The “No Gaijin Allowed” mentality

Now that I’m back from Hawaii, I finally had the chance to wade through all the emails I decided to ignore until now (sorry if that was you!). A decent number of them were people worried about racism in Japan; mainly, they were worried that people in Japan would treat them poorly because they were, well, gaijin (that means foreigner, in case you didn’t know).

A few of these emails made reference to the infamous “no gaijin” signs which are supposedly littered all around Japan. When I searched around the internet for more information on this, I was surprised with what I found…

Well, actually, not that surprised.

First off, it’s not that bad. In fact, it’s the opposite. There is so much talk going around the gaijin world about anti-gaijin sentiment, or the “no gaijin allowed” signs…thankfully, a lot of this talk is done by people who don’t know much about Japan, or have never been there. A few rumors have spread around, they’ve gotten bigger, and people pass the word on until it becomes a bigger monster.

Now, I’m not saying that racism isn’t a problem in Japan. In fact, where isn’t it an issue? As a gaijin, you will stand out, and in a country that is 99% Japanese, you will be interesting and people will be interested. Does that mean people will treat you poorly? No, not necessarily. Will you get a lot more attention than if you were Japanese? Definitely.

I found a couple vides via JapanProbe the other day. I thought they were absolutely hilarious, though it seems as though JapanProbe’s commentors thought it was pretty insensitive and mean. I can’t help it, though, I’m a Dave Chappelle fan.

[yframe url='http://youtube.com/watch?v=VGaKYtI_flI']

And commercial #2

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owLnfQQ3heI']

This sort of moves me into my next topic: “No Gaijin Allowed” signs.

If you search for “No Gaijin Allowed” in Google, you’d probably expect to come up with a bunch of hits. If you search for it in an image search, maybe you’d expect tons of “no gaijin” signs chained onto restaurant doors (so that those dirty gaijin can’t rip them off and steal them). Instead, I found almost nothing. My normal Google search consisted of “No Gaijin Allowed” tshirts, and the image search came up with things that had nothing to do with anything. I wasn’t too shocked, though, I did expect to see more.

The reason for this? Those signs aren’t really that prevalent. I’ve been all over Japan, and I try to go to as many different places as I can. I have not once seen a sign like this. When reading about people’s experiences who have seen these signs, they explain that these signs don’t necessarily mean “No Gaijin Allowed.” Instead, they mean “We don’t want any trouble from Gaijin, so be respectful” or “We can’t speak English, and we don’t want to be bothered with body communication.”

Still, there is some anti-gaijin sentiment. I’m not denying that. Gaijin don’t always make a good name for themselves, and the few bad apples ruin it for everyone. Since gaijin stand out so much in Japan, one misbehaving gaijin can make all gaijin look bad. Every once in a while a story like this will come out. On top of this, there is some bad blood between the older generation that fought in the war and anyone not Japanese. Even that is turning around though, and I’ve never had a bad experience with someone of the older generation. Still, I can see some potential problem. On the other hand, our War veterans sometimes have bad feelings about Japanese, so it’s not like it’s any different.

Anyways, I just wanted to say that the “anti-gaijin” mentality isn’t as prevalent as a lot of people think. Japan’s a friendly place, and as long as you try to keep in mind that you are in another country, and you need to follow some of their cultural guidelines (like taking off your shoes, damnit!), you shouldn’t have any trouble. If you don’t make an effort, though, and think that you can get away with anything…well…then you might get some anti-gaijin sentiment. I warned you, though.

So what about you? Have you ever had any experience with this?

