by

There are a lot of Japanese people interested in what it’s like to date a non-Japanese person. This is illustrated by how much of a best seller “My Darling is a Foreigner,” a manga comic turned TV drama by Saori Ogura featuring her husband Tony Laszlo, has become. At one time I wondered what it would be like as well, though I’m not so curious anymore since I recently, and somewhat unexpectedly, married a Canadian (eh). So you could say that I have my very own darling that is a foreigner.

darling-foreigner

My husband and I met in Kyoto, Japan, where we were both working. The first culture shock I experience was when he showed up to one of our early dates in roller blades. You may wonder what the problem with that is, but I felt so embarrassed by it. It’s something that would never happen if you were dating a Japanese guy, as roller skates or roller blades really leave a corny impression on us because of an old fashion male idol group called 光GENJI(Hikaru-genji)

They were popular from the end of 80’s to the beginning of 90’s. NOT modern times. What was he doing on roller blades?

Is this a cultural difference?

Newton_Bull_farts_G3
It’s sometimes called “a love beyond borders”, but there are obviously many cultural differences experienced while dating a non-Japanese person. In my case, of course the roller blade story was not the only one. Long before meeting him I had learned from movies and television that Western people aren’t shy about kissing in public, but I didn’t know that they also wouldn’t mind farting in public. I don’t know. It may only be my husband. Yeah, it probably is.

However, my point is that many things that we may think to be a cultural difference may just be some personal attribute. So, I’d like to point out that the following list I’m going to utilize to explain what it’s like to date a non-Japanese person are simply examples of what some people in relationships with someone outside their own nationality have noticed and there it is likely that many people won’t fit or agree with these examples. Please don’t be upset if they seem not to fit your perceptions. At this point in our lives we must all be aware of how opinions can vary.

Preliminary Information

As I just mentioned above, we gain some sort of preliminary information from movies, TV series and other such productions. As in the movies, my husband has the “ladies first” spirit and he felt weird when he realized that a man is actually the first person to be served in a Japanese restaurant or such. He also does refer to me with various kinds of affectionate names, such as ‘Honey’, ‘Babe’, ‘Sweetheart’, ‘Dear’, and ‘Cutie’. If I was called such things by a Japanese guy, goosebumps would likely appear on my arms because I would find it too cheesy. However, when my Canadian husband calls me those things, it’s fine because I was already aware that this was a common thing.
Female_cool_as_a_cucumber
Now, because Canadians often pronounce ‘t’ as a soft ‘d’, it made the name ‘Cutie’ sound like the Japanese word ‘Kyuuri’, which means cucumber. My mother was a quite surprised to learn that my husband was calling me ‘cucumber’, as well as a little upset to learn that he named me after a well known pig from the Australian movie ‘Babe’.

However, some background knowledge can be very misleading. We watch people say “I love you” in movies all the time. I was even taught in school that you only use ‘like’ to describe things but never ‘people’ and if you were to say ‘I like you’ to a person, that would be rude, especially if they were saying “I love you” first. Darn Japanese English classes!

I still remember when he first asked me what I thought about him shortly after we started seeing each other and I answered ‘I love you’. His face turned red and his expressions contorted the meaning of, ‘really? love? what?’, although he should have considered the possibility that I hadn’t had enough experience with English to know that that phrase was a VERY big phrase. Anyway, I felt embarrassed. At the time I didn’t know that a more appropriate starter would have been ‘I like you’ and once you actually feel ‘love’ for the person is when you change the word.

sad

After saying “I love you”, I quickly realized from his reaction that it was the wrong answer and stopped saying it until I actually felt so, but my English was so bad at the time that I couldn’t even explain why I said that. A couple years later, I arbitrarily opened his email inbox and found an email that he had written around that same day that I first said it. I forget to whom it was written to, but  he wrote “Mami said ‘I love you’ lol”. I was kind of shocked to see it and felt embarrassed again. Well, of course we had a little fight afterward and he changed his password, too. Good thinking.

Misleading English-Japanese Background Knowledge

Speaking of misleading English that I had learned in school, ‘should’ and ‘maybe’ might be two of the most commonly misunderstood words. As for the former, I was taught that it’s translated into ‘verb+べきだ(bekida)’, which is used in Japanese to strongly advise something. So, whenever he suggested something for me to do, I sometimes thought he was playing the role of the “commander” until I learned it’s actually just used in a suggestive way.

If he said “We should go see a movie this weekend”, I considered that to be a plan that he has made. However, when the weekend comes and I ask “What movie are we seeing today?”, he’ll have no clue what I’m talking about or even how I came to think we were going to see a movie. I would tell him that he told me that’s what we were going to do, but he’ll say “I said no such thing”. It got a little confusing at times.

5540344518_8d77a4de3cPhoto by Melonparty

As for the latter (maybe), I was taught that it’s translated into ‘たぶん(tabun)’ or ‘verb+かもしれない(kamoshirenai)‘, which can mean ‘maybe’ but sometimes it also means “probably”. Either way, my point is that when my husband uses “maybe”, I know now that it is much less likely to happen than I expected it would be. For example, let’s look at the conversation below.

Mami: “So, my birthday party is on April 9. Can you come?”
Friend:
“Maybe/Tabun I will.”

If the friend is a Japanese, she/he will most likely show up, or at least call or text you to let you know if they can’t show up. However, if it’s he/she is a Westerner, things are quite different. So let’s say my party finishes and they wind up not coming and they never notified me of it, it’s needless to say that I’d be pretty disappointed. However, if at this point I asked them why they never showed up, apparently an acceptable answer is “I said that maybe I would come.”

Although none of the occasions on which this happened were actually my birthday, my husband and I have had conversations similar to these many times. I finally learned that the answer ‘maybe’ doesn’t always mean that the person is actually considering the suggestion unless someone brings up the idea again later on. Most of the time, however, what it actually indicates is that the thing is not likely to happen because it’s an answer that shows minimal interest.

Punctuality

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Another difference that you may want to be mindful of if you are dating a Japanese person is punctuality. Many Japanese people are very punctual, except for people from Okinawa. Again, it may not be everyone from Okinawa, but people there tend not to be too bothered with time. We call it Okinawa Time.

When I was working in Kyoto I had a colleague from Okinawa. He told me a story that illustrates the concept of Okinawa Time. One day, he was supposed to meet his classmate at 6pm. On his way there he received a message from his friend and he was shocked because it said “Sorry, I’m going to be 5 minutes late.” In the end, my Okinawan friend arrived after his “5 minutes late” friend. To him, 5 minutes is nothing because he was on Okinawan time. I think Okinawa Time and many foreigners’ time is very similar.

Now, I wouldn’t say that foreigners aren’t punctual, but I feel that many of those that I’ve met so far also think that ‘5 minutes’ isn’t a big deal. My husband wouldn’t consider that as being late and he definitely wouldn’t feel the need to text me about it. I’m not a strict person either so I’m not bothered by 5 minutes, but I may send a text to my friends because some Japanese people place a considerable amount of importance on punctuality. They think it’s rude to be late without any notification, even if it’s only 5 minutes. Whether it’s for social events, business meetings, or getting onto a train, punctuality is so important in Japanese society, so make sure you pay attention to the time!

The Evil Bathroom Door

toilet

Photo by Elvert Barnes

After I came to Canada from Japan, the first cultural difference I faced that I needed to get used to involved the bathroom door. Here in Canada, people leave the door open if nobody is in there. It also shows that it’s not occupied. However, in Japan, it’s not good manners to leave the door open. It took me a while to get used to leaving the door open, but also, and most importantly, not to open the door if it’s closed. I finally learned this when I made my brother-in-law rather upset by interrupting him when he was enjoying a long sit-down and reading Harry Potter. We now call this ‘Harry Potter time’.

Love Conquers All Evil Misunderstandings (Hopefully)

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All in all, you and your partner will get accustomed to many differences and soon come to not be bothered by such things anymore, so long as you love the person. It’s also kind of fun to learn of those differences, isn’t it? There is also always some communication barrier and no matter how much improvement you make, there will always be another conversation that you completely misunderstood. At times, you may struggle to explain what you are thinking or how you are feeling in that moment, so it’s important to be patient and listen to what is being said until you understand each other.

It’s clear that with a topic such as this, one could go on and on about all the funny, frustrating, silly and dramatic things that can arise in a relationship simply as a result of the partners being from different countries. It’s a great experience, but one you may just have to try to experience on your own. Do any of you have experiences like these that you’d like to share with us? Do you have any questions for me about this topic? Did you enjoy this entry? I love hearing from you, so please leave your thoughts in the comment section below. Arigatou!

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Bonus Wallpapers

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  • Jan Moren

    A major problem with this piece is the idea that “foreigner” is all one culture. But US/Canada is completely different from southern Europe; from northern Europe; from south America; from Africa; from other Asian countries.

  • Ginger

    The not being on time thing is not cultural. I think it’s a personal thing. I was taught to always be on time. Early is on time, on time is late and late is don’t bother to show up.

  • Shuji Terayama

    You got yourself an excellent specimen Mami haha!

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    There are certainly a lot of cultural difference when a mixed couple is dating.

    I have the feeling that Japanese often make the mistake and throw all Western foreigners into one boat. There are huge cultural differences between us Westeners as well. Even I wasn’t aware of it too much until I moved to Japan and worked with Japanese people as well as with people from all over the world: America, Spain, Australia, Vietnam etc.

    To name just one thing: German people are usually very punctual as well. I had a culture shock here in Japan when I noticed that none of my foreign co-workers was punctual or cared about it.

    I’ve been here in Japan for many years now and I’ve met a lot of mixed couples (mostly foreign men with Japanese women), so I know their perspective.

    I also recently had interviews with foreign females who are dating or are married to Japanese guys to hear their perspective: http://zoomingjapan.com/life-in-japan/dating-japanese-men/

    However, what I’d be really interested in is hearing the perspective of a Japanese guy (in Japan!) dating a foreign (non-Asian) girl!! ;)

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Exactly!

