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

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on January 15th, 2010

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    Hi Blog. Got a question from 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 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.

    Other responses?

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

    1. Graham Says:

      Hmm… is “don’t be rude to other people” not good enough?
      Giving kids lectures about racism may unnecessarily complicate the matter for them, I think.
      Racism would almost be a separate issue, albeit they would benefit from being educated about it at some point.

      In Kimberly’s case, I think the impact has already been made from being in contact with a foreign-looking person who speaks Japanese, challenging their assumption of “foreign-looking people can’t speak Japanese.” Would be nice to have some form of a follow-up talk, but for kids nothing is better than hands-on experience as a learning tool.

    2. Another John Says:

      Yeah, I got this, too. After being bombarded by so many idiotic questions from adults, it’s easy to knee-jerk and take it out on kids. It is a shame that broader cross-cultural education is not part of the general package of life people get here, but it is what it is. With that in mind, if I can’t get a mother of a brat to explain to said brat that language has nothing to do with race, then I’ll take one who can at least apologize as opposed to ignore.

      Now, as to the kids…before we put my daughter in international school, we were doing the Japan public school thing. She never caught too much flak for being not “pure Japanese”. We had some school functions where I had to show up, also (the track meet, open house day, etc.). To make a proper response to the kids, you need to put aside the fact that you are an adult and think like a kid again. Filter your response according to their intent. One kid came up to me and said, “Gaijin da!” If that were an adult, I would blow that person off as an ignoramus, but, with a 7-year-old kid who is clearly more curious than malicious, I just looked at him, put a look of surprise on my face, pointed to him and said, “Nihonjin da!” Knowing kids some, I twisted it a little more and said, “あー、違う! 宇宙人だ!” (“Wait, no – an alien!”). The kid got a kick out of it, laughed and dashed away. And, hopefully, he took away two things in the process: 1) NJs can speak Japanese and 2) We have a sense of humor.

      With kids, you gotta think like a kid. I remember growing up in middle America and seeing the first wave of Vietnamese boat people settling in my hometown back in ’75. Maybe I asked some stupid questions, but it was driven more by curiosity than anything else. You can’t cringe at a Mr. James impression or whatever. The best weapon against a kid’s stereotypes is using humor to blow that impression up. Had one J kid in the neighborhood (9 yr old) ask me if I knew Mr. James. I told him, “Japan has a lot of delicious food, right? Sushi, takoyaki, sukiyaki, nabe…” The kid nodded…”Yes, those are really good!” “I like those, too. So,” I continued, “isn’t Mr. James kind of stupid to come to Japan only for hamburgers?” “Yes, that makes sense,” he said. OK, I didn’t answer the direct question, but I hope I defused a stereotype.

      Don’t get harsh on the little ones, but do some homework and prep some good, humorous, diplomatic answers. Remember – chances are you will be their very first direct contact with NJ and it will be before “the system” has a chance to hammer the standard J vs NJ items into their head. What you say just may give them the impression of a lifetime. In other words, you will have the power to mold an image of the world in a new generation. Pretty powerful stuff…

      My two cents,
      – John

    3. sendaiben Says:

      This is really a really tough topic, but I think it is important to try to separate the accumulation of frustrating experiences you may have had from the specific incident at hand -especially if it involves children. Biting someone’s head off for what they thought was an innocuous question is not going to educate them, it’s just going to give them a negative impression.

      Children say rude and cheeky things to everyone, they are not specifically out to get you.

      Explaining, in a calm and friendly manner, is probably the best response. You might even make a friend. Of course, this approach requires more patience than I have, but it’s something to aim for.

      I almost always regret it when I lose my temper and wish I had handled things in a calmer way.

    4. Jeff Says:

      From my experience this happens to me less in Japan than Korea. Come to think of it, in Japan it’s usually an expression of surprise (“That foreigner has a Suica!”) while Korean kids might mimic a “Dumb Westerner” swagger… “Hey Joe!”.

      I never say a word, just bend down to their level and with a big smile shake my finger… the parents usually apologize and everybody’s ok, point kindly made. I do the same thing with some who are older, although that’s rarely innocent surprise. For instance teenage store stock clerk “…welcome, welcome… Foreigner in the vegetable isle…” (turn, smile, shake head) “Ah! Sorry!” (covers his mouth with his hand).

    5. Laura Says:

      I don`t particularily have any sage advice, and I am eager to hear others` opinions on this as I am sure to face this issue with my own child here. (Japanese father, mommy – me!) I get the occasional stupid question, and the local shrine priest`s wife REALLY wants to `practice` her English with me, but I find ways around that. I would like to know how to have your Japanese family be accepting of your culture, not be dissappointed that it exists.
      My in-laws are generally ok, but they are only grudgingly accepting of the fact that my daughter will be bilingual. At New Years MIL remarked to her mother that it was `zannen that Kai-chan will speak English first, but what can you expect with her mother speaking English to her all day.` To which the Great Grandmother replied `Oh, don`t worry, once she goes to school, she`ll start to speak properly (meaning Japanese) and forget all of her English.` O.o
      So, as you can see, I can hardly deal with family members let alone strangers. On a bit of a bright note, while teaching a few kids – I told them my name of which I have a Japanese Surname and most of the kids thought I was from Japan. At least they didn`t all shout out – America-jin- which I`m not. Small I know but any progress is progress, no?

