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Why the Japanese have no problem asking about your marital status

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As I looked in the mirror, I gave myself a quick, appraising look. I had decided to go with the black knee-length dress, tailored blazer and long, gold pendant. Professional but not your regular boring corporate wear. In short, the perfect outfit for a kindergarten entrance ceremony. A ceremony in which after giving a speech to a room full of hundreds of strangers, I would have to go and meet the parents of my new children for the first time.

Naturally I was nervous. These mothers and fathers already expected a lot from me. They expected me to take care of their 3-year-olds without incurring serious injuries and they expected me to teach them English to a native level of fluency. They also expected me to do all this with poise, love and kindness, as should be expected from a kindergarten teacher.

Of course, I was ready for the barrage of questions they would have for me. “Where are you from?” “What did you study?” “Have you taught kids before?” “How long have you lived in Japan?” Those important questions that you should be asking the people who you are entrusting with the lives of your children.

My preparation it transpired, was all in vain. Instead of all the questions I was ready for, I had to settle for questions like “How old are you?” and “Are you married?” which, after my reply of “No,” was followed by “Do you have a boyfriend?” -- also followed by a resolute “No.”

My answers seemed to elicit a lot of pity. One mother even said that she was surprised that I didn’t have a boyfriend because I seemed like the type of girl who has many boyfriends. I wasn’t sure whether to be offended or flattered. To this day, I’m still not exactly sure what she meant by it.

As foreigners in Japan, we can spend an usually large amount of our time answering questions. The Japanese are always curious about where we come from and what brings us here. They crave to know more about us as a person, what our home towns are like, whether we eat Japanese food and can we use chopsticks. All relatively easy (yet repetitive) questions that I don’t mind answering over and over again.

Yet, I will never understand the Japanese preoccupation with age and martial status. Where I come from, these two ideas are quite personal and usually have no bearing on a conversation between two people who have just met, other than if they are hitting on each other. Asking someone’s age, in both Eastern and Western cultures, is considered a personal question, and yet the Japanese sometimes seem to feel that this privacy does not extend to foreigners living in their country. When I tell Japanese people my age, their reactions are the same “oh, you’re so young” and when I tell them that I’m single, the reaction is always a mix of confusion and pity. Not exactly reactions I enjoy.

Cultural researchers have always commented on the indirectness of Japanese communication. Whether this is due to an inherent shyness in Japanese culture or a more linguistic phenomenon is still much debated. In his book "Japanese Culture and Communication: Critical Cultural Analysis," Ray T Donahue says, “We can reasonably expect that verbal indirectness may be more characteristic of Japanese than of North Americans, but not always. Sometimes Japanese can be quite forward with foreign acquaintances in asking them personal questions about age or marital status.”

And it is quite true. I find that the more I live here, the more my personal life seems to be open for discussion among people whom I’ve hardly met. While this may have bothered me in the past (and perhaps still irks me today), there is also a bright side. A Japanese curiosity of foreigners can only lead to a more open and welcoming place to live in. The Japanese are, of course, very friendly and accommodating people and starting with these albeit personal questions may lead to more interesting conversations in which we can learn from each other.

However to these mothers who had never met me and were placing the wellbeing of their children in my hands, the personal questions seemed like the most important questions in the world and though I didn’t take pleasure in replying, they listened to my answers way more attentively than they had listened to my speech.

© Japan Today

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79 Comments
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to answer your own question: they're just gathering fuel for the fire. tell everyone different ages, different marital statuses, different periods of stay in japan and watch it have not only no negative impact on your standing at the event, but also help protect you when they're preparing the stake. it's harder to burn something when you don't know what it is.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

Nah - these questions are not so important to your job - they just ask everyone and anyone these same tired old questions. i have just about stopped answering - after 20 years here and being the mom of a daycare up to college aged kid i am tired of answering. the answers do not lead up to interesting conversations - they just hang there making those asked feel uncomfortable.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

I personally love to hear these questions. I enjoy making kids guess my age for good entertainment (and sometimes flattery). Also, when people find out I am married to a great Japanese man, they realize that I may be the type of foreigner that is going to stick around. People become more interested in me and my life. Also, they tend to want to help me do things or teach me about their culture. When I was single, I found that people would focus on when I was going to return "home" but now they ask me about my home and aren't taken back when I talk about my little chunk of land in the countryside of Japan.

