I love talking to people about my international experiences. My adventures are always met with excitement and I can see the eyes of my peers gloss over as they imagine what life would be like in my shoes. While I do have some exciting instagram worthy moments, they’re also balanced out with some more… stressful endeavors.
As a black women I’m used to being singled out. I think most black people can relate to being the only person of color in a largely homogenous space. I understood what I signed up for before coming here. I knew that Japan was a 99% homogenous community, so I’m always going to stick out like a sore thumb. But there’s a difference between purposefully attracting attention to yourself and being singled out constantly.
As an introvert living abroad feels extra daunting because, I don’t love constant attention. And most days attention seems to be inescapable. I’m in no rush to run back to America but there are some things I could live without over here.
Imagine walking into a room and having everyone stare at you. Now imagine that happening everyday. That same uncomfortable feeling you just had is the same feeling I have everyday. It’s a general rule in Japanese society that it’s impolite to stare but that rule seems to disappear when it comes to foreigners. No matter where I go I can’t seem to escape the leering eyes of a Japanese person. On the train, at the mall, at the park there is always someone trying to catch me in action. Some people will at least acknowledge their staring and wave a little. Others will keep their eyes on you to the point that you feel like you need to go home.
Can you eat sushi, sashimi, Japanese food, etc?
Can you use chopsticks?
Where are you from?
Do you have (generic Japanese thing) in your country?
Your Japanese is so good.
And the list goes on. I know that it all comes from a place of general curiosity. Japanese people are very underexposed to foreigners so asking these painfully generic questions is just their way of being friendly. Most foreigners don’t speak Japanese and there are plenty of things that you can only find in Japan. However it’s 2018 and the internet exists. A lot of foreigners are more exposed to Japanese culture than Japanese people tend to think.
Yes, Japanese is a very hard language to learn. Yes there are many tidbits of Japanese culture that are hard to adjust too. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t take care of myself. I’m an adult, not a child. And part of being an adult is adapting and adjusting to your environment. It’s ridiculous that after two years of being here people still ask if I can read hiragana. Or even when I’m having a conversation and sometimes someone will say “Maybe you don’t understand but…” why continue to talk to me if you think I don’t understand you?! Or at least at that point try to make sure you got your point across, not just write it off as a lost cause.
Being the “Token Black”
Experiencing the world as a black person is interesting. It’s as fun as it is terrifying but I wouldn’t trade my skin color for anything else in the world. I love that living in Japan I’m seen as an American first before my skin color. And while I don’t necessarily have to wear my ethnicity on my sleeve there are plenty of moments here when I have to wear my color first. Reminding people that admiring black culture isn’t the same thing as respecting black culture. Saying N**** even outside of Japan is still offensive, and blackface is never flattering.
Meeting “Token Foreigners”
If there’s anything I hate more than Japanese people explaining everything to me, it’s a foreigner explaining Japanese culture to me. With Japanese people it at least comes off as helpful, but from other foreigners it comes off more as condescending. And it’s not every foreigner it’s a specific type. The people who go out of their way to only make Japanese friends. It’s the person who makes you feel bad that your Japanese isn’t at native fluency. They even go the extra mile to model all their mannerisms after Japanese people. They constantly remind you of how long they’ve stayed here or studied in Japan. I wish they knew that no one cares.
This is by far the most irritating thing about living overseas. People will try to take pictures of you with or without your consent. Most people will at least ask to take a picture with you. Others will just try to sneak you into the frame anyway they can. And while I appreciate that some people are excited to meet foreigners, I would love it if people respected my need for privacy more than their need for instagram clout.
While I love living in Japan, the benefits certainly out way the consequences. But these are just somethings I wish I didn’t have to deal with on a regular basis. While my friends and co-workers understand, I can’t force everybody to see me as simply a person who’s trying to live.
What about you? Have you faced any microagressions while living abroad? Or maybe you deal with them in your own back yard. Leave your comments below and let me know your thoughts.