Mar 15, 2019
In a previous blog post, I shared some of the comments I have received from locals here in Japan that I personally find culturally insensitive, and could even be offensive to some. They are comments that I have received largely due to the plain fact that I am not Japanese. They hadn't used to bother me so much. However, as I start to consider Japan more as my “home”, the more I find myself feeling uncomfortable with them. Today I would like to share with everyone three more comments that are often directed to me and ask what the community here thinks about them.
(If you missed my previous post, you can find Part 1 under the list of my blog. I would love to hear your feedback on those as well).
1. When are you leaving Japan?
Boy, oh boy, every time I meet someone new, there is always a possibly that they will ask me this question, assuming that I have no intentions or plans, or even the desire, to make Japan my new home. They are often under the assumption that I am here merely to travel or to experience the country, and since many English speakers (international students and English teachers) do exactly that, I understand why they have that presumption. But can’t there be the exception for people like me who like the country so much that they are looking at ways to stay here long term?
My answer to the question is always “…but I don’t plan to leave.” Which will typically result with the other partying saying one of the following,
“Oh, that is great!”
“Wow, I feel so proud of my country (Japan) that you want to stay here forever!”
“Oh, so you will get married and have children here?”
“But what about your family back home?”
With that said, in my hometown, it would be pretty unbelievable if I met someone from a different country, who is living in my native country, and then I ask when they will be leaving. It would feel as if I was not welcoming said person. Sure, most or even all of Japanese people have no such ill will towards me when they say such things (I hope), but nonetheless, the longer I have stayed in the country, the more this question bothers me.
2. Your (appearance) is so (description)!
I hear this so often directed towards me and many of my friends.
“Your skin is so white!” “Your skin is so dark!” “Your hair is so curly!” “Your eyes are so green!” “Your nose is so high!”
The list can go on forever, as perhaps you can imagine. Sometimes it comes as a compliment to show that they think it looks good, but more often than not I hear the comments as, “You are so different!”
For example, and no offense to anyone, but I think that when Japanese people say, “Wow! Your skin is so dark!”, they don't personally want it, not in this society where skin whitening is such a big thing and pale skin among Japanese women is praised. Then the comment is just to point out the physical differences between Japanese people and us, and it is not something we have a choice in anyway.
In a truly multicultural society these comments would not be appropriate and given that I hear them so regularly, it could take Japan forever to become really accepting of multiculturalism.
3. I can’t speak English!
Yes, this is a comment about themselves, but Japanese people say it to us to show their weakness in English in the hopes that they will not have to speak English with us. And it comes up almost immediately in most conversations I have with Japanese people, which also translates to, “We are not going to communicate if it is not going to be in Japanese.”
Yes, working in the industry I understand that they lack the confidence, and, yes, I know I am living in Japan, but for this comment to be in most conversations I have, and even in ones where I started off speaking Japanese, this wall or barrier some people build immediately feels very alienating.
What do you all think? Have you experienced something similar, or am I just too thin-skinned? Looking forward to reading your thoughts.