“Gaijin” to Japanese: What Japanese Often Expect from Foreigners

by Satona Kato

comediansTerry Kawashima argues that people have a consciousness about race, and this consciousness depends on their background. We can see this by comparing various ways of thinking about shojo manga characters by Western people and Japanese people.

In Japan, many people put the people who are not Asian (Japanese, Korean, Chinese, South East Asian) into one category called “gaijin”. Many Japanese people do not think about the country where the “gaijin” were born. Furthermore, they tend to stereotype that sort of people have specific skills. In Japan, some of the people who are unilaterally labeled as “gaijin” have experiences that they are wounded or feel alienated, especially the people who are multiracial or who were born and grown up in Japan.

As you know, in Japan, multiracial models on TV have been popular. Recently, multiracial comedians become popular as well. They do not act like fashion models. They make people laugh by talking the story about the incident happened around them only because they are multiracial. First, Japanese are surprised that they can speak fluent Japanese and cannot speak English or another foreign language. Japanese also laugh at the characteristics the multiracial comedians share with other Japanese.

They had had many troubles and unique experiences which happened just because they are “hafu.” If we listen to their stories, we can know how hafu people are treated by Japanese. For example, Anthony, he is one of the ‘hafu comedians’. He is American and Japanese. People laugh at the fact that his hometown is Tokyo and his father managed a Sushi shop. He has knowledge about sushi because his home is sushi shop, but when he goes to a sushi shop, the master of sushi shop offered him ‘California roll’ and he was surprised. He has had other interesting experiences. He is bad at English, and when he was an elementary school student, he decided to go to English conversation school. On his first day of English conversation school, when he entered the classroom, other students misinterpreted him as an English teacher and they said “Hello, how are you?” to him.

I want to tell you about one more ‘half comedian’, Ueno Yukio. He was laughed at because of his obvious Japanese name. He is Brazilian and Japanese. When he plays soccer, the opposing team judged Yukio was a good soccer player by his appearance and many defenseman surrounded him. The opportunities to watch TV programs in which many ‘half comedians’ gather and talk about the things often happen around them are increasing. According to them, following things often happen: 

  • are judged to be foreign people
  • are often stopped by the police 
  • are asked by Japanese to sing foreign songs 
  • are laughed at by Japanese when they sing Japanese songs
  • are often expected to have high athletic ability
  • have difficulty getting a part time job
  • are invited to BBQ parties or Halloween parties
  • are called ‘Bob’ or ‘Michel’ 
  • are treated as tourists everywhere

Of course their nationality is Japanese and most of their hometown is Japan. Why they are laughed? Why do Japanese people stereotype their abilities? When Japanese look at people who look like “gaijin’’, Japanese often expect some specific skills because they have some assumptions. They think that people who have white, black, or other foreign appearance have foreign names and can speak foreign languages, and cannot speak Japanese at all.

It is true that hafu people are not a majority in Japan and many Japanese have little familiarity with thinking about race. That’s why people have expectations about the skills hafu people have. If hafu do not have these skills, Japanese laugh at them and hafu are unilaterally discouraged. 

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4 thoughts on ““Gaijin” to Japanese: What Japanese Often Expect from Foreigners

  1. Sometimes humor is a good way to ease people into difficult topics. I hope that these comedians can help others think about race and microagressions.

  2. Pingback: Names in a globalized world | JAPANsociology

  3. Pingback: Fun in Japan #2: Life as Gaijin | R.B.Bailey Jr

  4. Pingback: Hurry! Hafu Film Now at Nanagei Cinema in Osaka | JAPANsociology

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