Post by Aneika Angus, an ALT in Isa.
Many of you might be curious to know what it is like to be a minority in Japan. Naturally all foreigners in Japan are called gaijin (meaning outsider). It is quite easy to feel like an outsider especially in this homogenous paradise. For some strange reason Japan has managed to group everyone as a minority, e.g.: if you’re a vegetarian you’re a minority here. If you’re allergic to gluten- Minority. My focus, will predominantly be on the classification set by Jet, as you already know, the program consist of about fifteen (15) countries who participate in sending their citizens to be a part of this wonderful cultural exchange opportunity. Even though many things divide us; albeit; citizenship, race, culture, we share similar experiences across all our divisive spheres. So let’s give you some tips on how to cruise through by being seen and unseen at the same time.
A Little Background Story:
I’m from a beautiful island called Jamaica, even though I have been given the opportunity to travel the world while back home, I don’t believe I have ever felt this weird feeling-
“That hey, you’re not from here but I want to talk to you but I’m too shy to approach feeling”.
Yup that feeling that cannot be condensed into a single English word, because chances are one doesn’t exist……..Or does it? That’s homework for you to do. So yeah, I never felt that way until I got to Japan, it’s an interesting, scary, funny and almost nostalgic feeling, like being half aware of who you are but discovering there’s more to you than what meets the eye. So embrace this feeling, it’s going to creep up on you, but embrace the fact that you will stand out in a country filled with people, who do not have soulful brown eyes, naturally plumped lips, and a behind that can shade you from danger and gorgeous melanin that glows under the glisten of a sun ray.
On that note- WELCOME to Japan.
Here Are FIVE (5) Things to Embrace Prior to Coming to Japan
- You are GOING TO STAND OUT, and there’s nothing you can do about it. #FACT
- People are going to STARE. #FACT
- People will want to touch you and or touch your hair. #FACT
- People will want to take pictures with you. (this happens too often)
- You have an ACCENT, so speak VERY SLOWLY.
While I knew some, if not all of the aforementioned facts, I never truly embraced them until after eight months of being in Japan. Tragic I know, but this sometimes happens. I never really knew I stood out until there was something I wanted to do anonymously and then I remembered-
“Booboo ain’t no anonymous in this country, you sound and look like a foreigner, so everyone will know you did it”.
Can you say PALM to FACE? Sigh. Then the stares, again I wasn’t aware of this until I attended a dinner event with a bunch of ALT’s, one of them pointed out that people were staring (not in a bad way). This again happened when I went to the city for some POW-wow time with my little brother, now let’s be clear. I consider anyone younger than me my brother. That’s just me. Anyhow, so we’re in the big city and he points out that people are staring at us; again I’m oblivious to such things, mainly because I like to mind my own business, but that’s just me. What took things to the next level was the fact that people assumed because we were “together”, of dark complexion and in Japan, that we must be a couple. What a Mess! This happens a lot when we’re together, we took a trip to Nagasaki for the Lantern Festival (BTW ya’ll should go; they have the best Chinese Food in Japan). We weren’t there for 10mins before this random lady, (to whom to this day we do not know), came up to us and asked to have her picture taken. So we did what we have slowly become accustomed to, smiled, leaned in and took the picture-without hesitation. These things happen sometimes and I hope you are ready for this. Do not expect that this might happen to you, sometimes we place our expectations so high that inevitably when reality hits, we feel cheated. Don’t, Every Situation is Different (ESID). That’s your new mantra from now on.
As a minority, here are some common issues faced:
- Language Barrier– this comes in two phases, the most obvious, not knowing enough Japanese to have a conversation that both parties can enjoy. This is why it’s imperitive to start learning as soon as you read this article. Start with basic greetings and common terms used, I promise you this will be helpful during your stay in Japan. The latter is having difficulty communicating with other foreigners here. You would assume that because we all speak English that would mean we all have a common ground from which to have meaningful conversations. Mmmm Yes and No. Because we are a small melting pot of cultures many times things can be misconstrued due to the use of slangs/dialect terms. True Story, at my current school, should you happen to visit do not be surprised if you hear someone say: “You’re a Mess”!! Apparently I have used this term so often that it’s become main stream English for all.
- Fish Bowl Effect– that feeling where you’re on display, we spoke about this earlier. Try to be comfortable with persons being fascinated by who you are, it’s a strange phenomenon, I know, but honestly most of them stare because they have never seen a foreigner before or let’s face it, because you’re gorgeous.
- Entertainment/Down Time– you might find that the entertainment scene is a little dry, who am I kidding its arid. Lol. For many of us, how we entertain and have our down time will definitely change once we’re in Japan. Entertainment here is seasonal, with the majority of festivals and activities taking place between April – November. What you do for entertainment varies; some persons visit overnight onsens, go to the city etc. Just note the activities available are quite different but you’re in Japan, so be sure to enjoy.
- Grooming/Hair Care/Wellness – In my home country it was quite easy to get everything I needed done to my body in a day. In Japan, you’re quite limited. Getting your hair done may be three (3x) the cost of what it would be in your home country. I suggest taking someone who speaks Japanese with you. Mainly because your expectations might differ from what the stylist is realistically capable of doing. This goes for men and women. Overall wellness and achieving same is quite costly here, lets deal with skin care for example, most of the products available here contain bleaching agents which whitens and dries out ethnic skin. So be sure to read what you’re purchasing or take enough supplies from home to last you until you get to Costco or can buy online. Funny story- I have eczema and stress related acne- Judge me- lol. Anyway after my first two months here my face was fine until my products ran out, I tried almost all the available products in my local drug store, what a waste, my skin finally cleared up when I started using the products I used from my home country. Thank you Jencare Skin Farm. Moral of the story, if you have problematic skin, stick to what works for you, should your products run out, visit a doctor to get a refill of your prescription before trying every over the counter drug you can find.
- Looking Asian and Being Gaijin
Now because we’re in the South of Japan things are a little different here so brace yourself for what’s about to happen. Let me start off with a story, so there’s a very cute ALT who looks Asian, speaks good Japanese but he is from Singapore. When he first got here and started going out and about in his community he got by fairly easily until he started interacting with the natives within his community. Now let’s be clear, you have Japanese which is the formal language which we all try to learn, and then there are the derivatives such as dialects etc. In Kagoshima we call it Kagoshima-Ben. Now this particular ALT happened to be in conversation with an individual and felt quite proud until the native started speaking in Kagoshima-Ben. WHAT a Mess!!! This happens sometimes, people feel because you look Asian, you must speak Japanese and cook with soy sauce. Don’t be discouraged. If you explain you’re not from Japan, they usually give you a free pass. But, be on the lookout for the Kagoshima-Ben.
See you in the next helpful article.