I can describe the moment I realized I would always stand out in Japan. I had gone skiing in Hiroshima Prefecture. Covered head to toe in a hat, scarf, jacket, gloves, pants, and boots, no part of my hair, eyes, or skin was visible, save my nose. Despite my above average height, I thought this would be the one time I could be guaranteed to see the country as a Japanese person does. However, while skiing down the mountain at an unsafe velocity, I could still hear someone shouting “HELLO!”

Foreigners don’t have to try and stand out when they’re in Japan, but US citizens have certain tells that distinguish them from your average overseas visitor.

1. Volume

This isn’t limited to Japan; US citizens in general have difficulty coming to terms with the fact the majority of people in the world do not shout to get attention in certain situations or their default volume is set on high. It’s actually not the worst I’ve heard — that honor goes to some old ladies on a ferry between Shanghai and Osaka — but it’s certainly up there.

2. You keep highlighting differences, rather than similarities.

Maybe it’s because the United States is just naturally awesome (for some of us), but whether you’re just vacationing for a few days or living abroad long term, one thing that never fails is for US citizens to start making comparisons, usually when something is not to our liking.

Rather than simply appreciating the things that are the same in Japan, we (myself included, sadly) tend to point out the obvious: Japanese sweets skimp on butter and sugar (as opposed to: “this is a good snack!”); everyone has black hair (not even true anymore); the bugs are so much bigger than those at home (stop making comparisons and run away from that hornet!).

3. Complaining about overtime.

Even if you don’t work in Japan, you probably have strong opinions on unpaid overtime and show your disgust with Japanese friends. While I highly doubt any Japanese man, woman, or child appreciates being asked to stay late, there’s not nearly as much pushback towards a system that is literally responsible for the destruction of the country as there is from US citizens and other foreign workers accustomed to getting paid for the hours they work. We might go ballistic at being worked through dinner, while another nationality might simply say “that’s just the way it is…”

4. Lamenting the lack of GOOD pizza.

New York or Chicago style; it doesn’t matter. Unless you’re near a major city like Tokyo or Osaka and find a place with a wood-burning oven and real cheese (I recommend Two Dogs with comedy), you’re going to be just another American complaining about a lack of this staple comfort food. Domino’s just doesn’t cut it.

5. Anger at not getting traditional holidays off.

It’s just a coincidence that Thanksgiving is also a holiday in Japan this year — it’s fixed on November 23rd. Christmas Day won’t be recognized either, though many couples reserve a table at KFC for date night with fried chicken… I only wish I were kidding.

6. You become a bit of a hypocrite.

You’re a US citizen. You’re from one of the most diverse countries on the planet visiting Japan, one of the least. You like to preach strength from diversity, but still make assumptions based on race: that anyone who doesn’t “look Japanese” (whatever that means these days) is just visiting and/or knows English.

Japan will be hosting the Olympics in a few years. Hopefully by that time, the country won’t be inundated with thousands of US citizens accosting every Asian-looking person to ask where the nearest bathroom is.

View 1 comment