Being a Gaijin Girl in Japan

By
On July 17, 2014
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Photo by Adam Sharron



I have a question for you: loud, crazy, different and drunk. These are: 

a. words used to describe me
b. words used to describe gaijin girls in Japan
c. words silently emanating from train passengers towards large groups of foreigners

The answer is (drum roll please)…all three! Yes, based on personal experience and no scientific research whatsoever, these are just some of the stereotypes you might be expected to fulfill as a foreign gal in Japan.

When you first arrive in Japan, people will treat you like an exotic, man-eating manatee, gazing at you with wide eyes of awe and terror at the same time. You’ll receive an array of compliments ranging from the confusing; ‘your face is so small’ to the ego-boosting; ‘I wish I could be you’ to the downright rude; ‘you are strong, like a man’ – er, cheers? These are all a mildly bewildering product of your average Japanese gaijin complex. But how does that make us gaijin girls feel?

After getting over my initial awkwardness at receiving compliments from people I’d only just met, I started to feel pretty awesome! I no longer interpreted the staring as a sign that I had something hanging out of my nose but instead that people were admiring my striking foreign beauty. If a group of guys in the street shouted ‘HELLO! I LOVE YOU!’ it was because they really were overcome with such intense adoration that they couldn’t bear to keep it inside them.

Over time, I think my confidence grew into misplaced pride. When you live in a culture that sees you as superior, you start to believe it. As a gaijin, I no longer had to compete with the other girls around me; I was different and special, and so didn’t have to play by any of the societal rules that Japanese women were forced to play by. I didn’t have to be meek or cute or domestic. I could be all of the gaijin girl stereotypes: loud, crazy, different and drunk. In fact, I could be whatever the hell I wanted to be without having to worry about the consequences of not fitting in.

But, of course, I do want to fit in.

As a gaijin girl, it’s sometimes hard not to feel like you’re going up an escalator backwards – thrilling but also kind of exhausting. Most gaijin girls I know aren’t attempting to follow the Japanese model of femininity (especially as we can’t even fit into the clothes) but this can make us feel rather unfeminine (6 out of 7 days we feel like a big, hairy man). Occasionally, we all get overcome with raging jealous hellfire at the tiny-framed, glossy haired, really-good-at-cooking and super hard-working Japanese girls around us……no, just me then?

In this sense, gaijin girls are both privileged and disadvantaged. Being away from our own culture and outside of the one we live in, we aren’t forced to fit into one ideal definition of what it is to be female.

Apart from society, we can choose who we want to be. Japan actually makes for the ideal place to explore what that identity might consist of. And if some parts are indeed loud, crazy, different and drunk then here’s to her: kanpai!

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Tokyo-based writer and consultant.
  • Brantastic Japan says:

    Hmmm…. interesting. I’ve been in Japan for over 7 years now and have definitely experienced most of the above! I don’t really notice it anymore and I think I have definitely found my place now with a good group of friends who don’t just see me as a gaijin girl, but who knows?! One thing which will probably never change though is that I will never be Japanese sized… ha ha. I actually just made a video about that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbEkUjTlLWs

  • I’m planning a trip to Japan in the very near future, and wonder after reading this, how they might view me. I flipflop at will between feminine and masculine (attire, grooming, stance etc.), though I tend to be more ‘neutral’ in daily situations such as going to the corner store, meeting a friend for coffee at the last minute, etc. Neutral, believe it or not, sometimes gets the most stares of all. People in my own country stare because I’m sure they can’t figure out my gender. Hello, it’s just a baseball cap, jeans and a t-shirt! Anyone can wear these! Yet, when I don’t emphasize anything particularly female about me, people tend to scrutinize. I really wonder what a Japanese audience might make of me.

  • slow_moon says:

    For me, the sad truth I’m finding out is that a lot of foreigners complaining about the opportunities and glass ceilings fall into two distinct categories:

    1) Those who lack useful skills or character traits that would make them appealing to companies in Japan. Often they’re escaping unemployment for the same reason back home so their situation is exacerbated here. At most, they’re just not exceptional at what they do even in their own countries.

    2) Those who do have useful skills but face stiff competition/rejection due to their language skills. Why should a company hire them over a Japanese national?

