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The Gaijin Complex

What is the "The Gaijin Complex" and how do Japanese people really feel about foreigners.

By 3 min read 174

If you are familiar with Japanese culture, you probably have heard of the word, “Gaijin Compex” (gaijin kumpurekkusu). The basis is that Japanese people generally have an inferiority complex towards non-Asian foreigners.

The Gaijin Complex and is a controversial subject and many Japanse avoid talking about it but I am Japanese and I am not afraid to talk about it.

Japanese people do not have the Gaijin Complex towards people from other Asian countries, but they do have an inferiority complex towards “certain” (non-Asian) foreigners. Mainly towards Caucasian foreigners from developed Western countries.

If you are not very familiar with this concept and visit Japan for the first time, you may feel that Japanese people are not very comfortable with you. Is this about racism? I personally don’t think so. Some people may feel that it is a form of racism but we have to keep in mind that Japan is a very homogeneous country.

Even though Japanese society is trying to focus on globalization and internationalization, it is still a very closed society. As a result Japanese people experience mixed feelings of envy, admiration, suspicion and uncertainty when interacting with foreigners. This uncertainty when dealing with foreigners can sometimes be viewed as racism.

My former student actually told me a story that made me feel somewhat embarrassed about my country. He was visiting Japan and wanted to go to as many local places as possible. So him and his friends walked into a traditional Japanese restaurant but they were refused service because they were foreigners. The waitress kindly refused service by saying the one English word she knew, “no no no” and forced them to leave.

Unfortunately most Japanese people, especially older people in Japan have grown up with limited interaction with foreigners. Since Japan is an extremely hierarchal culture many Japanese people feel this sense of awkwardness and discomfort when dealing with foreigners. The waitress probably felt that nobody in the restaurant could communicate with my student and his friends and to avoid the embarrassment for everyone she thought it was best to ask the to leave.

The sad part is that due to Japan’s limited interaction with foreigners, it probably never occurred to the waitress that my student might be able to speak Japanese. This concept is cleverly illustrated in this video by Ken Tanaka.

While this could be viewed as a racist action, I feel that it is not done out of malice. Rather it’s the waitresses attempt, however poorly to deal with a situation that she is unprepared for.

If you are visiting Japan, what can you do to overcome the Gaijin Complex?

The Gaijin Complex is a huge part of Japanese society. Until Japan opens up and truly decides to be part of the global economic and cultural world I feel that the Gaijin Complex will remain strong.

If you are planning to live in Japan for work or school, the best thing you can do for yourself is to learn as much as you can about Japanese culture and even be ok with that fact that you are always going to be viewed as an outsider in Japan.

This isn’t the easiest thing to do because nobody wants to feel “rejected” but learning about Japanese history and culture can help you deal with the situation better. Most Japanese people don’t speak English, and even if they are able to read and write they often feel embarrassed with their inability to communicate in English.

If you are traveling to Japan for the first time, learning how to say key Japanese phrases can really make your visit more meaningful and rewarding. Japanese people really do want to communicate with foreigners and appreciate it if you can make an effort to speak some Japanese.

Learning a bit of Japanese is the best way to bridge the cultural gap and ease any tensions coming from the Gaijin Complex.

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  • Alberto says:

    No way

  • Yuki Hayashi says:

    Dear Yumi-san,

    Thank you for this interesting article. I was a bit surprised to hear that foreigners are being given such a hard time in Japan. I always thought it would be easy as a foreigner. My situation is a bit complicated: I’m half German-Japanese and I have only started learning Japanese language not long ago. Is it hard for mixed race people like me? I think I read an article on this subject and it could be that it was you ^.^ In the article, it was said that the more Japanese you look, the better it is. So would you suggest it’s better to learn Japanese best I can plus bring my black eyeliner with me so as to emphasise my Japanese roots? Thanks in advance for your thoughts on this. Best regards, Yuki

    • guest623 says:

      How would black eyeliner emphasise one’s Japanese roots? I think circle lenses are more important when it comes to how Japanese girls wear make-up.

  • U.O. says:

    Honestly, it’s not racism. I wish people would stop saying that. It has nothing to do with race. It’s about NATIONALITY, flat out. Korean-Japanese and ethnic Japanese from Brazil get treated exactly the same as other foreigners. Why? Because of NATIONALITY. If you want to get into race, then we all need to get it through our skulls that at the end of the day, White people are still East Asia’s favorite foreigners. And ironically enough, White people are the ONLY ones complaining about racism in Japan. If you want your whiteness appreciated that much, go to Korea. This isn’t about anger or resentment toward white people either. If anything, this is real advice. Seriously, just go to Korea.

  • Dale Goodwin says:

    I have experienced the “Gaijin Complex” several times; however, NEVER in a negative way once the person I interact with realizes that I am completely fluent in Japanese. I found the video to be amusing but not representative of today’s times at all. And yes, about 40 years ago, I did experience something similar, but I was relatively new to Japan and accompanied by a native Japanese and the person I interacted with was very elderly. I considered it totally understandable that she thought I was propably speaking English to her.

  • Toby Almy says:

    This article is a bit of a cop out. It tries to claim that Japanese people aren’t being racist, while at the same time describing how they won’t communicate with you because of your race (regardless of Japanese level). That is racism. Sometimes we have to be honest about our own cultures and recognize flaws in our own societies.

    The authors solution? Not for Japanese people to change their way of thinking and try to humanise people from other countries, but instead for gaijins to be more prepared before arriving in Japan. It doesn’t matter how much of the native language you speak, being turned away from a restaurant because of the color of your skin, in any nation, is pretty abysmal discrimination. This seems like an article that wouldn’t fly if it was written in almost any other country…

    PS. I’ve lived in Japan for two years and never really seen this kind of discrimination, but if it does exist as the author suggests let’s not try to sugarcoat it into a cultural difference and accept it as blatant discrimination.

  • Robert Chandler says:

    I have lived here for 10 years. What I can say is for Japanese race and nationality are the same. Weird outliers like Korean-Japanese that have lived here there whole lives or White-Japanese that have also done the same are so outside their idea of what is Japanese no matter how they grew up or what situation they will always be outsiders. This is why we are taking my kids from here. I will not have my kids treated like outsiders even though they would grow up here. Its not a few people here or there it the majority. No its not malice and no its not life ending but its life defining. Racist (at least my definition) does not mean you hate the other race it means you see yourself as different due to race and thus treat the other person differently. Common misconception.

  • DSD says:

    I will summarize a very upsetting and frankly depressing thing that happened recently in Setagay.

    My boys are swimmers. If you know the swimming community in the US, more than likely, you know it is for the most part very open to visitor swimmers. The swimmers exchange swim caps, they bond with the other swimmers and they can have 10 new friends.

    We are trying to integrate into the Japanese culture as best we can and one way we thought would be a slam-dunk was through swim team…especially under the spirit of the olympics!

    what actually happened?

    First, my kids are pretty good swimmers, state/regional champs. Not the best, but competitive.

    We were told without even a try out, the following:

    1. you are not good enough.
    2. you wont train hard enough.
    3. you wont understand anything we try and teach you.
    4. you will give up because you are western.

    Never mind that the US does OK on the international stage. Never mind that the kids times are highly acceptable.

    This bothers me because sports is one of the few international languages and I was very ashamed of Japan for this behavior. So much so that I am reporting it to the US swimming authorities just as a heads up leading to the 2020 olympics.

    Thanks for your time

    Disappointed swim dad.

  • sal says:

    ‘Gaijin Complex’ is a product of ethnic collectivism where they see ethnic groups as a unit and not as individuals, and absolute hierarchy where you have to bow and scrap if you cross paths with the local shogun because he/she could kill you if they feel like it. So after hundreds of years of the west bullying them, culminating in 2 nuclear bombs… they suck up to any white person they come across.

    And for random 3rd country nationals (or who look it), Japanese think you should be bowing down to them and that they are entitled to mistreat you to inflate their own egos… even when you are their customer.

    I used to wonder why Japan would think attacking the US (and China, and Russia) was a good idea… but now I understand, the whole country is living in its own private nightmare where escaping shame is all there is. Whether people killing themselves to escape shame (or working themselves to death), soldiers fighting to the death because surrender is shameful, or fighting so many countries in WW2 to redeem the shame of previous humiliations and escape the shame of feeling inferior. Now the Japanese right-wing wants to rearm for ‘national pride’ (their own words).

  • maulinator says:

    I have been an employee in the past, it has all been extremely white collar executive type work, but all the grunts in the office have always been treated fiarly. Of course everyone works late at times but even when I was a grunt no one really complained, becasue we were renumerated well.
    I have hired various temp staff so called (keiyakusah-in) many times in the past. Most Japanese people who take the job understand that there is only a very small chance of moving into a sei-shain role. If I wanted a proper employee I would make budget for it and then hire someone for that role. If the only budget I have is for a keiyaku, then that is what I am going to hire. This is true for all companies. I have been on both sides of management and grunt. My first company hired a lot of keiyaku for menial tasks like junior positions and assistants. They were keiyaku for a long time. Only about five people in eight years at the company made it up to seishain.
    Regular employees are not hired via nepotism, they are hired as sei-shain from the start. How do you think most college students get sei-shain jobs/ Not through nepotism, these kids know no one. They get hired into the sei-shain program.
    As for college internships, no one really gets to do much “real” work as you are college students and you know nothing. It is more for the company to evaluate your personality and your “soft” skills as an employee. Of course you will only get menial tasks.
    Once again, I feel bad for you that you get treated like crap, but as I said before, there are alternatives. Use a headhunter to look at other offers. If you are as good as you say you are then once you meet one, they should be able to offer you many mandates. Or talk to other friends who can get you in touch with their HR people. If you find that you are complaining and lamenting the fact that your work sucks, then it is up to you to get out and find another gig where they respect you. In mot cases you will find something. If you indusctry is as corrupt as you say it is, then change industries.
    I have many foreign friends, like me, who were unhappy with their jobs but they just changed jobs, but they had get rid of their inertia and decide to move on.

    • Shiki Byakko says:

      Sad to point this out to you, but at least in the IT industry, most college students aren’t hired as sei-shain from the start (Including me). Most of the people from my college class got jobs… as keiyaku shain. The only guys who got sei-shain jobs, got jobs on completely different industries, like food restaurants, and talent agencies.
      Also, in the IT industry, they hire you as temporal with the PROMISE of becoming permanent, they tell you that since the beginning, and in fact, they allude that being a temp worker is just to “test the water”.
      About the internship, I told you that I went with another guy from my same school to the same internship, and he got to do more useful stuff, and I got thrown with the other foreigner on the company to do menial tasks. I’m sorry if I don’t see as just a coincidence.
      I’m actually trying to get a job from a brand new company, they require staff and if they want me they will require to give me a permanent job, but that’s the point, so I don’t really need your condescending advise on the problem, I’m just telling you that it isn’t as simple as you put it, and please, stop blaming workers for Japanese employers being horrible.

      • maulinator says:

        I am not sure where you get your information, as the companies I deal with all hire college students on a permanent basis, usually after an internship program. YJ, Google, NRI IT, GS IT, Konami, Kojima Productions, CyberAgent, all hire generally on a permanent basis. Hitachi IT, Sony, intendo all hire permanent staff as well. All core developers I know are hired on a permanent basis, due to longer prjects and protection of IP. The only temp staff I see at these places are assistants and some support staff (help desk etc).
        All I can tell you is that my experience is very different from what you have experienced and I tend to see fairer hiring practice across the board and more permanent hires.

        • Shiki Byakko says:

          So you should know that all of those are mayor corporations that basically have a gigantic demand. I’ve applied for big companies, but getting even an interview it is a mix of luck, and having gone to an “elite university” what gets you in those places.

          So really you are talking about the biggest exception to the rule, and one that most people will never be able to experience. To an extent it is almost like saying that the only thing I need to do is to win the lottery.

          All those companies use the discriminatory Japanese system of “Simultaneous recruiting of new graduates” or “Shinsotsu-ikkatsu-saiyō”.
          Basically if you don’t get contracted by those companies before graduation, you have virtually no way to enter those to places, and even then they have very strict age rules, and those places do not even consider people who aren’t from elite universities, which are universities that have an enormous demand, and most people who apply, regardless of their abilities are not going to be able to enter.
          That’s why people who want to enter to those “elite” companies, work since children to be able to get to an elite school.
          And yes, those companies also hire people who change their job, but they mostly contract people from other big companies, and only people who have a lot of experience and prestige in their respective job.
          Most IT companies in japan aren’t that, most IT companies are “Shita-uke” or subcontractors, which may create their own things, but for the most time they require contracts from bigger companies to even keep alive.
          My company is actually an small 2nd party developer for Nintendo, which makes a lot of “Ghost programming” for Nintendo’s 1st party developers, which means that even if our company programs a mayor game, our names doesn’t even appear in the credit list. And I can’t even tell my own family which games are these, because I would be breaching my non-disclosure agreement.
          I know people from Nintendo, Bandai, Square Enix, and I know and unless there is nepotism going on, is imposible for me to enter to any of those companies, and not for lack of skills, but because that’s how the system works in this country.

      • maulinator says:

        I don’t know where you are getting your information from in the IT world. As for my counterparties and IT service companies, most hire sei-shain right out of school. YJ, Cyberagent, Softbank, NTTDocomo, NRI IT systems, GS IT, all mostly hire sei-shain out of school since good developers are hard to come by and most projects need long term support. THere is also the need to protect the IP of the projects and sei-shain are less emphemeral and therefore generally a safer bet.
        THe core developnment teams are all sei-shain. The temps are usually assistants and usually not right out of school but people with some experience. Hitachi, Toshiba Sony and most of the gaming comapnies I deal with also hire on a permanent basis usually. So at least from my experience sei-shain positions are relatively common and not necessairly a coveted position.

  • EmilHardersen says:

    Good article but “Japanese people really do want to communicate with foreigners and appreciate it if you can make an effort to speak some Japanese.” that sentenced clashed horribly with the video.

  • blogster1 says:

    that is not a bad metaphor. i’ve travelled there 10 times, the longest i’ve spent is 3 months. i am beginning to see signs of it as i go back for a short trip. I am a global citizen; i’ve lived in australia, berlin, the netherlands and london. no-where have i seen such awkwardness and separation with other ethnicities as in japan. i have stayed at hostels, joked and gotten along with the people working there. literally the next day, i see them outside the hostel and they panic upon seeing me; they don’t know how to interact with me and are quite awkward. i thought this was me initially, but no, others have commented on it.

    in preparing for this trip i have tried to arrange for several meet ups with people i have met on previous trips and thought i had made a decent enough connection with to warrant meeting up again. with at least 60% i am getting vague BS excuses. OTOH, i had a friend from london drop by to my city (an international, cosmoplitan city) who i had met from a previous trip. we had spent maybe two days together and gotten along well. in japan, its very different.

    you are correct: to the japanese, race is nationality.

