Query: What to do about J children being rude towards NJ adults?

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS now on iTunes, subscribe free

Hi Blog. Got a question from Debito.org Reader Kimberly who wrote this to The Community yahoogroups list yesterday. About kids in Japan who are rude (if not unwittingly racist) towards NJ adults, and they are not cautioned or taught not to be so by surrounding J adults? What do other Readers think or do? Arudou Debito in Sapporo

/////////////////////////////////////

Kimberly writes:

Hello everyone, I’ve been meaning to ask for some advice on this for awhile… how do you deal with it when you get asked something inappropriate or hear a discriminatory comment from a child too young to have any real malicious intent? As my own kids get older I’m finding more and more situations where a child just has to give a smart-alecky HARO! or ask if we’re going to commute to yochien by airplane… and I’m torn between not wanting to hurt the kid’s feelings when I KNOW a four year old probably isn’t trying to be mean, and wanting to teach them something because I may be the only one who ever tries. If they just imitate what their parents or TV tells them to do, the next generation won’t be any more open-minded than this one. :S

Twice in the past couple of weeks this kind of thing has happened, and I dont think I handled either very well. The first was at my son’s swim class, an older child getting dressed for the class after his “whispered” (loudly enough to be heard across the room) to his mom “Hey mom, that woman looks like an English-person (eigo no hito, not a person from England) but she’s speaking Japanese!” The mom shushed him and gave me an apologetic look… which is better I suppose than encouraging it, but she didn’t come back with “Skin color has nothing to do with what language(s) a person can or can’t speak,” so I kind of wish I’d said something…. but would it have been inappropriate to try to discipline someone else’s kid?

The second was at the community center over winter vacation, a girl probably about 7 or 8 years old asked “Did you come from a foreign country?” And I said “Nope, I came from [town where I live]” Probably a good smart-alecky comment for an older kid or adult who knows better… but I probably could have actually told the kid that that was an inappropriate question instead of just leaving her confused.

With adults I’m so used to ignoring the person completely, or coming back with “If you’re looking for English lessons, there’s an Aeon in Parco” or something…. that’s probably not the best approach with kids, since they’re still young enough to learn to be more colorblind. I don’t know… my son’s about to start yochien so I’m sure there will only be more opportunities, any suggestions on how to be a POSITIVE influence on these kids, not by teaching them English or the history of Halloween, but by giving them an example of a mixed family who’s just… a normal family after all?

Thanks in advice for any suggestions. 🙂 Kimberly
//////////////////////////////////////////////

Andrew Smallacombe, fellow Debito.org Reader, replies:

//////////////////////////////////////////////
Great question, Kimberly.

My eldest (ethnic Japanese mother, Caucasian father) goes to a regular kindergarten, which means that I occassionally have to go there. Fortunately, she has responded to kids’ questions on my behalf – “Are you a foreigner?”
“No, he’s from Australia.”

I have chewed out little kids on occassion.

I remember back 5 or so years ago when I was still at Nova. A particularly obnoxious kid responded to my instructions with “urusai, gaijin!” (“shut up, foreigner!”). I chewed him out there and then, and followed up with the procedures in place. Nothing was made of it.

A little over a year ago I took a complete stranger to task.
Two young kids, I assume brother and sister, were approaching me as I was returning home. The little boy suddenly burst out repeatedly “Taiheiyo sensotte nani?” (“What’s the Pacific War?”)
I ignored him, and the girl told him to stop because it was rude. He told her that it didn’t matter because I was a gaijin.
I turned around and blasted him for being rude, making racist comments and assuming that I wouldn’t be able to understand him.
I immediately smiled to the girl and told her everything was alright, and she seemed fine.
In hindsight, I would have liked to have handled this better, but I’ve run out of patience for this kind of thing.

