel that it is not true as I’ve been to Japan 2 times and I had many heartwarming welcomes when I enter their shops or restaurants.I don’t really see them staring at me with a condescending look or think I am a weird person just because I don’t speak Japanese when I look like them.
    Actually my Dream is to live in Japan in the future as I love their culture their weather and their food,hence I hope to have better relationships with the people there if possible as I am thinking of learning Japanese as well after my O levels .

  • NTLYKLV says:

    I don’t know about others but I think racism is everywhere. Even a diverse society like Singapore, quite a number of them are savage racists. Racism to me is a product of stupidity and ignorance regardless of the skin color. Singaporean Chinese and Chinese for that matter find it very hard to excel in Japan, particularly if you work for Japanese organizations. The reason for this is that, people who can’t blend in find themselves isolated. Although many would say that Singapore is a diverse society, Singaporean Chinese have a mindset that their race is a lot more superior than Malays, Indians, and other Southeast Asians. This is the reason why Singaporean Chinese find it difficult to blend in to Japanese organizations. For Japanese, Singapore is the only Southeast Asian country that doesn’t have strong foothold in mainstream manufacturing that is why the respect is very low.

  • Geneve says:

    imo sounds like a lot of you guys from Asian countries never experienced racism or prejudice remarks before. For Gajins, living in in their own country would never experience it first off. I would assume the same with other Asian countries such as Korea, China, and southeast Asia to not experience racism also. As for “Asian Americans”, I for one, expected a treatment similar to this. Just because we deal with this everyday. Not so much anymore, but growing up. I can firmly say if you’re an Asian growing up in a non-asian country that Japan will just be similar. You would just deal with the racial issues and brush it off.

    • ayszhang says:

      Thankfully, I grew up in Vancouver where it’s 30% Chinese + even more other kinds of Asians. It really is a very multicultural city and a place where people are taught to be tolerate and respectful towards people of different backgrounds than you. I recently visited Singapore and found it to be quite similar. You have 4 major races living among each other peacefully and equally (relatively ofc). I’ve lived in China and Korea too prior to living in Japan, so I think it’s rather fair for me to compare the three East Asian countries and say Japan is by far the worst out of the three for mid/long term foreign residents of any kind, though China and Korea are both racist and xenophobic in their own ways.

  • Chris says:

    Thx for this post! I’ll go to Japan with my friend this summer and she’s Caucasian… Well I’m Chinese and don’t speak Japanese sooooo after reading this I feel like there’ll be many awkward moments v.v

  • Jolie says:

    I’m Singaporean living in Tokyo, I’m very disappointed Japanese in train manner, very disappointed many don’t treat Asian well , very disappointed many can’t speak English . This country need to change a bit still

    • Japanese in Canada says:

      Re train manner, I feel better than north american. Re treating asian, I think it depends on the people, usually they are polite but you feel distance from them. Last I need to ask you why Japanese people need to speak English for you. You better learn (at least try to learn) Japanese. You are not the centre of the world.

    • no1d says:

      Is this the same in S. Korea?

  • Domino says:

    Historically, Japan has always received new ideas and innovations from Europe or the US. They (we) got beaten by the “white” allay in the World War II. And now they (we) are militarily protected the big bro. As a natural result, their (our) brain is totally washed to believe that The West is superior in every aspect and there is no way to change it.

  • Ailisha says:

    Hmm what about like central Asians? I mean from the northern parts like Kazakhs for example? I read that their volleyball player was scouted by Japanese for her looks.

  • Peter Payne says:

    Longtime blogger living in Japan and running a company here, and I’d like to say this was a good article. We’ve got a Chinese-Canadian guy working here and he is in a similar boat, e.g. he doesn’t look “gaijin” yet is. It’s mostly good, he says, since he attracts less attention, though of course that’s often the fun of living in a place that’s so different from your home country.

  • ShaZ Ni says:

    Thank you so much for the article. Honestly , I dont see this coming (except for the fact that they’ll be nice to tourist in general, which is the same almost everywhere). And here I am thinking that I may be able to blend in with the locals easily. Seems like it’s going to be a little bit of challenge. I am definitely going to brush up my Japanese language. If all fail, English it is then. Oh well, it’s the experience that matters. Hopefully I can share my experience after my finally-going-to-Japan-after-all-these-years trip this Dec! 🙂

  • Serena says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post and I am so glad that I chanced upon this. I enjoy reading it very much and find I can totally relate. I am Singaporean Chinese too. I wonder if Japanese guys can truly accept Singaporean as girlfriend or will they prefer gaijin white gf? Because I read somewhere that some prefer ‘trophy gf’ like white and asian girls are not really the preferred choice.

    I have been to Japan many times and over the years made friends with many Japanese from Tokyo. In Tokyo, when I go to the restaurants with my Japanese friends, I did not get any stares nor unpleasant experience before. I feel that the Japanese almost cannot tell that we Singaporean are not Japanese but I may be wrong. Because Japanese are always good at Tatemae. Often they speak to me in Japanese but maybe they speak to everybody in that language, haha. I have a Japanese bf but he studied in US and we have no language barrier. It helps that I took JLPT and able to express in some Japanese. My bf did commented that our Singapore accent is very unique and sometimes hard to understand, unlike American or British accents. My bf said that he is westernized but I find that his core values are still very Japanese. Culturally, I find we are very different and sometimes hard to deeply understand what they are really thinking.

    • Domino says:

      I admire Singaporeans. They are smart and defy challenges. I’ve been there twice and love the place.

  • Zoe Tan says:

    Hey, i have never been to Japan, I’m a Singaporean Chinese too. I heard that there are some Chinese being treated badly at Japan when they think you might be China Chinese or something like that. I really want to study oversea and Japan is in one of my choices. My friends that went Japan said they were quite pleasant but there will still some cases where some Chinese were ‘kick’ out of the shop for unknown reason.

    • JC says:

      My wife, a Chinese Canadian, said less discrimination in Japan than north america. I am a Japanese, so I cannot say anything about Japan, but I have experienced discrimination in China and S. Korea. There are good people and bad people everywhere. You better see the world by yourself. No one has exact same experience, and you won’t. You will enjoy anywhere if you are poisitive:) Good luck!!

      • MF says:

        Your wife is probably an attractive and cool-looking Chinese Canadian – that’s why she gets less discrimination in Japan. Also, she probably has a more Western or Canadian vibe, and no traditional Chinese vibe. People of Chinese descent get discrimination everywhere, but attractiveness and a cool vibe will mitigate it somewhat. Also, she has the benefit of being married to a Japanese. Since you’re attracted to her and married her, there’s something about her that appeals to Japanese. If she appeals to you, then she’d appeal to other Japanese, as her experiences showed. If you post pics, then I can understand.

        I’m an American-Born Chinese (ABC), but people here always think I’m disgusting and foreign. I’m wondering how poorly I’d be treated, and how much I’d be excluded, if I went to Japan.

    • Peter Payne says:

      I honestly believe that the only times I’ve seen negativity to Chinese is when they were present in large numbers and were not following the local rules, which is of course hard to do when you come from the outside. At a hotel I often go to with my wife, sometimes two bussloads of Chinese tourists will show up, filling the place with Chinese who don’t know proper Japanese bath rules, or more likely know them but don’t care to follow them. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Another time I saw some Chinese literally lying down in the middle of the road, waiting for a bus. It was terrifying to think that they might be injured by doing such a stupid thing, and it made me (a white guy, but living here 24 years) and Japanese I was with frustrated.

      • MF says:

        It’s a total stereotype that Chinese don’t “follow the local rules.” There are tons of Chinese tourists in my US city, and I’ve never once seen them behave inappropriately. In fact, they’re nicer and more polite than other tourists.

        Also, if Chinese do behave inappropriately, they’re lambasted, while white people doing the same thing would be let off the hook. Always double standards.

    • Truth says:

      Japanese don’t know and don’t care about the different types of Chinese people. Whether you are from China, Singapore, Hong Kong or Malaysia – they’re all the same to them and worthy of discrimination.

      • MF says:

        Yes, here in the US, ALL ethnicities are nasty to people of Chinese descent, no matter where they’re from, or even if they were born here. I was born and raised in the US, and I only speak English fluently, but it don’t matter – I’m seen, treated, and bullied as a CHINESE person. My parents are from Taiwan and have never been to China, and I’ve never been to China, so my connection with China is tenuous. STILL, I’m only seen/abused as a CHINESE person.

      • Jolie says:

        Old generation believe Chinese no matter where u are from, need to be caution . They can seem friendly in outlook but behind talk no good about asian

        • MF says:

          Friendly in outlook? I’m American-Born Chinese, and here in the US, people dare to be outright nasty, bullying, and abusive to me. It’s not just behind my back; they’re nasty right to my face.

  • Becks says:

    I’ve been looking for blog like this, since I also been visiting Japan twice. So here I go. I’m going to give short explanation regarding my experience in Japan during my last visit.

    Just like other comments before me, I did get a lot of stares from Japanese people, either on the pedestrian path or in the train. I saw some of them stared and smiled, while others I assumed they tried to figured it out what kind of Asian I was. Well either way I wasn’t complaining, because for one second I never felt they tried to jump on me because I’m standing out or different.

    By nature I’m your typical Indonesian, light tanned skin, wide eyes, and non Sino-Asian. The funniest thing that I’ve encountered with Japanese people despite the “staring” experience, were sometimes they realized a little bit too late that I was not Japanese. Because I quite often got Japanese menu in any kind of restaurant and people over there barraging me with Japanese language even though my Japanese skill was pretty much a rookie, which were the opposite reactions that usually received to our western brothers and sisters.

    I also asked my Japanese friends over there why Japanese people in general stared at me, and mostly the answers because they were curious (I’m not sure whether my Japanese friends were just being nice or not). But there you have it.

    Last but not least to some of our non-Japanese brothers and sisters who tried to visit Japan. Some of us might think that visiting Japan can be a daunting challenge especially mentally, due to the media that Japanese people don’t shy when they think that you are FAT. Well let me tell you this. I’m 175 cm in height and 105 kg in weight, I have double chin, and I still go there anyway and challenge myself. Well what do you know? I saw many Japanese people over there, that looked more overweight than myself, so basically overweight and obesity are common phenomenon everywhere and no matter where you go. So don’t be discouraged to go to Japan and most importantly don’t be discouraged because of what the media tried to tell you. I believe the media just try to get the hyped from you guys and get a high rating. So just go for it!! Visit Japan!! You won’t be disappointed, I promise you.

    Oh in regards to my weight I also did asked my Japanese friends. They said I don’t look fat, but look more like a fighter such as Judo practitioner or an MMA fighter, which I was surprised myself, because I never been involved in any type martial arts (google MMA Fighter and type “Roy Nelson” in case you guys are wondering about my physical appearance and imagine without his beard of course :p) Ironically the scrutiny that I received mostly from my fellow compatriot because of my “FATNESS” 🙁 I guess being not in the loop within certain cultures can be rewarding 😀

    • MF says:

      You’re very lucky. There are not many ethnic Indonesians in my US city, but when I had a classmate from Indonesia, I could see that he was treated MUCH better than people of Chinese descent. My Chinese Indonesian coworkers were excluded and mistreated like me, but there’s a lot of love for those that look ethnic Indonesian. I can see that the replies you’re getting are much more sweet, loving, and polite, too. The worst thing in the world to be is of Chinese descent. I’m American-Born Chinese, and my parents are from Taiwan. I have no direct connection to China. Yet I’m bullied, abused, and excluded everyday because people relentlessly see me as disgustingly CHINESE.

