As first article to this new section on my blog I will write about something, that you might or might not be aware of already. In Japan there are very, very few foreigners although the number of tourists is rising every year. So if you find yourself wandering through the black haired, suits wearing crowds of Tokyo you already get a glimpse of what it feels to be different from basically everyone else. Every now and then you spot another (non-Asian) foreigner and you give each other “the nod”. It expresses the thought > I don’t know you, but we are in this together and I kinda know how you feel<. Of course there are spots where tourists accumulate like the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa or the Meiji Jingu Shrine (both in Tokyo) and some other major tourist spots, but besides that… it’s mostly you, in your role as the 1 white person around…
If you go more to the south of Japan (like Kyushu) or the countryside, you are much more likely to be the only foreigner around the whole area and that makes people somehow occasionally forget their manners and just stare at you. I mean I guess it’s normal that kids stare at you, because they probably never saw someone with blond / light colored hair and blue eyes in their lives before and probably believe you are the fairy princess or some handsome prince from some Disney movie which came to live (this is the try for explanation of a Japanese friend btw). But if you even catch high school students, random adults and old people watching you…for my part, it makes me feel sometimes quite uncomfortable. It’s like someone set a spot light on you wherever you go and makes you probably feel quite self-conscious about your actions and appearance (or maybe you can just enjoy the attention?!).
First to the actions… well, it’s not like a xenophobic vibe that I get, it’s more like curiosity. They watch you, because you are interesting. That’s all… They probably just want to know what foreigners in different situations do and are interested in the little differences… gestures… mimics….
The following are more women issues, so men who don’t wanna know can skip reading the next paragraph 😉
To the appearance… well, as I said … most of the people around (sometimes all of them) naturally look different than you, so to them you are exotic / cool / beautiful and worth to notice. Even though Japanese women look so cute and beautiful and well put together (all the time!!). The makes-up, the clothes, the skin, the hair-dos … it’s looks so nice. Especially when the humidity puffs up your hair, the sleep deprivation due to Jet leg gives you this dark under eye circles and the heat makes your make-up melt away or the cloth you brought are too casual for Japanese standards, you might probably experience some inferiority complexes. But actually a lot of them they are striving to be more like us (white women)… and of course there are solutions for this as well. There are colored lenses to make your eyes look bigger and a different color than brown. You find lots of sun blocker (SPF 50++) in the drug store, portable parasol and light long-sleeved shirts for summer times. Also dyeing the hair is quite fashionable in Japan. This is more a thing in south Korea, but facial plastic surgery to make your jaw line slimmer, eyes bigger and double eyelid, nose bridge higher and lips plumber… is really popular and the list is endless!
You can’t avoid it, if you come here, so it’s your decision how you deal with the sudden omnipresent attention that you get. Either you go only to places with a lot of tourists (Tokyo and Kyoto) and move only in groups with other foreigners…
… or you accept your fate, ignore the stares and concentrate on what really matters: Enjoying your time!
I mean in general being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It actually opens up a bunch of opportunities to come in contact with the local people and make some new friends. If you are up for that, I recommend you to go to a smaller Izakaya (a kind of pub) for a beer and some small dishes! Ask the waiter for a counter seat, if you are 1-2 Persons and start a conversation with your neighbor (Japanese, English or just gestures are fine!) Drinking together can be bonding experience and can lead to all sorts of new experiences … so my advice: go for it!