I put part of the blame for the trouble we experience now on TV. Have you seen some of the images of foreign nationals on kids TV programming? NHK Educational boasts cartoons featuring big-nosed foreigners who speak in weird accents. A current early-evening show aimed at primary school kids depicts caucasians as lazy slobs. Earlier incarnations (which I have mentioned on this site) have featured Westerners merely as the instruments of punishment for the losing team.

And teaching a class of 7 year-olds was torture when every utterance was greeted with Taka and Toshi’s “Obei ka?”, or a “Mr. James” impression.

Kids have trouble grasping certain concepts. Like that I might actually NOT live at the school or in another country. Or that I have been living here since before they were born. This is not their fault, nor is it inherently bad.

But to think that the respect they are expected to show adults is suddenly vetoed by my ethnicity, well, that’s another matter.
ENDS
////////////////////////////////////

Other responses?

78 comments on “Query: What to do about J children being rude towards NJ adults?

Comment navigation

  • a toddler on the arm of his mother waiting at the supermarket cashier saw me standing behind them and pointed a finger at me “Mama, ningen da!” (I assume he was too small and still learning the words. Mistook ‘gaijin’ for ‘ningen’!)
    I tried not to laugh, and I could see them mom was embarrassed!
    This still makes a good story!

  • Kids are like their parents. I was checking into a hotel in Kyoto. The kid whispered to his mum: “Gaikokunohito.” The mother decided to practiced her English on me and asked: “Where are you from?” I answered: “From Tokyo.” She looked confused and asked “Are you studying in Japan?” I said: “No, I live in Japan.” That was the end of conversation.

  • # 49

    I don’t like cluttering up Debito’s comments section with arguments, so I’ll write this last one and then consider the matter closed:

    “any parent who does not admonish their child for shouting / saying ‘gaijin da’, is a bad parent, period”

    You, sir, have never graduated from any school or program that taught you how to pick out a “good” or “bad” parent. Nor do you have any advanced cybernetic software implanted in your brain that can pick out a “good” or “bad” parent. Furthermore, your interpretation of “good” or “bad” may be totally different than someone else’s. Also, you have no jurisdiction or authority to comment on a total stranger’s parenting skills…and if you ever said that to me you’d get a fist to the face and most everyone would probably say you deserved it.

    “they need to hear in blunter terms that their parenting skills are suspect”

    Imagine if, say, a right-winger comes up to you on the street while you’re talking to your child of mixed-J-NJ parentage in English (or some other non-Japanese language) and says, “Oy, this is NIHON! We speak NIHONGO here! You’re a bad parent for teaching your kid a language that isn’t Japanese!” What would you do? You’d tell him to get lost in a second if you didn’t beat the living crap out of him. What’s the difference?

    “I might gently urge the parent aside and in a very quiet voice do it”

    Again, there’s nothing wrong with quietly saying, “I think your kid’s comment was rude.” It’s something completely different to call them a “bad parent,” however. That is as clear an overstep of boundaries as I could possibly think of. Don’t believe me? Say that to any mother in any country in any language and see what response she gives you. A stranger has no right to say anything about anything or anyone that came out of her body and not his. It’s none of your goddamn business.

    Debito-san has made mention of his own parents and their parenting. As their child, and the recipient of their parenting, that’s his right. But if I showed up at his parents’ house and said, “Hi! You don’t know me but I read your son’s blog and, y’know, I think you’re a bad parent!” I’d probably be leaving in an ambulance…as I damn well should. It’s none of our business.

    Anyway, point made. Apologies to Debito-san for stuffing up his comments section and mentioning his parents, which is none of my business.

    — No offense taken. Obviously you’re an absolutist about parenting (we need a degree in parenting before any can say anything?), and that’s your prerogative. Not everyone’s going to agree with that, of course (I don’t — there are so few degrees in parenting out there I’ve never heard of one), but thanks for making your standpoint clear. We’ll agree to disagree here and move on.

