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These are some of the craziest questions ALTs of color in Japan get asked

20 Comments
By Suzanne Bhagan

If you’re an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) working in Japan, then you probably know that you’re part of an incredibly diverse bunch. ALTs hail from countries across the globe and also come from varying racial, social, cultural, and economic backgrounds.

However, if you were to trawl the web to read about the ALT experience in Japan, more often than not, you may find yourself reading stuff written from the perspectives of white ALTs. But for ALTs of color, teaching in Japan can be very different from their Caucasian counterparts—and they may find themselves facing unique challenges simply due to the color of their skin.

After posting the topic in three different ALT-related groups on Facebook and mentioning it in conversations with fellow People of Color (POC) ALTs, it became clear that being an ALT of color in Japan often invites questions and comments that would be considered pretty offensive back in our home countries. But of course, we’re not at home so we have to figure out the best way to respond and do what we came here to do—educate.

1. Do you taste like chocolate?

According to the responses I got, many melanin-rich ALTs have been asked by their kindergarten and elementary kids whether they’re made of the dark, sweet stuff. Some students have even tried nibbling bits of the ALT to find out for themselves (gotta love experiential learning, right?).

Students have also baffled POC ALTs with creative observations about their skin color such as “Did you get burnt in the sun?” or “Your hands look like my breakfast (toast).” Japanese students of POC ALTs also seem to think that dark skin is some kind on spray-on tan as many have been asked “Does your color rub off?” or “Can you erase the brown off your skin?”

One POC ALT I spoke with said that one of their students went as far as to associate dark skin with non-Japaneseness, asking, “Why are you black? Is it because you’re foreign?”

Now, you can’t blame the tiny tots for their ignorance. They are only reflecting the wider societal misconception that Japan is an ethnically homogenous nation where everyone apparently has the same genetic makeup (never mind the Koreans, Ainus, and other minorities who live here). With that said, anyone who is darker than the usual “Japanese” color is considered odd and apparently, a delicacy.

2. How long does it take to make your hair?

After questions of skin color, questions about naturally curly hair appear to run a close second. In particular, these questions are directed at POC ALTs who wear their hair in locks or braids.

Click here to read more.

© GaijinPot

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20 Comments
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I’m not of color but I’ve been asked if they have TVs in the US.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As an American from LA, I'm sometimes asked "Does everyone have a gun [in America]?" Since I'm from LA, I'm also asked "Do you see a lot of famous people?", "Does everyone have swimming pools?" Other than that, "Why are you not fat, because there are a lot of fat people in America?"

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The only way to change this is to get rid of TV, the main source of misinformation and disinformation about the outside world. Given the Japanese preference for superficially labelling and categorizing things both foreign and domestic so that further examination is avoided, coupled with a TV system which encourages exactly that mode of "thinking" in the effort to promote a homogeneity of views, add in the local penchant for not standing out, and you have a hermetically sealed system that continues to perpetuate baseless stereotypes of foreigners.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Given the Japanese preference for superficially labelling and categorizing things both foreign and domestic so that further examination is avoided, coupled with a TV system which encourages exactly that mode of "thinking" in the effort to promote a homogeneity of views, add in the local penchant for not standing out, and you have a hermetically sealed system that continues to perpetuate baseless stereotypes of foreigners.

Indeed, so different from the way posters here generalise about the Japanese.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

Do you taste like chocolate?

Good grief...

Click here to read more.

No, thanks.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

What is wrong with children asking innocent, honest questions? Seems normal for a 5-year old to wonder if a dark colored person tastes like something else that is dark, like chocolate, and no insult is intended. The first time I talked with a black woman, we were both 18, and I was amazed at the differences in our coloring. She was quite amused and friendly, in her willingness to let me ask questions and to look at her (in a respectful manner).

3 ( +4 / -1 )

What is wrong with children asking innocent, honest questions? Seems normal for a 5-year old to wonder if a dark colored person tastes like something else that is dark, like chocolate, and no insult is intended.

I remember being in primary school, and for whatever reason a lady from Africa visited. All I had ever seen of Africa were commercials about Unicef, showing starving babies. I thought everyone was starving and essentially homeless there, and asked a bunch of questions about that. In retrospect that was probably silly.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The only other biracial child besides my daughter at her school is a little boy with a black American father. We all hang out together sometimes so they're friendly at school. The little boy looks more like his father so he's always saying that his mom is Japanese and his dad is Black to other kids at school when they ask him why he looks different. My daughter looks much more typically Japanese so the kids are surprised when they see me with her. But since she never gets asked about it she just copies what the other little boy says and tells people her mom is also black like his dad (I'm white, I think she means American). I try and correct her when I can but she always talks about her black mom to other kids and the teachers and at this point I just hope it dies out on its own before it gets really unacceptable lol

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There was a Japanese kid in my class, back in the day, before some of you were born. My country was not a major destination for Japanese or other non-nationals all those years ago, but there were a few. People were very curious about the kid, some made disparaging comments. I assume they got that from the parents or the way East Asians were portrayed back then on television and so forth.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@expat. Yep. Jerks like Sanma Akashiya put that crap in their heads.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

What used to bug me was the Japanese teacher's responses. We'd have a little Q&A session at the end of a 1st -year jr. high class where kids would ask of me whatever they wanted about the US and the teacher would then translate:

"Gaikoku wa...."

No lady, I'm telling the kids about the US, specifically New England at that. The way you just translated it, you lumped Argentina, Turkey, Mongolia and everywhere in between into my answer.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I used to ask every Asian kid in class to show me a karate chop.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

What is it with this "person of color" term?

Are white people colorless?

Everyone is a person of color.

White is a color too.

If you don't believe me, look in a box of Crayolas. One of the crayons in the box is clearly labeled "white."

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

@talaraedokko

I’m not of color but I’ve been asked if they have TVs in the US.

TVs of color?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Everyone is a person of color.

No, the term refers to non-white people.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I remember being in primary school, and for whatever reason a lady from Africa visited. All I had ever seen of Africa were commercials about Unicef, 

Would getting “information” from the old 1930s Johnny Weissmuller “Tarzan” series been better? At least the lady was real.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Try not to get too insulted by a 5 year old now ya hear! Be ever vigilant...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Good point Jenni

Although I think it’s more of an American term. Personally I think we should do away with it all.

We’re all ‘people of some sort of colour’ but at the end of the day we’re all humans! Just different shades!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@JenniSchiebel lol.. umm... are you for real? Guess what, it is white people who came up with the terming "colored people" because who are not white would actually just expect to be referred to as people. Are the KKK just a hobbyist group interested in cosplay?

"Colored is an ethnic descriptor historically used in the United States (predominantly during the Jim Crow era), and the United Kingdom with its former colonies. In the United States, the term denoted non-"white" individuals generally.[1] The term now has essentially the same meaning in the United Kingdom, with "coloured" thus equivalent to "people of colour".[2]"

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What is it with this "person of color" term?

Some of my American friends prefer the term. I listen to what they asked. Conversely, the term coloured is seen as archaic and offensive in the UK.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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