we are not familiar living with foreign people ... what do you even eat?
February 24, 2015 12:33 PM   Subscribe

 
“We are not familiar living with foreign people,” Hayashi said, giving a lighthearted shrug. “I mean, Japan is an island. It’s like, foreign people. . . . What do you even eat?”

Having spent time in both Tokyo and the US hinterland, I'd put my money on Tokyoites in terms of cultural sophistication anytime. This wasn't as "hurf durf weird Japan" as I expected, but it's not free of it, either.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:55 PM on February 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


for a change, a pretty good write up of the way field work is done.

though I wish mine would occasionally take me into urban Tokyo rather than rural random African location
posted by infini at 1:00 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Having spent time in both Tokyo and the US hinterland

Tokyo isn't really "hinterland". A reasonable comparison could be made between Tokyo and LA or NYC.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:07 PM on February 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Like this article, thanks!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:10 PM on February 24, 2015


Tokyo isn't really "hinterland". A reasonable comparison could be made between Tokyo and LA or NYC.

I guess I meant (and expressed badly) that I'm tired of reading articles where Tokyo and its residents are framed as bizarre, insular foreign exotics, and there were hints of that here. I found the average Tokyoites that I talked to in coffee shops, on the train, etc. (language barriers aside) to be fairly sophisticated, knowledgeable urbanites, as you'd expect. The NYT could easily turn its lens on any of hundreds of American communities, though, and find nobody with even the remotest idea what the average Japanese person eats.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:15 PM on February 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


Sushi?
posted by smackfu at 1:22 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Am I reading the article wrong in that I thought that it was more the Japanese who were baffled by what their foreign guests ate? I mean, if anyone comes off looking like prize idiots, it is certainly the travelers, not the Tokyoites.
posted by Kitteh at 1:28 PM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I found the average Tokyoites that I talked to in coffee shops, on the train, etc. (language barriers aside) to be fairly sophisticated, knowledgeable urbanites, as you'd expect.

What comes across to me from the article is a certain suspicion of foreigners, a sort of I-don't-mind-them-myself-but-other-people-might-have-a-problem mentality that's uncomfortably reminiscent of some forms of racism here in the US. I don't think it's just my perception, either; Japan has one of the lowest foreign-born populations of any OECD country, and there is a strong aversion to increasing immigration despite the real demographic pressures the country is facing. There was a major diplomatic incident between Japan and South Africa recently, when an editorial in a leading newspaper proposed a system literally based on apartheid if immigration was to increase.

Which is to say that I think one can be a sophisticated, knowledgeable urbanite and still not know how to—or want to—deal with foreigners; there are people like this in every country, not just Japan, and in cities and towns of every size.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:46 PM on February 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


This wasn't as "hurf durf weird Japan" as I expected, but it's not free of it, either.

I didn't notice any of it, frankly, this was just an honest recounting of someone who didn't know much about what to expect. We can't expect everyone to just pretend to know what a love hotel is, or to know that it doesn't mean it's a bad or dangerous neighbourhood. And in my experience, there is a learning curve if you are outside the usual tourist areas and into regular residential areas in terms of not stepping on toes.

a sort of I-don't-mind-them-myself-but-other-people-might-have-a-problem mentality

Not sure about the analog in the US, but in Japan in my experience they aren't wrong that some people might have a problem.
posted by Hoopo at 1:48 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


ryanshepard: “We are not familiar living with foreign people,” Hayashi said, giving a lighthearted shrug. “I mean, Japan is an island. It’s like, foreign people. . . . What do you even eat?”

Having spent time in both Tokyo and the US hinterland, I'd put my money on Tokyoites in terms of cultural sophistication anytime. This wasn't as "hurf durf weird Japan" as I expected, but it's not free of it, either.


But wasn't that a Japanese person's perception of Japan? I don't want to not hear that sort of thing just because it may superficially resemble an ignorant Western perception.
posted by spaltavian at 1:58 PM on February 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


My understanding also was that it's less traditional to entertain in one's home in Japan than in the US, even friends, although that may be just Tokyo. Perhaps this a matter of practicality just from lack of space.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 2:03 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


The idea that Japanese culture isn't xenophobic, and in many ways downright racist, is pretty funny to anyone who is Chinese or Korean. For example.
posted by danny the boy at 2:07 PM on February 24, 2015 [25 favorites]


It was about how the airbnb concept generally goes against the grain, and what characteristics account for the people that do sign up for it.

