Japan attracts all kinds of people from all over the world. Some come to work, others come to play, and thanks to its relatively low crime levels, high standard of living and abundance of delicious food, Japan is a very easy place to call home for a while. Plus, isn’t Japan where all those anime, video games and ninjas come from? It’s got to be worth a visit!
But today, instead of talking about the myriad things Japan has to offer visitors, we’re going to have a bit of fun by taking a closer look at some of the visitors themselves. You might not encounter each of these five types of people if you’re staying in Japan for just a couple of weeks, but if you’re here for work or an extended sojourn, then you’re bound to meet at least a couple of them along the way…
Let’s start off where the majority of us begin when we touch down in Japan for the very first time:
The Kid in the Candy Store
It’s easy to get a little bit over-excited when you arrive in Japan for the first time. For many, setting foot in The Land of the Rising Sun is something that they’ve daydreamed about for years as they marvelled at the country’s quirkier exports and read all about the strange and wonderful goings-on via certain Japan-based news sites. Some, however, get a little bit too overwhelmed by it all and spend their first few weeks—or even months—running around like a kid at the peak of a massive sugar high. “Oh. My. God. A vending machine on a street corner! Wait, is there one that dispenses panties too? I bet there is! Quick, get a photo of me biting this rice ball. You guys, we have to do purikura. And then go to karaoke! And a maid cafe! Wait, did you just say this place is all-you-can-drink? ALL YOU CAN DRINK? Japan, I love you! Kanpaaaai!”
The Plastic Sensei
But while the bright-eyed newbies are having the time of their lives, over in the corner of that very same izakaya, a stoney-faced man is scowling into his tiny cup of sake. His fellow foreigners’ squeals of joy are a tremendous embarrassment to him. “Don’t they know that’s not how people behave here in Japan?” he says to no one in particular. “Honestly, some of these gaijin just have no idea…”
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Plastic Sensei. As a result of reading hundreds of books and manga and watching one too many anime over the years prior to his arrival in the country, he thinks he has a pretty good idea of what Japan — and what it is to be Japanese — is all about, and no amount of Japanese people preferring beer to sake, failing to decorate their homes appropriately during public holidays, or not being experts in some form of martial art is ever going to change that.
Common traits among Plastic Sensei types include: routinely forgetting their native language; claiming to be perfectly comfortable sitting in seiza (despite the fact that most native Japanese hate sitting like this); throwing up peace signs for every single purikura photo they’re in (but looking decidedly solemn for commemorative pics); using the correct pronunciation of words like karaoke and karate, even when speaking in English and to other foreigners; and never, ever, missing an opportunity to wear traditional Japanese garb for events and festivals. The Plastic Sensei is more Japanese than most native Japanese are, and he’s not shy about showing it.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have a character so riddled with anger and distaste for all things Japan that you’d be forgiven for wondering why he doesn’t just go home. “Must they be quite so loud?” he snaps as he enters Uniqlo and the staff call out a greeting in unison. “Do Japanese schoolgirls have a daily quota for saying the word "kawaii" or something?” “Why can’t anyone here ever give a straight answer instead of sucking their teeth and looking like they’ve just been kicked in the nuts!?”
If you’ve long dreamed of coming to Japan, the thought of hating everything about the place may seem nigh-on impossible, but you’d be amazed at the number of foreigners living in Japan, mostly in the urban hubs, who spend a significant amount of their day being angry about pretty much everything the country stands for. Some, admittedly, are just incredibly homesick, never quite got past that initial culture shock phase, and just want to go home. But there are others who will happily renew their contract with their employer, extend their visa for another year, and make no effort whatsoever to leave, yet continue to bitch and moan about all the things they hate about Japan.
Oh, and don’t even get them started on those “microaggressions” the Japanese are all guilty of. You do you know that the Japanese people secretly hate all foreigners, right? It’s true; you can tell by the way they hold their spoons and wear warm hats in winter.
The Bubble Dweller
Ah, the Bubble Dweller. Truly a marvel to behold. He’s lived in Japan for the best part of 10 years, works with Japanese people every day, and only visits home once a year or so. And yet somehow he has managed to pick up approximately three words of Japanese and has zero desire to learn any more.
The Bubble Dweller is actually perfectly happy living in Japan, but that’s mostly down to the fact that their heart is still very much back in their homeland and they exist predominantly in a microcosm of their own creation, tuning out almost all aspects of Japanese language and culture.
Notable Bubble Dweller character traits include: visiting wholesale or import stores at least two or three times a month to bulk-buy treats and snack foods from back home; associating only with other foreigners (or Japanese who speak virtually native-level English and kind of wish their were foreigners too); never turning on their TV set unless it’s hooked up to something streaming shows from back home (though perhaps this one’s understandable); drinking only in places like British or Irish-themed pubs or where other non-Japanese congregate; and eating out a lot so they don’t have to read the cooking instructions on anything bought from the regular supermarket. It’s easy to mock the Bubble Dweller, but in a way it’s kind of impressive how little they’ve let being thousands of miles away from home change them.
The Secret Ninja
Finally, we come to the character type you’re least likely to encounter during your stay in Japan, not because they don’t exist in their droves, but because they’re so incredibly inconspicuous. Everything the Plastic Sensei so vehemently purports to be, the Secret Ninja actually is, i.e. virtually Japanese. He’s fluent in the lingo, socialises with Japanese people (yet doesn’t shun his fellow foreigners), and he knows a vast amount about the country and its little quirks.
Yet, unlike the Plastic Sensei, this person’s knowledge is rooted firmly in reality. Just like native Japanese people, he often blanks when trying to write a tricky kanji character; he cannot locate every single Japanese prefecture on a map or tell you what year the Meiji Era ended without having to pull out his smartphone; he doesn’t claim to be a master of Japanese grammar or begin sentences with “Actually, I think you’ll find…” whenever a new arrival mispronounces a word or mixes up their tenses. Like his namesake, the Secret Ninja often goes completely undetected, but when you see one in action you’ll have no doubt in your mind that you’re dealing with a true pro.
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