  • Nomnoms says:

    This is the best explanation for my experiences to date! Rather than deal with the situation awkwardly, then the answer is to avoid it. As I have learned more Japanese, I have experienced this situation less and less as time goes on. So apart from culture, it is certainly very helpful to learn the language (including reading). I was sitting on the fence about this for a long time with respect to racism however. It is a very strong word. I can only discern for sure that I have experienced discrimination in Japan in the true sense of it; but it is best not to take it too seriously simply because it is far form violent in Japan and hence I don’t see the problem. Just hang out with Japanese who are at ease with you.

  • shogayaki says:

    I respectfully disagree. Stereotypes have a basis in the perception and experience of individuals. Your perception is limited, your experience is limited, and thus it is insufficient to apply your opinions without limit and without the benefit of the doubt.

  • Lola_Tokyo says:

    I lived in Tokyo for 9 years and loved my time there. Yes, there were times I got very frustrated when teenagers would yell english words at me or a person would automatically assume I couldn’t speak Japanese, but my memories of Japan are all very positive. I always speak highly of the culture and the people. Like Yumi said, I don’t think its about racism, I think they feel awkward and uncomfortable when dealing with foreigners. It is a pity that some Japanese feel so uncomfortable they don’t even want to try and deal with us, but there are still many others who are truly interested in interaction. And when these people do give you the chance, and you interact in Japanese, some of them respond back in English. It is important to immerse yourself in the Japanese culture and try not to take every comment personally, Japan is a beautiful and unique country- don’t let this stop you from taking advantage of it.

  • Burt not ernie says:

    Everyone knows that the original people in Japan were Ainu. What most don’t realize is that Ainu are Caucasian. Over hundreds of years, Chinese and Koreans invaded from the South and drove them North eventually to Hokkaido. These people, over a thousand years became the Japanese we know today. As in many countries like Australia, Sweden, Canada and the US native people were driven out, massacred and forced to assimilate. In Japan’s case, the original caucasians were never really recognised and many Japanese and foreigners alike are not aware to this day. One look at their thick black beards and culture, forks and knives, and you will realize the true natives of Japan. Of course this will be way too much for insular Japan to accept so carry on boys!

  • blondein_tokyo says:

    No, it’s not out of malice. They simply don’t know how it sounds as most people don’t have the experience of living abroad or interacting with others outside of their culture, so they very often say things without really having thought about how it might sound. And once you point out to the person that what they said or did sounded racist, ethnocentric, or discriminatory, they very often are shocked and then embarrassed, and usually wind up apologizing. This can be done gently, and without anger, and most people actually appreciate being told because they absolutely do want to get along with people from other countries.

    On the other hand, I don’t see how I can be expected to go around schooling people on this every time it happens. In fact I’d say it’s somewhat condescending to make the assumption that
    they need that much help figuring this out. They are fully capable of studying up on other cultures and learning though trial and error how to interact with them in the same way the rest of us did when we came to live in Japan.

    And sometimes, the Japanese truly CAN be racist. On occasion, the racism I experience here is so blatant and so offensive that it is extremely upsetting and makes me so angry that I just don’t really care if it was done out of malice or out of ignorance. My response in those instances isn’t kind, to say the least, and I think I’m fully justified in that reaction. Please do not lecture me about how I “should” feel or “should” react when someone has truly been unkind to me, and believe me when I say I CAN tell the difference between a mircoagression and real racism.

    If the Japanese expect to do business on the world stage (which is the main reason that the majority of people are studying English and interacting with foreigners) they are going to have to do better at thinking about things from other points of view. Eduction, education, education! 🙂

  • maulinator says:

    I view this not from the viewpoint of the locals but from the viewpoint of the foriegner, the gaijin. There may be discriminatorry practices done by the locals here in Japan but for the most part it results in what I see as “gaijin privilege” rather than a disadvantage. My experience and that of many other gaijin in Japan is seen as advantageous. The reasoning may be racist, but it is an advantage nonetheless. I know I am speaking in generalizations, and there may be people who are at a disadvantage, but I am looking at the whole picture.
    There are many examples where the gaijin privilege kick in. Most white guys in Japan who would not get the time of day in their home countries get bevies of ladies here. If you want to get rid of your gaijin complex look no further than Julien Blenc, ladies, and you can see the raw thinking of what gaijin privilege means. “if you are a white male in Japan, you can do anything.” WHile the statement is not 100% true that is the attitude that the white males have in Japan.
    If you want to test whether this is true howver, best thing to do is pick a fight with one, have him take a swing at you and then report him to the cops. If you are a local, 100% of the time you egt off scott free and the poor white guy is going to jail. Ha Ha! That might be an example (the way the police treat foreigners) where there is gaijin disadvantage, but from the general populace it will still be gaijin privilege.
    You go to City hall and there are special help desks for foreigners (at least in TOkyo) and gaijin are usually exempt from other hassles like paying the NHK guy. Once again, in general, I have heard stories of NHK people who speak English and are tenacious. but most just give up.
    Even if you are token gaijin in your company, you usually get some kind of special treatment, like housing paid for, or having the company be your guarantor, whereas the locals have to find their own guarantors and pay housing out of pocket. While the ex-pat community has taken quite the hit recently, there are still perks to being an ex-pat in Japan that are not acccessible to the locals. You are not expected to follow the corporate culture as closely since you are a gaijin, no cowtowing to the bucho if you don’t want to. You can say your peace with more ease. You don’t suffer the same backlash that the locals would.
    Look at the media, if you are no no talent hack you can still make it on television in Jpaan if you are a foreigner. Gaijin get on TV becuase they are gaijin, and speak fragmented Japanese. THis wonder and awe turns into gaijin privilege.
    So if you are hurt that someone calls you a gaijin or there are isolated instances of some discriminatory behavior, think about what you would also be giving up if you where treated exactly the same as the locals. Most of the gaijin I know would not trade their position with being a local.
    The net result of being different, being a gaijin in Japan is positive. It is still racism, and that should be fixed, for the sake of the locals rather than the foreigners to get a equal playing field. Whereas int he US racism is usually not a good thing and it pretty much sucks being non-white in the US. I could read off stats, but the interwebs are filled with those statistics so if you want to piss yourself off just go digging.

    • Shiki Byakko says:

      I’ve been harassed by the NHK guys who tried to convince me that I should pay for the NHK because I had a digital TV antenna in my foreign bought Computer that was unable to decode the Japanese Signal.
      They came to my apartment at while I was sleep at 7 am or when I was about to go to sleep at almost 12 pm.

      I am the token Gaijin at my company, and I’m probably the most underpaid worker in the company. My job is a joke, I’m always given work way below my capabilities, I never get called for big jobs and even avoid that I engage with clients so they do not call me to meetings or anything. They refused to become a guarantor when I was looking for housing.

      Every time I do something because of self conviction, and because it is the right thing to do in my mind, they always end up telling me “In Rome do as Romans”, and NEVER EVER appreciate my input as the input of an individual with a different idea, but as a “Gaijin” that doesn’t understand Japanese culture.

      I have a near perfect Japanese accent, I speak a near-native level of Japanese, and I’m like 98% fluent (I stumble at about the same rate locals do, and at about the same rate I do in my mother tongue). I have almost the same understanding of Japanese culture as locals, and sometime an even deeper understanding.

      So no, I have NO privilege living here. I have to always PROVE myself, and even after proving myself people still do not trust me.
      I have an independent personality that has NOTHING to do with my uprising or the culture I was born into, but it is an intrinsic part of myself since the day I was born, but that is never seen in that light here, any kind of criticism about the “normal way” of doing things is seen as a direct attack against Japanese culture, and they get all defensive, and basically tell me to shut up and to do as “Romans do in Rome”.

      Just for context, I’ve been living here for 8 years since I was 19 years old, by myself, and I rarely interact with other foreigners, all with the intent to become “as Japanese as possible”, and I’m still seen at the same level of some dude who came here yesterday from Europe who has no idea about anything in Japan.

      Even if I’m speaking at my near native rate, people continue to talk me in English and/or explain it to me as if I was a child, (even many times mumbling to themselves “Was it to difficult to understand?” as I just try to think what to say, or just stumble because of the context of the question or anything that is normal).

      So no, you are wrong.
      The racism here isn’t the one of the US, it has nothing to do with it. The racism here has to do with an almost complete dehumanization of people who “do not look Japanese”, because in all honesty we are seen as almost extraterrestrials who are unable to understand the human nature.

      I’ve been here for 8 years, I studied hard to get to the level of Japanese I’m at, to try to get an understanding of everything as much as I can, to be basically like anyone else here, but at this point, even after all these 8 years and without any other place to go, or any other plan of what to do, I’m seriously considering leaving Japan forever, because honestly, at this rate I think I will just end up killing myself.

      • maulinator says:

        I am sorry to hear that your experience was not positive, but I am not wrong. If you are experiencing this type of abuse at work, maybe look for another job? I don’t know wht you do, but it sounds more like a problem with the company you are working for. It sounds strange that you are sticking it out. if you think your job is a joke maybe you are emoting that? Everyone has to pay their dues at a company prior to getting anything substantial. I also don’t know how you know you are the most underpaid person in the company. Do you work in HR and see everyone’s salaries? What have you done to attempt to rectify your situation? Or do you silently accpet the abuse?
        You have provided a couple examples where things are rough, but it isn’t america rough. I don’t know anything about you so I cannot surmise as to your work situation. BUt given the complex subtle political contrivances one must go through to get heard, I wonder if you are not using any strategy to get your point across. The rules are different here and “the nail that stands out gets hammered down” but here are tricks to use to get your point across. Are you playing the game the right way or just trying to break the rules.
        NHK guy has never come at midnight or 7AM and if they did why did you not report it to NHK as being outside the norm?

        Anyway it soulds like your work environmet is toxic, and I cannot say exactly if it is because of you being a foreigner, the company is toxic in general or you are being toxic to everyone around you. I would find another job where people appreciate you. Good luck with that!

  • Felix says:

    You treated their language as a gate way to making money and not as a gateway to the Japanese psyche. You will always be regarded as an outsider under those conditions.
    Although even people who put the extra efforts into understanding the Japanese psyche and history and culture, even they, will be put under scrutiny and discrimination by certain groups who, only make a small percentage of the main populations in japan. There is mistrust on a deep level and also, myopia and cultural pride on a very root level. They are entitled to be like that after the west dropped 2 atomic bombs into their country. They might be pro American and have taken on a lot of American culture into pop culture, this is generally seen as an attempt to do business with the west. You have to understand one thing and that is, these people although they are in direct polar opposites to Chinese, they are still well grounded in the sense that what motivates them mostly is business, managing their own resources and managing whatever buy form the west and creating a technology out of it. So yea…..speaking English and being white gaijin, is a main plus if you are prepared to put in the extra mileage to understand their language, culture and history not just business level Japanese language. Im not sure if you have learnt Japanese on a business level, but if you havent don’t expect to be treated as one of them all the time.

    • K T says:

      Felix – you are very confused. Let me help you see the truth:
      Japanese people treat all foreign languages as a gateway to making money. They mostly don’t want to understand western culture. They want to keep their culture “pure”, even though it clearly is not.
      Racists, in all countries, will hate who they hate, whether you put in an effort or not.
      2 nukes – no, Japan is not entitled to anything because of the 2 nukes. They actually benefited greatly (the war ended early, Russia did not occupy and divide them like East Germany, millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians survived the war), and they were rebuilt after the war, and given access to the U.S. market for their products.

      Japanese people, like people everywhere, are individuals. But they also don’t treat outsiders like insiders either.

  • Felix says:

    Well said here
    There is many variables on racism. passive racism is different from active racism.
    Exclusion, and cynicism, prejudice and discrimination, scepticism and criticism and dualistic views on the world around us. Whatever the bandwidth of emotion that you displaying it in….what make it worse is when you actually show it. I don’t consider all Japanese to be actively racist although there is a bit of myopia towards the west, mistrust and scepticism. Although there are active racist there as well, the majority are passive in their views. As for inferiority of western physical features, these are only inferiority on an external views. A true blue Japanese does not suffer form cultural inferiority complex.

  • IncCo says:

    I love that Japan wants to stay Japanese. Not like the european countries losing their identity with mass immigration.

  • Johnny LoveFive says:

    Until just over 100 years ago, Japan wasn’t really open to the West at all. Remember, this Asian country for many centuries was alone with other Asians, generation after generation of primarily Asians. It’s changed slightly- and I mean VERY slightly, by opening their country, but they’re still not as accepting- like offering dual citizenship to them and another country, unlike America who will willingly accept dual citizenship. It’s a love/hate thing with Japan. Even if they did open their boarders to be like America, taking in many, many foreigners, it’d still take many, many generations to do what America has done the last 240 (almost) years.

    • Felix says:

      It will never become like America. It is an island and has an island perspective on things. That is ..insular and it will always have a love hate ting to it. Its either all or nothing in japan.
      Being an island mentality means they will tend to be more protective and insular than mainlanders.

  • Johnny LoveFive says:

    People forget that outside of Native Americans, Americans are all immigrants in this country, heavily from Europe and Africa origination, but because it’s such a diverse country, we can easily accept the differences between cultures. Japan is still pretty freaking Japanese!

    • K T says:

      Before Japanese, there were Ainu. The Japanese pushed them back all the way to Hokkaido. Japan refuses to recognize its diversity. Native Americans too were immigrants at some point.

  • Boris Le Lay says:

    There is not such thing as a “world culture”. Empty talks, sophism.

  • lizzystr says:

    Craig Slist, by using the term “privileged Americans,” or just the idea that the people who would be opposed to your argument are “entitled” and “righteous,” you have really undercut your own argument by trying to eliminate debate via shaming the opposition. Your argument that lumping everyone and every action together is a useless exercise is certainly a good conclusion, so it’s really a shame that you went against your own idea and generalized the people who have different opinions than yours as impatient and entitled.