    • Bernie Low says:

      Hi Becks,
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience! It’s always great to hear from others about their own experiences because each and every one of us is different and will have something more to share. Thank you also for encouraging people to visit Japan regardless of insecurities they might have. You are right, don’t let that hold you back from having an enjoyable experience!! 😀

      • Becks says:

        Hi Bernie,

        It was my pleasure. In fact I love Japan so much I’m planning for a long term study in Japanese Language School over there. Ok, all in all I may sound bias and sugar coating a little bit, but Japanese people by far is the friendliest and hospitable people I’ve ever encountered. I can say this due to I used to grew up in Europe, and because of my father was a Diplomat. Hence as a family we traveled alot, and got a chance to see the world, experiencing many differences in many aspects, and culture shock.

        I know it’s not going to be that easy for me, when I’m residing in Japan some time in the near future, but I’m not going to be discouraged by some people tried to convinced me otherwise, especially with their negative opinions. The bottomline is, whatever your dreams are. . . Chase them and go for it!!! People really enjoy telling you bad stuff and playing with your mind. Just because they claimed they have more experience in whatever it is than you do, that doesn’t mean that they always right. You know what? Screw them!!! Ironically not too many good and well mannered motivators exist anymore in these days, only dream crushers. So guys. . . Prove them wrong and don’t let them let you down.

  • Tae says:

    Couldn’t agree more, as a Korean studying in Japan, I agree on pretty much everything on this post.
    Also, one point I’d like to make, when my non-asian looking friend says something as simple as “Arigato gozaimasu”, everyone loses their shit and goes “sugoi!” but then I try to come up with some more complex sentence, and they’re all going ‘uh.. whats wrong with his Japanese?’ face.
    Obviously, not all Japanese are like that, in fact most Japanese are not(especially when they know I’m a foreigner). But, the fact that it does happen from time to time just made me to quit learning Japanese.

    • MF says:

      So who’s treated worse in Japan – Chinese or Koreans? Here in the US, people of Chinese descent are treated A LOT worse than Koreans. In the US and West, Korea is thought of highly – there’s K-pop, K-dramas, and K-beauty products. Korea is the “kingdom of cool,” according to Westerners. But in the US/West, China is constantly blasted, sensationalized, and subject to double standards. I was born and raised in the US, and my parents are from Taiwan. I have no real connection with China. Yet I’m abused and bullied everyday because people wrongly associate me with CHINA, a country they hate and look down on.

    • no1d says:

      How is it for western english-speaking Asian’s trying to work and live in S. Korea?

      • MF says:

        Do Koreans discriminate against Chinese less than the Japanese? I’m American-Born Chinese, and I only speak English fluently.

      • Nam says:

        I’m a South Korean, and I say in some ways it’s similar but less so in Korea. Non-Asian looking foreigners will get more attention and will get more praise for speaking the language well, but if they know that you are not a native Korean they won’t discriminate against you for not speaking Korean well, or anything else for that matter. As an ethnically homogeneous country, Koreans find other non-native Korean Asians such as Japanese, Chinese or even western born Koreans quite interesting and will be generally friendly to you. (Of course there will be some mean, discriminating people around but I say it will be the same pretty much anywhere in the world you go) I know a Korean-American friend who is living in Seoul at the moment, and when he speaks with his English-accented Korean no one goes like “what’s wrong with his Korean?” Also, because there are lots of Korean people studying/living abroad who comes back now and then to Korea, people are used to English speaking Asians. We generally find any non-native Korean people trying to speak Korean very cute, no matter what they’re level of language is 🙂

        • no1d says:

          haha great! The S. Korean’s studying in my city are a lot of fun which is why I’ve wanted to live somewhere like Seoul. I just don’t want to put all the work in and get there and I’m an outsider ha.

          I’m in a strange predicament where I’m learning Mandarin for the sake of family but I love speaking Korean way more. I dunno why but I have a lot more fun.

  • suraj bhat says:

    as an indian-chinese, this was pretty informative. My japanese is at a decent level, so if this came up, i could deal, but I unfortunately have much more round eyes than most other asians (probably because of my indian background)

    • MF says:

      Are you half Chinese and half Indian, or are you Chinese from India? How are you treated in various places?

  • Odilia Ivana says:

    expected to be the default translator? do you mean as english translator? or anyone mind to explain to me?

  • Chatunguinho Chatúnguez says:

    Today I happened to find myself reminiscing over some of my experiences in Japan and so I was reminded of this great thread of yours!

    I came to the conclusion that I really love life in Japan because of all the fun cultural activities, the beautiful scenic climate and the awesome cuisine, but I really don’t like dealing with Japanese people on a social level! I love the onsen with great passion, I am a fan of karaoke, I enjoy the best food in the world, I take great pleasure in visiting the beautiful Jinja shrines and marvelling at their architectural form, I feel drawn to the traditional Japanese Bushido culture and I love the natural beauty of the Japanese wilderness. I love the Japanese language as I perceive it as such a philosophically deep and intellectual medium of speech. There are many cities I like on Earth, but I feel that Kobe is my only spiritual hometown. I really felt at home there. However, I feel that interacting with Japanese people as a Western foreigner on a daily basis can be a real pain in the ass.

    We Westerners are treated so differently. Meeting strangers eventually becomes so mentally exhausting and tedious. Often we approach people and as soon as they see our European faces many begin to panic and act strangely. They typically assume that we won’t have a high level of Japanese because the notion of a Caucasian foreigner speaking an Asian language is antithetical to their preconceived worldview. As a consequence, I often feel that I have to prove myself constantly and show that I speak Japanese well with a rich vocabulary. This becomes really tiresome when all I want to do is get through my day without any bullshit. I speak Japanese better than some of my Asian friends and acquaintances, I read Kanji perfectly, but many Japanese people hold the preconceived notion that my Japanese is bound to suck for being a Westerner. It just gets tiring.

    At one point I just became so withdrawn from society that I would only keep myself to the people who already know me and only frequent the places where I am a known customer. I just couldn’t be bothered to deal with anymore strangers. I just couldn’t handle standing out so much and drawing so much unwanted attention. I am too introverted for all that stuff. For a couple of months I became so avoidant of social contact. I really learned how to enjoy me own company and make my own fun alone. That was when I became totally obsessed with onsen culture, bathing alone while sinking into a fantasy world so alienated from reality. That was the time when I began to prefer dates with foreign girlfriends. I just reclused myself from Japanese society for a whole summer and enjoyed my own little world.

    It is definately easier for an Asian foreigner and even for other foreigners with browner complexions such as Latinamericans, Middle Easterners, Indians, etc. Blacks are an exception. I think Black people have it quite hard in Japan. Brown/brownish foreigners such as Brazilians, Turks, Iranians and Indic peoples are expected to have at least a moderate level of Japanese, whereas White Europeans are often assumed to be monolingual anglophones regardless of our actual native tongue. This is really frustrating when you have put so much effort into learning Japanese. If I had to be a foreign Japanese learner in another life, I would definately like to be reincarnated as a South East Asian female or even better as a SE Asian lesbian transsexual! Hahaha

    Seriously though, I often got tired of people assuming I wouldn’t speak good Japanese and I got pissed off when some dumbass would approach me in broken English just because I am a Caucasian. They should expect to pay me for my services if they want Eikaiwa! I personally speak English with a thick regional accent, not that pretty little English they learn or at least are supposed to learn in school, so they have trouble understanding me if I speak in English. Then they have the audacity to get mad at me for not understanding real English as it is spoken by natives of my region! Some of them are a real pain in the butt. Sometimes, when approached by the “hey let’s follow the gaijin” Eigo beggars, I would just tell them that I only speak Spanish, which is my second language. Then their interest in me would mysteriously vanish in an instant!

    I don’t understand why you are so bothered when people don’t believe you when you say your native language is English. In Japan, such Eigo Ninjery is a real blessing. I would rather conceal the fact that I speak English natively. I don’t want to be a target of unwanted Eigo predators. I have no idea how Singaporean English or Singlish sounds. Most anglophones don’t know. Many English speakers seem to assume that any variant of English with an unusual accent (not American, British or Australian) is a non-native foreign accent. Most Westerners don’t know anything about the smaller and less well-known Asian countries. You shouldn’t really care that some Japanese strangers don’t believe your native language to be English. It is none of their business anyway. What really counts is that your beloved friends and close people understand who you are!

    I’d love to return to Kobe and enjoy Japanese culture once again, but I don’t enjoy the hassle of socializing with Japanese people. Japanese life is really a love-hate relationship for me, but I think that the excitement and the beauty of the culture makes it worth it!

    • MF says:

      Im general, the Japanese see white people as gods. All nations and ethnicities all over the world see white people as gods, but the Japanese, even more so. Since your experience with Japanese isn’t overly positive, could it be that you’re not as physically attractive to the Japanese as some white people are? The Japanese love big eyes, tall nose, and a small, sharp, chiseled face. Do you look different from that ideal?

    • Hop Jump says:

      This an ‘old’ post, but I just found your experience really resonated with mine. Except for one big difference. People are taken aback when I speak English in London. I’m British born Chinese, and it’s often I get exactly the same treatment as you do. The real exception is I was born and raised here. I can’t go back home as you can, because this is my home! I get treated differently too (by everyone, not just White English people), they literally pause and adjust themselves before speaking.

      I think going back to your experience with the Japanese (and I would add other Asians too). It is as foreign to them for a white person to speak an Asian language as it is an Asian person to speak a European language. Like my experience, it seems to be beyond their field of reality, almost like cognitive dissonance.

      What puzzles me about Bernie Lows experience, is why are the Japanese so ignorant of other Asians? It’s supposed to be a First world country, economically and technologically advanced. But culturally, they seem to be rather insular.

      “You’re Asian, you should speak bad English!”

      “You’re European, you shouldn’t be able to speak our language at all!”

      In the end it’s just plain old ignorance and a bit of prejudice. Argh!

  • Chatunguinho Chatúnguez says:

    Interesting article! I have always wanted to know what life is like in Japan from an Asian foreigner’s perspective. I myself am a European male with experience living in the Kansai region as a foreign exchange student. I came to Japan with an already high level of spoken and written Japanese.

    Sure, being Asian in Japan has its own pros and cons, just as being Caucasian in Japan has its advantages and disadvantages, but from my own experience and observations I can say with certainty that in the end it is generally much easier for an Asian foreigner to integrate into Japanese society.

    Not every Caucasian foreigner wants the so-called ‘superstar treatment’. I personally feel uncomfortable with it. I prefer to lay low in the shadows and interact with people on my own terms. Yeah, we Caucasians are approached more often, complimented more, and many Japanese people prefer to be friends with us, but the flipside is that very few of those ‘friendships’ are genuine. Most people only want “gaijin” buddies for free English practice and/or in order to show off as the cool kids. In short, their true motive for befriending us is none other than personal interest. I can always do without false friendship. I want people to befriend me for my individuality and my personal qualities, not because of my race, nationality or native tongue. Interestingly, some of my best friendships in Japan were with Asian foreigners who were fellow exchange students.

    With regards to the language, as an Asian you will be expected to communicate in Japanese and that’s a good thing. You are in Japan and it is in your best interests to learn and practice Japanese as much as you can. This situation is such a luxury for the serious Japanese language learner. In this respect we Caucasians get the worst end of the stick. Often people assume we are too dumb to speak Japanese and talk to us as though we were children. They expect us to fail at Japanese. Some even think it is weird that we speak Japanese despite living in Japan. But you will always be encouraged to express yourself in the national language by virtue of your physical appearance. Take advantage of the favorable situation and improve your Japanese as much as you can! After all knowing Chinese gives you a linguistic headstart through knowledge of Kanji and common vocabulary (Sino-Japanese). Better to be an ‘Eigo Ninja’ like yourself than an ‘Eigo Target’ like most Caucasian foreigners!