    In fact, I actually fall into the second category, however:

    I arrived here last year as an ALT but now I’m IT tech support for a foreign company(permanent staff, too, not contract). My Japanese is conversational(around N4) and I’m not even qualified in IT! But I worked in IT for two years back home, it’s been my hobby since childhood and I managed to show my passion for IT and people during my interviews. They didn’t even mind about my Japanese.

    So, Japan handed me a great opportunity but the truth is I simply happen to have skills that are in demand and I worked VERY hard during interviews to sell myself. I know people whose Japanese is a lot better but that’s all they really have going for them.They’re simply not very employable.

    And Immigration must also really love me because they’ve given me a five-year visa.

    Lastly, if I can turn this around a bit: Every single one of my Japanese friends who got degrees in London could not find work there and had to return to Japan. I think this is due to them doing far-out degrees and not having a strong enough grasp of English to compete against UK and EU nationals when applying for jobs. Sounds familiar!

  • Sarah says:

    As a tattooed, blue haired, average sized african american female in Japan, I have been met with every reaction possible. While the stares here are literally emotionally draining, I have yet to be complemented or anything of the sort except from drunken Kaishain or women.
    In america, my physical appearances is either loved or despised (tattoos and hair aside). So, while it is lovely to stand out like a sore thumb in the sea of people, it is also unnerving.
    At this point, I wink at the stares I am given and am considering charging money for the many photo requests. The artsy bars are my only refuge at times.But it’s not so bad, the high schoolers get a kick out of it and the older citizens appreciate my semi fluency in Japanese.
    So yes being a Gainjin in Japan is tiresome and awesome.I agree that it is a good experience in finding yourself because this is the most yourself you will be(?) Not sure how to explain it but when you are literally different than everyone and have only yourself and few other foreigners to compare to, finding yourself is almost inevitable.
    I think that over all , regardless of your appearance, adaption is mandatory. Especially the language. Enjoy being a big fish in a little pond!

    • AJ says:

      You’re purposely making yourself stand out, knowing Japan is a conservative society. “Oh, they’re all looking at me, what a shame. I wonder why?”

      For people who don’t blatantly go out of their way to attract attention, it can be troublesome.

      • Howl says:

        Is this true for the larger cities? I’m honestly curious, I know places like Tokyo is even more famous that New York for fashion. So I know a lot of trends have come and gone, though Lolita and it’s sub-genre is here to stay. I guess what I mean do is people who follow extreme fashion trends like Visual Kei, the Hosts/Hostesses, Gyaru, Mori Kei, do they not get such stares? It’s just kind of yeah okay?

  • Natalie says:

    Learn from Japanese women that men should be strong, carry stuff and open doors??! If you are waiting for that Japanese man to open that door for you, I hope you have a good view because you are going to be standing there a loooong time! Yes – you clearly have yet to experience Japan, and you have the same view that many many people have before they actually come here.

  • Gautam Bajaj says:

    True. Every culture is fucked up in its own way. But this doesn’t make things correct.

    Moreover, Japanese people are heavily influenced by media. If a restaurant is shown on television, people go crazy to get a reservation there. The same thing applies to this thing. Media has them believing that you can only be beautiful if you have non-asian face, mostly because all the models are gaijin looking. Not only that, hollywood, which has a very low number of Asian in them, tends to make Japanese people insecure about their own looks. They start to feel like they can’t be beautiful if they look Asian. You must have also heard of “はくじんすうはい” or “worshipping the white”. This has created a very biased society, with a lot of self hatred in Japanese women. Many women doesn’t even consider dating a Asian looking guy because they are supposed to be inferior in terms of beauty. They want to marry and have kids with non-Asian person because they don’t want their children to suffer similar kind of insecurity.

    Again, I’m not saying other societies are not fucked up, but just pointing out how Japanese society is fucked up in its own way.

