According to the latest statistics, there are just a little over 2.5 million foreigners currently residing in Japan. Although this may seem a significant number, perhaps it loses its weight when compared to the colossal 127.1 million of the country’s entire population. Naturally, the native people of Japan heavily outweigh the foreigners. Or in other words, when living in the very rural Japanese countryside, everyone is Japanese but you.
Now, if you love the attention, that’s great news. But if you’re a sensitive gal like me, this can make your life pretty darn difficult. Especially if you’re coming from an increasingly multicultural country such as New Zealand. Why does it matter? Well, theoretically it shouldn’t, but we’re flawed human beings with a heck load of feelings and sometimes, we just can’t help but feel like a complete and utter outsider (with four legs).
My many inaka tears
I can’t speak for urban expats, but for me, being a foreigner in my incredibly rural Japanese Okayama village proposed various discomforts. For one, almost everyone openly stared (sometimes with their mouths wide open!).
In their defense, I look noticeably different: my skin is darker, my nose is longer, my hair is way curlier and my butt and thighs are bigger. Also, my mannerisms were unlike theirs. For example, my bento usually contains lots of nuts and legumes and things vegetarian — a term almost non-existent in my deer and boar-hunting village.
In addition, I don’t peel my persimmons, figs nor grapes; I hardly ever use an umbrella (both for sunshine and rain), I like getting a sun tan and I clock out of work when my shift ends. All of which contribute to feelings of being treated like an outsider — or at least being perceived of as one.
Don’t get me wrong, this happens everywhere. And it’s perhaps normal. Even in New Zealand, a super diverse nation, my Iranian family and I were and still occasionally are a subject to prejudice – more so when we were small-town dwellers. At school, my sister and I were the butt of “bomb” and “terrorist” jokes. Worse off was my father, a walking stereotype; a middle-eastern taxi driver with thick black facial hair.
However, if we looked past the ignorants making the offensive comments, we’d see an Indian person, a Chinese individual and a Samoan/Tongan/Fijian/you-name-it family all sharing the same walkway which helped us feel a little less marginalized. But in my very rural very Japanese village, my tactic of adjusting to the local lifestyle was ineffective since looking outside (at others) for solace was evidently out of the question. Which was a situation that used to leave me in tears more often than not.
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