As regular readers will know, I’ve been in Japan for a significant portion of my adult life. I love this country and I love its people. I would go so far as to say that, overall, I feel more welcome and more at home in my adopted home of Osaka than I ever felt in my native Scotland.
Over the years I’ve heard numerous stories and read numerous blogs from various foreigners living in Japan claiming unjust, discriminatory and downright prejudicial treatment in some of their interactions with the Japanese. I have been lucky in that I have never really experienced direct discrimination here to any substantial level. Of course you get the weird looks from older residents sometimes. Children will sometimes stare and point at you, but it never really bothered me.
However, recent events and subsequent reports in the media have troubled me. For the first time since I came to Japan all those years ago, I find myself asking the troubling question: Is Japan a racist country?
A few months ago, a landmark court ruling was widely reported in the media. An elderly Chinese woman lost an appeal to the supreme court against her local city government who had chosen to deny her access to financial assistance, on the basis that as she is not a Japanese national, she is not entitled to these benefits.
To the layman observer this would seem like a clear cut case of discrimination. We working foreigners pay the same taxes as Japanese, so why can’t we enjoy the same benefits? But like so many things in Japan, it is not that simple.
Prior to this ruling, local governments were advised to use their own discretion when deciding if a foreigner should receive financial aid. Each candidate was assessed on a case by case basis. In light of this court ruling, lawmakers on the right of the political spectrum are now calling for the banning of foreigners from receiving benefits to be enshrined in law.
Thankfully, those supporting the motion are on what I would call the lunatic fringe of Japanese politics and the motion is unlikely to pass. Right wing extremists can be seen most weekends in Osaka’s Tsuruhashi area and Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo district spouting their anti-foreigner rhetoric against the largely ethnic Korean local populous. These same extremists can also be spotted driving around towns and cities across Japan in their distinctive black minivans, decked out in Japanese military regalia and playing “patriotic music”.
Political extremism is certainly not a uniquely Japanese problem. Indeed my own home town of Glasgow has well-documented problems of sectarianism propagated by prejudiced organisations such as the Orange Order. The UK as a whole is also currently experiencing a swing to the right of politics, with the emergence of anti-immigrant political parties such as the UK Independence Party and extreme fascist groups like Britain First. These people and the damage they can potentially cause, goes far beyond the realm of a few dozen masked goons telling Koreans to go home.
Immigration policy and the laws governing the settlement of foreign residents are also, I believe, far more lenient in Japan than they are in the UK. Lets look at myself as an example. I’m 30 years old, single and currently on a one-year working visa for Japan. The visa can be extended indefinitely provided I have a job. I have the freedom to change jobs at any time provided I inform the immigration bureau and change my visa type when required. After 10 years, I am eligible to apply for permanent residency. If I marry a Japanese national, I would then be able to obtain a spousal visa, allowing me to remain in the country indefinitely.
In the UK, it is drastically different. Obtaining a working visa is considerably more difficult, especially for those who live outside of the European Union. The process for becoming a permanent resident, or obtaining a UK passport, is long, convoluted and dependent on several intangible factors such as a person’s knowledge of UK culture, their commitment to the country and their willingness to integrate into British society. These factors are all impossible to quantify meaning that applications that may take months or even years to prepare can be dismissed at the whim of a single civil servant.
You would think perhaps it would be easier if a Japanese person were married to a UK national. Actually it is not. Under current UK immigration policy, which at the time of writing is subject to a challenge in the European Court on human rights grounds, any non-EU national cannot enter the UK to live, unless they and their partner collectively earn at least 26,000 pounds (4.5 million yen) per year.
Given the current economic stagnation in Europe, finding any kind of job at all, let alone a high-paying one is extremely difficult, especially as applicants must provide proof of this income prior to entering the UK. Expats like me are left with a stark choice, we have to choose between our country or our Japanese wife and kids, because under UK law, unless we are rich, we can’t have both.
Another bugbear of foreigners in Japan is the finger-printing of foreigners, be they tourists or residents, as they enter the country. Again, I disagree with this policy, and I think it is paranoia taken to extremes. However, Japan is hardly unique in taking this approach. Indeed if anything it is non-discriminatory in the sense that all foreign nationals have to undergo this check. The US follows the same procedure as do several other countries.
In my time in Japan, I have actually seen great steps forward. When I first started teaching here 8 years ago, there were almost no mixed race or foreign children in my schools. Each of the schools I work at now in Osaka have students from a variety of backgrounds. They interact well with their classmates and are accepted by their classmates and teachers. These are not the traits you would expect from a racist country.
I was proud, when I walked around Umeda in Osaka city centre a few weeks ago, to see ordinary Japanese people speaking out against and directly challenging the small band of extremists who were spouting their usual bile.
There are extremists in every country, and across the world history has shown that times of economic uncertainly often lead to a surge in right-wing extremism and reactionary politics. This is the case both in Europe and Japan at the moment. I’ve already expressed my dismay at the rise of right-wing reactionary politics in the UK.
These extremists do not speak for the majority of British people, nor do they speak for the majority of Japanese. Japan is a warm, welcoming and compassionate country. They may do some things a little differently here. But they certainly aren’t racist. Be respectful, accept differences where you find them, and remember that every country has a bigoted minority.
I’m proud to call Japan my home, the idiotic actions of a few bigots and the antiquated views of a few ancient politicians will never change that. So the next time someone asks me, “Is Japan racist?” I will proudly answer, no, it isn’t.
Nobody’s talking behind your back. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion about Japan, America, Korea, China… etc. The original blogger has a right to say anything he wants about your country in whatever language he wants, regardless if it’s a positive or negative viewpoint. If you can’t handle it, stop reading this! Get a little backbone and present some reasonable and logical ideas for an argument.
You’re not going to find a lot of differences in South Korea. I’ve lived here for about 5 years and there are striking similarities between Japan and South Korea. Koreans are very formal and conservative, scared of foreigners, and many of them are highly closed-minded and assumptive. They are known as the “Hermit Kingdom” with makes South Korea very homogenous. Sometimes you can go weeks without seeing another foreigner (depending on what area you live). Like Japan, South Korea has an aging population, the lowest birth rate in the world (Japan is a close second, followed by China), and not many people speak English. It takes a long time to get one of them to open up and be real. In addition, suicide rates and alcoholism are the highest in the world. The grass is not greener on the other side, my friend.
Yes Japan is a racist country. Yes the Japanese suffer from a gigantic island mentality and consider themselves “superior” to all others, even other Asians. But what do you expect from a country thats too proud to apologize for the Nanking massacre?
I’ve been living in Japan for 7 years, have noticed that a lot of young ppl, they don’t know about their own history… and they blame America.. foreigners for breaking their peace during the war. This is sad. They call all foreigners by “Gaijin” and it makes me puke. cmon, for us you are a gaijin as well. but we say you by your name. anyways, I don’t want to live in Japan that’s why planning to leave to another country. Racism is everywhere, but in Japan you can feel it a lot.
Maybe part of the benefits foreigners get with their taxes could be some sort of credit to take language courses in Japanese.
There’s always some ass who makes the point, “if you don’t like it, go home”, or attempts to silence you because of some element of your foreign status (language ability, education, non-voter, etc). The world is bigger than a single language and a single country, attempting to make it smaller by silencing others is just hiding one’s head in the sand.
The Japanese could vote for policies to help foreigners assimilate into their country. Your complaints could be turned into actions that could improve the situation…anything is better than blaming foreigners for not growing up in Japan…that’s ridiculous and entirely without logic or compassion.
Perhaps if you just look at systematic racism, Japan isn’t all that racist, and certainly not much more than other developed nations. However if you look at casual racism and discrimination then that’s a different story. The thing about casual racism is that people don’t even realise it’s racism or discriminatory. Like the idea that foreigners are somehow less trustworthy or more prone to commit crime is more widely believed without question than you might think. I was genuinely surprised by well educated people around me – and I mean Masters and PhD level education – that didn’t think such prejudice was exactly that, prejudice.
Having lived and worked in half a dozen countries, and visited scores more, I can definitely say that Japan is by far the most xenophobic place I have ever been to. Many visitors don’t seem to notice because of the apparent politeness of the Japanese, but that is just superficial formality and not any real friendliness. Almost the opposite actually. Just because someone smiles and bows at you doesn’t mean that they like you. In fact, they mostly seem to prefer that you just leave as soon as possible, but even insinuating something that rude is totally out of the question. So instead you will be ignored if at all possible, and politely tolerated if not.
I love Japan and it’s people, but it’s definitely behind the times on this issue. It was so difficult finding a new apartment when I changed cities because the majority of places I looked said they wouldn’t take a foreigner. Another time I was stopped by “undercover cops” in Osaka and interrogated. I called two uniformed cops and sure enough they were legitimate cops. I asked why they stopped me and they told me it’s because a lot of foreigners sell drugs. I can’t say that Japan as a whole is racist but there’s definitely some racist policies, which is a shame. Still I would say my overall experience was positive.