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Everything is always a personal thing, but I think it’s safe to say that there are countries that are “famous” for being punctual for a reason (e.g. Japan or Germany). I’m German and I’m very punctual, but my best friend (also German) is NEVER on time. It is a value that is very important in my country, though. Based on that I think one could say it’s a cultural value, something that people learn growing up in that culture. That not everybody is going to “obey” those cultural rules is just natural. :)

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Oh, and on a personal note, I’d be REALLY interested in foreign guys living in Japan who are interested in dating foreign girls instead of Japanese girls. I doubt that this species exists. Maybe that kind of guy is extinct. ;)

  • http://www.nonsensebb.com/ Dextro

    The bathroom thing isn’t really a “western” thing I believe. Plenty of people here in my neck of the woods (Southern Europe) also find it rude to leave the bathroom door open for instance.

    That was a very interesting article however. It’s always interesting to see what people from different cultures find strange about cultures other than theirs. :)

  • Aaron

    I agree with you. This may be cultural. I am Italian and Italians are famous to be late. Well, it’s true…for us the idea is that you are late if you are more than 15 minutes late. Less than 15 minutes is still OK.

  • Lava Yuki

    Um, this article is only referring to Canadians, since your only example is a Canadian. About being late, British people are really punctual, but Irish people are always late and er… “Okinawan-like”, as you say even though we’re both Western (I’m from ireland btw, but have a few British friends).

    Another point is the bathroom door comment. Thatss totally weird what you said and varies between people actually, not cultures. I always close the bathroom door, and most people’s house I visit also keep it closed. Who wants to display their toilet to everyone?

    I don’t know, your article isn’t that good, since your basing it off one person and then pigeon-holing everyone else. And by the way, I’m a punctual person always arriving 5 mins before, but have met a number of Japanese friends when I was in Japan, where some come late, even up to 15 minutes late.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I agree. I also love reading about cultural differences. It’s very interesting and there’s always something new to learn for me! :)

  • J

    生まれてからずっと自分がスウェーデン人だと思いましたが、これを読んだらやっぱり日本人だったと分かりますwww いいえ、言いたいことは、Janさんが言ってる通り、外国にはたくさんの違う文化があります。スウェーデン人からすると、投稿に載せている例には日本人の方が正しいだと思われます。

  • dennmart

    I think your experiences are spot on. My girlfriend is Japanese, and in the year we have been dating she and I have had the same misunderstandings you’re writing about. Especially the part about saying “I love you” – she told me “I love you” about 5 days into our relationship. That was a very confusing day for me!

    The ending of this article, though, sums everything up perfectly. I love learning all these small differences between her and I. It seems like every day there’s something I learn about her and Japanese people in general. It’s been a wonderful experience so far, and although it hasn’t been smooth sailing throughout the relationship because of misunderstandings (and sometimes stupidity on my behalf…), I wouldn’t trade this relationship for anything. I always look forward to having more misunderstandings and learning about them :)

  • Don

    Yes, Mami, you need to do a thorough random sampling of people from every culture on Earth on all of the points you’ve made, then summarize the similarities and differences. That’s the only way this article will be “good.” You can’t count on the readers to take your article for what it is – a quick story about your own experiences being in a relationship with a westerner.

    By the way, Americans leave their bathroom door open. Wait, I should qualify: Americans whose homes I have personally visited leave their bathroom door open. Wouldn’t want to pigeon-hole anybody!

  • Mescale

    The maybe thing is a typical response when someone doesn’t want to say No, but doesn’t want to do something. Most of the time if someone says maybe about something it means No.

    Its kind of like the way a Japanese ‘people’ would try to soften the blow when they want to say no.

  • Vague

    Hehe, methinks Japanese people would have a hard time living where I live. For example, one time my friend invited me to birthday brunch. She told me it started at 11 am. So, I arrived there at around 11 am (±5 min), but she just looked at me like I was crazy. “If I say 11 am, I actually mean 12 o’clock or later”.

    She might be an extreme example, but I’ve had loads of similar experiences.

  • Charlie

    This is really good, thank you! I don’t find it as much of a “foreigners do this thing, so everyone, please accustom to said habit,” as much as “cultures not from japan will have certain habits or manners which can be very different, even to the point of shocking misunderstandings.” I’ve been dating a Japanese girl for about a year now, and we’ve run into many similar cultural difference issues. Thank you for the article!

    PS – I’m an American guy

  • Grey Kat

    LOL. Really liked this article. I rarely read articles on the InterWeb, but the title dragged me in and I found myself reading it. I found this both fun and interesting without many boring statistics. It was a personal perspective on this and I appreciated it! I’m always interested in what’s considered “normal” in other parts of the world that may not be considered standard operating procedure here or even in other places in the world.

    And of course there are a lot of generalities in this article, but really, naysayers, what did you expect? Mami is not ALL Japanese people and her husband is not ALL Westerners…or even ALL Canadians. Lighten up a bit, eh?

  • Jordan

    This article was worth it just for the 光GENJI video.

  • Mescale

    LIES! MAMI IS ALL JAPANESE ‘PEOPLE’! HER HUSBAND IS ALL WESTERNERS

    LIES LIES LIES

  • ultrasann

    This example sums up the general attitude of people who are somewhat ignorant to the differences in individuals. *slow clap*

  • Mescale

    I wouldn’t call it a problem. Tofugu is predominantly written for an American audience, which is why it has lots of colourful pictures, short words and ignores the fact the rest of the world exists.

    Americans aren’t the only people to have this blinkered view, everyone does, its just there are more Americans than anybody else.

    Who really thinks, at all, or more specifically about the cultural limitations of personal experience, experiences of other sentients, (or quasi-sentient), very few. And they’re all gits so no one listens to them anyway.

    You think this is bad, you should have seen when they talked about Universal Studios like everyone had a local one. Seriously man, THESE GUYS!

  • Mescale

    I feel I’ve either been trolled, or deeply insulted by your stupidity, I’m not sure which.

  • Mescale

    Hey Hey someone on the internet had an opinion different than me!

    LET ME STRAIGHTEN THIS OUT!

    I AM THE TOFUGU TROLL HERE!

    Sure maybe I’ve been slacking off, but don’t think you can come in here and start making snide comments about every idiot who posts on here.

    We need STANDARDS, how can we keep these standards if anyone feels they can come in here and troll people without certification, without the controls and freely. This isn’t 1990 anymore.

  • Don

    すみません!

    *bows, backs out of room*

  • Don

    *peeks back into room*

    Where may I apply for apprenticeship and certification?

  • missingno15

    I thought this was pretty interesting.

  • ultrasann

    I’m not saying YOU’RE ignorant, I’m saying that what you said isn’t far from what ignorant people say. You were being highly sarcastic with that statement, no?

  • Jonathan Harston

    The convention amongst the people I know in the UK is to leave the bathroom or toilet door slightly ajar – not fully closed, but definitely not gaping open. I always found it weird watching US shows like Seinfeld where you could see the toilet sitting there in centre view!
    The convention isn’t universal. Several times I’ve sat patiently in my office frustatingly glancing at the firmly closed toilet door thinking: dammit! hurry up! then eventually carefully putting my ear against the door to see if it is actually occupied or not.

  • Jonathan Harston

    “Your parcel will be delivered between 9:00am and 6:00pm. Please ensure you are at home to receive it.”

  • 8

    “I arbitrarily opened his email inbox and found an email that he had written around that same day that I first said it….”

    Wow…shouldn’t this be in the dating a japanese girl article? I find this pretty serious.

  • Mami

    Yeah, that’s true. I thought about it…

  • Mami

    I agree, but in Japan, we tend to call non-Japanese people ‘foreigner’ rather than calling each country name. It’s also culture. I heard that some non-Japanese people said that they think that it’s rude. They prefer to be called with their own country’s name, but not ‘foreigner’. Maybe it’s a bad part of Japanese culture.

  • Francesco Damiani

    That’s exactly what I was thinking.

  • Mami

    Thank you for your message Mescale:)
    I’m not sure if Tofugu is predominantly written for an American audience though…is it? Which country are you from by the way? :D

  • Mami

    Did you like them? :D

  • Mami

    If you don’t mind, please share us some of your funny misunderstanding stories, too! :D hehe

  • Mami

    なるほど。。スウェーデン人からすると、外国人の立場ではなく日本人の立場の方が近いとおもったことがたくさんあったんですね(>v<)ちなみに、たとえばどんなところが、スウェーデン人と日本人は近かったですか?

  • Mami

    Thank you for reading the article and leaving your comment:) Yeah, exactly. That’s why I brought up the fart story part to make sure that this is not all Westerners or even all Canadians:D

  • Mami

    I don’t get this (´・ω・`) どういう意味??

  • Mami

    (((((((( ;゚Д゚))))))))ガクガクブルブルガタガタブルブル

  • Amber Payne

    I have been in a long distance relationship with a man from New Zealand for ten years now (I am Canadian myself!), and just because we speak English, certainly doesn’t mean we speak the same language, lol. There have been more barriers than one might expect, between deciphering accents, words and phrases, and ways of life. We do our best to educate each other, and not step on each other’s toes, but invariably we find ourselves at an impasse over silly things, because of a misunderstanding. I can’t imagine dealing with all that, but multiplied, Mami! I’ve learned a bit about the complexity of Japanese culture (we met playing Final Fantasy XI, you encounter many Japanese players and must work together regardless of language barriers!), and sometimes one forgets that what is standard in your country, isn’t always standard in another. Thank you for the article!

  • Amber Payne

    May I point out, that the US and Canada have a great many differences, for all their similarities. =P

  • Mami

    (๑′ᴗ’๑)エヘヘღ

  • Mami

    Thank you for your comment, Charlie! What was the biggest cultural difference between you two have you had before, if I may ask? (´・ω・`)

  • Mami

    Oh, I see. Yeah, I’d like to know each country’s bathroom custom now. It could be a different system even within Canada depends of the area, or even which country their ancestor are from. I’m curious:P

  • Mami

    Interesting…and yeah, good point. I agree that the convention isn’t universal.

  • Jonathan Harston

    “A couple years later, I arbitrarily opened his email inbox”

    I’m wondering if you mean “accidently”… “My husband had forgotten to log off, and I thought that I was logged on to the computer, and accidently opened his email”.

