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Dealing With Racism If You Live in Japan

Recently I read an article on the Japan Times that talked about racism from the Japanese towards either foreign tourists and/or foreigners living in Japan. The article "Japan’s foreign residents sound off in unprecedented survey on discrimination" by the Japan Time's own Osaki Tomohiro states that around 30-40% of all foreigners in Japan, regardless of the reason why they are there, experience some sort of racism, whether it be blatant or very discreet. With the Tokyo Olympics coming in nearly 3 years, it's imperative for the Japanese government to instill more sensitivity towards non-Japanese people.

But who am I kidding... this sort of thing will continue up until and even beyond the Olympics. And it isn't just Japan that is racist. According to the hit Broadway play Avenue Q, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist". But racism comes in so many different shapes and forms.

Here are some examples of what I went through while living in Japan. Most of these happened while living in Hokkaido's countryside, but I've even had things happen to me while in Chiba too.

- One time in Hokkaido while returning back from lessons to the town office, I was returning my car keys to the auto department when I encountered two older gentlemen at the counter with another coworker. The older of the two men looked at the man at the counter and said to him "おい, あの白いゴリラはだれ?厚岸のペット外人? (Hey, who is the white gorilla? Is he Akkeshi's pet foreigner?) " in a loud enough voice for me to hear.

- One time other time in Hokkaido, one other American friend and I went to the local sento (public bath) to escape from the cold. After we disrobed and went into the bath, we were greeted by the local old men and even some of the guys our age. Of course, the first thing they all looked at........ was not either of our eyes. One younger guy that worked with me at the town office muttered under his breath "でけえ。。。俺のより超でけえ" ("Big.... He's bigger than me"). As my friend and I continued with our showers and bath, other men started calling out to us and even asked us questions so disgusting, I won't repeat them here.

- Multiple times throughout Japan, I've been followed by people in stores (most particularly while grocery shopping) and when I try to confront them, they hightail it away from me.

- One time in Chiba, I was getting home from work and this old woman kept staring at me while we were sitting on opposite sides of the train car. Even while trying to read my email on my phone, I could notice out of the corner of my eye she was continuing to stare at me with a scowl on her face.

Of course, my experiences were rather tame than say.... not being allowed entrance to a gentleman's club because you were not Japanese (Read Debito Arudou's website if you ever want a good laugh. He was stationed in Hokkaido like I was, but he truly has a bone to pick with Hokkaidoans and Japanese in general).

So what is a foreigner to do outside of their own country and culture? Here are a few tips for if you are in Japan, but some of these tips might work elsewhere.


Strategy #1: BLOW THEM OFF

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to ignore people if they are being racist towards you, especially if they are doing it rather blatantly. The best thing to do in most situations is to just blow them off and not give them a reaction.

Now sometimes, you might infuriate your aggressor further. If that happens, you need to move on to strategy #2.


Strategy #2: Make a Scene..... But Not a Big One

Most people around the world hate bringing attention to themselves... and Japanese people especially hate this more than anything. So why not start a conversation with with your transgressor in either English or Japanese. It's more fun to do it in English though, but I prefer using Japanese and REALLY making them wet themselves.

THIS DOES NOT MEAN BREAKING YOUR TRANSGRESSOR IN HALF PHYSICALLY. Trust me, I've seen plenty of stories about what happens when a foreigner goes to a Japanese jail for doing something like that. Point is, make a scene, but don't do anything that can get you in trouble.


Strategy #3: Use Your Japanese Whenever Possible

If you can speak Japanese at a fairly well level, USE IT. Most Japanese who do badmouth foreigners.... only to have the foreigner verbally give them a smack down back in Japanese. Even if your Japanese isn't that great, I teach my students a catch all phrase to diffuse a Japanese bully... but you'll have to sign up to learn it.


In short, when dealing with racism anywhere outside your own country, it's usually just best to ignore it and continue on about your day. Life's too short to deal with such negativity and don't let it get to you personally.


Works Cited

Osaki, Tomohiro. "Japan's Foreign Residents Offer Up Insights In Unprecedented Survey On Discrimination." The Japan Times. N.p., 31 Mar. 2017. Web. 3 May 2017. <>.

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