My Personal Introduction To Japan



Japanese and western culture tend to clash, like oil and water. Japanese in this analogy would regard themselves as water (purity) and foreigners as oil (sullied). I sometimes believe that they may have a point, looking from the perspective of having lived in Japan for twelve years. Seeing how the rest of the world appears to have
soaring crime rates, inner city poverty, drug abuse, child abuse, etc, etc. But in the cold clear light of day there is something wrong with this view, thus, I have decided to write a short piece on the culture of Japan, even though it has been done before.
It is not possible to describe a nations culture in a few pages, therefore I am going to
concentrate on some of the more banal and venal traits of Japanese culture.


Problems for Gaijin:

First of all I will try to describe a few of the problems a foreigner coming to live in Japan may face. Firstly he or she is a "gaijin "(alien, foreigner, etc), he may hear this yelled at him gleefully by children or more quietly from adults, as he walks along the street. This is more common in the countryside and rarer in the cities. In any case, get used to it, if you want to live in Japan!
The salary man (office worker) can be another problem, especially an older drunken one. I have had the pleasure of being accosted a few times in Tokyo by an older man, breathing alcohol fumes over me and saying such things as  "gaijin AIDS!", "baka gaijin", (stupid foreigner), etc.

At these times I was walking along the street or waiting on a station platform, minding my own business. These people are spineless, a quick sharp glare from me, always sent them scuttling far away from me.

Bigots and the Anti Foreign Sentiment



Japanese are a bigoted nation, they do expect other nationalities in Japan to live up to their stereotypical images of them. For example, white foreigners are believed to always act the clown. Unfortunately some so called "TV. tarento" (TV talents) from the USA, England, et al, make a living here, exploiting that image. They do their home countries, themselves and the Japanese people a gross disservice, perpetuating this false view and prolonging ignorance of other cultures, outside of Japan. These very same "tarento" appear on serious talk shows and express their opinions on various weighty matters. Who could possibly believe in anything that they might say?


Anti foreign sentiment:
Anti foreign sentiment takes many forms, the more obvious ones, would be expressed by politicians, and reported in the media. I would like to list five examples of sentiments, which to anyone, not living in Japan, maybe not be well known.
1.  Sometimes it is possible to see a pachinko parlor displaying a sign on its doors, which says in Japanese English "No the foreigner", which translates into English as, "No foreigners allowed", much like the signs seen in England or many other countries, "No Dogs Allowed". Except in Japan dogs are more worthy of entrance than gaijin!

These signs can be seen from time to time on public facilities, such as, bath houses, swimming pools, sports club, and so on. Another case, which came to the public eye  is that of a Brazilian women. She was in a jewelry store, in Hamamatsu (Shizuoka), just looking around, when the shopkeeper asked her where she was from, when she replied, "Brazil", the owner ejected her from the store. The shopkeeper said that he took this action because, "she looked directly into his eyes" and "she walked around the store in a different direction than most Japanese customers would". Is this discrimination? She is now suing the shop owner.

2. Rubbish collection days are an occasion for high drama if there is a foreigner living in the neighborhood. The collection days are split between burnable and non burnable trash. If there is the wrong kind of bag left for collection, the neighbor (Japanese) will assume it was the foreigner and leave it outside his apartment door. Even though it may  not have been his trash bag.

3. I had occasion once to call the local police station, to complain about underwear being stolen from my balcony (my wife's not mine!) on the first floor (ground floor). A policeman came on his bicycle, he was not interested in my complaint. The first thing he asked for was my alien registration card, then he questioned me on why I am in Japan. Finally I could ask him about my complaint, 

"It happens all the time", he said, "Do not leave underwear outside".
So be warned, especially young foreign women, thinking about coming to Japan to live, there are many phantom knickers snatchers, maybe not foreigners but Japanese men! At least the policeman did not try to blame it on foreign men.

4. Most Japanese do not believe that foreigners can speak their language. This has a positive side though it is easy to pretend ignorance when an NHK (Japanese public TV) agent comes to your front door requesting  the TV license payments. 

"Sorry I do not understand". They usually give up quickly, so I have been told! 

When my American friend was driving through central Tokyo one night, there was a breathalyzer check conducted by the police. When the policeman poked his head into the drivers side window, and looked at my friend, he said nothing and just waved him on. Even though my friend had consumed quite a few margaritas.

5. International marriage is frowned on by most Japanese. The Japanese half of the
marriage is usually treated as an outsider by other Japanese. The children from such
marriages are treated as gaijin, by other children and adults. They may also encounter bullying and discrimination at school, so the children's parents must be ever watchful. This is one of the biggest reasons for me to decide to return to my home country, as my children were reaching school age.

To sum up then, Japanese by and large are a bigoted race, there are many  other
examples. Japan is similar to England, USA, France, etc, in that the people have a low tolerance for other people, who are not the same as them. It is a good learning experience for all white people to try out, maybe we can have more understanding and sympathy for those who are discriminated against in our home countries. I thoroughly recommend, for more young people to come and study or work in Japan for a short time.


Scandals in Japan are so commonplace as to be nearly irrelevant to the Japanese peoples daily life. Who can remember which, banker, politician, public servant, businessman, university professor, doctor, dentist, city mayor, etc, has been accused of corruption today?

Even more interesting, do any of these recidivists ever go to prison? Suspended sentences are the norm here for them. So, naturally they are not going to change their
ways. Corruption takes many forms in Japan, political donations, wining an dining,
gorgeous holidays, outright cash payments, and so on. The accused usually plead complete innocence to corruption charges, sometimes claiming that it must be their secretaries fault.
One politician who was accused of corruption, killed himself, his wife immediately started a political campaign to replace her dead husband.
It is little wonder that the turnout for elections is so low and that the majority of Japanese people have such a low opinion of politics and politicians. Some companies tell their workers who to vote for, even bussing them to the voting hall. Business and politics still mix very well here, despite the claims of reforms, by the very same politicians.

