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Xenophobia and racism in Japan

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I mean in general/overall: is there a significant level of racism or xenophobia towards foreigners who visit Japan?
i am 24 years old white, from eastern europe (bulgaria) and think the japanese culture is really interesting - might want to visit some day and just wondering. Thanks a lot in advance!
 

Mike Cash

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As a visitor, you would have nothing to worry about.
 
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Japanese are generally very welcoming and friendly to western visitors. The government may be a different story. You might fly through Customs & Immigration, or you might get put under a microscope for being from eastern Europe. You will find no shortage of accusations of "racism" , but the truth is, people disliking you or even hating you just because of the color of your skin is very rare. Discrimination and xenophobia - now that is a different story. As a tourist you will not encounter any problems unless you go out looking for them. But yes, you are an outsider, you always will be, and you will stand out. As MIke said though, the real issues are for those living there.
 
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The short answer is yes, both of those are here.

The better answer is the long one, and other people have already given you some good replies. Basically, you're very unlikely to experience anything negative along the lines of xenophobia or racism. Go deep into the countryside, and you may be stared at more than anywhere else, but that's probably the extent of it. Especially from very young kids.

If you're expecting anything violent towards you, you can forget that. Some places might not let you come in (like a restaurant who figures you can't read the menus), but nothing more than that. Most of what you're going to see is storekeepers keeping their distance from you because they feel they won't be able to communicate with you, but if you just try hard (in Japanese and gestures), or use English slowly and clearly, you'll be just fine. Friendly attitudes and smiles go a long way to breaking down this fear barrier.
 
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Japanese are generally very welcoming and friendly to western visitors.
Generally? Very? I think you grossly overstate.

Some Japanese go out of their way yes, some even annoyingly and even scarily so as we assume ulterior motives. Other people will go out of their way to avoid you. Some people are in the middle.

I think the only "general" "very" thing to be said has already been said. You can generally expect very non-aggressive reactions. But confrontation avoidance is nothing to do with foreigners. Its just Japanese national character.
 
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Generally? Very? I think you grossly overstate.
You're welcome to your views, but I, as well as countless others, could give you so many examples of Japanese helping you when you needed it, and without some hidden agenda of screwing you over, getting your money from you, etc. Not to mention so many times that I asked for directions or whatever and had people go way out of their way to help - now, if I were some Japanese person, or Chinese, Korean, et. al. it is very likely I wouldn't have received such hospitality. So yes, Japan is no Candyland and we all can make a case that there is xenophobia - especially when dealing with the Establishment. But I can't recall a single person in over 30 years give me the equivalent of flipping me off when I had a question or needed a bit more help. And I haven't had a group of people scurry away from me in quite a while now. If you see so much dished out negativity in everyone around you, perhaps you should first look at how much you're dishing out yourself.
 
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Generally? Very? I think you grossly overstate.

Some Japanese go out of their way yes, some even annoyingly and even scarily so as we assume ulterior motives. Other people will go out of their way to avoid you. Some people are in the middle.

I think the only "general" "very" thing to be said has already been said. You can generally expect very non-aggressive reactions. But confrontation avoidance is nothing to do with foreigners. Its just Japanese national character.
I guess it depends on from where one comes. In comparison with Washington DC, where I lived just prior to here, I find people generally more welcoming in Okinawa and Osaka, and about as welcoming in Tokyo... Meaning barely having time to interact. Though far less concerns everywhere about violent confrontations, which generally translates to friendlier to me. Then again, I tend to easily make friends regardless of cultural differences, so it may also have a lot to do with one's personality.

Either way, have fun OP!
 

thomas

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I believe the OP intends to visit Japan as a tourist. As others have already stated on this thread, there is absolutely nothing to worry about.

Just yesterday, my brother left Japan after a three-week sojourn. Due to work we were unable to show them around on weekdays. During their ventures in and around Tokyo people - with moderate or even without English language skills - bent over backwards to help and accommodate them. Their impressions were nothing but positive. We can twist and turn this topic a hundred times: *most visitors* will not only face no racism or xenophobia, but will return home with the image of Japan being one of the most hospitable countries they've ever visited.
 

nahadef

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My parents have been to about five Asian countries, and have been to Japan a number of times, and felt it was by far the easiest place to visit. They have never had a problem with racism or xenophobia, to the point that they rented a car and went out for the day without a word of Japanese. They have gotten to feel comfortable here.
 
