Japan Japan Customs

Tips for Stopping Discrimination in Japan

Assuming you speak English just because you are not Asian.

Why do you assume I speak English?
???????????? Nande eigo o hanasu to omotta?

Why do you think all white people speak English?
?????????????????????Nande hakujin minna eigo hanasu to omotteiru no?

(I know you don’t mean to be rude but…. ) not all white people speak english
(Kizutsukeru tsumori jya nai no ha wakatte iru no dakeredo…) hakujin minna eigo o hanasu wakedewanai

– Being complemented on your Japanese

But I only said 2 words!
???? ?? ????? demo futakoto shika ittenai?

But I barely said anything.
???????????Demo sonna ni ittenai.

You can judge language skills from only one word? You are a genius aren’t you!
????????????????????????????Tatta hitokoto de nihongo no reberu ga wakaru no? atama iin da ne!

Sorry to defy your expectations. (funny response, you might get a laugh)
????????Shitsurei itashimashita.

– A policeman asks to see your passport

Why? Did I do something wrong?
doshite? nanika machigatta koto shimashita ka?

Is it illegal to be white here?
???????????????? Hakunin ga koko ni iru no ha ihou desu ka?

Is it illegal to be black here?
????????????????Kokunin ga koko ni iru no ha ihou desu ka?

Please show me your badge
??????????????Keisatsu techou o misete kudasai.

Why did you stop ME?
?????????????Doshite watashi o tometta no?

– Being asked “can you use chopsticks?”

– Can you tie your own shoes?
???????????????Jibun de Kutsu himo musubemasu ka?

(Shoes) don’t come from Japan so it must be difficult for you.
??????????????????????????(Kutsu) ha nihon no mono jya nai kara sazou muzukashii koto deshou.

– Being Stared at

Don’t stare at me
???????Jiro jiro miruna

Can I help you with something?
?????????Nanika you desu ka?

Japan Japan Customs

4 AM in Japan

Hi there audience. Thanks for joining me on this enlightening walk along a street at 2 AM in Kyoto as freezing cold temperatures test our endurance. Our minds half focused on ignoring that intense cold and the other half meditating on the lyrics of the Black Eyed Peas’ Where is the Love before finally arriving at our destination and some interesting conversation.

We met Shohei’s friend. A Japanese guy, who was born in Brazil and has lived in Japan since he was three years old. And now as an adult, is culturally Japanese. Rafael has lived in both Tokyo and Kyoto so I asked how he compares people from these two areas of Japan.

He said, “People in Tokyo show no emotion on their face, and are very cold. But people in Kansai are kinder.”

Someone else we met in Kyoto also mentioned that people here are less likely to give a fake smile like in Tokyo. And I noticed it too. There are some cultural differences, but I have met friendly people in Tokyo as well regardless of the cold impression its people often give.

I asked him if he’s ever experienced discrimination in Japan. He said no, but he is annoyed at often being called gaijin as it’s like considering him as an “outsider” when in fact he is not. He’s also annoyed that Japanese always assume he speaks English just because he is white. But it is not the assumption that annoys him, it’s the fact that those situations happen so often that he constantly has to explain that he actually doesn’t speak English and is in fact Japanese. He added that Japanese are usually understanding and accepting when he explains this.

Shohei explained that he is definitely Japanese as he accepts the existence of illogical assumptions such as he is white therefore he must speak English without being offended.

According to Shohei, since Japanese often avoid negativity as a cultural trait, it’s also best to avoid logical considerations that could lead to a negative or uncomfortable conclusion.

When Rafael asked me about my opinion on the bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki, I gave a well thought out, considerate response. Explaining how though there is always tragedy in war, and regardless of who was victorious, those events ended the suffering of millions of innocent lives. And when I asked him the same question, he giggled “Yay! Barbeque!”

Sometimes I really don’t know if I should respond to people with humor or a thoughtful reaction. I’ve always thought it best to usually do whatever amuses myself in an interaction and save more thoughtful serious conversation for when I get to know someone though.

Japan Customs

Things to Avoid Doing in Japan

1. Don’t try Pachinko.

It is one of the few ways to legally gamble in Japan. But it’s a waste of time and money to take a seat in these smoky, noisy places .It’s not even entertaining at all. People just get addicted to thrill of winning a few extra yen per every few weeks of their live wasted on this so called “game.” Give it a shot if you want, but it really isn’t for everyone.

2. Don’t climb Mt. Fuji in the climbing season.

In the official hiking season, which is in summer and peaks in august, Mt. Fujji’s trails are clogged with Japanese and non-Japanese tourists. So you end up waiting/walking up a line the entire trek up the mountain. Which also makes taking quality photos difficult. So early Fall, September or October are probably the safest.