The irony about the “is Japan racist?” topic is that *insert self entitled, privileged, PC, usually western ethnic majority here* for the first time experiences being a MINORITY on the opposite side of the social spectrum in a very consertive, almost monoethnic country and either can’t help but whine about being treated “differently” by some of the population and demonises the entire country for not making them feel as self entitled and privileged as they are used to, or, better yet, in a desperate attempt to be accepted as equally as natives, dismisses any kind of discrimination by some of the population and defends the entire country as being as warm and welcoming as a fuzzy teddybear. The reality is that Japan is no more or less racist than any other country. When a foreigner feels isolated or discriminated against in Japan (or anywhere else I’m the world they might be), know that you are only tasting what minorities in your home country deal with every day, for no other arbitrary reason than having been born in the wrong demographic. Is it nice? No. Is it fair? No. Is it justified? Of course not, not anywhere.Trying to generalise an entire nation’s attitude towards foreigners is absurd- far too many variables to take into account- but most of all, one’s impression of ANYTHING is dependent soley on your own subjective experience, good or bad, which you should never try to force down other people’s throats. If you want to know, go there and see for yourself. And then reflect, observe, drop your naïve assumptions. Try and take something constructive away from it. Travelling should teach just as much about yourself, your culture, your contradictions and eccentricities as much as those of other countries and people. If reading something someone said online would stop you from visiting a place then REAL travelling is not for you.
Hmm… it sounds like you have a lot of stereotypes of your own, but that is a vivid character you paint and the advice at the end is pretty much identical to what I’d give.
I’d just point out that very, very few western countries are anywhere close to as ethnically homogenous as Japan is. Even in its most cosmopolitan cities, only a low single digit percentage of the population is non-Japanese. The other difference between Japan and many western countries is that the ideas of nationality and race are often treated as synonymous in Japan.
Ha.. that is the conclusion I came too. I’m from England and have travelled a lot (80 countries, lived in 6). I found the Japanese to be… well I didn’t want to use a negative word. Racist, Xenophobic, etc… After mediating on it for awhile I came up with Apartied.. It’s like living in apartheid.. just on the wrong side of it. LOL. Well it is what it is so I don’t let it get to me.
I lived in Japan from 2009-2013. I’m an American. Only once during the four years that we lived there, do I remember not being welcome at a business. We weren’t asked to leave, just ignored. We weren’t offended, we just left. Our usual experience wasn’t anything that I would call racism. I felt like a rockstar sometimes in Japan because people were usually just as interested in me and my home country as I was about them and their country. My son (who was born during our time in Japan) and I have very light blonde hair. My husband has slightly darker hair, but is tall. A tall white man, and two blondes certainly catch attention in Japan. We too got stares from people and were pointed at, but we didn’t mind. During my first week in Japan, in a train station I was grabbed by a man who began petting my head like I was a dog. The man wasn’t trying to hurt me, and I don’t think he was trying to embrass me either. I think he just wanted to see what my hair felt like. After a few “pets”, he let me go. That was also was a one time occurance. Most curious people would ask first if they could touch me or my baby. My son was 3 by the time we left Japan, but from the time he was about 1 years old people would give him little trinkets, small gifts, or food just about anytime we went out. Sometimes people stopped us and asked us to take photos with them, and people took photos of us. Often younger Japanese people would practice their English on us. Aside from that, we tried very hard to assimilate to Japanese culture and custom. We took classes on Japanese manners and etiquette. I learned to speak as much of the language as I could. I was very interested in Japanese culture and tradition, and was eager to learn all that I could about all things Japan. Most Japanese people that I encountered seemed to appreciate that more than resent my presence for it. They could see that I respected them, their country, and their culture. I even played on a taiko drum team in which I performed at festivals and events right along with my Japanese teammates. Granted, I never got involved in politics. I wasn’t asking the govt. for anything. I wasn’t trying to marry anybodies son, and I wasn’t there for the purpose to stay for life. (Though I wish I could have stayed for far longer than I did) So maybe my experience was closer to that of a resident tourist rather than an immigrant. I always approached everything and everyone in Japan respectfully though, and tried my best to earn my acceptance rather than just expect it. It is their country after all, and I was the outsider. I think any resident of any country feels somewhat leery of obvious foreigners. It’s understandable. In keeping this attitude, I had a great experience in Japan.
I think you are mistake in the general view. You talk about welfare, polítical parties, Im leaving in Japan for more than 6 years and I took the view in the small things.
1. House owners Who refuse rent you the House, even if you have a wealthy income and bank account just because you are foreigner…I heard this over and over. He is the Owner and have his right, yes. Its racist and its bad, yes.
2. Policeman Who make a view judgment before hearing nothing. You are foreigner other is japanese, you are first suspect.
3. Loan for foreigner, even working 10 years in Japan. Refuse, you dont have permanent Resident.
4. Husband foreigner and japanese woman married. They live in Australia, the got divorced. Japanese woman run away with your kids…you wont see them again. Japanese goverment is one of the few countries not sign some kind of International agreement, they wont help you seeing your sons…
And 2 adults bringing in £26k is not rich. It’s probably technically on the poverty line. Thats the national average wage for 1 person!
Liam, I think you are a positive person, and that’s very important especially when you live in a foreign country. I enjoyed reading your article. Thank you!
lol.. The photo caption for this article is appropriate… Good luck getting into any adult establishments, deli health, etc.., especially outside the big cities, if your not Japanese.
…but the Japanese you meet might be trying to escape the same thing. Embrace and heal.
I was pondering this question a few weeks ago after I felt discriminated against as a person in the racial majority group in my home country. But I can’t complain, I’m a majority.
Last year, I lived in Japan and experienced what it was like to be a minority. I was not once discriminated against. I got told off once or twice when I wasn’t behaving to the socially accepted norm – and fair enough – but that isn’t discrimination. I felt we were given a few allowances in terms of assistance with my son’s education, but nothing that I thought was over the top. It was nothing compared with what some minorities receive in my home country. Pretty much, we lived in Japan under nearly the same rights and responsibilities as a Japanese national.
I have been to Japan many times, and have always felt welcome. Last year, however, I felt that welcome at a depth that far surpassed any other welcome I had ever received. As we were giving Japan a go, the respect from the Japanese increased 10 fold. The community welcomed us, and helped us to understand daily life and the community festivals. The story is the same for everywhere we went in our travels. I can’t wait to go back next year and experience more.
Japanese aren’t particulary rascist or violent and it is probably the safest country in the world to live in. Don’t expect them to love you or accept you as a “japanese” thou. You will never be because you don’t look like one.
This is the westerner belief that it’s “unfair”, and “unequal” to not be able to “choose” “your” country. You “are” what you “feel”. This is the strong leftist heritage westerners have burden them down with in their homelands and tries to carry out in the world. It doesn’t work.
I would never insult the japanese people by moving there and call myself a japanese. I would never have any opinion about their politics and culture unless asked for.
You should be ashamed of yourself to go over there and practice your leftist shit in a conservative and proud country.
So, let me understand. This Chinese woman have been paying her taxes as Chinese or as Japanese? So, why does she need to deny her Chinese nationality when it’s time to receive the benefits? If so, government should’t make foreigners pay taxes or shakai.
please correct me if i’m wrong.
you mean any foreigner who is working in other country and pay taxes is entitled to the benefits?
My brother living in UK for 5 years, He payed his taxes but still he is not entitled to anything.
Same thing happened for me another country.
Same thing in happening for my friends in Australia.
How can you claim such a thing when it is not applicable in western countries?
Because this forum is to find out if Japanese are racist towards people who would like to travel to the country… No reason for you to take it as a attack, is just for us to know what to expect when we travel.
Most foreigners that live in Japan can speak some Japanese, actually some of my friends are fluent in Japanese, but, many foreigners can’t read kanji, it’s incredibly difficult to learn for adults…
I wanted to learn kanji, and I did start learning kanji, but I soon realized that I wasn’t welcome in Japan, only tolerated. I felt, and still sometimes feel, very uncomfortable in Japan. Anyway, I gave up learning kanji because I know I will be leaving Japan soon, because I’m not treated like a human, I’m treated like a “gaijin”
They are racist. It is very subtle but they are racist. They will not do anything too overt like attack you or swear at you but it is there and after a while one realises that these people have zero interest in foreigners, are very arrogant and will never accept foreigners into Japanese society. Foreigners will always be foreigners. They are basically tolerated not welcomed. You do your thing here and do not bother us and we will not bother you.
It’s true. Perhaps the end result will be that the Japanese race will disappear. Unfortunately for them they have an aging population and a low birth rate. The longer they don’t accept outsiders, the more their population will shrink.
Unfortunately, some do go as far as attacking and swearing. Maybe crazy, or drunk, or both, but it did happen to me. And, it was not my fault – just because I look different. (No tattoos, btw, but I wonder if I had some, maybe it’d have scared the attacking away.)
I just don’t buy the Japanese “island” mentality or “inexperienced” to the outside world defense anymore. There are island nations all over the world. It’s 2016 and the world is more connected that ever before. There is no excuse to not have a more worldly outlook …. unless you don’t want to. And I think that is the case, the Japanese just choose to be ignorant. They choose to be isolationists. They choose this because they don’t want the world to see who they are. They don’t want to find out who they are. They don’t want to find out that they really are not much different than the Koreans, or the Chinese or whoever. It’s much easier just to bury your head in the sand than to face the truth. It is the only way they can keep their fragile little egos in tact. I am afraid that Japan is not the modern society that many westerns perceive it as from afar. It is a cold sad place, full of scared people who’s only comfort is to celebrate themselves and procreate the idea of how different they are. To be honest, Japan is like a closet communist country, not too far from North Korea.
Oh is it the current year? Thanks for telling us. I’m sure you have tons of hands on experience with a Japan
10 years living there says I do. And yes weebo .. it’s 2016.
