My students often ask me what Japanese people would think of Americans. Would they be discriminated in Japan because they are “gaijin”. Racism and discrimination are everywhere..not only Japan or America. It’s everywhere. Everyone is racist to an extent for having stereotypes about certain ethnic groups. I would be very honest about racism issues in Japan. If you are just traveling, I don’t think you are going to have a lot of problems. You may even find Japanese people to be polite and pleasant. They are very polite and nice people. My students from America took his girlfriend to vacation in Japan for the first time. He was so touched and humbled by Japanese people who went out of their way to help my student and his girlfriend. He said, “Japanese people are so nice..Americans should learn from Japanese and be polite” But this issue goes a little deeper. Japanese people are not so nice to other Japanese people. These Japanese people who went out of their ways to help my student and his girlfriend noticed that they were lost and because they are gaijin (foreigner) and gaijin usually refers to white people. Japanese people generally hold a favorable view of White people. (Europeans, Americans) I want to believe that Japanese people would be equally nice to other races and would be willing to help other non-white Gaijin. I don’t know because I have Chinese and Korean friends who went to universities in Japan and people weren’t particularly nice to them. Sure, in the beginning, they didn’t speak good Japanese and they were lost in the cities many times. This is one example of racism in Japanese. It is nothing like hatred and hate crimes committed against gay people or certain ethnic groups in America but it is more to do with their views and stereotypes.
Many white people have complained that they were discriminated in Japan because they were refused service by this upscale Japanese sushi restaurant. When my students told me that, I was embarrassed because this type of thing is against the law in some states in America (you can refuse service based on other reasons) but the owner of the restaurant maybe just want to serve Japanese people and she or her staff working in the restaurant doesn’t speak good enough English, so she thought she might as well refuse service to foreigners all together so that it won’t be embarrassing for her. “Shame” is deeply routed in Japanese mentality. The same thing happened at public bath. There was a news reporting that a teenager who is ethnically mixed (half, Japanese call) and although he was born and raised in Japan as a Japanese, the owner of the public bath place didn’t let him in. It is very bad but unfortunately one thing that I know about Japan and Japanese is that they aren’t very flexible. They are pretty much by the book and follow the social norms and protocols..Japan has been a culturally isolated society for centuries and because of the history and geographical reasons, it is still isolated to an extent.
Just because they refuse to let Gaijin rent an apartment or deny service, it doesn’t mean that they think anything is wrong with you. Most often, Gaijin who wants to go to Brothels to find Japanese prostitutes and end up being turned away because it says at the door “We don’t speak English” indirectly saying that they don’t serve Gaijin. They just don’t want problems with Gaijin because their business is constantly under the radar by the Japanese police so it isn’t just discrimination.
If you are still interested in living in a homogeneous country such as Japan in the future, my advise to you is the following:
1) try to learn as much Japanese as possible
Japanese people speak very poor English in general. In order to comfortably live in Japan, you must master Japanese language so you would be conversationally fluent in Japan.
2) try to be respectful of others, especially elderly. It’s about respecting Japanese culture. It is important to learn the culture as much as you can before visiting Japan.
3) and try to make some good Japanese friends. It may take a little while but once you become good friends with Japanese people, they can be helpful. It is good to have a Japanese friend help you with apartment rental and other issues. Japanese people are still reluctant to rent an apartment to foreigners. (it’s the same in America)
4) If this is your first time living in Japan, it may be better for you to find an apartment in big cities so people are used to foreigners and there are places you may be able to go. If you live in Tokyo, there is American embassy there obviously.
5) I can’t say enough about this but please FOLLOW THE LAW It may not make sense to you if you are not familiar with Japanese legal system. It is very important that you learn the basics of Japanese laws BEFORE going to Japan. Police can actually ask for passport and ID randomly on the street in Japan. It is legal, so make sure to carry your documentation at all times while in Japan.
If you can add any other items to the list, please feel free to comment.
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