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Chuck SandyAug. 19, 2012 - 07:42AM JST
Interestingly once you start feeling like you fit in, walking in a way that says "i am here" and making the same sort of eye-contact with others in the way that eye contact is made or not made in Japan while saying the right thing in the way things are said or not said, you will find that you have this conversation less often even to the point of never having it. We so often read this kind of article, and sometimes with great pleasure because you are a wonderfully talented writer whose voice shines through this piece. However, what might make it more interesting is the self-awareness to realize that you are writing about yourself in Japan and the particular and specific experience of a particular newcomer. Generalizations are dangerous and so often untrue. If you stop to think this through a bit, you will find that what these people with these questions are responding to is not the shape of your eyes or the color of your hair or your voice or the shade of your skin: they are responding to the outsider-status you give yourself. You might think I am wrong, but please take a moment to think about your essay again and its purpose. Is it to inform others of the way Japanese are or is to make others laugh and feel entertained or is it to present yourself as a person in the know or maybe something else? I cannot generalize for I do not know you, but once you start looking for it you'll see it everywhere and not just in Japan. A foreigner walks into a shop and is feeling out of place, unsure what to do, and immediately the shop keeper thinks "outsider" and begins acting in some way he/she feels is a way to accommodate and mediate the "otherness" who has just walked in. This happens in small town America, neighborhood pubs in London, and well, everywhere. A month later, this same "foreigner" walks into the shop next door after having unconsciously learned how to stand, walk, and what to say and then this person is no longer an outsider, but a person on their way inside, and is treated accordingly. Walk into that shop in small town America like you're lost and say nervously "how much is that bag?" and you'll be treated like an outsider. Walk into that same shop, greet the person with some comment about the weather or with the right bit of small talk before asking any questions and you'll be treated like someone who knows what's what. In Japan, one gets these questions when they're new and a bit nervous, and it may feel offensive or intrusive or wrong, and it may seem wrong of me to say "that's the way it is" but it is, and of course in every culture the world over there are rude and insensitive people who ask and say the wrong things sometimes but could I give you a small task? Write this article again for yourself three months, six months, and a year from now and pay attention to how things have changed for you. If you're still having the same experience, then I'll admit i am wrong in your case. I suspect, though, that if you do this task with an open mind that you will discover some differences in the way you are treated because of the unconscious learning you'll have done along the efforts you make to be a part of things. Meanwhile, I hope to see more of your writing but I do hope you will learn to understand that stereotyping serves no real purpose except to perpetuate a stereotype while perhaps relegating yourself in the eyes of many readers as an outsider on his way in. Good luck with the journey. It can be a great process really.
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