Maybe the people who asked the author these questions wanted to know what the likelihood that she would be commited long term to her role as an educator or if she may just be another one passing through. Although age and marital status doesn't really give the answer, it might be seen as politer than asking when the author plans on packing up and leaving.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

That is a one way street. Total bologna. What is see here is an article written to make ill-mannered behavior seem apporopiate. It is in fact done in order to blur your idea of what is right and wrong behavior.

It will come to pass that anything Japanese do or say is right and they'll never find any fault in themselves and their business.

These questions are euphemisms at best.

This article doesn't expand on the thoughts of Japanese regarding your income or expected income based on your age.

Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend is pretty much off limits. It is a very indiscreet way of asking about your sex life. Totally off limits. Just because the question was presented in a formal tone doesn't make it right.

How old are you? = You drink now? I know your not a virgin now. 27? Oh yeah you should be at home cleaning.

Do you have a boyfriend / girlfriend? = Who are you boning? You get your freak on every weekend?

Are you married? = He better be Japanese. Why are you here for a job if you're married? He should be taking care of you. His income must be low. I bet she's trying to save money so she can divorce soon.

Just shut them down. Hey, that's personal. Wrong time, wrong place. We just met, do you think that question is appropiate? Well, that's private.

You probably won't get the job or find a new friend but HEY, you probably saved yourself from being around the wrong type of bureaucrats.

-4 ( +12 / -16 )

It's true that Japanese people sometimes find it OK to ask questions of foreigners that they would never dream of asking fellow Japanese. How often one has sexual relations with one's spouse, for example. But to be fair, in my experience that kind of thing happens much less now, in Tokyo at least, as people have got more used to interaction wtih non-Japanese over the last 20-30 yrs I suppose.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I don't care what questions Japanese ask me to be honest, but I always make sure they answer their own question first. If they ask me my marital status, I ask them to answer the question first. If they ask my age, I ask theirs etc. I've never had someone ask me a question and refuse to answer it themselves.

It's actually a great way to get to know people and I often find Japanese people sharing more private information about themselves with me than they share with their Japanese friends. I've made some close friendships with Japanese people (both male and female) based on openness and honesty.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Japan ask all types of questions that would be considered discriminatory in other countries, but if you want the job you have to answer it.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

snacks&B,

Good one, haha!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Crystalyle: you seem a little paranoid...age doesn't dictate that one drinks (I'm 27 and don't) Are you in a relationship doesn't mean they want to know about your sex life and for the perverts that it does, they have already fabricated a fantasy. I was asked by a man once where I was from, and I told him Canada. He said "Russia, nice". Then he asked my age. I told him my age at the time (21) and he said "18, nice". And being married might just be a sign that you are in Japan for the long run if your spouse is Japanese. Lots of women work now and I really doubt that most would think you are trying to save for a divoce.

So, instead of thinking the world is out to get you, perhaps you can take Papasmurfs advice and see how it goes. If they don't answer, then don't feel that you need to either. You might find the world to be a nicer place :)

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I think Crystalyle is basically right. It boils down to the fact most Japanese wouldn't dare ask such personal questions to another Japanese, yet many have no trouble asking a foreigner they've just met even though its as rude in Japan just as it would b anywhere else.

I've never had these questions asked of me in an interview, however.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Whenever I tell them I'm 41 and still living with mother, there's an awkward silence...

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The "correct" answer when asked one's age is :

One year older than last year, one year younger than next year (I'll even tell you the date if you'll send me a present...!)

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I've had some experiences similar to papasmurf's. If they ask you a personal question, ask it back and then see where the conversation goes. I find that a lot of the Japanese people I've met (at least the ones around my own age (28) or a little older) usually have something interesting to say about their marital status, especially the unmarried females so it's not a bad conversation starter.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

If they ask you a personal question, ask it back and then see where the conversation goes.

You wont get the job if the guy thinks you might be trouble by asking "rude questions", it is his ass on the line if he hires a "trouble maker".