  • Charmine Joy B. G says:

    I’m so relating to this article! 🙂 as most filipinoes are loud, crazy, different and sometimes drunk too! It maybe men or woman…but what i dont like sometimes is how filipinoes or filipino women already being specified instantly as entertainer. I dont know if its just here but i know in philippines their still have a mindset like if you work or went or going to japan your work or you work as an entertainer… i mean there are so many kinds of jobs here! Its like when we are new here, some people have that look in their face and trying to be friendly with you but then will ask you whats your work or what do you do? And its like you can already read it in their faces and just waiting for your answer to be “im working in a pub” but then we will answer we are trainees here… and there faces be like, aahh…i see… deep inside its kinda irritating a bit for me…

  • Charmine Joy B. G says:

    I beg to disagree with what you said.”We should learn from Japanese women, that men should be strong, let them carry stuff and open doors, just like gentlemen traditions should be.” 1st yes men should be strong but “let them carry stuff and open doors???” Is not in their vocabulary. Most men i see or encountered are non gentle man! Dont wait for them to carry your stuff and doors for you coz it “might” not happen. 🙂 yes men go first!no ladies 1st! Gentleman??? No. As japanese still has a mindset that men are still more dominant or higher in status than women! In other words men and women are still not equal for them! :)(still native thinking)

  • Gautam Bajaj says:

    Occasionally, we all get overcome with raging jealous hellfire at the tiny-framed, glossy haired, really-good-at-cooking and super hard-working Japanese girls around us……no, just me then?

    I find this exceptionally disturbing. It just shows, how shallow is the Japanese society to judge someone by their looks.

    Personally, although I find your spirit and attitude to be extremely positive, and I admire that a lot but I still believe, your post makes someone think, would you really want to live in such a shallow and materialistic society? You are young so it’s ok. Think about people who doesn’t fit into Japanese model of beauty (maybe because they are old? or african ?). As you see girls in subway, admiring and feeling envy from your physique, there are gaijin girls looked down upon for their looks and no fault of their own.

    I’ll feel better if the Japanese society, start to look at people beyond their physical appearance and actually start appreciating people for what they actually are.

    Thanks for the post tho.

    • marshallcross says:

      But unfortunately, such a country doesn’t exist. And how am I supposed to judge a person that I just met if not by the appearance? I can’t look inside of them or read their mind. It’s not only in Japan, it’s a human issue in general

  • Tosh Oka says:

    I was born in Japan with parents from Japan so obviously I can blend in when walking the streets. However, I almost never fit in with the majority of locals here because of my unique background, experiencing life overseas! You can imagine all the comments I have received of how cool it must be to live in a foreign country or I should be able to speak English fluently “just because.” My first few years living in North America (starting in 1976, age 6) were not glamourous and I didn’t know any better than try to do my best to learn and understand a different culture. I did well and when the western culture became rooted for me, I had become the sort of missing link between the two cultures. When my family moved back to Japan I experienced various awkward and strange emotions as I tried to blend back in. This is even harder than just adapting to a new country for the first time. Long story short, I have witnessed some foreigners try their best to adapt to life in Japan and move on, while on the other hand some will constantly fight and argue trying to “correct” how Japanese should fix their ways. It’s totally a different mindset on how an individual approaches this scenario. Hope everyone has found a good medium and is in peace.
    In regards to “trophy” gals and dudes, let me tell you about somethings my high school buddies used to talk about back in the day. At that age, all guys are interested in how they would get a girl, how many they could get and pretend that each of us was better at it than anyone else. During the conversation, a comment about “kimpatsu” or blonde hair would come up, with the fascination of someone foreign being an awesome fantasy. During the late 80’s when many J-gals (18-25) went to Hawaii or other foreign countries to spend their vacation, there were many that went mainly to hunt “attractive” foreign men. A local band made a song called “reso-rava” which meant resort lover, as in a shallow gal making out with a guy on an exotic resort just to say they could. I believe they are now referred as Cougars.
    In finale, I would say we are all curious in nature and we shouldn’t be surprised if a person reacts or behaves strange because of a way an individual looks. Countries such as Japan and China may appear to be weirder than other nations but I always find it interesting when I watch videos of foreigners visiting small tribes in Africa or South America and the locals immediately flock to see what’s goiing on. Something as common as sunglasses or cowboy boots are identified as strange objects and the person wearing them are even observed thru a colored lens. Knowledge is power.

  • Mikhail Schrödinger says:

    This is very, very similar to experiences you might find while residing in mainland China (where I have lived for the last 3 years). In a mid-tier city such as Zhengzhou,China – where I lived – there are not many foreigners. As such, white folks are generally stared at and taken pictures of, as if we too are some sort of exotic beast. Some people enjoy the attention, for some it becomes irritating. I can say that, after 3 years, I just feel a groan and a feeling of “not this again…” whenever someone off the street is excited to see me and wants to talk to me because I’m a foreigner.