    As for dating and love in Japan, don’t believe it’s all hunky dory just by being White. I didn’t get a Japanese girlfriend not even once in a full year despite being in good physical shape! In my case, cultural differences were a big problem. I don’t find myself compatible with Japanese girls. So I preferred to date other foreigners such as non-Japanese Asians and Brazilians. Don’t worry about the competition. A well-presented Chinese girl can rival a Japanese girl when she tries. Just dress and act hyperfeminine! One of my dates was a beautiful Chinese girl who was hotter than any Yamato Nadeshiko.

    Just my thoughts and experiences.

    Enjoy each day in the land of the Samurai!

    • MF says:

      Interesting. What makes you incompatible with Japanese girls, but more compatible with Chinese, other Asians, and Brazilians? Many people of Chinese descent love the Japanese personality – polite, sweet, elegant, and hyperfeminine. So I don’t understand why you’re not compatible with Japanese girls when they seem hyperfeminine.

  • countD says:

    Being of Asian heritage – even here in the US you get the one-off compliment of how good your English is. From some older white ladies who were not making an insult – they honestly could not fathom I was born in this country & native speakers just as themselves. I thanked them and told them their English was excellent as well. I wish I had a camera to capture the look of utter confusion on their faces.

    • MF says:

      I don’t get the “wow, you’re so good at English” comment because my area is full of Asians, including Asians born in the US. However, they still see/treat me as disgustingly Chinese and foreign. I’m always excluded and subject to double standards, as Bernie Low and other commenters have written about. A white or other person could be saying the dumbest things, and people will look up to them, while I can be more polite and insightful, and they’ll just dismiss and ignore me.

      Here in the US, white people are treated better everywhere – by store employees of all ethnicities, doctors, psychotherapists, classmates, teachers, etc. Just turn white-looking, and you’ve hit the jackpot here in the US. Sadly, it’s the same thing in Japan. And it’s the same thing in every country all over the world, but whites are probably worshipped to an even higher level in Japan.

  • KamenTeacher says:

    That kind of attitude is same in Korea. You will probably find Koreans to be more direct than Japanese. In Kansai Japan Japanese down there can be very direct like Koreans.

  • klee says:

    I’d venture it’s typically “Singaporean” attitude when overseas. You’re not special so just go with the flow and relax; you’ll make more friends easily. Remember politeness is held in high esteem in Japan.

    • MF says:

      I’m extremely polite – my parents are from Taiwan, which is probably the most polite place in the world. It’s also very genuine and sweet. Taiwan is strongly influenced by Japan, so that might be where the politeness comes from. Despite my polite, enthusiastic, loving attitude, people in the US all exclude, bully, and abuse me. White and other people can say/do something dumb and be praised or let off the hook, while I’m saying/doing/wearing something BETTER, and I’ll just be dismissed and excluded. I was born and raised in the US, and I only speak English fluently.

  • Heather M. says:

    This is going to be long, because I have a lot to say on the subject. As some of the other comments mentioned, this isn’t just a Japanese problem. It’s a problem anywhere there are people who have preconceived notions about race, ethnicity, nationality, and language, which is everywhere.

    If something’s spoken out of ignorance, I tend to view it as a learning situation, for either them or me. I get told that my English is “good,” for being an Asian, all the time. In my home country, the US. It’s very irritating. European-Americans are actually very unwilling to believe me when I say that English is my native language and am American.

    I give people the benefit of the doubt when they ask me where I’m from, simply because southern California attracts a lot of people from around the country and the world, despite the fact that there are those of us who were born and raised here. However, if they get mean and aggressively argumentative and insist that they want to know where I’m “really” from (what they mean is, “What’s your heritage?”), I tend to tell them off. That really boggles their minds, because should I, an Asian female, be submissive and just accept that they’re right? I also tell them that my father’s mother was European-American and my grandparents were married before WWII (at the time, 8 states allowed interracial marriages). Everywhere I go in the world, people are surprised when they hear that I’m 3/4 Asian and 1/4 European. My family and I can see the European influence in my build, nose, eyes, and hair, but hardly anyone else can. When they’re like “oh, no wonder you don’t act Asian” I tell them that nope, I don’t know my European side, and I’m the way I am because not only am I American, but I’m from a long line of strong and independent Japanese women.

    I visited Japan about a year ago, for about a month. I encountered a few disbelieving looks, mostly from where I had booked lodgings because, despite being Yonsei, my name is Japanese. But as I said, I assume things are done out of ignorance, even in the US where I encounter it all the time, until it’s proven wrong. Everything I encountered was out of ignorance. No one argued with me. In fact, when I explained in my limited Japanese that I’m Yonsei and American they were very welcoming and if I asked for assistance with some Japanese custom that I didn’t know, or just for help in general, they’d help me. However, that was probably because I was honest from the beginning, I tried to speak Japanese, and they were able to observe the little things that I did know about the customs, so they’d help with the other things that I didn’t know. There were times I could tell they wanted to say that my Japanese was good (I’ve been told my pronunciation’s almost native, if not my grammar and vocabulary, by Japanese-American Japanese teachers, who aren’t about to do the I’m-being-polite-to-encourage-you thing) or want to comment on something that I did that surprised them, but most of the time they didn’t. One lady at a hotel I stayed at told me, in fluent English, that she meant no offense, but I used chopsticks very well.

    I loved flying under the radar in japan. I hate “yellow fever”. It’s not flattering. It’s repulsive. I feel like an exotic zoo animal here in the US. However, at least zoo animals aren’t touched without their consent. I get asked invasive questions, that are generally in the NSFW category. Sometimes, though, it’s just “is that your natural hair color? Are you sure?” Yes and yes. That was asked by a creepy, old, European-American dude. Ugh. I was grocery shopping with my mom. I tend to look at least 10 years younger than I am, therefore, I look like a minor. Even Japanese thought I was at least six years younger than I am. When you take all that into account, definitely a creepy encounter.

    In conclusion, I think that much of it has to do with your own attitude. Even just a little bit of adapting to the language, culture, and customs around you can go a long way. Americans are far more antagonistic about people being foreign, but if people try, generally they’re a tiny bit more accepting. However, I think it’s far more dangerous to be foreign in America than in Japan. If you’re foreign in America, a European-American can get away with your murder, and that terrifies me.

    • MF says:

      I can always smell the writing of a hapa person from a mile away. Somehow, they write differently from full Asians who were born in the US.

      I can very easily tell when someone is hapa, even if everyone else thinks they’re totally white. Because of bullying and exclusion, I’ve developed a finely-honed sense of perceptiveness – much as LGBT people tend to be more perceptive than most.

    • Sahr Sankoh says:

      i agree with most of your commentary, and respect your angle. However, a few items didn’t bode well with me. The insistence of explaining your heritage. As an African American who knows his homeland among millions of black diaspora unaware of their rightful heritage, it’s a boon. It’s a luxury to have that irritation to others. Apart from yellow fever, there’s black fever to content with also, and some Japanese women find “half” babies adorable. Pardon me for not making a succinct point. I’m up late.

  • Jessica Robins-eads says:

    I encountered this when meeting Asian immigrants while living in Japan. I myself am of pasty European/American descent so I often got the advantage of pulling the “gaijin” card…for better or worse… but I worked with the public in a theme park in Tokyo and I vividly remember drawing a Korean man who got genuinely ANGRY while speaking with me. “You don’t understand, you’re white, it’s so easy for you!”… I ended up growing quite tired of all the unsolicited/unwanted attention, which played a vital role in my decision to return to the US. It was nearly impossible for me to leave my house without getting questioned, even if it was just harmless curiosity on the part of the one doing the questioning it really grew old after a couple of years. My conversational Japanese is functional and people would often pretend not to understand me. I got the random strangers screaming at me on the street…got turned away from a restaurant in Osaka for being foreign…or I’d get the random old drunk creepers asking if “Jeshika-san has boyfriendo?” with a lecherous laugh…to be fair, it DID work in my favor at times; trying to find train stations and natives being excruciatingly helpful and accommodating…random gifts from proprietors of restaurants I’d visit…but I’m generally too introverted for that much attention and it ended up being too much pressure for someone who prefers blending in.

    • MF says:

      Pretend not to understand you? Really? Screaming at you? Turned away? Wow, your experience definitely contrasts with the experience of most white people in Japan. I’m guessing that although you’re white, you don’t have the particular physical appearance that Japanese people like. Even though white people are worshipped in Japan, maybe some are worshipped more than others. In the US, some Chinese Americans are beloved, but many are bullied, excluded, and treated unfairly. It depends on the individual’s physical appearance, dress, and how they carry themselves.

    • Ken Tanaka says:

      i dont know what are you talking about. mostly japanese men are only prefer japanese or other asian women.

      btw. i’m an japanese

      • MF says:

        Really? We all know that Japanese women LOVE white men. In the US, pretty much all Japanese women marry white men. Japanese womens’ out-marriage rate is one of the highest. But this is the first time I’ve heard that Japanese men prefer Japanese or other Asian women. I don’t think it’s true. I’m sure Japanese men would LOVE to date/marry a white woman.

    • Chatunguinho Chatúnguez says:

      That’s some real crap you’ve had to put up with Jessica.

      I believe that your situation is worsened by the fact that you are a female foreigner. Japanese men are known for their attitude of machismo against foreign women in their country. Not all Japanese people are nice and polite as some people like to believe. Don’t be fooled by all the bowing and the stereotype of Japanese civic mindedness! Once the mask is removed, many Japanese men are actually nasty bullies who will pick on those whom they consider vulnerable such as foreigners and women who are still considered to be the weaker sex in Japan.

      I am a European male. I haven’t experienced that much bullshit from Japanese people. I have never been turned from any comercial venue for being a foreigner. Never been picked on in the street. I think many Japanese guys genuinely fear Western men. They know that it is not wise to fuck around with us. Not only are we known for being aggressive and outspoken, some people think that Western culture is very belligerent thanks to the renowned violence of American movies! Some people think we are nutjobs and gun freaks! I don’t get much shit in Japan because I am built like a professional wrestler! Hahaha

      • MF says:

        It was a KOREAN man who got mad at her, not a JAPANESE man. The Korean man was probably more poorly treated in Japan than white people, so that’s why he was fed up. He was hurt from all the unjust discrimination,

      • Ken Tanaka says:

        the op was talking about “other Asian living in Japan” but why you bring Japanese men in this topic?? are you insecure because we’re not interested in your people??

        • MF says:

          You’re Japanese and you’re not interested in white people? Wow, I can’t fathom that!

          Here in the US, ALL TYPES of people LOVE white people. Recent Latino immigrants love white people, blacks love white people, American-born Asians love white people, and foreign-born Asians love white people. In the US, as long as you’re white, you’re treated better than all other people. In contrast, people of Chinese descent in the US are treated the ABSOLUTE worst – far worse than any other people, including Koreans, Filipinos, blacks, etc.

          • Kim minhye says:

            Honestly you can’t say that Asians or Japanese have to love white people. You can’t generalise Asians like that just because most people like them. I’m not saying you are wrong I’m jus saying you can’t say that he/she is weird just because she doesn’t like white people. I’m assuming that you are white based on how you react? Well I’m sorry but I’m Asian too and I really do not like white people.