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As a tourist you have nothing to worry about. Generally speaking, people are very helpful and friendly here. Most people will have no problem trying to help you out if you look like you need directions or are having trouble with a menu.

If you want to live here, on the other hand, that is a whole other question.

Honestly, if you thinking about visiting Japan, go for it. My family came over to visit me last year and they had a blast. Every single one of them left with really good impressions of Japan and Japanese people.
 
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could give you so many examples of Japanese helping you when you needed it, and without some hidden agenda of screwing you over, getting your money from you, etc.
And I can give many examples of Japanese ignoring people in need of help and brushing foreigners off when they try to help Japanese.

The lack of hidden agenda is true though, cannot deny that. But then, Japan is not poor and desperate so its a given unless one is a psychopath.

Not to mention so many times that I asked for directions or whatever and had people go way out of their way to help
Very true. I will admit Japanese are very mannerly and helpful on the surface. Its when you try to go just a little deeper and you find ice water much more often than so many other places.

If you see so much dished out negativity in everyone around you, perhaps you should first look at how much you're dishing out yourself.
Why are you making this personal?
 
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I can give examples of people getting murdered in Japan, but that doesn't make it as dangerous as Somalia...

Nowhere is every human being nice, but some places more people treat average tourists better than others.

I don't remember if it was here or another site where someone was complaining that the Japanese don't really mean their politeness, but I'm reminded of that notion here. I guess I find it odd that if one goes into Family Mart just the right side of drunk at 2 AM trying to buy some chu hi and a piece of chocolate cake it wouldn't be enough that the clerk is helpful, kind and cheerful, but that the poor kid also has to *mean it*...

If you look deep enough into any puddle you find mud.
 
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I think you guys have lost the plot in a bid to make me the omega man.

I was simply reacting to the statement that Japanese are GENERALLY VERY welcoming and friendly, which makes it sound like some tiny island paradise with people tripping over their own feet to help you. Its not like that. If you ask for help you can very often get it and get it in spades, yes. But if you don't ask for help, even when its obvious you need it, you can get ignored. And that is not about me personally needing help, but rather observing others in need, even small children balling their eyes out looking for a parent in a huge store or even on the street. I have helped in such situations and my reward was most certainly not welcoming and friendly.

About the only time I have seen people that might seem VERY welcoming and friendly for two seconds is when they were trying to get a free English lesson. Generally, Japanese are rather reserved.

it wouldn't be enough that the clerk is helpful, kind and cheerful, but that the poor kid also has to *mean it*...
I think its worth saying that most clerks like that are just doing what it is they were told is their job. Why? Well consider if some tourist was so impressed with a clerk's helpfulness, kindness and seeming cheerfulness that he or she wanted to get more personal. Generally speaking, I think a disappointing surprise is lurking in that scenario. Other places I think its more likely to go somewhere.

Yes, it is sometimes nice to know that the people around you are faking it. Its called tatemae, and no, I did not invent the term.

Also, just trying to have a general conversation with a Japanese on a bus or train can be a cold experience as well.

And then there is standing in line at a cash register. Another register opens up and the clerk calls "next" and if you are next you will be ignored unless you move in a flash. Yes, I remember the exceptions, rare as they were, and I appreciated those people very much. I am not being negative. I am just being honest.

And I think its good a person be prepared for that so that they are not so quick to reach for the xenophobia/ racism card, although I do think that sometimes there is that.
 