  • Sahelland says:

    It seems to me that this whole article is making excuses for racism. No, of course not all Japanese people are racist, I know plenty of open-minded people here. But racism, by definition, is judging someone based on their race. Whether it’s malicious or not, it’s racist to treat people this way.
    The reasoning that “Japan is a closed country, so it’s just part of the culture!” is not really a logical explanation. What you’re basically saying is that Japan doesn’t want to deal with foreigners, so people here don’t know foreigners, so it’s not racist when they act out of ignorance toward foreigners. Moreover, to say “this is just how Japanese people are!” seems kind of insulting to the people, like many of my Japanese friends, who do not not act this way and who treat foreigners as human beings instead of walking stereotypes.

    • Johnny LoveFive says:

      They’re also younger. The different generations do things differently. Generally, the older ones are less versed in English, are not going to talk to anyone other than a Japanese person, while the younger will. That’s of course generally, as there are exceptions, like a WWII veteran (if they’re still alive, they’d be around 95 or so) may come up and talk to an American, while a college student in their early-20’s would ignore them.

  • micheleferrucci says:

    I’m living and working in Japan, best country I’ve been so far and I do not regret the decision to come here and start to work instead of wasting time in my country (Italy), a beautyful place with no jobs.. So, I know this will sound silly but I got always upset when I speak Japanese and they reply in English to me. I mean, I’m not American or English and I’m trying to speak Japanese in the best way I can. So why are you trying to talk to me in English? If you see this behaviour from a non-English native speaker (who is actually studying Japanese so hard), you’ll probably feel like a sort of racism, almost the same thing happened to my Japanese friends who went to study in my country or Spain or England or France: usually people used to cheer them with a “nihao” or “anyoung haseyo”… and I was so sorry about the whole situation. I do hope nobody get offended for my opinion 🙂

    • Sam C says:

      Perhaps they are using the rare opportunity to practice English with a real foreigner, or are prideful to use the ability.

      If a cute Japanese woman were to appear, I’d speak Japanese first chance I got, regardless of whether she was fluent or not.

    • K T says:

      Maybe your Japanese accent leads them to believe that you do not speak very well? I have met some Brazilians and Europeans with heavy accents in Japanese – this often leads the Japanese person to respond in English. Or your face. There are many reasons this could be happening to you…

    • Felix says:

      They are replying to you in English because they are assuming because you are white, therefore you must be from an English speaking country. Its should not be interpreted as racism.
      English to the Japanese and many other Asian countries is treated as gold like a business language. A lot of people form other Asian countries not just japan, cannot tell the difference between olive skinned Italian or greek and anglo british. According to them we all look the same.
      A lot of white Caucasians will think that Japanese and chinese and Koreans all look the same, This is not the case generally. Just as much as a british anglo can tell the difference between one of his own kind and an Italian, its pretty much the same in Asian countries. The same applies. Caucasians find it hard to tell the differences of Asian form different Asian countries. In china, for example, they will not let people in certain public places such as a zoo or certain high risk high security places if they are bold. yes bold headed. Just as crazy as it may seem, there is methods to their madness on this one as its mainly aimed at foreigners who are bold headed. Its for identification purposes. They simply cannot tell the differences of various Caucasians. They tend to lump them all into one basket the same way as the westerner’s lump Asian into one basket. It is not racism actually. Its human nature.

  • bartonim says:

    Craig Slist, you raise excellent points. I do agree with you particularly about those who whine about racism as if it’s their responsibility to do so, while coming from privilege and never honestly experiencing true racism. Your experiences, if they had to endure them, would probably make at least a few see the differences between intolerance and misunderstanding.

    I worked with an American woman whose mother is Japanese, and she experienced outright racism from school teachers while growing up in the US, who joined in the ‘Go back to Japan!’ bullying from other students! After all of that, she is still able to keep things in perspective, and has never suggested those few fools were representative of her country. That’s far more admirable than the foreigner here who jumps up and down in childish fury over what he or she insists is racism, with that classic ‘I’ll teach them!’ sense of superiority that seems to be as natural as eating or breathing.

    You deserve a great deal of credit for being level-headed about your circumstances. You’re a better person for it! Thanks for sharing about your experiences!

  • 小林 says:

    But then again this is Japan, where most of the population consists of old men who think they are better than everyone and they have no problem letting others know that. Not some anime wonderland where everyone is magically accepted and you have insta-friends. -_-

    BTW before anyone jumps on me, I am half Japanese half Caucasian, born in the states. I do not hate.

    • Johnny LoveFive says:

      Generally speaking, those older are less accepting than those younger. Anime and video games have certainly made Americans think Japan is a certain way, not realizing how different it is when they step outside the airport- culture shock anyone?

  • Lucas Spoel says:

    In this day and age I find it rather pathetic that people are being refused service or what have you just because one is not capable of dealing with certain situations. Unfortunately a lot of Japanese judge a book by it’s cover. Which is their narrow minded way of thinking and you should not let that get in the way with your level of intelligence. If you live and work in Japan or are about to just keep in mind that Japan is certainly a land of contradictions. I had my share of dealings along this topic in Japan. Being a lover of body art, my muscular, handsome looks automatically made me a member of some kind of mafia or motorcycle gang member in the eyes of a few Japanese. Still when I get home the person (and I know he lives on the twelfth floor) that is always waiting for it to come down, quickly disappears to the stairway when he sees me coming. He does this each and every time. He must be very fit by now 🙂

    • Yumi Nakata says:

      🙁 Hi Lucas, yes it is very sad and I wish things are very different but Japanese people are very complicated at times and I am from Japan and sometimes I do not wish to deal with my own people.

  • Fae says:

    Even if I am sorta disappointed by my current interactions with some of the Japanese people in my town, I still like living here because people mind their own business and I meet a lot of good hearted gentle folk . People are people and they will for some reasons, not like others who are different from them. It’s in Japan also but due to their culture, they are not aggressive as they would be in the States when being rude. There is a Gaijin complex because many of the Japanese people I have met are only like that around Whites. Other foreigners who are from non English speaking countries outside of Europe, I can tell how they kinda look down on them. One day I hung out with a Filipina lady and I saw another side of Japan I had never witnessed before. Folks were very cold and dismissive towards her even when she greeted them in Japanese. In my bubble of English teachers and Japanese friends who have traveled a bit, I never noticed racism until I hung out with other foreigners who were like from China, Philippines, countries in Africa, and Brazil.

    • Felix says:

      For one, China and Japan are polar opposites on a very deep psyche level.
      As for Philippines, the filippinos go there to work only and bring back to feed their family in the Philippines. The Japanese system is open to filippinos for labour and a friendly hand gesture to say sorry after the way they bombed their country. However aside from that, Japanese will not put up with religious pride from filippinos or other countries that display that characteristic, especially muslims. They will look down on it. They will be accepting providing you are there for a reason and that is to work and then go back to home. This is the way it is.

    • Johnny LoveFive says:

      that’s the major difference between Japan and America. If you want to be left alone, have people who do things like the funny video, and are fine in solace outside of work and friends, then you’ve found a great place in Japan. Most won’t approach you unless you look lost or confused (like a tourist), and will go on about their day. It’s like living in a bubble, they’ll go on about their business while you’re alone in your bubble watching them do it.

      • Felix says:

        Its called Myopea….its not that they are ignoring you. They are a people which are very focused to the point they are losing sight of their surroundings and interaction with other people. This is why they have become so successful. It shouldn’t be interpreted as ignorance and prejudice.

    • Yumi Nakata says:

      Yes you are very correct Fae and thanks for pointing this out. I live in California and racism does exist here..and everywhere! but it is certainly very different in Japan..

  • Fae says:

    I think there is a lot of racism in Japan. I used to not think so because I’m American. I’m also Black but most of the time I was with Japanese people who were open minded so I was in a bubble of kindness lol After moving town and breaking up with my Japanese boyfriend, I noticed that people were not so nice to me and some even assumed I was from Brazil because I am a light complexion Black person. Some Japanese tried to act like they were even better than me and then I stopped trying to communicate with them in Japanese and the. switched to English and they would get soooo scared. I didn’t like doing that but Japanese only have a complex around Whites because they think that Whites are the only ones better than them. Other groups of people are usually looked down upon … I’m American Black so I’m treated not as kindly as my fellow Americans who are White but I totally feel sorry for other Asians and people from Africa and South America who come to Japan. They’re treated like garbage most of the time. People are not aggressively racist here but they are very cold and ignore folks if they don’t like them. America might have her problems but she has more opportunities open regardless of where you come from.

    • Felix says:

      No, Japanese do not have an inferiority complex towards whites.
      The whites dropped 2 nuclear bombs on their country and forced their country into a process of continuous evolution and continuous transformation. They don’t have a complex towards whites although westerners will kind of interpret it like that. They assume that if you are white, therefore you must know how to speak English. English is seen as a business language for them and has a lot of positives.
      Just because you are darked skin, shouldn’t make you feel any more inferior to whites. These people will judge you not necessarily the colour of your skin but on were you are form, what country you are from. Do you have something to offer them in terms of putting back into their country. In essence they are correct, when travelling to a foreign country, you have to ask your self, “what have I got to offer the country I am visiting?” They are more motivate what you have to offer them. To a certain extent they will assume at first that you are form an English speaking country because of the colour of your skin. That’s can be construed as racist. However, that happens in any country.

      • pat says:

        “what have I got to offer the country I am visiting?”

        Poor confused bastard… probably a white guy in Japan making excuses for their racism so you can continue enjoying their white-fetish with a clear conscience. And lol at pretending you have something to offer them – you could be replaced by a Filipino at a fraction of your price… if not for racism.

    • Johnny LoveFive says:

      I like how being from Canada, Japanese automatically assume I’m from America- Amerikajin desuka? Iie, Canada-jin desu! Oh well, I look American, and it’s part of North America, but whatever! 🙂

  • Tosh Oka says:

    Everyone that has walked this planet should be grateful that you are able to do so, forget the little errors that mankind has made to you or your loved ones. No one is perfect, especially the person you just met.

  • Yumitolesson says:

    Hello Thank you for sharing your perspectives and it is very helpful to learn about other people’s views and perspectives on this issue and I can imagine how frustrating it is for a very intelligent foreigner like yourself who speaks near perfect Japanese, yet Japanese people still treat you differently. It is annoying..I know when they tell you “amazing!!” just by saying “Konnichiwa” just because you are foreigner. But that’s how Japanese people are sadly. Japan is still a somewhat culturally isolated society, and I wish promoting tourism from S.E. Asia and also implementing international education will help promote “globalization” “internationalization”..whatever is appropriate in Japanese schools. Yes I used “Gaijin complex” and no I did not mean to be derogatory..that’s the whole point. I could have said “Gaikokujin complex” but unfortunately, in Japanese, it is “gaijin konpurekkusu” I should definitely write an article that encourages Japanese people not to use the word “Gaijin”. But yes I understand where you are coming from and I am embarrassed about my country turning down services to foreigners..I even apologized to my former student who had experienced the unacceptable..but I liked the way he handled it and his attitude.

    Like I said, it is definitely “discriminatory” and Japanese people should not be refusing services to certain foreigners but again I am not giving them an excuse but it is an isolated country and it is still very sheltered. People are not quite sure what to do with “gaikokujin” and I just wanted to explain the intricate aspects of “Gaijin complex”. It really isn’t that straight foward and I wouldn’t say it is “racism” because I’ve lived in California for over ten years now and I know what “racism” is..it is VERY serious here because it’s related to the slavery and racism is that bad. Prejudice and discrimination are wrong and bad and yes Japanese people are very racism. just like everybody else is on the planet. But Gaijin complex isn’t just about “racism” and that’s all I wanted to point out in this article.

    • Ovieh says:

      “Gaijin complex isn’t just about “racism”” Yumito

      In other words, it ALSO about racism but not JUST about racism. Why all the hullabaloo then?

      “Gaijin complex”. It really isn’t that straight forward and I wouldn’t say it is “racism” because I’ve lived in California for over ten years now and I know what “racism” is..it is VERY serious here because it’s related to the slavery and racism is that bad.” Yumito.

      What you experienced and felt in California is racism BUT what others experienced and felt in Japan is not racism. Sorry, to say this, but I have always known my Japanese acquaintances in Europe and in HK to be EXTREMELY subjective. Worse than the Chinese. And you unconsciously seem to be like them. A form of cultural conditioning, I will believe.

      And comparing the Japanese and the US situations, I would think the Japanese situation is worse, more incomprehensible and much more unforgivable because her own form of RACISM and that’s pretty much what it is, is essentially based on NOTHING other than some UNADULTERATED straight forward complexes of inferiority and superiority – depending on which foreigner they have before them. This is deadlier and more horrible than European an American kind of racism borne out of historical encounters.

      One could add that the mass murder of Chinese men, women and kids by the Japanese imperial army is the result of this abnormal state of mind that still holds in Japan till today.

      Also, think about a situation where the Japanese had had slaves whose descendants will be about 13 million living in Japan today. Giving the extremeness of this strange japanese complexes, will there be less or more racism in Japan today towards them compared to what Blacks Europe and America experience? Believe me, in japan, they will be living in REAL hell.

  • Andrew Smith says:

    There have been many post about being refused service by restaurants, taxis, etc.. and while I have no intention to defend such actions there are a lot of things that need to be considered, when judging an entire country on the actions experienced by a few.

    What many people do not realize (or just care to ignore) is the fact that sometimes these refusals are a result of the way past foreigners have acted.

    Several years back, a Caucasian man who had just been naturalized as a Japanese citizen, sued a small local bath house for refusing to let him enter, because he looked “like a foreigner”. While the case was based around him being discriminated due to his ethnicity, the reason behind the refusal, was due to previous problems by Russian sailors, who would not wash before entering the Ofuro, didn’t speak Japanese, and often harassed the regulars- resulting in the owner having to call the police several times. Fearing future problems, the owner set up a rule to ban all foreigners, not just Russians.

    I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of cases, where foreigners (not just westerners) have caused trouble in a local bar, izakaya (pub), restaurant, and there are many cases yearly when the US military (and their kids) have been involved in car-jacking taxis, theft, fights, car accidents, rape of a minor- only to rush back on base, and get shipped back to the US before they can be tried in a Japanese court.

    As for housing, that can be another can of worms, with many Chinese, Korean, Filipino, etc…, who have been notorious for contracting a room for a family of 4 and having twice to three times as many people living there, re-renting the room to others, as well as the smell of cooking which turn off other residents. In Osaka, there is a problem where Chinese residents have fenced off a portion of the apartment’s ground to grow vegetables for their own consumption, and even keeping animals.
    Many westerners in the past have caused problems with their landlords, with parties and noise (sometimes it just the louder footsteps).

    And when there are problems, often the foreigners play the “I can’t speak Japanese” card, and often if the foreigner is sued, they are easily a flight risk.