    (And I dare you to say something like that to my parents. They’ll just give you the old-duffer scowl and a loud threatening voice, like ancient dogs with blown-out vocal cords. They’re too old to administer beatings anymore. If somebody did admonish them, I’d say, “Karma’s a bitch” for a change. 🙂 )

  • Mark Hunter says:

    So Carl, it seems like you think it’s ok for a parent to not apologize for their child making discriminatory remarks to a person of obviously non-Japanese ethnicity. If an adult allows their child to make discriminatory comments to / about me, and the parent doesn’t apologize, that person will hear from me. I won’t call them a bad parent explicitly, but will make it clear I think their skills are suspect. Allowing rudeness with no apology is bad parenting. I fail to see the difficulty in understanding this concept, but hey, differences in viewpoint make this blog all the more interesting, if not a little weird sometimes. Cheers.

    — It’s hard for me to grasp too. We’d complain to the owner if somebody’s dog crapped on our lawn. We’d tend to complain if an adult or teen made an absolutely insensitive or discriminatory action or remark, etc., either to the person or their parent or guardian. But the parenting-absolutists wouldn’t allow any complaints about their kids ever. The only conclusion I can reach is they see their children as their property and therefore off-limits.

    I’m all for TPO and tact when cautioning in these situations. But absolutism in this case seems to me to be a ticket to familial tyranny.

  • @ Carl

    “if you ever said that to me you’d get a fist to the face.”

    Woah! Looks like somebody’s parents didn’t teach their offspring how to handle their anger very maturely!

    — I’ll allow this through, but let’s draw this thread to a close.

  • There is nothing much you can do with children in my view. With the depressingly large number of adults who still think it is hilarious to say things like “harro”, I have taken the approach of shaking their hands and loudly saying (in Japanese) “congratulations, you are the 100,000th person to say “harro” to me.”

  • Thanks to all for the heartfelt and provocative experiences and ideas!

    One point I strongly agree with is that so many kids in mainstream Japanese society have a gaping deficit of parental example and guidance, and of individual attention, period. They pick up and parrot the “lowest common denominator” by default, from the zoos and circuses of day care centers, public schools, and mass media.

    Each person who (or whose loved one) is subjected to the constant barrage of 19th-century societal racism has to decide which is more viable: doing what makes things easier to live with, or sticking his neck out to teach *by example* the values he’d like to see people around him display. Ideally, the two can be harmonized, but it’s a challenge that nobody is going to meet in every single real-life situation.

    The main thing I’d like to point out to some of the commenters is that their stated responses to kids parroting racist crap can actually *reinforce* that crap if they go along with or actively support the notion of there being a linkage between physical appearance and language, nationality, or origin.

    The best thing to do, in my opinion, is be normal as you want it defined. Do not react as if you *are* a “gaikokujin” if you don’t think you are. Put the onus of the disconnect firmly on whomever taught the “haro” or whatever to the child.

    Peace, love and respect to all!

  • Not Haro Taro says:

    # Haro Taro Says:

    When I get a “haro” or “haadooo”, I give them a “nihao”. If they say I’m wrong for saying “nihao”, I just say, well, most Asians are Chinese, right? You see a white guy, you say “haro”, is that the same? etc. Not sure it works… but it’s fun for me.

    It’s also being racist, and it doesn’t help the situation. Thanks for trying.

  • Way back when I was an ALT I used to use this for cheeky little kids in class if they had issues with my ‘foreignness’.

    (Pointing to myself): Igirisujin
    (Pointing to all the other kids): Nihonjin
    (Pointing to the cheeky kid): Ninjin

    Everyone used to find it hilarious. It only works once per class though 🙂

  • Well if someone throws racist crap at me I always respond in kind. If I get the gaijin da thing I shout back JAP da. I am not a school teacher, who is expected to show show patience, I’m just an overworked, frequently overtired business man.