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Nahadef pretty much stated my point already. Your experience is what you put into it. If you go out looking for trouble, usually you will find it. That doesn't mean that it is naturally there - you just make your perception into the reality. Which just confirms your preconceptions, and then it happens all over again - it's a vicious circle that leads you to a place you don't want to be - and ultimately where you can't find happiness.
If you want to make it in Japan, or any foreign country for that matter, you need at least 2 things - an open mind, and a sense of humor.
I remember about 15 years ago, occasionally encountering a group of US exchange students studying in a nearby university for a year. They'd generally stick together, but there was one disgruntled type who from the very start was complaining about everything; he had some problem at the bank and was fuming about how he was going to "get her fired", etc. etc. And this was just after a few weeks or a month in country! I didn't see them a lot later, but I didn't need to since it was obvious how that kid was going to turn out - even more disgruntled, smoldering at those Japanese people... clearly it was a year in Japan too long for him, and a year too long for everyone else around him.
The point is, if you put garbage into a machine, you're going to get garbage out of a machine. If you think there is racism oozing out of the pores of every Japanese outside your door - guess what, you're going to see just that. Doesn't mean there is none (there is racism in every country), but to what extent is the real question. Your reality, as they say, is 10% what happens to you and 90% your reaction to it.
If you think the sunrise is a racist event, the problem is not the sunrise.
What is more telling is when you stubbornly hold a belief regardless of facts that you "can't deny". Why sit in a corner where facts are against you in the first place?
And as to Japanese ignoring you, why would you expect otherwise? Are they supposed to start doing backflips for you because you are lost? Where is this expectation coming from that they owe you their undivided attention because you want it? And not being chatty on a bus? Are they supposed to be? Don't they have their own lives, responsibilities and things to get done? When back in your hometown are you really chatty to someone who looks to be a foreigner? Sounds like a misplaced sense of entitlement.
But more directly now to MoZ:
...which makes it sound like some tiny island paradise with people tripping over their own feet to help you. Its not like that.
Nobody said Japan is some paradise - it certainly isn't. Everyone here gets that. In fact Japan can be quite a high stress, frustrating place at times. Booze and cancer sticks aren't selling like crazy because Japan is some Shangri-La floating on a lotus leaf. And it is often frustrating dealing with their extreme lists of excessive, and idiotic rules at some places. But if you are in need, there are usually more than a few Japanese around you who are quite willing to help if you ask - and frequently you don't even need to ask at all. Here, including myself, are 6 people who are telling you that the Japanese don't have ice water in their veins. That should clearly give you pause.

And then there is standing in line at a cash register. Another register opens up and the clerk calls "next" and if you are next you will be ignored unless you move in a flash.
That's how it is back home all the time!!

I am not being negative. I am just being honest.
No, you're just honestly being negative. Maybe you're way overdue for a vacation abroad. Or just exceptionally unlucky in your experiences in Japan. Or given how alone your views are, maybe it's your attitude. I'm not in a position to say which. Just food for thought.
 
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No, you're just honestly being negative.
Bull. I agreed that Japanese are helpful when asked. I agreed that Japanese tend not to have an ulterior motive when they do help. I agreed they were mannerly, at least on the surface.

I stated that there are all sorts of Japanese people and thus GENERALLY VERY friendly was a gross overstatement. I did not say it was wrong wrong wrong. It said it was a gross overstatement.

That's how it is back home all the time!!
Not my home. Where I am from people will get out of your way and tell you its your turn. They will hold doors for you. And you can talk to strangers who will actually smile and talk to you back half the time. And people did not hesitate to talk to me. Perfect strangers.

Nobody said Japan is some paradise -
I repeat GENERALLY VERY welcoming and friendly. If that does not describe people in paradise, what the hell does?

Usually Japanese people are described shy and reserved. I think it fits much better if we are to generalize.

Your experience is what you put into it. If you go out looking for trouble, usually you will find it.
I am not the one with blinders on here.

And frankly, its others reading my comments looking for negatives.

There could be an element of where everyone lives as well. I do not live in Okinawa, that is for sure. People where I live might be especially NOT friendly or inviting sure. But even from others that has got to be the first time I ever heard the Japanese described as GENERALLY VERY welcoming and friendly.
 
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So you're saying they aren't generally very welcoming and friendly because:

They don't read minds and help when not asked.

You have difficulty having deep meaningful conversations with Family Mart clerks.

People on the bus can be cold to random strangers who want to have a conversation. Though I can cite a variety of examples of people helping me in all types of public transport. Heck, one guy got off the train to help me to the right track on my first day in Tokyo, apparently planning to meet his family who were on the train at their final destination.

That people in supermarkets go to the open register if you dawdle about.