    6. Kimpatsu Says:

      A few years ago, I was in a department store queuing at the checkout when a kid of approx. 4YO suddenly looked over, saw me, and started screaming “Hen-na hito! Hen-na hito!” (Weirdo! Weirdo!) I immediately growled back, “Shitsurei ne, anta”, and he hid behind his parents, who only THEN looked embarrassed and uttered faint apologies. Presumably, if I hadn’t been able to understand him or remonstrate in Japanese, they would have considered everything just fine. So, yes, by all means tell off other people’s kids. If the parents won’t do it, we have a moral obligation to do so.

    7. Kakui Kujira Says:

      I haven’t been on the receiving end of much rudeness from anyone really. (Incompetent/corrupt/extorting police is a completely separate issue, no?)
      The only thing I get from J kids is finger-pointing and, “Gaijin! Gaijin!” or sometimes, “Gaikokujin!”.
      I respond with finger-pointing at them and saying, “Nihonjin! Nihonjin!” Mostly, the kids get confused, but it seems to greatly amuse their parents and teachers. I would never have thought it would, but it does.
      Once, one lad of about 5 or 6 was running up and down the train carriage I was on, annoying many of my fellow passengers. When he got to me, he did the finger-pointing, “Gaijin! Gaijin!” thing. He got, “Gaki! Gaki!” instead of the usual. He returned to his dozing Mum and was quiet for the rest of the way I was on anyway.

      On an unrelated tangent, after 16 years in Japan, my wife said that she wants to live in Australia. I was, at the time she said it, quite content in Japan. But in the next few days I was hit by a tsunami of homesickness. We leave Japan on the 27th.
      Just like to say a very big thank you to Debito for all the work he has done, in particular this marvellous website! You have certainly made my life hear much easier and made me far more informed than I would be otherwise.
      Thank you very much, Debito! If you ever make it to Melbourne, Australia, announce your trip on the site, and I’ll shout you a cup of beer or three!

      — We’ll miss you. Meanwhile, you can of course access from Oz! We’ll still be here, so stop by!

    8. Ken Aston Says:

      In the first example, the kid just noted a fact, I don’t see any discrimination in it. Same for the second exmample, it’s a natural question. I often ask foreigners in Japan where they came from. Am I discriminating? If they answer [town where I live] they will for sure get a strange look from me.

    9. Joe Says:

      I understand most of this and agree, but wasn’t quite sure why asking if someone is from a foreign country would be considered rude. Please enlighten.

    10. Peter Says:

      Isn’t this a lot of childhood innocence?? If these kids were exposed to more multiculturalism in their classrooms or in their daily lives then I bet this sort of thing wouldn’t come up. As it stands, Japan is not very multicultural in the schools and young children don’t get to see non-japanese people very often. But try explaining to a 4 year old that the white dude who runs this site is actually japanese.

      — So are you saying we shouldn’t try?

    11. Tim Says:

      Although it doesn’t happen often, I do occasionally read in my students’ essays how their thinking has been changed by a chance opportunity interacting with a foreigner. With that in mind, I always try to take a “pay if forward” type of mentality.

      If I can change a person’s thinking in a positive manner by responding positively then maybe I can change how they will react in the future. That kid eventually will have to study English, and could be the next politician who writes the laws that regulate my life. If I get a “haro” then I give a “hello” back, in fact I usually stop and chat if I have the time. Children’s attitudes and behaviors are learned by watching adults and TV. It is my chance to change their opinion. Who knows, they may go back and tell their parents, and their parents might learn something. It may challenge them to change their assumptions.

      My wife is perhaps more embarrassed than I am. She always says that I sound like a Zen master talking philosophy to a student. The questions from children are much more interesting than the standard fare of, “Can you use chopsticks and drink miso?” Besides it is my chance at a free Japanese lesson. ; )

    12. Innocent_Bystander Says:

      Once I was walking beside my Japanese wife in Saitama on the way to the local supaa and saw that a little boy noticed my approach and was violently tugging at his older sister’s arm, trying to deflect he attention from whatever she was doing to look at me. She was ignoring him. But just as I pulled up in front of him, he pointed and exclaimed, “Gaijin da!” My response, without breaking stride, was to emit a stentorious fart from my rear end. I looked back at him over my shoulder and his hand was still extended by his jaw had dropped several centimeters. He was literally struck dumb by my non verbal response. My wife, who is well acquainted with such sound effects, didn’t even notice anything out of the ordinary. (Giggle!)