  • If you want to talk about where these stereotypes get made, a lot of it is in the English conversation school. NJ teachers are told never to utter a single word of Japanese and to pretend like we don’t understand it so as to “create an English-only environment”. But of course Japanese teachers of English (who are “bilingual”-ha!) can speak either language as they please. NJ teachers are also generally barred from speaking with parents in Japanese, either because it will ruin the precious facade of exoticism (“parents want to feel English!”), or because NJ can’t speak Japanese “well enough” and parents will “get upset”. Thus Japanese children’s possibly first impression of a “foreigner” is that he/she cannot speak Japanese nor understand, even after years of living in Japan. And that the proper way to greet us is “haro” and when departing “see you”.

    Despite those artificial barriers, children are not dense. They figure out pretty quickly whether their teacher understands Japanese or not. And so have their parents. In my case, they know I can speak, read, and write (in Kanji, oh my!). I even keep my JLPT certificates on the wall in my room. When kids want to talk to me, they do so in Japanese, just like with their “bilingual” Japanese teachers. I at least *hope* I am exerting some sort of influence on them, showing them that I am not some sort of bizarre animal, but just another teacher, like my Japanese counterparts.

  • AET is right on, of course. What’s sad is that the one outlet where these stereotypes could potentially be broken down — English classes with ALTs — actually end up reinforcing them even more: short term ALTs are imported by the boatload, many of whom speak no Japanese, learn no Japanese, and take off after a year; the textbooks always depict somewhat clueless foreigners who come to Japan and face various cultural trials and tribulations; kids are often actively discouraged from using any sort of Japanese with ALTs, which reinforces the idea that foreigner = English. Internationalization activities also inevitably focus on the DIFFERENCES between Japan and other countries; rather than simply exploring a foreign culture, it is often a comparative exercise.

    The net effect of international education (including English) in Japan thus seems to me to be a retardation of international understanding rather than a facilitation thereof, and one of the results is what’s being discussed here.

  • #62 Jake

    I work as an ALT but have lived in Japan almost 20 years. I get the feeling the teachers expect or want me to play the ignorant foreigner. They usually assume I can’t understand any Japanese and have little understanding of the culture.

  • AET is on the mark, I think.
    For anyone wondering how to let students on that you can speak/understand without breaking “the only english rule”(TM), when the kids are speaking Japanese reply on topic to them in English.
    This has worked every time for me.
    Personally I have fun speaking in Japanese to the students before and after class, despite “the rule”. I’m a rebel.

    Also I am definitely a backer of the “doko da!?” reply to a student’s (or on the off chance and adult’s) “gaijin da!”. I do it all the time and on a bad day the kid laughs and gets a little embarrassed. On a good day the kid stops and actively thinks about what they said. This is rare but you can actually see them going through the process of thinking “He understands what I said… Is he a foreigner? Maybe he isn’t? Shit, maybe I shouldn’t have said that…”

  • @AET (is this how you address messages to people? I’m new.)

    While I agree that English Teachers are encouraged to play up the role of “dumb foreigner”, I don’t think the methodology is the thing to criticise. Not speaking the native language in lessons is pretty much par for the course in language teaching the world over. If the students then assume that the teacher can’t speak their language as a result, surely that speaks more for prejudices already in place? After all, people use the direct method to teach languages all over the world (and when you’re teaching a multi-lingual group in an English speaking country, it’s pretty much the only option).

    I also wouldn’t consider it a particular advantage that Japanese language teachers are able to use English to teach Japanese, because it severely limits the scope of people they can teach using that method. I can happily stand up in front of a multilingual group, establish a context and teach English without uttering a word of anyone’s native language but my own. Could the same be said of a teacher who has had translation into the native language to fall back on?

    — Hang around awhile, laddie. That attitude will wear thin in another five or ten years.

  • What attitude? All I’m saying is that if people are teaching English in Japan the same way people teach languages in the rest of the world, it’s not reasonable to blame the method. Some other factors must be at play.

