[sumo] {Off-Topic} Great Q & A re: Being a Gaijin in Japan

Jeffrey Anderson jpaitv at gmail.com
Wed Jul 22 10:55:02 EDT 2020

Questions about Foreigners in Japan. What’s it like to live in Japan as a

Although we view Japan through special lenses because of our love of anime
other things Japanese, of course Japan is just a country like any other,
with its own problems and challenges. That said, Japan is a pleasant place
to live where you always feel safe. I feel the general hardworking nature
of Japanese people influenced me early on and helped me become successful
with J-List.

Assassination Classroom
Do foreigners have a bad reputation in Japan?

I would say definitely not, although there are some exceptions. First of
all, the word 外国人 *gaikoku-jin* (“foreign-country-person”) is usually
reserved for non-Asians who are clearly visually different from Japanese.
Chinese, Koreans etc. would more likely be referred to with specific labels
to their countries, e.g. *chugoku-jin, kankoku-jin.*

If you’re a visitor to Japan, you’re an *okyaku-san* or a guest, and every
Japanese person is happy to have you take an interest in their country, and
of course help out the local economy.

The only foreigners with bad reputations are specific groups that are not
following society’s norms, such as when mainland Chinese would visit Japan
in large numbers and do things like cut in line or climb *sakura* trees to
cut off cherry blossoms to take home. And even then, most Japanese would
generally *gaman* (stoically endure) these unpleasant situations, leaving
less polite people like me to call out the offending foreigners as doing
something that’s inappropriate.

(Another group with a deserved bad reputation were members of Iranian gangs
making counterfeit telephone cards and selling them back in the 1990s.)

Can a foreigner overcome his “gaijin” status if he lives long enough in

No, and why would you want to? Foreigners in Japan have the best of both
worlds in Japan: you’re *kakko-ii* (cool) by default, can have interesting
conversations with many people, and are not expected to follow every social
rule that Japanese would be required to follow. In Tokyo I regularly drink
with many foreigners, fun Italian magazine publishers and hardworking
Russian programmers, and each of us has found a balance between being
foreign but adapting Japanese language and social rules.

Bubblegum Crisis
Why is Japan so safe?

Japan is famous as being a country where if you drop your wallet, you’ll
almost certainly get it returned to you, even if you lose it in the middle
of Shibuya’s rowdy Halloween celebration
<https://twitter.com/JListPeter/status/1057875237423898625>. I had a friend
lose his wallet three times in three different parts of Japan, and it was
found and turned in to the police all three times, with all cash intact.

All humans live in societies that put pressure on us to behave in line with
social norms. We sometimes think of this “peer pressure” as a bad thing,
and yet it’s part of every human interaction. In Japan it’s *atari-mae* —
taken for granted — that people should behave in an honest and upstanding
manner, and this is a good thing for Japan.

I remember once, soon after getting here, I happened by a vending machine
that had been left open by its elderly owner. Back in America, I might have
been tempted to help myself to some free drinks, but after living in Japan,
I couldn’t conceive of such a thing, and instead found the owner and told
him his vending machine was open.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War
What is socially acceptable in Japan but would not be okay in the U.S.?

Lots of things. Slurping noodles while you eat, or picking up your ramen
bowl to drink out of it. Casually commenting, “Haven’t you put on weight
since the last time I saw you?” The Japanese also love to read over a
person’s shoulder, especially at the funny American keeping a journal in
Japanese, which would be considered terribly rude back where I come from.

Saint Young Men
Questions about Foreigners: What is an “only in Japan” moment you’ve

Japan is a country known for its *yakuza* gangsters, who operate various
illegal enterprises but are generally polite guys. Soon after arriving in
Japan I learned that there are places called “saunas” which are 24-hour
public baths with saunas built into them, which you can sleep at, sleeping
in reclining chairs provided for this purpose. An alternate to other cheap
accommodations like capsule hotels, you can stay for $15-30 even in the
heart of a city. I started traveling around Japan and staying in these
establishments, saving money and having some interesting experiences along
the way.

Then I decided to visit Kyoto and stay in one of these 24-hour saunas,
where I learned that Kyoto is basically Yakuza Central. I spent an uneasy
night surrounded by the scariest gangsters you can imagine…and yet they
were all very polite.

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt
What are some bad things about Japan?

Lots of things. Bad work/life balance for most people. Extremely muggy
summers. Over-urbanization. Earthquakes. Silly right-wingers driving around
in their speaker trucks, which everyone just ignores.

The Japanese have some weird hang-ups they need to get over, too, like
their mistrust of people with tattoos. This culturally stems from the
*yakuza*, above, but has become positively bizarre. If you’ve got tattoos,
you might not be able to visit a gym or public bath (though there are a lot
of baths that have no problem with them — here’s a list
or you might be asked to cover your tats up. Back when the Olympics were a
thing, Japan debated making a temporary law allowing tattoos everywhere,
because of all the tattooed foreign athletes who would be visiting the
country and who clearly are not *yakuza* gangsters society needed
protection from.

What culture shock have you experienced in Japan?

I’ve lived in Japan so long, I only get culture shock when going back to
the U.S. to be honest. Like ordering a drink at McDonald’s and getting a
significantly larger cup than I expect.

Uma Musume Pretty Derby
Questions about Foreigners: What should not be done in Japan?

If you’re planning a visit to Japan as a tourist, the good news is that
there are very few things you can do to cause offense, and you can relax
and enjoy yourself while you’re here. For residents like me, the list of
social rules I’m expected to pay attention to is longer.

Here’s a list of six things you should not do in Japan.

Grave Of The Fireflies
How did Japan manage to forge such close relations with the U.S. after the
atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

This is one of the great questions when it comes to Japan. We dropped two
atomic bombs on the Japanese, yet they’re the most pro-American countries
in the world. I believe this is precisely because the Allied victory over
Japan was so decisive. That, and the infectious positive attitude Americans
had during the Occupation, that Japan could rebuild and become a peaceful
country that was a benefit to the world.

As an American living in Japan, I’ve had a few discussions about the war
with Japanese people, usually hearing things like “losing the war was the
best thing that could have happened to Japan,” and women of my
mother-in-law’s generation are extremely thankful to Douglas MacArthur for
“saving Japan from itself.” Only once did I get any shade, when a drunk
farmer in Toyama Prefecture asked me, “Why did big American beat up on tiny
Japan?” His family immediately interjected, telling him to shut up because
Japan was at fault for the war.

Clannad After Story
How will Japan manage its declining population problem?

In my long post about understanding Japan’s birth rate challenges through
anime memes
I discuss how all developed countries have falling birthrates, and how
Japan’s real challenge is how to manage its society and allow in more
foreign workers in a way that’s successful for all parties. There’s really
nothing that can be done about Japan’s population, which peaked in 2008 at
128 million and is now falling, as deaths outstrip births.

Lucky Star

Thanks for reading this post with questions about foreigners and Japan from
Quora! Got any other Japan questions you’d like us to write about? Ask us
below, or on Twitter! <https://twitter.com/jlist>

Best regards,
Jeffrey Anderson

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these:
It might have been.
- John Greenleaf Whittier
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