    13. carl Says:

      In my experience I have just let comments from little kids slide. If they were particularly annoying or obnoxious I’d give them a short, stern lecture about not being rude. Little kids don’t really know or understand anything and usually just parrot things they see on TV. 11 years old and up, however, is old enough to know better and they may very well deserve a good chewing out. In the case of a superbly inappropriate comment (“shut up, foreigner”) then all bets are off IMHO (though I would still make a calm response, not scream my head off).

      However, while I know we like to think we’re educating people about making racist remarks when we respond to them, we have to honestly admit that blowing up at somebody who makes rude comments is less about combatting racism and more about the joy we feel when putting rude people in their place.

    14. Mark Hunter Says:

      I talk to the parent, if the child is accompanied, and ask why they raised their child to believe it is ok to say or shout “gaijin”. I tell the parent, albeit gently, that they are not a good parent. Rudeness is rudeness. A parent wouldn’t accept the child loudly proclaiming about someone in a wheelchair, so why allow open discrimination.
      If the child is alone, I have a conversation and include the fact that they should not point out obvious difference; notice it, but don’t shout about it. Also, I agree with the humor comment above.

    15. debito Says:

      Debito here. Note I have just put up a blog poll about this issue with as many options as I could muster. Hope I got enough up there (we’ll know if a huge number vote “something else”, which means I missed something). Let’s see what NJ adults in general who read have to say. Yoroshiku!

    16. Riccardino Fuffolo Says:

      “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.”

      Could you tell me the title (and possibly the airing time) of those shows?

    17. phil coristin Says:

      Used to drive me crazy, could ruin my day, but I think I’ve developed patience by remembering the obnoxious things I did in public when I was 7 or 8. I appreciate everything debito does, and this website, because I think I’ve developed a kind of resignation re Japan, as much as I like the people, I’ve accepted that I will always, always be seen as gaijin, and that it is not necessary a bad thing, *unless* there is horrific discrimination of the type that happened to debito’s daughters (do I have that right? Did you sue re the Otaru hotspring or was that someone else?) for example, and many even worse things that happen mostly to non-white non-Japanese. As for the laughable lack of worldliness of most Japanese, I just think about the same laughable lack of worldliness that exists in the average person back home. Losing idealism about “internationalization” I guess. Thanks, debito. Keep up the great work. Maybe your activities can inspire me to get pissed off like I used to!

      — I’ll work at it.:)

    18. iago Says:

      How about the “It Hasn’t Happened to Me” option?

      — Choose “something else”. Although you must lead a hermetic existence indeed if you haven’t come across any commenting kids.

    19. Odeena Says:

      I’ll be the first to admit that my current approach is probably not the best one, but…

      At first, I used to smile, wave or respond in Japanese to children who did things like that. After I noticed how some parents acted all “OMG! It’s a foreigner and it talks to my baby! Run away!” like, I started to ignore their kids. But after a while, I really got fed up. Nowadays I just glare right back at them (and their parents, or whoever they’re with) — and if they’re really pushing it, I snap back with a “Oi, oi…” or “Omae, maji de uzai” (or any other scary-sounding phrase I can think of). They usually stop bothering me after I do that.

      On a side note, both my former dormitory and my current apartment happen to be close to a school. Tough luck >.>#

    20. carl Says:

      # 14: “I tell the parent, albeit gently, that they are not a good parent”

      With all due respect, I disagree with this kind of response completely and totally. No parent likes a total stranger, who knows nothing about the other party’s parenting skills, to comment on whether or not they are a good parent. IMHO, this response should NEVER be used. If you said that to me, well, you might just get socked in the nose.

      Talk to the kid, tell him comments like his make you feel bad, tell him you hope he’ll be more polite in the future, but DO NOT drag someone else’s parenting into it. That’s just asking for trouble and, honestly, is rude in and of itself. Would you accept someone commenting on your parenting back in your country of origin?

      — Nobody likes it. But sometimes it’s necessary. I have the feeling if somebody intervened in, say, how I was parented, you’d see a very different Debito. But I digress. Back on topic.:)

    21. Taylor Says:

      Tough topic!
      From my understanding (please correct me if I am mistaken) J parents mostly do not teach their kids much discipline – that begins in school. To me, the age of the child is indicative of where their attitude comes from…

      Japan is at something of a crossroads –
      Despite the GOJ’s best efforts, more NJ are moving to Japan.
      More schools are admitting their first “hafu” kids. I imagine all changes take time to adjust..
      I just wonder what kids are learning in yochien and elementary school? Is this totally dependent upon the level of the teacher? How are kids who look different handled/treated? Knowing Japan, I suspect that they are not treated the same, but does anyone have first-hand knowledge? Are J kids being taught to treat “foreign-looking” people/kids differently from 1st grade? At what age, exactly, are they taught to call all foreigners by their first names (+ yobitsute), regardless of age or situation???

    22. Jcek Says:

      Every child is an opportunity for a racist free open minded future if you scream or yell back at them negatively for being curious you just lost. Kids are a lot easier to deal with than the person who assumes you can’t understand Japanese ideas, culture, people, etc. if you are a foreigner.