    “Arbitrarily” sounds like: “I rummaged through his notebooks and pockets and found his passwords, so without assigning it much importance (arbitrarily) I logged on as him and opened his email…”

  • Jonathan Harston

    When I lived in Hong Kong 20 (!!!) years ago I think about 10% of the western men there were married to western women. My perception was that they were people at the more nobby end of the social spectrum. My half-Japanese/half-HongKong nephews tell me they get a similar feeling when visiting their rellies in Japan.

  • Mami

    Yeah, that would be interesting, wouldn’t it? It’s pretty rare to see that type of couple walking down the streets in Japan, certainly much less common than seeing a foreign man with Japanese woman. As for the foreigner-foreigner couple, I knew one while I was in Japan, they were both Kiwis though. By that I mean just that they weren’t from different countries. So they are out there….somewhere….

  • Mami

    Very true! And, it’s also the reason why I love having my office in my bedroom.

  • Chris Manoukarakis

    I’m surprised west coast Canadians would fart in front of anyone, I’d swear they would think it be beneath them. lol, I kid but if Mami thinks people on the west coast are lax, man she’d probably have a heart attack trying to set a timing with people on the east coast. We don’t operate on Okinawan time, we operate on hungover Scotian and Newfie time, bai.

    That is if you even bother to make plans at all. A lot of the time when I go out with people its because they just invite themselves over, invade my house and then drag me out to a bar or something.

    Either way, I love stories about this minute cultural differences that we take for granted. Fun read.

  • Mami

    Hahaha! Same policy as cable-repair men.

  • K

    I think it would be very similar to meet a Mexican person. Especially with the “Okinawa Time” not everybody but a lot of Mexicans are very unpunctual ):
    And I had an experience with a Korean guy, but I think it would’ve been the same with a Japanese. You know, Mexicans are really affectionate and it’s really easy for us to hug friends and everything. So I had this Korean friend which I really liked and one day I just felt like hugging him, so I hugged him and he was in shock ! he didn’t hugged me back and I was so disappointed but I think he was really confused, the only thing he told me was that “Koreans aren’t good hugging” and I felt embarrassed. Later on I learnt that Koreans (and many Asians) don’t hug unless they’re couple (if they’re from opposite gender).

  • Rodrigo

    I plan to move in to Japan next year, and I’m actually a Japanese descendant. So one thing that kind of bothers me is… won’t it be weird to see a Japanese guy in Japan who doesn’t know how to speak their language (well, I know a little bit… not to have a decent conversation though) and have completely different customs?

  • Jonathan Harston

    It may be the way I was brought up, but YOU NEVER knock on the toilet door and pester somebody. “Door Close” equals “Occupied – private – go away!!!!”. But of course, that requires that people in the toilet don’t lock themselves in their for hours on end, and requires that people don’t leave the toilet indicating “occupied” when it isn’t.
    Some of this could be down to how large a family you grew up in. If you grew up knowing there were four or five other people in the house who would be crossing and recrossing their legs waiting for you to come out you’d grow up knowing not to monopolise a vital shared resource.

  • Jonathan Harston

    I need to buy a pint of milk to make a cup of tea, surely I can pop out for two minutes, surely, they won’t come in the exact two minutes I turn my back…
    Dammmit!!!

  • Chris Manoukarakis

    To be fair, I think western girls can be just as guilty of this. I don’t want to make assumptions as to why the author may have been doing this to her husband, but Its not an uncommon thing for a girl to go rummaging through her guys e-mail, texts, phone history, etc.

  • Mami

    I would have probably done the same thing you did. Isn’t the option of being ‘casually late’ normally left to guest? haha.

  • Jonathan Harston

    This is all down to people not understanding shared/nonshared user settings on their computers.
    Whenever there’s new items about – for example – children reading parent’s email or accessing adult websites using their parent’s ID, or people reading somebody else’s email or browsing history, I always shout at the radio: why were they giving their log-on details to the other person? As far as the computer knows, if “fred” is logged on it’s “fred” who’s doing everything.
    But then, I’ve been administering mixed-user computer systems since 1982, this sort of thing is second nature to me. But, would you give your ten-year-old children copies of the key to your car and then complain when they drove it underage and crashed it?

  • Mami

    Arigatou:)

  • Mami

    (๑′ᴗ’๑)エヘヘღ

  • Mami

    He did, however, give me his email address and password so I could read over some immigration emails if they came in. I did overextend my boundaries though. アタヽ(д`ヽ彡ノ´д)ノフタgomennasai!

  • Joel Alexander

    So, I’m pretty sure turning up to a date in rollerblades is a weird thing to do in any culture.

    Or at least, any culture that’s moved on from the eighties. =P

  • ultrasann

    Hello, Mami! :)

  • Sugoida

    Where I live, we have “Hispanic Time.” I don’t like Hispanic Time.
    “I’ll be there in 10 minutes!”
    *1 hour later*
    “I just left the house, I’ll be there soon.”

  • marco fuchs

    splendid article. Can’t agree more and experience these misunderstandings frequently. At first it was more difficult to deal with it, but now we are both just laughing about it.
    I’m German and we also have the open door thing for the bathroom/toilet. So I feel the article still applies even for people from outside of Canada.

  • Daisy

    Hahaha, on the babe/cutie pet name thing etc, I used to find this quite hard to accept for a while that the most lovey dovey my boyfriend could get was to use my name without san etc attached to it. Nice article though Mami! <3

  • Ami

    I think it’s the same here in NZ. Ajar but not fully open. I find it really awkward when we host Japanese students because I can’t tell if someone’s using the toilet or not anymore lol

  • Think

    Mami, It is a bad part of Japanese culture and your writing is full of it.

  • Mami

    Full of it? I’m sorry for making you feel bad. I didn’t really mean to do so.

  • lightroy

    It was an interesting article, all in all, one of the few I recently bother reading here on Tofugu.
    Just, as some people have stated, it doesn’t really apply to any other foreigner that are not US/Canadians (I’m italian).
    From my experience, for example, a lot of japanese people get late, for whatever reason, even more than foreigners, maybe not on dates (although it might happen as well), but expecially when you want to hang out.
    Also, I and generally people I know (at least from Eu) would never burp/fart in public. Kissing is more of a common thing, tho.
    And as for the love thing..didn’t american people say ‘love you’ all the time, without really meaning it?

  • Silver Sabrewulf

    The bathroom door thing I’ve seen gone either way where I live (the Netherlands). Normally we leave the door open (just a crack, though), which basically means it isn’t occupied. Some of my friends do that as well, but others prefer to keep the door closed when the bathroom is not in use, so I can’t really say what’s the Dutch thing here.

    Same with punctuality. Some of my friends have a pretty elastic sense of time, but when I say 11:00AM, I mean 11:00AM. I don’t like wasting time (mine or anyone else’s). Thankfully my friends make sure to be on time if we’ve agreed to meet at a certain time, because they know it annoys me. And if they’re a few minutes late I never stay angry beyond the first few curses I sling at them. But we’ve known each other for well over 20 years now, so that changes the social dynamic.

    Again, I don’t really know if there’s a real Dutch standard. In my experience most people are punctual within about a 5-minute window. Meaning being 5 minutes late is generally still considered on time for informal meetings. 10 minutes will usually raise an eyebrow, unless whoever’s late calls or texts in advance.

  • Mami

    Hello, ultrasann( ・д・)/--=≡(((卍 シュッ!!

  • Mami

    Tell me about it. Did you ended up telling the Japanese students you guys’ way? :D

  • Aime

    Yup, I know what you are talking about. I am dominican and 45 minutes late here is like ok. I hate it, my father is extremely punctual and he raised me like that, I get desperate with people who just don’t mind.

  • Mami

    I really like your comment too, by the way. Arigatou!

  • Mami

    No, it was intentional, but he had already given me his password for checking up on immigration notifications and once I was there my curiosity got the better of me. Gomennasai. Thank you for telling me the possibility of my English mistake though. Arigatou!

  • Mami

    Thanks so much! At this point, I was very happy to find out that this particular bathroom convention is found in other parts of the world.

  • raab

    It’s not a bad part of Japanese culture, nor do I think it’s really rude for Japanese people to call foreign people “foreigners”. Why, at least initially, should they be expected to do otherwise?

  • Mami

    It’s definitely not weird, but you might experience times when people expect that you know Japanese solely because you look Japanese. I have a similar experience, though I was on the other end of it, and it happened while I was working in a Shinkansen train station selling alcohol-cake. Due to the fact that it was a very busy station with many people passing by and asking questions or taking samples, both native and foreign, I needed to speak and act quickly. Simply, if someone came up to me who appeared Japanese then I would use Japanese, however on more than one occasion I spoke Japanese to someone who replied with “Sorry, I don’t speak Japanese”. To be honest though, enough people in Japan know enough English to help you get along just fine if your Japanese isn’t perfect. As for how you would be thought of, it would not be considered weird. There may be a slight initial shock once they find out that they need to speak in English, somewhat, or whatever, but passed that, there is no real issue. Enjoy Japan!

  • Mami

    Hahaha! That’s great! I’m really looking forward to going to Eastern Canada.

  • Mami

    A really nice comment to read, Amber. Thank you!

  • Jay Sanders

    Oddly enough this made me think of me and my wife. We’re both from the US, but she’s from Ohio and I’m from Texas. Married almost 15 years and she still sometimes forgets that I’m going to open the door for her when we’re entering or leaving a restaurant. Don’t have to be from opposite ends of the globe to have some interesting cultural differences.

    And being called a foreigner doesn’t bother me at all. I prefer the general term rather than being labelled the wrong nationality.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    I don’t think it’s anything you need to worry about. All the emails I read in your inbox were fine.

  • dennmart

    My girlfriend knows English very well, but a few funny misunderstandings that we’ve had are due to most of her English teachers from Japan being British. A few of her textbooks contained British expressions and vocabulary and that’s what she learned, and as an American, it sometimes confuses me quite a bit.