I’m not so convinced.. I see other articles that talk about signs “Japanese residents only” on restaurants and shops. Ok, it might be only one out of a 100 restaurants.. but the very idea that they exist is repulsive. For me, that puts Japan toward the bottom of the list of countries to visit.
In most cases, it’s not “Japanese residents only” but “Japanese speaking only”. As no one of the restaurant speaks other than Japanese. If you do not speak the local language your choice is limited. This is the same in any other countries I have visited. You cannot force the people in the non-English speaking countries to speak English for your convenience.
Still not convinced. For example, I live in a U.S. city with many tourists, I’ve seen tourists come in to restaurants, and use the menu together with a dictionary or Google translate etc, and that may be a bit awkward and I’m sure amusing to the staff, but nobody tells these tourists they’re going to be denied service!
Also, since you said in MOST cases – therefore you implicitly admit there are SOME cases of “Japanese residents only”.
Japan has island mentality.
After meeting many Japanese people on my trips in various countries,considering them some of the nicest and most friendly people I ever met, I decided to travel to Japan 5 years ago to ‘enjoy’ the ‘amazing country’ hospitality. And to my surprise I found out locals were not what I had seen abroad. Apart from the language difficulties I also experienced the feeling of being looked at as a monkey, but mostly by older men. I always tell my friends about this experience at an Osaka restaurant: I was eating my noodles, sitting alone by the bar and there was a couple beside me, both of them looker into their 50s. The woman smiled at me and started a conversation in english telling me I was very ‘skilled with the chopsticks’, but the husband would pull her arm several times and force her to stop talking to me. I think my mistake as a tourist was to assume I could easily navigate the country using english only, so for my future trips I should definitely at least know some courtesy phrases in Japanese
I get that you were bullied and that’s wrong of course… but is it the same as a whole society being racist? Only you can answer if you think Australia is racist, I have no opinion, but Japan certainly is.
I’m more trying to point out Australia, like every country in the world, is full of racist dipshits, so theres no point in you saying “I am Australian”, I’m not saying you can’t and you shouldnt, I’m saying I see no real value of it, especially if you’re sharing your experience of racial discrimination in Japan (why else would you be here sharing your experience if you were not a non-Japanese?). Racism will always exist, its all to do with tribalism and some other stupid things. Although in Japan’s case, I am willing to bet that part of their political racist propaganda is to cover up WWII crimes. No one wants to believe a foreigner whom they hate right? XD I never actually say “X country is racist” because that is almost as if like saying there are countries where racism doesnt exist. Also, part of that reply I made to you is also a rant, sorry about that, I was having an extremely bad day, you’re welcome to report it as a spam, if you can, I almost never use this site.
That’s like saying no country is racist because everyone is racist, or
that you’d have to prove a majority of the country to call it racist.
The laws and policies, even with recent changes do not reflect where
we’d expect an advanced developed nation to be in 2016. While noone is
trying to prove everyoone in Japan in racist…a simple conversation
about foreigners with most anyone turns into a discussion about
stereotypes… just switch on the tv or look at the signs in the subway
to see foreigners portrayed badly. If it’s pervasive in the culture to
the point its in all types of media, yes the society is racist. If you
have to point out the few incidents where people and the culture are not
racist.. then it’s racist. Let’s report the world as it is, rather than
how we’d like it to be.
Unfortunately Chaps, all the views being aired here, are based on unique personal experiences.
In other words, it is more of a Subjective debate. I for one, strongly believe that it is “You” the Foreigners, that are Racist towards each other. You brought it with you.
It is like a scramble to win the Masters Favour. Bad mouthing each other at every turn. Constantly trying to convince the Japanese people you encounter, that your Race and not the others is good for Japan. It’s a problem of your own making am afraid.
So before you start pointing that dirty finger around, I edge you all to take a very close look at it. Well, if you can stand it…
That’s random. Can’t say I’ve met any foreigners that meet that description!
I think there are 3 types of foriegners in Japan. Those that know whats up and admit it, those that dont know but talk as if they do, and those that do know whats up and deny it. let me try to explain further:
Japan does have allot of racism and xenophobia. Its a well known fact amoungst long term gaijin who are honest about their experiences and life in Japan. I once did a job out in the countryside and a racist tencho began to berate me, obvisouly because Im not Japanese. There is no need for the long term gaijin to make excuses for the berating. It is what it is, he/she will recongnize it when it happens. How they deal with it determines how they latter feel. That day I was in the “zone” meaning I guess I just felt like I would if I was in my home country and a racist Japanese come up to me. I wasnt acting Japanese or feeling “cooked” What would you do if you were back on the block? The same thing I did. I gave him the look like who the hell are you. Thats all it took for him to run out of the building; you see it was something he had never encountered before; and put him in play instead of me. I chuckled about it, and you win some loose some because I was told to never revisit his location again. This is the norm in Japan. Being confident is seen as a threat. Ive seen it said that long term residence in Japan is like a frog in slowly heated water. Some compare it to a weak acid also. He will slowly get boiled, but when he wants to jump out, its too late cause the frog is cooked. Ive met cooked gaijin also. The cooked gaijin will defend all things racist japan just like if you were talking to a racist elderly japanese man.He has allowed his poor mind to be cooked, or brainwashed. Its not entirely his/her fault because if your totally immersed in Japanese culture then its a battle to fight it. We all get burned, browned, toasted etc in Japan, its just part of survival unless your in some extreme comfort zone where you dont encounter Japanese. Its when we decompress that we share our war stories and connect back to our humanity You got to know when to “jump out” to keep from getting cooked. I can talk to another gaijin and in 10 minutes tell whether or not he/she has been cooked. Im talking about long term gajin. The ones who defend Japan with some brought from their home country PC crap dont even count as they havent even got in the pot yet; even Japanese snicker at their naiveness. I agree with spider mars, long term japan just isnt reccomended; take that advice our leave it. Just imagine yourself jumping in and out of the pot to keep from becoming cooked everyday. Its a tough existance.
Very interesting opinion and explanation.
I’m not going to deny any of it. Maybe I’m already par-boiled and it’s too late for me. 😉
why is it all the ‘cooked’ gaijin are light skinned? I’ve never met a dark brother that would sugar coat the nonsense in private.
I can understand you anger. Try not to let to destroy you. And you know as well as I that not all Japanese are like that. The ones who have traveled abroad and experience the world outside their one TV channel are just regular global minded people. However they are far and few. I am on the verge of giving up here too. The Japanese are an antiquated group of people that have no place in the modern world. They will just celebrate themselves until they sink beneath the waves.
Totally agree. Well unfortunately I’m from Japan. I was born and raised here, but I’ve been treated as a foreigner by the government and society as my father is not native to here. The word ‘insular’ really fits for this society. To add I’d say, come here and enjoy for your life but don’t stay here by marrying a local. That’ll ruin your life. You’ll only realize this after 10 years!
Yes. It is really sad because there are many things I like about Japan, but the Japanese that treat visible minorities so poorly are a stain on the society. I can not go anywhere with out people talking about me behind my back, staring at me, treating me different. Now .. it’s only name calling and staring, sometimes I get turned down service. Big deal right ? But after a while of being singled out all the time, and not in a nice way, it wears on you, like being bullied at school. It is like the Japanese society is a weak poisonous acid. You don’t really get sick at first, but after a while you do and start to hate the Japanese, which is a really bad feeling. To hate the people and place you call home because people will not let you live in peace. I was not like this at all before coming to Japan. Japan has a real dark negative energy to it that is hidden beneath a mask of conformity and fear.
I’ve been living here for 8 years, and even thou I think what you are saying is way overboard, borderline disgusting, and your are making a lot of almost personal attacks against a whole group of people, I can see where you are coming from.
I’m going to tell quick just my story. I came here when I was 19, went to a Japanese Language School for 2 years and then to College for 4 years. I couldn’t go to the college I wanted to, because I didn’t past the exam, and I didn’t had the option like Japanese people of just wait one year, so I had to took the first option I got. After I finished college I wanted to go to take a masters degree, but there were communication problems with the professor I contacted, and in the end he never sent his acceptance letter, which forced me to look for employment, since it was the ONLY way I could remain in the country (Once again, I don’t have the option of just wait, and also I don’t have the option to work as a Freelancer, I know you technically can but you need either 5 million yens I don’t have, or you have to get a lot of contracts with companies which I also don’t have), I worked at a horrible place for 1 year where they used a free hours system which in theory means that you are free to go to work at the time and length you want, but in reality it was just a trick to not pay for overtime. In theory with this system there is no “getting late” because that concept does not exist, but they tried to cut my pay for “getting late”, and they insulted my persona and skills for not agreeing with their crap.
I stayed there for more than a year for just 1 reason, the visa. I know I can quit whenever I want, but when things started to get ugly, it was already January, and I had to renew my visa in a few months, so I didn’t wanted to risk the possibility of not having a job by the time I need to renew my status.
After I changed job, even thou the place I’m currently at is way better, I know that this kind of line of work does not suit me, but once again, is the ONLY line of work I can get a visa for, so I researched about naturalization in order to finally be free and stop having my life controlled by what the visa allows me, and the law says that I must live for 5 years, so I was like, that’s great, I’ve been living for 8 so I’m ok.
I went to the Ministry of Justice to my meeting about naturalization, and they told me that “The 6 years I was studying do not count”, that I have to be in japan at least 3 years with a “proper visa” (words of the public worker), and that I have to basically wait for more than a year to apply, and then another year to get the response. And she pointed out that I can’t “be changing of job so much, because it look like you are not able to sustain a living”.