    If we’re going to blame Eikaiwas for perpetuating the “dumb foreigner” stereotype, then I’d argue it’s more a problem of how the schools present themselves. They are designed to make money, and they do that by pandering to the stereotypical beliefs of the students. That’s something we can accuse the schools of, but it’s not fair to attack the teaching methodology, which is really no different from that found in any other kind of language school. French teachers in the UK often speak no English in the classroom, but that doesn’t drive anyone to believe that they can’t.

    I’m not defending Eikaiwas by the way, I actually think they’re pretty indefensible.

    — Thanks for explaining more fully. Apologies. But we’re getting a bit on a tangent now, so let’s get back on topic.

  • [over the top deleted]

    To tell you the truth, I believe that too many spineless foreigners perpetuate the problem by not sticking up for themselves or by following the strict “English only” rules implemented by the eikaiwa/ALT world which is nothing more than a commercialized form of apartheid. Come on, they had to come up with some way to keep foreigners out of the mainstream.

  • Absolutely agreeing about the English teaching issue. You don’t need to be a native speaker to teach a language, but the idea that Japanese teachers can teach grammar but can’T be expected to create an all-English environment, and that NJ teachers are good for pronunciation and “culture” but not actually to teach the language doesn’t really do ANYONE justice. Much better IMO for a student to communicate directly with an English speaker (whether a native speaker or not) through a mix of English, Japanese, and gestures, than to feel like they are going THROUGH a Japanese teacher, puts up a wall that doesn’t need to be there.

    I could tell a million horror stories about the teacher who stood up in front of the parents, after SHE told me that “all buses bound for XXX stop at OOO too,” and explain that I was five minutes late because “It’s so difficult for gaijin,” not because she’d refused to fax me the actual timetable that I’d asked for. Or the one who gave me a list of students names including “Yousuke” and then critisized my Japanese pronunciation because I said “Yo-suke” isntead of “Yu-suke” etc etc… but somehow I get the feeling that anyone who’s ever taught English has probably got the exact same stories to tell.

  • Thanks for the apology Debito. Back on topic, my most common response to kids being rude in the classroom is to either reply to whatever they are saying in English, or (if they are being very rude) to send them outside the classroom, where the school counsellor can explain to them that their teacher can actually understand Japanese pretty well. They rarely pipe up again. I also make a point of speaking to Japanese staff in Japanese (while the students are in earshot), but only speaking to the students in English.

    @Tom
    You make it sound as though language teaching only happens in Japan, or that the methodology is in some way different than in the rest of the world (as part of a conspiracy to keep foreigners out of the mainstream, no less!). That isn’t the case, and if the Japanese interpret that to mean their teachers can’t speak Japanese, in my view that’s just symptomatic of already-held prejudices that foreigners can’t speak Japanese.

    Sorry, no more tangents!

  • Michael Weidner says:

    As a teacher who teaches a lot of these young kids that everyone seems to be mentioning, I do come across situations where I get asked “silly” questions. A lot of people on here seem to be writing off these children’s behavior as “childhood innocence”. The sad thing is Racism, no matter how “pure” or “innocent” you may think, is a LEARNED behavior. I grew up in Canada and one thing that was NOT tolerated, no matter what, was racism. My home life also reflected this. If you have actually taken the time to talk to the parents of these children (which I have, at length), you would find that the children are in fact just repeating the opinions and ignorance of their parents. Thankfully, after being at the schools I have for a few years, the majority of those questions have stopped as they have acclimatized to what foreign people are and the like. The sad thing is however, that this is not a Nation-wide phenomenon. While this is kind of going off topic here, there really needs to be more awareness on the part of the Government and media that while Japan may be an island nation, there are many other island nations out there that are fully multi-cultural, and that it’s 2010; time to wake up and stop this kind of rubbish.

    As to what I do when I came across these situations, I tell the child directly and teach them accordingly. If they’re rude, I put them in their place. If not, then I let them know what they want to know and explain why thinking such things is silly. If I am able to, I also let their parents know of the situation and what to do to go about correcting it. While some people may think that bringing someone’s parenting into the conversation is a bad idea, it is indeed the only way to fix the problem. I don’t go as far as saying that “you’re a bad parent”, but I do let them know that their child has been saying things that may be construed as racist and that if they want some tips on how to help with that, they could always ask me for advice. I find that this route usually leads to the best solution.