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japanese are just nosy for the most part and moreso if you're a foreigner.A couple years back a guy asked me if I were having an affair!! I politely told him no but wandered to myself he's got some nerve as asking the wrong person would result in some aggro.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I think the comment about you seeming like someone who had a lot of boyfriends is just a poorly translated version of the way the Japanese say "You seem like you would be popular" and not "You look like you get about a bit". At least they weren't trying to set you up with anybody. My company insists that I do not tell my students that I am married (the boy band effect) and I am forever having women and men try and set me up with friends or family. I even once had a mother try to set me up with her 14 year old! Aghast I exclaimed "She's only 14!" her reply was but "Yes, but in four years she'll be 18". I'm still not sure how serious she was about it......

5 ( +5 / -0 )

They just want to be the person who introduced the pretty gaijin girl to their friends useless son or something.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

For what it's worth, the "you're so young" is almost certainly intended to mean "you look so young", i.e., relative to actual age, and is intended as a compliment. The fact that it's often inappropriate, unwelcome, or even wildly inaccurate is--to the hapless speaker unable to think of a better comment--not even considered.

It's very common for Japanese to make comments that are singularly inappropriate in context, merely because in the absence (or inability) of something sensible and/or original to say, but faced with the perceived need to say something, they rely on a formula expression, one from the "social manual", even if it doesn't fit well at all.

My favorite case was when I was hanging by my hands from the outside of my third-floor balcony, around two in the morning, in a snowstorm (it's a long story). My neighbor arrived, looked up from the parking lot below, saw my plight, and--presumably at a loss for anything better to say in unexpected situation--came up with the old standby "O-dekake desu-ka?".

8 ( +8 / -0 )

I find it rude and pathetic. When you are married, they ask about kids and pity you if you have none.

Aren't you lonely? Hmmm, nope. It seems you are though because you need to be with a bunch of PTA moms all the time because you don't seem to have a relationship with your kids nor your husband. If you did, you wouldn't feel the need to create all kinds of busy work and bully other moms and teachers to make yourself feel better about the sad life you lead.

Honest, these people need to get a life.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Is unbelievable how many times I get asked stuff like that. Random people, OK. At a job interview? Not so OK.

It is actually kind of annoying preparing well for a job interview to just get asked stuff not related to the job description. I can't remember how many illegal (and really personal) stuff I've been asked at job interviews.

Not long ago at an interview for a business English teacher position I got asked the following: Are you married? ...no. Do you have a girlfriend? ...no. Do you like Japanese girls? ... I guess, yes. Oh that's wonderful! ...why? Because we have many young Japanese teachers that you'll be working with and maybe, you could find your Japanese wife.... (0_0)#!!!

Once, I went to the Koban to report a hit and run. While they were asking about the accident, all of a sudden, Are you married? Do you like Japanese girls?... Wow! Really!?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I don't care, just as much important if I smoke, can teach programming, etc.

Those questions are designed to test your responses and not to get personal information. Most likely you will get weeded out on those rather than the ones connected to your profession.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It"s me, that is BS. More so for females. They want to know how committed you are to the job and if you are married with no kids, they worry you'll get preggo and they might have to pay for mat leave as they think you won't be a good little girl and quit like the J women.

It is no one business your martial status to anyone you've just meet unless you're planing on hooking up. Be it student's moms, the ladies at the gym, the guys at the bar who don't stand a chance in hell... If they won't ask the locals the same questions or would be angry if asked to answer the questions, they shouldn't be asking them. Period.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

@iceshoecream

Because we have many young Japanese teachers that you'll be working with and maybe, you could find your Japanese wife.... (0_0)#!!! Once, I went to the Koban to report a hit and run. While they were asking about the accident, all of a sudden, Are you married? Do you like Japanese girls?... Wow! Really!?

Wow ! You must be a knock-out guy ! Any photos ?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Tmarie.

I worked under many female managers and even a vice-president.

Many of my J-lady-friends run their own company or shop.

Often the wife does the books while the husband is the front of the company.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Those questions are designed to test your responses and not to get personal information. Most likely you will get weeded out on those rather than the ones connected to your profession.

It's ME - We're not talking about interviews for the CIA here. You watch too much television.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

It"s me, that's great that you have but the majority of companies here are run by males who have a certain imagine of what a women should or shouldn't do. Asking personal questions is a way of them weeding out those who don't fit what they want - even though these questions are illegal in Japan during an interview if I'm not mistaken. Thing is, point that out and well, you certainly won't be getting the job. Mind you, if they're asking these questions at an interview, a pretty clear indication I don't want to be working at such a place.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

tmarie.