[Image source]

  • IMHO

    Hi, just discovered this site and although this is a fairly old post, it's such a hot topic for me and my fellow foreign English teachers here in Japan I couldn't help but add my two cents. I definitely agree that racism and discrimination against gaijin in Japan are by no means as bad as they could be. For a country that has been so isolated, and so abruptly and relatively recently faced with all these issues of internationalization, multiculturalism, ethnic diversity etc. that colonized countries like the US have been dealing with for centuries, I think the Japanese have behaved pretty well. Also, with such a tiny proportion of the population being non-Japanese, any bad behaviour on a foreigner's part naturally has far stronger impact on the gaijin image as a whole: and if every foreigner you've ever met has trashed your onsen it's human nature to expect the next foreigner you meet to do the same.
    Racism definitely exists, though, and I think the number one problem is that too much of the populace doesn't really acknowledge it exists or is even fully AWARE of the problem when it occurs in its subtler forms. I can't count how many times I've heard a Japanese person mention with pride how there's no racism in Japan, I suppose thinking of lynchings and genocide and ghettoes, as schoolkids pass me on the street giggling and whispering “gaijin go home” and I move into a tiny slum of an apartment because it's the only building in town that will rent to foreigners.
    Being ethnically Japanese is such a huge and absolutely core part of so many people's sense of identity, and divides them so irrevocably from non-Japanese, that naturally it's unusual to question it when a person is being treated differently because he or she isn't Japanese – they ARE different! This constant widespread sense of innate difference, combined with a strong national pride and, let's face it, a dislike of admitting shortcomings (Japan as a country doesn't exactly have the best track record when it comes to owning up to its mistakes), means that racial discrimination isn't really addressed as a problem until people like Debito stir up a big media fuss and force some kind of response from people. I have a huge respect for Japanese people and by living here I've met some of the most internationally-minded and tolerant people ever in my life. But I think what's missing in Japan at large, and that needs to get developed in order to avoid escalating troubles as the birth rate falls and immigrants increase, is more self-accountability instead of just accountability to the rest of the world. There doesn't seem to me to be enough discussion and education amongst JAPANESE people about what racism is, why it's bad, and how to combat it in their country – people seem largely happy to let business continue as usual, as 4th- and 5th-generation Korean immigrants remain feeling marginalized and ignored, other Asian foreigners are often treated as crime scapegoats by the media, and kids who have barely heard of the Holocaust kick and scream when they find themselves sitting next to me on the train (and are removed, unreprimanded, by smiling parents).
    Things are getting better, maybe, but until discrimination is more frequently identified and condemned by Japanese people themselves without foreign pressure, the prejudices that often hide under the politeness will continue to surface in more concrete ways.

  • andersmusician

    haha bye bye gaijin lol

  • Gabriela

    darinteb: I'm a Brazilian-'Japanese' lawyer in BR and got really interested in all your comments, especially concerning its legal aproach. Do you mind send me any information you might have about Japanese Legal System/Human Rights Issue? And what's about the Debito issue (is it the same person who wrote at JapanTimes an article about the gaijin thing?). Thanks. gabnaga@uol.com.br

  • http://www.englishclass.com.tw 英文家教

    Don't stop learning people. Just keep at it and you'll get it eventually.

  • DokEnkephalin

    “maybe you’d expect tons of “no gaijin” signs chained onto restaurant doors (so that those dirty gaijin can’t rip them off and steal them)”

    O hell yeah — I want to find one of these signs and steal it!

  • http://drama312.blogspot.com/ Jesi

    how was that like, living with a host family? going to school there and what not?
    im just curious, because i'm doing the same thing in a while…i just need to learn more japanese. ^^''.

  • http://drama312.blogspot.com/ Jesi

    wow, i'm glad someone brought up this topic.
    for a bit, i had worried if people over there (japan), may be really mean towards foreigners.
    that made me less encouraged to travel there for college.

    and that is true…there will be those odd people sticking out of the group making everyone else look bad.. >_>

  • http://www.comparevoipproviderrates.com/ VOIP

    It says roughly “this store is for people who LOVE fish. Even if you're Japanese but don't love fish we will ask you to leave”.

    I honestly don't know what to think about this one. They're making an assumption that a foreign person does not love fish as much as a Japanese one would. It's bizarre discrimination – but it's still discrimination if actually enforced.

  • Franzeska

    Frankly, I think about 90% of the whining you hear from English speakers about “racism” in Japan is really about the fact that a bunch of clueless WASP anime fans from the US go over there every year and discover what it's like to be a minority for the first time in their lives. Arguably, that's one of the benefits of living in a foreign country, but it can certainly be unpleasant and disconcerting, especially if you're not expecting it.