  • tplus1 says:

    I should definately write up something similar about Asians living in Korea sooner or later. Nearly 5 years in Korea as an Asian, I must say it was somehow quite familiar. But I suppose Korea is more open than Japan.

  • Harry Hirsch says:

    Growing up in Singapore, I was often told I look like Japanese. Fair skin, northeast Asian look.

    Sure enough, when I traveled in Japan, people automatically assume I’m Japanese. They’ll start a conversation with me in Japanese, only to be told in English that I’m not one of them.

    They’re mostly amused but one grumpy restaurant owner did yell some expletive at me that included the word ‘gaijin’ when he tried in vain to tell me what I wanted to order was unavailable.

    • Kim minhye says:

      Late but I relate! I too grew up in Singapore but due to my heritage being a Korean singaporean I have pale skin like Northeast asians..while staying in Korea lots of people always talk to me in Korean but thankfully I could reply back..though my English is better hehe.

    • MF says:

      Do you take it as a compliment that you “look Japanese”? I sure would. I’ve never been told that, but I can only wish. I don’t know how Singapore sees Japan, but I hear that in Taiwan, they adore Japan and Japanese stuff. Do the Japanese treat you better than other Singaporeans because you look Japanese? You’re Singaporean Chinese, right?

  • Fiaz Khan says:

    I am a Pakistani and spent a month in Japan in 2013.. I couldn’t speak Japanese at all. Everyone went out of their way to be polite and helpful. Living there permanently might be different but I noticed that Japanese immensely appreciated small gestures and when you respected and adopted their customs.

    • MF says:

      You’re Pakistani, so you probably have a fairly white, Mediterrean or Italian look. I’m not surprised that the Japanese treated you well. As long as you look fairly white, the Japanese will treat you well. On the other hand, East Asians would mostly be ignored and poorly treated – especially if they’re Chinese.

  • Celine.fr says:

    Nice and funny article!
    I definitely understand your feeling, but my case is a bit more different.
    I’m an Asian born and raised in France and gosh… everyone knows how Japanese love and idealize France! My husband is French Asian too, but doesn’t look like Asian. We made a test few times. Everytime we go to a restaurant, he’s the first one to go inside and I try to hide myself behind him. After he says “a table for 2” (in Japanese), the staff will look at us and immediately talk to me. I pretend I don’t understand to force them to speak to my husband, but still during all the service, they will come to me and talk to me.
    Of course, I don’t need to tell you how it is while I’m with a group of French friends (all white who can speak japanese and that I’m the only Asian who has a basic knowledge in that language).
    Living in Japan for almost 3 years, every time Japanese come to me and talk to me in japanese, I can answer a bit, but after few sentences, I just reply them “sumimasen, nihongo chotto dake”, they stare at me with big eyes and mouth, then the famous question “doko kuni kara….”. As soon as I say France, they would say “hontoni?!?”, like I was lying to them, “but you really look like a Japanese” and of course, they would say the few french words they learnt in movies or at school.
    At first, I found it very annoying, because they still couldn’t believe (at least those who never travel to France or abroad (out of Asia)), that in France, the country of baguette, croissant, romantic country, or other Western countries, also have Asian, African or whatever people.
    Another thing i noticed was that I tried to use the japanese I learnt in a language school, but they would immediately know that I’m not Japanese and immediately talk to me in english (don’t forget that the japanese you learn in a book is different from daily life conversation!)
    Now, I just make fun of it: Gaijin and Japanese would think that I’m Japanese,so as you said Bernie, we’re like “submarine” in this country while walking in the street, but I feel like I’m a chameleon, I can listen to french, english, cantonese, mandarin, and a bit of japanese conversation.
    I think, that those who recognize themselves in this situation should not feel embarrassed, but take it as an advantage! Plus, Japan is aiming to open the country for tourism for 2020 games, they will see many different kind of people, right? 😉

    • MF says:

      Your husband is French Asian but doesn’t look Asian. Why is that?

      I’m shocked that the Japanese didn’t know that there are Asians and blacks in France. Surely people know that there are blacks in France, right? Aren’t there plenty of black Olympic athletes and other black celebs from France? And I thought Americans were the only ones who were stupid.

      • Han warrior says:

        I can understand why everyone hates you now, not only you have a deep sense of insecurity and inferiority complex, you are annoying, BTW, I am a Malaysian born Chinese, I don’t get all the treatment you get in Japan or elsewhere, if you are ugly, do something about it.

  • Hadi says:

    It is difficult to judge about all of the Japanese people. Take together, Japanese people are civilized and polite people. It is very popular when you are unaccustomed with new countries and city. We should accept it and catch up.

  • Wendy S. Lau says:

    Thanks for this article! I’m glad someone wrote about this topic. I’m Chinese American and I’ve studied abroad and lived/taught in Japan before. My Japanese level and pronunciation are pretty good so I usually do alright talking to native speakers, but eventually they start to notice something’s off when I fumble with expressing myself (they probably thought I was just dumb). It was better telling them from the start that I was a foreigner, but they didn’t necessarily dumb things down for me. I did feel like Japanese people had a greater interest in the Caucasian teachers, but I think they still respected me because I was from America and they tend to look up to American culture. They are usually surprised at first that I’m American because I don’t fit into their image of the blond hair blue eyed American. I completely agree with your two main tips though. Thanks for sharing your perspective and starting these conversations!

    • MF says:

      You’re probably a fairly attractive Chinese American who acts white, right? Uglier and more awkward Chinese Americans would surely have a worse experience in Japan, and be treated worse than white people.

  • dev says:

    I came in Japan on 13th october in 2011.since 2011 i have been learning japanese language at japanese language school however,i did not improve my japanese language till now.In japan most of the japanese people used their native language therefore,forigner must be speak japanese.If we can’t speak fluently japanese langauge we could not able to do work in japan.However,most of the japanese people helpful,kind and patient so l love japanese people as well as their culture,customs,rules and regulation.

  • perezmcintosh says:

    I chuckled at this article because I could identify with everything the author said. I’m filipina, though I don’t look full. The first time I went to Japan, the cashiers, hotel workers, waitresses, etc., always deferred to me when I was with my group of friends (Caucasian and Latina). I had a basic grasp of Japanese limited to “hello” and “thank you” and trying to speak with anyone was a little bit embarrassing since people were frustrated when trying to speak to me. Now, I’m not perfectly fluent, but I can hold a conversation so being asked what everyone else at the table wants to order is a manageable situation.

    I think when traveling, knowing even a little bit of the language is beneficial. I remember when I went to Koln, Germany, when I started a conversation in English, I’d get reluctant answers, but when I spoke a little German, people were much friendlier. I think as long as people can tell you’re trying, they’ll be nice enough to help you.

  • ユー says:

    Eh, you don’t have to worry about getting a significant other even if you’re Asian. People often assume I’m a returnee Japanese and they never guess that I’m actually from Singapore unless I tell them.

  • junisilva says:

    I’m Filipino and I’d have to agree on this 100%. Living alone and totally looking asian in Japan for 2 months without knowing any Japanese was pretty fun and difficult at the same time. I was forced to know the basics, how to order, how to greet, and stuff like that, but without any proper japanese education/teacher the conversation was one sided as I didnt know what to say at most times and theyd be totally surprised. It’s not something to be afraid of if you are only staying a few weeks but for work and other long term plans i would say Nihonngo is a must. 🙂

  • Elle Juarez says:

    This makes me slightly nervous being that I’m half Filipino, 1/4 Mexican, and 1/4 White. I look a little more Filipino but appearance wise I’m pretty average. I may or may not experience what you experienced but it does make me a little embarassed and scared to travel in Japan even though I love and appreciate Japanese culture.

  • Muramasa says:

    hmmm after reading this article… i feel like ill get weird comments from the people at japan when they hear that im chinese/filipino/spanish.. and my english is very fluent and same with my tagalog… i do not know japanese.. but i wanna visit this country,i do not know what to expect when i visit.. but this article sure helped me though ^^

    • Bernie Low says:

      Don’t make that stop you from coming to Japan though, a lot of people are very friendly and welcoming to tourists 🙂 In tourist areas, most of the shops and the people are used to many foreigners so if you don’t know Japanese they have English menus or know enough English/another language to communicate ^_^b

  • Surakshya Sigdel says:

    after reading this article i m glad that its not only me whos feeling this way.. esp loved the line “I started to realize the extent of just how different i was being treated.` Its more worst when you are a girl from a poor country like Nepal esp when you dont look like other asians (typical mongolian ) nor stereotype image of nepali people. no wonder you are equally competetive like every japanese are in nyof the things u have never experienced in your country but since you are a learner and u learn every damn thing about this world and still people treat your oh your country dont have train how do you travel???? whenever anything wrong happens at the work its always oh is that you who did that??????? if theres some discussion and you say i would do it this way no wonder its from the standard book then your senior look at you like this as if its wrong no wonder its from the same standard books that a american learns…then theres they start being judgemental oh thats how you do in Nepal????? but this is japan we do it differently……………………and they dont believe your points at all….its more difficult to be a citizen of a poor country who has a dream and want to do something like japanese then they always ask you oh how would you manage money do you have a money ….no wonder they have a surprise look if i say i will work hard or compete for scholarship or anything…its always you are being treated ..if i am a citizen from a poor country then i am being judged from the cover. when i am with some of my foreign fren ( esp western)…first i get all the esp attention like a western people but later when they knw that i am from nepal then its so horiible feleing how they judge you every now and then. japan is not a country for those who have a dream esp not for the people form poor country who have a dream.and so many things are still there i think i should stop here and stop stressing..no wonder i am a fighter and i will survive.

    • Bernie Low says:

      I hope you continue fighting and proving people wrong – that’s the spirit!
      Sadly people do get judged based on nationality, not only in Japan but everywhere else too. It’s unfortunate but it’s great how you’re not giving up and fighting for yourself. You can do it!!

  • Cii Cii says:

    I don’t know how I came across this thread. I was googling for something else. Anyway, I am a Lao but was raised in Australia and speak fluent English with Aussie accent which sometimes can be defined as “bogan” accent. Everyone has been very nice so far considering I don’t know any Japanese and I have only spoken English (the only language I know). At the same time, I am not a typical Lao in appearance for some reason. I probably could get away being a Japanese. Maybe I have to stay a bit longer to feel what everyone elses feels.

  • Damien Yeo says:

    I can relate so much to this! I am Singaporean Chinese as well. Albeit spending a large part of my childhood in the US, I am half Japanese and thus very very asian in appearance. I am currently in Japan for 6months and I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten the “omg what the hell is he?” look from Japanese person when I make a phone call or converse on the train in English. In fact I’ve developed a sense of satisfaction of asking questions in English, using “excuse me” over sumimasen, just to see their expression. Priceless. Those initial seconds of struggle as they try to comprehend what planet you just came from before enthusiastically clapping their hands and going “Japanese American?!”

    Erm, I give you half a point there for trying. Its really impossible for them to comprehend that another Asian country uses english as the primary medium and I have been asked if Singlish is taught in schools(WTF)

    All in all, I love this country, I am myself half Japanese but I guess some things are just not meant to be. And by some things, I mean being nihonjin physically and mentally.

    PS: They also have an unhealthy obsession with Hafus(Halfs, mix blooded people)

    • MF says:

      Chinese people also love half-Chinese/half-white people. They’re considered much more attractive and desirable. Also, if you’re full Chinese with Western features, it’s a compliment if people say you look mixed.

    • Bernie Low says:

      omg yes, their obsession with Hafu is rather…. :/ they only see one side of being Hafu because it’s over glamorized on TV, but all the problems real people face don’t get addressed.

