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Five Questions Every Foreigner Will Get Asked

Here's a quick guide to making the most of the commons questions that you will be asked when you arrive in Japan.

By 3 min read

Living in Japan, we soon get used to being asked the same questions over and over again. While it can be frustrating to answer these questions repeatedly, they show that the speaker is interested in us and our culture.

Here’s a quick guide to making the most of these questions and turning them into conversation starters.

Why did you come to Japan?

While it can be tempting to simply shrug your shoulders and mutter なんとなく (Just because), it is worth remembering that Japanese people generally don’t travel as much as Western people.

With these in mind, you may want to talk about how studying Japanese is the key to learning more about whatever aspect of Japanese culture you are into.

Can you use chopsticks?

Of all the questions that drive foreign people crazy, the question about chopsticks is definitely one of the more maddening. It is tempting to answer simply うん。使(つか)います or brag about your proficiency in chopsticks.

On the other hand, one of the things I like to do is point out that most Japanese people don’t use chopsticks correctly themselves! Researchers at Mejiro University used an equation to work out the ‘correct’ way of holding chopsticks and discovered that a few as 30% of Japanese people were using the correct form.

Are you married?

While marriage is a simple yes or no answer. There is a lot of fun to be had by expanding the topic. You could ask whether they think long-distance relationships work, talk to them about Valentine’s Dayバレンタインデー, check if they believe the perfect man/lady exists, or discover what their type is.

Can you eat ~?

In my adopted hometown of Osaka, the locals are crazy about their food. One of the first questions that inevitably comes up in any conversation is about what kind of food foreign people can eat. The most common questions are invariably about the foods that are unique to Japan. Expect to be asked a dozen times about whether you can stomach natto, brown meat of crabs, horse meat, Tako yaki .

It is worth remembering that not all Japanese people like all of Japan’s cuisine. It can be fun to remind the person asking the question that a recent study about natto preferences in Japan showed that many Japanese people were happy to check the ‘I hate it, it’s not even a real food!’ box when asked about the gooey, fermented bean snack.

What’s your blood type?

When I first came to Japan, I remember being baffled by this question. However, in Japan it is considered an important matter as blood type is believed to correlate strongly with personality. This can even be taken to ridiculous extremes as Japanese coined the term ブラッドタイプ・ハラスメント (ブラハラ)Blood Type Harassment for someone who is discriminated against because of their blood type!

As I only dimly remember my own blood type, I usually change the subject to some of the ways that people predict our personalities in the West. Many Japanese people are surprised to discover that many people believe that many believe our star sign is connected to our personality.

It can often be surprising to hear that the Babylonian horoscope used in the West is divided into month instead of years like the Asian one.

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  • Shaw Lee says:

    Japan and the Japanese should catch up with the globalization in progress, so that such an article implies a lot. I’m sorry, however, I think that everyone doesn’t have to use chops correctly except for the national, therefore the question “Can you use chops?” doesn’t mean literally and consequently almost always means “May I prepare KNIFE and FORK for you?”, nevertheless most of them are apt to ask in a bossy way (even in Jpn. 「で、あんた、お箸つかえんの?」a. s. o.), as a result the stereotype like “Most are likely to play first chair ” has emerged!

  • AonghasCrowe says:

    Imagine traveling to New York. You hail a yellow cab, and as soon as you settle in for the ride, the driver asks, “Where are you from?” You tell him you’re from Japan, something that excites him and makes him want to ask you all kinds of questions.

    “How long you here?”

    You reply that you’re only there for the week. So far, so good.

    Then, for no reason whatsoever, he says something like, “So, how do you like hot dogs?” or “Can you use a knife and fork?” If he weren’t sincerely curious, you might think he was trying to get a rise out of you.

    You answer that you don’t care much for hot dogs, but love the hamburgers here, and that you have no problem handling a knife and fork.

    He praises your poor English, by telling you its perfect, like a native’s in fact, which you know is definitely not true, then he asks whether you have a hard time keeping your glasses in place with such a flat nose. And so on.

    Would you be offended? Irritated? Or, amused?

    Now, imagine yourself having this conversation on a daily basis for years and years and years.

  • Never got any of these, but I have been stopped a few ポリ公 in Tokyo just for riding a bike. One of those times was a borrowed mamachari, so fair enough.

  • Rhea says:

    When I was in Japan, I was often asked if I lived there. (That’s because my accent is good, even though I’m barely intermediate, if that). It was quite surprising. 😀

  • ユリア says:

    I never once got asked about my blood type or marriage xD The “why Japan” question is common in every conversation, it’s a good way to start talking to people and if you ever have a job interview in Japan make sure to also remember why you chose Japan to work. It’s one of the most common questions 😛

  • Infernos_Reaper says:

    My answer to chopsticks would be “aside from icecream, yes.”

  • Not once. In more than a decade of going to Japan, no one has ever asked me a single one of those questions (except the Immigration official who asks why I am coming in to the country.)

  • Matt Thorn says:

    “[I]t is worth remembering that Japanese people generally don’t travel as much as Western people.”

    Eek! I don’t know what you mean by “Westerners,” but you must not be including Americans. 54% of Americans have never traveled overseas, whereas 78% of Japanese have travelled beyond Japan’s borders. Americans also ask stupid questions of foreigners, and many even ask stupid questions to people they think *look* foreign, e.g., asking a third generation Asian American, “No, where are you *really* from?” Sorry, as someone who’s lived in Japan for twenty years, I found this piece to be a condescending pot-shot at “Those provincial Japanese,” a perennial genre of “expat” essay I have never had any patience for (and a major reason I generally avoid expats).

  • Tania says:

    Those questions would not bother me at all! In fact I would relish being talked to and asked questions. My goal is to move to Japan, because I have dreamed of living there since I was a child. I know my heart and soul yearns to be there!

  • Korea21c says:

    Not sure only in Japan.

  • Raymond Chuang says:

    Forget about foreigners–there’s a lot of Japanese who won’t eat fermented soybeans–let alone raw horse meat! (I believe natto is primarily an eastern Japanese specialty–don’t expect people west of Tokyo to eat them.)

  • yohan says:

    Woa! I thought most Japanese women like asking someone’s blood type. So most of them. On the other hand, about using of chopsticks, sometimes I wanna tell like of course I’m not good at it because I’m not used to use chopsticks.lol

  • Lorenzo Benedetti says:

    Im not sure why any of that would be annoying. You get asked questions no matter what country you live in. It’s just conversation.

  • Barkingdog48 says:

    Every culture has their list, Mexico, China, Canadians, The UK…small talk.

  • James Lowrey says:

    I believe that many believe our star sign is connected to our personality too.

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