The other coin of my story is the fact that I’m gay. I came into terms with my sexuality while in japan, and frankly here in japan I’ve only encountered discrimination and prejudice on the subject. The word “Gay liberation” is actually a dirty word in japan, and most gay people here in japan live closeted lives, with a lot of self hate and self prejudice. I have yet to meet a single open gay person in japan.
When I was struggling with this, and suffered from severe depression, I went to a school counselor, and he told me to just “hide it”.
And that’s the problem in japan, the fact that Japanese people are told since they are little to not criticize anything. It is a corruption of Confucianism which looks for harmony between people, but is clear about NOT allowing unjust things to happen.
Japanese culture have just adopted the lazy version, which is never criticize anything that is customary or just accepted. It has nothing to do with them being an island, with being “traditionalists” or anything of the kind, they are simply educated to avoid ALL conflict, which is impossible, and creates the internalized repression, the double life, and the “tate-mae”.
I do have a lot of Japanese friends, and I’ve seen them cry, laugh and scream. What I see most times are persons who want to be themselves, who are looking their place in this world, but the general Japanese society keep rejecting anything they have to offer, so they just end up giving up, and becoming part of the problem that made them miserables in the first place.
And sadly, the author of this writing is also becoming part of the problem by trying to not criticize anything. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Japan is a racist country, but it has in place xenophobic policies, and racism against Koreans is way more universal than what the author makes it seem like.
But at the same time, japan is also a country that discriminates against people with tattoos and any kind of body modification, single “good age” women, LGBT people, japanese born outside japan, anyone who tries to do parodies or satire, people with mental disabilities, people with mental problems, “indecent articles” business (pornography), people who like dance clubs, kids in parks (there are parks that prohibit playing), people with headphones on public transport, women in the workplace, men in public transport and basically anyone who is not an old person.
The only extra discrimination I feel from the rest of my Japanese friends is the immigration stuff, but that’s just something universal because immigrants are just the most discriminated group in the world.
I live in Japan !100%it’s true what you said!
My background: African American spent my youth (9-18) in Japan. Now I`m mid 30s.
First of all, Japanese people have No idea of ‘racism ` or what not. Seriously. They have No idea.
It’s that severely ignored.
No argument about this issue. It was that BAD 20years ago, and still the same. Just YESTURDAY,
Half Gana and Japanese 16 years old student won 200m dash by record . Its been said that
he should eather have ‘Proper Japanese name or should look like Japanese. Here is another issue.
Japanese people don’t believe they are Asian. They don’t want to be in a same group with other Asian.
Like I mentioned, It’s ‘That BAD.’ If you want to know more about this issue, look for the word `Tatemae
Shakai’. I decided to leave Japan before college, and not to stay any longer. My decicion was proven correct time by time. I don’t want to be considered as CRIMINAL , and should not be under any condition. enough said.
There was a politician in Australia called Pauline Hanson,who was regarded by most as dangerous.Her big call to fame was her “One Nation Policy”
She recently got back into the Australian Senate. She has a lot of good things to say, but she also has some very decisive things to say.
Today a teenage Japanese boy on his pushbike,spat on the ground in front of myself and my Japanese wife,then sat and glared at me,while we waited for the crossing to change.I now know what racism feels like and i hope i never feel like that again.I am Australian.
dude i feel sorry for that kid, you know the parents (and well, the society) are to blame. i get angry at kids like that too until i check myself. what the parents are teaching him is basically abuse.
Is Japan foreigner friendly? As a visitor, they will be polite and serving, but don’t stay too long. Once you get past their polite mask, and understand what they are talking about behind your back (or right in front of you), you will see them as a highly insecure, insular, and ignorant of the “outside” world. Japan is one of the most hated countries in the world, and now I can see why.
It is a ethnicity not just a nationality. American is nationality but not an ethnicity. Please check your word use please!
So if a Japanese passport holder is asked what nationality they are they should reply ? Are there more that one ethnicities in Japan? I think you should do some homework.
I believe there is a drastic difference in The UK regarding extremists and racism. In The UK terrorism is an issue, over the years excessive crimes committed by immigrants against British nationals is increasing drastically, from rape to savagely assaulting the elderly and even stabbings in broad daylight. Many seek refuge in The UK but they despise our culture and way of life. So it’s no wonder there’s friction, especially when the British government do nothing to address the problem. So, despite agreeing with some of the problems you’ve mentioned I simply see absolutely no comparison with The UK! Foreigners in Japan are here because they/we decided to live here, mostly…we don’t dispise the country, we work, we contribute to society and obey the rules.
Perhaps you need to go back to the UK so you can fully understand the situation.
this sounds a lot like the right wing propaganda we hear in the US.
Thanks for the post. I’m reading it a few years late, but I’m back in Japan after having left 20 years ago. When I lived here before, I hated it, specifically for the reasons you have mentioned and others have pointed out in the comments. I now realize that as a white male, what I was experiencing was what it was like to be a person of color in the US. Suddenly I was not at the top of the totem pole. I was not king. I was excluded. Now that I’m back, and more mature, and I understand culture much better, I can see that I am treated respectfully, and I now understand that no matter how hard I try, I won’t be Japanese. I also understand that I don’t want to be. I’m happy being a foreigner in a country that is safe, organized, respectful and sometimes (but not always) curious about me. Remember this is an island country that was isolated for many years. We are visitors here.
Many countries were island countries cut off for centuries. It’s a new age, and Japan cannot fairly want to reap the benefits and call itself better than Asia while holding to outdated ideas. I sometimes take private pleasure in the fact that immigration could solve Japan’s problems but their self-made prison is what will do them in economically.
Yes, you develop the “eye” and can see things you could not see before. A cure for racism is to experience yourself. I think if I left japan, however, I would be coming back to re experience it and see all its goodness. I think if I came back I would cringe at the thought of revisiting all the battles. If things are that bad in the U.S. where you live you can relocate to another area.
Japanese make foreigners feel uncomfortable and alienated. They are chronically insular, xenophobic, and truly ignorant when to comes to the “outsider” world. The Japanese have no problem with this. They truly believe they are different from the rest of humanity. It is a great place to visit. Don’t live here. It sucks.
So damn true.I hate that plastic smile of theirs.
Huh, I got spat at, thrown rocks at, been called a chink, got my house vandalized by racists in Canada, and I don’t generalize Canadians as uncivilized racist rednecks. I think you should look yourself in a mirror, dude. You might have some issues.
huh? This post is about Japan. Please keep your stories to yourself unless you have something to contribute. If you feel the need to start a new thread, please do .. you are free to do so, unlike in China.
I think you missed the point. All countries are xenophobic and racist to some extent. In Japan, it’s subtle, in Canada, the US, UK and Europe, it’s blatant, hurtful and sometimes deadly.
In Japan it’s also incessant, daily… it’s that way in some other countries for certain people in certain areas… but in Japan it’s for all foreigners, and worse if you’re dark-skinned. You aren’t likely to be killed here for it, but you will be hassled by police, and all the daily micro agressions and attitude. You can get into fights for it but that’s about it as an adult. Poor ‘hafu’ kids get some of the worst of it.
Don’t criticize and generalize an entire country because of your past experiences. You come off as highly arrogant.