      Haha, many people don’t know English is the primary medium in Singapore and they get a kick out of my Singlish accent. When I speak English they get confused and people assume I’m from America or Canada. XD

  • ABC says:

    I find these articles and the comments so funny. The reason is because I’ve experienced this in a country where there are many many immigrants living on five small islands called NYC. My background is American Chinese, born and bred in NYC. Growing up, Asians were ridiculed by the Hispanics and the Blacks. The whites left us alone though. All the “problems” you’ve experienced in Japan happens all the time in NYC. Growing up, Chinese people knows the non-Asians have money so they always charged more for the food, drinks, etc. And when you’re Chinese, they give you a discount. But when you’re Chinese and speak only English, you’re looked down upon because you lost the heritage. This is very common among the Asian race. Maybe because most of the Asian culture derives from the Chinese. A lot of the mannerisms, behaviors, and culture among the Asians are very similar so, as an American Chinese it’s very easy to understand their behavior and pretty much expect it. When Japanese people are polite to you, it’s not because they’re friendly, it’s being polite. Asians don’t like to offend people probably from Confucius principles. But behind your backs, they will talk about you, criticize you, etc. This goes the same for Koreans and Chinese. It’s an Asian behavior. I see and hear it all the time, in America. Things like “yellow fever” and “jungle fever” happens all the time in America. If a white man dates an Asian woman, it’s because the white man sees us as submissive, compliant, good housewives that will do every household work, etc. If a black man is with an Asian, it’s because we have a tight cunt. I’m not shittin you. That’s some of the reasons why other races are with Asian women. I know not everyone is dating an Asian woman for those reasons but, majority are. You don’t have to go to Japan or any other Asian country to experience what you guys experienced. Just go to NYC or even San Fran and you will be treated the same as in Japan.

    • Chatunguinho Chatúnguez says:

      I get sick of hearing about all this “yellow fever” bullshit. These days everyone wants to find an excuse to be seen as a victim. Too many people see the world with so much cynicism and wish to find offense in everything. I believe that society is already really sick and twisted.

      I am tired of all the constant accusations against Western men who date or like Asian women. I hate the double standards. A Western man is allowed to have a special preference for females of other races such as Latinas, Black women, etc., but as soon as it is revealed that he prefers Asians his motives are thrown into doubt and certain people will think bad of his character!

      Why is it so hard to accept that many of us like Asian women because we find deep beauty in their physical features?

      I like Asian women because they are so sexy and their facial features are so irresistably alluring.

    • Heather M. says:

      I know, right? I’ve experienced far more of what the article describes here, in the US, than I have anywhere else. I’m 3/4 Japanese and 1/4 European (I think anyone of European descent should be called European, if I’m going to be called Asian) and I’m highly suspicious of any guy of European descent showing any interest in me, because, all but one (only one didn’t!) revealed they have “yellow fever”.

  • Zul says:

    hi guys! I’m Zul from Malaysia. Ive just came back from Japan this morning. i was in Japan for 9 days. I’ve read about this article before i went there, and now i would like to share my view as an Malaysian foreigner. As an introduction, I’m a Malay guy, skinny, average height for Malaysian, tanned skin like average Malay, Thai and Indonesian people, you know, like Cadbury Chocolate Milk, if not fairer. i wear glasses. My hairstyle is short, very suitable for most of the positions in government department. and my fashion is just usual, polo t-shirt, black jacket, blue jeans, skechers shoes, Toshiba laptop bag and sometimes black beg pack i bought in Harajuku (i love it).. so moving on , this is a very interesting discussion. i don’t even know where to start but Ive read so much about the gaijin stares, so lets talk about it.. it is very understandable that the foreigners in japan get a lot of stares, especially the westerners because they are so different from the Japanese. i got that a lot too. but as an Asian tan skinned skinny guy ,when i look into their eyes, i think they were analyzing me, trying to figure out whether I’m Japanese or non Japanese. i asked 3 of them during my holiday if i look like a Japanese. one of them say yes (i think it depends on whether i was having a good or bad hair day). or perhaps they were thinking that I’m one of those tanned skinned Japanese doing labor work. but if i was a Japanese, then why my hairstyle and fashion were terribly out and my walking style was different? and why people doing labor work like you walking leisurely in Ginza, Roppongi, Shinjuku and Shibuya?? Then i see some of them realize that I was non Japanese and move on, but some of them thought that i was a Japanese and smirk or gave distaste look for my failure to conform with the Japanese standard.. at least this is what i think.. these make me realize that to be a Japanese is not easy.. this could explain why they spend so much time in the morning doing their hair (i saw this when i was staying at Capsule hotel in Shinjuku).. In my first 2 days, every time i stopped somebody to ask for direction, i said “sumimasen” and 99% of them look at my face, move on to my clothes, and then look elsewhere and at the same time avoiding me as if i was a Japanese trying to sell tissue. BUT! once they glanced at me again, they say my tokyo map OR they hear i say “excuse me” without japanese slang/accent, they quickly realize that i was non japanese and they become very friendly.. it was good that they helped me, but this show that they judge you by your appearance, while they themselves are not open to differences…, some writers advice to use japanese words with them because they will appreciate your effort. but i think this applies to westerners more than people like me because if you are same like me, and you use japanese words, they are more likely to think that you are japanese and you must know how things work.. starting my 3rd day, i use english more often, and walla! they are more friendly!! they love me!!! i still have alot to say but for this time, ill stop here. feel free to comment on my view and ask question. and thanks to bernie low for letting me to post here. 😀

  • Yuuri says:

    Japan seems like a hard place to live compared to most other countries for foreigners in general, not just Asians. After reading the comments here and the other articles on this site, I don’t think I’d ever want to live in Japan. I’m Irish-Indian born and raised in Ireland, so I don’t fit into the caucasian or asian category, and im also tall as well. I’ve been to Japan 3 times, am pretty fluent in Japanese but was only in Tokyo, Osaka and the more touristy areas like Kyoto, Nara, Kobe and so didn’t experience and racism like all the stories that everyone has since i stayed for 2 months at a time (for language school). I even managed to make a few Japanese and Korean friends, and no one really spoke to me in English. But besides my non-japanese face, once they realised that my Japanese was a bit “off”, they ask where I’m from and what my native language is and are surprised when I say English since I’m not white, which is annoying since i only know English besides some Japanese!

    It was my dream to live and work in Japan since I was 15 because I like the culture and language, but i feel somewhat discouraged and am considering giving up Japanese and my pursuit for JLPT N1 since I’ve heard that Japanese tend to look down on non-white non-Asian (like Chinese/ Korea etc) foreigners. Japan seems very intolerant and much more racist compared to the West, where Ive been getting by with no problems so far except the “where are you from” question which is the first question i get asked even before my name. I do feel somewhat disappointed though, since my Japan seemed like a nice country the 6 months i spent, ill take as just the “tatemae”.

    • Thilo Nagano says:

      You say that you haven’t experienced any racism in Japan while you were there for months at a time, and you still consider giving up our dream because of stories that you have “heard”?

    • jane says:

      “Japan seems very intolerant and much more racist compared to the West”

      Are you serious?

  • Hildi R. Nararya says:

    I’am Asian but ethnically not Chinese. So what you mean by ‘Asian’ here probably different with me, like some Indian and Malay suggested before. Do you think darker-skin Asian will get the same treatment like you? Im curious about what Japanese probably expect from darker-skin Asian..

    • Bernie Low says:

      From what I’ve heard it’s more curious stares and misconceptions that all darker skinned (or tan) Asian foreigners are assumed to be from say, Philippines or Thailand. I need to research this more, it would be interesting to read about the difference Asian foreigner experiences!

  • Christina says:

    I’m a Caucasian female who has been living in Japan for years now and I always thought there would be down sides to both being an Asian foreigner and a white foreigner but haven’t read many articles like this so it was great to hear your perspective, thank you.
    One thing that I don’t think you mentioned that I felt from observation is the expectation that Asian foreigners will become better at Japanese faster and more fluently. I always thought it was unfair to put that pressure on only Asian foreigners. I know that Chinese people will be able to get the gist of Japanese kanji and that Korea has a similar grammar structure to Japanese so in many cases people from those countries will be great at Japanese but it’s silly to expect a Korean person who has only been in Japan for a few months to speak more Japanese than a white person who has lived here for years… plus some people are naturally good at languages and others aren’t.
    I’ve also been frustrated with some Korean or Chinese foreigners (most people aren’t like this) here who will refer to me as a Gaijin but not themselves… or will compliment my Japanese in surprise even though they themselves are also speaking a language that is not their first language.
    It sounds like it has it’s downsides but I do envy you that you don’t have random people coming up to you in the street asking you to teach them english… or people wanting to ‘be your friend’/ ‘date you’ because it might somehow make them look good rather than seeing you as an individual. I also feel like people are disappointed because I’m not the loud, upbeat ‘norinori’ foreigner that they expect me to be… I’m naturally a shy quiet, short, polite person and so I always get told I’m ‘so Japanese’, when actually it is possible to be those things as a white person…

    • Chatunguinho Chatúnguez says:

      Unfortunately, when it comes to stereotypes on language ability in Japan, biological race is the decisive factor.

      I cannot help but think that some Japanese people are utterly unreasonable and incapable of critical thinking. They don’t seem to understand that environmental factors are what shapes our knowledge of languages and cultures.

      For your typical Japanese mind, Asian equals good Japanese, brownish skin equals moderate Japanese and white skin equals bad Japanese and native English. It seems to elude them that there are Asians born in the West who don’t speak any Asian language and that there are millions of Caucasians who don’t speak English. In Japan, you might find some Japanese assheads speaking broken English at Russian immigrants only to be responded with a very blunt “Eigo dekinai yo”.

      There is just no logic to the stereotypes pertaining to language. For example, all Asians are supposed to be good at Japanese and Westerners are supposed to be illiterate barbarians incapable of ever learning Japanese beyond a beginner’s level. However, the reality is that in most cases Asians outside of the ‘Sino culture sphere’, in other words the nations that don’t use Kanji, such as Thais, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Malaysians, etc. don’t have any significant linguistic advantage for learning Japanese. Sure, Thai and Vietnamese have some vocabulary from Middle Chinese, but it is often the case that those words sound a lot different to their Japanese counterparts. The transparency is not always there.

      Chinese speakers and Korean speakers have the greatest advantage for learning Japanese. Much of the educated lexicon is very similar between Mandarin, Korean and Japanese. People who speak an agglutinating “Altaic-type” language such as Mongolian or Turkish have a slight advantage for assimilating Japanese grammar. And then everyone else faces a hard challenge when they take on Japanese regardless of whether they are non-sino Asians, Europeans, Africans or Middle Easterners.

  • David says:

    This article had my laughing all the way! Great description of what it’s like being an asian “foreigner” in Japan!

    I’m (ethnically) Japanese/Korean, but raised in the U.S. and have been in Japan for 5 years now!

    I totally agree with the “you kinda fit in, but don’t really fit in” predicament! lol

    Have a friend in osaka, who happens to be a caucasian who grew up in Japan, so he’s a native Japanese speaker and he would always be my translator and the look’s on other’s (Japanese) faces was priceless!
    But he’s used to it (growing up here he probably had to get used to it) and I got used to it pretty quickly and now we just do it to mess with people. haha

    But yeah, would be nice if the Japanese could learn the concepts of multi-culturalism (hopefully sometime soon).

    • Bernie Low says:

      Haha yes! I have a friend just like yours too and it’s so strange the looks we get when we’re conversing either in Japanese or English because of the assumptions of what our native languages are!