    Much as in Japan, Chinese men and women are expected by society to be more subdued in their daily affairs. The foreigners are typically known to be wild and outgoing in comparison, and indeed the foreigners in China will often be able to get away with things a regular Chinese would be yelled at for. We have a sort of foreign privilege that way. Chinese people generally seem to hold foreigners (especially white foreigners) in a higher esteem than their native peers. Why, I cannot say.

    I was considering moving to Japan after my contract with my current school is complete. From your article, it sounds like it would be roughly the same experience, albeit with cleaner air and probably safer food. Better beer too, I imagine; Chinese beer is quite bad. Nothing nearly as good as Asahi over there. Of course, German beer is always the best 😉

    • santa san says:

      Is even the famous Chinese beer bad ?

      • Mikhail Schrödinger says:

        Famous Chinese beer? I suppose their best known is 青岛 (Qingdao), named after the city the brewery is based in. Qingdao is, in my opinion, the best mass-distributed beer brewed in mainland China. That is not to say it is an excellent beer. There are, however, microbrews in cities such as Beijing; for example, Great Leap Brewery. The beers brewed at Great Leap are generally higher quality than the stuff you’ll find at the supermarket, but it comes with one caveat: It’s a hell of a lot more expensive!

    • Rebecca Quin says:

      Mikhail – it’s interesting to hear that you’ve had a similar experience in China. I’m not sure why foreigners are viewed in the different ways they are but I wonder if the same kind of thing has been experienced across other Asian countries like Korea or Thailand? Of course, the topic is way more complex than I touched upon in the article and I have limited experience having only lived in Japan. However, I can say with certainty that the beer here is pretty damn good!

      • Mikhail Schrödinger says:

        I have yet to go to South Korea myself, but I have come to know many other expats who have worked there. From the reports I’ve heard from others, it seems that foreigners – primarily white foreigners – will enjoy a certain esteem in that society, as well.

        I would suggest the reason for this phenomenon is simply that we are, in their eyes, quite exotic. I know that, in Zhengzhou, the natives rarely ever see white people outside of the occasional television show or movie. So when they see an American walking down the street, they’re actually in a state of mild disbelief. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out and about, only to hear someone exclaiming, “外国人!” (foreigner!)

        Another American friend of mine, whose genetic lines are of Honduran descent, is living in Guiyang, in the southern part of China. He was telling me about his own China experience. He said that he constantly encounters rebuttals and disbelief when he tells the Chinese he is American. “You can’t be American! You’re not white.” they will often reason. They often think he is from India, due to his darker skin tone.

        Although, interestingly, he said that this false perception among the Chinese can be used to its own benefit. He believes that the Chinese don’t try to swindle him as much as they do other foreigners, as they don’t perceive non-whites as being as rich or affluent. In China, the general population seem to think white skin entails insane amounts of money. And many of them really do have the silly belief that we Americans all have our own houses, cars, luxurious salary, etc etc. To us it’s all obvious nonsense, but you have to keep in mind the majority of them have never actually knew an American personally. They just know us from what they see on the television.

  • Maria says:

    Although I agree that we are always seen as different, like zoomingjapan mentioned I also never felt that anybody thought (thinks) I am loud, crazy or drunk! Different and with different attitudes sometimes that do not match the Japanese ‘normal’ way of behavior!

    However, in my opinion, and this does not only happen here, people seem to give more importance to the outside than the inside!

  • Anne says:

    I’ve been in Japan for almost a year, and while I have gotten used to the superfluous you’re-a-gaijin compliments, they have never ceased to be awkward. What I do find awkward is the way that people pretend not to be staring at me on the trains or a streets that are not in tourist areas, or the way that when my Japanese friends invite me out to go shopping with them, the only thing I can look at is jewelry because nothing in the store will fit, and probably wouldn’t have fit since I was about 16.

    It’s nice to be outside of society’s constraints, it’s incredibly freeing and makes you feel not quite so foolish when you make a major mess of something and people smile it away. At the same time however it can fell very bad. It can be a constant reminder that you are different. There are times when it seems like that amused smile is actually saying, “Of course you’re stupid, you’re a gaijin!”

