Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bird shit on a tanned shoe

One thing that I was forewarned of before traveling to the land of people with black hair and tanned skin was that being a foreigner, people would stare at me. Some people seemed to enjoy the looks they got when they were here while others disliked them, but they all agreed that while they were in Japan, people looked at them. And they weren't wrong - I have been stared at on multiple occasions.

Like today when I visited a church (which incidentally was really cool, more on that later). Pretty much every little kid within eyesight would just ogle at me with these huge eyes, and if you made eye contact and smiled they would immediately turn away with this huge grin on their face and excitedly tell their mum that the strange white guy looked at them. But this wasn't the type of staring the people were talking about before I left - this is just what kids do. Kids stare at people because they're interesting, and make associations based on how people respond which will probably stay with them for the rest of their life. Eventually it gets hammered out of them, but have you noticed how much easier kids make friends than older people? Have you ever thought its because they're not afraid to make eye contact, or even worse actually talk to someone new?

Of course, just because you make eye contact doesn't mean you want to make friends or talk to somebody new. I also had people staring at me when I went to one of the big local parks during the middle of the day. Partly because of Japan's aging population and partly because of the time of day I decided to go out, every person I walked past seemed to be and old person trying to keep fit by running the jogging track at about a meter per minute. And, as you'd expect for people who were probably alive when us foreigners were bombing their homes, they stared at me. That said, if I was a Japanese person walking through a retirement village in certain suburbs of Perth, I'd be pretty happy if all the residents did was stare at me. Even having someone yell "go back to your own country" could be getting off lightly at times.

When you think about it, it kind of makes sense too that people would stare at me - I stand out look bird shit on a tanned shoe. I dress differently, my hair isn't black, I have pasty white skin, my facial features probably look like a car accident for someone who is used to the Japanese physique, and that's just what a mere foreigner like me notices. I probably smell horrible too. However, funnily enough when I actually got here, apart from the two above-mentioned occasions I barely noticed a single look. This isn't to say that people won't look at me - if you sat and stared at them for long enough you'd realize that a lot of people will sort of take a quick glance at you and sometimes the older people would give you a bit of a glare. However, if I sat and glared at a white person on a Perth train they'd probably also give me a strange look.

Speaking of which, I must confess that when I lived in Perth, I'd always end up staring at Asian people on the bus and train while trying to figure out if they were Japanese, Korean, Chinese, etc. Of course I tried my best to not make it too obvious, but I can't help but feel that all those people on the train thought I was staring at them because they were different, just like so many foreigners here in Japan complain about. But really, at the end of the day, people in Japan don't stare any more than people in Australia. And people in Japan have a reason to stare as well - Japan's reputation for multiculturalism doesn't actually exist. Really, at the end of the day, I wonder if the people who spread the rumor about Japanese people staring realize that to notice it they were obviously looking themselves?

1 comment:

  1. Just so you know people are still reading these, just not commenting