      — Okay, you’ve said what NOT to do. Now tell us what TO do.

    23. JP Says:

      Generally, any response in Japanese is often good enough to shut most kids up, because they normally can’t fathom that NJ can speak Japanese. That alone destroys one stereotype in their minds and I think that is progress. If they make a rude remark and the parents do not respond, I say take them to task and I mean the parents. The parents are ultimately responsible for educating their kids and they obviously haven’t been doing an adequate job if their kid is yelling gaijin da.

      The true issue here is that many adults in this society tend to “change” their standards of what constitutes proper behavior when dealing with perceived NJ. Case in point, yesterday I was at the gym. The retirement age gentleman sitting next to me on the weight machine, leans over (we had not even made eye contact at this point) and says one line, “Dochira no kuni desu ka?”, and nothing else. If I were perceived as a J male, would he have leaned over and said “dochira no machi desu ka?”; probably not. Maybe I am being a bit over sensitive in this instance, but what transpired next was the shocker. I replied “Nihon desu yo”. He, under his breath, says “nihon, ka” and then gets up like he’s embarrassed and walks away. Now from my point of view, if I were asking the question, I would want to know why a white guy says he is Japanese. I would have started a conversation. Maybe he was embarrassed, but was it not rude of him to just walk away immediately after starting a conversation??? I really feel that the core issue is that parents are not teaching their kids that “all people” should be treated the same way regardless of appearance, and the likely reason is that they themselves often don’t understand this. Apologies for the slight tangent.

      BTW, my wife told me I was rude to the man at the gym, because I did not tell him what country I was “from”. Can anyone explain to me why I was the rude one?

      — Er, because you did not fulfill her expectations of a correct answer?

      Anyway, there’s nothing to point your cultural sextant at here. You just got a gym frequenter who was trying to fill his personal-curiosity checklist, and when he didn’t get something that fit his checklist he closed his book. Take no notice. Of either him or her, I say.

    24. Peter (not commenter 10) Says:

      “However, while I know we like to think we’re educating people about making racist remarks when we respond to them, we have to honestly admit that blowing up at somebody who makes rude comments is less about combatting racism and more about the joy we feel when putting rude people in their place.”

      Thank you. I agree.

      If you speak Japanese, “Gaikokujin ni sore kiicha/iccha dame da yo” will usually get the point across that what’s being said is inappropriate or rubs you the wrong way. If they ask you why, tell them. If they don’t ask you why, and if you want to bother with the reason, go for it, but your mini-sermon won’t always play out like an episode of “San-nen B-gumi Kinpachi-sensei”.

    25. Kimberly Says:

      In response to #8, I don’t know that the kid at the pool was being rude, and certainly not discriminatory as he was only about four years old. But the idea that the world consists of two racial groups: Japanese and everyone else, and that everyone in the “everyone else” group speaks English and none of them speak Japanese, that’s just wrong on all counts. And since no one is bothering to teach anytihng else in schools (apparently?), it’s contact with US that is going to teach these kids that a lot of us CAN speak at least some Japanese, that there are languages other than Japanese and English in the world, that race and language aren’t interchangeable etc.

      I personally think it’s rude to start a conversation with “You’re not from around here, are you?” in any form, at least if you’re in a city big enough that everyone doesn’t know everyone else by sight.

      I do agree that simply meeting us and seeing that we’re not all carbon copies of Dave Spector or Bobby Ologun or that cartoon French guy who for some reason speaks English (and Japanese) and not French (Zenmai Samurai, that’s the NHK cartoon I believe?) helps. I probably did more to teach multiculturalism in the community by working at a family restaurant for 8 months than by teaching English for 3 years… and usually there’s not a lot of problems. But it’s finding that fine line between getting mad and lecturing, between lecturing and TEACHING, that is difficult for me, I think.

    26. Jake Says:

      As a parent, I object to the idea of “proxy parenting”. It is ultimately up to the parent to decide what sort of values to instill in his or her child, and if those values don’t include a broad acceptance of thing that are different, then so be it. It’s sad, but it’s not my call to make. I would be quite angry to find someone lecturing my child on what is and isn’t rude — come to me and tell me what happened, and be assured that I’ll take the proper action.

      That being said, I agree almost completely with “Another John” (second response). Coming straight at a kid with something like “that’s rude” or “that’s racist” is going to get you nowhere. You should think like a kid and try to have a sense of humor about it.

    27. GiantPanda Says:

      My son’s hoikuen friends have just reached that age where they have noticed his mom is a bit different to the other moms, so I am starting to get the comments, but mostly I find them cute, not rude. Speaking to them in Japanese and playing with them a bit makes a world of difference. Kids are ignored so much in our society (even by their parents a lot of the time) that they just love it when someone gives them a bit of attention and speaks to them like they are a real person instead of a pest. To be honest I find dealing with the kids a heck of a lot easier than dealing with the ignorant parents sometimes!! Try to start from the presumption of innocence on behalf of the kid, especially if they are small.

