You Will Never Be Japanese: The Japanese Attitude Toward Foreigners

22 Responses

  1. Alouise says:

    I haven’t lived in Japan, and I only spent a week in Tokyo, but I understand what you mean. I’m from Canada, but I’ve been living in Ireland for over a year (on a temporary work holiday visa). People here ask if I like Ireland, and I do, but I’m always aware that I’m not Irish (I think there’s like a great great great grandparent somewhere in my ancestry who was, but if you say that makes you Irish here people will laugh). Granted there isn’t nearly as much culture shock living in Ireland as there’d be living in Japan (I’d assume), but I know I’m not Irish. Even if I learn the slang, drink the drinks, eat the food, talk to the locals, pay rent and bills here, see every corner of the country etc. I’m still an outsider…a temporary guest in a beautiful country. Ireland has become a temporary home for me, and I’ll miss it when I have to leave, but I won’t ever be able to say I’m Irish (except maybe on St. Patrick’s Day when everyone gets to claim that).

  2. Nicole says:

    Great Article. Japan is a very homogenous society and likes it that way. Just look at their immigration policies. However, it is a friendly country to tourists, which is great (although I think living there has different challenges, as you shared). I liked visiting and I’d go back, but only for a few weeks and with limited expectations.

    • Kiyoko says:

      I definitely agree. As a country, I absolutely loved Japan. I’m actually considering going back for the 2020 Olympics. I’d probably visit Japan countless times, but it’s just not a country I could ever permanently live in.

  3. jill says:

    My daughter currently lives in Seoul, South Korea and would probably echo your sentiments. Korea is also a group driven society and as much as she has tried – she also studied abroad there during college – she has mainly hung out with other “outsiders” or non-Koreans. She truly loves Korea but not fitting in sometimes takes it’s toll. When her current contract is up, she will be moving stateside again. Because, as you said, as much as she loves Korea and has enjoyed her time there, she will never be Korean.

    • Kiyoko says:

      Interesting to hear. I’ve often heard from other people about the struggles foreigners often face in Japan to fit in, but I think that’s just because I spend quite a bit of time interacting with various Japanese communities. I didn’t realize that happened in South Korea as well. Hopefully with time they will become more open to foreigners.

  4. I visited Japan a bazillion years ago to stay with a friend who had moved there to teach English, he taught me ‘Watashi wa yoku nihongo o hanasanai’, ha! I found everyone wanted to practise their english on me, so it worked out all right. Seriously, I have much respect for anyone who can nail speaking another language, I studied Japanese in school for like 5 years, and only managed to master counting to 10 and some basic greetings. Ha!

    • Kiyoko says:

      I agree. I had a lot of people who wanted to practice English with me, so it worked out that I was 100% fluent. For tourists, it’s absolutely great. You can get away with basics. However, the struggle comes when you stop being a tourist and stop living there. To the many of the native Japanese, they will always see you as a tourist.

  5. Carrie says:

    I can totally relate to the never-really-fitting-in feeling. I lived in China for awhile (in Beijing), and even though I shopped at the same little market every couple days, I still got constant stares from the cashiers. Although it’s interesting that Japanese people were surprised when you could speak Japanese — in China it was the opposite, like you were expected to be fluent in Chinese. None of it really phased me, and I’d totally move back if I had the chance, but it was very different from what I’d been expecting.

    • Kiyoko says:

      Interesting that you were expected to speak Chinese. Here in America, we have the same thing. We expect people to speak English. I was surprised to find it the opposite in Japan.

  6. melody pittman says:

    I have yet to visit Japan so I can only guess at how you felt during all this but wow, what a great read. I enjoyed every word of it and certainly learned a lot about their culture and society.

    • Kiyoko says:

      I think it was an absolutely great place to visit as a tourist, and I would highly recommend it to anybody else planning on visiting, but unfortunately, like most things, it’s not perfect.

  7. Kate says:

    This is a great post! I traveled in Europe for a couple months so, I can relate to not fitting in to a degree. I can only imagine the struggle of fitting in socially in Japan. With that said, I think its an important feeling to be so uncomfortable. It’s eye opening to other cultures and sort of puts you in your place. I would never change my experience.

    • Kiyoko says:

      I can definitely understand that sometimes it’s a good thing to feel uncomfortable. Getting out of your comfort zone helps you grow as a person. That’s why I love travel so much. I get to have so many unique experiences that I never would have been able to have at home. However, if it’s some place that you are living and plan on calling your home, I think it’s important to feel comfortable, something I would never be able to do living in Japan.

  8. I can imagine that eternal sense of otherness would be awkwardly sad. As a writer I always feel like an outsider, always observing, looking for understanding and essence. After living in Japan after 3 years, even being 5’0″ and dark haired it must’ve been a bit alienating.

    • Kiyoko says:

      I definitely agree that as writers, we often look at the world differently than many people which in itself can be alienating. I guess I just didn’t stand a chance in Japan, haha.

  9. Nisha says:

    What an honest post! I have never been to Japan and you have shown me a different Japan from what I knew about it. It’s disturbing sometimes when people know everything about you, notice every move of you…. like they knew what all you bought in a grocery store !

    All the best to you, I’ll go there just as a tourist. 🙂

    • Kiyoko says:

      Yeah, it’s a side of Japan that doesn’t get talked about much, but I think that’s slowly changing. As a tourist though, it’s an absolutely fantastic country. I would go back in a heartbeat.

  10. carla says:

    I visited Japan twice before really find their culture unique but I really admire their politeness and orderliness.

  11. Jenna says:

    I can definitely understand where you are coming from–traveling to a place and living in a place are such different experiences. We loved Japan but only spent a couple of weeks there. I’d love to go back someday, but I don’t think I could live there full time either! Thanks for sharing your insights!

  12. Laura Lynch says:

    When we moved overseas for the first time last year, we considered Japan but even though it’s such an incredible place, I was a little worried about my ability to feel at home there. We would like to live in Japan someday, though, and I think a big part of feeling part of that community is learning the language first. You’ve definitely done it all right. There’s only so much you can do to truly blend in.

    • Kiyoko says:

      That is true, and I definitely wish I had learned more of the language. While my Japanese was pretty decent, I was still far from fluent, so it was just another stress point. Being closer to being fluent probably would have made things at least a little easier.

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