But... There are signs outside restaurants that say "no foreigners"?
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 2:30 PM on February 24, 2015


But wasn't that a Japanese person's perception of Japan?

That was a Japanese person's impression of Japanese peoples' perception of foreigners. So Meta!

Maybe part of the issue here is that American tourists expect everything "international" to be in English, but a huge majority of Japan's tourist visitors are from nearby Asian countries - South Korea, China, Taiwan. It's helpful to ask yourself how far you'd get in Queens speaking only Japanese. "Not too far" is my guess. Hell, not speaking English in the security lines at JFK, Newark, or any big American airport will get you yelled at, or slow-talked at like you're an imbecile.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:32 PM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


pretty funny to anyone who is Chinese or Korean

When my sister's place in Osaka got broken into and robbed, the cops claimed they could tell the perpetrators were Chinese by how the door had been forced open. That struck me as a bit dubious.

But... There are signs outside restaurants that say "no foreigners"?

Eh, I guess...not really common and those kinda places are kinda not places you're likely to accidentally wander into looking for a bite to eat. I never saw a sign like that on like a yakitori spot or ramen shop or anything, these places tend to look more like a tavern, I always sort of assumed they were hangouts or clubhouses for uyoku dantai and other shady types.
posted by Hoopo at 2:50 PM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


But... There are signs outside restaurants that say "no foreigners"?
I don't think it's very common. I was in Tokyo a month and a half ago, and I didn't see any. My brother, who is white, and his Japanese wife and their kids live in Tokyo, and he hasn't mentioned it being an issue.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:53 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wow, the guy who had to close his listing because the guest had charged his phone in the lobby!
I'd be making hundreds of grievous mistakes like that if I went to Japan. I'd be terrified.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:55 PM on February 24, 2015


This matches pretty neatly with my own personal experiences staying in Japan (and Tokyo). I definitely sensed that I was made to feel "conspicuously welcome" out in public (restaurants, stores, etc) compared to my local companions, which left me feeling a mixture of safety and segregation. When I was invited to dine (and later sleep at) my host's family's home, I was continually reminded (by surprised outsiders) how big of a deal it was to have been given such an invitation. Compared to large Chinese cities, for example, I was definitely made to feel much more of an "exception" compared to Tokyo.
posted by WaylandSmith at 3:06 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd be making hundreds of grievous mistakes like that if I went to Japan. I'd be terrified.
My brother basically said that I was going to commit constant terrible etiquette lapses, and I shouldn't worry about it, because nobody expected foreigners to follow etiquette rules. I think the tradeoff is basically that Japanese people will forgive you pretty much any level of rudeness, but on the other hand they kind of don't want you in their most intimate space, because they expect you to be really unspeakably rude.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:16 PM on February 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


(also they expect you to smell)
posted by 1adam12 at 3:22 PM on February 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Japan has "opened up" a lot in the twenty years I have lived (off and on) here. The recent push by the government to increased inbound tourism is rapidly changing peoples' perceptions of what their country has to offer, especially out here in the sticks where people realize they can breathe life into dying tourist towns by attracting Aussies.

Chinese and Korean tourists, however, will drive tourism, and they are very, very different than the kind of tourists Airbnb is focused on. Airbnb tourists will be just a drop in the bucket, which is one of the reasons why it is slow to take hold in Tokyo.

There is certainly racism against Koreans and Chinese in Japan. On the other hand, there is racism against Japanese in Korea and China. And I don't recall Japanese people going around burning down factories and department stores like what happened in China a few years ago.

Japan is not a monolithic country. Many people are appalled by the fringe rightwing groups (one of which has been forced by a district court to pay damages to a Korean school for hate crimes).

Japan, like other countries, is constantly evolving. Americans I think tend to see other countries as mirrors of the United States. But there are no Fergusons and so on in Japan. There are problems here and risks to civil society, but the US is much, much, much worse on any number of fronts.
posted by Nevin at 3:54 PM on February 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


There was a major diplomatic incident between Japan and South Africa recently, when an editorial in a leading newspaper proposed a system literally based on apartheid if immigration was to increase.

