Japan-aholic

A blog about culture and love in Japan

On Being An Asian Foreigner In Japan

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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!

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Author: Jasmine

Jasmine is a 20-something years old French-Canadian student and part-time blogger who loves traveling, drawing, listening to (all kind of) music and eating (everything). To achieve one of her biggest dream, she went in Japan for two months and a half as a tourist in 2013. She was an exchange student at Daito Bunka University in Saitama (near Tokyo) during the year 2014 - 2015. She is now studying to eventually become a nurse back in Canada, so she lacks time to write about Japan. You can still read all her posts on her blog, since she'll let them there for you to enjoy :)

7 thoughts on “On Being An Asian Foreigner In Japan

  1. Yes! I can totally relate! My boyfriend and I went out for ramen. The waitress looked at me then at him and started speaking Japanese to him. He can’t speak Japanese because he’s Korean and when I opened my mouth to speak Japanese, the look of surprise was hilarious. Don’t judge a book by its cover. 😉

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  2. Hi Jasmine! This is my first time coming across your blog and I really love your content. I’m around your age too (22 this year) so it feels great to be able to hear you share your views on Japan.

    Thank you so much for making this video. I have a friend who’s been living in Japan (for university) for more than 3 years and she can vouch for this COMPLETELY. This has always been a recurring topic between us, because the scenarios that Jungmi described has happened to us often (she as a foreign student/resident, and myself as a tourist). We’re from Singapore, a land where 2/3 of the population are ethnically Chinese but operate with English as our native tongue. And then there’s the whole other issue where no one, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE, understands our colloquial Singaporean English (‘Singlish’) slang too. So when we’re speaking Singlish – which we naturally switch to when we’re in a more relaxed setting with other Singaporean friends – it’s rather amusing to see puzzled faces on the trains in Japan because they can never figure out where we come from. ;D

    I’m hoping to move to Japan for a year or two, and if all goes well and it really happens, I am DEFINITELY keeping a blog/video channel to share my views from the perspective of a Singaporean. 🙂

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    • Hi Sherilyn!
      I’m glad that you liked it!
      I was not sure whether or not Jungmi’s experience was similar to any other people, since this is the opinion of only one person. But I’m glad to see that it rang true to you and your friend!
      I hope you had (and will have) a nice time in Japan 🙂

      I would be more than happy to follow your future blog/channel!

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  3. Thank you making this! I really enjoyed hearing Jungmi’s perspective. Looking forward to more videos from you~

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  4. Fun video! You’re right I don’t see many “Asian foreigner in Japan” blogs, too bad because it’s always great to hear another perspective.

    I can affirm your and your friends experience with racism in eikaiwa–like only white people can teach?? I think in some ways it’s like a brand item though–like yeah I get English lessons from a hot (white) native speaker :/

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