Don't get me wrong but I have also seen my fair share of women getting husbands at the company and/or quitting after marriage.

One of my co-workers(senpai) quit after she got married and pregnant, she was a top-worker.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It's me, I don't doubt that - and dislike the way many women here behave. Ie, using companies as dating sites, quitting once married or pregnant. In the end, it only hurts the women more. And in a way, I don't blame companies for asking such questions but it drives me nuts when they do. I'm not Japanese and certainly don't have the same mentality as the women you speak of when it comes to marriage, family and work. Many other Japanese women don't as well and they're tarred and feathered because of those who think it is a man's job to make the money.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

tmarie.

We are on the same page here.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It seems so but I disagree with you're thinking these questions are a joke. These questions will help determine if a female gets the job or not. Perhaps they mean nothings as a male but to a female they can be dangerous.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Where did I say that those questions are a joke? Provide a quote.

Those questions are just as dangerous to males. I used them on both males and females during the hiring process.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Half the ppl on this thread are talking about job interviews, but the story is about after she got the job, at the entrance ceremony, and getting asked the ?s by students' parents, not boss. Maybe the interview angle is relevant to you, but... since this is a meet ppl situation,

my comment is, mostly they are just overly curious about a foreigner and too nosy. You can look at it on the downside and say they are treating me different and like an animal in a cage if you want, and you may be right and worth complaining about. Another problem is language; if you don't speak j well or they don't speak E well, then there will be more misunderstandings and the whole thing will be more drawn out and feel more bludgeon-like. (as w/ the explanation of "you are young" above, a misunderstanding of common j expression).

My experience is if you say you don't want to talk about it, not sternly but normally, esp in j, or as others said, ask the same? back, they will slightly embarrassedly say sorry or ok and move on to the next question. Or, you can just answer honestly, but then you'll be stuck on why you're not married yet, who you like, etc. and it will get drawn out.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Balefire-

That just cracked me up. Amazing.

Yes it is true, they rely on set greetings so often (and they are useful sometimes) that they can get in a rut and not roll w/ a fluid situation. But maybe your neighbor was like yanking your chain though.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The strangest one I was ever asked was, "Do you like Mickey Mouse ?"

Honestly, and it was a middle aged housewife who asked.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

It's me, I thought you were saying it was a joke when you compared such questions to smoking.

Lowly, at times I think speaking zero Japanese was much, much easier. You don't get the digs, the snide comments, the meanings behind it all. I'd love to go back to the day or being ignorant to what is being said around me, about me, about others and not having to answer or even acknowledge such questions.

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

Japanese: Are you married?

Gaijinfo: No.

Japanese: Don't you get lonely?

Gaijinfo: Of course not. That's what pink salons are for.

Japanese: But don't you want a wife?

Gaijinfo: But then I couldn't afford the pink salons!

13 ( +15 / -2 )

Questions I got as an American on my first trip to Japan 20 years ago: "Do you have a gun?" "Have you taken drugs?"

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"You became fat."

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I had two different reporters from Japanese media companies ask me my age. I was a bit confused since that had absolutely nothing to do with the subject of the interview.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well, a lot of ppl say that, tmarie. You can't go back, but there may still be another hump you can get over where you get beyond it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They are very usual questions in Japan. Japanese asks not only foreigner but also Japanese about them, probably because it really depends on her/his age and status how to deal with a person.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Kakitama, and that's part of the issue. I was taught to be kind and polite to people I just met. That doesn't mean respect but if meeting someone for the first time - more do a teacher of my child - shouldn't that be the protocol followed rather than figure out the pecking order?

And no, Japanese people do not get the same line of questions in the same way we do. I highly doubt any Japanese woman on meeting another Japanese has been asked why she married a Japanese man. It's rude and intrusive. And that's just one example of the pathetic questions I've been asked on first contact.

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

Just the other day I was talking to my wife about the age shown for guests on TV program. For me it seemed irrelevant and I thought in many other countries they don't show the age of everyone on the show.