  • L.B

    That's what I believe. If a person is not used to even subtle forms of racism, i.e being a majority, going to a country where they are now the vast minority…

    I'm black. I'm so used to racism in so many forms, (at least the asians seem to be very subtle vs the americans who just straight up tell you they hate you and attack you, ) that whatever racism is in Japan, is most likely not going to faze me at all. I probably won't even notice.

  • Franzeska

    Yeah, definitely. A black guy I know said Japanese people asked him if he was a rapper all the time, but that's exactly the kind of dumbass thing white people in the US do too.

  • Dan-kun

    “This is the 100th year anniversary of the great migration, or as I call it, the great slave trade as the Brazilian government paid the Japanese government for those laborers, and the Japanese gov. willingly sent them.”

    As a fourth generation japanese-brazilian hapa, I have to say… it is absolutely true that the initial migrants were treated pretty much as slaves. But I wouldn't go so far as to call it all “The Great Slave Trade”, seeing as after the initial hardships, things began to go very well for japanese-brazilians, and now most of us are part the middle and upper class, I have never seen a japanese “mendigo” (beggar) in Brazil, ever, not once. Japanese-Brazilians have done pretty well in Brazilian society. So I'm glad it happened (after all, I'd never been born if it hadn't :P), and I feel very thankful to all those immigrants who survived so much and managed to build a future here.

  • Dan-kun

    “This is the 100th year anniversary of the great migration, or as I call it, the great slave trade as the Brazilian government paid the Japanese government for those laborers, and the Japanese gov. willingly sent them.”

    As a fourth generation japanese-brazilian hapa, I have to say… it is absolutely true that the initial migrants were treated pretty much as slaves. But I wouldn't go so far as to call it all “The Great Slave Trade”, seeing as after the initial hardships, things began to go very well for japanese-brazilians, and now most of us are part the middle and upper class, I have never seen a japanese “mendigo” (beggar) in Brazil, ever, not once. Japanese-Brazilians have done pretty well in Brazilian society. So I'm glad it happened (after all, I'd never been born if it hadn't :P), and I feel very thankful to all those immigrants who survived so much and managed to build a future here.

  • Dhiaa

    Such a powerful topic and I never really knew this had existed… I myself am Iraqi (Arab) born in the United Kingdom and have lived here for just over 19 years. I have had people think I am Italian or Mediterranean simply because I do not reflect the typical features of a Middle Eastern person. I do plan on going to Tokyo Japan for a holiday sometime soon perhaps with my mother as she takes great interest in far eastern cultures. I am sure that I will attract the typical gaijin attitude from some simply because I am not Japanese but I am not infact a westerner as they may perceive at first and I doubt they will notice that. Would I still be considered a typical westerner by the Japanese like some who have mentioned past experiences or not?

  • Dhiaa

    Such a powerful topic and I never really knew this had existed… I myself am Iraqi (Arab) born in the United Kingdom and have lived here for just over 19 years. I have had people think I am Italian or Mediterranean simply because I do not reflect the typical features of a Middle Eastern person. I do plan on going to Tokyo Japan for a holiday sometime soon perhaps with my mother as she takes great interest in far eastern cultures. I am sure that I will attract the typical gaijin attitude from some simply because I am not Japanese but I am not infact a westerner as they may perceive at first and I doubt they will notice that. Would I still be considered a typical westerner by the Japanese like some who have mentioned past experiences or not?

  • leiyayon

    Sorry for the random comment but I have lived in both Hawai'i and Jaoan for a considerable amount of time and there is definatly (in my cases) a much higher amount of tension between the Hawaiian natives and teh mainlanders and caucasians in general compared to Japan.

    I lived in Hawai'i at a young age for quite some time and was put in a private school in the fear that I would be rejected or even abused by the other children If I had been put into a public school. Now this isn't a statement on the Hawaiians at all and Im certainly not acusing anyone of anything yet I had gotten my fair share of dirty looks and rude comments from the residents despite being a resident myself for a number of years. Now I lived on the Big Island and it drastically differs from its sister islands yet mostly because of the tourism. I basically had a long-standing joke with natives and Japanese-Philapino-Ect ect. alike that they want you to “spend your money and go”, yet all in good humor.

