Sunday, September 28, 2003
gaikoku-jin. foreigner, lit. "outside country person".
chugoku-jin. chinese, lit . "middle kingdom person".
amerika-jin. american, lit. "american person"
So when I was on AIM yesterday, many people asked me what it was like being in Japan so far. Honestly, in many ways, it was what I expected. For one thing, coming to Japan, as a Chinese American/Asian American, I knew that automatically I would be different from your average Japanese citizen.
I thought people would identify me readily as a foreigner from the way I dress and the way I look, but since I'm Asian, everyone automatically assumes I'm Japanese. But as soon as I speak more than handful of Japanese words or phrases, or a Japanese person tries to carry on a full conversation with me... that's when they realize I'm not Japanese. This is quite confusing to them until I bust out this sentence which often helps to clear up confusion...
Sumimasen... watashi-wa chugoku-jin to amerika-jin desu.
(My apologies... I'm American and Chinese.)
I guess the irony is that in America, I'm a minority because of my physical appearance, even when I speak English, the language of the majority. While here in Japan my physical appearance may make seem to be a part of the majority, but I'm a minority in the fact that I can't speak Japanese (well).
Minority status from one part of the world to the other... too funny.
I guess if you're Asian American, you really don't have a "home" where everybody looks Asian and speaks English. I guess the only places I can think of like that are Hawai'i or Singapore.
But I digress... looking Asian/Japanese does have its advantages. Unlike America, I don't get maddogged when I walk around the street or followed around in malls because I'm non-white. Here, people just treat me the same as they would any other average person. Equal treatment given to me simply because of the way I look - it's experience I used to only get going to Chinatown back in Seattle.
Supposedly, the Japanese are notorious xenophobes, but so far my experiences here in Kobe have been pretty nice. I guess it could be a number of factors - the large amounts of foreigners here in Kobe, the fact that I look Japanese (they assume I'm Nikkei), or heck, maybe it's just the good customer service Japan is famous for (so far the majority of Japanese I've dealt with are train station personnel, shopkeepers, restaurant workers).
But yeah... after four days, my judgement so far: being a minority here in Japan has been much better for day-to-day living than being a minority in the US. I'm sure I'll have more stories later.
Latest different things I've noticed about Japan (compared to the US):
1. Most toliets have two flush modes: small flush and BIG flush. The big flush is pretty big... definitely it'll take care of any thermonuclear, ELE b0mbs a person might drop.
2. Lamps seem to have multiple settings: a lot of light, some light, night light, and no light. At least all the lights in my apartment are like this.
3. Japanese TV: It's definitely as wacky and exaggerated as everyone thinks it is. THe oddest thing I've noticed: they love to have pop-up subtitles emphasizing phrases and words, as the speaker is speaking them. Big, colorful subtitles in bright colors like pink and yello. Like whoa.
4. Cars: Like everything else in Japan versus America, most of the cars are really small. This is the land of sub-compacts and hatchbacks. Scooters/Vespas are very popular here too, while the amount of motorcyles seems to be around the same percent as the US. Very rarely do I see sedans or large cars... so far, I haven't seen a single SUV! Awesome.
5. Clean streets: Maybe I just haven't visited the ghetto here in Japan, but the streets are almost devoid of litter - no old newspapers, bottles, plastic bags, wrappers... everyone is pretty good at dumping their stuff. I guess it helps that waste cans are easy to find and are everywhere.
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