Foreign workers rights

Foreign workers in Japan have few rights. They will find it difficult (maybe impossible) to get a credit card, despite living and working in Japan for many years, the same thing applies to getting a permanent visa or becoming a Japanese citizen. This, however, does not apply to "sports stars" or "TV. personalities". They usually get citizenship amazingly quickly, especially baseball players, Sumo wrestlers and soccer players. For the ordinary folk, no way! You must go to the immigration office once a year (for me it was every three years), line up for one or two hours, pay the fee, then go back again ten or so days later, to collect your visa. If you want to leave the country for a vacation, you must go to the same office and pay for an exit and entry permit. It can be a little inconvenient, especially as one of my friends found out, when her father became seriously ill and she wanted to get the next flight out for the USA, she had to wade through all the red tape, before she could leave.


Crime in Japan used to be very low. Naturally foreigners can be blamed for the rise in
crime. Maybe, in a few cases, this is true. But the legitimate foreign residents have alien cards and have been fingerprinted, before receiving said card. In any case the majority of foreigners stand out even in a large crowd, except those from from other Asian countries.
The infamous neighbors, as I have previously mentioned, keep an eye on the local
foreigners. Anything suspicious and they will call the local constabulary. That is one reason why so many illegal immigrants from Asian countries are quickly rounded up.

Japanese criminals do abound, especially young offenders. The Japanese youth in Japan appear to be, becoming detached from the mainstream. Drug abuse, theft, beating up middle aged salary men and even car jacking have appeared in Japan. The once safe streets, should be walked with caution at night. Maybe Tokyo is becoming more like New York or London?

Women's rights

Women's rights in Japan are still lagging behind their "sisters" in the west. They are not, however as perceived by westerners, as bowing to their husbands every wish. Japanese wives usually control the "purse strings", and are capable of "giving as good as they get" as my wife can to me!
Women still have fewer opportunities than men in the workplace. The OLs (office
ladies) often work the same hours as men, are not paid as much, are unlikely to be
promoted, etc. And they usually have to serve tea in the morning to their male co-workers.
Many OLs prefer not to go drinking with their male colleagues after work, because they must pour the drinks and serve the men, later they are in danger of being drunkenly fondled. Who can blame them?
Many companies pressurize their female employees to leave the company when they get married and especially if they are going to have a child.
The few nurseries in Japan are usually full, because many women want to, or have to
return to work. They can seldom find full time employment, so they take part time work
or join temp agencies. This is still full-time work, but without the benefits or protection that full-time employment gives. When the company goes through a slack period the part timers or temps, are the first to be fired. This gives Japanese women little security, they are forced to stay with their husbands even though the marriage may be finished.
Perhaps the woman's role in Japan will change, with the aging population and the fact that fewer young women are willing to be tied down to a marriage, preferring to stay single and have a decent career.

Last observation on the salary man

Finally I want to add one last observation on my "friend" the salary man. If you ever travel on a train in Tokyo, in the rush hour, you may come across the salary man rubbing himself against a young girl. This is a fairly common sight, the trains are, after all, very crowded, especially in the rush hour, but look at his face, maybe you will notice a satisfied smirk.
One must wonder if he couldn't have avoided this situation. Also, sometimes, blatant
groping occurs on the train, I have witnessed this several times, with the young girl too embarrassed to complain. Even  a policeman, one or two months ago was caught, literally red handed, by some of his undercover colleagues.
I have been told by three young women of attempted rapes. Two of the girls managed to scream and run away, the other girl was attacked in a crowded bar. She was attacked by a drunken salary man, he tried to rip her clothes from her body with one hand and suppress her screams with the other. A gaijin came to her rescue, he grabbed the drunk and took him outside and gave him a few smacks in the face !


Roppongi, in Tokyo is quite an infamous haunt for foreigners at night, many Japanese young women are also attracted to the area, to meet and talk with foreigners.
There are many Western style bars, discos and restaurants. It is a pretty good place for young foreign people to talk to their fellow countrymen and relax. For the Japanese "Roppongi girl", other Japanese will look down on her for mixing with the gaijin. 

Update (November, 2000):

I went back to Roppongi earlier this year ( May, 2000), to see how things are. It has changed rather a lot. It does not quite have the same rough round the edges feel to it. It is far more commercialized, more of a cattle market than it was during its heyday (late eighties, beginning of the nineties). I found it a little boring, perhaps I am getting old. it seemed to be fairly full of foreigners and Japanese young men. Not so many "Roppongi girls". However, I did have a good time chatting to some Waseda University students, who provided an entertaining evening for me. The age of the infamous "Roppongi girl" is dead, I am afraid. To bad for all the young foreign men going to Japan now!



Japan and the Japanese have many faults, as any nation has. Foreigners in Japan are guests and are usually treated a such, with politeness and often with kindness. We cannot change how the Japanese think. That will come from within. With more  and more Japanese young people traveling and working overseas, their perceptions of their country are heightened and the problems that Japan has, are brought into sharper focus. I have discussed many of the issues that I have written about here with a variety of Japanese people, they are fully aware of these problems and want to help change their society into something more honest and a government that is more transparent.
I believe Japan will have a bright future, with the changing of the "old Guard" to the new. our children perhaps, will not have to face the same problems, when they grow up, as we do now, if they wish to visit Japan. Finally, Japan is a country not to be taken lightly, but also, if you live here, not always to be taken so seriously,  to view things with a touch of humor helps quite often.
Despite the problems I have encountered, I like Japan very much! 

Any foreigner who doesn't, should pack his bags and leave Japan (as many do), no one will be sorry to see him leave !

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