Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Invisible in Japan

I have always been proud of where I'm from and in general, myself. I speak several languages and that helps me to make friends with people from different cultures. I grew up with people of various races and religions. I'm used to hanging around people who are slightly different from me. Never in my life, have I thought that there would be a day where someone would pick to be my friend or not because of the way I look or ethnicity till I came to Japan.

While I have heard stories about how people who are interested in English language or language exchange in Japan are only interested in "white" people, I have never thought that it would be a problem for me because I speak English! I could not have been more wrong till one day when I joined a friend at a language exchange event when I first moved here.

There I was seated at a table with four other people, one of them is a Korean American who insists that he is American and he is not Korean when the Japanese man asked him if he is Korean. I think that the poor boy was confused between ethnicity and citizenship. But I guess, living in Japan, one would want to associate themselves more with American to appeal to people.

I immediately removed myself from that group to another table with just one girl. As she didn't look Japanese, I asked if the seat next to her was taken in English. She didn't understand me and I asked again in Japanese. I apologized and told her that she has Caucasian looking features and hence, assumed that she was a foreigner. She asked, "From which country?'. I replied, "UK?". She smiled and thanked me! After that she told me that she pitied me because I look Japanese and that it must be sad to have people think that I'm Japanese. I replied, "No, Asians have similar features, so I really don't mind if people think that I'm from Japan, China, Taiwan or Korea."

Soon after, two other girls joined us. I guess since there were four girls, it was easy for the conversation to change into us talking about love. The weirdest part for me was the fact that I was the only one who could converse properly in English but these other girls who couldn't hardly speak in English had white boyfriends...... Definitely, not a dating topic that I have experience with. Also, dating someone because of their skin colour is not a topic that I'm comfortable with.

After that, it was time for a table change. A guy there, who organised the event, was in charge or assigning people to different tables. My table only had one Japanese girl. I assumed that the others went to other tables after seeing that there were only 2 Asians on this table. I can tell that the girl had no interest to speak with me but she had no choice because she was already seated on the table.

This was definitely one of the worst experience I've ever had in my life. Never had I felt any form of discrimination like this towards my ethnicity and citizenship before. I guess in Japan, people pick friends based on their skin colour. Needless to say, that was the one and only time I have attended such an event.

After that incident, I try to stay way from people who tells me that they want to learn English and asks me to teach them. This is because I have realised that they only want to "befriend" me so that I could teach them English and not because that they genuinely want to be my friend. 

I also found out that one's experience of living here can be very different depending on your skin colour. My ang mo acquaintances have told me their experiences of having random strangers talk to them in restaurants or bar and get treated to free drinks. Wow......random strangers?! It's not a one time thing as I've heard similar stories from different people.

Another thing about being an Asian in Japan is that people naturally assume that you can't speak English or that even if you do, you can't be as good as the ang mo. Plus, we're neither blonde nor have blue eyes, so we don't look that interesting in the looks department too. I feel that in comparison, people are not that interested in getting to know us better.

But, what do I know? I only came to this conclusion based on my own experiences. Of course, different people will have different experiences based on the people they've met or situations they've been in.

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