    One of the funnier stories was shortly after I met her and I was getting to know her. I was picking her up and while driving over to her place and since it was a bit cold outside, she texted me and asked if she should bring her muffler. The only definition of muffler I know is the car part, but she meant it to be a scarf. I suppose British people use “muffler” instead. When I arrived at her place I simplemindedly asked “Do you have a car? Why would you want to bring your muffler?”. The look of confusion on her face was hilarious, and I still tease her about it today :)

    I don’t think I have too many stories different than yours! My girlfriend has lived in the U.S. for years, and she has also travelled many places as well, so I think she’s used to a lot of nuances between her and I. I’m sure those differenced would be greater if she had stayed in Japan throughout her life.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    And then the guy waiting starts freaking out that it’s taking too long. That’s why it’s called “his panic time”.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    The only foreign-foreign couples I know here in Japan have been together before they moved to Japan. I’d be interested in those who got together here in Japan – if such a couple exists! ;)

  • ZXNova

    I personally would wanna see an article about a relationship between a Japanese person and a Western minority, (i.e. African Americans, Hispanics, etc) It seems like many articles pertaining to Japan and America (like traveling to Japan, or dating a Japanese person ) never really acknowledges the minority or just briefly makes mention of it. It’s always a White person. That’s never a fully satisfying read. Though, it isn’t bad information. Still a good article either way.

  • lovethesn0w

    British people never say muffler to mean scarf. It’s Japanese-English from katakana.

  • lovethesn0w

    This article is a massive extrapolation from one person’s actions – if a guy turned up to a date with me on rollerblades I would think it was nuts too. That’s just YOUR husband. Also, farting in public!?? Are you serious?! That is JUST HIM!! ‘Foreigners’ don’t think that’s OK at all. Stop perpetuating stereotypes, PLEASE.
    We don’t leave the toilet door open at my family home in the UK. That seems weird to me.
    We don’t wear shoes in the house either – although Japanese people seem to have difficulty in believing me when I tell them this.
    When I first came to Japan I saw a crazy lady on the subway cutting her fingernails and acting weird – I didn’t assume ALL Japanese people did this. Kindly extend the same courtesy to others.
    Also, Japanese people assume that ALL Japanese/non-Japanese couples are between a Japanese female and white male. There are lots of couples where the Japanese person is male and the dynamics are totally different.

  • Miamiron

    “That’s just YOUR husband. Also, farting in public!?? Are you serious?! That is JUST HIM!! ‘Foreigners’ don’t think that’s OK at all.”

    I love farting in public, especially after eating Kimchi and yogurt, when Im walking up the stairs in a packed train station.

  • Jacob Hansen

    I’ve actually had a few japanese friends (the college i go to is a popular for international students, they make up nearly a 1/4th of the students here) say “i like you” kind of randomly, and it sounded kinda awkward but i just assumed it had to do with how the learned english. Also funny story my friend who is from mexico learnt british english before coming to america (why they teach mexicans british english we’ll never know) but apparently in an english class here in america he was asked “what does your father like to do?” as a question, and his answer was “My father collects *fags*”… “Fag” in british english is slang for cigars, “Fag” in american english is a highly derogatory word targeted against LGBTQIA Individuals.

  • Mescale

    I’m pretty sure all Japanese ‘people’ are linked by a network of subterranean tunnels, as such they are not separate ‘people’ but one giant organism.

  • Mescale

    Have you never seen fight club?

    You are too weak, and… too blonde!

  • Yulia Smi

    People in the comments take this article to heart with “OMG im never late and I close my bathroom door” and such and such and such. Obviously everyone is different, but the point of this article is to talk about Mami’s differences with her non-Japanese husband. I loved this article a lot :)

  • Y

    Also, saying “bathroom” when you mean “toilet” causes confusion lol. Great article btw!! :D

  • Aya

    Omg, that is me

  • Jon

    My parents come from different cultures (asian/western european). So, I grew up knowing different types of cultures so I am pretty good at understanding of different cultures even at first it might be weird but I look to why it’s part of their culture so I get better understanding and not just to judge immediately. Because, it’s not fair to and you’d be ignorant to judge. plus it’s fun to learn new things =)

  • Mami

    I agree:) I’m taking an ESL class again and there are students from so many different countries. I learn something new other than English everyday. It’s fun and interesting.

  • Mami

    ( ^_^)/□☆□\(^-^ )

  • Mami

    I understand. (m´・ω・`)m ゴメン…

  • nats

    Yup, I’m British and I live in Japan. I remember asking people from different English speaking countries if they use the work muffler. That is purely Japanese :D
    I also lived in Germany where the common word for mobile phone (at least where I lived) is “Handy”. That also brought about looks of confusing when I told people that was a purely German word. It happens everywhere!

  • Mami

    Thank you for sharing your story! It was great to know:) I actually made the same mistake, since all Japanese people call scarf ‘muffler’. I’d thought it was from British too until reading the comment from lovethesn0w(><) Elderly people call 'muffler' 襟巻き(えりまき/Erimaki). It seems that scarf used to be called 'muffler' in English…I'm not sure, but that's what my dictionary says.

  • Mami

    It doesn’t seem to be purely Japanese. It’s an old fashion English. I’ve just found out right now:D :
    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20101129210317AAOm1Nt

  • Mami

    Wow, it’s interesting. And, thank you for your opinion about the term ‘foreigner’. I believe general Japanese idea is similar to yours; prefer the general term rather than being labelled the wrong nationality. :)

  • Mami

    Haha, he actually had his shoes in his backpack and put them on after meeting. Our meeting was a little far from a train station and he could’ve been really late without the rollerblades. But, still, I was surprised. lol

  • Mami

    Thank you! right. I believe that ‘toilet’ in Canada means actual bowl you sit down.

  • Mami

    Thank you and I’m glad to hear that you like my article:D

  • Mami

    Wow, it’s funny! lol

  • Mami

    “That’s just YOUR husband. Also, farting in public!?? Are you serious?! That is JUST HIM!! ‘Foreigners’ don’t think that’s OK at all.”

    I love farting in public, especially after eating Yakiimo and Yakiniku. After all, it was mutual point between me and my husband.

  • Mami

    I actually have some info about them, but not enough amount yet. It may become a future article when I get adequate info:) Thank you for telling us what you are interested in!

  • Mami

    Thank you for sharing your experience:) It’s always fun to learn what it’s like in other countries.

  • Mami

    Thank you for reading this article and sharing your experience, Lightroy-san:) I really like Italy. It’s definitely one of the countries that I’d like to visit again. Yeah, sorry for introducing only my experience this time, but remember, this is a part of “relationships between Japanese and non-Japanese” series:) Koichi or I may be able to make an article about different combination when we gather adequate information. As for the love thing, I’m not sure about American people, but I’ll talk about Japanese people more on the next Friday:) Please have a look!

  • Mami

    Thank you! Yeah, calling name without san or chan, etc is definitely the way in Japan:P Is your boyfriend Japanese?

  • Mami

    Ahaha, it’s similar to Okinawa Time:D

  • Mami

    I can’t blame you Zzz…(*´~`*)。o○ ムニャムニャ I love my bed❤

  • Mami

    Nice!

  • Mami

    Wow. Yeah, it’s kind of annoying when you are waiting for people and they don’t even care that you are waiting at all, isn’t it?

  • Mami

    Interesting. Thank you for sharing your experience:)

  • Chrys Black

    My son married a lovely Japanese woman and I just know her family have had a good laugh at my mistakes but they are very polite in not pointing them out to me. Everyone here in Australia laughed when they got married as they both have terrible habits of being late and the joke was, if they have kids the kids would have no hope with being on time for anything. My son and daughter-in-law now have three children and live in Nagasaki which has a dialect all of it’s own. We close the door to the toilet here in Australia but do a polite gentle knock with a small wait before entering to make sure no one is in there. When I visit them in Nagasaki everyone there is so polite and lovely. Thank you for your article as I miss them and you reminded me of all the fun that I have had with such a different culture. There is a soft drink there that I like which is called Pocari Sweat. The word ‘sweat’ brings up images of collecting the sweat from sports people, adding sugar and water to make a soft drink. It tastes good, especially on a hot day.

  • Matéo Viard

    Nooo, we don’t fart in public ! At least in most European countries it’s seen as a very rude act, and even ruder if it’s done in front of a girl! I hope my girlfriend never ever does that while I’m nearby ! However in your case (because there is sooo many), it may be a sign that your actual husband was at ease while being with you, something which sometimes is good to be known, and sometimes just…

  • 肉人

    First of all, thank you for this article Mami, I find it really amusing ^^

    I can’t see being late 5 minutes as something to text people for, I mean maybe your watches are set 5+ minutes apart so the other person thinks they still have time :P
    As for the bathroom business, in my country I don’t think anyone cares whether the door is closed or not, but if it’s closed one will usually check the light switch – if it’s on then it’s probably occupied ;)
    And to all the people who don’t like the fact that Japanese people treat all the foreigners as if they are the same, over here whenever we see some Asians we automatically assume they’re Chinese. There’s no harm meant there, I think it’s just a matter of making an educated guess :D
    P.S. How have I managed to live this long without knowing the brilliance that is Hikaru-Genji! (^▽^)/

  • SuperNova

    As for the time aspect of things I find myself very similar to the Japanese way of being rather punctual. I’m from the southern U.S. now living in the northern U.S. I’ve recently acquired roommates from the Dominican Republic and we have since declared that they run on “Dominican Time.” If they say they’ll be at a party they show up promptly, generally, an hour after everyone else. They consider this “on time.” If they’re ‘late,’ there’s really no telling what time they’ll show up. And they end up staying at that party/meeting incredibly long. In fact, if we all go together, and I have something that I need to accomplish between the end of that meeting/party and before I retire for the evening, I generally try to ride with another white person or just drive myself. Not that I’m being racist at all, but latin american culture is just so family-focused that all of their dinners last long hours, oftentimes into the wee hours of the morning. I simply can’t handle that, haha.