this isn’t helpful, and it feeds into the global perception of a prejudiced society, though it is very understandable in the light of present fear
Thankyou for your article Liam. I worry that human beings in the global village are so immature that issues have to be so black and white – one bad experience is interpreted as representative of an entire nation’s attitude – that is obviously too primitive an understanding. I was privileged to spend 5 weeks in Japan last year, so I am barely qualified to draw any conclusions but, to some extent, the length of stay in any culture is irrelevant; what is important is openmindedness. And therein lies the paradox: the Japanese are easily accused of not being openminded. but why should they be? I think there are really interesting parallels between the islands of the UK and Japan. For historical reasons Japan is on the cusp of experiencing issues of migration that have already “been dealt with” by the UK – but how well? And Japan must be looking at the experience of countries like the UK and asking some searching questions. One is an issue of retaining cultural identity, what makes a country unique – forgive me, if I’m wrong, but one of the things that draws people to visit Japan is that it maintains a high degree of cultural uniqueness – so why criticise it for not being what you’re used to at home? if you don’t like “foreign”, then don’t go there. In my five weeks I was privileged to experience a variety of different environments, invited without reserve into drinking and celebrating, living in a friend’s flat, travelling as a tourist in crumby hostels and confusing traditional ryokans, treated with politeness always, also with abruptness, with frustration for being a silly foreigner and, frankly, breaking more “rules” than I knew existed. In summary I had an experience of a different culture, which is what I wanted from my journey; it makes for funny stories and a brilliant memory; I could have stayed at home where I know exactly what’s going on … except I don’t. I was born in the UK to two foreign immigrants after WWII. The UK claims boldly how it has integrated everybody seamlessly and is an all inclusive society – except that it is now backpedalling frantically and trying to keep out waves of economic migrants, the opposite of what happened in the late 40’s and 50’s when Britain had a labour shortage – my father was actively recruited as a displaced person under a programme called Westward Ho! – the records for this are available at the Kew records office – it was graded top secret, ie not to be revealed at the time, why foreigners were being drawn into the British labour market; my mother was an au pair/house servant in rich households, she was from Switzerland. My parents settled in Britain as neither could return home, so they were grateful to settle somewhere. My mother liked England and never fitted in again when she went to “conservative” Switzerland; my father was homesick to the end of his life. Neither of them was ever seen as anything but foreign in England – every conversation at a bus stop was “where are you from”. At the end of his days my father had nurses practising their few words of Polish on him as a generic East European, even the doctor asked him if he was Polish – hard to explain that Polish, as a Slavic language, would have reminded him of Russian, which is why he became a refugee as an ethnic Hungarian. Can you see where I’m going with this? The complexity of people not bothering to understand one another. We used German as a home language and so were confused with Germans, as testified by the brick with a swastika attached that came through the window. Well done that welcoming society with good integration. However, basically as long as my parents kept under the radar, nobody cared where they came from, nobody corrected them, they were “tolerated”; my father wished someone had corrected his English early on instead of smiling at him and laughing behind his back. This is where I start to make enemies: the “toleration” of difference is at the root of many of today’s problems. As the child of two immigrants I looked to Englishness as the stable centre of a confusing multi-culturality; this is not about denying my roots but about having a home culture, language, history, literature, as a base from which to look out at the world. I am glad of this. “Tolerating” immigrants and not interfering in their chosen way of life has led to ghetto cultures within Britain – I don’t need to elaborate on this – from which it is now easy to draw recruits to causes that are detrimental to society and democracy. It is my belief that the cultural integrity of some immigrant groups is also at the root of their cultural and economic exclusion. There are cultural groups who are running self-contained economies and laws that bear no relation to British law which has been a model to the world since Magna Carta. I really hate to be so reactionary in my views now, I have always embraced left wing liberalism – let everybody be themselves, individual etc but I’m not sure this works in relation to the wellbeing of society. If there had been a considered policy of actively integrating the immigrants of the mid20th century, many of today’s problems would have been evaded: teaching everyone good levels of English language, welcoming people to be visible rather than to do low paid jobs and pretend to be invisible, educating the indigenous culture about why foreign labour is necessary – I’m not an economist or a sociologist, so I know I can be shot down on a hundred counts. But Britain has stacked up a heap of insoluble problems – I think Japan would be wise to study these and make considered decisions – and this does include educating its own population, although I think like with all things a young generation has different attitudes to all of the above. A generation ago the Japanese from this side of the world were seen as sinister but now lots of young people love all things Japanese. Because it is Japanese. And we would all of us be lying if we didn’t admit to prejudices about somebody – we have a really long journey yet to travel to be an integrated planet with a decent life for everyone. We face some extraordinary challenges on a global scale to retain unique cultures without going to war over it.
Sorry, but you really don’t know what you are talking about. 5 weeks in Japan? Seriously?
You have no idea what’s going on here… Maybe it’s good time to see by yourself which kind of policy they have for foreigners in here:
hey lia, is there a way to contact you via email? 🙂
How are foreigners treated here? Like excrement, generally. As are older white people, and women of any race, including Japanese. Japanese in Tokyo, for sure, pretty much dump excrement on everybody who isn’t rich, young, and/or beautiful.
Every country has racists, and other people who discriminate between humans based on illogical preferences or ideals. This is something we can all agree on. However, these predisposed notions are usually only truly challenged by economic, political or overt social change.
In terms of these, Japan has had very little outside pressure to change its antiquated laws and rules, which in turn have allowed racism, sexism and other outdated behaviour to either flourish or at least continue unabated at levels which have decreased in many other parts of developed world. Thus, the Japanese government has done little to reform childcare, sexual equality in the workplace, racial equality, environmentally conscious city or urban planning, etc.
If you want to see a small thumbnail into Japan’s lethargic approach to, say, immigration, here is an (admittedly dated) example:
– “Despite being the third largest donor in the world to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Japan admits only a tiny number of asylum seekers compared to other industrialized nations, and often appears reluctant to grant refugee status to those who do come. Damning statistics are bandied about, such as the fact that the country has accepted just 508 refugees from the 7,297 applications made since 1982.”
(Source: – http://www.japantoday.com/smartphone/view/lifestyle/asylum-seekers-find-little-refuge-in-japan )
This, considering that Japan was the world’s second biggest economy at the time, is quite shocking.
Actually for the Baltic countries (not Scandinavian of course), and some other EU countries, this is also a huuuge amount of money to earn. But in UK, I think, such sum divided by 12 months and by 2 people equals minimum wage in UK, if I am not mistaken? I am not from UK 🙂
How is 20k a lot of money… Going by the current minimum wage in UK of 6.31 an hour, a full time job would pull in annually about 13,124 a year. If both partners were working full time minimum wage jobs they would easily meet the 20k mark. This is also assuming that neither partner is capable of acquiring a better than minimum wage job… Im sure if one, or even better both, had some sort of degree in a useful field meeting the 20k requirement would be a non-issue… Unless you’d like me to believe everyone in the world is a highschool grad/drop out struggling to find a minimum wage job…
I can see where you’re coming from. I’ve only been here 1.5 years but I’ve had no problems, either.
One question: are your visas still yearly even after nine years? If that’s the case, I’m curious to know why. My first working visa was a one-year instructor visa for ALTing, then I got a three-year humanities visa earlier this year and now I’m on a five-year engineer visa. Friends tell me Japan wants me to stay and I believe them 🙂
From my experience, the handing out of visas here really is pretty random, i always apply for a 3 year one, however in most cases i have been given only 1 year. The decision seems arbitrary and its difficult to actually see how precedents are set.
As a case in point, my current employer has about 100 foreign staff like me, all doing the same job. When those who needed to applied for visa renewal, we all submitted the same documents from our employer and we all have exactly the same employment contract. And yet around 60% of us got 1 year visas while the rest got 3 years. The more cynical among us thought it may just be so that the Osaka immigration bureau can hit us all up for another 5,000 yen in 12 months time 🙂
No offence taken and thanks for contributing, however, i have to say I disagree with much of what you say. I dont believe that many Japanese are alcoholics nor do i believe so many of them are unfaithful to their partners. What you have written here is basically a list of all the negative stereotypes associated with Japan. Indeed i have encountered isolated incidences of some of the things you mention, however i would not condemn the entire country as you seem to have done, based on a few incidents. For whatever reason it seems Japan was not a happy experience for you. Wherever you are now I hope you are enjoying life and that you’ve been able to move on. Again thanks for commenting.
I’ve met some great Japanese people who don’t follow those stereotypical images. However, some of those have lived abroad and DO think some of those things about Japan.
I lived in Japan for 10 years and I can definatively state that Japan is wholly racist. But so what? The Japanese are proud of their race and culture as well they should be. They are concerned with maintaining their culture and traditions. In the liberal west, racism is the worst insult imaginable, but, at least at this point, the Japanese are enjoying success at maintaining their “Japanese-ness” in the faced of a rapidly changing world. I truly wish the Scots, Irish, Americans, French, etc. had taken their own cultural preservation as seriously as the Japanese have taken theirs, and I really hope they are successful into the future. I love Japan and its people and if they have to endure charges of racism from the “progressive” West in order to maintain their language and culture, it is a small price to pay.
Unfortunately, this so-called adherence to keeping things the same has enabled other countries to surpass Japan in technological products (Korea, China. America), and other industries, while its own house has become stagnant or declining. A low birthrate, high amount of old people, high pollution, concrete everywhere, urban and countryside decay, extremely high global debt; yet little or no immigration, provisions to encourage young, female or Japanese with new ideas to thrive or take up managerial positions or other schemes to remedy the situation.
Japan hasn’t curated it’s own culture as will add you claim, either. Just look at Kyoto. It’s hardly a beautiful city. Just a concrete hell with the odd temple here or there. The local council bulldozed huge swathes of the traditional city and buried it under neon lights and concrete ages ago.
Also, many of the “traditional” values apologists cite are not really “traditional at all”. Some are a metre 2-300 years old, which is hardly ” traditional”.
As for “western change”. I’m a proud Brit and am extremely proud of the large influx of foreigners (now British) who have only helped the UK be an even more interesting and brilliant place to live. Japan, too, has grown too due to foreign influences, from Yokohama to Japanese Curry (which, like the UK’s ” Chicken Tikka Masala, was created in our countries and is now both of our countries’s unofficial national dishes), and all for the better.
“Expats like me are left with a stark choice, we have to choose between our country or our Japanese wife and kids, because under UK law, unless we are rich, we can’t have both.”
Combined salaries of 26,000 pounds for two people is considered rich? Maybe for Africa, but not for much of the rest of the world.
With all due respect i think you are oversimplifying the situation. Firstly for the japanese partner in this regard it would be very difficult to find a job in the uk upon or before arrival, so the onus falls on the UK passport holder. And quite frankly,unless you work in Central London, finding jobs paying in excess of 20,000 per year is extremely difficult. I currently have a number of friends living in enforced exile around the world because of this discriminatory policy.
Nonsense. Starting wage for UK teachers is £22,023 a year (or £27,543 if you work in inner London). Get a PGCE and you’ve already got the combined salary. The UK (and EU) policy is to attempt to attract qualified professionals. £26,000 as a combined salary is a pittance, just about subsidence living.
Africa is a big continent…to generalize an entire group of people like that shows ignorance.