3. Don’t go to Tokyo Disney Land or Disney Sea

“It’s a trap!” it’s a tourist trap. It’s overhyped, overpriced, and overcrowded. Even on any weekday of the year you can expect excruciatingly long waits in line for any ride. If you crave a rollercoaster go to Tokyo Dome city.

4. Don’t waste your time and money at Tokyo Tower.

This suggestion comes from a article on What Not to do in Tokyo: The Top 5 Tourist Mistakes. There are much better views of Tokyo available all over the city for free and cheaper. Just as the article suggests, the popular Mori Building in Roppongi Hills has a Skydeck from which you can even take pictures that include the Tokyo Tower.

5. Don’t go to Roppongi

The few times I’ve been here I was uncomfortable with the excessively sleezy vibe of this place and the horrendous music, and prices. At night, Roppingi is overcrowded with nerdy English teachers and other foreigners of Tokyo who come to waste money and what little life they have left. Prostitutes, (often quite unattractive actually) proposition you. And the African club owners harass you into trying out their clubs. I don’t really enjoy hanging out all night in general, but Roppongi is not the best place in Tokyo to do so if that is your thing. I prefer Shibuya. I’ve actually made friends at some clubs in shibuya.

6. Don’t go to Hostess or Host clubs.

I always wondered why the prices are so ridiculously high in these places. You could easily pay ¥20,000 for just one or two drinks and risk getting beat up for refusing to pay. Do lonely, wealthy men and women really have such a fear of genuine human interaction and trying to meet someone of the opposite sex even for a simple or entertaining conversation that they feel the need to pay a superficial, overdressed man or lady just to talk to them? Well, actually it isn’t just talk as in some of these places the customers pay for sex. But it still seems to point out a problem in the general social skills of Japanese people most of these places only provide the façade of a social connection. If someone attempts to get you into their bar, politely refuse.

7. Don’t be surprised if you perceive any behavior as cold, or rude

Wow, there are so many examples to choose from. I think I’ll go with an old classic I hope most of you have heard of. A non-Japanese man asks for directions to a Japanese guy, in fluent Japanese, and the Japanese guy responds in English, “sorry I don’t speak English.” It’s obviously illogical right? Yet it happens all the time. The non-Japanese guy might not speak English either, and he obviously speaks Japanese, and so the Japanese guy just doesn’t want to attempt to communicate with another human being. Why? Now, most of the time I have asked for directions, I got an honest effort to help me, but several times I did get a response like that, and so have several of my friends. It’s confusing, and from our logical perspectives quite rude and cold.

8. Don’t avoid talking to people

Talk to as many people as you can even if you don’t speak Japanese! Tell me how it goes! My guess is you will make a few friends, at least at a very superficial level. You will undoubtedly meet many Japanese who stare at you with blank eyes, as if they were comatose, even if you asked a question in fluent Japanese. Just laugh it off, and keep talking until you crack their thick wall of social inhibitions and make some connections.

9. Don’t be negative at all!

Even if you are honest in simply saying you don’t like a certain TV show, song, food or other meaningless thing you risk destroying any chance of developing a friendship with the Japanese person you are talking to if you happen to simply dislike something they like. Seriously. It happens. Conflict of any form is difficult for Japanese people to deal with.

10. Don’t just visit Tokyo.

Tokyo is just like any other big city. And if you stay in it to long, it will just become a cliché of itself. There are plenty of interesting, entertaining, and beautiful places outside Tokyo. Such as Kamakura, monkey island, Hakone, and everywhere else outside of Tokyo.

11. Don’t forget to carry your passport

its mostly a precation. Most people probably wont have any problems. Carry your passport, at leas a good copy of the front and visa pages. If you are a non-Japanese citizen you have no rights. And can be jailed and deported if you aren’t carrying your passport. I know a Japanese citizen who was illegally jailed because he didn’t have ID yet the police racially profiled him as he wasn’t racially “asian.”

Japan Customs

Are Japanese People Most Superficial in World?

I was looking at an article on about 40 reasons to think the Japanese are superficial and even though a lot of those examples of superficiality are merely humorous over-exaggerations of observable behavior, a lot of them are actually true, and a lot of visitors to Japan often mention how superficial Japanese people seem to be.

Some examples from the article I have also noticed are:

1.their favorite topic of conversation is food
2.when they do not talk about food, they talk about money or sex
3.they judge people from their appearance and tend to be easily prejudiced (e.g. toward foreigner-looking persons)
4. they can’t debate and dislike serious intellectual discussions.
5.there are very few intellectual programmes on TV (documentaries, debates, political analysis, social phenomenons, literary discussions…), due to a general lack of interest of the population
6.people on TV usually repeat the same few adjectives all the time (oishii, omoshiroi, hidoi, kirei…) , as if they were linguistically challenged.
7.people in everyday life actually do speak like mentioned above
8.they ask the same routine dumb questions to foreigners (“can you use chopsticks; can you eat sushi, is there 4 seasons in your country, etc.”)
9.there are virtually no magazines that test and rate products such as electronics, books, movies, games, etc. They only introduce these products without critical commentary (because the makers/sellers would sue them for being critical !)