    Now when I got older I had already been exposed to Japanese culture, seeing as many people of Japanese decent resided in the big island of Hawai'i and Ive had many friends, both american and japanese born, and I was finally ready to embark on my new japanese life. I had taken my time to learn the language as throughly as I could (though I admit, despite still having a very much up and running contact with my friend in Tokyo my japanese has gotten rusty, occupied with various other languages I had been learning) and took a plane to live in Japan with my close close friend.

    It really was shocking for me, not at all used to the huge citys so Tokyo came as a surprise. Their reactiosn even more so. Imediatly bombarrded with cameras and phones alike I got swarmed itn the streets for my unique hair (blonde) and eye (green) color and as soon as I escaped the crowded streets I rushed to the nearest pay-phone with a call to my friend in a very crude shout of: “Tasukete!”
    He had told me to next time…wear a hat. The culture was extremly different but thanks to livign in Hawai'i and having friends of Japanese decent, I had fit in quite nicely. There was, admitadly some animostity and when I was left alone for a few times I had gotten harrased by people but for them ost part everyone was extremely well-mannered!
    School, is a different story however and the students are not nearly as tolerent as their older counterparts and bulling did occur yet I was fortunantly a strong-willed child and found my place in the social standing and before I knew it, my excitinf Japanese Adventure had been over.

    And not once had I seen a sign that had “No Gaijin” printed boldly across it.

  • leiyayon

    Beautiful Imagery there~

  • http://hi.baidu.com/yishiym123 TwoBlue

    Perhaps the biggest tip is one of body language and mutual understanding. Being open and friendly will net similar responses. Acting with superiority and dominance (the so-called “gaijin smash”) will net distrust and cold feelings.

  • http://hi.baidu.com/yishiym123 TwoBlue

    Perhaps the biggest tip is one of body language and mutual understanding. Being open and friendly will net similar responses. Acting with superiority and dominance (the so-called “gaijin smash”) will net distrust and cold feelings.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jake-Murphy/1096551978 Jake Murphy

    So, question, what are Japanese people's view on Irish people? Please tell me they don't adore us like the Americans….
    Although we are quite cuddly….

  • Hekie

    You clearly don't understand anything about japanese brazilians ,so please don't say stupid things..

    * First : The brazilian government never paid anything to bring japanese workers.
    * Second:It was emperor's desire(or the government's desire)to send people overseas because of overpopulation and high levels of unemployment the country faced mainly because of the (1905)Nippo-russian war.
    *My grandfather (who was japanese) was a very proud person and he was very loyal to Japan. He would NEVER accept to be treated like a slave and had a very prosperous life in Brazil.
    *The japanese are the second most prosperous ethnic group in Brazil(1,600,000),just behind the jews(96,000.)
    *Many of the “dekasegi” go to Japan because the salaries are higher and the country is safe.
    *The western jew media is manipulated by the jew masters,and i think you should get facts straight.
    (Ps:I'm Sansei)

  • Thirdeye

    Michelle Malkin is known to be a right wing loony and she was widely denounced for her defense of internment.

  • Samuel welsh

    still  those shop keepers let japan down,they should learn english and remove those signs.

  • Dolphinwing

    I’ve never been to Japan before (planning to go this summer!) but there are many Japanese people who come to my town since there is an english school nearby. Several times I have tried to make friends with some of the Japanese people, I’ve only made one friend who still keeps in touch, everyone else just laughs at me like they’re somewhat impressed with my Japanese or they seem mildly afraid

  • Electricrailwaygod

    Somebody, PLEASE someone, I have this burning question that I can’t seem to get anyone to answer!  HAKUJIN  (白人) and HAFU (ハーフ) vs Gaikokujin (外国人).  I have met a Hakujins from Japan in New York once who indeed carried a Japanese passport (I almost got into a love relationship with him some time ago — until some other “gaijin” (American) stoled him away from me)!