    As for the foreigner concept, I don’t find it offensive. I refer to foreigners here in America as just that, unless I actually know their nationality, then I prefer specificity. I might find myself with a summer internship in Nagoya, Japan, and am really excited for the opportunity. I’ve found a strange attraction to foreign women, and would love to, one day, marry a foreigner. I find the cultural differences exquisitely fascinating and an attraction to the beauty therein. I also enjoy the honorific appeal in Japan. If I don’t get this internship, I’ll have to find a way to Japan, one way or another.

    Thanks again for the article! I enjoyed it. I find it thoroughly pleasing to encounter other cultures in any way possible.

  • Amber Payne

    ^ o^)/

  • Amber Payne

    *><* Thanks Mami! By the way, how do you like Canada?

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    “Stop perpetuating stereotypes, PLEASE.”
    “Japanese people assume that ALL Japanese/non-Japanese couples are between a Japanese female and white male.”

    Stereotypes: They’re bad when they’re about you!

  • PJace

    Ohh man so this is the other perspective? My girlfriend from Osaka gets so mad at me whenever I give her an “estimated” time (it’s not supposed to be exact!!) and am a little late.

    And, Canadians leave the bathroom door open as a common practice when alone? I guess I’m living in the wrong country.

  • wonderingWTH?

    I would say, judging by the word “git” in the words of rambling, he is boorishly British.They tend to have an issue with all Americans, be they nice or not. They tend to love to poke fun, talk about and most importantly, look down their huge, long, aqua-line noses poo-pooing them (and everyone else who is not of the British Empire). While I admit, a lot of Americans think that other places don’t exist, Brits spend their time voicing and acting like they WISH they were the only ones that existed, so they can continue with their upper crust, boorish ways and mannerisms; trying to impress each other and guessing what color
    underwear the Queen is wearing to tea and where their lecherous, cheating son is going to visit the “poor people” aka commoners, that day in his million dollar car or helicopter he has paid for off the backs of the citizens of England. If he dislikes Tofugu and the Americans’ presence here so badly, one wonders what the Hell he is doing here anyways. And that maybe he should do what they used to do in the old days, when unhappy in their own skin: go to someone else’s island or country and declare it his own.That way, he won’t have to deal with them again and can spend time irritating other locals in the name of the Queen. Also, even if it is geared toward Americans, isn’t the owner of Tofugu American? Doesn’t that make sense that a lot of people here are from his native country. And again, one wonders why on Earth did he join if he cannot stand them so much and realizes how many of them are here? Hmmm…..me thinks I smell the trolling blood of an Englishman…..

    MAMI:
    I enjoyed your article and agree with what you say. It gives a lot of insight into spouses from another culture have difficulties from miscommunication and misunderstandings, especially in the beginning. It can be difficult to date another culture and not have some issues. I think that some people just think they are just….”dating” and don’t realize there is a sort of culture shock that comes along with it. Cool berries! I hope to enjoy yet another article from you soon!

  • Abu Abujafar

    I don`t think this is about “Cultural difference”. It is more about “language barrier” in your case.
    The things you faced with your husband that you cited here were due to language differences.

    About the farting, toilet door, punctuality, kissing outdoors, or even your husband in roller blades, they all depends on each person. It has nothing to do with culture, but personality.
    For example, I actually saw more than a few of japanese people farting or kissing in public places. I also know some people who always come late at meeting appointments.

    I know you said in this article that this is only your opinion and others may disagree with you, but the problem is that you are making a big generalization and even stereotyping westerners in this article.

    You could have changed the title to:
    Dating A Foreigner (from A Japanese Perspective)

  • Noah Smith

    I’m pretty sure most Westerners are highly offended by public farting…

  • Tokidoki

    What is everyone’s problem with the word “foreigner”? Would swapping to the word “immigrant” be better?

  • http://www.lifepotato.wordpress.com/ Arianna Armstrong

    I had so much fun reading this/ Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Mami

    Maybe they are, but only if they haven’t read the second paragraph in the section.

  • Mami

    Thank you for reading! :) I’m glad you liked it.

  • Jonathan Harston

    Or, you’re invited to a “breakfast meeting”, so you skip breakfast… but there’s no food at the meeting :( :(

  • Jonathan Harston

    A couple of years ago I was following a blog about a Canadian woman living in Japan married to a Japanese man and the trials and tribulations of pregnancy in Japan, so nonJ-woman+J-man do exist! I’ll see if I can find it again…

  • Jonathan Harston

    Especially in houses where the toilet is in a separate room to the bath – like most of the places I and my family have lived in.

  • Mami

    Thank you for your advice and have just changed the title:) ‘Language barrier’ part is only about ‘should’ and ‘maybe’ part, I’d say though. As for ‘I love you’ part, there are a lot more things to talk about. It’s actually a big cultural difference. I wrote about it already and will be up on this coming Friday:) Please have a look. Yeah, farting part was written to make sure that many things depend on an individual person. That was written for only that purpose. I was surprised that many people didn’t take that way. Maybe they skipped the second paragraph…I guess. Anyway, thank you for reading the article and giving me your advice! I really appreciate it:)

  • Mami

    Thank you for your explanation and I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed my article! I’ll keep posting:)

  • Mami

    I’m liking it! I enjoy Canada’s landscape and its nature. It makes me so calm:) I haven’t experienced really cold winter yet though:P

  • Mami

    Ahaha, Osaka people are ‘known for’ hating being waited. (Again, not everyone).
    I was born in Osaka and my parents are both from Osaka, too.:P
    Where in Canada are you from? Are you in Japan right now?

  • Mami

    Aww…so you have ‘the bathtub room’?? Ofuro??? I miss Japanese ofuruつД`)・゚・。・゚゚・*:.。..。.:*・゚

  • Mami

    Ahaha, thank you for sharing your funny story! :) Some of Japanese things sound very funny, eh? One of my favorite drink in Japan is カルピス(calpis) and my husband told me that it sounds like ‘cow piss’. :P

  • Mami

    I have to be careful when I go to Europe then. haha
    The fart story was put there to make sure that the habit was personal thing. I thought it would be funny and didn’t think that many people take it very seriously. I’m sorry if you felt you were offended. In fact, it wasn’t even a difference between my husband and me after all, because I don’t mind farting in front of him either. Oops. Excuse me:P

  • Mami

    Thank you for reading this article. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it. It seems that I really liked Hikaru-Genji when I was kindergarden. haha I don’t remember at all, but my mom told me.
    As for chinese part, I was always asked if I am Chinese in Canada. In stead of being asked ‘where are you from?’, people ask me ‘are you chinese?’…or sometimes ‘are you korean?’. I think just because not many Japanese people here compared to Chinese and Korean people. It’s ok with me. Like you said, there is no harm meant there, I know.

  • Mami

    Hello, SuperNova. Than you for sharing your experience. Dominican Time. That’s interesting. :)
    I hope you obtain the opportunity of the summer internship in Nagoya. In nagoya, there are so many delicious food. I like there. I’m jealous of you. ƪ(•̃͡ε•̃͡)∫ʃ I hope you enjoy them too. Would it be your first time to visit Japan?

  • Jonathan Harston

    Ooo, I’d love to have ofuro. I don’t have enough space :(

    In my father’s house, and my grandmother’s house, and my great-grandmother’s house, my brother’s house, my neighbour’s son’s house ^v^ there’s a small room with a toilet and a small basin; and there’s another room with a bath with a shower over it and a basin, laundry cupboard, etc.

  • Matéo Viard

    Ah ! Don’t worry it didn’t seem to me as an offence at all hehe It was actually funny and brought humanity to the text, something which I’m incapable of accomplishing snif snif

  • Chrys Black

    I have had calpis as well and hadn’t thought of ‘cow piss’. Must tell my son as he loves the language mix ups. The back part of the car where you store your luggage is called the ‘boot’ here in Australia and the Americans call it the ‘trunk’ so what do Japanese people call it?

  • Anonymous

    May I also point out that in most of the “western” world the same is done in reverse. How many times are non-Chinese Asians being called Chinese (or worse, all Asians being referred to as Orientals..)?? This has been going on much longer. We all need to change our own culture before lashing out on other cultures (hypocrites). If a person does not have many dealings with a certain race (whites, blacks, Asians for example), it’s more difficult to distinguish because they haven’t experienced enough to be able to tell the difference. The same goes for Asians. Most Asians since they haven’t been around as many other races think everyone else looks the same as well. From living in both, I’ve experienced both sides and it’s really funny how it happens and how many people from both sides believe people from the other race look the same. Not necessarily saying that you are guilty of this but making a general observational statement. This is something that should probably be made aware of globally so it doesn’t happen anywhere from any perspective cause I agree it’s disrespectful in any direction. Everything should start from your own home country though within

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s better than referring all Asians as “Chinese” or “orientals”. At least the term is correct and doesn’t insult your nationality. How are Asians living in Asia supposed to distinguish between Europeans and North Americans let alone by country? What’s more confusing from their perspective is that a lot of western countries are a melting pot of different races and backgrounds. At least the term “foreigner” is more PC than what the rest of the world uses for Asians. Not saying you’re guilty of this but just making a general observational statement

  • Mami

    haha glad to hear that:)

  • Mami

    In Japan, we call it ‘trunk’ too:) Japanese people tend to use British English, but I guess Australian English is similar to British English. I wonder how British people call them. curious.

  • Mami

    Thank you sharing your pictures:) I see! they could’ve made ‘ofuro’ in the bathroom if there is no toilet there! :) The toilet room is basically the same as Japanese modern toilet room. I don’t have my parents’ house toilet pictures though. Even though I have one, if I post it on the internet, they would get really mad…haha (((((((((((っ・ω・)っ ブーン

  • Mami

    AwwwつД`)・゚・。・゚゚・*:.。..。.:*・゚

  • expat88

    I’m confused by your terminology. You keep talking about “foreigners,” but don’t you live in Canada? That means your husband isn’t foreign – you are. And isn’t this a non-Japanese (American?) site aimed at non-Japanese?

    That’s another linguistic difference: in Japanese, “foreign” is a set, objective term. In English, “foreign” is relative – it changes depending who and where you are.