So it is a totally different topic but it stunts me how much age and blood group is important for Japanese. And in the same time my Japanese wife is not happy when asked for her age and rarely answers.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Why the Japanese have no problem asking about your marital status

Because their marital status was arranged. I kid you not. This older woman asked about my marital status and I answered. But, I asked how was hers. She said married. I asked how did you meet your husband. She said, her boss introduced her to him. Her marriage wasn't about his eyes at first sight, but the introduction from her boss. Personally, I don't think she married for love.

The big picture I see is Japanese people use fusion when they talk in English, but think in Japanese.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I dont see the issue there. What you say sounds like saying it is annoying that many americans call me by my first name when we first meet in the US and they should not do like that. I feel being called by my first name is more intrusive than asked about my age or something. It's very rude in Japan, but it is not considered rude in the US, right? If I really hate to be called by my first name, I can ask them not to do so later. It's also possible for you to avoid answering and later tell them not to do so. It is just a cultual difference, isn't it? It is not the matter of should or should not.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

keketanana

Fair point to an extent, cultural norms of course pay a part, but I think it comes down to good, practical reasons as to why people are offended or not. These may also be due to cultural facets too, but we have to discuss those aswell to come to a conclusion. Most westerners don't like being asked their age because it is usually irrelevant to the conversation in hand and implies hidden motives to the question that they feel the questioner doesn't have the right to make. That may or may not be so, but I have found quite often in Japan there is a motive behind the question that is none of the asker's business, i.e asking the age of your child's kindergarten teacher. It is considered not a relevant question for the situation. As for your name, people have to call you by something, and I would be surprised if you were being called by your first name in America in a situation where you couldn't ask to be called by your family name. I could understand it if you were being called by your first name in a shop or a supermarket, or by a child, and that annoyed you, but you could just ask to be addressed by the term you prefer. If it was among friends I don't know why you would be annoyed, and you might question why supposed "friends" in Japan sometimes call themselves by their last name.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Sorry, kaketama!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Kaketama, it doesn't matter if YOU see the issue, other do which makes it an issue.

The difference in the example you gave is that Americans call each other by their first name and no it isn't rude. It certainly IS rude though how Japanese people call foreigners by their first names when they wouldn't dare do that to Japanese people they've just met, right? Japanese don't ask such personal questions to each other but they have no problems asking a foreigner things they wouldn't DARE ask a Japanese person. More so if said person is their child's teacher. Do you think your parents asked your Japanese teachers if they were married, if they had a boyfriend/girlfriend... when they first met? I highly, highly doubt they did. You're examples are things normally done in the US that bother you. We're talking about things not normally done in Japan to the Japanese that are done to foreigners. HUGE difference. When in Rome.... thing is, the Japanese don't bother using that when it comes to foreigners in Japan. They treat "us" differently which is why there is an issue.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

@tmarie

Americans call each other by their first name and no it isn't rude. It certainly IS rude though how Japanese people call foreigners by their first names when they wouldn't dare do that to Japanese people they've just met....

I don't see it as rude; it's just an indication of an awareness of cultural differences. My "half" kids call Japanese classmates by their surnames (not always, but often enough), and westerners by their first names. They do this because they know them's the rules.

If you sat on a plane next to a stranger from, say, New Zealand and introduced yourself, you'd surely use your first name, and expect the stranger to use it back to you. Why expect a Japanese stranger to be any different?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's quite simple, really:

westerners in the west don't ask new acquaintances super private questions. Japanese in Japan don't ask other Japanese nee acquaintances super private questions.

So, whether consiously or not, Japanese are "othering" non-Japanese. It's a form of micro-aggression. Not cool and needs to stop.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@horrified

Interesting use of "othering", there. If John Smith introduces himself as "John" to Americans, Australians and Brits etc, but as "Smith" to Japanese people, then surely he's guilty of "othering" the Japanese.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Balefire:

My favorite case was when I was hanging by my hands from the outside of my third-floor balcony, around two in the morning, in a snowstorm (it's a long story).

You made me curious - could you elaborate a bit the story?:)

O-dekake-desuka

LOL the best question he could have asked.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The worst faux-pas I made happened in China.. absolutely boring business dinner conversation with my table neighbor until I asked him:

"So Mr. BlahBlah - how many children do you have?" It went unanswered, but I won't forget the "You IDIOT" look he gave me..