The paper was Sankei Shimbun, which gets all hand-wavy because it has shit readership. The columnist was Sono Ayako who at 83 is probably suffering from dementia. Her views are notable because she was once part of the Cabinet educational reform committee, and has sat on the boards of NHK and Japan Post. But during her long career as a writer she has always identified as a "conservative" (she also identifies as a Christian), which in Japan involves spouting all sorts of chauvinistic, patriotic bullshit.

Also notable was the firestorm of public reaction to her dumb column. While she may have been influential with the martinets who run Japan at the moment, she does not represent the way Japanese people think.
posted by Nevin at 3:58 PM on February 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've spent a lot of time in Japan, my wife is Japanese, etc; so I have both talked to a lot of Japanese people and been the "foreigner in Japan".

My experience is "t’s like, foreign people. . . . What do you even eat?" -- this is exaggerated, yes. But the underlying feeling is real. Many Japanese (of course, nothing really applies to "all" Japanese same as Americans, etc) feel an expectation to follow a large set of cultural rules/norms when interacting with each other. People who fail to follow these are punished more harshly than in the US (especially places like LA or NY). They assume foreginers do not know these rules (which largely they do not) and thus are not at all sure how to interact with them or how they will behave. (Conversely, once they realize you are familiar with Japanese customs and can speak the language, they relax considerably).

I think the tradeoff is basically that Japanese people will forgive you pretty much any level of rudeness, but on the other hand they kind of don't want you in their most intimate space, because they expect you to be really unspeakably rude.

Thats sort of right --- they will definitely give you a pass as a foreigner, and at the same time that will make them uncomfortable. So you won't get the kind of reaction a Japanese person would ignoring the same rules, but they will have a harder time feeling at ease around you and many would prefer you weren't there for that reason.

All that said, this is mixed with racism, of course (I mean, everywhere on Earth has racism). And just like in the US, this is not "I hate all races equally". As a white foreigner, you will get the above fear of noncomformity/not knowing the rules/not knowing the language, but there is not a huge wave of anti-white racism in Japan (just like American anti-immigrant protestors don't care about immigrants from England or France the way they do about Mexico). I really have no idea what it is like for black foreigners. For other Asian countries, it depends heavily on their history with Japan and various cultural stereotypes.

Also it matters a lot where you go. I have spent a lot of time in Yamanashi, and I rarely see other white people anywhere (and in my wife's town I don't think I've ever seen another white person). I don't get a lot of racism, but I do see a lot of the "Oh crap, how do I talk to / deal with a foreigner" reaction when people encounter me. Usually this gets better when they realize I understand at least the basics of how to interact (there are still edge cases I can be unprepared for). In Tokyo, foreigners are much more common, although still very rare compared to Los Angeles or New York.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:59 PM on February 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


I thought it was interesting that in the photos of foreign visitors, only one was gaijin. The other visitors, though from different countries, were Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, South Korean. Less culture shock that way?

Sometimes I wonder if what makes a successful Airbnb host is just extroversion. I think it would be awful to open your house up to visitors on a regular basis, and similarly awful to have to stay in a total stranger's house with them. I obviously would not do well with couch-surfing either. And yes, definite introvert. Must have own space! That said, having Miki unroll my futon and make me onigiri sounds lovely.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:02 PM on February 24, 2015


The other visitors, though from different countries, were Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, South Korean. Less culture shock that way?

In my experience folks from other cultures in Asia (Korea, Philippines, South Asia, Iran) tend to have a sense of propriety and decorum that kinda meshes with what Japan pushes to an extreme.

However, there are a lot of rules here. The most obvious one (to me anyway) is that if you cannot speak the language perfectly like an adult, you will always be treated like a "foreigner" and will always experience Japan as a "foreigner."

Language is the biggest barrier compared to, say, Canada, which is more tolerant of different levels of fluency.
posted by Nevin at 4:16 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


because nobody expected foreigners to follow etiquette rules. I think the tradeoff is basically that Japanese people will forgive you pretty much any level of rudeness, but on the other hand they kind of don't want you in their most intimate space, because they expect you to be really unspeakably rude.