      For smart alec big kids that shout out “gaijin!” or similar, try this:

      KID: Gaijin da!
      NJ: Chigau yo, Nippon jin dayo!
      KID: (puzzled look)
      NJ: (Pointing at first one leg, then the other): “mite – ippon, nippon, nipponjin da yo!”

      — It’s groaners like these that make putting up discussion topics like these all worthwhile.

    28. Kimberly Says:

      Jake says: “It is ultimately up to the parent to decide what sort of values to instill in his or her child”

      Okay, fair enough. But it’s also a learning experience for a child every time that child interacts with another member of society. So if you don’t lecture the child, how DO you react in a way that the experience will be a positive one? A kid comes up and says “Hey, are you a gaijin?” you can tell the truth about your actual nationality, you can say “Yes” even if it’s not true to give the kid what they’re expecting, you can say “No” even if it’s not true to make a point. You can say “Actually, I’m American/Canadian/British/whatever.” You can ignore the question entirely. You can say “More importantly, my name’s Kimberly, what’s yours?” So even if you’re not going to give the kid a lesson in political correctness, you’ve still got options as far as how you react and you can still teach the kid something about how human interactions work.

    29. Graham Says:

      As much as pointing to a foreigner and shouting “gaijin-da!” is unacceptable, so as pointing to someone who had his or her arm amputated and shouting “ude ga nai!” or pointing to a little person and shouting “chicchai!” or pointing to someone obese and yelling “futoccho!” or… you get the picture. The kid needs to be taught that it’s extremely unacceptable to do things like that, regardless of what the “oddity” may be that the kid is shouting at.

    30. 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.

    31. Andy Says:

      There’s a saying where I come from that brothers wrestle because they are looking for an excuse to hug. That’s how I view most of the cheeky comments via J-kids. It’s an attempt, albeit a poor one, at making contact with the foreigner who their naturally a bit curious about. I think the best response is to engage with the kid (using humor and many of the other positive, aforementioned strategies).

      As for the parents, I’ve never really viewed their lack of action as implicit approval. Their probably just as embarrased as you are that their kid is spouting off nonsense and don’t know what the proper way of dealing with the situation is (aka “do we apologize, pretend that nothing is happening, etc.?”).

    32. GiantPanda Says:

      I have to say it is also excruciatingly embarassing from the parent’s point of view when the kid says something inappropriate. A friend’s child, at the age of 1, used to point at black people and say “doggy”. She was so flustered by this, that she started avoiding people in the street. He eventually grew out of it. From the parent’s point of view, a humorous response with a smile would be a lot more welcome than a lecture or getting angry about it. Kids learn a lot of stuff from TV and from the big kids around them at hoikuen / yochien (and parrot it mindlessly), so you can’t always assume that it is the parent’s latent racism rubbing off on the child.

      — I’m not sure anyone explicitly has.

    33. ken44 Says:

      Kimberly writes:
      —-where a child just has to give a smart-alecky HARO!—–

      Hell, I get that from Japanese COLLEGE students especially the first day of class! To me it’s a red flag for more trouble later on so I lay the law down fast and hard. I explain I don’t play that and suggest they either take another class or stop the bullshxt now. If they want to score points with their friends or the ladies fine but not at my expense.

    34. ken44 Says:

      —As a parent, I object to the idea of “proxy parenting”. It is ultimately up to the parent to decide what sort of values to instill in his or her child, and if those values don’t include a broad acceptance of thing that are different, then so be it. It’s sad, but it’s not my call to make. I would be quite angry to find someone lecturing my child on what is and isn’t rude — come to me and tell me what happened, and be assured that I’ll take the proper action.—

      I agree 100%. It’s not my call and I too would be upset if someone took it upon themselves to lecture my child on what is or isn’t rude. If you’re pissed off let me know what happened.

    35. Mark Hunter Says:

      Carl, which would you rather, a stranger disciplining your kid or gently talking to you about why your kid’s behavior bothers you? The kids are innocent in all this and it’s the adults who need to be educated. To not do so is weak.

    36. Jules Says:

      “Did you come from a foreign country?” And I said “Nope, I came from [town where I live]….but I probably could have actually told the kid that that was an inappropriate question instead of just leaving her confused.”

      I don’t really see what is inappropriate about this question, coming from a 7 year-old. Sounds like a brave attempt to start a conversation to me.

    37. phil adamek Says:

      Can’t wait to try out GiantPanda’s two-legged approach.

      Reading all these responses, I wondered if other NJ experience kids just running away in apparent fear from them. That happens to me all the time, especially since I take daily walks. Kids hiding behind signs, dashing for the pedestrian bridge or running to the other end of it, screaming in (mock?) fear to one another, etc. This happens with greater frequency and intensity when I am alone; when I am accompanied by anyone else, even another NJ, somehow, the perceived threat is diffused.

