Monday, May 26, 2008

What it's like in Japan... Sometimes

Remember that scene in the movie Crash, where the movie producer has his car hijacked?
(Cue video to 5:34, then follow through to part 9)

This guy has had it; he happens to be black, and within 48 hours, he's been victimized by the police for being "a black man in a good neighborhood", and had his partners confess they don't believe the American public is ready for the idea of an intelligent black man in the media. Sitting in his car, pondering, he believes there's no way anyone will ever, ever, look past his skin color and be open-minded.

Then the perfect opportunity to go down in flames presents itself.

He's carjacked by two guys with guns, and just loses it, no doubt thinking to himself: The world wants me to be a poorly-spoken, gangbanging criminal? Fine, I'll let them have it. I don't care anymore. Nothing will change. He goes on a rampage, cursing the police, acting like a madman, and is just about to get himself shot when a cop steps between the line of fire and tries to make amends for his partner.

Sometimes... sometimes, being a foreigner in Japan is like that.

No matter how long you've been here, how many experiences or moments of clarity you've had regarding the Japanese, many people see you only at face value: an English-speaking robot, funny to talk about in Japanese when they think you can't understand, incapable of knowing anything about Japanese culture or history, nothing more than a dirty foreign dog who spends his days mocking everything around him and his night boozing and hitting up hostess bars.

It's not a big leap from this movie producer to any one of us: sometimes, you just feel like countering back, even to the smallest, most innocent schoolchildren, shouting nothing but "HELLO! HELLO! HELLO!" because that's all they want to hear, telling Japanese friends you're sorry, but it is beyond your understanding as a foreigner...

It's one reason I don't want to live out the rest of my days here, want to migrate to an English-speaking country where I can be seen as something other than a novelty, an amusing deviation from the norm, lacking any substance or flavor.

It's an adventure being here. And it's been beneficial. But sometimes, I feel invisible.

A good followup - Rolf Pott's article "Can I Have Meaningful Experiences Abroad if I Don’t Speak the Language?"


Skye said...

I just stumbled on your blog via your article on Brave New Traveler...
I recently moved back to a small town in Japan (where I am not native) after spending nearly two years in the UK (where I am also not native, and was routinely mistaken for an American, which I am also not). I'm not sure if I prefer looking like a foreigner to sounding like one, but I do know how you feel. I actually grew up in a small town in Canada, where I think it would have been equally hard to be a visual minority. You're in good company though - you should read Alan Booth's "The Roads to Sata" if you haven't already.

Turner said...

I have - one of my favorite Japan books

Kazu said...

Interesting blog you got. I may keep up with it. I was born in Japan, but grew up in the US since I was 7. Let me tell you - even as a full blood Japanese, I often am made to feel very out of place when I go back. Japan is a contradiction. So open and welcoming in some ways, yet so alienating in others.

Speaking of books, one of my favorites is The Japan We Never Knew.

Turner said...

I've heard of that one. Got a whole bunch on my list to find before I leave for good.

Thanks for reading - where are you from in Japan?

Kazu said...

I'm from Tokyo. Was born in Tsurumaki, near sakura-shinmachi, but moved around a bit mostly around Shibuya.

Great blog you got going on.