2 ( +2 / -0 )

lucabrusi

The crucial difference I think is if the individual is trying to enter the group, or welcoming another into it, so it depends if the differentiation is done in the home country or abroad. Calling oneself "Smith" in Japan would be adopting the cultural norms of the group, trying to assimilate, not "othering" the individual Japanese person that you were meeting. If the same situation happened in a western country it would be "othering", I agree, but I have never ever seen that happen, a westerner saying "Hi, I'm Smith" to a Japanese person in the UK.

If what you were saying were true, then a Japanese person would be "othering" westerners when calling themselves by their first names when in a western country. I think that's just fitting in, not "othering".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Many of my Japanese friends and acquaintances think my first name is my last name. It's fine with me...What is weird is when I am called by my middle name, which tends to happen at institutions where I had to fill out my three names.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@oikawa

Good point. I set my hypothetical situation on an aeroplane so that there wouldn't be any "home" or "away" involved. If you're in international airspace, I guess that's the acid test of your attitides.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Why expect a Japanese stranger to be any different?

I don't. Just as I don't expect to be treated differently by the Japanese when I'm in Japan but I think we can all agree that we do get treated differently than the Japanese. Personal questing and intrusion be one way.

Socially I go by my husband's name (very clearly Japanese, very clearly a last name) and introduce myself as "they" do - last name. I will then get asked my "real" name because they seem to think my married name isn't good enough. They will then go and use my first name, no san, and call the other Japanese by daredare san. See the issue? I do. They would not do that to a married Japanese women, correct? Just as I wouldn't call Ken Tanaka Ken in Japan and Tanaka in the US unless asked to. Rome, Romans... It wouldn't matter if I was on an airplane or not as I know what the social norms are for the countries you've asked about.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

I just took my son to his horseriding lesson this afternoon (don't ask me, his mum wants him to learn how to ride a horse) and I had to wait an hour with another student's mother. In that time she asked me

Where I'm from

Whether or not my wife is Japanese

Where I live

What language I speak at home.

My occupation.

Some people may find it intrusive, but I was happy to answer. In return I found out.

Her first name.

Her occupation and hobbies

Where she lives

Where her kids go to school, how old they are and their hobbies

Her marital status

Her birthday and age

Her phone number

Quid Pro Quo my friends. : ) Just enjoy the conversations with people you meet.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

@lucabrasi

If you sat on a plane next to a stranger from, say, New Zealand and introduced yourself, you'd surely use your first name, and expect the stranger to use it back to you. Why expect a Japanese stranger to be any different?

No, I wouldn't ! And I would not expect to use their's either ! I don't know anything about New Zealand but I do know it is an American custom - which not everyone is used to or likes... It just makes matters worse here in Japan where they "torture" your name (not being able to pronounce it properly) but expect you to use their family name. (I usually agree with you, but NOT on this point...)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@tmarie

Okay, I see where you're coming from now, and I sympathise. There's no real excuse for the behaviour you describe.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@FightingViking

I understand your lack of enthusiasm for the casual use of first names, but surely you recognise that, in the West at least, it's the social norm.

Imagine two guys meeting for the first time in a bar in, say, Osaka.

"Hi. I'm Mike, from Miami, Florida."

"Hello. I'm Smith, from Basildon in Essex."

Surely you'd agree the second speaker sounds a tad odd, socially speaking?

I'd be interested to know where you hail from, too. Just to place you a little better in the context of this debate :)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@ebisen I'd been accidentally locked out of my apartment, and slipped trying to enter the balcony (and it's unlocked sliding door) from the adjacent rooftop "patio" (okujo). I shouldn't have attempted it half-hammered on a snowy early morning; it was risky even in good weather and entirely sober.

The neighbor wasn't pulling my chain, he just couldn't come up with a sensible comment right off the bat, but felt obligated to say something, and used the default set expression. He apologized the next day; not a big deal but illustrative, I think, of how some comments/questions made here can tend to have little congruence with a rational view of the context.