    Landlords who have experienced this, or have heard about problems like this, often become careful in letting any foreigner rent (if they let one rent, then they feel that they will have trouble refusing to rent to another foreigner).

    In the US, a store owner in NY threw out two third generation Polish American who happened to be speaking Polish, telling them that “their kind was not needed”, and that he was going to report them to the police as being “illegal aliens”.

    So please tread lightly on the “racism” path, or you will find people who will point out how racist your country is!

    • Lucas Spoel says:

      Sure discrimination happens everywhere. But that is exactly the point here, right. Just because some caucasian does not follow Japanese bath rules you ban all foreigners???? Get real mate. I think proper education and complete understanding of cultures and mutual respect will go a long way. If one party is not capable of this, well do I ned to say more…

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Hello Andrew, it is very true..I also have heard about foreigners suing a local public bath house in Japan. It is a shame and I wish foreigners didn’t have to experience rejection but at the same time I understand why the owner of the bath house is unwilling to let these people in out of fear, unknown and they have to protect their business. I am from Japan but have lived in America for many years and I know what “racism” is so I am not comfortable using the word “racism” when talking about “Japanese only” signs at the restaurant, public bath, apartment etc. I wish they will be more open to foreigners and it is definitely discriminatory and Japanese government should step in to help these local businesses. But it is not usually because these people are “racist” and look down on foreigners and that is not the reason why they are refusing service.

      • K T says:

        If it isn’t racism, then what is it? Race-based discrimination? Japan does have institutional racism – and that is an impediment to modernization.

  • Andrew Smith says:

    That information is actually very outdated, and partially incorrect.

    Zainichi Koreans (Koreans who were brought to/ came to Japan pre-1945 and their children) were given the full right to gain Japanese citizenship in Japan in 1977 (sure to did take too long to get there, but wasn’t just “a few years”), in which many refused to become Japanese citizens, and keep their “Korean” nationality.

    Of course, if you aren’t willing to obtain citizenship in that country, it is only natural that you will not be allowed to take part in the government, even if you are born there.

  • Randall Pennington says:

    You are correct in saying that most of the actions foreigners endure in Japan are not done out of malice. However, racism and prejudice is still racism and prejudice, no matter if done maliciously or “innocently”.

    I once read a book on Japan, written by a fully fluent, ex-occupation American intelligence officer resident in Japan, in which the author said, “The Japanese are the most innocently prejudiced (racist) people on earth.”
    I believe this is in essence what your essay says and proves.

    Attitudes such as “the foreigner cannot possibly speak Japanese” or (foreigners can’t use chopsticks” or “foreigners can’t eat umeboshi”.. ad nauseum…are indeed born out of racism and a desire of Japanese people to seem inscrutable or different-unique.

    The belief that only Japanese people, (and perhaps a few other Asians like Koreans and Filipinos) are the only people who can speak Japanese, or are capable of it, is simply absurd.

    Imagine how YOU would feel if I expressed total surprise if you spoke English well and no matter how much or how well you spoke, I wouldn’t understand you? Imagine if I went to restaurant with you and the waiter wouldn’t look at you nor talk to you, despite you telling the waiter what you wanted in perfect English? Imagine if I expressed shock and awe at you being able to handle a fork and knife at the dinner table? Imagine if I was duly impressed with your being able to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

    Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so innocent, does it?

    I am a long time veteran of living in Japan (27 years), and speak Japanese fluently. I have even written books in Japanese. My pronunciation is near perfect. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have spoken to people on the phone in Japanese, had perfectly natural and easy conversations IN JAPANESE, and then, when I tell the other person my name, the communication totally breaks down!
    Why would that happen? Hmm…..perhaps…prejudice in the Japanese person’s mind?

    I have even had conversations, totally in Japanese with people, who after a few minutes of conversing TOTALLY in Japanese, asked me, “Do you speak Japanese?”

    As stunningly unbelievable as this sounds, it is true and has happened to me several times! There has been communication research done on this very phenomenon in China, Korea and Japan.

    Finally, Yumi, your title of this essay confirms everything I am saying here. You call it “gaijin” complex when you, as an educated Japanese native know FULL WELL that the word “gaijin” is considered a derogatory term and shouldn’t be used. You know FULL WELL that the word “gaikokujin” is the term your own government says must be used.

    I know you are going to say, ” I meant nothing derogatory.” But the fact is, you used it- and you know it is not right to do so.

    Racism, whether intentional or not, is still racism.

  • dolu says:

    What I find much stranger and stronger is the reaction of foreigners to foreigners. The Japanese people I have met have been extremely nice or slightly unsure of how to treat me. But other gaijins is a completely different matter. There are a few mixed emotions here. You see another white person (or person of your race) and your first instinct to to say hello, but then you remember to not treat them any differently than any other stranger. Next there is some feeling that you are trying to fit in. You are trying not to stick out, you want to show that you are not the like the 99% of military arseholes that leave a bad taste for everyone. So you feel that you are a good person but that other person is ruining it for everyone one. Next there is a strong competitiveness of who speaks Japanese better? Guess what we’re all pretty bad. But the 3 words you know are more than the 1 phrase that guy knows. So you’ll do everything in your power to avoid a common language between yourself and the other foreigner.

  • Jeff Jensen says:


  • Jeff Jensen says:

    Except for the claim of Japanese homogeneity, I agree eirh the article. Ethnically not very diverse, but Japan is not socially, culturally, or politically homogeneous.

  • blackpassenger says:

    As a Negro who has lived both in the US, the UK and now Japan, its funny as hell to hear Caucasians complain (to me especially) about racism in Japan. Maybe you guys would appreciate this video from Ken Tanaka.


    • Randall Pennington says:

      I used to tell my friends that I now know what it is like to grow up black in America, after living in Japan. Granted, often the prejudice had some positive outcomes for me, but still, prejudice is prejudice. My kids aren’t even considered kids…they are “half”….

      • maulinator says:

        While you mioght have epxerienced prejudice. You do not know what it is like to be black in America. You do not have to deal the fact that you have to assume that the cops are you enemy. You dont have to deal with 10% of your people being incarcerated for petty crimes that whites would get a slap on the wrist. You dont have to deal with the type of discrimination that is 100% negative, no positive outcomes just negative outcomes. THe prejudice you face in Japan is more akin to the predicament Asians or some MExicans face in the US, not blacks……

    • Nathan says:

      Whats funny about Caucasians complaining about racism?

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Thank you for your comment. I understand that gaijin complex is complicated and it is easily mistaken for racism. And I am sure black people also experience subtle unfriendliness and even avoidance in Japan.

  • blackpassenger says:

    thats not racism because japanese people were not discriminating against koreans based on race. they are both the same race. thats nationalism or ethnicism.

  • blackpassenger says:

    many thanks. i presented the idea for this video to david ury, because i experience this scenario quite frequently in japan.

  • Nathan White says:

    After living in Japan for some time now, I can’t say I’ve suffered to any extreme. Sure, 50% of the time no one will sit next to me on the train (my Japanese friend offered an explanation for this – he put it down to Japanese people being worried I’ll ask for help in English and they won’t be help me. If it were the case, its probably as much of pure idiocy than racism.)
    But ultimately, nothing too bad goes by – yes I’ve been to the anti-foreigner rally’s, anyone who ever has been will also note the larger group of “anti-racism” demonstrators who follow the group in force.
    However, the author of this article might need to use a dictionary to find out the meaning of “racism”. One person refusing service to another person based upon that persons race/ethnicity is racism at its most obvious. Malicious or not, that old lady is simply a racist old hag and people should avoid her business. I wonder if the author has a reasonable explanation of the job adverts that state “Japanese only” or the apartment rental adverts that state once more “Japanese only”. I’m sure, like my Japanese friend, and this author, they will state that the advertiser had only the best intentions, perhaps they were worried that their toilet would not be up to the standard of a tall, long-nose, blue-eyed, blonde European.

    • maulinator says:

      “perhaps they were worried that their toilet would not be up to the standard of a tall, long-nose, blue-eyed, blonde European”

      Actually it is the size of the dumps. My friend, a white American, clogged his toilet with his dumps about once every two weeks. So it was an issue with the landlord. Kinda funny, kinda sad…..

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Hi Nathan! Thanks for your insightful comments. I live in America and my own definition of “racism” that I experience everyday is slightly different from one that I witness every time I visit my family in Japan. “Racism” is a very strong word and yes people refusing service based on color is wrong and I felt bad for my student who experienced that. But I grew up in Japan and do understand where they are coming from. It’s a complex post-war stuff and and they don’t want to feel embarrassed about their poor English skills. But in America, when you say “racism”, it has this intense reaction to it and extremely negative implication due to the slavery. So I did not want to bring this gaijin complex issue down to the same racial issues we see in America.

      • K T says:

        Yumito – racism is racism. Food is food. Air is air. There are subtle differences around the world, but these things are what they are.
        I lived in Japan for 7 years. One day, I attempted to go to lunch with a female coworker. At noon, on a Tuesday, the Japanese owner told us they were closed (in Japanese) – even though we could see Japanese people entering, leaving, ordering, and eating. Was this a misunderstanding? No. He had some issue with foreign men eating in his restaurant with attractive Japanese women (we were not dating – just coworkers going to lunch).
        Another time, I got a flat tire on my bike. I approached a bike shop, pointed to my flat tire, asked if the bike store owner could help – and he replied – in Japanese – I have the parts you need, but I won’t sell them to you. This was all said while he sat in his chair. He never got up. It reminded me of a southern “good old boy” attitude.
        Another time, we attempted to enter a popular restaurant (2 white males, 2 Japanese females). We were told that since they were crowded, to sit outside (in winter, in the evening, in Tokyo – it was COLD). When space opened up, they would bring us in.
        Japanese foursomes came, ate, and left, and we were still sitting outside freezing. Each time we asked “how much longer?” in Japanese, the answer was “just a little bit longer”.
        After two hours of freezing, we left. I think the message was that if you date a foreigner, you will have lots of problems, like these.
        “Beat” Takeshi famously said that the Japanese women who go out with foreign men are trash, whores, and no self-respecting Japanese man should want to date these women. He said this in the 90’s. Was this another “cultural misunderstanding, but not racism”? I took it to be a way to pressure Japanese women to stay with their own kind.
        You are either naive or in denial. My method: If Americans can say it to Asians in the U.S., then it is ok for Japanese people say it to Caucasians in Japan. One rule – for everywhere.
        Note: I think you are trying to resist using the word “racism” when referring to Japan, because the word has such deep meaning to you. Your group-think mentality won’t let you be a “good Japanese” if some people are “bad Japanese”.

        Denial will not get the problems solved.

      • Nathan says:

        Again, unfortunately you fail to grasp the understanding of ‘racism’ and are yet to provide no further insight into your argument what-so-ever. I’ll going to give you the benefit of the doubt and hope you realize that your own definition of ‘racism’ does not define the general accepted definition of the term, naturally of course, when you return to Japan you will not experience the same experiences as the other foreigners living in Japan! What a ludicrous statement to make!

        “It’s a complex post-war stuff and and they don’t want to feel embarrassed about their poor English skills.” – what a load of rubbish!

        You are trying to sympathize with an old lady that refused service to someone based upon their race. Imagine, for one moment, you walked into a diner somewhere in Texas and the lady said “nope” and ushered you right on out. Would your initial reaction be “well darn, I guess she’s worried that her rice isn’t tasty enough for me”?

        I’d like to also remind you, that simply living in the U.S. (not “America” as you incorrectly put it) – does not give you a fair understanding of racism, the world is bigger than Japan and the U.S. – I hope you get to experience it one day. You can’t simply ‘water-down’ a subject because you don’t like it – racism comes in many forms other than slavery and the ‘gaijin-complex’.

      • Richard Kame Gibson says:

        Aloha, Nakata-san. Sorry but I must disagree with your views and reason. I am not to judge right and wrong. I’m sure you feel strongly of your views and did your best to explain it and clarify but.. can I ask you. If you are not a “Gaijin” in Japan how can you understand how we feel, felt, experienced it first hand? To my understanding “Gaijin Complex” is an inferiority complex. Not to be used as an excuse when discriminated due to race.
        Many Japanese whom I have come across during my time in Japan were speechless when they traveled with me and saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears… complete embarrassment and shame of how I was treated on occasion due to being a Gaijin in Japan.
        When asking the shop owner, or staff why I was refused.. (of course I am conversing in polite and proper Japanese) their explanation 90% of the time was… “Gaijin-san dachi ni kitte hoshikunai kara yo.” It wasn’t because of a language barrier, or unpreparedness or they weren’t accustomed to foreigners. They made it very clear… it was because of RACE. Hakkiri yuu tou… “anta Gaijin kara da yo” was a common phrase.
        So, yes.. many meanings and many different situations may have many explanations.. but from my personal experience and experiences of many other foreigners whom are fluent in Japanese may or may not have had the same experience. But please do not use Gaijin Complex as an excuse for racial discrimination. I hope that wasn’t your intent and forgive me if I misjudged your article. Being a “Gaijin” that lived in Japan for over 20 years I can say with first hand experience that I know the difference between “Gaijin Complex” and “Gaikokujin ni taishitte jinshu sabetsu” or simply put “Jinshu sabetsu”.

        I do enjoy your many tidbits and articles. Keep up the good work.

        Richard Kamesuke Yonamine Gibson my birthname

        • Yumitolesson says:

          By the way Richard san, I understand what’s like to be “REALLY” discriminated beyond being refused the service in Japan. I am ethnically mixed, She is Asian so I have never seen her turned away from shops, restaurants, public bath house etc..but yup we experienced REAL discrimination. Japanese kids call me “dirty” when I was in elementary school..and it broke my heart. But I was trying to explain..I will be just blunt. If you are white, Japanese people tend to feel this intense gaijin complex. It is different from what I went through as a mixed child and what my mother went through. and I now live in America permanently and witness real racism..I am NOT compromising your experience but I am just giving you a little background story.

        • Yumitolesson says:

          I am very sorry for all you have gone through. I really hope that Japanese society is improving and is getting better at accepting people from different cultures and backgrounds. It really is a shame and I wish Japanese government will encourage international education more rapidly in Japanese schools. I think ignorance starts because of its educational system. Yes I do feel strongly about my views in article because I grew up there and I also understand what’s like to be discriminated because I live in America as a foreigner..believe me, I know what racism is. Racism is expressed in different ways in America and in Japan and yes, my article simply focused on deeper ideas behind gaijin complex but I was not defending what Japanese people are doing..because it is unacceptable regardless. But it is easier for foreigners to try to understand and kind of accept it as is…because that’s just the way it is.. for now. but Japanese people definitely need to do something to improve their narrowed opinions and views about the world.