  • Dani Pascual says:

    I studied japanese for two years and i went to japan last year so from my experience i wasnt made fun of for my japanese which is not yet that good but the people i encountered were nice enough to correct me

  • knighchr says:

    I’m a native japanese speaker who was born and raised up solely in Japan and with certain level of English ability, and I think I understand what you wrote about and saw it in real sometimes. I hate people and society of Japan for the reasons you mentioned. Surely, the closed-door policy of Japan which was in effect such a long period of time worked pretty well in conserving and forming unique cultures and history of it, but that long isolation has made our mindset totally galapagossed and left us behind decades away.

    • Bernie Low says:

      Sometimes I think they don’t mean to think or act that way, because a lot of the interactions come off as more naive in the sense that they don’t realise their actions or words can be misconstrued in a different way. I read an article written about “What not to say to a foreigner in Japan” such as not saying things like “I want a foreign boyfriend/girlfriend!”

      I do think society is changing, even if slowly, because I have talked to some of my Japanese friends who have very progressive mindsets!

  • Lena Sinex says:

    I have a friend who is half Japanese half white its so funny because her foreign friends thinks she looks Japanese but Japanese people think she looks white..its kinda bizarre

  • kasparaitis says:

    I`m brazilian and seems like I`m not so lucky as you. I have already suffered SEVERAL times with straight and cruel racism at workplace, stores or on the streets. the newest one just happened today, while walking with a friend at Shinjuku Station. we stopped to chat a little when a japanese guy clearly drunk approached and for no reason bumped on us. there was plenty of space to walk by, not so many people around, lights on… no excuses. I shouted at him, he turned back and started shouting too, we were almost engaging in a fight when the station guards came and separated us. then the clear racism story begins.

    seeing as I was a foreigner he started to shout at me (and at the officers. have no clue how someone is allowed to react like that to police here. in my country he would be sent to jail and receive a glorious beating in the process…) several moronic things like I shouldn`t be there, I`m a lower level person because I`m a foreigner… the police did nothing about it. worse than that, they were asking me to apologize to the guy! and can you believe that when I did that (just in order to get out of that shit quick since I had a concert later to see) the guy laughed, demanded more apologies and the officers… tried their best to grant the drunk guy wishes! it came to a point that I said that stuff was a circus and I wouldn`t say anything more to him. then the officers tried to intimidate me saying they would keep me there the whole day until I apologized again.

    it sounds like a crazy story but it really happened. and shows all the people how even authorities here treat people with two standards. it only ended when I told I`d like to make an occurrence report at the police station nearby and enter in the Justice. then, miraculously, everything got solved quickly. the drunk guy was not there anymore, I didn`t need to apologize or tell anything more… they literally rushed me to out of the box office and out the station. gotta love how things work here…

    • sal says:

      I visited Japan and look Brazilian… a gruesome experience, it’s so passive-aggressive that I sometimes wondered if I was imagining it – like “grown sane human beings can’t possibly be grunting at me”, “maybe they’re just coughing because so many people smoke”, “maybe they are walking into me so much because everyone is trying so hard to ignore each other and not make eye contact that they can’t see where they are going”. So much for Japanese politeness. btw, the Japanese justice system is notoriously evil (I say “evil” and not “corrupt” – “corrupt” is money, “evil” is just evil).

  • nomad says:

    Completely agree with you here, and I’ve been having (and of course still having) similar experiences as you. All the points are spot on and it’d be rare to hear of an Asian-faced foreigner not experiencing some kind of blatant or subtle racism.The white hunter thing though depends on the individual in my opinion, and I suppose you’ll see race-selective people no matter where you go. But it does get annoying when you and some mates are drinking and loudly talking beside (and eavesdropping) on a group of Japanese people who [in Japanese] brag about how good their English is or ability to make so many different friends only to see them walk up and try chat to some random Caucasian French dudes who only speak French, for the 50th time!

    But it also goes the other way. I saw an ignorant guy watch some Thai women in Kabukicho, mistook them for Chinese, tried speaking Mandarin, and got pissed AT THEM for not understanding him. Discrimination exists in many forms, and we just have to accept that it’s gonna take a while for more people to come around.

    Whenever I get the vibe a Japanese person thinks or judges me as a Japanese I try to make it very clear that I ain’t. I think it’s pretty apparent anyway in my body language and mannerisms even before talking with someone. But to be honest I don’t give a shit what people think (so Bernie, you’re already a much better person than me for caring about this issue); I see no reason why a [Japanese] stranger’s impression of me should mean anything. If you have a problem with me then speak up. Otherwise, you’re entitled to believe whatever you want and “nice knowin’ ya”.

    It just comes down to how we choose to respond and try make positive changes through leading by example. We’re not in our home countries.after all.

  • Philip Richard Greenwood says:

    Instead of expecting “special treatment” why don’t you command it by been awesome!?!

    • Bernie Low says:

      Haha, I’m working on winning people over with my personality and sense of humour 😀

      • Philip Richard Greenwood says:

        That seems like a good plan 🙂 Also remember, you have one bonus that other gaijin dont have, you are Asian, that means if you truly wanted to settle in Japan and adopt the culture in theory you could do, and to a far higher decree than most other gaijin, who will, for the most part always be on the outside. If that still doesn’t work for you, and you want the star treatment, then move to England (or some other country like that 😉 , I am sure we would all love you in the Angloland’s.

        • Brian Del Pilar says:

          disagree. I know for a fact that southeast Asians and Koreans are treated with much more disdain than a white person as this has all to due with white privilege

        • ctdancer says:

          Good point, Philip. I look more Asian now without the blonde hair and green contacts (my eyes are dry, so I don’t wear contacts anymore except on special occasions) and enjoy Asian celeb status here in Central Pennsylvania.

  • MK says:

    I’m Japanese and have lived in the UK and the US for a while. But I’ve never expected to get any “superstar treatment” there. And I’ve always treated there just the same as you in Japan.
    ‘No one paid me any attention and I flew under the radar’ there. ‘Somehow, English/American people seem to think my English is good.” and there is no Japanese menu. They expect me to speak English. “In social situations, people prefer to be friends with Caucasian, and more often than not don’t talk to me at all because I’m Japanese (or Asian)” there. That’s the way you live in abroad. I know in Japan some people treat Caucasian special, that’s the problem.
    And if you cannot “keep quiet and ask questions after class”, even Japanese is talked behind your back. That’s negative aspect of Japanese culture. To be told “noisy” was not because you are a “gaijin”.

    • Bernie Low says:

      Well @kgirlintokyo:disqus replied for me on some aspects. I think the double-standards on how different foreigners are treated is the main problem, especially when there is such a huge disparage. Of course living in another country always has it’s pros and cons, and thank you very much for sharing your experiences abroad as well!

      • MK says:

        Thank you for your reply, Bernie. I understand your point of “the double-standards on how different foreigners are treated” in Japan.
        However, my point is that the problem is NOT the double-standards. The main problem is there is one strange standard that Caucasians are treated specially in Japan.
        I think that the other standard, Asian foreigners are not treated specially, is just normal. It’s not Japanese problem. If you complain about this, that is your problem. What do you expect from Japanese? Do you just want to be treated like a superstar as your Caucasian friend in Japan? But you are not, so are you complaining? Sounds like so unfortunately.

        • sal says:

          It’s not ‘normal’, and neither are the US or UK… I’ve seen normal, countries where a random ‘foreigner’ is a human being and not an ‘other’. Japan, the US, and the UK, are all extremely xenophobic.

        • Bernie Low says:

          From personal experience, I’ve been given dirty looks because I speak English (especially if it’s to other foreigners) as if I’m trying to be “cool”, but it’s my first language, I can’t help it! I wasn’t complaining and saying I want to be given superstar treatment, and I apologize if it sounds like that, I just want to share what it’s like and give others insight to a different experience in Japan.

    • kgirlintokyo says:

      I think you misunderstood some parts. What she meant was we are gaijin so we should not be judged ‘noisy’ as though we are japanese or be stereotyped asians as quiet, soft-spoken or bad at english.

      And I totally agree with you on the unfair superstar treatment for caucasian as though they have never seen them before. That is like so weird. In singapore we call girls who only dig caucasians for SO(significant other) as sarong party girls(spg). In japan, i suggest calling all girls desperately clinging to those caucasians and some reasons awestruck as kimono party girls(kpg).

  • Martin McNickle says:

    I sometimes wonder if it’s not a slight advantage in learning Japanese if there’s a societal expectation that you speak Japanese, and don’t get cut as much slack when you don’t …

    • Bernie Low says:

      Somehow all the “Wow your Japanese is so good!” praises only get sung once they find out I’m a foreigner. Recently the first thing I’ve been asked is “Are you Japanese?”
      I wonder what the reaction would be if I actually said Yes

  • Vedha Narayanasamy says:

    Well, being an Indian in Japan would be a whole different story I guess. We don’t look “Asian”(whatever that means) and we aren’t Caucasian either. Oops.

    • Ken Dal K says:

      i get a different kind of treatment too, from both foreigners and japanese. I’m african-american, but most japanese think i’m indian. Sometimes i see discrimination in my profession, as I am an English teacher. Japanese need to open their eyes and realize that white people aren’t the best at speaking English and also Asia is a very big continent.

    • shishir says:

      Yeah I’m in the same boat as you i recently shifted to Tokyo and belive me it’s far more difficult than i imagined it would be.

    • Bernie Low says:

      My Indian junior from high school is studying in a Japanese uni now. I remember when hanging out with her that she would get a lot of stares from curious onlookers. We didn’t experience anything bad but it definitely would be interesting to find out her point of view!

  • Jae Park says:

    As a Korean American guy who lived in Japan for 2 years, I can agree that what all you said is true; but at the same time, I saw it more as a blessing than a curse.

    First of all, we are much more rare, so when you explain to them, it really piques their interest in you. I took advantage of that. My white friends have had a lot of success grabbing the attention of Japanese women and I have had more success keeping that attention. Be confident and funny and people will love you regardless of where you are from.

    Plus, it probably helped that my Korean aspect was really adored by the kpop fangirls in Japan, but that aside, meeting people, dating, and gaining their respect is something that’s totally in your hands. If you blame the culture and complain, you will get what you expect. If you know Japanese, you can control the situation. Tone down your level of Japanese to seem more foreign, or vice versa.

    Go out there and have fun.

  • Eddie M says:

    As a white guy in Japan with decent Japanese, it’s pretty standard fare to hear “Oh, your Japanese is so good!” in one form or another at least twice a day. And when my American friends, one of whom has Japanese parents but has never left America, the other Taiwanese, came to visit, it was just comical, since neither of them spoke any Japanese beyond basic phrases and a handful of words. The shock on everyone’s faces when I translated it into English for them, then translated their replies back was always fun.

    • Bernie Low says:

      Haha, it is! I recall with amusement how shocked waitresses were when I couldn’t speak any Japanese and my Australian friend who they assumed was equally bad was reading everything to me.

  • Niño Adrian Sencil says:

    Great! what you wrote is extremely true. if you’re an asian gaijin they expect you to know their language and their custom as well. when i first went there I kept on talking in english to the people whom i met along the way. there was this thing i’ve noticed though if you’re trying to approach them and they know that you’ll be speaking english to them they will avoid you at all cost. hehehe however there are some who are really that polite even if they speak a little english they will assist you to your destination even it it’s out of their way. that’s how helpful japanese people are. that’s why i love going to japan every year and every year i tend to improve my nihonggo because trust me it surely helps a lot. Why do i know? i tried knowing some basic and common words or phrases within a month it really helped me. looking forward to be back in tokyo again next year. Hope i can get to work there as an english teacher because i really want to live in Japan.