Once in a while, I still get the "can you use chopsticks?" question, after having answered the "how long have you been in Japan?" with "40-plus years". I find it amusing rather than obnoxious, because I realize that they haven't thought logically about how patronizing/insulting it might be. The same is true of getting "Do you like living in Japan?" after hearing I've been here over four decades. However tempting it might be to say "No, I hate it but I stay because I'm a masochist", I avoid the temptation because it's clear that I'm dealing with not-thought-out set comments/questions.

I'm not much fazed by whether people here use my given or family name; the family name is hard to pronounce in Japanese (and impossible to pronounce correctly), and the given name, particularly the short/nickname version, is fairly easy. I would prefer that Japanese use the same conventions with me that they use among themselves, for politeness's sake, but I'm not really concerned about it. Most people I meet professionally do at least try to use the family name, as I use theirs.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Apologies for the it's/its typo.

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Thank you, Emma, for an enjoyable read - and very well-written! I think the marriage question is rather limited to women, though; I've been here for two decades and have almost never been asked. (Then again, I wear a wedding ring and have even before I got married at my [now] wife's insistence - funny to think that I might once have been desirable enough to engender he jealousy.)

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I always think that the Japanese are so busy body people. They really like to ask personal questions, everywhere you meet them, at the Cafe, Restaurant, Hairdresser, Gym...and even at the interviews!! I sometime wonder if it's because they're nervous meeting a gaijin or they simply have no professional minds or social manners.

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@Balefire:

I find it amusing rather than obnoxious, because I realize that they haven't thought logically about how patronizing/insulting it might be.

Yes indeed - well-explained, thank you! I have great difficulty with this myself - I'm not as nice as you are, obviously, not as forgiving of the lack of thinking.

A stranger came up to me while I was out for a walk in a nice park, asked to talk to me. After I answered his question "How long have you been in Japan?" with "Over twenty years", he followed up with "Why are you here - are you travelling? On business?..."

Seriously, I just don't have the patience.

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@lucabrasi

I'd be interested to know where you hail from, too. Just to place you a little better in the context of this debate

Maybe you can tell me ? Of Franco-Danish origin, I have also lived in England, Switzerland as well as France and now Japan (for the longest time...)

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Decades ago I took a sleeping car train from Kita Kyushu to Tokyo and was hit with a barrage of similar question from a school teacher who was only dissuaded when I told him please speak slowly, that my limited Japanese made it difficult to respond and gave me a headache! Then he shut up completely!

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Another story from that trip: I was approached by two matrons at Yaskuni Shrine who had a polaroid camera they wanted to refill. They asked me if I was American, could I help with this American Camera? I was able to oblige and keep up National prestige for Made in USA!

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Balefire

Once in a while, I still get the "can you use chopsticks?" question, after having answered the "how long have you been in Japan?" with "40-plus years".

I usually answer this (my spoken Japanese is close to native) with: can you use fork and knife? - getting people offended is the key in making them realize their mistake.

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@maria @ebisen I understand completely, and don't disagree. It's irritating and impolite. There are several responses, like ebisen's, that can point out how puerile the questions/comments are. They might even lead to provoking some thought. I (usually) just choose to be patient and amused instead of letting it get to me.

Perhaps it's really that I don't have the long-term patience required to maintain a--probably futile--policy of trying to educate so many people in social skills and manners. Or maybe it's that I feel that life's too short to allow myself to spend much of it in even low-level rage over something that is essentially, at least to me, not that big of a deal.

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Perhaps it's really that I don't have the long-term patience required to maintain a--probably futile--policy of trying to educate so many people in social skills and manners

Very good point. I was "nice" about all these things the first few years. Ask me if I can use chopsticks, why I married a Japanese guy or ask me if I'm lonely because I don't have kids I've already decided you're not the type of person I want to be friends with so have given up on being understanding and overlooking such stupid questions and comments. I'll be polite but curt. Life is too short to educate the locals in manners and social skills.

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Old people in western countries ask questions like that too. And for many people it's easier and safer than asking what people think about the Senkaku Island issue, or who would make the best Prime Minister.

We now think it's rude to ask or to want to know if someone is married, or wanting to get married or has kids, but to many people it's really normal.

The question is why is it so terrible for people to ask anyway?