          • Felix says:

            its called myopia on a deep seated racial level. It shouldn’t be interpreted as active racism unlike the west. But is indeed passive racism. To westerners it will come across as double faced 2 faced approach in dealing with people who look different to them. Whether its due to inferiority complex or superiority complex.
            They have inferiority complex to the west because of what the west did to them after dropping the nuclear bombs. Its deep seated complex and is deeply rooted in the Japanese psyche. It has nothing to do with colour of skin. Although it might seem like that to westerners.

          • Richard Kame Gibson says:

            Thank you Nakata-san,
            Yes I agree with you now in your honest opinion. I disagree that you entwined your explanation/excuse for “Gaijin Complex” with racial discrimination. Yes there are much deeper problems. No it is not OK. Yes, as yourself I know what Racism is and have felt it both ways. Being “hafu” growing up in Japan we were not easily accepted within neither the Japanese community nor the American community. So we felt the racial tension at a very young age.
            I do also strongly feel that more needs to be done for Japan to continue is this global economy and more understanding and focus needs to be done towards educating Japanese from within. I think it needs to be addressed by Japanese living in Japan. Having foreigners more aware of the problems that do exist can help both parties but not solve the problem. The problem exists in Japan’s society and needs to be changed by Japanese from within.
            If all Japanese born and raised in Japan were treated like they treat many foreigners when they visit other countries there would be chaos and many would finally realized … “hey maybe we shouldn’t treat foreigners that way…. ” But if we did that in the USA it would bring endless lawsuits, complaints and only compound the problem not help it in any way.
            I do understand the “Gaijin Complex” and do not agree to have it used as an excuse for racial discrimination. Treating one race because you feel inferior and treating a race because of the race of that person(s) are two different situations though similar in many ways.
            So to clarify my initial point…. I only ask you… please do not combine “Gaijin Complex” and issues of racial discrimination together. To many foreigners whom live abroad/in Japan or have lived/live and work(ed) in Japan’s society the situation will not improve until there is more understanding and education from within Japan.
            Educating Foreigners about the cultural aspects and the need to be more prepared is a great idea and should be continued. Making an excuse that it is a Gaijin complex not racism should be more clarified in your article. The two are very different.
            Though we have never met I would love to hear more of your opinions. I’m sure we have many things in common and many differences we can agree upon.
            I do not have all the answers nor ever said I did.. it’s just my opinion and I am not saying you are right nor wrong. Again it’s just an opinion of a proud “Hafu” who feels more attention should be brought to this subject.

          • Yumitolesson says:

            are you half? may I ask the nationality of your parent? I understand what it is like to be discriminated..pretty badly as a mixed person since I am one of them. 🙂 But I decided to rise above that and moved out of the country. But I didn’t escape racism..because it is EVERYWHERE. and I agree it is a serious issue. It is just easy to kind of go with the flow in my opinion and I wasn’t happy so I moved to a society that lets me be more..Yumi! 🙂 thanks for your comments.

          • Lucas Spoel says:

            Dear Yumi,
            You moved out of Japan so you could be more yourself? Explain that to me as I would be interested to hear about that. Thanks in advance.

          • Richard Kame Gibson says:

            Hi Yumi-san
            Thanks for your cheerful reply. Yes my Mother is Okinawan and my Father is Irish-American. I agree with you… that’s why I left Japan too. I don’t mind to visit for a short while or even work there again but to live…. NO THANK YOU…. I am happy living in Hawaii. So much more acceptable to “Hafu” here than anywhere! Come visit!!

  • Hana Kato says:

    I think there may be a mistake in the article. Sadly, but It IS racism. fact, that japanese don`t kill 白人 by putting them into gas chambers doesn`t mean it is not racist. Of course not every japanese person is like that, but it can not be denied. What is wrong is how word “racism” is being comprehended and used.

    Anyway, just 2 days ago, I met two japanese girls, who were looking for the closest convenience store and were asking some other japanese person how to get there. But I knew it would be closed by that time so I told them in fluent japanese, that they may have to go to a different combini. They look at me, with fear and surprise delved in their eyes and say: “We are sorry, we dontto speakku engrisshu”
    For the note – I look like normal white person, no weird tattoos piercings or similar things that could scare them.

    • Ovieh says:

      “fact, that japanese don`t kill 白人 by putting them into gas chambers doesn`t mean it is not racist.” Hana kato

      They did as worse. They buried many Chinese women and kids ALIVE;

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Hi Hana san, I totally understand where you are coming from. It is not right for them to turn “foreigners” away because they are not Japanese. But what I was trying to say was that it wasn’t because the restaurant waitress looked down on them and had personal issues. She and the restaurant owner probably didn’t know how to deal with the situation and everything. It still does not make it ok and I agree. 🙁 The only reason I am hesitant to use the word “Racism” because we deal with “Racism” in America everyday and it’s real and very intense. It is illegal for apartment to turn down applications submitted by Hispanic people or black people just because..it is not because the apartment property manager is afraid of being embarrassed. It’s the racism.

      • K T says:

        I cannot even apply for an apartment in Japan, because I am white… So how is this different?

      • Sara H says:

        Hi Yumito San,
        It’s important to remember that “racism” is not defined by it’s intensity of the act. Casual passive racism is just as much real racism as lynchings, and attacks. Racism, like many other things comes in a spectrum, of extremes, from very horrible, to extremely passive and mild.

        A famous journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates said about racism:

        “Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred,” Coates said. “It is, more often,
        broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.”

        I certainly think that Japanese racism qualifies as such. Remember also,
        that Japanese have an aversion to taking “hard stances” on anything, or
        being direct about any subject. Because taking a “strong stance” is
        considered rude in Japanese culture, there can be an aversion to plainly
        acknowledging a problem, because no one wants to simply come outright
        and say it.

        In Gassho,


      • Sara H says:

        Hi Yumito San,
        It’s important to remember that “racism” is not defined by it’s intensity of the act. Casual passive racism is just as much real racism as lynchings, and attacks. Racism, like many other things comes in a spectrum, of extremes, from very horrible, to extremely passive and mild.

        A famous journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates said about racism:

        “Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred,” Coates said. “It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.”

        I certainly think that Japanese racism qualifies as such. Remember also, that Japanese have an aversion to taking “hard stances” on anything, or being direct about any subject. Because taking a “strong stance” is considered rude in Japanese culture, there can be an aversion to plainly acknowledging a problem, because no one wants to simply come outright and say it.

        In Gassho,


      • HR says:

        In Japan, landlords and real estate agents daily turn away people because they are gaijin. But that’s ok, because if it’s not illegal, it’s not racism.
        In the US, racism has to be dealt with every day because of a complex history, laws, and the fact that people don’t tolerate discrimination. In Japan, nobody deals with racism, which may be why you don’t acknowledge that it is everyday, and very intense.

        • Yumitolesson says:

          Hi, I do acknowledge it. That’s why I left the country. 🙂 I was simply writing an article to give insights on this complex issue and sometimes that’s how we can reconcile the issue..especially if you have no choice but to live in Japan for an extended period of time, that will make your life easier. That’s how I look at it. But it doesn’t make it ok and it is very frustrating to hear the story again and again. 🙁

          • HR says:

            Thanks for replying to my comment and many others.
            First of all, I’m sorry to hear you left Japan for that reason.

            What still bothers me is that in many of your posts, you emphasize that racism is more serious in the US because of slavery. This line of argumentation surprises and bothers me because slavery was abolished quite some time ago. It’s true that Americans take racism very seriously because of their historical burden, similarly, as Germany takes antisemitism very seriously because of a more recent historical burden. Please notice however that, these are so terrible things that many countries not involved in neither slavery nor the holocaust also take them as seriously; some countries have learned from the mistakes of others!

            Extreme exploitation or mass extinction based on some sort of xenophobia is quite rare nowadays. Racism in the US is mostly calling names, discriminating (not providing service, not renting an apartment etc). In the extreme case, people do get beaten up and even killed, but this is also quite rare in the US. (All the same forms of racism exist in Japan, and some of them disguised as interiority complexes may even be more common than racism in the US!) In the US, there are laws against discrimination, and “hate crimes” motivated by racism (or other hate) are taken very seriously. The upshot is that many countries (e.g. in Northern Europe) that were never involved in neither slavery nor the holocaust, have taken a similar zero-tolerance towards racism (or any form of xenophobia), and implemented similar or even more strict laws against discrimination.

            What you are saying sounds like “Japan was not involved in slavery, and hence, Japan has no need to take similar measures to prevent everyday racist discrimination.”

            I grew up in Finland with children’s books and songs that ridicule Africans, Asians, and pretty much everyone that doesn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes. This was part of our culture, and we meant to offend anyone. People still get offended when someone points out that children’s songs about stupid Africans are racist, and make excuses that we all used to sing them as kids and we never had slaves and we mean no harm to anyone — it’s our culture and tradition, and if you don’t like it, go away. Nowadays, most of that is illegal, as well as refusing service to someone based on their ethnic background, just like in the US, even though we never had slaves. Racism was, has been, and still is very serious and intense, but can be fought even without a history of slavery.

            Your article about Japanese inferiority complexes gives an interesting insight into different flavors of racism, but your argument that racism is somehow different in Japan and the US is pure nonsense. Your refusal to associate the “gaijin complex” with racism is illogical.

          • Sequoia says:

            This is basically what I would like to say. In the US, people did not believe what they were doing was racist for an extremely long time. There were many rationalizations for having segregated facilities in the 50s that were often explained away by embarrassment, different cultural needs, discomfort, unfamiliarity, language differences, or other reasons that this author seems to say are behind the discrimination against non-Japanese in Japan. Just like homophobia and misogyny, it doesn’t have to be at hate crime level to justify calling it racism. It’s all on the same spectrum. And racism is something we all do as a psychological survival mechanism held over from our most basic brains, and that we are now using our higher brain functions to overcome. All humans do it to every group of other humans: categorization. Refusing to use a loaded word like racism doesn’t change the nature of the problem. Although slavery of whites did not happen as far as I know in Japan, Japan did have slaves and atrocious treatment of other ethnic groups (the indigenous peoples, especially) throughout its history, just like every other country, America included. I have felt more appreciation for minorities in America after living in Japan, and I when I am refused service at a hotel or somewhere, I feel like I want to be Rosa Parks and ignite a dramatic change. I wonder why it is not illegal to segregate services when it is not just America that made changes after the American Civil Rights movement. And America’s relationship with Japan after WWII was terrible, I understand. There is a lot of trauma to heal for the Japanese to get their pride and sense of safety back. As an American, I felt a lot of shame representing my country’s actions in Japan and at home. But I have done nothing to warrant being discriminated against and pressured to conform into something I’m not. We’ll see if I will be able to stay in Japan for the long haul (3 years so far), but it is extremely difficult. from my American perspective, it is hard to understand whether the average Japanese person is actually interested in remaining internationally isolated and conservative, or whether their collective mindset just keeps them that way. Kind of the cultural equivalent of the dogmatic religious distortion, “more conservative choice is more moral/honorable”. But if we used the history of a group of people to validate their discriminatory feelings toward another group, there would be nothing considered racism at all in the world.There is always a root to the feeling, but the humanistic value is to rise above it if we want to truly optimize our species’ awesomeness. just a collection of thoughts after reading these comments.

    • Nathan White says:

      What did they think you were speaking?! Reminds me of a book I read, a guy who walked the length of Japan, at one point he was walking somewhere in Akita (or another northern prefecture) and a van drove along side him, at the wheel was an older man and next to him was his wife. The man asked if he needed a lift in English, the author responded in fluent Japanese, stating he was walking the length of Japan so he didnt need a lift. The man looked at his wife puzzled, and told the author to get in his van. Cutting a long story short, the old man was convinced he was speaking English with the author the whole time – without realizing the authors fluency in Japan.

  • Craig Slist says:

    Be careful not to assume the hard stance of ‘the Japanese are racist’ based on a few (or sometimes even more than just a few) negative personal experiences. Yes, some Japanese are racist–some out of ignorance, some out of awkwardness, some out of malice/hate. Privileged Americans who have never felt out of place in the US have a tendency to make clear cut judgements on what is “right” and “wrong” based on their own cultural context without taking into consideration just how different another country can be–intellectually, emotionally, socially, aesthetically. I’m not defending any form of racism per se, but I’m just saying that if you think it’s a clear cut issue, you might be missing the point.

    Taking the righteous stance of ‘racism is racism’ so ‘their ignorant asses need to be schooled’ will not win you any more success in making friends/avoiding unpleasant situations or helping to change the perception of ‘gaijin’ in Japan. I think it *does* matter where the racism (or actually ‘prejudice’ rather than outright racism in many cases) is coming from. If you really want to be part of the change, an immediate response of outrage, being indignant, or anger will probably do nothing for any attempt at mutual understanding.

    I’m ethnically Japanese but grew up in the states and have definitely have experienced racism directed at me in the good ole’ US of A…even so far as being told “we don’t serve your kind here” (this was in Florida in the mid 90’s). Although it may be true that this was racist, that there are plenty of racists in the US, I don’t think that having a general attitude that ‘Americans are racist’ would be entirely true, and more importantly, I don’t think having that attitude would serve me any better in understanding how/why people are racist. I’ve learned to pick and choose my battles and learned to even have some discussions with people that said/did racist things, where I eventually was able to have them come to an understanding of why their actions were racist. Of course, some are not willing to listen, and that’s life. But if you lump every insensitive/prejudice/fearful action as ‘that person’s a racist’, or ‘Japanese are racist’ it leaves little room for change.

    Before you start flaming me, I get it–yes, many of you are fluent in Japanese, have a great understanding of the culture, and have lived there for years and deserve better treatment!–Welcome to life for many minorities in the US! I’m completely fluent in English (w no accent although bilingual), have lived here all my life and I ‘deserve better’ treatment than what I often get here in the US. I’m just saying that like it or not racism is everywhere and there are more nuanced ways of dealing with it. And please don’t take the privileged person’s short cut of feeling super entitled, outraged, etc. and maybe try mixing in a little patience/understanding in dealing with seemingly ‘racist people.’

    • K T says:

      Comparing racism in Japan and the U.S. is your first mistake. bad is bad. Does one bad deed (done to you) make another (done to foreigners in Japan) ok? Or are they both bad?

