Much has been written about the experience of being a Western-looking foreigner in Japan. But what is the situation like for foreigners of Asian backgrounds?
Here on SoraNews24, we’ve talked about some of our individual experiences being foreigners in Japan. Often, foreigners in Japan report encountering different situations as a result of how they might initially appear to Japanese people. For example, while Western-looking foreigners may get preferential treatment in some areas (or they may get ignored in others), Asian-background foreigners may find they naturally encounter an entirely different set of experiences from their Western-looking friends. With different expectations placed upon them, they can find navigating life in Japan to have various unique benefits and challenges. YouTuber That Japanese Man Yuta recently uploaded a pair of videos taking a look at the perspectives of both female and male Asian foreigners living in Japan.
Let’s start with the ladies!
A major issue for both gender groups was the difficulty encountered in describing their particular backgrounds. Japan is an ethnically homogeneous nation, and simply being born in Japan is not enough to grant Japanese citizenship, since Japan, unlike some countries, only recognizes jus sanguinis (right of blood), and not jus soli (right of soil). As a result, it can be a challenge for some people raised in Japan to fully grasp concepts such as “fourth-generation Japanese American” or “American-born Vietnamese”.
Language issues were also discussed by the ladies, with one interviewee saying that restaurant staff exclusively focus on her even when she is with Caucasian friends who speak better Japanese (a concept that we’ve discussed before!).
And now on to the men.
One significant difference the guys discussed in detail was how they are held to higher expectations when it comes to speaking Japanese. While some Japanese people may be quick to praise Western-looking foreigners for mastering basic Japanese greetings, Westerners of Asian appearance can find their language skills either overly scrutinised, or celebrated less.
Another key difference is in approachability. Some of the interviewees stated that they felt Japanese people were “more at ease” around them, especially when it came to speaking English. Additionally, one U.S.-born interviewee whose parents are from Pakistan said that he felt Japanese people were more at ease speaking English with him than they would be around a blond, blue-eyed, tall and more “stereotypical-looking” foreigner.
The interviews certainly raise some important issues that occur when living in Japan as a foreigner who doesn’t fit the typical mold of a “gaijin”. What are your thoughts?