Shiso Corner: 5 Ways Foreigners are Insulted in Japan

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Taken outside a Thai restaurant in Okinawa.

Taken outside a Thai restaurant in Okinawa.

Saw this article posted on Facebook and thought it was interesting enough to share. It’s titled “Foreigners who live in Japan speak out! 5 irritating things Japanese people say”. I thought it was a nice change of pace from more typical sentiments like “Americans! When will they stop getting drunk and breaking our stuff?” or “Weeaboo arrives in Japan, confused why everything isn’t a maid café”.

Here’s the article, broken down:

1. “Can you eat (this)?”
Using natto* as an example, many Japanese speakers phrase the question as “Can you eat natto?” This is kind of a vague question to most English speakers, because technically most people can eat natto, but choose not to because of personal preference. So the question should be rephrased as “Do you like natto?”, which is ultimately the question being asked.


2. “Do you have four seasons in your country?”
Ha, I didn’t even know this was a thing. So, Japan loves its seasons. A lot of the year’s events are punctuated by seasonal events like sakura viewing parties, summer fireworks, school festivals, and New Year’s celebrations. Even KFC menus are seasonal (and, for whatever reason, are especially tied to Christmas). Aaand for some reason this gives many Japanese people the inaccurate notion that other countries don’t have seasons the way they do. I don’t know what else to say. The article literally explains that others countries do, in fact, have four seasons.

It also expands on the previous point, which is to avoid being vague about the questions being asked. The English used by Japanese speakers are often too simple and lack vital information to get the point across. Since Japanese is a highly contextual language, using a brief sentence to ask a more nuanced question is common, but confusing to English speakers.


3. “Can you do it?”
Case in point. Questions like “can you sleep on a futon?” and “can you sit seiza-style**?” are…kinda insulting. More often than not the actual intent behind the question isn’t whether you can do something, but rather if you are okay with doing it.


4. Calling out to foreigners in a public space
Since learning English is so hyped up in Japan, a lot of people try to practice it whenever they can – and sometimes that means calling out to unsuspecting foreigners while out and about. This is problematic because they’re assuming that all foreigners speak English, or that they can’t speak Japanese. Moreover it gives the impression that the foreigner is only being used as practice, and, y’know, not treated like an actual person. Instead, those who want to practice speaking English are encouraged to do so in environments where everyone’s on the same level of approachability, such as a party.

Story time! I have a friend in Okinawa who became a fluent English speaker by talking to U.S. marines at bars. She now has a crazy foul mouth and purposely speaks with a British accent.


5. If you talk to foreigners…
…look at them! This one was taken from the author’s own personal account, being married to a French man. Whenever they’re out together, people will ask him questions, but look at her for answers. She does not experience this when going out with her Chinese friend, who speaks less Japanese. Scandalous!


Enlightening, huh? Although this was used as a guide to help Japanese people avoid conversational faux pas, it’s kind of cool to read about it from the other side.


*Dunno what natto is? It’s a gooey fermented soy bean concoction that leaves most people divided, and consequently makes for one of the most common ice breakers in Japanese conversations. I personally can’t stand it.
** Seiza is when you sit with your legs folded underneath you.

2 Comments

thesis writing

Yes, there are a lot of uncomfortable questions for the foreigners, but you have to be ready for that. Just explain and everything wiil be okey!

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