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Hello Craig..thank you! You are wonderful. I do remember speaking broken English…without understanding what the other person was saying during my college years in America. It was bad. I don’t even think it was a racism because ever since my English has improved significantly over the past five years, I haven’t experienced nearly as much discrimination as I used to have.. In America, if you have accent or don’t speak English, you shouldn’t come here in the first place..go home! (not everybody thinks that but some do) and even if I speak “near” native American English, I did experience racism in my previous employment. 🙁 Unfortunately they were constantly making jokes about my culture and I don’t think they meant to hurt me but it was rude. But I decided to just accept the fact that I am always going to be “minority” in a way in this American culture..I am “Asian” and no matter how much I practice how to speak English like native speaker, people will always ask where I am originally from..I guess I learned to cope with the overall situation by trying to understand where people are coming from in America and that’s why I wrote that article but I did not write to defend the people refusing service. It is not ok still.

      • Craig Slist says:

        Thanks Yumi san 🙂 This was a rare case in which i actually took the time to comment on a random blog that I saw on FB…Coming back a few days after I wrote my post, I’m surprised to see my post ‘featured’ lol.

    • Richard Kame Gibson says:

      Aloha and well said. I do feel the author in her best attempt made a critical mistake. The wording “Gaijin” or even the terminology of “Gaijin Complex” is clearly misunderstood by many. I think you have as many races felt the blunt or ignorance of many/few whom judge you due to your enthnicity/appearance. I’m am not saying nor have I ever said all Japanese are racists. But I disagree with the author in regards to her view of the “Gaijin complex” and her reason of tolerance towards it.
      True to the word…. how can you feel and understand how foreigners feel when they come across racism in Japan if you are not a foreigner? Because you might have studied and were raised in America might give you a better view and understanding but until you are able to walk in my shoes… I doubt you can fully understand how it feels to be a Gaijin in Japan.
      Many wonderful times and experiences over the years, many memories and such a delightful time I spent living, growing up and working in Japan. No matter how well I speak Japanese, even if I wrote and read it fluently…. even after receiving a permanent residence status or even after becoming a Japanese citizen… I would still be considered a Gaijin. I was once told by a professor in Kyoto that it’s a shame on modern society in Japan that Japan wants to be accepted globally but still has such a narrow view in regards to race equality.
      I know over time eventually it will change but I doubt in my lifetime it ever to be so. Sad to see such unfettered and unnecessary treatment of people just because of their race.
      So may I pose a question onto you? Are you/have you been treated the same living and working/schooling/growing up in America as many foreigners are treated in Japan? Are you called a “Gaijin” wherever you go?
      You mention you experienced some racism. Yes we all do. I am very touched to hear your words and no not all of us are complaining. I am not here to flame you but want to share my views with you.
      Call me what you may…. “Ainoko”. “Halfu” “Nihon de umaretta kamo shiranai kedo.. demo dou mittemo.. Gaijin jya” It’s never the same and it doesn’t always happen… but when it does I am not shy to speak out and let that person/persons know I am proud of my heritage and feel blessed to be born of 2 races Japan/(Okinawan)/Irish-American.
      I am not a privileged person and am not screaming my views.. but unless you are a “Gaijin… that lived and worked/ studied or traveled to Japan and experienced what many before me have you may not fully grasp the full extent of what we feel and experienced.
      I try and learn and heal and share….. it’s of my nature being of both worlds.

      • Yumitolesson says:

        Thanks for sharing Richard san. 🙂 I am actually ethnically mixed.

      • Craig Slist says:

        Hi Richard, aloha!

        My post was not directed at you specifically, nor was it meant to take anything away from your experiences as a ‘gaijin’ in Japan. Nor do I take your reply as flaming me. Learning, healing, and sharing is a great motto I think, and I agree–something about being ‘of two worlds’ allows for (or maybe forces) deeper reflection on things. And whether good or bad, I guess that’s just how we are.

        You say “I doubt you can fully understand how it feels to be a gaijin in Japan.”. Of course I cannot claim to have had the same experiences as yours when you were living in Japan (although you might be surprised to hear that I in fact *was* on the receiving end of some aspects of ‘gaijin complex’ when I lived in Japan after college). But by the same token, I doubt you can fully understand how a Japanese person with limited exposure to foreigners (or limited world travel experience) feels when they interact with ‘gaijin’. You may not be able to really know what a ‘Japanese’ person (one that that is only of ‘one world’) is really feeling, unless you truly have “walked in their shoes” as you put it.

        You also ask, “are you called ‘gaijin’ wherever you go?” Well, actually, in a sense, yes! I’ve done a bit of world travel (not just tourism, but living there too), and wherever I’ve been other than Japan, I’ve pretty much been called a ‘foreigner’–especially in South America and Europe. I’ve also had some people tell me my Spanish conversation/pronunciation was flawless, while others looked at me quizzically and be surprised that I could speak Spanish at all or even act like they didn’t understand me. Also, while traveling through Eastern Europe, people would STARE–and not even look away when I would notice!

        Anyhow, this is neither here nor there, as it’s really not a pissing contest about who’s experienced the most racism/prejudice–we all bring our own baggage and experiences to each interaction, regardless of whatever act of ‘racism’ we encounter. Even as individuals living through the same experiences, we may have different levels of frustration, exasperation, compassion or acceptance.

        My initial post was simply to point out that perhaps explaining away the ‘gaijn complex’ as ‘just an excuse’ because ‘racism is just racism in any of it’s forms’ is maybe not the most nuanced approach to take if the true objective is mutual understanding, progress, and change. It just seemed that there is a tendency towards being outraged and indignant and seeing things in terms of political black-and-white: many of the posts were arguing that it is/isn’t racism based on their *own* given dictionary “definition” of racism…which I think misses crucial points of why the article was written in the first place. There are really different values, motivations, emotions between the two cultures which definitely plays into how the ‘racism’ plays out. Of course racism is bad and not to be defended; but I think to ignore the role of the differences in culture is overly simplistic.

        Yes, racism is bad and frustrating to say the least, but to ignore whether it’s based on ignorance, fear, hatred, laziness and lump it all together as ‘just racism’ doesn’t help if you want to decide how to best have a conversation with someone that is exhibiting these behaviors. So my original post was really a pragmatic view on dealing with racist comments/actions. There are racists everywhere–some may be willing to hear you out, while others may not…but becoming outraged is usually not the best option.

        • Richard Kame Gibson says:

          Sir Craig Slist,
          Well said and well covered. Hats off to you. I
          couldn’t have said it any better and you really hit it on the spot. What
          needs to be passed along is what we learn from our forefathers and each
          other. I’m sure I was not the first and not going to be the last… but
          there needs to be more focus from within Japan to over come the many
          intricate issues at hand.
          Each country has many cultural aspects we
          can all learn from.. but Japan being unique in the way it has been over
          the centuries… has to broaden the views from within.
          I truly
          believe more can be done to educate, learn.. and share and not be
          complacent towards any racial tensions that can be overcome rather than
          just saying.. it is what it is.. and leave it at that.
          There’s always
          the good, the bad.. and the terrible clashes of many cultural
          differences, misunderstandings and at times plain stupidity or of one or
          more’s actions to flame the racial tensions even more.

          I have not
          given up my love for Japan and still believe it possible to overcome
          these matters. It never will be easy but it doesn’t seem like it’s a
          major issue on anybody’s agenda.

          So I do hope…. many more can
          learn from each others experiences and only make Japan a better place in
          the many years to come. I am glad to hear your opinions and graceful
          bow to you out of respect. Well said… and well meant…. I take your
          words to heart.


          Richard Kame Gibson

          • Craig Slist says:


            A meaningful and polite exchange of ideas on the Internet…who’d a thunk it!

            Good luck to you in the future!


      • Yumitolesson says:

        I am ethnically mixed. 🙂 So I know..what it is like to be “DISCRIMINATED” really badly. I was never refused service though. My mother might have..but not in a way you were refused. If you are white, Japanese people feel super inferior to you guys and I don’t know why but they become weird. like I said, this is unacceptable but it just kind of help us cope with the situation to the best of our ability

        • Sequoia says:

          do you know how we can help Japanese people get their pride back? I have no idea why they feel inferior when they have such an amazingly cool and rich history and have contributed so much to the world. i don’t know why they aren’t angry at America instead. maybe to show their anger is not safe, so they change it to inferiority? i know this is a very deep topic, but it seems like one way to help Japanese want to participate more internationally and solve the racism/complex against foreigners would be to heal the trauma they experienced and restore their cultural pride and honor. how can i help with that?

  • ekabeconado says:

    I have been to Japan and stayed with a family for 2 days, they were very accommodating and very nice. They tried really hard to communicate with us and speak English. I am Asian though. I think Japan is a very beautiful country with very beautiful and disciplined people. I don’t think that they feel inferior, I guess the more appropriate word is shy — that they won’t be able to understand and communicate in English. Nevertheless, I know that the Japanese will soon overcome their shyness towards other foreigners. Ganbatte!!!

    • blackpassenger says:

      so you stayed with a family in japan for two whopping days and have formed your conclusions. Two days? I think you should read my book black passenger yellow cabs. PS, Im the black guy in the video.

  • Lamont Agyekum says:

    These actions in the video and what people have been talking about in the comments is a form or racism. Stereotyping someone based on their ethnicity, culture, or language is a form of racism. Yes these people are out of their comfort zones, but the country desires to be a part of the global community which is full of other kinds of people. So, knowing that it is time to mature about this a little bit. Denying someone service based on your uncomfortability is actually illegal in Japan. There are laws in place that are supposed to prevent that, however for a rainbow of possibilities there has been little to uphold those laws. I have many friends who are trying to live in Japan now who can speak the language fluently that need to return home now. They have been consistently denied leases due to the fact they are foreigners. Not just my American friends. My friends from Lux, China, Vietnamn, and France have all faced this issue. I also have many Japanese friends who have studied abroad in the US and now live over here. And from what they have told me none of them have experienced anything close to this. Naturally they have gotten some dirty looks or someone yells something racist in the subway, but that’s the extent of it. I know many of my classmates from High school who would tell me, ” I hate foreigners because they all hate America and can’t speak English!” Is that not the exact same thing as what is going on here??? (Minus the hate America part) Racism and discrimination exist in every country you encounter, but instead of just blowing it off (cause not everyone can deal with that kind of thing) perhaps by talking about it and admitting that it is an issue and taking the needed steps to correct it, maybe we can lessen the amount of it in the world

  • Mike Wyckoff says:

    The video is a sad but true representation of life in general in Japan for the fully bilingual foreigner.

  • Guest says:

    Remember that only up to a few years ago that if you had a Korean parent you could not vote or have Japanese citizenship; even if you were born in Japan and lived there all your life. That is institutionalized racism.

  • Brett Davidson says:

    Funny, when I first read the title “Gaijin Complex” I thought that might be talking about what it feels like to be a Gaijin and how, at least I often feel. A certain amount of embarrassment, maybe shyness to the point of shame, when I go to Japan. The very last thing I ever want to be thought of is the “Ugly American”. Which, since probably even before Commodore Perry’s time, is probably at least somewhat deserved.

  • Alex T says:

    I kind of hoped for this article to explain certain behavoirs of japanese people I encountered while living in Japan (as a white, 25 yo woman, perfectly capable of speaking fluent japanese and certainly taking all cultural do’s and don’t into account being ignored or sent away happened more than once to me) but I was a bit dissappointed. This concept of a “Gaijin Complex” is way too superficial described. And since the ultimate tip is “Learning a bit of Japanese is the best way to bridge the cultural gap and ease any tensions coming from the Gaijin Complex.” I’m wondering why I still experience it so much, even when my japanese is fine. I’d have liked the author to look a bit deeper into it.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Hello Alex. sorry to hear that you have experienced unpleasant situations so many times in Japan. I am Japanese and feel really disappointed and embarrassed about my country but unfortunately it is what it is and I wrote an article mainly for those who are planning to travel to Japan for the first time. It is better to know about this before..my student who visited Japan with his friends for the first time went there and one local restaurant in Kyoto refused service. But I do have a lot of interesting experiences so will be writing more about this issue on my website. http://www.yumitolesson.com

  • John-Michael Bellamy says:

    I understand that feeling this way and having to call this reaction as Gaijin Complex would be normal to someone born and raised in japan who is not visually japanese is an issue and would be frustrating..it happens everywhere. But calling someone one racist when they are out of their comfort zone is a little too much. If the reaction were agressive and visible because of the ethnic drape one wears, thats racist and stupid, we are not writing anyhting new here. I think it should also be considered that in the age of our modern history, people in general, dont change so fast and we have a misconception on how fast that change really should be. Outsider will always be considered an outsider, except by those who know and view that person as part of their “tribe”. It happns in Quebec with language, race etc amongst their own. Its a sad pastime that people spend time on looking at how different others are from themselves. When the difference is visible, it serves only to exipdite the decision made by those that play that idiot game. Look at any country thats had a war…its all based on that low-level thinking. I think for those that ARE outsiders but can speak perfect Japanese, try not to think about it so much as about being them but the limitation of the person who is conflicted, where more likely its about being afraid. So, understanding compassion. Pity if you like, but thats lowering yourself to the same mindset. The thing to keep in mind is to look past that present and build a future based upon helping those with that mindset/fear into a place they can feel comfortable.

  • Charmine Joy B. G says:

    For those who are saying this is racism well for me lets look on both sides and if we change our perspectives, we may understand. Im not saying its not racism, but lets also look where they are coming from. What If they are really not used to gaijins? And i know some can be rude. Well theres nothing we can do about that it can happen anywhere and to anyone.. but not all can be considered racist/racism if they are just feeling awkward or shy or just dont know how to interact well or handle the situation well. But maybe if some person talks behind my back and heard them and understand them,maybe i will stare at them making them aware i can undrstand them or literally saying i understand you! Hehe!

    • Yumi Nakata says:

      Thank you Charmine..you have a very good point!

    • Yumitolesson says:

      I agree. Gaijin complex is really more about feeling inadequate, inferior, awkward..they don’t know what to do! and it is separate from racism. And racism should not be tolerated and it is not ok for Japanese landlords to turn down rental application just because applicants are foreigners and they shouldn’t refuse foreigners service. It is terrible but it still happens but I was just trying to write a useful article for first time visitors. 🙂

  • Oriana says:

    I agree they don’t do it ’cause they want to be racist, but maybe out of uneasiness…BUT you say we need to “accept” the situation and do our best to make them feel at ease. I say why it has to be just us? Can’t they do an effort? I realize Japan is “homogeneous”, but this isn’t an excuse for people not to try overcoming their “fear”. I mean, instead of “making them go away” ’cause you don’t know how to deal with the situation saying the only way is for us to speak japanese, why don’t they manage to have a better english-speakers system out of schools? It’s embarassing not that they turn foreginers away, but that they do ’cause even after studying for so many years they don’t speak english little enough to afford to have the confidence to have a simple conversation…almost none of them! I’m not a native english speaker as well, I’m studying japanese because I love that country and its culture, but I guess japanese people tend to make others solve their problems when it comes to this and do nothing to change their approach in exchange, hoping “others will conform to them” instead. That’s not racism, that’s laziness!