    Mami, I love your articles, but this is something I am consistently trying to explain to my students: you don’t study English to talk to “foreigners.” You study English to talk to people from “different countries.” Because if you’re in Canada speaking English to “foreigners,” you might have some difficulties. Canadians certainly speak English, but “foreigners?” They could be from anywhere – there are huge Asian populations in Vancouver, I believe.

    It may sound like I’m nitpicking, but this is a really important problem with the Japanese language that seeps into Japanese attitudes – I see it constantly in every aspect of my life – even my own step-children think that all “foreigners” are like me – no one has ever explained to them, not even their decidedly-not-racist-mom (she married me, after all) ever bothered to explain to the children what “foreign” actually means. Which is one reason that “gaijin” becomes a racial slur in Japanese – no one has any idea what the word actually MEANS, so angry, drunk ossans just fling it at white people when they’re angry (I know – I had one scream at me and my children on my birthday) and small children point and scream “gaijin” because no one ever taught them how to use it properly. The word itself isn’t the slur – it’s the recklessness with which it is used.

    And it’s not as if “foreigner” is considered very polite in English, either. In a North American context, it’s painfully inadequate to describe the vast variety of “foreign” people that populate our nations. Even Mexico is full of “foreigners,” as what we think of as “Mexican” is a mix of Spanish and Native cultures. Even “white American” the so-called “standard” is a bastardized mixture of any and everything you can think of. And, good god, I can’t imagine the kind of browbeating one would get for calling a First Nations person “foreigner.”

    Honestly, it’s a word best excised from one’s vocabulary. I don’t go around Japan talking about “burakumin,” you know? Best to avoid touchy words in our second languages.

  • expat88

    This is all a fair point, but if you speak Japanese and live with Japanese people, you know that their idea of “foreign” vs. “Japanese” is much more ingrained, monolithic and just dumb than ours.

    For example, in English, yes, many racist people will lump Viet Nam, Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, &c. together as “Chinese.” And all African as “black” and olive-skinned peoples from Maghreb to Hindustan as “Arab.”

    And yes, that is unspeakably racist and inappropriate. But it’s STILL a step above the Japanese system that lumps Chinese, Korean, Viet Namese, Indian, Central Asian, African, Eastern European, Southern European, Western European, North European, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central American, South American, North American, white, black, Asian, Aboriginal Australian and Inuit and any non-Japanese person born in Japan, or a Japanese person born outside of Japan all together as “foreign.”

    Japanese people born to Japanese parents in other countries are “nikkei” (anyone born after that is “foreign.”) And anyone born in Japan to Japanese parents is “Japanese.”

    Which means that a racist American will at least differentiate between Asia, Central Asia and Africa. A racist Japanese person can’t even be bothered to do that. This means that NON-racist Americans already have a head start against non-racist Japanese people.

    So, actually, no, I can argue (just did, in fact) that Japan’s racism IS objectively worse than our own in America – and they have proven in the past that their racism can be just as violent as ours (remember that WWII had strong racial supremacist undertones in Japan, a lot of which remains today in regular anti-Korean protests in Tokyo and Osaka). So, please take your cultural relativism to the children’s table at the JET Program welcome party.

  • expat88

    As for this: “it’s more difficult to distinguish because they haven’t experienced enough to be able to tell the difference”

    Give me an f-ing break. This right here is some unspeakably racist drivel. You’re saying the Japanese are too primitive to get race? The same way they still struggle with computers, cars and cell phones? Gee, they were so confused by western technology in the early 1900’s that they managed to design and produce the world’s greatest fighter plane.

    Yet, gee, still can’t tell the difference between them blacks and them whites.

    Yeah, right. Have some more respect for Japan, for dog’s sake.

  • expat88

    Mescale is a known racist and sexist troll. And, yes, he appears to be British.

  • expat88

    Um…yes? They should?

    Because it’s rude in English? And from Abe all the way down to the obaa-chans across the street, Japanese people crave more international interaction and respect from the global community? And using racially-charged, rude words in public isn’t conducive to that?

    Not to mention, Japan is an ex-empire. They were once racially – brutally – oppressive throughout Asia. The whole “you’re foreign, I’m not” attitude is an outdated one from a dark, violent time of Japan’s history. Time to grow out of it into the 21st century. It’s not just a quirk of their culture – it’s a relic from their brutal past.

  • expat88

    ” How are Asians living in Asia supposed to distinguish between Europeans and North Americans let alone by country? ”

    Do what we do in America: ask as politely as you can or just refer to them as “people.” Why should a person’s nationality ever be an issue unless you are specifically talking about that person’s nationality?

    What I mean is, if a stranger on the street sees me, why do they need to say “外人” when ”人” will suffice. Am I not a 人? Many people, especially older store clerks, ask me where I’m from. I say “America.” Good, now they know where I’m from. They can refer to me as アメリカ人 because they asked, politely, and I told them.

    It’s no different from names. You can’t ask someone what their name is and then refuse to address them as anything but “hey you.”

    If they don’t know me, they don’t need to label my nationality. They can refer to me as a “human being” as they would any other person. If they DO know me, they can respect me by referring to me by my nationality, or by my name.

    You’re missing the point that Japanese people use the word 外人 in situations where 人 is enough. They go out of their way to label us and point at us. It’s not just a placeholder used to refer to amorphous groups of strangers. They will literally come up to you and call you “Mr. Foreigner.” I’m sorry, how about you ask me my name first, or ask me where I’m from.

    You obviously don’t live in Japan, because if you did, you’d know how dehumanizing it is.

  • Kanade

    I’ve read a lot of stuff on these differences. Being from Russia, female, 25, from my perspective, let’s see:
    1) Go on a date in rollerblades – that’s normal IF you planned to go rollerblading afterwards. But it’d be weird if you weren’t.
    2) Farting in public – it’s really bad manners, at least here. There tend to be people that aren’t able to hold it in apparently xD Especially on the subway xD But overall it’s REALLY bad manners.
    3) Calling sweet names – it’s absolutely normal. However, in Russia young people tend to just call each other by their first name and add something nice to it (a peculiarity of the Russian language).
    4) Kissing in public – everyone does it here. I think it’s fine as long as you don’t bother others. I don’t like it when people stand in the center of the hall in the subway and produce sounds as if they’re trying to suck each other in. I personally don’t find it exciting to give French kisses in public.
    5) Like/love – In Russian it’s also different. We say love only to family and the person we love A LOT in a serious way. Although these days young people tend to say I love you much more often despite not really meaning it.
    6) Punctuality – People tend to come either on time or 5-10 minutes late if it’s a friends gathering, and it’s normal. If it’s anything regarding work, everyone’s always on time. I’m very punctual when it comes to everything apart from friend gatherings, since I think that they’re my friends, so we’re all gonna be late, so it’s fine. I personally dislike if a man is late for the date, and I dislike it when people are late for work. There must be a line when you’re allowed to be late and when you’re not.
    7) Bathroom door – we tend to leave it a bit open (loose, you could say) so that it’d be obvious that no one’s using it (though, honestly speaking, I don’t know the reason xD). I usually leave the door closed.
    If someone names more cultural difference, I might be able to elaborate on them in terms of Russian-Japanese comparison.
    As someone has already pointed out, Canada and the US differ greatly from Europe (And other countries as well). But the foreigner stereotype for the Japanese is that of an American or Canadian, so no wonder we’re often thought weird things about when talking to the Japanese.
    All the Japanese I know that live in Russia, say that it’s closer to Japan in terms of human behavior? Or at least the average normal person (like a usual office worker). But of course there are exceptions for all nations.

  • Anonymous

    You definitely have some pent up anger that’s preventing you from seeing my point. Perhaps think about what i’ve said instead of overreacting with assumptions… My point is that people in Asia can’t tell the difference between white people (not all white people are the same), black people, etc the same way people here who haven’t been around a lot of Asian people (or other races for that matter) apart. I’ve lived in NY, Boston, Miami, Houston, and Seoul and am married to a Japanese person. It is definitely worse here. You probably haven’t noticed it because you don’t think about it as much. It’s like going up to a Spaniard and saying “that Italian”. You’re right, this doesn’t happen among white people or to an extent, black people because it’s rude and disrespectful/racist for assuming. However, this happens specifically to Asians (75percent of the time) where we’re all lumped in as “Chinese” or “Oriental” instead of Asian. This is incredibly disrespectful (especially being singled out like this). The only other race where this is done that I can think of to this extent are towards the Hispanics. Even towards black people you’ll surprisingly hear a lot of, “they all look alike” (no they don’t). When I’ve said “experience”, I meant the experience of having been immersed amongst another race. I was born and raised in the US. To me, it was easy to distinguish between the different white people, different black people, different Hispanics. When I moved to Seoul, I had a hard time distinguishing between Asians let alone Koreans. After a year or two (experience) there I was able to do so easily. After being there 7 years and coming back to Houston, the exact opposite happened. I was able to distinguish every Asian race but not of white people, black people, etc. took me another year or two to have that switched back. To imply I was suggesting the Japanese lack experience to distinguish between white people and black people is an insult to your cognitive abilities. When the Japanese use the word gaikokujin, they are technically correct in meaning “anyone not from here (Japan)”. I have never said this is acceptable, I’ve merely stated this has to be stopped from our own countries so it doesn’t happen on a global level. So no, I can’t give you the f-ing break you don’t deserve since you haven’t made the effort to understand the point I was making (it’s ok to ask without insulting the other person). And frankly as you can tell, I didn’t appreciate the tone in your response.

  • Anonymous

    The other point I forgot to make is that, yes, they do call all non-Japanese as foreigners but within the foreigner distinction, they do make sub distinction by country. There’s a reason why they don’t trust Koreans the most in their polls. Their culture is still a somewhat closed society in terms of race mostly because their society doesn’t have as many foreigners there. But to their credit, there are people and groups that are making an effort to bring awareness to the Japanese public. It’s a slow process (just look at our own US history).

