“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. 

Advertisements

Opportunist Beauty in Japan

Miss Universe Japan 2007 wins Miss Universe 20...

Miss Universe Japan 2007 wins Miss Universe 2007 crown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Mitsumi Yamamoto

Every year a number of Japanese students in my university decide to participate in a study abroad program (mainly to the US, Canada, and Australia). They usually start to prepare for the coming life in foreign countries by packing stuff or setting up their goals during spring semester in Japan. It was such a time when I often saw the female students dying their hair black again, although they used to have their hair dyed bright colors such as blonde and brown. I asked some of my friends how come they would do so and they answered, “Obviously that is because black hair represents Asian beauty.” Meanwhile within Japan, there is a huge boom about biracial people referred to as “hafu”, especially referring to people of half-Caucasian and half-Japanese (one parent being Japanese and one parent being of Caucasian heritage) (Okamura, 2009). Recently you can see hafu models and celebrities a lot on TV and in magazines, and many Japanese women try to achieve a western-looking face due to their adoration for hafu’s appearance.

Those two standards of beauty that Japanese women have, “Asian beauty” and “Western beauty,” seem to be the opposites of each other. However both standards exist simultaneously as the dominant viewpoints when thinking about what is beauty for Japanese women. Why?

This phenomenon can be explained with a case of African American women competing in the Miss Bronze or black beauty contests during the 1960s and 1970s, when the Civil Rights Movement flourished against discrimination towards black people. Maxine Leeds Craig, a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of California-Davis, pointed out that  at that time black women in the Miss Bronze pageant would realize views of themselves depending on how whites saw blacks, but at the same time this helped them to see the structure of racism (Glenn, 2009). Therefore in order to accept and reject this hierarchy, contestants who had dark skin tone were crowned as winners of Miss Bronze since the 1960s, rather than those with light skin tone, who were considered as the closest color to whiteness. The black beauty came to be used as a demonstration of the value of black people.

Related to this case, what about the pageant of Miss Universe Japan? In spite of the domestic hafu boom, almost all participants of this contest attempt to show their beauty as Asian with typical images of Asian women (e.g., long black hair, slit eyes) (Miss Universe Japan). The same thing can be said of women who stay in foreign countries outside of Japan. Even if the women used to prefer western-looking (e.g., bright colored hair and round eyes) inside of Japan, they somehow start to focus on “Asian beauty,” showing their Asian features to foreigners.

Hence this coexistence of the seemingly opposite standards of beauty and switch between them depending on the situation look similar to the case of African American women. It seems that Japanese women, as representatives of Asian women, would think of themselves as inferior to whites in racial hierarchy and this consciousness would help accepting and rejecting this hierarchy. Therefore Japanese women who have chances to live in an environment filled with Westerners try to behave as one a representative of Asian beauty, although once they are in Japan, they still tend to have the feeling of inferiority toward white people with an ideal to Western-beauty.

References

Okamura, H. (2009). ハーフブームと『ハーフ顔』? [hafu boom and hafu face?]. Retrieved from http://www.kreuzungsstelle.com/column5_10.html

Miss Universe Japan. Miss Universe Japan Official site. Retrieved from http://www.missuniversejapan.com/

Glenn, E. N. (Ed.). (2009). Shades of Difference: why skin color matters. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Explorations into being Hafu: Megumi Nishikura at TEDxKyoto 2013

by Robert Moorehead

In September, filmmaker Megumi Nishikura gave a powerful, moving, and extremely personal presentation at TEDxKyoto. Her film, Hafu, is showing in theaters around the world, and offers an insightful look into the experiences of five hafu in Japan. The film opens in Kobe on November 23, and I can’t wait to see it.