      One time, however, I took a ukulele with me for no other reason than that it was nice out and I wanted to strum a few tunes while walking; and I swear you would have thought that I was Jesus of Nazareth the way kids gathered around me and walked alongside in undying curiosity and respectful attentiveness. No prying questions, no harsh epithets, just a kind of spontaneous togetherness. So, I guess what I’m saying here is that you should never underestimate the power of a ukulele to smooth over some of these problems.

      — I can vouch for Phil’s abilities as an underrated singer/songwriter. So can a lot of his rivals for girls overseas who underestimated his musical magnetism.

    38. Futureal Says:

      Unfortunately “a foreign country” rendered in Japanese is unclear on number and countability. “Gaikoku” usually sounds to my ears as if it’s thought of as a single place. It’s kind of hard to render how that sounds into English with its lack of precision intact.

    39. Kevin Says:

      actually I agree with those who say make funny comments back. Never, Never scold another person’s child. Unless you are in a position of authority or supervision, such as a teacher or babysitter.
      Another way to handle it is to say no “I’m human and you?”

    40. Malaya Says:

      You know, I read the two examples listed on the blog and I felt ambivalent.I think for Japan as it is today the children’s reaction listed here is to be totally expected. This is not exactly a case of discrimination although certainly it is a seed.

      I feel ambivalent is becuase these things can easily take on the didactic tone amongst discussants .. and I haven’t taken stats but those probably mostly white males and sometimes females (“I shall teach you Japanese of backward island nation”) (I’m just saying. Excuse me.) So how do you teach? That’s a good question. I think we need more permanent immigrants and minorities that are not afraid to make noise and shake up the status quo. Japan hasn’t gone through Civil Rights Movement yet and … probably she can use one.

      It is true that the J children needs an environment where they can develop more well-adjusted sensitivity or intelligence in the globalizing world about cultural, linguistic, ethnic, gender and sexual (etc.) diversity among human population on this planet — and also a place where he/she understands that Japan is a part of the larger continuum, not separate from it (to start, a complete education reform and the complete overhaul of 20c history curriculum). … See More

      I was that child once and the disadvantage I experienced because of this J insularity has been just too tremendous. Likely the kid who’s been told sometihng on the spot by this offended and well-meaning “gaijin”-san will continue to feel puzzled and be left with the feeling that “gaijins are scary.” “they get angry, why? what did i do?” I mean their parents don’t understand this in the first place on a fundamental level (other than hushing the child — not because the parent understand why she should but becasue she was scared of this angry gaijin and not wanting to make ripple waves), how the hell the child is supposed to know better?

      I think history curriculum overhaul is one important way to deal with this situation. What we need is a complete reform or more like something like revolution (without violence or blood) of mentality, culture and attitude. The society itself must be the change.

    41. MC Says:

      I think many kids are rude to anyone and everyone, and usually that’s not because they are evil or malicious but they simply hear and repeat what their parents and/or TV say. They don’t know how to sugar-coat what they want to say, either, which I think is the case with kids anywhere in the world. I see kids who are rude (to me) all the time and most of the time they don’t even know they are being offensive.

      When I was little one of my classmates said to our homeroom teacher, who was fresh out of college, that she was just a “hiyokko” (newbie). Without understanding the meaning of the word “newbie” I went home and told my parents what that friend said, which appalled my parents and they decided that the reason why she said that was because her parents were saying that at home, which must have been the case, since no 6-year-olds usually know or use such a word. I even think that the reason why she actually said that to our teacher is because she wanted to show off her new vocabulary without thinking how her remark might hurt our teacher’s feelings. Kids are that way. They look like angels and say the most hurtful things sometime.

      It is easy for you to think that they (kids) are being rude or offensive when you are already taking enough crap from adults, but like many people pointed out I think kids usually talk because they want attention and they are interested in you whether you like it or not. However, as they get older, things that remain untaught and other factors in their lives will mold them into adults with prejudice and unless they have parents with decency it’s usually tough to prevent that from happening, which is really sad and also difficult anyway. Japan may have a bigger population of NJ now compared to many years ago, but still Asian-looking people make up the biggest percentage. Consider Japan at least 100 years behind the States, if not 200. Unfortunately even adults with decency would probably not meet your expectations. “The mom shushed him and gave me an apologetic look” is the good example. Believe me, if she looked apologetic then she is rather decent compared to many Japanese folks. Just not up to our standard.

      I’ve never attended public schools so I don’t know much about what’s going on there, but there were several biracial kids in my class and when one girl said “You are different” to this girl with a Japanese father and an Irish mother, our teacher said “Everybody is the same in a sense that we are all God’s children” and since then nobody said anything about her being different in a curious, immature way. I guess I’m really glad I went to that catholic school where they taught me and my friends how to be a better person – I doubt they teach that in public schools.

      My husband is American so I know exactly how frustrating it is to be surrounded by all those ignorant people who think they are perfectly fine. Being angry and frustrated is the first step to make changes and make things better, but I hope you won’t get all worked up. I am an Asian-looking Japanese and I have to deal with all the same BS everyday just like you do. It’s not who you are, it’s who THEY are.