  • Anonymous

    I agree it’s something that shouldn’t happen. But how different is that from saying, “hey, look at that Black guy”, responding with “that Chinese guy” as an answer to, “who’s Jake?”, or “hey you, the “Oriental fella”. At least they’re not being as racist by singling you out by specific race. Also, is it a majority of people doing this? 75%? Or a small number of people (like the percentage of people that still use the term “oriental” to describe people

  • Anonymous

    This site should help sort a few things out for you:
    http://www.thejapanfaq.com/FAQ-Primer.html
    Sounds like you’re between the honeymoon and acceptance phase.
    All black skinned Africans have black skin and are called blacks, but are all Asians Chinese? No way. It’s like referring all Europeans as Spaniards, all Hispanic people as Mexican (which does happen in the states), and all Blacks as Nigerians. Can you imagine the outrage? In which world is that ok and more to the point why is this ok only towards Asians and Hispanics? How is it better to do that than to call anyone outside of their country as foreigners? Not only that, we’ve had a long headstart in dealing with racism and we still do this. Which is worse? I can also understand your anger if this is the first time you’ve experienced racism but it’s probably good to have a perspective on things.

  • Anonymous

    And I agree, experiencing racism first hand is an incredibly frustrating and it makes you feel vulnerable and angry. It’s something that needs to be wiped out but unfortunately as we know from our history, it’s a slow process. Although, I feel Japan is making quicker progress than us given the amount of years they’ve opened their country to the rest of the world. Remember, it was a closed society not that long ago. For that, they should be given credit. Korea is a little behind on that but for the same reasons

  • expat88

    “Sounds like you’re between the honeymoon and acceptance phase. ”

    Excuse me, but how long have you been living in Japan? How many years have you been married? How many Japanese children have you raised? Taught? Lived with? And how many years have you lived and worked and studied in a postcolonial community? How much of Japan’s old empire have you lived in or visited?

    Son, I know more than you do about culture and culture shock. Don’t worry about what “phase” I’m in. I’m past “phases.” I’m past culture shock. I fully understand the things I dislike about Japan, and I can tell you specifically why Japanese people do a lot of the things I don’t like (e.g., they have a different sense of space than Hoosiers do, which will always bother me).

    I don’t feel anger towards racism because it’s the first time I’ve experienced it – I feel anger because I’ve experienced it a few times too many.

    Again, like I said, you have fair points, but it’s clear you’re approaching Japan from a purely academic, a priori perspective.

    “…and all Blacks as Nigerians. Can you imagine the outrage?”

    Yes, I’m glad you understood and agreed with my point. This is essentially what Japanese people do when they lump all non-Japanese together as “foreigners.” You missed my point, however, that what sets America apart is the fact that calling all Hispanics “Mexican” is considered “blatantly and unforgivably racist.” Here in Japan, lumping Mexicans and Africans together as foreigners – indeed, wearing blackface on TV (or, sometimes, whiteface) is considered perfectly normal and acceptable.

    Again, you seem to be missing the larger cultural context of the word 外人 and the entire racial system built up around it that is very, very different from the type of racism you describe. Lumping all Hispanics together as “Mexicans” still isn’t the same as calling them all “foreign,” because at least you acknowledge that Hispanics and, say, Asians are different. In Japan, no distinction is made between the two groups.

    Your point that Japan somehow deserves credit since they’ve had so little time to deal with racism doesn’t account for the fact that so much about Japan and Japanese society is structure specifically so they don’t have to deal with the problems that America or Britain, or France have had to. There have been no race riots in Japan because the foreigners here quietly accept their second-class status (“I just love Japanese culture so much, I’m just glad to have a chance to live here! OMG!”) and Japan lacks a strong sense of freedom and equality that the aforementioned countries have.

    Have you ever taught high school students in Japan? Have you ever asked them what they do for fun and had them say, quietly, “Nothing. I only study”? Until you experience that, you’ll never fully understand how constricting Japanese society is. Racial equality? It’s so far off their radar. It’s hard to quantify the progress that is made in race relations in Japan, because so much of it is couched in a discourse based on the “gaijin vs. nihonjin” dichotomy. The entire discussion is racist from the bottom up, so any progress is built on that foundation. It’s very, very hard to get a handle on. Just when I think I have it all figured out, my own step-children say something incredibly racist in my own home and I just think…”Damn it.”

    Come visit some day, though. I’ll show you around. You’ll like it here.

  • expat88

    You know what? It’s not different.

    Calling out Japan’s racism has nothing to do with the racism in other countries. It’s racist, too. You’re really fighting an apples vs. oranges battle here.

    The fact is that every behavior you mentioned is known and considered in the broader American society to be unspeakably racist. It may very well be common among regular people, but that is the kind of stuff that TV networks get fined for. (Two Broke Girls notwithstanding.) Racism is common in America, but it is well established as something not to be done purposefully in polite company. Inadvertant racism is qualitatively different because most people would apologize for such.

    As for calling out Mami’s use of the word “foreigner,” it’s consistent with this. If a Japanese person came to America and used the N-word, I’d say, “Stop. Wait.” “Skinhead” in Japanese is used to describe bald people. I’ve made it clear to my children and students that it is NOT a polite word to use in English, ever.

    That we have racism in America doesn’t change the fact that we have a different attitude towards it than the Japanese, and it doesn’t excuse bringing racism from Japanese culture over into ours. At the very least you must agree that America has ENOUGH racism already, and we don’t need to add Japanese racism to the pile.

  • expat88

    Don’t be a racist twat.

  • Davg

    You rather embarrassed yourself with all of the ridiculous over-the-top and downright false stereotyping you did there.

    Thanks for being a classic American!

  • Efr

    I would just knock.
    Politeness isn’t as necessary when you REALLY need the toilet.

  • Bob

    If I saw an Asian, Indian, or Black person walking around in England I wouldn’t immediately think of them as a foreigner.
    I’d just think it was a British person that wasn’t white.

    If I came to find out that they were not born in England and were here on holiday I would call them a tourist.

    If I found out they were working here and came from a different country I would call them by their nationality and profession.

    Never would the word ‘foreigner’ enter into my vocabulary in any setting.

    The problem with the phrase gaijin in Japanese is that it is used very inappropriately and that becomes rude.
    Especially when talking about someone that lives in your country.
    I’ve even heard of Japanese people on holiday in other countries are calling the natives ‘foreigners’!

  • jodoki

    LOVE the article!! By the way, not just your husband. My husband farts in public ALL THE TIME.

  • Niklas

    My Japanese wife and I have had a few minor misunderstandings because of our different languages. English is the second language for both of us, but it was our common language when we started out.

    I’ve always thought “bye” and “goodbye” were completely interchangeable and I used “goodbye” all the time when we talked over Skype, but my wife understood “buy” as something you say at the end of the day to a friend while “goodbye” is something you only say when you’re going away and are not going to see each other for a long time (like the Japanese さよなら). So she was always confused and wondering what I meant when I said goodbye after each time we talked.

    Another misunderstanding from my side was when she complimented me and said that I was 超格好いい(ちょうかっこういい), but I hadn’t learned 超 yet and thought she was always saying 少格好いい(しょうかっこういい). I always thought it was odd to give a compliment but also tone it down at the same time saying that I’m just a little bit attractive.

  • chrysb

    I will have to ask my British friend about the ‘trunk’ next time I see her. There is another funny story about when I first went to Nagasaki. I was in the toilet of the parents of my daughter-in-law and it had all sorts of Japanese characters on a control panel so it was the latest in high tech toilets and comfort. I had no idea what each symbol meant and thought not to touch them but my elbow had other ideas. All of a sudden all sorts of things started to happen. At first I panicked and thought what do I do because if I stood up maybe water would go everywhere. I thought of calling out for help but my son would be so embarrassed. I decided to wait and ‘stick it out’ until everything finished and then I saw the funny side and started to giggle. My son must have heard me because when I went back into the main room he said “You tried out the buttons, didn’t you!” He was laughing so he found the funny side too, especially when I told him the whole story. I do like how the seat is warm in winter though. I wonder what is thought of the foreigner in laws. Kyoko’s parents must think Australians are really strange if they go by me.

  • Chrys Black

    something went wrong as that is not my pic

  • PJace

    Oh, I don’t live in Canada, I grew up in and am still currently living in Hawaii. I just always like to leave the bathroom door open when I don’t have guests over haha. Yeah here we have something called “Hawaiian time” which doesn’t go well with Osakan punctuality. Needless to say I’ve learned to be early for everything because of her.

  • Anonymous

    Seems like it’s a difference of circumstance so it can’t really be compared. GB is a multi racial country. Japan’s population through most of it’s existence has been one race. It’s racism but more of a communal us vs them mentality which is prevalent throughout their society (even within their own groups). That’s why as soon as they see a person isn’t specifically Japanese, they’d refer to them as foreigner. “Gaijin” has negative connotations and is a taboo word for televised broadcasts but gaigokujin simply means foreigner and that doesn’t carry a negative meaning

  • Anonymous

    But don’t get it twisted, they definitely have different opinions on different kids of gaikokujin

  • Anonymous

    Didn’t Mami specify this is her opinion based on her specific experience? I don’t think she mentioned this is what everyone believes but more of a snap shot into her own personal world which is brave of her. Most people in Japan wouldn’t open up like this, exposing themselves.

  • Anonymous

    Just curious, and I want to make it known I’m not attacking anyone but just would like to better understand the perspective, when you see a European, do you do the same? If not, why? (If you’re in Europe, then replace European with North American please). Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    That’s why in the US it’s sold as Calpico. =)

  • Jess Jose

    um, you probably already know this, but babe means about the same thing as baby

  • Bmm209

    I was just about to ask about knocking. Seems like the safest way to go about it.

  • Marla

    Great article! Mami, I just wanted to say that I always enjoy your articles. I sense that you put a lot of time and effort into them, and you seem so open-minded and caring. :)

  • RonMoses

    Pssst…hey Mami. A little secret for you. See all these folks finding various ways to be offended? Well there’s no national or ethnic pride that can compare to the pride some folks take in their capacity for offense. In my country, I call them Offended-Americans, though it’s hardly unique to the US. They define themselves by their ability to identify things that allow them the opportunity to illustrate just how much more enlightened they are than you. It’s an establishment of moral superiority through either self-victimization or self-deprecation, coupled with an insistence that you acknowledge their experience while refusing to extend you the same courtesy. You owe them no apology, just relax and let them bloviate.

