Let’s face it, with a population that is almost entirely homogeneous Japan isn’t exactly well versed on different nationalities or the phenomenon of diverse cultures interacting as is the case in the United States. This creates a certain divide between Japanese people and those who look different from them, with the derogatory term gaijin being used (short for gaikokujin – foreigner). In general Japanese people treat others with politeness, unless one is rude and loud as many foreigners and in particular American tourists are. However this post is not so much about Japanese attitudes about foreigners, rather this post is about me and how Japanese perceptions of what it means to be America shaped my interactions with nihonjin.
Why, you might ask, the post about yourself? Well for one I am from the United States but outside of the U.S. people might not necessarily tell that I am because of my appearance. I do not look like the “typical American”, you know those portrayed in Hollywood movies with their blonde hair and blue eyes and tall stature. Nope, when people look at me what they see is a tanned-skinned foreigner that is slightly above the average height of Japanese males. Perhaps they might think I am Indian or Pakistani.
You can image the surprise of some people when I tell them that I am American and am in fact not of any South Asian descent but rather have parents from Mexico. You can also imagine their surprise when I tell them that we don’t speak mekishikogo (Mexican) there but rather we speak spaingo (Spanish). So as I said Japan isn’t super well-versed on different cultures and countries but I can’t necessarily blame them because there’s even people in the U.S. that are ignorant about these details.
While I might be seen differently from other foreigners, it also allowed me to share part of my culture and experiences with people that other foreigners might not be able to share. In effect I was able to share my views on both the U.S. and Mexico, their differences, history, relationship and most importantly food. In addition the fact that I am quite, accepting of others, willing to learn and have some level of Japanese also worked in my favor because I was automatically viewed in a positive light due to having “a Japanese character”; that is to say I was not the average gaijin that people tend to encounter. I for one take pride in having served as an ambassador for both the country I culturally identify with, as well as for the country I call home.