    • Rebecca Quin says:

      Anne – you are completely right. It’s sometimes difficult being so physically different, especially when that physical difference is being pointed out to you. I don’t mind the compliments – I actually think many Japanese people are just generally very complimentary of the people around them (Japanese or non-Japanese) but it’s definitely true that I’ve never been complimented on my sparkling wit or intellect (that could be my fault though…)! Maybe because foreigners are first seen as different, they are only viewed on a one dimensional level and often not given a chance to show that they can and do want to assimilate into Japanese society.

  • Bernie Low says:

    I realise that a lot of the articles about being foreigners in Japan never seem to cover what it’s like being an Asian foreigner (or at least of the ones I’ve read/found – please link me if there are!)

    It’s such a different experience from being Caucasian. The expectations and how you’re treated can be completely different and come as quite a shock for people. I’m still trying to deal with how to ‘fit in’ here. I identify more with foreigners yet am judged more harshly/expected to conform more because I am Asian.

    • Aisin Gioro says:

      Being an E. Asian foreigner in Japan, it’s basically being shoved all the social expectations of being Japanese, with none of the boons of being not E.Asian (white, southeast asian, indian, anything other than looking like an ethnic Chinese/Korean for the most part). In fact, especially for men, I’d say it’s like having all the social expectations and burden of an average Japanese while being looked down as inferior or if you look and observe their subtleties closely, more like a retarded child.

      lolol, oh well, got pretty disillusioned with Japan really quickly.

    • scuttlepants says:

      I was over in Japan over Christmas and my sister and I were recipients of racial privilege.I was happy to pose with random people even just in supermarkets but it was sad to think that the child I was taking a photo with thought I was cool and possibly “prettier” than her just because I have “white” skin.
      However, we traveled with a friend who is Australian, but has a Chinese-Australian background. My sister and I were often waved to, asked to pose in photos and praised (my sister and our friend speak Japanese).
      My friend was not. People weren’t deliberately rude; in Korea they assumed she was Korean, in Japan they assumed she was Japanese and in Malaysia they assumed she was Malaysian- they were very surprised to learn she was Australian (which often required the further “Chinese-Australian” explanation). One friendly man in Fukuoka congratulated her on showing her Western friends around and then was surprised to find out she’d never been there before! People didn’t object to her being in photos, but they didn’t really care if she was there either. She was often asked to take the photo, which I think made her feel a bit left out. A bit sad all round, but no one was deliberately rude or cruel, so what can you do?

      • santa san says:

        When my mate travelled a round asia with his Japanese wife ,they assumed she was a whore ,so I guess your freind was lucky..

    • Rebecca Quin says:

      Bernie – I agree! I would love to learn more about what it was like being an Asian foreigner in Japan and really think this point of view needs to be represented! Maybe you should write something? 🙂

  • サビーネ says:

    I know the feelings that you are describing pretty well. I am not one of the girls who get attraction in my own country, but in Japan I got it. It actually boosted my self-confidence a lot which was good. I needed that. But I also figured after a while that a lot of the people who are interested in you (especially guys) just want the “gaijin experience” and are not at all interested in your personality. they just see blond hair and blue eyes and that’s it. When I recognized that my “superstar” feeling faded a lot and I got a lot more cautious about the person I talk to. I don’t feel flattered that much as I did before and I don’t believe all the bullshit they tell you just to get you in bed.
    I think it depends on your wishes. If you like playing around, it is fine. But if you are looking for friendship or even love, this false attraction is quite an obsticle…

    • Rebecca Quin says:

      So true. At first, I felt great but always in the back of my mind I knew that the attention I received was superficial. I’m now more confused than ever about my own identity and self-confidence because you don’t know whether other people, especially guys, are genuinely interested in talking to you for the person that you are or if it’s a kind of funny joke to talk to the foreign girl. Of course, this is not true of every Japanese person or even most that I’ve met, but it’s undoubtedly something that both foreign women and men experience.

  • zoomingjapan says:

    What you’re describing is the “superstar phenomenon”. I wrote about this a while ago: http://zoomingjapan.com/life-in-japan/treated-like-a-star/

    You fell into this trap it seems – like some foreigners in Japan do.