1&2. While i don’t agree that the favorite topic of conversation is food, I will agree that conversations in Japan often focus on equally superficial topics, like fashion and money. Occasionally I have had some great conversations in Japan with some very insightful and thoughtful people, but usually I am surprised by how superficial and devoid of meaningful insights most of my conversations in Japan become.

3. I have probably experienced more prejudice in Japan than anywhere else i have been. Such as people prejudging me to be an English speaker, and incapable of speaking Japanese because i’m caucasian, as well as how people prejudge each other based on looks and fashion alone.

4. Saying Japanese people dislike intelligent discussion is a bit harsh, and an over exaggeration. I have had some very intelligent discussions in Japan about linguistics, economics, philosophy, education, history, and other areas. What Japanese culture has a problem with is intelligent debate, as disagreement is really discouraged. Several times I have been having what i thought to be intelligent and interesting conversations with a Japanese friend or acquaintance, and later I was very surprised when they referred to that conversation as an “argument.”

5. it’s true there is nothing intelligent on Japanese TV. there is no arguing with that statement. TV in Japan is only an enormous advertising platform for products, “musicians,” and other people looking to promote themselves or something.
TV in Japan isn’t really an entertainment. It’s more like a colorful billboard in that way.

6 & 7. Yeah, people in Japan have a limited vocabulary for describing situations. There are of course similar occurrences in other languages, but I always feel like those several adjectives are seriously over used. It makes every situation too predictable. If there is food in the situation, somebody will always say “oishii.” If there is a small animal, baby, something pink or something small like that, it will always be labeled “kawaii.” Before I took over my Japanese company, my boss brought a puppy to work one day. So i tried to play a game of, Guess what adjective all the Girls in the Office are going to Use to describe the puppy! But of course that’s not a game we can play in Japan because people in Japan use language too freaking predictably! bastards!

8. Yeah, I am very offended by people who make superficial prejudgements of others like that. And actually, I am especially offended by the fact that is always the same superficial offenses, like asking if you can use chopsticks just because you are not asian! wtf! i always respond by asking if they can use a fork, and if they can tie their shoes by themselves because i thought Japanese people can’t do that because shoes with laces aren’t from Japan.

Is superficiality actually quantifiable? Can we somehow measure the norms of superficiality within a culture and determine a ranking of the most superficial in the world? I’m going to say no. Because there are superficial elements of every person, regardless of their cultural identity / where they are from. However, in Japan, it seems the superficial elements of one’s persona (fashion, money, what clubs, groups and companies you belong to, etc.) are especially emphasized.

Japan Customs

Gaining Respect in Japan

How do you get respect in Japan?

Step one: get really really old. At least become the oldest person in the room, and you can claim the rank of senpai, and refer to everyone else as the lesser ranked “kohai’ to reinforce the idea of hierarchy, and your superiority in everyone’s mind.
Step two: get an entry level position at a company everyone has heard about, doesn’t matter what you do there, as long as the company is famous
Step three: Make any demands or claims you want and people will listen to you and at least pretend what you say is correct and the best plan possible. As long as they are ranked below you within your company or younger than you, they are required by Japanese law to listen to you.

I started thinking about how respect usually only goes one way in Japan after reading about an elderly woman breaking a high school student’s nose with an umbrella when he wouldn’t give up his priority seat on the bus. I wasn’t there, I don’t know if that was an old lady who could probably run a marathon, or really needed to sit down, but she had the strength to break a kid’s nose. Does a lady willing to break a kid’s nose over a seat, really deserve the seat? I can’t respect a lady like that, so why should that kid who wouldn’t give up his seat?

When I had a Japanese boss, sometimes, he would say something that other employees and myself knew to be 100% incorrect, yet we couldn’t correct him because he had the superior position in the company. And many of my Japanese friends complain about exactly the same thing. It’s as if age and rank makes a person immune to criticism, and thus gives them unlimited powers to complain about and disrespect people considered below them in the social and workplace hierarchy. I have a lot of examples, but it just seems that respect in Japan is largely based on status, and status is based on who has been around longer usually.

Personal status is also largely determined by what groups you belonged to. I asked a Japanese acquaintance, Arai-san, what was more impressive to him and most Japanese people, a person who worked an entry level position with a big famous company, or someone who was the owner and founder of his own small, but successful business. He said definitely the guy with a no name position at a famous company. It’s an interesting difference of cultural perspectives. I am impressed by a person’s creativity, originality, and ability to be successful through his own independence, whereas Japanese are impressed by someone with a connection to a large company they consider prestigious.
Respect is determined by belonging to a “prestigious” group and then your position within that group.
There are of course many more cultural factors determining how much respect a person deserves in Japan. So how do you get respect in Japan?