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Hi Oriana, Unfortunately it is what it is and I agree with you that Japanese people should be able to speak some English and feel more confident with their own communication skills. They don’t even need to speak English in order to cater to foreigners at a restaurant. So of course it did make me angry when I heard my student tell me about his experience..being refused to go into a restaurant. But I was just making a point that if you are visiting Japan as a tourist, it may be better to learn some Japanese phrases and culture..and also learn about “Gaijin (gaikokujin!) complex” so your stay will be more pleasant. I don’t think anybody should tolerate being denied service repeatedly or “discriminated against” because of their race or nationality. But the thing is that it is the same..even in America..where I currently live. And..at least Japanese people want to cater to foreigners but here..people generally think they are the best! the number 1 in the world..if you don’t like it, you should go home. that’s the attitude people have in general. So anyways I will write a follow up article about this. 🙂

      • Oriana says:

        Yeah, I get your point, but maybe that’s just the matter of the situation. It is okay to say “you’re a guest and you should know about our habits”, but as I said before, this isn’t an excuse to easily turn people away just out of an assumption. Moreover, if they can’t speak japanese, they could just make the customer’s way easier, providing a menu translated in both languages and giving each dish a number, so that the customer will know what there is in what he’s ordering and doing it by the number of the dish the owners will have no problems to get the info. Here in italy that is a common thing they do in restaurants. See? Sometimes it is just a matter of “willing” to do something, more than “I can’t do that anyway”. 😉

    • i2ibri says:

      I agree with a great deal of what you say Oriana. But, even if the shop owner doesn’t speak English, why turn away foreign customers? When I travelled in France, many years ago, I couldn’t speak French. I was never refused service. But the staff DID refuse to speak to me in English, which was totally their right. I was in France, I should speak French. The onus is on me. I am the guest in their country. Of course, the savvy French business owners spoke English and they got my business.

      I think a major root of this problem is Japanese complete hate of conflict. The reason for turning foreign customers away is because they fear an uncomfortable situation. And in the process, they are racist. And it IS racist because there’s an assumption being made by just the look of the person. Japanese should learn that this is an unacceptable way to be in this day and age. You CAN expect the customer to speak Japanese and if they can’t they can struggle their way through the meal or they can leave. You CANNOT make that decision for the customer based on your assumptions toward them.

      • Anthony Joh says:

        Actually they can. A business owner has every right to refuse service to a customer for what ever reason they want.

        You and the rest of the world may view it as racist but it still doesn’t negate the fact that the owner of the business has the right to make that choice.

        It may not be good for their business but it’s their choice.

        • Yumitolesson says:

          yes in American restaurants (especially small ones) often have a sign that says “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” I have never been refused so far, but they probably would do that if someone who is really drunk come in..I don’t know.

        • Jim Borden says:

          I don’t think i2ibri was speaking in legal terms, but in moral ones.

        • i2ibri says:

          Agreed Anthony Joh. Legally a business can refuse service. I was making more of a moral argument rather than a legal one, but I should have said you SHOULD NOT instead of CANNOT.

  • Emi says:

    In France refusing to buy or serve a customer is a offense punished by the law. I also experience racism or the so-called “gaijin complex” a few times…When a taxi man refused to drive me from Nakano to Hachiko saying he didn’t understand what i wanted : Hachiko onegaishimasu… Yeah. And I don’t talk about racist teenagers talking in my back in the JR…Bad point I talk japanese and I am not ready to let my dignity down, respect me and I respect you.

    Of course it only happened a few times, and I am still in love with Japan and japanese people.

    And as a matter of fact it was the older people who were the nicer with me ! Always happy to help me and talk to me !

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Taxi drivers can be very rude and I don’t even want to take their rides especially in Kansai area.. 🙁 but unfortunately refusing service is unacceptable and Japanese government should do something about it. But I again encourage all my Japanese students to learn the basics of Japanese complex and I advise them not to take it so personally if they are visiting Japan for the first time..and if this happens. It should never happen but unfortunately it can happen.

    • Charmine Joy B. G says:

      Oh yeah! Old folks are nicer most of the time even if they cannot understand you…

  • Lule Pashku says:

    I was in Japan for 2 months and It was the best time of my life. According to my personal experience, Japanese people are very polite, hospitable, always willing to help. I felt very safe and welcomed everywhere I have traveled. I could live in Japan without any problem.

  • レネ says:

    So how do you think Japanese people will handle the 2020 Olympics? They will get bombarded with all sorts of foreigners. Do you think they will have to ignore said complex and accommodate these new people coming into their country? or still continue to refuse service? Personally, I wouldn’t mind being refused service in another country, It’s understandable.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      oh no..for the 20/20 olympics, Japanese government should be doing a massive campaign so refusing service should not be happening and they should make every effort to accommodate the visitors from other countries..

    • Hanten says:

      I think most Tokyo-ites will be very accommodating when the 2020 Olympics are on just as they are now of the many foreigners who live and visit there. Apparently Tokyo is ten percent foreigners and ten percent of that are western foreigners yet about a quarter of train station signs and street signs have English. My Japanese is at best at an intermediate level but I can live and work here quite comfortably. That I believe is a sign of a society that’s pretty accepting of newcomers. I do meet Japanese people almost everyday who can’t speak to me without giggling or gushing – they’re harmless examples of the gaijin complex.
      I’ve heard many stories of gaijin being refused apartments because they’re not Japanese and I think that’s appalling. This is when the gaijin complex gets ugly. The few times I have been treated in a racist way because I’m Caucasian it may have been by a non-Japanese Asian person, who knows? It used to be the taxi drivers refusing to take me because they can’t speak English which was irritating but that never doesn’t happen anymore. Now, it’s just the occasional restaurant not wanting me to sit down for the same reason. Generally, I say a few words in Japanese and the staff get over it very quickly. Once, an Omoide Yokocho izakaya staffer told me that they didn’t have much food left so I left. If they don’t want my business so I went right next door. No drama. I’m not saying it’s ethical or right. I’d rather focus my attentions on the people who are behaving well.
      I don’t think it’s right for anyone anywhere in the world to be refused service because of their nationality.
      I expect better of Japanese people and am, luckily, most of the time I’m pleasantly rewarded.

      • Yumitolesson says:

        Hello Hanten! Thank you for your comment and I really like your attitude. It is hard to change other people and although I mentioned that gaijin complex wasn’t really about “racism”, refusing foreigners to eat at the restaurant is unacceptable and it saddens me. Even then I wanted to still highlight the complexity of “Gaijin complex (gaikokujin complex correctly)” from different perspectives, it is a very controversial subject and it is complicated. It is a bit different from “racism” we experience in America..maybe I can write a longer article about it next time and definitely Japanese people still have a long way to go and I am glad that your experience of living in Japan has been pleasant for the most part. 🙂

        • Hanten says:

          You may think that The Gaigokujin Complex is a harmless Japanese quirk but it leads to a great deal of racism. Which is not something you want, is it?
          I am not American but I have spent some time there. Racism there is a lot like racism here. It’s not acceptable anywhere. I look forward to your next article.

    • Carly Born says:

      I was there for the 1998 Nagano Olympics, living in Niigata at the time. I visited the Olympics 3 different times throughout the games. As a whole, the city and the people were excited to welcome the world. However, they were extremely unprepared to deal with the hordes of people who had no Japanese and no concept of Japanese culture at all. The organizers really didn’t think about having biliginguals on each and every site to help direct traffic, answer questions, etc.

      I’ve heard that Japan is seriously bolstering their training of their Japanese-born English teachers, and also that they are going to have a lot more JETs assigned to Tokyo for 2020. But I wonder if it will be enough. I’ve thought seriously about volunteering, but it’s very difficult for me to get the time off work and be away from my kids for that long of a period of time.

      • Yumitolesson says:

        that is very nice of you to even think about volunteering your time to teach English to Japanese people..I know Japan will be hosting Olympics in 2020 so I can understand that government is trying really hard.. 🙂

  • Miss Nakata, your tips are vey useful and you’re totally right. I never experienced in fact this Gaijin Complex on my last visit in Japan, may be because I change my mind on my first hours on Japan. My experience with Japanese society makes me to learn that: People not understand me very well in Japan when I try to express myself in English, so I decided to use the most keywords possible like: “Ohayougozaimasu” or “Sumimassen” and a lot of “Arigato Gozaimassu”. The diference is really amazing when you try to start a communication with so small Japanese words or key frases. Also I made many Japanese friends and its makes me to be involved and passionate for learn more and more Japanese language the culture. “Okague samadeshita arigato gozaimassu Nakata sensei”

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Hello Weslley san! It is nice to see your positive comment..I know that my article was not pleasant for many foreigners who have experienced discriminations in Japan. It is very unfortunate and I do not like that but unfortunately it happens everywhere and it is easier to change our attitude than trying to change theirs..and it makes your experience staying in Japan more pleasant.

  • Cécile Synitch says:

    I stayed 1 month in Tokyo, and sometimes experienced it. That was the most horrible experience in Japan, because even as a foreigner, I know very well japanese culture, and I was kind of disappointed sometimes when peoples were ill a ease with me, because of gaikokujin face.
    I was thinking “I aimed to come in YOUR country, don’t you think a know a lot about you and I wanna know more ?”. Sometimes Japaneses peoples forget that -not every, but a lot of- foreigners are very interested and already KNOWS about cultural laws in Japan.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      that is true.. 🙂 I guess Japanese people are easily amazed by foreigners speaking even a few Japanese words..I hope Japan will continue to do more international education in K-12 so people in Japan become more comfortable with people from different culture.

  • Reggie Daemon says:

    I have spent almost two years in Yokohama, Japan, living in an almost purely Japanese neighborhood. (I mean it is not Yamate with loads of gaijin families brought in by corporations.) There are some foreign students in a dormitory, but that is about it.

    I personally have never experienced the ugly side of the Gaijin Complex. The worst I got was maybe a shop clerk would serving me with a poker face rather than the usual smiley/irashaimase treatment. But even that was ok with me, because in the country where I come from that is what I would usually get.

    As a matter of fact, my family and I have made friends with some of the shop owners around the neighborhood as we would see them every morning and afternoon walking to and from the subways station. They would greet us from across the street, waving, smiling like we have been good old buddies. The same is true for the staff at the subway gates and the elderly lady behind the newsstand. I must confess though that our case may be slightly different as we have two young blond daughters who are of course attention magnets here.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      I guess it depends on where you stay in Japan and also…but it is a shame that many foreigners are still experiencing a lot of “rejections”. I hope that Japan will continue to open up..

  • Richard Kame Gibson says:

    I also must totally disagree with the author. Having lived in Japan for over 20yrs, yes it’s racism and not some inferiority complex. You can sugar coat it anyway you like.. it’s still RACISM. Living in Japan and being married to a Japanese citizen my wife was totally unprepared for all the negative comments, treatment, stares and rude behaviors directed towards myself and herself. Why?.. because she was married to a “GAIJIN”.
    Whether it being refused entrance or service at a restaurant, Izakaya, sento, Ryokan, Minshuku , taxi…. it’s all the same. No it’s not because they were unprepared. In fact I speak Japanese fluently, naturally my wife does too. Sure many foreigners whom live and work or go to school in Japan may not experience any negative racism but of the many whom do… I must speak out. It does exist and it is not due to unpreparedness. Sure the “Gaijin Complex” is a label of inferiority complex and should not be entwined as an excuse for racism.
    I am of mixed ethnicity, born and raised in Japan and raised in a Bi-lingual home.
    I do agree that travelers or workers or students whom live in Japan for any extended period should be more respectful and adhere to local customs and culture. That’s just common sense.
    Living and working in Japan was one of the most memorable times in my life but please don’t sugar coat or try and sweep it under the rug the fact of racism exists towards most/many Caucasian appearing foreigners. If my mother was still alive to read your words she would have told you.. “shame on you”!

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Yup that is fine. 🙂 I am not making excuses for Japanese people refusing service but I was simply saying that it would help first time visitors not to take things so personally and just get to know the culture beforehand. And living there is a totally different thing. I am also half and I left to start a new life and I am loving it now 🙂

    • Nathan White says:

      20 years is a long time. It’d be interesting to hear about your thoughts on how different it is today compared to 20 years ago, being a foreign resident in Japan.

  • i2ibri says:

    Malicious or not, racism is racism and ignorance is not an excuse. Anytime you judge or make assumptions about a person based on their appearance you are being racist. And you, Ms. Nakata, are what we call a racist apologist. All of the things you write are true. Japanese have not been exposed to many foreigners. Their behavior usually does not come from a place of hatred but from a lack of experience. You say “Until Japan opens up and truly decides to be part of the global economic and cultural world I feel that the Gaijin Complex will remain strong.” Well, Japan already IS a part of the global economic world and part of being a member of the cultural world means you stop making excuses and certainly stop asking others to adapt to your naive world view. Instead of writing in English to a site frequented by foreigners, you should be trying to reach the Japanese of which you speak and try to educate them out of their Gaijin Complex. This would do some real good. We foreigners already know all to well of the situation we face here in Japan.

    • Craig Slist says:

      It seems a bit harsh to call someone out as a “racist apologist” based on one blog entry and without ortherwise knowing what this person is like in real life.

      “Anytime you judge or make assumptions about a person based on their appearance you are being racist.”–that’s a pretty broad definition, and I think that makes *everyone* a racist.”

      “Instead of writing in English to a site frequented by foreigners, you should be trying to reach the Japanese of which you speak and try to educate them…This would do some real good.” –Are you seriously telling someone what language they *should* be writing in and who they *should* be addressing? Maybe *you* should start a blog, write in Japanese and educate them out of the Gaijin complex.

      “We foreigners already know all too well of the situation we face here in Japan.”–well, that’s presuming alot. Maybe some foreigners aren’t as experienced or culturally versed as you are and didn’t know about any of the things the author mentioned.

      I get that you are probably a nice person in real life with good ethics and good intentions, but the tone you use is pretty harsh and accusatory.

