Encounters of the foreign kind

Chavez’s article left me with mixed feelings. Living in foreign countries, everybody will have certainly felt that he or she is supposed to be discriminated against to some extent, but according to Chavez and the opinions of my foreign friends, they tend to feel this way more often in Japan than in other developed countries. There are a few reasons for this:

First, Japanese people have a strong view about how Japanese people look, so they also believe that they can easily tell Japanese from other people on the street. That view often misleads them.

Second, a lot of Japanese people are so convinced that they must speak perfect English in conversations with foreigners that their behavior becomes timid, unnatural and, sometimes, very strange in front of a foreigner. Sometimes a foreigner takes this reaction as irrational discrimination.

Finally, some Japanese people, usually senior citizens, have gotten used to American culture and movies so much that they have formed a strong stereotype of Caucasians. This stereotype derives from a kind of admiration for them, which could lead to discrimination against non-Caucasians.

As Chavez’s essay points out, Japanese people are neither racist nor xenophobic, but they have yet to get used to foreigners and foreign cultures. Most developed countries have accepted immigrants from other countries in order to secure a labor force that will sustain economic growth, while they’ve had to learn how to deal with foreign people, their customs and their troubles.

It is evident that Japanese will have to accept more immigrants sometime in the future to shore up Japan’s economy and its social welfare system. If they can succeed at this, I suppose their peculiar ineptness toward foreigners will improve dramatically.

shuichi john watanabe

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.