  • Kimberly – “the idea that Japanese teachers can teach grammar but can’T be expected to create an all-English environment, and that NJ teachers are good for pronunciation and “culture” but not actually to teach the language doesn’t really do ANYONE justice.”

    I’ve never come across this particular belief, and if it exists then it certainly is a real problem. However, I believe a good language teacher (of any nationality or native language) should be able to teach the whole language (not just one part of it) in their native tongue, if they’re sufficiently skilled.

    Also, as I’m studying Japanese now, it can be incredibly frustrating when a teacher gives me one or two attempts to understand in Japanese before just translating into English. As far as I’m concerned, that’s no better than the shop staff who refuse to work with me in Japanese to understand what I or they are saying, and just address me in English.

    Anyway, is there a way to carry on this discussion without hijacking the topic any further?

    — Just to say that yes, this belief does exist. I have encountered it in my very university, and in other universities. Native speakers of foreign languages are not supposed to teach “content courses” because, allegedly, 1) it’s mottai nai for people with native pronunciations not to be living tape recorders, 2) they can’t communicate with Japanese students as effectively as natives (follows logically that only native Japanese could possibly be bilingual), and 3) they aren’t qualified. Those are the reasons I’ve heard. Doubtless others working back from a conclusion to say that NJ deserve unequal job conditions can cook up a few more. Now let’s let this go as a given and continue.

  • Any thoughts on how to deal with naively silly comments, rather than deliberately rude ones? I was at a loss after the following exchange (in Japanese):

    Me: Wow! You’re really good at drawing, aren’t you? I can’t draw like you.
    7-year-old girl: That’s because you’re not Japanese.

    I could have told her that neither was Rembrandt or Disney…but obviously that wouldn’t have worked.

  • Some little kid made a comment to me in the first few weeks I was living here, in Narita-machi, as I was sitting outside having a bento. What he said sounded something like “Hen na!” (it had “hen” in it for sure, and the tone!). The mother said “uso da yo!” to him and they kept walking.

    I knew about Japan, but it was quite an eye-opener. Gotta wonder where the kid was getting his notions from.

    With rare exception, the overwhelming number of the kiddies since then have been quiet little angels. But I am told (a lot) that I look a little like Jack Bauer, so maybe they are just intimidated because they think I am on an assignment and get out of the way.

    Kids are kids you know. So any of you drawing any sharp lines, make them fuzzy ones instead.

  • @Rob

    I don’t think the methodology is wrong, and that’s not what I was criticizing. I suppose I should have been more clear. At least at my school, children are expressly told that if they take a “foreign teacher’s” class, they must speak in English the whole time because I don’t understand Japanese. It’s that “because I (a foreigner)don’t understand Japanese” part that I am criticizing.

    Like Chris, I too respond on topic in English. And to bring this back to the topic at hand, when children say rude things to me, I shut them down very quickly. I agree with others that have posted that humor is often best. My kids love to use silly bad words (the youngest ones), while the older ones (pre-teens), like to smart off. I generally like to mimic them (something I’m especially good at), as it takes their comment and turns it on them. It often leads to others to look at them as a fool, and shame works wonders in Japan.

    As for kids on the street, it depends. Elementary school students are far too cute for me to get angry at, so I usually just talk to them. If you get a hearty “hello!!” then scream “konnichiha!!” back. It gets giggles. Then you can talk to them a bit, let them in on the fact that you live in their town, you speak Japanese, etc. Same goes for “gaijin da!” and the rest of it. Unless you sense malicious intent, I think leaving young children with a positive impression will do a lot more in the long run than unleashing the justice. 😉

    As for teenagers though, things get dicey. As a man, I often get young males trying to show how funny or suave they are to friends or some potential mate. I’ve gotten anything from “gaijin da” to someone quoting an entire dialogue from whatever English textbook they were studying. Since typically they’re trying to get some sort of rise out of me, I generally ignore them. I don’t make eye contact or show any sign I even heard them. Once ignored, they lose interest and their friends/potential mate are not impressed.