Hi Nathan…The pay was 300,000 yen (about 240,000 yen after taxes). I wasn’t a JET, but got paid like one (I was a direct hire) and did the same job. It was the top of the food chain without working in a university (That’s the absolute top of the food chain). Other entry level positions for English teachers were in the 200,000-240,000 yen per month (before taxes) range. It was an okay gig at first. There were a lot of nice teachers to work with. But, every April, Japanese custom is to have workers transfer to other offices and have new people come in to your office (maybe to make sure nobody gets too comfortable). Little by little, all the nice teachers were replaced by others with BIG egos making it more difficult to do the job. It was a gradual process of being more jaded with the system as time passed on. Plus, I have always been someone who stays at on place for a long time trying to make a difference. I did make a difference and am happy about that. But, to sum everything up, it was a good gig while it lasted and there were a lot of positive experiences aside from the negative ones listed above. Thanks for your comments.
Thanks,I hope i end up in a good job too.
I would love to agree on all the point you are giving , as for the feedback I unfortunately ear cries from foreign fathers kickout of Japan with no right to see their kids because their spouse got them to be pregnant and that’s it.
I am sure if you could talk with some official for foreign country you may have a different view on that matter, so far it is working for you and may the fun be with you.
I’ve been in Tokyo 15 years. I’ve experienced very little hostility. But the Japanese are people, full of fear of the unknown. They are also in fear of the known problems in the rest of the world that does not exist in Japan such has high crime rates. They have a fascination with the “outside”, but the predictability of Japan as it currently exists makes them resistant to change, including opening its doors to more immigration. I, also, would like to keep Japan what it is. Life has been great here for the past 15 years. I’m tired of rebuking the arrogant foreigners who come here and start yelling at staff just trying to do their jobs, something I see far too often. So the fear of foreigners seen here is quite rational in my opinion, and the cases of actual hate are very rare.
Except for Japan to change, sometimes what it does need is a good, verbal yelling at.
This is why the UN often does exactly that.
I’ve also found that the quality of service has increasingly become better and more western the more years I’ve been here and I’ve seen my fair share of Japanese yelling at staff too (hurrah), so some of the yelling, both foreign and Japanese, must be rubbing off.
Change is good
Thanks for the comment Phil, im glad to know Japan has been a positive experience for you so far.
I want to bring up the point of invisible racism. How many times have you experienced a situation where a Japanese corrected you in doing somehing or ‘helped’ you realising your way of doing things is not the right, japanese way of doing things.
Many take that as a kindness, and in a way it is, but have any of you ever detected a slither of racial superiority in tha? Its almost as if they are treating you as a mentally disabled person or a child. “Look at this poor foreigner, he can’t do anything right, poor thing”. They seem to take a silent pleasure in demonstrate their percived superior skills.
I reckon the institutionalised racism is deeply embedded jn the national psyche, the Japanese are just way too damn polite to show it openly.
Loooook…I don’t think they should openly show their racism openly ok. I disagree with you strongly on this one. All people are inheritantly racist to a degree. However, what makes it worse is when they are are openly and actively racist just like western countries like Australia and the USA and a few European countries. Noooo…Japan should not take on the same path as the west. Definitely not. If they did, it will destroy the traditional cultural values , the traditional foods and cultural habits that are deeply rooted and multilayered in Japanese history. I respect the Japanese for their composure and disciplined approach no matter hoe mechanical it may seem.
And yes, in japan, the reason why westerners find the Japanese society a little bit discriminatory against the west is because, the Japanese race or people have evolved…and ill stress it here “human evolution at a deep seated psyche level” Its something that westerners take it the other way around with an inferiority complex and is interpreted as racism or discriminatory.
Another thing is…Japanese culture is integrated well with modernization and traditionalism, were as the west are more focused on progressive and liberalism and the diminishing of traditional culture.
They are polite when with people they don’t understand or don’t like , its because they are cultured. That’s all.
I disagree with the western free speech model were people blurt out all sorts of obscenities to people who seem culturally different or talk differently.
The Japanese model of composure and passive racism is better than active racism period.
Im saying this coz Im looking at their culture from southern Hellenic Grecian eyes and there is a common denominator there, although vastly different. The common denominator is, :”cultural multilayers” meaning that unless you have been a resident for many many years, you will not understand the day to day double sided speak or slang, or everyday dialects which vary form place to place. You will not understand the depth of the traditions unless you understand through “experience”. You cannot read this through a text book or a work experience alone working in japan. A lot of the expats have married Japanese women only to find that they were always regarded as an outsider. Yes an outsider in Japanese terms…all because of superficial understanding of Japanese culture. It looks racist and exclusive but is not. You don’t question as to why this is done this way or that way in Japanese culture, its just is the way it is due to many centuries of cultural integration.
As for the poor foreigner approach,, this can be in any country on earth , whether is is the USA, Australia, Russia, China…anywhere. In each country there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. simple. And a lot of it is linked to traditions and historical changes in society . Its called evolution. Again I will point it out. Japanese culture both traditional and pop culture is about 50 years a head of the west.
Thanks for commenting Leon and i think you raise an interesting point. However, again it is all about perception. The fact is Japan is a society based on conformity, sometimes obsessively so. I think in that situation, if the person saw another Japanese behaving inappropriately, they would offer similar advice and help to them. Therefore this is not racism as both japanese and non-japanese would be treated equally in this regard.
But in such circumstances, it may be easy to confuse the push to conform with the implication of some kind of racial superiority.
You argue your point well, but im afraid i disagree with you on this occasion.
BTW. I maintain my argument Japanese society as a whole is very much 2 faced. They are like the earth version of Vulcans. I have to use a star trek reference here but I underneath that calm exterior, burns something that’s only let out when they let down guards.
They are not Vulcans. They seem like that to you because they are poker faced and don’t show their real feelings.
They are secretive and discrete as to whom they open up to.
This is the reason why they ask so many generic questions to foreigners. Its to probe the persons psyche. Underneath the surface there is a lot more going on than simply generic questioning.
As for 2 facedness. They might appear like that to you because, they are not like the western mentality of free speech and openness of heart to everyone.
Im not defending them here in my post, simply im writing and believe what according to me is true. Respect to everyone no matter how different is a behaviour in Asian countries and not simply as an ideal as in western counties.
I noted and I will stresss again, the Japanese culture is deeply scorpionic and very transformative. It is deep and although on the surface it looks so advanced with technological leaps and bounds, it is multilayered and has integrated a lot of aspects of traditions into everyday life.
Are you familiar with uchi-soto (in- and out-groups) and honne-tatemae (personal and social feelings/actions)? I think they explain a lot.
Why these systems developed isn’t clear, probably some societal chaos in the past (high population density, etc.). However, if they have no utility, they will die off and disappear gradually as per the principle of least effort.
I think Japanese will need to be more open as their country fades from prominence, and is less able to maintain an insular world view, in a vaguely similar way as many Western countries will have to. When push comes to shove, ‘unique’ cultural practices will be dispensed with if it means continued existence/prosperity.
very interesting comment you made here “When push comes to shove, ‘unique’ cultural practices will be dispensed with if it means continued existence/prosperity.”
However, I disagree with you, because you are referencing it off the western model of commerce and business. It all depends where are you referencing that point you made from?
Thanks for offering your view Liam. I have to say I have not lived in Japan long enough to observe similar situations where it occurred to their fellow countrymen.
I may have given this too much thought but I’m not the only person in my group of friends who have been to Japan that had this feeling.
I’m happy to observe more before come to a conclusion.
I was visiting my japanese boyfriend (at the time) and while sitting on the train I had a older woman give us dirty looks spit at us and the go to a different train car . we were not doing any pda or anything just sitting and talking .
Sorry to hear about your experience in japan. Do let one experience let you down. It can happen in any country.
Rina im sorry to hear you had such a bad experience but thank you for sharing it. Unfortunately there are bigots in every country. I have never experienced anything like that. But no doubt there are people like that in Japan, as there are in every country.
Could it have been that what bothered her was the fact that you were talking in the train? I only wonder because I’ve read several times that speaking in public transportation – and making noise of any kind – is considered disrespectful to those around you, since those are places people use to rest from their busy city life.
While it may be true, that’s not valid in all cases, though. I have seen at least a couple of people talking at various points while riding the train, some even using their cell phones. The “proper, typical thing to do” would just be to tolerate it and be patient with it. The old lady probably was just really grumpy.
I’ve seen old ladies shove people standing on the wrong side of the escalator before. Again, grumpy.
Might be good to broaden the perspective a bit before speaking so definitively on the matter. I might have agreed with you had I only lived in Tokyo. Things are much different out in the country.
How are bangladeshis treated in japan/
Thats a good question, honestly i haven’t met anyone from Bangladesh in my time here in Japan. But i suppose each person has a unique set of circumstances and will face unique challenges here. It is an area I will have to research further and perhaps write more about in the future.
The problem inherent in your article is that it is only posited from a white perspective. White people tend to be treated well in Japan. Dig a little deeper – just a bit below the extreme surface you’ve looked at – and you’ll find Chinese and Koreans have historically and still continue to be treated appallingly. How are other Asians treated? With absolute disdain and outright racism.
question how are arabs treated in japan
Its a good question and to be honest i dont know enough people from that part of the world to really comment the issue, but the few Arabs i have met seem happy with their lot here, but as i said to another commenter previously i think i may follow up on this article again in the future by asking how non-whites feel they are treated in Japan.