I've heard stories about Japanese-American people visiting Japan finding that the easiest way to get through day-to-day interactions was by wearing a shirt reading something like "I'm not an idiot; I'm Japanese-American. I apologize for my inevitable rudenesses."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:21 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


But... There are signs outside restaurants that say "no foreigners"?

You'll find those signs outside really shady bars, soaplands, and lesbian or gay clubs.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:24 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I've talked to some Nisei/Sansei who said they had a much harder time there because everyone was upset/confused that they couldnt speak Japanese or know the rules.

Similarly, many Japanese expect every white person to speak English.
posted by thefoxgod at 4:24 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes a thousand times to what Nevin said about Ayako Sono and Sankei. That was a sick opinion piece in a notoriously right-leaning paper, which was summarily slammed by a heartening amount of public ridicule.
posted by misozaki at 4:36 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nevin: But there are no Fergusons and so on in Japan. There are problems here and risks to civil society, but the US is much, much, much worse on any number of fronts.

I don't think that is a fair comment. Ferguson to me was the intersection of a violent society and institutional racism. It's true that Japan has much less violent crime than US, and that makes the US very much worse on that front. But this is an article that references xenophobia and institutional racism, and I don't think there's been enough evidence I've seen (or provided in this thread) that the US is "much, much, much worse" in terms of institutional racism, especially given that in Japan 98.5% of the population are ethnically Japan and that Japan has had a host of problems with the remaining 1.5%.
posted by watermelon at 5:33 PM on February 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Conversely, once they realize you are familiar with Japanese customs and can speak the language, they relax considerably

I notice when I'm there that it's not even that. If you're making an honest attempt and humble about it, you're not offending anyone.

I've seen one place with a no foreigners sign. It was a kind of "bar and grill" thing in a town with a large US Navy base. I don't really feel that offended at all if they're sick of dealing with the drunken sailors and furthermore want to offer the locals a place to hide from them. It was always packed during business hours.
posted by ctmf at 5:38 PM on February 24, 2015


If you're making an honest attempt and humble about it, you're not offending anyone.

Yeah, I think especially in cities and tourist areas, they just want to check to see if you're trying. There are levels though, the more you know and the more you can speak Japanese the more comfortable they will be of course.

Also I find that when I'm with my wife I get a lot of benefit of the doubt automatically. Whether thats because she's in effect vouching for me or because they assume she will "handle" me I don't know :)

(Though I have noticed occasional tension --- normally, in more formal situations they would always talk to the male half of the couple. But on the other hand, they're much more comfortable talking to a fellow Japanese person. So sometimes they kind of end up looking at me while talking to her, or similar contortions).

(For all that racism can be an issue there, it's less obvious if only because of the 98.5/1.5 % split thing. Sexism however is more overt than it is in the US, one of the few things my wife likes better here)
posted by thefoxgod at 5:50 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I spent six months in Japan on working holiday a few years ago, and ". . . What do you even eat?” is a pretty literal rendition of the kind of reactions I received (as a white Canadian). The top question I was asked was probably "what do you eat instead of rice?" So I don't feel like "what do you even eat" is exaggerated. (And actually it's kindof a reasonable and interesting question. Foreign food culture is interesting!) Then again, I was in a smaller city most of the time, so maybe "what do you eat" is an exaggeration for Tokyo.

But... There are signs outside restaurants that say "no foreigners"?
You'll find those signs outside really shady bars, soaplands, and lesbian or gay clubs.


Incidentally, I found Tokyo lesbian bars quite welcoming. I don't think I ever saw a "no foreigners" sign.
posted by snorkmaiden at 5:56 PM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


But this is an article that references xenophobia and institutional racism, and I don't think there's been enough evidence I've seen (or provided in this thread) that the US is "much, much, much worse" in terms of institutional racism, especially given that in Japan 98.5% of the population are ethnically Japan and that Japan has had a host of problems with the remaining 1.5%.

My point was that Americans often tend to expect every other country is like them, or wants to be like them. Objectively speaking, the US is worth for minorities than Japan.

I don't disagree with the second part of your statement, but Wikipedia is not really a credible citation.
posted by Nevin at 6:15 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


"What do you eat at every meal instead of rice?" is completely a question that Japanese people ask, if only because a lot of people seem to have never considered the possibility of anything but having a single staple food that is eaten at every meal ("So, like, bread then? Or pasta?").
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:34 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Small children in Japan believe Americans eat hamburgers for every meal. As they grow up, they realize this is obviously absurd, so they believe that Americans eat bread with every meal instead.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:37 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


"What do you eat at every meal instead of rice?"