    • Bernie Low says:

      It definitely helps to have a good command of Japanese. There are a lot of Asian foreigners living in Japan who have really good Japanese, which is probably why they expect such

  • Mariska Adisasita says:

    better than getting both caucasian ‘gaijin’ treatment and ‘asian’ treatment at once. i’m indonesian so of course i didnt have the oriental looks so i stand out in the crowd like a sore thumb. and yet my appearance’s still asian enough for people to assume that i must be a half

    • Boey Kwan says:

      I would hate to have to battle this :/ Still, do you ever get the good parts of both? Like you aren’t expected to know all the Japanese customs, but you still get appreciation for knowing the language.
      Btw I’m Canto-Canadian, so this is a pretty curious topic for me! 🙂

  • Alvin Aloysius Goh says:

    Nice. It is true what you wrote but think about it this way. It means you’re accepted as “one of them”. They hold you to the same standards and behavior as them, which I know a lot of “gaijins” wish to be as well. I’m Singaporean Chinese with a Japanese wife so I visit Japan fairly often and I do experience all that you’ve mentioned 🙂 Great write up!

  • Ken Ken says:

    Hi Bernie, Singaporean Chinese here. Worked in Japan more than a year before, speak some basic Japanese and still come here few times a year. Hope you are enjoying life in Japan. You are definitely right that Asian foreigner doesn’t really fit the definition of “gaijin” in Japan. To Japanese, gaijin stereotype are often Caucasians. Furthermore, Singaporeans are very rare species in the world, given our small population. The idea that a very westernized Asian with kaisu sprit, who can speak Chinese and English fluently plus some Japanese obviously don’t fit the typical gaijin stereotype. But trust me, we are the luckier than other foreigners from China or Asia country which not always look up upon fairly.

    • Bernie Low says:

      Thank your for your comment! Being Singaporean here is definitely different, we are rather individualistic and competitive (haha kiasu-ism has no geographical boundaries) which comes across a bit strongly sometimes, and takes a while for people to get used to xD It’s not only to the Japanese, but my friends from Western countries also take a while to get accustomed to it as well!

  • Kortni Marie Eskew says:

    I am not of any kind of Asian decent, but I did live in Japan for 3, almost 4 years. My best friend over there was Taiwanese/Chinese but born and raised in America. Im the one fluent in Japanese, and she hardly knew how to order in restaurants. However, the looks of shock and amazement when they would ask her for orders, but she would shake her head and look at me for help, and I would speak in fluent Japanese were hilarious. I also would overhear conversations in places such as 711 or Lawson station from AMERICAN Men, who would try to hit on her in Japanese, but I would back fire with my own Japanese insults along with “shes not Japanese you retard”. I noticed right away that if you do not look Asian, they immediately don’t think you know Japanese. And are shocked when youre Asian and don’t speak Japanese. Its a shame things are like that still, but it is.

  • Philinje says:

    It’s great to see this kind of discussion and hats off to you, Bernadette, for your brave comments. I am working on a book that includes advice about leveraging the appeal of foreigners in Japan for business purposes, though some of the same concepts also apply to dating and romance.

    My background is Korean American British and I am at the older end of the life spectrum. My spoken Japanese will never be that good but I am surrounded by native Japanese in my family life and work. (My wife is 100% native Japanese, and yes we met in Japan and I had no problems finding Japanese women to date, though physically I could pass as Japanese – I am 100% Korean by blood – confusing enough?).

    My spoken English is perfectly native, even by American standards, and I spent my first 37 years in America so I am basically American, though I acquired British citizenship and have Korean cultural roots. What I have found in Japan is that as a foreigner, you have to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. But one good thing about Japan from the perspective of Westerners is that America is more clearly put on a pedestal than practically anywhere else.

    My last name is Chang so often when I meet people they wonder if I am Chinese and from Hong Kong or Singapore. I just say I’m American and my flawless accent (or non-accent) takes care of it.

    Being from Hong Kong or Singapore is a little different from my situation, but I think the same principles apply. If your spoken English is smooth and native-sounding, you fall into the foreigner category and then it’s up to you to leverage the cultural factors in your favor, and to minimize the factors going against you.

    This is a deep topic and as I said, I am working on a book about this, but here I wanted to mention that for romance purposes, there is a similar dynamic here that can be seen in America, just inverted. I have a theory that most inter-racial relationships in America are between white guys and Asian women. (There are various reasons for this but I don’t want to digress.) On the other hand, here white guys have an appeal to Japanese women, but most Japanese women don’t have the language skills or the fundamental desire to bridge the cultural gap.

    In a nutshell, foreign Asian guys who can fit the Western model (again, native-sounding spoken English), can appeal to native Japanese women by being the best of both worlds. Somebody else here said something similar. I even have a Malaysian Chinese friend who landed an attractive Japanese wife who spoke little English, despite the fact that he has a broken English accent and speaks basic casual Japanese.

    As for Asian foreign women, you’re not so lucky, I believe. On the whole, Japanese men are less adventurous and more stuck in the Japanese mentality, but of course there are exceptions. I sympathize because I was always going against the social grain in America by dating white women. This just means you have to hone in on the guys who are open-minded and wanting to exercise their English skills.

    Just my two cents.

    • The Nat says:

      I was surprised at your comment about America being clearly held more on a pedestal over there. I would disagree with this. (Try telling an Okinawan you are an American, for example!) I would hate to think that all Americans think this way because it’s just not true. I have Japanese friends who aren’t keen on Americans and prefer British people and British culture, for example. When you look beneath the surface and get to know some Japanese people, you’ll see that there is more individuality than what first appears. The one thing I have noticed about my friends, though, is that they feel a degree of guilt about thinking outside of the social norm and are under a lot of pressure from their Japanese peers to think a certain way.

    • Bernie Low says:

      Hi there,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to write such a comprehensive comment and for sharing your views!

      I read a post about inter-racial relationships the other day about why there are more White Male – Asian Female couples than vice versa (here: http://cholakovv.com/en/blog/2450 if you’re interested), and I agree with your view.

      I have seen how Asian guys can be really popular/have it easier but I also think it has to do with Japan’s somewhat double standards when it comes to women. Somehow, women have higher expectations – how they look, behave etc and when having to compete with Japanese women who have “mastered” the dating game, it’s just more difficult.

      Of course that doesn’t mean that all Japanese guys are like that, a few of my male Japanese friends say they are open to dating anyone regardless of race. In fact, I dated a Japanese guy for a while – they’re definitely becoming more open but I believe it will still be a while before there is any “equality” in the dating field!

  • Schroeck says:

    im asian and sometimes feel the way you experienced. they are into Caucasians.

  • Isabelle Vea says:

    I am French of Chinese descent and I totally feel the same as you do in Japan. It makes me sad and angry when I am in those weird situations. Daily life feels harsher for us than for non oriental asian looking foreigners… especially, after being raised in a western country.

  • Bernie Low says:

    Hi Gabriel,

    Thank you for sharing your experience! It seems like there are always stories to share! I’m glad you could relate but still had a great time in Japan. I hope I didn’t come off not liking Japan in my article because I really still do like it here.

    And it is so true about the language problem. I find that it feels like even more of a necessity to know Japanese more fluently when you’re Asian as they tend to assume a higher Japanese proficiency level!

    I wish you all the best!

  • Sheng Her says:

    LOL I can totally relate to this. Although I don’t live in Japan, I have visited for 2 weeks and was often thought to be Japanese (and I’m still mistaken to be Japanese by Japanese people in America). I liked that I could just fit in, but it didn’t work to my advantage (because of my sucky Japanese)!
    People often assumed that I was Japanese and spoke to me in Japanese, wanting me to be the translator for my sister and friend (a Japanese friend said my sis looks a little Japanese while I looked full Japanese, my other friend was Caucasian). I often had to explain that I wasn’t Japanese and had to ask for English if the conversation got too difficult haha. I got scolded by a subway gatekeeper for forgetting to take my ticket out of the gate machine (where I live in America, we don’t have a subway system so I didn’t know! It was my first time on a subway!), but I just said “はいはいはい” and just took it (he looked irritated and looked at me as if I were dumb). Oh well.
    Next time I’m going (hopefully November next year… so far away tho!), I’ll study more and be more prepared.

  • Frank says:

    Id like to add, try out what your experiencing for many years. The stares, the othering. Being a gaijin 24/7. Being careful when to speak English. Being told everything is your fault because your a gaijin. I could go on and on. Japan has many good points, if your Japanese. I realized that Japan is for Japanese, its that simple. Your never going to be accepted in Japan, so why bother. I have my own rules for keeping my sanity; it comes after many miserable experiences and trying out worthless advice. Singapore is quite different than Japan, I dont agree that its the same. They have their roots in English law as a former colony. They were also a colony of the Japanese empire. I think if you lived in Japan a bit longer, you would be informed of this on some occasions )
    Not to hate on Japan. Its their country. Its unique. Im different and unique and I dont conform, but Japan is a conformist society so it doesnt work for me. I got into something I knew nothing about, just like all newbie gaijin do.

  • Frank says:

    What your experiencing is quite tame. White, black, Asian, etc get it much worse when they settle down in Japan marry and have kids. The part about talking at you behind your back when your speaking English I get and that sucks, but the rest of it is lame, easy stuff. Try out the police, companies, apartments etc Even the Japanese dont like it here I think.

    • Bernie Low says:

      I know what I’ve written about is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the real problems faced when settling down long term. Sadly, I never personally experienced any of those asides from trying to find an apartment/heard about how bad Job Hunting can be, so I cannot comment about that. Forgive my youth as lack of experience thus inability to delve deeper.

      I do still think that companies/society etc are more forgiving/accepting to Asian foreigners who can speak Japanese at native/close to native level. My Asian friends experienced less trouble at job hunting, and the ability to ‘blend in’ helps in matters concerning the police etc too.

    • Frank says:

      I see lots of young celebrities on TV, been to Japan 1 or 2 times say how much they love Japan and want to live there. I bet that after 2 years min. they would want to leave. They are experiencing sensory overload. I get the same vibe when I go to say Bali or somewhere for the first time. You have to check those feelings. Being white in Japan doesnt really give you that much priviliage if you live there as a resident. Your still a gaijin. The gaijin concept has its roots in the caste system. It means your an outsider. Ive been told this by Japanese. Once you understand the real Japan, you see how brutal it can be to the outsider. I was once seen at a hospital, and the doctor kept asking me for my passport in the exam room. Never understood why as I was cleared at reception with my hoken card and alien card. That is experience is nothing though, there are more which I wont bore you with.. After you have one of these, you realize your in a special catagory. Please enjoy your stay though, and Im glad to see another foriegner waking up that its not the euphoria they thougt it was. It is what it is.

      • Bernie Low says:

        Thank you for sharing your experiences, even if they’re not great. Most of the time I find people have a wrong, over glamorized view on Japan. In the short term, Japan is still a lot of glitz and glamour but living here for a while is like “waking up” to reality.

        Of course this happens everywhere, not just in Japan. Everyone has a different experience and it’s good to read the bad ones as well.

        Thank you again for taking the time to leave comments and I wish you all the best!