    My personal experience is very different from yours. I’m also female, I’m German and in my 30s. I’ve been in Japan for about 7 years now.
    I never had the feeling that anybody thought I was loud, crazy or drunk. Different? Well, yes. We’re always going to be treated as outsiders even those of us who try to blend in.

    I guess it depends on one’s personality whether all those compliments will boost your confidence or not. I just ignore it. In fact, I find it extremely annoying.

    • Steve Davis says:

      I really like your response ,I live in three different countries and I never let the smiles, the double takes, stirring and people thinking I was cool, because I looked different, go to my head. I knew it wasn’t because I was hot I just looked different. At Home In Dallas, Texas I Would Never Hangout ,With People who thought I was cool ,because I was black so why would I do it here in Japan? My goal in life is to show people what a good and caring person I am, and to respect them. I believe that differences should be shared, and not looked down on. I hate the words Superior and inferior, because in Humans there is no such thing. I am here to share my culture and respect their.

      • Rebecca Quin says:

        Steve – you make a great point. I think that foreign people in Japan should absolutely try to understand Japanese culture and vice versa. That’s one of the great things about living here is that you can share your ‘differences’ with others and learn from them. Being in Japanese culture has also helped me learn so much about my own culture and perspectives, as well as about Japan.

    • Matt Jungblut says:

      Zooming nails it. Your experience isn’t that different from a young male’s experience.

    • Carla Paloma says:

      I have to agree with you. I do not find all those superficial compliments nurturing. It seems that my intellect and personality are less important than my physical attributes. I have been considered sexy in many nations, Japan is not the first one. And Japan is the first country where I am reduced to an object of desire. Beauty fades…
      I do not want to be treated as a celebrity. I would like to feel valued for my personality and life experiences.
      I gave up on trying to blend in because it feels like I will never be treated equally.

      Thanks for sharing.

      • santa san says:

        And you expect people to know your personality from one glance,you complain ,but being ignored would be a greater curse for you.Attactive men and women always get this where ever they are some are assholes about it ,and some are nice people .How can you blend in >? you real want to be japanese really ?Stuck at home all day with kids waiting to see your husband for maybe 2 hours a day ,have a 5 day holiday once a year ?Work for shit pay,in a supermarket as a part timer ,because that is the life of a japanese ..

      • Rebecca Quin says:

        Thank you @zoooming, @Matt and @Carla. I agree that many foreigners are kind of stuck on a pedestal when they want to be treated the same as everyone else. No matter what you do, it seems from many peoples experiences that you are first and foremost seen as ‘other’ even if you dress, behave and speak like a Japanese person. Of course, the same could be said of any foreigner in any country though I wonder if it’s possible for a foreigner who’s lived here for say, 20 years, has a Japanese family and speaks fluent Japanese to still feel like an outsider? What do you think?

        • Bernie Low says:

          I watched a documentary called “Haafu (ハーフ)” about mixed race people in Japan. There are people who are born and raised in Japan, identify as Japanese but just because they look foreign, are discriminated against. I feel that if they are struggling with feeling like an outsider, even if a foreigner were to live in Japan for most of their life and have a Japanese family, they would still face some struggles with ‘fitting in’.

      • GeneralObvious says:

        Japanese culture puts a much greater emphasis on presentation (the attractiveness of people and things), than other countries. If you are so at odds with this cultural trait, then you should just cut your losses and move to another country, because it will never be what you want. Additionally, if you are being seen solely as a sex object, then it’s your own fault for not proving your worth in other areas to the people around you.

        “Being seen as ‘different’, ‘attractive’, ‘rare’, etc. is a huge disadvantage for me. It’s causing me to fail miserably at life!”, said no person ever. Those traits can provide great opportunities to you if you are open to them and get you into places that would be otherwise impossible. It sounds like you aren’t taking advantage of it.

        Also, I’m not sure how you think it is even remotely possible to “blend in” to a country that is 99% percent homogenized (Japanese) as a westerner. Unless you are of Asian decent, you will stand out like a sore thumb.The same thing would happen if you went to China, Korea, India, Iran or any other heavily homogenized country.

        • Frank says:

          I must reply to GeneralObvious with an agree/disagree answer…..