Kess, thanks for contributing but Im afraid i have to disagree with you on that. Firstly, i know of several long term residents in Japan who have nationalised, its difficult, with a lot of bureaucracy, but it can be done. As for the issue of racism, i say there are racist people in every country, but i maintain Japan is not, institutionally speaking a racist country. I think that is a label we throw around too easily after our own bad experiences. Apartheid South Africa was a racist country, Nazi Germany was a racist country. Japan has some issues with racism, but frankly what country doesnt? I respect your opinion and i know some people here, especially the older ones, do hold some racist views, especially against other asians.
As humans we are all shaped by our own personal experiences, but i still believe that Japan is not a racist country. I stand by that assertion. Again thanks for contributing to the debate.
You know nothing about Japanese modern history. Nothing. Start from the first Sino-Japanese war, then look at the second, then at its colonisation of Asia. It’s not difficult to see why Japan was one of the Axis countries in the war; it is infused with racial superiority, and this bleeds into contemporary institutions. It is institutionally racist to the core.
As many others have pointed out in this comments section, you are wholly lacking in background knowledge and are thus in no position to comment. You love Japan – good for you – but passing uniformed judgement and refuting it when others are setting you straight smacks of arrogance.
I moved to Japan 2 months ago. I think it`s silly for Westerners living in Japan to claim they have experienced `racism` here. Racism is a serious word for serious behavior and should not be used so lightly. At times daily life is challenging and not everyone is `foreigner-friendly`, especially in smaller towns or cities that don`t get a lot of tourists come through. But most of this comes from people`s under confidence to engage with foreigners, partly because they feel their English is too poor. I think Westerners just have to accept that this is the way things are, and they could certainly be a lot worse. I see the points others raised about rental contracts and work bonuses, but many foreigners get other benefits that Japanese workers don`t. Some employers pay our flights here and back home, and many ALT jobs offer paid `cultural leave` that Japanese people don`t get. So it`s not always the case that the Westerner in the office is constantly missing out on privileges and perks because they weren`t born here.
“I moved to Japan 2 months ago. I think it`s silly for Westerners living in Japan to claim they have experienced `racism` here.”
That’s because you haven’t experienced it… yet!
Thanks for contributing Brodie, and welcome to Japan. I think you raise some valid points. However, there are some instances here, such as apartment contracts and so on where claims of racism are, i believe, valid. However from my experience, Japan is certainly not an institutionally racist country, and 95% of the people i have met here have been warm and welcoming. I like your positive approach to life here, and i hope you’ll still feel that way in a few years time.
Frankly speaking, I think you being a westerner puts you in a better position than other foreigners, which is why you’ve never had any issues in this aspect. This makes for a rather narrow perspective for an article that tries to account for treatment of foreigners. I am sure you are aware that foreigners in Japan doesn’t particularly refer to you, but anyone who is not of Japanese lineage, and that accounts for Asians, Africans and etc.
My suggestion to you is that instead on tackling a topic of such a wide spectrum based on your personal experiences and knowledge of the political situation, you should try interviewing people from different countries, and have different purposes for being in Japan. Trust me, telling locals that you are here as a tourist or a volunteer gets you pretty different responses.
Just a little feedback from a reader of this article. Whether you choose to take it into considerations is up to you.
Thanks Alex, i may well take you up on that in a future article. This is a complicated issue and all i can do for now is relate my own experience. I have some Chinese and Filipino friends here so I know it can be much more difficult for them. But you are right, my own view is somewhat narrowed by the fact i am a white male
It is heartening to know that you are open to feedbacks of your readers. I hope it helps and will be looking forward to your future articles.
Is Japan foreigner friendly? Is Japan racist? Well, yes, and no to both.
Oldie, but goodie, from 2005:
“Japan racism ‘deep and profound'”
And more recently, but still slightly dated from 2010:
“Japan faces U.N. racism criticism”
First, you live (and presumably work) in Osaka. Kansai has been known for years as one of the more foreigner-friendly places in Japan. Move to the countryside, and you might change your tune.
Second, it’s their country, not yours. Everyone should work in their home countries to eliminate racism there, first. That doesn’t mean you should give up the dream of equal treatment in Japan, but I would imagine the more liberal and progressive Japanese populace is trying to work toward that anyway, and they would have more sway, being native Japanese. Japanese people experience racism in other countries, too. They may go back to Japan understanding why it’s very damaging and take action. Get involved and help with that fight by joining them and do the same when you’re visiting the UK.
Third, you are obviously not Asian-looking. I mean, you are a white guy. There’s pros and cons to that. For all the racism that does occur, most white people get preferential treatment over other foreigners who may be Asian, Hispanic, Arab, etc. So to assume you know what racism is for all foreigners is a bit ignorant, IMHO. You have only one set of experiences from what you’ve seen yourself in the first person, but others from different places may have totally different racism experiences.
Fourth, who cares if you can’t enter a place because you’re not Japanese? Just don’t go there. Unless it’s something vital, respect the shopkeeper’s wishes. Half the time it’s because foreigners don’t respect the culture or behave the right way. Unfortunately, Japanese people are the masters of stereotypes as well. And again, for every place you are denied from, there is probably a place that would definitely welcome you.
Fifth, at least you’re able to have a working holiday visa that can be extended indefinitely. No such luck for Americans wanting to spend time in Japan.
I have lived here 18 years in both Tokyo and Osaka. No matter where you go in the world you’re going to find a little bit of people that are racist. But Japan is more of a friendly country than any other place I’ve been.
They are quite friendly in most situations, but not all. I will say that they are a HECK of a lot more patient than others around the world. That patience really does get them very far in interpersonal relationships.
But I would consider them more polite than friendly. There is a difference.
i am quite doubtful myself (on Japan being ‘racist’)
Thanks Edmon. I have to say ive never really seen extreme racism in Japan. Sadly i saw plenty of it when i was working as a journalist in the UK.
This is an interesting discussion. First – have the immigration rules changed of late? Because in 2012 when the laws came in, it was that the UK national had to be earning a minimum of 18,600 GBP and the non-EU spouses income, regardless of amount, was not counted at all. You also had to have been earning this is local currency equivalent in the country you were coming from for 10 year before moving to the UK. This made it virtually impossible for British women who had children and weren`t working, or who came from a country where their working was forbidden or restricted, or from a country where local income norms wouldn`t enable her to earn that level of income, to ever return home with their spouses. I spent about 1000 GBP of my own money travelling to and from London meeting with MPs and lobbying the government to try and get this recognised to no avail – they had no intention of listening to me, or anyone else at the open forum meetings I attended.
The spousal visa in Japan I got initially for 3 years, then another 3 years, but 2 years into that (5 years in total) I applied for and received PR. I believe it is 10 years if you are not married to a Japanese national.
Yes, the UK is more “cosmopolitan” if that means a greater melting pot of ethnicities. Doesn`t make it better though. With my Japanese husband, whenever we were out and about in Japan we were met with curiosity. In the UK we were often met with animosity. The curiosity got annoying, but I never once felt either of us were in any danger, the way I felt in the UK.
As for the hardliners in Japan – yeah, right. In the UK I`ve had more than one friend whose non-white husband has been threatened with, and in one case, actually, beaten up. In Japan, those guys in their black fatigues have more than once stopped to chat to me on the street, waved to my children when they waved at them, and been perfectly pleasant and friendly. Japan has pockets of racism, but it is based on ignorance, and lack of multi-cultural experience rather than outright malice. What`s ou excuse in the UK?
Thanks for your comments Natalie. At time of writing, the figures i quoted in the article were taken directly from the UK government website. This is subject to a challenge in the European courts. I believe it was a family from Bangladesh who challenged the ruling. The European Court found in their favour, but sadly, rather than accept the rule of law, as is all too often the case with the UK government, they are appealing the decision and trying to alter the law retrospectively.
Thanks for the update Liam! Yeah, I kind of washed my hands of the whole thing after Theresa May pushed through the laws, and just accepted we were staying in Japan anyway. Things must have changed since the initial law was passed. I know initially they weren`t even going to consider the spouses income, and that was a HUGE issue for many British women, so clearly they`ve changed that – which is a good thing. That limit of 26,000 GBP (sorry – no pound sign on my keyboard!) is not helpful if as someone rightly pointed out you come from a “less affluent” area of the UK.
I think the UK has had to take such a tough stance because of the massive influx of immigrants in recent years and subsequent burden on the state, but what is INCREDIBLY frustrating, is that the majority of those immigants are coming in from Europe – which as an EU member we can actually do nothing about!!! So they are making a big song and dance about going after the much smaller non-EU minority.
What`s frustrating for me right now – I am applying to a well known UK university to a distance learning masters program. Until my departure from the UK, I paid 40% taxes for 10 years. I`ve probably paid more in taxes those 10 years than some Brits will pay in a lifetime! But I have to register as an international student and pay double what a Brit would pay. Fine – I understand that. BUT – a European who has never set foot in the UK and never paid taxes there can get the UK/EU fee – about half of what I pay. That just p***** me right off!
I really enjoyed your article Liam, and I wish you well in Japan. You may find your views change as you rack up more years there. It`s also very different being a gaijin woman. I loved it in my first year or so. A lot of people tend to get more jaded as time goes on. I know I did for a while! But (assuming you just left the UK a year ago) it is definitely not the place I left way back in 2001. It has changed a lot, and sadly not for the better. Japan on the other hand I have very fond memories of (we are currently overseas temporarily with my husbands job) and I am looking forward to returning there. For all its faults, and no place is perfect, it is still a nice place to live. It is so true that you don`t realise what you have until you lose it. We left a year ago and I miss it very much!