        • Frank says:

          Id also like to add, while its on my mind that I have read where many Japanese dont want the “ills” of multiculturalism of the US and Europe (possible SG?) They like their cake and want to eat it too. Just take the bits and pieces of the world they like, modify them and all is good. Agreed, multiculturalism, in its extreme, causes problems. On the other end of the extreme is where most Japanese prefer to be, homogenus. Both extremes have downsides, however. Japan is waking up to the effects of being 98% Japanese for so long. Reasons for the falling birthrate are connected, IMO. I wont go into that (socail problem) here but a top heavy population of seniors and little immigration seems to be creating a dilemna for Japan. Multiculturalism as the West knows will not be accepted, but perhaps a sanitized version of it might be experimented with. Cant really copy SG model because your country has English as a base language, with a history of English law and business practice. I honestly dont know where Japan is heading when it comes to this issue (unless its the twilight zone) and will be interesting to see what they do.

        • Frank says:

          Yeah, sorry to be negative, but thats what it all boils down too. Many Asians, (even Chinese from the mainland) work and study here, with few problems. They also stay together I have noticed. I think its when you settle with Japanese when the problems arise. I dont agree that “its the same everywhere” Ive noticed that the longer you stay, say in the US or Canada, the more assimilated you become, and accepted. Japan has the opposite effect; the shorter you stay, the more welcome you are. Nobody is saying other countries are problem free, far from it. What I and others are saying is that there is a starting point. In Japan and it goes downhill from there. The harder you try, the less welcome you become. Its a clever way of keeping Japan 98% Japanese, with 1.5% or so of them zainichi. Nothing really too dificult to process. It just means you will never be accepted here because Japan is for the Japanese. Im amazed at how free and fresh I feel when Im out of Japan. I also dont agree that Japan is an advanced country in many ways. They have just copied and made everything Japanese. I also dont agree that Japan is changing. Perhaps some change, but once again on its own comical terms ). I see less immigration, the same or worse English level I saw years ago, more nationalism, more foriegn companies exiting and the same roadblocks that have been in place for years. Ive read where many think Japan will slowly fade away, produce “superior” and unique products and become a tourist trap with casinos and FTZ. I hope this isnt Japans future, but its what I also see. Please realize these are my views and experiences. Others will differ, and do take theirs into consideration and check it all out for yourself.

  • Bani says:

    A few days ago, a woman stopped me near the station to ask for directions and I’m like “lol sorry Chinese here”. I reflexitively said Chinese (full Chinese blood) because I didn’t want to take the time to explain that I was actually Canadian (born in BC). She understood pretty quickly and we went on with our seperate lives.
    So far, I haven’t felt that I’ve been treated any differently. Or maybe it’s because there are so many Chinese people around here, and most of the people I’ve interacted with here (from class) are Asian too.
    I have rather good pronunciation, but my vocab and grammar are total crap. When I tell people I don’t speak Japanese, they sometimes tend to use difficult words anyway, and it’s tough. ; u;
    Hell, even back in Canada, I remember this dickhead told me “you speak English pretty good”, and on reflex, I snapped back, “I speak English /well/.” I was born here; of course I speak it well.

  • Fira Rosli says:

    Hi, there! I’m a Singapore-Malay and I just came back from my exchange college programme in Kyushu and I have to say I really enjoy myself there! I understand your predicament while studying in Japan as I have similar experience as you do when I was there. However, even though it’s obvious that I’m Asian, I couldn’t help but be embarrassed that I’m always get stared at especially in their school and when I’m interacting local Japanese students. I think maybe it’s because of my darker skin tone and that I don’t really look Chinese? I’m not sure but I receive so many looks while I was in Kyushu. The students there only speak VERY BASIC English and was quite delighted to find that I’m a Malay when we were doing self-introductions. The people there was very, very nice and I enjoyed being there! I plan to migrate and teach English there in the future and take what I have read in your article in mind. So, I really appreciate this and I hope everything goes well in your studies there!

    • Bernie Low says:

      Hi Fira,

      I’m glad to hear you had a great time in Kyushu! So far all of my friends who have been there either for exchange or holiday seem to love it so much! This means I need to go visit and explore Kyushu soon, ahaha!

      It’s great to hear you plan to teach English here in future, I’m sure it’ll be a great experience!! I wish you all the best too and thank you for the well wishes!

  • Zabir says:

    Hi! I’m a Singaporean-Malay, I Always love Japanese cause, My Mum worked in the Japanese company when she pregnant me. Years later when I was born, my mum always think of me that I always love Japanese.

  • Jason says:

    I’m moving to Japan at the end of the week and I’m a Canadian with Korean background. This article was definitely interesting indeed. I actually did like the idea of “flying under the radar” as I dislike too much attention. But I guess I also need to prepare for the disadvantages. Good read!

  • James says:

    Let’s be clear. If you wanna live in Japan as a foreigner, (I say LIVE not just stay for a few months or a year then return).

    It is BETTER to be Asian. You generally get treated better if you speak decent Japanese and are Asian. Also where are you in Japan? Tokyo is full of non-asian Gaijin loving airheads. Go to Hokkaido/Kansai area and people are way more open to dating non-Japanese Asians.

    I have been to places in Japan where you would never see a white person. These places where they just assume it’s Japanese. As a white person you may never get in these exclusive areas. It may be harder to find a job, but I know people have done it before. (Chinese American friend got into JET program). Who cares if they treat you differently on the job? Let them have their stereotypes. When you find a real job, you will not regret being Asian.

    People aren’t gonna bring you their English menu, look at you weird, shout weird stuff at you. That may be cool for a day, but as a resident sounds extremely opening.

    TL:DR. For Non-Japanese Asians! Learn as much Japanese as you can! Make as many friends as you can! (LOOK BEYOND THE TOKYO SPHERE). Then, you’re good.

    • Brian Del Pilar says:

      disagree. I know for a fact that southeast Asians and Koreans are treated with much more disdain than a white person as this has a lot to do with white privilege.

    • Bernie Low says:

      Hi James,

      I live in Kobe and I can definitely say the people here are much nicer and more tolerant. And it is true that if you plan to live in Japan on a long term basis, being Asian will work to your advantage, granted you can speak Japanese well. I can’t speak for working in Japan since I’m still only a student but I’m sure the experience varies based on location, vocation and many other factors.

      And you’re spot on about moving beyond Tokyo, I find too many people only focus on Tokyo and are not willing to explore or consider other parts of Japan which is a shame.

  • maulinator says:

    You want to experience the “awe” that white people get in Asi? Go drinking in Zurich. The locals love the Asians! Being there I experienced what it is like to be a white dude in Roppongi.

  • Autumn Fae says:

    I went to Singapore this year and had a great time! I am an American of mostly Black descent and erm, people here stare at me and take pictures of me…They usually speak to me in English when I try to use Japanese. When I went to Singapore, I could relax a little bit because people there told me what was on their mind and I felt like I could communicate with folks the way I did back home in Alabama/Florida. I’m an English teacher and I have dealt with some prejudice from a few Japanese students, mostly younger folks. But people here are trained by the media to think that only Whites can speak “real” English lol

  • GabbyF says:

    Hello! I read your article and I love it! I am half Chinese and half Mongolian, but I am living in America, so I speak both English and Chinese, but I do speak basic level of Japanese. My boyfriend is Japanese and currently working in Tokyo now! I visited him in Japan quite often and also hang out with my other foreign friends in Japan. Once my French friend and I were speaking English in Tokyo, a super old Japanese man was suddenly speaking Japanese to me, saying something like “you are Japanese, so you should speak Japanese and stop hanging out with white people… …”. In fact, my French friend speaks much more Japanese than I do, he just grabbed my arm and left. He told me that many Japanese people do not welcome foreigners. In that kind of situation, we should just ignore and leave. I am a fan of Japanese culture, but because of their ways to think about and treat foreigners, so I decided not to live in Japan in the future. It will be a hard life for me!

  • Alicia says:

    Hi Bernadette, I have read your article but I would like to politely disagree with you that Japanese people treat Asian foreigners worse than Caucasian ones. I was a Singaporean but am now an Australian Citizen after completing my Masters of Biotechnology degree in Sydney. I am of Indian, Chinese and Portuguese descent and when I went to Australia to study, I never expected to be treated better for being a foreigner, which is why I do not understand why you ended your article by telling Asian foreigners not to expect superstar treatment in Japan.

    At the same time, because of my mixed ethnicity, I have been mistaken for every race you can possibly believe while in Singapore, Australia and abroad. When I was in Thailand for example with my husband who is a Caucasian Australian, locals started speaking Thai to me but I wasn’t offended for being mistaken for a local. I simply politely told them I’m not from Thailand and we usually all laugh off the mistake together. When my husband and I visited South Africa in 2011, many white South Africans started speaking Afrikaans to my husband before he explained that we were not from there.

    So in short, I do not believe that only Japanese people tend to assume that if you resemble them, they expect you to be a local and to speak the language. That seems to be a trend everywhere in the world.

    Also, I do not believe that Japanese people are more ‘forgiving’ of Caucasian people for not being able to speak Japanese than for Asian foreigners. I have had white Australian friends who have complained that locals in some European countries were rude to them when they couldn’t speak the local language. I believe that if you are residing in a foreign country for an extended period of time, learning the local language and customs are essential if you want to integrate yourself there, wherever that is in the world.

    And as for not being approached to do surveys for foreigners, I’m sorry but I would rather be mistaken for a local as I have never enjoyed being approached when I’m out and about on the streets minding my own business to do surveys.

    The examples you have given do not seem to scream malicious discrimination or racism. Rather, just common mistakes made by local Japanese that also seem to happen everywhere else. And like in any country, you are bound to run into some rude or ignorant people. Because of my mixed ethnicity and having Indian blood in particular, I have had blatant racist comments hurled at me while growing up in Singapore (much worse than anything you’ve described) but I do not hold it against the whole country but rather just a few close-minded individuals in the population.

    Also, I choose to have an open mind and heart and not let a few little incidents taint my entire view of a country and its people. Everyone whom I’ve known who has been to Japan (local Singaporeans and Australians) have emphasised the politeness and hospitality of Japanese people. In fact, I am planning a holiday there in the near future with my husband and daughter and I can’t wait to experience that country rich in beauty and history.

    I have never had ridiculously high expectations of a foreign country before going there. Perhaps I’m having difficulty trying to comprehend what you were expecting before going to Japan. I did not write this to put you down in any way, shape or form but to try and give you another completely unbiased perspective. I wish you the very best, Bernadette.

    • Bernie Low says:

      Hi Alica,

      Thank you very much for your comment and taking the time to write such a detailed one too! I’m not offended in any way and am very happy to hear your views. All the points you raised are very true!

      I think perhaps my own misguided over glamorised views on Japan before I came and lived here had to do with the fact that I was, and still am, young and naive. It is very common among my peers and friends who I have talked to to have such a view/image of Japan, which is why I wrote the article as such.

      And yes, the Japanese are extremely polite and hospitable, that I will never refute! I hope you have a great time in Japan, it’s such a lovely country and there is so much to see and experience!

      • Alicia says:

        Thanks for the sweet reply, Bernadette. I just got back from Japan and had a great time. It was very different in a most refreshing way. I think you are a lovely girl and a great writer. Please keep on writing.

  • Alvin says:

    I’m a Chinese Singaporean who started living in Tokyo in April this year. My case can be interpreted as an internal transferee.

    When I was working in the Singapore office, I communicated with my Japanese colleagues over the phone or email so they were more comfortable to use English although I could communicate in Japanese (a bit rotten though).

    However, upon coming here, many of my colleagues are reluctant to use English and will only use set phrases in English (followed by a conversation in Japanese). In fact, many people in my Tokyo office have a misconception of how I look. My team leader(a Japanese) thought I probably looked dark-skinned than someone from East Asia. (I’m a Peranakan and I do look like a fair Malay/Chinese mix from some angles.)

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