Oh yes, I run into that a lot too. Most people seem to just assume "we" (Americans/Westerners) eat bread with every meal instead of rice. My wife still finds it a little strange I might eat without bread or rice.
posted by thefoxgod at 6:38 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought it was interesting that in the photos of foreign visitors, only one was gaijin. The other visitors, though from different countries, were Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, South Korean.

You are misinformed as to the meaning of the word gaijin. It is a shortened form of the word gaikokujin, which translates as 'person from a foreign country'. Anyone from any country other than Japan is classified as gaikokujin or gaijin.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:19 PM on February 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Objectively speaking, the US is worth for minorities than Japan

Anecdotally my wife and I have a friend here in Canada, a woman who is ethnically Korean, born and raised in Japan by Korean immigrants. Things were not good for her there and even in Canada she uses a fake, more Japanese-sounding name when she has to deal with a Japanese customer. Even has 2 different business cards. Unless she's from some notorious family or something I have to assume it's a real problem
posted by Hoopo at 7:19 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Objectively speaking, the US is worth for minorities than Japan

First, check that spell correct, pretty sure you mean "worse".

Second, in what way do you consider yourself to be *objective* on this matter?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:22 PM on February 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


And I don't recall Japanese people going around burning down factories and department stores like what happened in China a few years ago.

Oy vey.
posted by dglynn at 8:18 PM on February 24, 2015


flapjax at midnite: "Second, in what way do you consider yourself to be *objective* on this matter?"

I dunno what standards he's using (and it's kinda weird to talk about "objectively worse". "Objectively taller" or "objectively heavier", sure, but "worse" is a subjective concept). But subjectively, I feel it's worse in the US in terms of risk of death, injury, or incarceration. I've known non-white foreigners in Japan who were annoyed and aggravated by the police, but I've never met any who were actually scared of the police. The same isn't true for non-white folks I've met in the US.

But, setting aside the "Japanese, crazyracists amiright?" thread, I really should stop reading articles like this because they tickle every tsukkomi bone in my body. It's like every two paragraphs there's something that makes me go "What? No". "People aren't used to foreigners in Jiyugaoka?! Man, I lived there for two years, and nobody looked at me twice." "People were setting off fireworks in the streets of Shibuya, and it was a 'riotous party'? Man, I lived there for seven years, and I never saw anything like that.", etc. etc.

Also, I'm not super clear on the AirBnB system. Is it only for international travel? It seems like 90% of the problems the interviewed folks described would also apply to other Japanese people, but the interviewees keep coming back to foreigners. Is it that the interviewers were foreigners? Is AirBnB being marketed as hotel hosting for foreigners? Were the questions just oriented about foreigners?

Omnomnom: "Wow, the guy who had to close his listing because the guest had charged his phone in the lobby!"

I find it surprising that that would be surprising. I mean, it's an apartment, not a private home. If you're AirBnBing in an apartment or condo, there's like a 90% chance that it's grey market. Charging your phone in the lobby makes it really clear that someone is running an unlicensed lodging business in the apartment, which is a major lease violation in most places. If you're lodging at someone's apartment, it seems like it would be common sense, not surprising, to maintain a low profile so you don't get the person kicked out for a lease violation. Ditto all that stuff towards the end about "take the map and itinerary with you, we don't want people finding maps in the trash" stuff. If you're running a grey market business, you don't want your customers to call attention to you.

And, not tsukkomi, but on that last bit:
"I could assume only that the building was populated with people who, like me, were for some reason nervous and dislocated, and therefore quiet — unsure whether they belonged. Maybe the place was full of migrant workers or runaways who’d turned to prostitution. Or could it be that behind each door was a traveler who’d rented an apartment that had looked tidy and appealing on the Airbnb website and was now just politely trying to stay hidden? I didn’t know; I’d never know."

