There’s a lot of information out there on the internet about how it is for clearly foreign-looking people to live in Japan. But I think there’s less information about what it’s like as an Asian-looking person.
So this week, I decided to “interview” my close friend Jungmi (who’s Korean) about her experience as an Asian foreigner living in Japan.
Here is the video:
As a summary, here’s what to expect if you are an Asian person who’s going to live in Japan.
1. There’s not a lot of racism against Korean in Japan, but somehow Chinese are victim of racism a lot more than any other Asians (we don’t really know why. It might be because of the history of both countries). Taiwanese and Russians can also experience some “soft” racism. But all in all, racist Japanese are quite rare and you probably won’t have any problem concerning that.
2. Some Japanese, by looking at you, might think you are a Japanese citizen because of your Asian facial features. But if they talk with you (if you have an accent in Japanese) or by looking at your behavior, they might be able to tell that you are from another country. Jungmi is a very extrovert and outgoing person, so it’s easy for them to spot her (she COULD be Japanese, but that would be very rare, and she said she even received comments from fellow Koreans saying that she doesn’t act like a typical Korean most of the time). So she might not be the best example here. If you are an introvert and/or shy person, then maybe it’s harder for Japanese people to tell if you’re a foreigner or not.
3. If Japanese people hear you speak English, they might think you are Asian-American (or an Asian coming from an English speaking country).
4. We noticed, in our school, that it’s harder for Asian-looking people to find a job as an English teacher than it is for a clearly foreign-looking person, even if English is not their first language (like me) but yours is. That’s racism in my opinion and it’s very unfair to be judged by your looks only. But Japan has a certain image of what an English teacher should look like, and it’s hard for them to understand that an Asian-looking person just like them could teach them English.
5. Japanese people will probably, at first, talk to you in Japanese because you look Asian. And then, if you can’t speak Japanese, they will very probably switch in English, if they can. Jungmi also said that they are not surprised when she couldn’t speak Japanese to them.
6. On the contrary, if you’re fluent in Japanese and then, during the conversation, you tell them that actually you are a foreigner, there might be an awkward silence. In the video, Jungmi and I came up with the possibility that this reaction is triggered by the “inside/outside” effect of Japan, but that’s just our wild guess and there might be an awkward silence only because they don’t know what else to say to the fact that you’re a foreigner.
7. For Jungmi, the two stereotypes she experienced against Korea in Japan are that all Koreans like spicy food and that Korea is a “passionate” country, as in more expressing than Japan.
All in all, Jungmi’s experience in Japan was great and comfortable. She has, of course, complaints about how Japan works or about the culture on its own, but she doesn’t have any complains about being an Asian foreigner in Japan.
I hope you learned something from this video! If you have any suggestions for future videos, don’t hesitate and ask away!