          I do agree with you that its impossible to blend in a country such as Japan, but you say that being different provides one with opportunities. Somewhat agree, especially on the business side of things. The closed minded attitude of many Japanese that shut out a multitude of products and services that you can otherwise find abroad presents us with opportunites.. The hassles and roadblocks you encounter when trying to get them past the government, however, make it very difficult to exploit these opportunities, and for those who do- who wants to live in a place where your a perpetual outsider in plain sight? The minute you step outside, on the bus, the train, you feel drained due to the stares and othering. .For the few gaijin I have seen that made it big here, none seemed happy to me, but they keep trying to make it work. For those who found their happiness, I will not hate on that, but I admit I dont find many of those. Japan is like one big family that provides security, but little in opportunity. You will see some gaijin talent on TV and he/she is (insert name) chan. The gaijin is always a chan, a sort of pet. Its not an open market or country; its all an inside uchi game. For the gaijin to gain access to one of the rings that orbit the uchi nucleus, he/she must erase their individualism that comes natural to them and assume the crushing role of the gambatte iru gaijin, Your job or career is not important as long as you gambette iru (gambatte iru for what remains a mystery to me, Ive yet to figure out what everybody is gambette iru for, unless it means doing your best and not being a vagrant, then I somewhat get it) They are safe to remain in orbit; sometimes eating at the table of the uchi nucleus. Raise any non conformist flag and find yourself back in orbit, sometimes forever. This is not to say I hate Japan; I just understand a bit how it works. .

          • GeneralObvious says:

            Gaijins are not always a ‘chan’ on TV. It depends largely on their role and age. If they are partaking in a serious discussion they will be referred to as ‘sensei’ or ‘san’, but if it’s a 25 year old kid on a variety show doing a fluff piece, then you’re right, he will probably be a ‘chan’, because he’s just there to provide an “Eeeeeeee” moment for ratings. Respect is given where respect is due.

            I wasn’t talking about that though. In nearly any Japanese-run office in the country there is a glass ceiling for foreigners. You will rarely if ever get promoted and never become a manager simply because you aren’t Japanese. Women in Japan also have to deal with this. There is very little upward mobility for Japanese women in the corporate environment and they are almost always passed over for promotions by Japanese men regardless of their qualifications.

            I’d also say that the need to conform depends largely on your ability to speak the language. If you can fluently speak Japanese, then Japanese people will expect you to act in line with Japanese customs; conversely, if you can’t, then they won’t. The more you know, the more things will be expected of you (Just like Japanese school children).

          • Frank says:

            Yeah your right, thats why many long termers know when to play dumb to keep their sanity. It seems to be a zero sum no win situation. The more Japanese you speak, the more of an outcast you become because your now expected to participate, but as you mentioned, there is a glass, or even cement ceiling, so you must stay in your place. Thus the zero sum game; it doesnt work out for many. You are welcome to work as a clown eigo sensei or dishwasher just dont bother at any other career. For Japan to move towards any real immigration reform they could make job descriptions in English and drop the multitude of sneaky excuses not to hire foriegners. Ive seen a few academia types who are sensei as you mention, but seems to be a very tough gig to get. Seems the rest are “chans” or “kuns”

          • maulinator says:

            You are forgetting about the extremely profitable areas as investment banking, IT, consulting, lawyers and engineering where there are many many successful foreigners in Japan with high paying jobs and good titles. Maybe youare right in that if you are an unskilled laborer then you do not have many opportunities in Japan, but I suspect that unless you like to dig ditches the opporunities presented to you in your home country aren’t all that different. So if you have an educaiton that can be applied to the modern economy, the sky’s the limit in Japan, much like the US. I have seen very little in terms of a hardcore glass ceiling for gaijin in the industry I belong to. Probably the biggest factor is how good your Japanese is. If you are to become a manager, then your Japanese better be as good as the guys you are managing, or you will have a communication issue. Just like you would not expect a CEO of a US company to speak fluent English, so too would you expect a high level foreigner to have the same level of Japanese. The ceiling kicks in because in most cases I have seen, the foreigner’s Japanese ability is not native, It is good, but not native. Because you are not expected to act like th other locals, there is a better chance projects you work on get more focus as well, so long as you do the work and not expect hand outs just because you are gaijin.
            What I have experienced is that for the most part as a skilled bilingual worker, it is in fact easier to get ahead than the locals here, so long as you don’t rely on gaiin privilege.

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