Look forward to reading more of your reports!
The spousal visa in Japan is not actually a quick ticket to indefinite residence status. You will first be on a 1 year visa which must be renewed. After (I think….) 3 years, you can get a longer visa, but I am unsure when that becomes indefinite.
While I do not disagree that the UK has tough immigration laws (and I most certainly despise parties like UKIP), it is nevertheless true that the country is far more cosmopolitan than Japan. In the school where I did my A-level studies, I was the only white student in my chemistry class. Whereas now I am the only foreign faculty member in my area at my university, when my field is notoriously international. I’d never even visited a department before that had natives only.
The movie ‘Hafu’ says that Japan is improving for people who born half-Japanese half-another country and reside in Japan, but it isn’t at the level of full acceptance yet.
That all said, I feel very welcome in Japan and have experienced no problems!
Thanks for commenting Elizabeth. I think you raise some good points. The UK certainly is more cosmopolitan, unfortunately i feel the government isnt. It is largely overpopulated with over-privileged, middle aged white males, and this is something that needs to change. On a side note, apparently 79% of members of the UK parliament are millionaires, compared to just 0.7% of the UK population. Not exactly an accurate representation of democracy.
Just my 2 cents (2 yen) here: When I worked as an ALT (and sometimes solo teacher) in the public school system, I worked just as hard (or harder) than the Japanese staff. But, when bonus time came around, foreigners didn’t get anything. The guy who just sat at his desk and slept most of the day got one. The lady who made tea in the office got one…The rookie teachers got one. Me, someone who had been at the same place 7 years, didn’t get anything….Also, no matter how close they lived to the school, all Japanese staff got reimbursed for “travel expenses.” Foreigners got nothing. I had a round trip of an hour and twenty minutes drive from home to school everyday. No transportation money. The teacher who lived in the next town got reimbursed without having to pull teeth. These are just a few examples I think are not fair in a country I love being in, but do not always agree with….Just adding to the discussion here.
I think perhaps you need to think about changing your job. There are plenty of teaching jobs now that do pay travelling expenses. I work in an ALT type job now and my employer actually pays for a bus pass for me that i can use anywhere in the city. Bonuses unfortunately are a real rarity for ALTs in Japan. Remember that the Japanese teachers work far longer hours than we do, seldom take holidays and have to deal with an unbelievable workload. I think they are worth their bonus. Im not saying we dont deserve a bonus, but the economic reality is, you won’t get one.
Hi Liam, sorry for my late reply…Thanks for your advice. Actually, I left my ALT job two years ago and work mostly on a freelance basis…I love it. One company that I work for pays all of my transportation (no pulling teeth here) and another company pays so well that I don’t mind paying my own transportation (With that, I get receipts and declare them against my Japanese taxes as business expenses)…..About the Japanese teachers working longer hours, I agree with that. They have no lives. When I first started the ALT job, I was encouraged to do the same thing staying past my quitting time and working the weekends with the club activities. That ended when I saw that all the Japanese staff got bonuses (even the tea lady who went home at a regular time and spent a lot of time sitting at her desk waiting to be asked to do something) and I got diddly squat. The extra slap in the face came every year when the rookie teachers would get their bonuses and still nothing for me (did I mention they were using me as a solo teacher and curriculum planner in the special education department added on to my regular duties of working at the JHS, 3 elementary schools where I taught solo on a regular basis and also night lessons in the community center with the EiKaiwa Circle). So, I did work harder than some of the Japanese teachers (and definitely the tea lady). Yes, the reality of the situation stunk. But, I am gone from that game now.
Don’t forget that, as long as you’re an ALT, there are many things you are not responsible or accountable for regardless of how many years you work.
I’m sure you already know this but the real teachers have to take exams and are still fully-qualified even if one or two sit around all day doing nothing. They’ve all worked hard to get where they are, much harder than us ALTs. And they have stresses we don’t have to worry about. You might be the best ALT in the world but you will NEVER get a call from an angry parent on an evening or a weekend.
You don’t need to be trained in anything related to children AT ALL to become or remain an ALT. You just need a degree, English skills and the ability to not be a dick around children(which isn’t as easy to spot during the interview stage). That’s why you’re never supposed to be alone with the children. I also headed lessons and sometimes taught alone(including special
needs classes) in emergencies because I earned my school’s trust very quickly but I wasn’t legally a teacher and neither is any other ALT for that matter unless they actually train to become one elsewhere. My school could never admit that I taught alone to the BoE(who deals with pay) and I never expected them to.
Many ALT friends complain about the lack of bonuses all the time but do absolutely nothing to change their situation. “I’m a qualified teacher! I have a TEFL certificate!”, they’d say. If I wanted to be treated like a regular Japanese teacher I’d earn a PGCE or similar child-oriented teaching qualification. I wouldn’t want my children alone in a class with someone who isn’t trained in first aid or dealing with children – child psychology and so on – but ALTs need neither to do their job.
In many industries, pay and responsibility go hand-in-hand. Education is no different. If you’d studied for years and trained to become a teacher would you be happy with assistants demanding bonuses and claiming to work as hard or harder than you?
And, when talking about bonuses, please don’t confuse foreigner with ALT. I’d be more interested in finding out if a fully-fledged foreign teacher with the appropriate teaching degree didn’t get a bonus. Go and ask the student teachers if they get bonuses. Because we’re similar to them in a way. But, wait. ALTs don’t even need to speak a whiff of Japanese to do their job, either. And the “rookies”(oh, the irony) at my school worked and studied crazy long hours, often until midnight. And they had to change school every year, making and breaking bonds with colleagues and children each time. Even ALTs can remain at the same school for longer than that.
As for singling out the tea lady. Again, she has a responsibility you don’t: what if she serves dodgy tea to a visitor? Or mouldy biscuits? Who gets the blame if you give a crap lesson?
Glad you got out of whatever situation you were in but, really, take a step back and look at things objectively.
I’m in the same boat as Johnny Wadd. My JP coworkers got a bonus last year, and I didnt. My JP coworkers get paid more than me, even though I’ve been here longer. My JP coworkers also got hired to this company, us foreigners have yearly contracts which exclude us from certain legal rights that the JP staff gets, and it also contains clauses that the company can fire us at any time for any reason.
Wow, Japan is so unfair, boohoo. Well, that happens in the USA, too. So what?
Do what you would do in the USA: Find some other job, maybe with an American company, and get paid better. If you hate it or can’t afford it, well, I guess you have to move back to the USA or wherever your home country is (assuming “2 cents” is 2 American cents).
That’s life, bub.
Take your time in Japan as a blessing, albeit an unfair one. You are one of many who want to live in Japan and are actually doing it. The rest aren’t as lucky.
Ultra, thank you for your comments…I have moved on to work I truly enjoy and am rewarded well for my efforts. Yes, being in Japan is a true blessing. While I have stated some of the more negative points about the country, on the whole, it is a GREAT life and I have been here for 16 years and plan to be here for a long time. Every place you go has it’s ups and downs. Like you mentioned, if you don’t like where you are, you move on. One last thought, if you treat others with respect, you will get respect. (Notice I didn’t use the word “bub” to reply to you).
That’s life, “buddy”… better?
And no, I’m not trying to be facetious. I just prefer using tough love to “encourage” people who whine and complain without doing anything to change their situations. That’s just the world we live in.
Glad to hear your thoughts and thanks for the info! Here in UAE everyone entering the country will undergo an iris scan, which I think is more extreme than the finger-printing in Japan and other countries.
Thanks for your comments. Yes i remember passing through Dubai a while ago and I saw the Iris scanners. To be honest these kind of things dont really bother me. I think every country has the right to use whatever security it wants to.
I hardly think earning £26,000 in the UK is being rich!
It might not be rich in the UK, but it’s rich in most places.
Indeed, making around 35000£ as a lorry driver and im certanly not rich
It completely depends on circumstances. In london, it is not unreasonable, However if you live in the north of England (I’m from between leeds and bradford, now living in Sweden) the average annual salary for a regular job such as full time customer service is around 14-18k per year. If you’re a family with children, then it could be fair to assume that there would only be one income. Living on 14-18k/year is doable in the north of England and other parts of the UK. I believe the author was more making a point about the unfairness of having to prove you have ‘More than enough’ to live in the uk, to be able to live in the uk.
i just googled UK average salary. It said £26,500. Average salary is far from being rich, the words he used. An English teacher in Japan will be on around this salary. Would they be deemed rich?
Yes, my point was that the average UK salary is not the average in places such as the north east of England and Glasgow, thus there should be different amounts of earning, depending on where in the UK you are planning to move. Regarding whether £26,500 is a lot in Japan, i wouldn’t know. I make around £40,000 per year in Stockholm, would that be deemed rich? (Hint : the answer is most definitely ‘No’)
I think a bit of perspective is needed here. I am from Glasgow, which in terms of poverty is probably on a par with, or worse than northern England.
I have a university degree, and several years experience in the media and education sectors. 2 years ago when i was at home i decided to check out the local jobs market. The best i was offered was working in a warehouse for £7 an hour. Nowhere near the required amount. My point is, the UK has a London centric government, and whilst 26,000 may not seem like a lot to someone in the South of England, in the current job market it is highly unlikely one could find such a job in Scotland or the north of England. Bobby, the jobs you speak of just arent there at the moment, which makes this discriminatory policy all the more cruel.