I lived on Love Hotel Hill for six years, in a place just like she describes (maybe even the same place). The answer is: yes, there are other people living there. The walls are extremely thick, much thicker than in any other place I've ever lived. I've heard music stream from my neighbor's room the moment they opened their veranda door, but nothing before that, meaning that the room is super-soundproofed. No, there are no migrant workers, the rent is too high for that. Maybe runaways, if they're making a decent amount of money from prostitution, but not a ton of them or anything. Lots of young people (college age to early 30s) who want to live in Shibuya, be able to stay out late, past last train. Folks who want to live in or near somewhere 'cool' (maybe Shibuya, maybe Harajuku, maybe Omotesando), and are willing to accept a tiny place to do so.
posted by Bugbread at 8:47 PM on February 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


First, check that spell correct, pretty sure you mean "worse".

Second, in what way do you consider yourself to be *objective* on this matter?


Yes, you got me on the spelling. Objectively speaking, things are indeed worse in the States if you compare things like incarceration rates of minorities.
posted by Nevin at 8:50 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anyway, it would be silly to argue (and I'm not) that Japan is not insular. But on the other hand it's surprising how perfect everyone in this country is expected to be. Even in the largely Angle (ie, "white") West Coast Canadian city where we live, my wife, who is Japanese, has experienced what can be regarded as racism.

Getting back to the actual topic, I really wonder if Airbnb has a chance in Japan. As mentioned, the real growth in tourism in Japan over the next five years is not going to be from US or European tourists who use Airbnb at this time.

The growth in tourism is going to come from Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Mainland China, Thailand, Malaysia and so on. At the moment these folks *tend to* come on package tours, with little emphasis on self-guided experiential tourism (the kind of tourism experience that appeals to Airbnb users).
posted by Nevin at 8:58 PM on February 24, 2015


Hoopo: "Anecdotally my wife and I have a friend here in Canada, a woman who is ethnically Korean, born and raised in Japan by Korean immigrants. Things were not good for her there and even in Canada she uses a fake, more Japanese-sounding name when she has to deal with a Japanese customer. Even has 2 different business cards. Unless she's from some notorious family or something I have to assume it's a real problem"

It really, really depends where you are in Japan, or where the people you're dealing with are from (probably in the same way that the way you're treated as a Hispanic in the US varies significantly depending on whether you're a Hispanic in Los Angeles or in a small town in Alaska). I saw, in-person, anti-Korean racism during the mere 3 years I lived in Kyushu, but I haven't seen any in-person in the Tokyo area, despite having lived here for 16 years now.
posted by Bugbread at 9:28 PM on February 24, 2015


Bugbread: "It really, really depends where you are in Japan, or where the people you're dealing with are from"

Sorry, to be clear here, when I say "where the people you're dealing with are from", I'm not referring to the foreigners in the equation, but the Japanese people in the equation. Like, if you're in Canada dealing with Japanese people, it depends on whether you're dealing with Japanese people from the Tokyo area or Japanese people from Yamaguchi Prefecture.
posted by Bugbread at 9:41 PM on February 24, 2015


I've had nothing but good experiences in Hokuriku, where I have lived on and off for twenty years. Friends and contacts of mine in Kansai and Tokyo say that things are a little different in the big city, where non-Japanese are not particularly unique.

I'm actually interviewing some Filipino guestworkers here in Fukui in a couple of weeks for a magazine article (I noticed that there are now many Filipinos employed in this rural part of Japan in restaurants now compared to 10 years ago).

It will be interesting to hear about their experiences.
posted by Nevin at 9:57 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oddly enough, probably the most overt display of Japanese racism I've seen happened in Fukui at PLANT-2, where, when asked if they had an umbrella rack there, the security guard volunteered that no, they don't, because the Chinese* steal them

*rendered as the phonetic equivalent of the English word "Chinese," which is basically one step short of an ethnic slur in Japanese (cf. Kill Bill Part 1).
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:18 AM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is interesting to read, both the original article and the comments. For decades, I have been avoiding Japan because of the "image of Japan" as propagated by people who really love Japan. I'd heard of the racism, the sexism, the xenophobia, the complicated rules etc.

In my job, it is really hard to avoid Japan, so eventually, I went there a couple of years ago, with a group of students from every part of the world. And we found a country full of human beings who were really happy to share their interests and ideas with us.