  • Tara Babystar says:

    I nearly never experienced the gaijin complex when I’m in Japan. Only my girlfriend can speak japanese but they’re always happy when we say that “nihongo wa daijoubu” and they’re always asking how long we live in japan now haha. I guess the only thing that bugs me is the word “gaijin” in general…..

  • Tokyo Bill says:

    I have to disagree with the author. “Is this about racism?”, she asks. Of course it is. When one person merely Looks at a person (or group, as in the case of the waitress) of another race and goes on to stereotype or treat them differently than they would a member of their own race, that is BY DEFINITION racism. Most of the experiences I’ve had or heard about are largely due to the excuse of a fear of not being able to communicate well with such-and-such a person i.e. the language barrier, but that is a terrible excuse to deprive people of their dignity … and to refuse service as in the case of the author’s friend: well, what gives a waitress the right to choose customers? Her sense of embarrassment surely doesn’t. Malicious? Not apparently. Ignorant? Clearly. And the author’s defense of this attitude is stunning.

    • Theo Lubbe says:

      “When one person merely Looks at a person (or group, as in the case of
      the waitress) of another race and goes on to stereotype or treat them
      differently than they would a member of their own race, that is BY
      DEFINITION racism.”

      So I guess it’s insulting if, when you encounter someone you can tell is not from the town/city/province/state/country they’re in, to assume they may have limited/no knowledge of the area they’re in.

      Racism would be stereotyping against a race and being unwilling to accept that the stereotypes you hold may be incorrect, not to be aware of stereotypes concerning that race and to consider that there may be merit in their existence.

      The majority of Japanese people in the world can speak Japanese. So. If you look at a Japanese person and assume they may well be able to speak Japanese, by yourdefinition of racism, you are being racist to even have the thought cross your mind that they might speak Japanese! For all you know, they only speak French, not even English! Or Spanish!

      “but that is a terrible excuse to deprive people of their dignity”
      It’s not always about making an excuse. It’s often about having a very valid reason to not want to serve people who cannot communicate in the local language, or who you presume from prior experiences may appear to be able to communicate upon first introduction, but are quickly found to have only a rudimentary understanding of the language.

      When I went to Fuji-Q Highland, there was a Segway course you could ride through with an instructor who would teach you how to operate the thing and then have you follow them. There was an indemnity form to fill in here.

      An indemnity form only available in Japanese.

      So you know what happened? The guy at the table asked me how well I was able to read the form, and if I could understand all of the clauses; because I couldn’t, and I admitted I couldn’t, I wasn’t allowed to sign the form and thus go on the course. My tutor (Japanese tutor, Japanese man) and his brother (Japanese man) were with me at the time, and my tutor asked if there was any chance he could translate the form for me so that I might be able to sign it.

      I couldn’t, but it still turned into an interesting discussion, and as it turns out there have been numerous foreigners who have gone on that ride and injured themselves, then tried to have action taken against the park operators/management and/or the instructor for the Segway course and/or the one with who they signed the indemnity form; meanwhile, there were clauses they could actually not read on the form which specifically pertained to these scenarios.

      So it’s not only about ‘making excuses’. It’s sometimes about having reasons.
      Which brings us to the next point:

      “what gives a waitress the right to choose customers?”
      Her manager may well have done so. She may have been working there for long enough and communicated with her manager enough on what’s happened in the restaurant to have come to an understanding among the staff that foreigners may not dine there without prior arrangement. Right of admission reserved.

      One of the ‘traditional restaurants’ I ate at while I was in Japan was a family-run one, and the daughter was one of the waitresses there. She’d spent two years studying in California, so she could communicate in English to some degree, but even so we were cautiously directed to a ‘western style’ table a bit away from the other patrons seated at the traditional style tables, and the girl explained to me afterwards that they regretfully had a policy of not allowing first-time foreign visitors or those obviously out-of-prefecture to sit around those tables. Not until their behaviour has been assessed for future visits.

      They do this because they’ve had many occasions where ‘strangers’ would come and ruin the evening of local regulars, which would cause a drop in business and relations between the manager and these regulars; all so some new faces are given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to be raucous should they be the sort?

      It seems far more reasonable to instead send these new faces to other tables away from the regulars for just that first visit and to instead spend a bit of time chatting with them, getting to know them a bit better and explaining the situation to them. Once again, right of admission reserved, and in this case, when in Rome.

      “Her sense of embarrassment surely doesn’t. Malicious? Not apparently.
      Ignorant? Clearly. And the author’s defense of this attitude is
      If anyone here is ignorant, it’s you. You don’t have any information concerning the motives behind the waitress’ choice to refuse admission to the author’s student other than that she used “the only English word she knew, ‘no'”. Even the author may not know this to be factually correct, it’s simply assumed that she might be incapable of communicating in any language other than English.

    • James Lowrey says:

      Sorry, buddy, but your definition of racism is just plain incorrect…
      And as for “the author’s defense of this attitude”, I think he was defending Japanese people and not that attitude, he so very clearly makes it super, super utterly, stupendously obvious that he’s not fond of that attitude.
      One thing that annoys me more than anything in the west is this ridiculous self victimising culture we have that’s just getting worse and worse.

      • Tokyo Bill says:

        Others have made effort to clarify, James, but I’ll weigh in regarding your comment. Firstly, the author is a she, not a he. Secondly, there is no self-victimising going on in my post…the author gave an example where she explained that her friend was discriminated against simply based upon his appearance. Her “super, super utterly, stupendously obvious … not fond of that attitude” leaning may appear so when she states being embarrassed by the waitress’ attitude, but she goes on to second-guess the woman’s thinking process based upon her being Japanese, then Defends her actions of discriminating against non-Japanese. Once again: she implies she doesn’t like the attitude (applaud, applaud), then goes on to explain why the repercussions of the attitude was okay (you see, US-boy, it isn’t Her fault she didn’t serve you…if you looked Japanese she Would have served you.) Huh? What?? James, you didn’t put forward your thoughts on what racism means to you, but to me, racism can be manifested by motivations other than hatred. I differ from the author on that.

        I agree with Ms. Nakata that I and other so-called gaijins will always be viewed as outsiders in Japan. But note that she then goes a step further by suggesting that the onus is on non-Japanese person(s) to be aware of this (xenophobic) attitude and to realize that discrimination of sorts is unfortunate, but not really the fault of the person doing the discriminating….it’s the culture. I happen to think that this way of thinking is rather backward, and I hope you will see my point here. Visitors to another country should be aware of cultural norms and respect the status quo, certainly. My intended point, however, was that discriminatory attitudes and behaviors are under control of the actor, not the recipient.

      • Tokyo Bill says:

        James, others have already commented, but I’ll weigh in on your comment. The author is a she and not a he. Her “super, super utterly, stupendously obvious … not fond of that attitude”
        way of thinking (i.e. that there is a reason (a) Japanese will
        discriminate against people who are clearly not Japanese) is not backed up by her words. While she states that the waitress friend episode made her feel embarrassed, implying her dislike of the attitude you refer to, she then goes on to defend the reasoning behind the attitude and any discriminatory behavior that people may encounter in Japan. She goes on to suggest that the onus is on the visitor to Japan to quell any potential discomfort. Certainly it’s important and commonsense for any visitor to respect the status quo. My point, simply, is that it is the holder of a discriminatory view who has the power to control their views and actions, Not the recipient.

      • i2ibri says:

        I can’t speak for Tokyo Bill, but I don’t see his statement as a complaint of being the victim. Of course, it would be better for foreigners if this behavior did not exist, but more importantly, it would be better for Japan if these types of situations stopped happening. Japan will become increasingly dependent upon foreigners if they want to maintain the quality of life they’ve acquired. The sooner they shed these naive misunderstandings of foreigners the better everyone will be for it. And to treat Japanese as if they are not capable of fixing these issues is also a form of racism. They deserve the same kind of frank conversation we’d have with people in our home countries who were behaving this way. It’s not being disrespectful of Japanese or Japanese culture to ask that they treat people they’d want to be treated – nor is it playing the victim.

      • Richard Kame Gibson says:

        Sorry James.. but the author is a “SHE” not a “he”. Hate to disagree with you more than ever but.. defending a racist attitude and calling it a Gaijin Complex in itself is racist view. I know very well first hand. Sure it happens… and many (not all) Japanese prefer not to admit it. But yes… I agree with Mr Tokyo Bill. He hit it right on the spot. Also read “i2ibri” comments… they shed more light on it. I’m not complaining to being a victim.
        I worked in the travel industry for many years. It’s common for Japanese on tour in the USA to refer to us Americans (with Caucasian looks) as Gaijin and little did they realize.. they were in America. Imagine if they were treated the same as us whom have experienced it first hand when they came to visit in the USA for a vacation, school or work they would be outraged and make a fuss. So can we say…. it like they do in Japan? Sure no.. that’s racism!!

  • Ali Raza says:

    I went to see kamisama of Mie ken ise jingu . But holy person stop me and ask me to go down from stairs but let the japanese people allow to go up inside .

  • Hana Arisugawa says:

    When I stayed in Japan on religious sabbatical, I never ONCE got the “gaijin” experience. I was fluent enough to shop and go to temple, I was shown the Hiroshima dome because my grandfather is an infamous sole survivor of 1946 atom bomb tests and worked his life to undo the environmental harm, however, …a chemical corporate owner once tried to intimidate me with a beating for not acknowledging his job importance. Luckily, I’m almost 6 ft tall, 40 pounds heavier than he and was wearing part of my monastic uniform so he stopped short of hitting me. Unfortunately, MY born-in-downtown-L.A.-punk-rock past almost didn’t hold itself back and I just towered over him with fists raised and a grin. My street bring up in California was more of a problem, especially because I was a Zen cleric and wasn’t acting like a more controlled being. Being a woman didn’t change my treatment, but being a hard raised Cali street kid made me realize Westerners should be more evolved and ready to please the Japanese peoples, not the other way around. We’re the ones with much more to lose in loud or provocative behaviors, not the Japanese.

  • Sébastien Guillaume Shimomichi says:

    It’s learning how to deal with the gaijin complex that makes your time in Japan easy. Speaking Japanese certainly helps but bear in mind that most Japanese will associate non-Asians as visitors and thus will assume you cannot speak enough Japanese to carry a conversation with any local. I guess for a non-Asian gaijin to live in Japan, you will need to learn to accept that some Japanese have complexities or difficulties being around certain gaijins to live peacefully. In other words, learn not to care.

  • bartonim says:

    I personally have had only a couple of negative experiences that could be interpreted as racist. One, for certain, was a blatant refusal of service, and whether or not one interprets ‘Japanese only!’ as racist, it was in any case angering and disturbing. The other cases I cannot actually judge. The claim of racism is often a misinterpretation, but equally often it is real.

    However, for all the boisterous claims of racism, quite often coming from Caucasian males, from my experiences here in Japan I can honestly say it’s not quite the xenophobe’s paradise. On the other hand, the gaijin complex, an inferiority complex about mainly Caucasian westerers, is not really an acceptable form of behaviour in a society that is clearly part of the global economy in a pronounced way. I am more uncomfortable with the fact that I supposedly come from a ‘superior’ culture than Japan’s own neighbours, and ethnic relatives. That is a more significant problem than the locals having a feeling of inferiority to usーwesterners.

    This is not new or unique in this part of the world. When Europe extended its empires to include areas in this region, one was as likely to find similar behaviour. India is a very good example, where for every handful of resentful locals, one could easily find someone who felt their colonial masters were somehow superior.

    So, how do we deal with this issue? Accepting it as just misinterpretation is not enough, nor is a continued looking down upon other Asians acceptable. Getting over the complex requires real global thinking, but the road goes both ways. Westerers suggesting their ways are better is really connected to this problem; it’s simply dressed up differentlyーas a superiority complex.

    For change to actually happen, it takes more than sighs of ‘that’s how it is’ resignation, and more than ‘that’s how it ought to be because wedo it’ arrogance. Mutually abandoning both of these anachronisms will go a long way towards overcoming the negatives, be they outright intolerance or simply lazy crumbling and giving in to the failed features of what should be the past.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Thank you for your comments. I completely agree with you and unfortunately Japan has a long way to go as one of the most developed nations in the world. (supposedly). After living in America for a decade, I do miss my heritage and the culture but Japanese government really has to put more effort into changing its educational system. Inviting native English speakers to aid the Japanese teachers who teach English is one thing but the education should increase positive interactions between Japanese children and children from other Asian countries. I think this is crucial in order to improve ties with Japan’s neighboring countries.

    • HolyHoliday says:

      Couldn’t agree more. After more than 2 years in Japan with a clearly “Western” family living in a mixed environment (so enough contact to born-Japanese people and “the expat”-world as well), I am tempted to agree, ‘yes, there is a high ratio of racism’, but since it is “buffered” culturally much better than in any other country we have lived in before, there is no reason why one cannot take any situation as a single event. That type of attitude will help to develop more trust (mutually) and actually allow support–even if your Japanese counterpart will feel *very* uncomfortable (for whatever cultural reason, if you expect them to step up for their own opinion or your own case). If you feel let down by your Japanese acquaintances / friends at times (because they *always* seem to shy away from anything perceived “confrontational” at the slightest), please don’t judge too harshly. I really think that they are torn between their own choice and societal expectations, particularly if they have never lived outside of Japan. Many of them are incredibly good-willed and good people! Most of them have to live with these old f***ing racists of their own nation, while many (not *all*, I hasten to add!) “perceived foreigners” will leave the country at some point. So it is easy to see what dilemma many Japanese people are facing. Regardless, being from Europe, I think that at any time when economic conditions are worsening, people tend to go more “patriotic (=nationalist)”, “rude”, blatantly “right wing” etc. That’s not special. And it doesn’t characterize Japan and the Japanese. Finally, let’s not forget, these really aren’t easy times for Japan or the Japanese citizens. I *do* sympathize with the Japanese people and with the “perceived Westerners” alike. Funny, though, that you’ll have to look like a “proper Japanese person” (i.e. non-white individual) to be accepted as such. But yes, there seems to be a lot of not-reflected-on racism out there. And surely, that’s not really worse than in many other countries.

  • Nathan Shanan Crookes says:

    I experience this (Gaijin complex) nearly every time I go on the train.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Sorry to hear that. 🙁 Unfortunately it still happens all the time in Japan..

      • Nathan Shanan Crookes says:

        I should point out that I have experienced a lot more postives than negatives living in Nihon for the last 4-5 months, I have no regrets moving here. Thank you Japan!



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