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  • Writer's pictureJason Capp

As a Foreigner in Japan

Japan is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world, and the fact that it is an island country means it is more secluded than your average nation. What is it like to be a foreigner in a country like this?

Bill Murray from the film "Lost in Translation"

Being a foreigner in Japan is a multi-sided die. Each side of the die can represent a different feeling while living here, but one thing is for certain. It never feels quite natural.

A lot of that has to do with Japan's natural setting. It is quite the homogeneous country, with foreigners only representing about 1.3% of the country's population. It is no surprise then that many Japanese may feel awkward or even intimidated by the presence of foreigners.

Over the last few years, Japan has also seen a rise in foreign residents and a rise in Japanese nationals leaving to work in other countries around the world. In a Pew Research poll in 2018, nearly 60% of Japanese thought these nationals leaving to work overseas was a "moderately/very big problem", and with the rise of foreign residents happening as well, many Japanese see a slow drip process of Japanese nationals decreasing and foreigners increasing.

The swap is quite interesting, too. For most foreigners, coming to Japan is a dream come true and an escape from the difficulties of one's home country. For Japanese leaving to work overseas, it is to escape the horrible work culture in Japan and earn a better pay for doing the same work.

Although foreign residency is on the rise in Japan, it is still incredibly difficult to feel like a resident in a country that seemingly does not accept your image or behavior.

As a resident in Tokyo for over ten years now, I still feel like an outsider in just about every setting outside of my home. The restaurants that I frequent still speak to me like a child, many acquaintances continue to make passive aggressive compliments like "You're Japanese is so good!", strangers speak about me in Japanese to hide what they are saying (Believing that I cannot understand them), and although I ride the same trains and buses just about every day, the same people still stare at me like I am some kind of zoo animal that escaped from my cage.

Despite those constant subtle aggresses, Japan is a wonderful place to live as a foreigner. It provides every service you could possibly need, and although the language barriers can be difficult at times, most Japanese will work tooth and nail to provide the care and help you desire.

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo

One thing I want to make very clear in this post is that Japan is a wonderful culture and nation. Like with any country, though, Japanese do struggle with a change of identity. With more and more foreigners entering the country, Japan will have to face some harsh realities, and some of those realities are going to take some real adjustment. That is going to take the most time and will be severely difficult for many nationals.

Although my family and I have faced many stresses in our time here, we still love this country and everything it has to offer. We believe with all of our hearts that Japan is on a trajectory of strong foreign influence. How that happens depends solely on how the Japanese accept this reality and find ways to integrate other cultures into their own.

In the meantime, I will continue to share my culture and love the Japanese as best as I possibly can. Building bridges of understanding in this country the last decade has been a true gift, and I look forward to what the future has to offer this unique and magnificent place.

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