Oct 15, 2018

Getting different treatment: Foreigner shopping in Japan

Adjusting to life in Japan can be sometimes very tough, depending on your personality and the people around you. If you are an easygoing person and like to explore new things and have no problems adjusting to a different culture, life in Japan will be full of a lot of fun.

I'm a person who can adjust very quickly and easily to a new culture and lifestyle, but some situations in Japan still bother me very much even though I try my best not to stand out and just act like all the others.

Getting different treatment: Foreigner shopping in Japan photo
Usually I'm taking care of all the household stuff like grocery shopping, visiting the city office/post office or letting the janitorial service inside of our apartment for some inspections/reparations. Even though my Japanese is not perfect, it is totally enough for my daily life and to enable me to  communicate with the people around me. Nevertheless, every day I have to struggle with three different situations that I can not seem to change, no matter what I do.

Shopping alone
I mostly visit the nearby supermarket every other day and most of the cashier staff know me (we sometimes have a small chat together), but as soon as I visit other stores, where people are not used to me, the situation changes. When people see me they often get very nervous and speechless, just because I'm a foreigner and they don't know how to deal with me. That I'm very tall with red hair as a woman is also not very helpful in Japan. 

Sometimes I really feel like a giant monster when people treat me suddenly so different from the other Japanese people around me. Luckily as soon as a store staff realize that I can speak Japanese they usually treat me the same as other people, but unfortunately that is not always the case.

In those cases, I often think about foreigners who were born and raised in Japan but don't look 'Japanese,' -- how they will feel if they are always treaded so different…

Getting different treatment: Foreigner shopping in Japan photo

Shopping with my Japanese husband
Like I said before, I usually do all the housework and grocery shopping alone, but sometimes my husband likes to join me to buy some good meat at the supermarket. It mostly happens every time, when we are standing at the cashier and I'm putting the basket with the grocery on the cashier board and getting ready to pay, that the cashier only talks to my husband. They ask him for the point card or if he wants to have a bag or chopsticks.

Usually my husband is just standing on the side and will carry the shopping bags, but always when I want to pay and he is with me the cashier totally ignores me. Even if I give them the point card or the cash, they still just look at my husband.
I always feel very bad in this situation and sometimes my husband says to the staff that he is not paying and they should talk to me instead, but usually they are just confused by this.

Shopping with other foreign friends
If I visit the supermarket with other foreign friends the situation even gets worse. Usually the cashier just looks at us and suddenly goes totally silent -- no question if we have a point card or if we want to have a bag. Often they don't even tell me the price in Japanese, instead they show me a calculator with the price.

Since I've already been living in Japan for many years, those small situations can make it very hard for me to feel at home here in Japan.

How about you? Do you know those situations too?



I´m a german girl living in the center of Tokyo, but my true love belongs to the countryside of Japan (especially Chiba and Hokkaido). I love traveling in Japan and explore hidden areas.
I want to help people with my articles to get in touch with the Japanese culture and all the beautiful places you can explore.

Besides traveling around, I love trains, handcraft and my little rabbits.