    Really, how are hakujins, people born and raised in Japan, with full Japanese nationality who are basically caucasian treated uopn a daily basis?  And the same for “hafu” which is of course, from the English word “half”!  …Or for that matter a “hapa” a Hawaiian word now in a non-perjoritive sense means someone like me, who has Asian ancestry as well as non-Asian ancestry.  I am a Yonsei, but racially I am 95% hakujin!  (If one looks really close at me perhaps the %5 Japanese (especially of my eyes) can be seen.  So just where would WE (people like me) stand in Japan?  As Gaijin, or indeed as “hakujin”, or even “hafu”?

    I am going over there either towards the end of this year (2012) or during the summer months of 2013 when Fujisan is open for hiking to the summit.  Hopefully I won’t be called a “gaijin” but if I do, I am afraid that I might take it as an offence.  I am a Hakujin hapa, thus European born in  Switzerland, as well as from other European descent AND Japanese as well!

    非常に親切にありがとう!

  • snoho

    I feel a little silly replying to such an old post, but for the record I have seen more than one of these signs in bars and clubs in Nagoya. They do not mean that language is the problem. They mean they don’t want foreign customers. I was really shocked when I saw this, so I spoke to one of the bouncers about the sign (in Japanese) and it was made clear to me that foreign customers regardless of language ability were unwanted.

  • http://www.jlist.com Peter Payne

    I’ve never seen these signs and I’ve been here 21 years. Yes, once a video store told me they didn’t want to rent to me because another foreigner had stolen a bunch of videos the week before, but I calmly discussed things over with them and they were cool with it.

    Remember that Americans/other foreigners sometimes *want* to be victims. If you’re not a victim you’re nothing.

  • http://www.jlist.com Peter Payne

    When I went there, I met so many Okinawans happy to see me, because I speak fluent Japanese. The master of the restaurant would come out and shake my hang. It was very strange.

  • Sato Tatsuhiro

    First time I writing in regard to this issue. I am saddened to learn as a gay man that the largest population of gay bars on this planet 300 alone in “Ni Chou” (Shinjuku ni Choume) in Tokyo discriminate against fellows members of our LGBT communty based upon “non Japanese”. I do hope that upon my karmic return back to the land of my own ancestry that I shan’t ever be denied entry to a gay bar or any other venue I would probably wind up emotionally wounded!

    I am hakujin, predominately Caucasian as I have 87.5% European, Swiss, German, British, and Scandinavian as well. I also have that 12.5% Nihonjin as well. Thus from all accounts of the definition that I know of nikkei, I am such. I am planning to come back to my true homeland in one to two years time. I will (politely) try and stand up to any sort of racialism and challenge these few (thank goodness to what I understand to be very few) who would deny me entry being told that I am not Japanese enough to enter, that okay should I get a katana or a Nihontou (Samurai sword for those of you who not know) and slice myself in “seppuku” style one eighth of my body and throw the eighth in the club as being Japenese?
    Would their challenge be that I don’t have Japanese nationality, or is it purely racial, I simply do not know. I might be a “two deminsional gaijin” on paper, but my ancestry, kokoro (Heart) to tamashi (soul) says different. I am karmically, inter-incarnationally, and ancestrially Japanese despite being mostly hakujin and non-Japanese insofar as NATIONALITY in this life so far! Otherwise I am as Japanese as one can possibly get!

    I would be mortally emotionally wounded and in great pain if I were ever told that I could not enter a gay bar, onsen, otsen, restaurant, rent apaarto, or whatever that I was not “Japanese” enough to enter or take part!! It is already bad enough to be legally considered to be a “foreigner” or “gaikokujin” (外国人) in my own true homeland! I might even, if really bad enough, to driven to Aokigahara Forest (Jukai) near Fujisan and wind up doing Ji-satsu (suicide)! Truely I would. I am patriotic and would defend to the hilt if necessary for this country, as I even have cried in tears of my homesickness to return. to ever be told that I am an outsider would be absolutely tear my Heart and Soul apart thus being mortal to me!

  • Michael

    I think experiencing Japan for a short time is an entirely different experience than living here for an extended period. Especially if you only visit the cities, the countryside is a whole different world.