You’re not from round ‘ere, are you? (part 3)

In this last post regarding general foreignness I will tackle the most confounding and egregious group of miscreants and mountebanks you’ll ever face in Japan: other foreigners.

It seems the largest part of the immigrant community works in the English teaching industry, and an industry it is too. I’d be the first to admit that teaching is a noble profession and I am sure there are a great many of them in Japan who take it very seriously and take great pride in their work. The sad truth is however that many foreigners with no other qualifications end up as English teachers as the only requirement seems to be to be able to speak English. Language schools, called eikaiwas, and real schools in need of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) end up hiring any old reprobate, and as skill doesn’t come into it, it attracts the most worthless in society.
Lurk on any eikaiwa forum and you’ll be drenched in a flood of vitriol and hatred that would shame our own industry’s best attempts. As such the English teacher is placed firmly at the bottom of the foreign community’s food chain. It is a perfect job for young graduates or people needing a transitory job just to get settled in Japan, but if you try to make a career out of it, well, you might as well just give up right now. If you ever meet an older English teacher the smell of failure just oozes from their pores. The professional English teachers get a bad rap in the face of all these crowds, poor souls. Be nice to any English teacher you meet, but as soon as they start talking about “banging chicks” or refer to their salaries in “dollars” rather than yen, it may be prudent to back off a little.

Discussions that seem to occupy newcomers to Japan are things like the value of “gaijin” over “gaikokkujin”, or whether or not it is impolite not to greet other foreigners in the street who feel they have an intimate connection to you because you share the same skin pigment make-up. There also seems to be a strange kind of one-upmanship related to longevity; how long you have spent in Japan directly relates to your perceived status. For the first few years you’re supposed to be very impressed if someone has been in Japan a little longer than you, until you eventually realize it really doesn’t mean anything at all.
I know, I know, I have made an issue out of it in the sidebar in what goes for a “profile” blurb. In my defense I just mentioned it to lend some credibility to my blog; to show I am not one of those newcomers who just loves everything about Japan, and so that readers can take the whiff o bitterness with a pinch of salt.

Newcomers to Japan always feel they themselves discovered the country and somehow have a sole claim to it. This is fairly natural, it’s an exotic place to most westerners. Though the foreign population is fairly big (according to some figures around 130,000 foreigners are resident in Japan, and that’s Numberwang!), because we look so different from the rather homogenous Japanese we stick out like a sore thumb. And any foreigner you spot drags you out of your little dream world and makes you realize you really aren’t that special over here either.
Those foreigners intent on pursuing their doomed ambition of total integration especially have a thing against other foreigners. They treat them with disdain and prefer to pretend their Japanese acquaintances are their new close friends. They will refuse to speak English and if forced to help out other foreigners in difficulty will make sure to make them feel like unworthy little slugs. This particular breed of foreigner is easily avoided and ignored. They seek solace and solitude amongst the Japanese and will try to avoid you at all cost.

There are several communities of specific foreigners in Japan. From parties at embassies to club meetings, as well as a group of selected foreigners all connected to the game industry; some working in it, some with only a tenuous connection, but all very passionate. Some smaller grouping of industry foreigners too meet up for a drink and a bitch on occasion. Once you move over here you should make a little bit of an effort to get in touch with these, which shouldn’t take long. Though your first instinct may be to try and integrate, eventually having connections to foreign friends and acquaintances will be very valuable, as you’ll need the mental and alcoholic support these offer.
No man is an island but the lone foreigner in Japan may get lost at sea on occasion.


  1. When are you planning on making a post about the specifics of your move to Japan?

  2. What do you specifically wan to hear?

  3. andrew khosravianSunday, October 01, 2006

    What was your motivation for moving across the globe for (I'm assuming) a reduction in pay, to live in a foreign culture, and how did your first few weeks go?

  4. I agree, that would be interesting to know. You've given us some great information jc but it would be cool to hear about your motivations.

  5. I didn't think anybody'd be interested, but ok, I'll try to write something up one of these days.

  6. That's numberwang! Brilliant :)

    So you obviously like watching British tv... do you ever watch much Japanese tv?

  7. Japanese TV is bloody awful. On occasion there were a few good shows but they have all since finished. I'm hoping for a return for "Ai no Apron", thicko talentos fail to cook, "bimbo-somethingorother-", a look and a laugh at how the pporest in society live and "London Boots" with their honey-trapping cheaing spouses and cage battles between fighting couples.