    For further examples, watch the responses to this post.

  • マイケル

    I’m not exactly sure why you decided to insult ALL British people just after having been offended yourself on the basis of nationality!? In arguments of race fighting fire with fire is not a great idea…
    Perhaps we could just attribute everyone’s thoughts and feelings to that person as an individual?
    Remember no one can speak on the behalf of a whole nation. Nor should a nation be criticised for the actions of a few.
    Unfortunately it is human nature to group and categorise the world around us to minimise cognitive load. However as is well demonstrated in this comments section this is something we should try to resist as it only seems to cause offence…
    If I do something, then only I, as an individual, should be held responsible for that action.
    Thanks for reading.

  • Integral

    That was a very funny and interesting story! My boyfriend is Japanese (we are both living in Germany) and at the beginning of our relationship we encountered a lot of difficulties and had so many misunderstandings and quarrels due to cultural differences and the language. Just a couple of days after our first kiss he told me, that he loves me, and I was irritated pretty much (in Germany you normally don’t confess your love in such an early state of a relationship). Luckily I found out not much later it was true and he really meant what he said (while he was living in Japan he never said it to any woman, though he was in serious relationships). I think for a happy and successful interracial love it is important for both sides to be open-minded, talk, listen, ask and explain a lot. Keep up the communication.

  • Ely lioney

    I’ve heard of ‘muffler’ being used for scarf, but I don’t use the word myself.
    I asked and its the same with my mum and brother.

  • ta02

    Mami, I really enjoyed this article. It is especially important to me as I’ve been dating a Japanese woman for 5 years now. Your “should” story REALLY hit home for me! I can not tell you how many times I (I’m American, by the way) have simply been making suggestions or asking her where she’d like to go when we get together such-and-such weekend, and she clings to my first suggestion like it is the absolute most dire thing I want to do. This happens ALL the time, and I never could figure out why! I keep complaining about it to her but it keeps happening. I think if I show her your post, we will both understand better and this slight problem will be fixed. I’m not sure how old you are, but she is a grown woman, and I wonder if the “English” she was taught back when she was in Japan differs from yours. It’s plain to see that the “should” (and also the “maybe”!) problems still exist though. When I go over to Japan on JET I’ll have to make sure to fix this distinction with my students, lol.

    It’s crazy how many times I have simply been trying to suggest something, and she has taken it to be something I really, really wanted.

  • Mwani

    Wow that’s interesting about the punctuality and preliminary information. A girl I dated from japan and I did have some misunderstandings as well. I see you also had a similar experience with the “I love you” thing. Maybe I should have been more open with how I really felt about it at the time too haha. I’m glad you all were able to work things out. I really appreciate your insight and experience, thank you!

  • Mwani

    don’t be such an ethnocentric bully. You’re doing the same thing by condemning some part of their culture. to us it may be uncomfortable, but it’s just as bad if you think you have the right to judge them as them judging you right? Also personally attacking her for a culturally common thing that she had no part in instituting is not helping anyone.

  • 肉人

    I’m from Europe, and yes I think I’d probably assume everyone who speaks English with an American accent is American (sorry Canada!) :P
    Like I said, it’s just an educated guess ;)

  • Ruby

    I really enjoyed the drama you mentioned – “My Darling is a Foreigner” lovely film.

    Thank you

  • 五月

    How long have you been learning English for? Your English is fluent and I want to get an estimate of how long it would take to reach language fluency i.e. Japanese.

  • Anonymous

    I generally hold all of WWII Germany responsible for the holocaust (nationalistic ideas aside, systematically exterminating members of your own country for cultural differences is wrong, and should be recognized as such). I accept that there were dissenters, but challenge them to be named, rather than give them all the benefit of the doubt and asked for the perpetrators to be named. That said, they’re mostly all dead, so it doesn’t matter much, if only to prove you wrong that western society does hold a whole nation responsible based on the thoughts and feelings of one person (again, a cross-section of time and place, referring to pre-WWII and WWII Germany.)

  • Anonymous

    We’re only foreign if you don’t take the time to get to know us. :)

  • Mami

    Throughout this conversations, I found out that translating gaikokujin into foreigner isn’t correct. Using gaikokujin is neutral in Japan. Of course, since the word gaikokujin is neutral, it can contain a negative meaning depending how people use it. Gaikokujin means simply non-Japanese. When I told my life long friend that I was going to marry Canadian and move to Canada, she told me, ‘so are you going to be gaikokujin?’ Did she insult me? Hell NO! Didn’t she know me well? NOOOO SHE IS MY BEST FRIEND! I was asked similar question quite a lot and am still do when I told some Japanese people that I live in Canada because I married Canadian. They ask me, ‘so are you gaikokujin now?’ I don’t feel being insulted either. They are just asking my nationality. I say ‘I’m still Japanese and I’m just permanent resident in Canada. I’m not sure if I will get a citizenship in the future, but when I get the citizenship, I’ll become Canadian.’ In this conversation, Canadian=gaikokujin=non-Japanese. And nobody intends to insult. I said ‘culture’ because I had misunderstood the nuance difference between foreigner and gaikokujin. Literally same meaning, but I figured we use them differently.

  • Mwani

    I understand what you’re saying Mami. I see that from your perspective it doesn’t seem like it’s intended to insult. The reason I think some people find it insulting is that it is a perspective that is very ethnocentric. Where in America, we will say if someone is Canadian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, or Korean, we will never say “Non-American” or just calling people “immigrants” or “foreigners” it sounds kind of rude to us. Like it doesn’t appreciate the individual person and where they actually come from. Like we are only judging them in their relation to us. I can see that Japan seems to have an identity that is very homogeneous and has historically been very isolated, so I can see how this system of classification came about. However to people who are not from Japan it can seem rude probably. Like say if you spend all your time in Canada and maybe even get a citizenship there, but people always refer to you as “Non-Canadian” instead of as Japanese. Wouldn’t it feel kind of strange? I think that’s the idea people are trying to get across. I see what you’re saying though, that people don’t intend to be insulting much of the time when they use it. That’s good to know. thank you.

  • Anonymous

    the fact is, and I’ve grown up/lived in 12 different US cities, it’s not considered unspeakably racist (you may properly feel so but the broader American society does not). As you’ve said, it’s common among regular people. I haven’t encountered inadvertant racism (unless the person was close to 80 or 90 years old – at a certain point, people can’t change). If by most people apologizing for “inadvertant racism”, I suppose the most common responses I get of “I’m sorry, but you know you guys are all the same right?”, “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell the difference between you guys”, or “pfft” are them apologizing for slipping up instead of apologizing for saying something that is completely racist and short sighted. If I respond further to them saying otherwise, the conversation usually ends up going with “if you don’t like it here, why don’t you leave?” when that clearly wasn’t the topic of conversation (this response is also the reason why Asians generally don’t complain which is a problem concerning awareness). The fact they don’t see me as an American who was born and raised here is alarming. Just like you, when I hear people in the US use the term gaikokujin, I explain to them the situation since a lot of Japanese don’t give a lot of thought to most things that don’t affect them. It’s the same but worse in the US. I agree America has enough racism already but that most people in the US wouldn’t recognize Japanese racism if it happened to occur here. Racism is racism. There are no apples vs oranges there (but if you must, consider comparing gaikokujin with Chinese for every Asian race. There are close to 25 different Asian countries mind you. At least the term gaikokujin is correct within Japan and they differentiate between gaikokujin instead of marginalizing every country as the same…). I was merely commenting how it’s interesting that people who’ve seen more of it would be shocked when the tables have turned (probably because they’re experiencing it for the first time for however long outside their country). Again, I’m not saying any racism is just, I’m just giving it some perspective.

  • Mami

    Yeah, I understand it, too. Thank you for clarifying.

  • Anonymous

    I live in NY and it’s interesting how it’s similar to how we use the blanket term “tourist” for everyone from outside the country just visiting. Used very similarly to the way “foreigners” is described above (except the latter portion of having lived in a country for a long time but that’s more due to the difference in definition of the word used). I think the word people should get offended by is Gaijin, not gaikokujin. Gaijin is a bit more derogatory and Mami never used it as she used gaikokujin as a non-insulting sense (depends on usage) culturally. I can’t sit here and say we don’t use the word “tourist” in a very slightly negative sense in NY. Funny example here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8LmPBPWHJu4

  • Jodi

    Dear Mami,

    I greatly enjoyed reading your post! I have the option to study abroad in Japan for my degree and have been researching various matters for a while. The question of how Japanese natives feel towards foreigners is a frequent thought that I normally research. Your post gave an interesting insight by using your own experience to explain the differences you have seen. By explaining these differences, I even learned more about the culture (such as how you aren’t supposed to leave the bathroom doors open. I’ll have to remember that when I go to Japan!) through your anecdotes.

    I personally appreciated your post and will definitely be reading more of your posts. :)

  • QuestQ

    Isn’t aye? not eh?

  • Jeffrey Bublitz

    The terrible truth. Japanese women despise dating foreign men. They have a bad habit of blocking or ignoring you if you show any interest. If you like or love a foreigner and your parents don’t like the idea..they tell the girl to break up (even if it’s a fiancé). The girl will do it w/o question.

  • Thai girl 6785

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I found it to be more specific then most other post that tend to generalize dating Foreigns. The cucumber part was really cute and funny to me. Any advice on dating a Japanese guy for foreign women? I am Thai, but I speak both English and Thai. Do Japanese guys like foreign women? I guess in the dating world or the world in general it is just who you meet. Some people are more open minded and more understanding than other people. Had I not traveled or lived in Korea for a year I think I would be too.

  • Chuckmo

    I am pretty sure the public farting thing is just your husband….

  • Ellie Franklin

    Can I say that it is found to be rude to leave a door open in England if you are in someone else’s home or a public area but this can vary in public toilets as it depends on the person younger generations are known to leave the door open while older generations shut the door(sometimes leaving a slight crack in the door to see that it is unoccupied.