    42. Mark Hunter Says:

      Ken of post 33. That’s interesting re the college kids. Would you mind elaborating on exactly what you say to them to stop the silly “Haro’s”?

    43. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      “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.”

      Could you tell me the title (and possibly the airing time) of those shows?

      “Zenmai Zamurai” (already mentioned by Kimberly)a cartoon which features a big-nosed, blued-eyed individual by the name of Pierre, who has no nationality other than being foreign, speaks with a fake accent and uses mostly English words. One dimentional, sometimes portrayed as rich or popular with women. NHK E around 5:40

      “Ai mai main” (or “I My Mine”) occasionally has its animated sections feature foreign rivals to our heroine. Thus far, they have all had awful fake accents, and often unpleasant personalities (at least until our heroine fixes that part).
      NHK E following “Zenmai zamurai”

      “Piramkiino” has a section “Daru Ingurishu” – English with “Daru” (obviously a play on “darui”)
      “Daru” is an overweight American who dresses exclusively in grey sweats, is always stuffing lounging back while stuffing junk food into his face, and generally being too lazy to even teach the English he’s supposed to be teaching us.
      TV Tokyo, 6:30

    44. Doug Says:

      I have experienced this in a memorable way twice. For background info in both incidents I was with my kids (caucasian – one blonde hair blue eyes and the other blonde and brown).

      The first incident some Japanese kids were throwing pet bottles at my kids, laughing, and saying something about “gaijin”, what was even worse was the parents were watching and laughing too. This was not lost on my eldest (a ripe old 8 at the time). In this case we bypassed the kids and confronted the parents. I asked if they were in fact the parents of the kids. I then proceeded to ask what they thought was funny about their kids throwing bottles at my kids. Very red faces. I then asked my daughter to go back with the rest of the family and asked the Japanese father if he would like to “talk” about this further in private. Maybe over the top I do not know. He did not want to talk in private but about 10 minutes later I witnessed what appeared to be him receiving a dressing down from his wife (witnessed from about 100 meters away…wish I could have heard it). Next thing I kow is his kids were over apologizing to my wife and kids … even brought them some small toys.

      Second incident was when my kids and I were out with a new pet rabbit. Some small Japanese kids came over and were fascinated by the “kawaii usagi”. Out of nowhere one of the kids says, “gaijin kitanai ne”. The kid must have been 3 or 4 and was with an elder sibling. My son (known for his ability to – choose 1 – Get injured, Get dirty, Be a bit loud at times) was a bit dirty. Obviously the words came from the kids mouth but the thought was from elsewhere. My kids and I looked at each other but none of us said a word. In fact my son engaged this little guy and about 10 minutes later they are in the dirt digging a path and trying to get the rabbit to follow it. They were both “kitanai”. My daughter and I joined and she exclaimed “ima mina kitanai demo tanoshii ne”. Everyone laughted. Not sure if the young Japanese kid remembered the incident but if so I am sure it had much more impact than anything an adult (well…me) could have said.

      Surprisingly both ended well (in my opinion).

      I guess I share the opinion of some of the others here that racism is generally taught in the home and additionally in the media the kids are exposed to.

      If possible I say confront the parents and point out the obvious (maybe in a more polite way then I did). If not possible to confront the parents turn the other cheek, engage the kids, and demonstrate that we foreigners are not dangerous, obnoxious, dirty (well sometimes we are), scary and even sometimes fun to be around and hopefully a positive experience will come out of it.

      Anyway….those are my 2 most memorable experiences with kids – I have had others – staring – “gaijin kowai ne” (I am 187 cm and kind of kowai when I do not shave) – and other various eptithets that they thought I could not understand…ususally these are on trains or in public places so I just ignore them as the opportunity for a positive experience is not as great in those situations.

      Have a good weekend!

    45. Behan Says:

      It’s easier to forgive children who are rude but I just can’t understand the parents that do nothing about it.

    46. carl Says:

      # 35,

      “Gently talking” to me about why my kid’s behavior bothers them is completely different than some stranger telling me I’m a bad parent. “Excuse me, your son’s comment was a bit rude, don’t you think?” is worlds different than, “Excuse me, you’re a bad parent for letting him say such awful things.” Pardon me, but fuck you very much, bud! Nobody, BUT NOBODY, has the right to tell me I’m a bad parent…least of all some jackass on the street. Hell, maybe the people commenting on my parenting aren’t even parents themseves, so then how the hell would they know who is a good parent and who isn’t?

      Bringing someone else’s parenting into it is dangerous and rude.

      — Yes, it is, but parents aren’t infallible. I know this from personal experience, and it would have been nice if my evil parents had been publicly castigated sometimes for their awful parenting. But thanks to this “don’t interfere with other parents’ parenting” attitude, they managed to get away with child abuse. Anyway, sorry to digress, but I suggest we not talk in absolutes here. There are ways to phrase it, but we can’t treat children as one person’s (or couple’s) property to do with as they please when we’re talking about social interactions here.

