It seems a little inappropriate to talk about my experiences as a white Jew in a homogenous country of Japanese, while people are being shot in America because of the color of their skin. I’m going to engage in the exercise anyways, in hope that it can raise some thoughts for me.
I’ve been in Japan for almost two months now, but what happened to me today and last weekend would happen even if I had been living in Japan for twenty years. Today: hearing people say “Look at that 外人(Gaijin/Alien/foreigner)” on the bus; Last weekend: entering a local restaurant and being ogled/stared the heck out of for a solid minute and then being treated rudely by the staff. I’m not here to complain about it, because I have been treated with incredible generosity and kindness here. I just want to simply show that I don’t and can’t fit in in this country, because of color.
If I were to live here, especially without the support of a program like Princeton in Ishikawa, I would quickly adopt a Japanese hair-style, Japanese way of dressing, and avoid having conversations out of my comfort zone with strangers. The point is to fit in and get less stares on the street. I don’t mind now because I know my residence is temporary. But to be honest, the “Gaijin” barrier has prevented me from fitting in here more so than the language barrier. Even though I can converse with Japanese people, and know Kanazawa fairly well, it can be difficult and feel weird/inappropriate to try to be a local–because it’s obvious that I’m not.
Discrimination exists in varied forms in Japan. From 2015’s Miss Japan being criticized for not looking Japanese (being darker), to my friends getting harassed for speaking Chinese, it’s an interesting problem that’s not highly serious, but nevertheless present. For the few immigrants into Japan, such as a large number of Brazilians, life must be difficult.
How can this connect to America? Well, in America there’s certainly language discrimination. If one can’t speak English perfectly, one will likely be thought of as less “American”. The way people treat others also changes based on the type of English one speaks, with some types indicating less-educated backgrounds. The skin color problem is entirely different. In metropolitan areas in the U.S., one’s skin color doesn’t inherently bring about exclusion from being American/local, as a non-Japanese race does in Japan. But it certainly can bring about exclusion from certain types of establishments (i.e. restaurants, clubs), and exclusion or a “foreign” label in rural/suburban/certain areas (a rural farming town in IA, a small town in MS, wealthy suburbs of CT, a town on the TX border). This is not to begin to comment on the elephant in the room of police brutality.
Ok, good job Eric, you stated the obvious. Maybe next time I’ll be able to hone in. How do these labels manifest themselves in every day actions and behaviors? Can we escape labeling others? Etc
PHOTOS FROM THIS PAST WEEK
In order: View of Kanazawa from near my host family’s house, Me playing Shakuhachi (bamboo flute), Nagashi-somen (picking up noodles from a bamboo chute), Visit to a local elementary school, Two photos from the 21st Century Art Museum, DELICIOUS RAMEN
Also. yes, #blm