I've said this before here, but as a foreigner I've never been bashed, spat on, told to go home, bombed etc. If the worst you experience is being asked how old you are and how old your kids are, and those are really offensive ones "can you use chopsticks" or "do you like natto", you really don't have anything to complain about.

in the above article, they weren't asking her how often she had sex or anything. Funny, you come from a country where according to the recent culture it's not good to ask about cultural status - then you go to another country and make loads of money because people obviously like you and your language etc, and you complain about their culture. Weird.

"One mother even said that she was surprised that I didn’t have a boyfriend because I seemed like the type of girl who has many boyfriends. I wasn’t sure whether to be offended or flattered. To this day, I’m still not exactly sure what she meant by it."

If you didn't realize she was being nice, and still are confused about it - something as simple and basic as that - then you mustn't have lived in japan very long. If you were asked these questions in Japanese, they were translated, and you answered in English, then it makes sense. You just don't know Japanese people well enough. Learn quickly or you're going to be unnecessarily offended a lot.

They used to talk about "angry young men", but there seem to be a lot of angry young gaijin women in Japan.

"they listened to my answers way more attentively than they had listened to my speech."

....maybe your speech wasn't as interesting as you thought it was ...?

And Japanese mother's get used to listening to the obligatory speeches and they were probably already in sleep mode when you started.

btw, at your next entrance ceremony just answer "It's a secret" or "I'm too busy preparing lessons" or "No, could you know a nice man?"

japanese are the nicest people in the world.

And it's such a pity that some gaijin think it's their duty to offend people to teach them a lesson.

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“Are you married?” which, after my reply of “No,” was followed by “Do you have a boyfriend?”—also followed by a resolute “No.”

You fared better than I. After responding 'no' to both questions, I was knocked off my feet by the next question....drum roll......."Are you a lesbian?" Uh-oh....mouth agape....Did I hear correctly? Mainly asked by young women. Had a feeling if I had said 'yes' I would not have been single for long...but I'm an angel :).

Japanese are obsessed with age for various reasons. In the OP's case it could just be for assessing if you are fit and energetic enough to handle their kids. Hoping you are not an old woman in a 'young woman's' looking body who may not be up to the task. Which brings me to another reason. Japanese (especially women) pride themselves in looking much younger than their actual age. They don't really want to know your age. They only ask so that you will ask theirs in return. Then they hit you with...I'm 39 ..while you were thinking 20. They then wallow in your reaction, as pleased as a puss who had butter rubbed on its mouth. If they ask and you do not return the favor, you lose a point. If you are around long enough they will give you many chances to redeem yourself.

I was always approached by a group of young girls wanting to know my age. I desisted from telling them but they insisted. Mind you these were very friendly girls accepting me as being their age based on my looks. One day I gave in and told them....yes, you guessed right....they never came around me again. They had it that I was 16...I am twice that....and more.

Japanese are not the nicest people in the world. There are very nice Japanese and an alarming number of ordinary looking CRUEL ones (just as in all nations). These last days I seem to be coming across the cruel ones more than the kind ones.

Because of stigma, it's sometimes really embarrassing living in Japan. Japanese act as if all foreigners are potential robbers who will 'pop-out' a gun at any time and stage a robbery.

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This obsessive questioning is tiresome, probing and often very rude. Yet have you noticed how a lot of Japanese people go all coy and 'Japanese' on you over the slightest thing you might ask them? I suggest you tell them nothing. Keep them guessing. Just use the same wry smiles and 'hmmm's and 'naruhodo's and say nothing. They will keep on and on asking, but don't relent. They have been led to believe they can ask whatever they want of the barely-human, other-than'Japanese specimens that are supposedly in Japan for their curiosity and to do their beckoning. Tell them nothing!

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Oh, and don't encourage the eigo bandits. Don't let them ask you all this 'Wheaa you flon?', 'How long Japan?' stuff. If they can't form a simple question properly, don't answer it. And if they can, do all that silly evasive Japanese stuff. It will annoy the heck out of them.

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@shiofuki

They have been led to believe they can ask whatever they want of the barely-human, other-than'Japanese specimens that are supposedly in Japan for their curiosity and to do their beckoning.

Bitter, any?

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You bet! Did Japan, went there starry eyes, stayed 15 years, had my illusions shattered, and now see the Japanese for what they really are.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

curious response from you, theres nothing whatsoever 'potentially offensive' in my post! It must be an autoresponse while you have your teabreak! take it easy!

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