    If they come up to me and attempt to speak to me (the classic, sudden “we-a yu furamu”), I’ve done all kinds of things. A fun one is to feign being unable to understand their English (since rarely have they practiced their pronunciation). To add insult to injury, I finally “understand” them, then tell them how bad their pronunciation is and teach them right there, in front of their onlooking buddies. Suddenly the joke is on them, not me.

    Other times, I’ve simply surprised them by starting up a conversation myself. I’ve made friends out of a few that way – I fondly remember a group of skateboarders I shared some laughs with on random week nights after work. In the end, humor and positive interaction will change more than anger and scolding, IMHO.

  • #67 Tom says:
    To tell you the truth, I believe that too many spineless foreigners perpetuate the problem by not sticking up for themselves or by following the strict “English only” rules implemented by the eikaiwa/ALT world which is nothing more than a commercialized form of apartheid. Come on, they had to come up with some way to keep foreigners out of the mainstream.
    ——————————————————————–
    I am sorry for getting off the original topic, but I feel the same way about being ostracized at my schools by being the only person in the building who is practically forbidden from speaking Japanese. It’s weird and frustrating how teachers will always translate things for me when I already understand. I have gotten nasty looks and been snapped at for speaking in Japanese outside the classroom. I don’t mind sticking to an English-only rule in class but I think out of the classroom I can speak however I want to. It is especially frustrating when non-English department teachers expect me to be their eikaiwa slave. I don’t try to force the kokugo or math teachers to teach me!
    (Debito, please delete this post if it is too far off topic)

  • I’d be curious to see some responses from Debito readers about how they react to other commonly encountered situations.

    As a NJ in Japan (and even speaking with Japanese people outside of it), I often received compliments on the colour of my hair or eyes and expressions of admiration or envy. How does one graciously deflect this type of attention and move on with the conversation? I think it’s a shame that some of the girls I meet think I’m somehow more beautiful than they are just because of my race. In the past I’ve tried telling them that lots of North American guys are all about Asian women, but…

    On another note, how does one deflect compliments about one’s level of Japanese (especially after having said only one word)? 「私、日本に住んでいるじゃん。日本語が出来ないと困るでしょう」 is about all I can think of.

    — Actually, I say that too and find it quite effective.

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    Unfortunately I was caught off guard the other day on my way home from work. After dealing calmly with the “Please act like you don’t understand Japanese, OK?” deal for a class of seven-year-olds and a few other stresses, I found myself waiting (on my bike) at the lights in front of another school around dismissal time.
    Suddenly, a group of kids (probably 6th grade)appeared and one thought it it would be funny to shout out to me,
    “Hey, Michael Jackson!”
    Like I said, I was caught off-guard, and exploded at the kid, and demanded an apology. I know, not the best way to deal with the situation… but I don’t have time to sit EVERY SINGLE INDIVIDUAL down for a lesson in manners and international understanding EVERY SINGLE TIME.

    — Cut yourself some slack. I’ve done that from time to time too. It’s enough that we learn the language, manners, and etiquette of Japan to make ourselves the purest tourist and blameless resident. It’s doubly insulting when people don’t follow the manners that are expected of us. He would with near-100% certainty not have said that to a visibly-Japanese adult. You are perfectly within your prerogatives to set that person straight as you felt necessary.

  • Andrew, unfortunately there are some NJ who feel that what you experienced is just kids being kids with no tinge of racism involved. I think you reacted correctly to counter obviously deficient teaching or parenting received by that child. All I can say is, choose your battles because, as you implied, it’s hard to challenge this behavior day in and day out. I’m glad you reacted, however. Cheers.

Comment navigation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>