It is culturally different. It sounds like you're really complaining that they don't do things which may be appropriate in your culture but not theirs (though are you seriously making deep, meaningful friendships with random convenience store clerks???). I guess we just disagree.
 

Mike Cash

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I remember the names of convenience store clerks, supermarket clerks, etc and have conversations with them.
 
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I remember the names of convenience store clerks, supermarket clerks, etc and have conversations with them.
Just because my interest is piqued, do you have casual conversations or deep ones?

I have casual ones, but I don't generally get into personal business, though I'll admit my Japanese wouldn't get much further than family, job, hobbies, etc. anyway. I don't have the ability to really get into philosophy or politics.
 
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I did not say it was wrong wrong wrong. It said it was a gross overstatement.
OK, so you basically you say it is wrong most of the time. Perhaps in your world. Not mine, and nobody else here is defending your view either. Which raises the question of what the rest of us are seeing that you are not.

And you can talk to strangers who will actually smile and talk to you back half the time. And people did not hesitate to talk to me. Perfect strangers.
Again, in Japan I get a lot of strangers talking to me and being friendly. For many, they are just curious of where I'm from and what I think of Japan. For others on a long trip, making small talk just to pass the time. And some ask about my family in Japan. Holding open the door? Not a typical custom in Japan - I don't expect it, so if someone doesn't do it, I don't get bent out of shape. At any rate, yes there are some Pleasantvilles that still exist back home. But a lot of other places in many different countries where people keep to themselves - nothing wrong with it. The real question is if you were definitely a foreigner - would those people back home be so open? Or if you were African-American? I doubt it.
In general, I agree you can call most Japanese shy and reserved. But that doesn't mean they aren't generally friendly, nice or helpful. Most of the time they are. Not to you? Well they are to everyone else typing here. And I've heard much the same for almost 35 years. Far, far more than those in Europe, China, and Korea. Most Japanese I've spoken to think Americans are quite friendly. A Kofu friend of mine went to study in Iowa for 4 years, and she was stared at a lot of the time too. But the language barrier can be a problem. You have not elaborated on your language skills. The more you know, the more connection you can make. And on a train you've never seen someone give up their seat for a pregnant lady or elderly woman? I'd find it hard to get through a day and not see that. Makes me wonder what Japan you are in - it certainly isn't the one the rest of us have been in.
I repeat GENERALLY VERY welcoming and friendly. If that does not describe people in paradise, what the hell does?
You're joking, right? Generally very welcoming and friendly doesn't describe paradise. It describes a nice place to visit. Paradise is someplace I hope to be someday, with my Creator, departed parents, lost friends and other loved ones. I'm sorry if that is too spiritual a viewpoint for you.
its others reading my comments looking for negatives.
No, you are throwing out enough negatives yourself, a copious amount. The difference is that we can see the positives in Japan, apparently you cannot or will not recognize them. Do you have any meaningful friendships with any Japanese? If so, what is their reply when you tell them Japanese are only really friendly to squeeze a freebie out of you? Or if you just go just a little deeper you find ice water in their hearts?
The fact is that many long term ex-pats have a love-hate relationship with Japan - nothing wrong with that. I could go on and on about every problem and negative thing I've experienced in Japan - and I've been quite vocal about some in the past, enough for some others to take me to task over it. But that doesn't make what I observed or went through untrue or invalid. The real difference is that everyone but you can see a lot of positives about Japan as well - more than outweighing the negatives. In fact I haven't seen anyone else on this forum with such strident views than yours. Why are the rest of us experiencing so many positive things in Japan and not you? Same country, same people. By the way we are all not in Okinawa either. And none of us are manga kiddies, Japan groupies, or Pollyannas who've never has a bad experience. It boils down to one thing - your attitude.
Look, MoZ, I don't want you to turn out to be some burned out wreck - and I've encountered a few of them--from that uptight college kid who was a goner before he even stepped off the plane, to a 20+ year expat curmudgeon who could only say he liked the safety and sushi, and couldn't think of anything else. You should have a good life, enjoying the fruits of your labors. But ultimately that is all up to you. So unless there's a more positive other side of you that you've kept well hidden, you'd better open up to see a much larger and positive side to Japan. Otherwise, you won't be going in the right direction. And that really would be a shame.
 