      And yes, parents ourselves or not, we do know better than others how we feel and how other people’s (including children’s) words affect people of differences. We should let them know. Phrase it carefully, yes, but I think we should not assume we have absolutely no business coaching others on proper social behavior if it is tantamount to addressing their parenting skills.

      Just my opinion, and sorry if it rankles. But I know from firsthand experience what the code of polite silence can do to kids in extreme circumstances.

    47. Tony In Saitama Says:

      To GiantPanda @ #27

      In response to a shout of “GAIJIN DA”, spinning around in mock surprise and shouting back “DOKO DA!?” has also got some enjoyable responses.

      To GiantPanda/Debito @ #32
      >so you can’t always assume that it is the parent’s >latent racism rubbing off on the child.

      >– I’m not sure anyone explicitly has.

      I think in most cases it is safe to assume that is where they learned the word, and how to tell the difference. Although it is not always a negative image that is conveyed.

      — I would agree. I just consider it more intellectually honest to assert something oneself rather than assert that somebody else has said it (when nobody up to that point IIRC had). Anyway, now somebody has, continuing the discussion…

    48. ken44 Says:

      Mark Hunter #42 asks: —That’s interesting re the college kids. Would you mind elaborating on exactly what you say to them to stop the silly “Haro’s”?——-

      Although this thread deals with children I find it sad if not pathetic that many comments could easily be found in Japanese college setting. O.k. so what to do: You walk into class and a student shouts out a smart-alecky HARO with a big smile on his face causing the students around him to giggle. (Experience has taught me you either put this class clown down immediately or expect such behavior to continue.) I don’t smile or make any attempt to go along with the gag. I just walk over to the student and tell him that’s rude. Now just to make sure everyone understands I then pass out a sheet with the class rules specifically spelling out that laughing at other students, mocking the teacher or other rude behavior will not be tolerant and if you don’t think they can obey such rules perhaps it’s best to find another elective class.

    49. Mark Hunter Says:

      Carl, to avoid any ambiguity, in my opinion any parent who does not admonish their child for shouting / saying “gaijin da”, is a bad parent, period. If the gentle approach to the parent does not result in an apology, then they need to hear in blunter terms that their parenting skills are suspect. Anything else is pathetically weak and all too symptomatic of those who feel they have to suck up discriminatory garbage. I would certainly not want the child to hear this conversation so I might gently urge the parent aside and in a very quiet voice do it.

    50. Kimberly Says:

      Regarding disciplining other people’s children… I agree that if another adult actually got angry with my kids, or said something to the effect of “You are a very rude little boy,” etc, yes that would bother me, and I don’t think that’s the best response.

      But if my son made a comment about someone who was blind, for example, and the person stopped to explain what it meant to be blind and that he/she was exactly like everyone else except that he/she couldn’t see, etc… I would be grateful that my child had had that experience to interact with someone who was different, and to learn that that person was only different in that one small way, and otherwise capable of having a nice chat on the train or whereever like anyone else.

      Obviously not all parents feel the same way about EITHER of those situations.

      And regarding the little girl who chose to open with “gaikoku kara kita no?” I wouldn’t be as bothered by that if she had said hi first, or if she had already been playing with my son or with me… OPENING a conversation with that seems a little strange. I wouldn’t have randomly walked up to her and said “Hey, are you from Osaka?” or something. Also, the way she asked the question she COULD have either meant “were you BORN in gaikoku?” or “did you come from gaikoku to the community center today?” I probably should have said “Well, I was born in… but now I live in this neighborhood and we come to play here a lot ,how about you?” or something… its hard to overcome the gut reaction of “That has nothing to do with you, get lost” reaction that years of dealing with adults have built up… :-S

      — But it’s not only having to come up with this response tree, but also enforce it every single day with every single person with consistency and detail, is what tires people out. And makes people take annoyed and angry shortcuts.

    51. Olaf Says:

      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!

    52. let`s talk Says:

      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.

    53. carl Says:

      # 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. :) )

    54. 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.

    55. Joe Says:

      @ 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.

    56. CJ Says:

      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.”

    57. Shiro Ishii Says:

      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!

    58. 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.

    59. Sean Says:

      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 :-)

    60. snowman Says:

      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.

    61. AET Says:

      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.

    62. Jake Says:

      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.

    63. Behan Says:

      #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.

    64. Chris Says:

      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…”

    65. Rob Says:

      @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.

    66. Rob Says:

      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.

    67. Tom Says:

      [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.

    68. Kimberly Says:

      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.

    69. Rob Says:

      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.

      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!

    70. 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.

    71. Rob Says:

      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.

    72. Tamsin Says:

      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.

    73. Hoofin Says:

      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.

    74. AET Says:


      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.

    75. Behan Says:

      #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)

    76. GlitterBerri Says:

      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.

    77. 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.

    78. Mark Hunter Says:

      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.

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