I'm not at all saying that Japan is perfect. It's more like that in my experience, some people who admire Japan are in some ways imagining Japan.
When I was there, the study-trip was arranged by colleagues who are really, really into "Japanism". And when I told them that I felt comfortable and that I found it easy to comprehend a lot of Japanese mores, they were offended. They seemed to want Japan to be strange and complicated.

That all said, I am from a country with a lot of unspoken rules and concealed racism. So maybe we just knew exactly how to behave and how to instruct our students from other Asian and non-Asian countries.
posted by mumimor at 9:52 AM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


One thing I found really funny in the article was when they said they instinctively answered the people at the restaurant in Spanish. I had a similar problem sometimes. I was in a French immersion program as a child, and didn't start to learn any Japanese until my last year at university. I like to say I only have room in my head for 2 languages, because every time I learned a Japanese word a French one fell out. In Japan I often found French words would come out when the right words in Japanese didn't come to mind right away. It's honestly like the language section of my mind has an "English" section and one for "everything else".
posted by Hoopo at 10:01 AM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have the same experience with Japanese and German, Hoopo. Initially I would end up using the German word instead of the Japanese one by accident, now that my Japanese is better than my German the opposite happens.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:32 PM on February 25, 2015


I have that problem with any language other than English and Spanish. I feel like my brain has a native language area, a second language area, and an "everything else" area, which right now is Chinese. So, regardless of what language I MEAN to speak, if it isn't English or Spanish, it will come out Chinese. Try to speak French in Morocco? Chinese. So proud to say "Thank you" in Polish during a trip to Krakow? Chinese.
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:26 PM on February 25, 2015


I find it surprising that that would be surprising. I mean, it's an apartment, not a private home. If you're AirBnBing in an apartment or condo, there's like a 90% chance that it's grey market. Charging your phone in the lobby makes it really clear that someone is running an unlicensed lodging business in the apartment, which is a major lease violation in most places. If you're lodging at someone's apartment, it seems like it would be common sense, not surprising, to maintain a low profile so you don't get the person kicked out for a lease violation.

See, all this simply wouldn't have occurred to me. But thanks for explaining! It's probably for the best that I'm not heading to Japan or using airbnb any time soon!
posted by Omnomnom at 2:30 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have the same problem with the "English" and "Other" language brackets. My mom is Spanish, so I grew up speaking Spanish as a second language (not nearly as strong as my English). Spanish didn't have too much of a negative impact on my learning of Japanese, but once my Japanese got good, every time I tried to use Spanish, Japanese would come out. So I'd be talking to my mom, trying to practice my rusty Spanish, but I ended out conjugating verbs in the wrong language. Like, I wanted to say "I ate". "Comer" is Spanish for "eat", but I conjugated it into past tense by saying "cometa". And every time I would stall for time I would say "ano", which in Japanese is kinda like "um" or "uh", but in Spanish means "anus".
posted by Bugbread at 2:37 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


One thing I found really funny in the article was when they said they instinctively answered the people at the restaurant in Spanish

I had the exact same problem when I moved to Prague. Months later I traveled to Spain and was speaking to everyone in Czech.
posted by vignettist at 5:13 PM on February 25, 2015


Haruko Miki sounds like a really interesting person, is my main takeaway here.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:40 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's honestly like the language section of my mind has an "English" section and one for "everything else".

Mine too. I learnt French from a reasonably early age, and later on at uni I was taking Modern Greek. I didn't just have trouble with saying the French for something instead of the Greek; once I was trying to remember the days of the week in French and my brain helpfully scrolled: "Lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi, samedi, kyriaki. No wait, that's not right..." Eventually it got to the point where I raised my hand in the middle of class and asked if anyone else had taken French and could remember the word for Sunday. Fortunately, someone put me out of my misery and said "dimanche". I'm pretty sure if I could speak more than a smattering of words and phrases in Japanese, the same thing would happen.

I still think kyriaki fits better - it ends in "i" just like all the others!
posted by Athanassiel at 9:30 PM on February 25, 2015


The worst is when I was crossing at the zebra lines in a busy downtown Chicago intersection and wanted to urgently say "Wait/Stop!" to my companion, and all that happened in teh urgency of the moment was a bunch of different words scrolling through my mind as I flipped rapidly trying to remember which language.

/no, I don't know that many or as fluently, but enough basic words in enough languages to thorougly confuse me
posted by infini at 2:01 AM on February 26, 2015


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