Mike Cash

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Yamaneko,

You just arrived on this forum. From what I can tell, you haven't exactly told us anything about yourself either, other than a couple of posts that give the impression you have lived in Japan for either 30 or 35 years (neither of which in themselves mean diddlysquat, by the way), nor have you told us your language skills, despite questioning MZ's skills. (May we look forward to you helping out with learners' questions in the "Learning Japanese" subforum? That would be nice). Perhaps you have talked about yourself so much on another forum that you don't realize we don't know anything about you here.

I find it interesting that you were so quick to overgeneralize what "back home" is for all of us, while taking MZ to task for overgeneralizing Japan. MZ and I agree on so little that most of the time I don't even read what he has to say, but his description of the people "back home" where he's from pretty well matches the folks where I come from as well.

To the degree that perception is reality, there are no two of us who live in the same Japan. I don't live in MZ's; he doesn't live in mine. There is nothing I could tell him about mine that is going to materially change his perception of his, and vice versa. In fact, I very seldom see a post from another foreigner who lives in a Japan anything even remotely like the one I live in. And it causes me to keep in mind that there must be lots of things about theirs that I could never imagine either.
 

Mike Cash

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Just because my interest is piqued, do you have casual conversations or deep ones?

I have casual ones, but I don't generally get into personal business, though I'll admit my Japanese wouldn't get much further than family, job, hobbies, etc. anyway. I don't have the ability to really get into philosophy or politics.
The nature of my work means I spend the bulk of my day all alone and spend a short time at a great number of places. Back when I first started doing this work I decided that it would be a much more pleasant job if I made it a point to try to have it so that no matter where I went, if I went there again there would be at least one person genuinely glad to see me. So I chum it up with people quite a bit.

Since we're talking about numerous brief interactions spread out over extended periods of time, conversations tend not to go toward anything so heavy as philosophy or politics.
 
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"generally very welcoming and friendly"

Ok, Zorro, just drop the "very", then, and assume that friendly means not UNfriendly and little more.

Japanese people will not bite your head off as a tourist, nor will they flock to the other side of a train car to avoid you. Will clerks in stores approach you in mobs to ask if you need help? No, but when asked a question, they do their best to answer it. I think that's pretty much all the OP wanted to hear.
 
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Hello Mike,
I'm not sure if what you wrote constitutes a "welcome", but just to be clear I am not in any way declaring myself as some guru or master. As for my language skills I suppose you can summarize them as Japanese junior high school level. About the subforum, if I am able to help, I am glad to do so, but a native speaker would be preferable for many issues, it seems to me. About one's origins, everyone has their own of course, and if yours is from some close-knit community, as is that of MoZ, than I am happy for you both. But I wouldn't project that onto Japan that they don't greet me enough/help me enough if I ask for it or not, so they are coldhearted/racist/xenophobic whatever. And while I have my own experiences, I am quite keen to hear others' as well. Over many years, I have my own concept of what Japan is or isn't, just as you and others do. So it is distressing to hear some off the deep end view that Japan is some racist hellhole, or the opposite, that it's some fairy tale paradise, just to give the extremes. Mostly coming from someone with little contact with Japan at all. And that such misinfo is being spread across the net.
For the rest it's hard to see your point clearly - it looks a bit like some nihilistic view that nobody's perception of Japan is real or really matters. I would further question why someone else's experience would not change your (or my, or some other person's) perception - to discount what other people see or experience - either you think you know it all already, or their experience is so different and in a different situation that it has little value. I welcome hearing other people's learning and experience/perception - but I have to take it measuring what I have experienced in the same way - either my notions are wrong, the other person's are, or some of both. Weigh the evidence and draw a conclusion. So when I, as well as half a dozen others, believe that Japanese are generally helpful to a tourist in distress, and I get a contrary view that it is mostly not so, Japanese are icy-cold underneath, they're only nice to squeeze a free English lesson etc, it certainly doesn't ring true for me - and I have enough experience, and corroborating views to dismiss it. One could argue that we are all the blind describing an elephant - but to me that doesn't mean that everyone is right about the whole, or there is no real elephant. It just takes more investigation to get closer to the truth. Sorry to draw this out, but this is getting a bit more philosophical and abstract than I normally get involved in.
 
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