The unbearable seeing of likeness

What do you do, back in the old country, when you are introduced to someone you are in awe of, especially physically? Say you meet the young Elvis or are introduced to a woman of such Aphrodisian beauty she invades the very fibre of your being? Obviously, the correct answer is that you do nothing. You stay silent, hide your feelings and stay away. Possibly, using the "was sich liebt, das neckt sich" tactic you make some horribly badly judged jokes at their expense. Then you go home, alone and full of self loathing and cry yourself to sleep. I think we can all agree this is the accepted form of social intercourse in these kinds of situations. True feelings and emotional reactions have no place in polite society.

Not so in Japan. For a country that puts great stock in avoiding embarrassment they seem awfully keen on jumping on every opportunity to tell the foreigner in their life how cool they are. "What was your name again? JC? Wow, that is so cool!" or "Wow, you really are handsome!" are phrases I have heard, ad nauseam and exclusively in Japan. It stems from "gaijin envy", the feeling a lot of Japanese have towards their clich├ęd and misguided view that foreigners are somehow superior to themselves. And it's not just the women looking for a rich husband to get them a greencard either, men too sometimes feel compelled to praise your every action as somehow excellent and praiseworthy. "You have a katakana name-stamp? That is so cool!" "JC, I wish I had such cool long legs as you!" My face has even been described as "noble" and, less excitedly, "royal".

It's balderdash, of course. Even in my most narcissistic moments I am well aware the Japanese view of me and actuality are vastly different. My first instinct is to say "What? Are you mad? What the Hell is wrong with you people?" but by then my British sense of self-loathing and embarrassment are already too keen. You can't very well say "Yeah, thanks. I am actually pretty cool, aren't I?" So you just end up smiling politely, waving your hand and saying "No, no, really, no", which more often than not leads to reiterations and strong confirmations of their mistakenly held opinions.

My biggest bugbear is the inevitable comparison to well-known cultural references, i.e. film stars, whom they believe you resemble. I myself have been on the receiving end of comparisons to the following people, none of whom, I can safely say, I resemble in the slightest.
Left to right, top to bottom: Actor Edward Norton, big-faced Tom Hanks, professional twat Leonardo Cappuccino, raging loon Robert DeNiro, manic street preacher James Dean Bradfield, never-was Robbie Williams, HRH the Prince of Wales, crusty TV teenager Luke Perry

Between the few readers whom have had the misfortune to meet me in person and those still left in the dark one must admit the only thing any of the above have in common, including myself, is the small fact that none of us are Japanese. And most surprisingly, all of these comparisons were offered entirely without sarcasm as compliments.

The very first time I encountered such blatant racial blindness was in fact during my very first trip to Japan. I was seated at a small table in a downtown okonomiyaki restaurant, eyes agog and mouth agape at the wonders of Tokyo, when an elder woman at the next time leaned to my dinner guest. The woman was dressed up in a kimono while her husband wore a faded gray suit; it was obviously a special occasion for them. With a shy grin on her face she said something in Japanese which was translated to me as “noble face”. “Nobu fe-su” the woman echoed, giggling and pointing her hand, palm upwards, in my direction. I lost a lot of respect for the Japanese that day.

One can imagine a lesser person may fall hook, line and sinker for this constant pedestal putting uponing, but I am fortunate in having a local circle of friends, a wife, a family and family-in-law who see me as a constant source of ridicule and derision, so my feet shall remain firmly on terra firma. Also, there is the occasional racist to remind me I am subhuman scum so not all Japanese think I look like whom they think I look alike. And if they persist, I shall compare them all to Jackie Chan, including the women, because this has proven to be a successful tactic in this embarrassing social situation.

7 comments:

  1. I dunno, you do kinda look like that young Robert DeNiro pic...

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  2. I remember the girlfriend of my wife's friend didn't want to meet me because she - get this - "has never met a foreigner before and thinks she might get hypnotized by your eyes." I guess she assumed I had some sort of magical seducing technicolour dreamcoat-kalidescope eyes that would force her to remove her clothes within moments of us meeting. Just like all westerners have, of course.

    "And if they persist, I shall compare them all to Jackie Chan, including the women, because this has proven to be a successful tactic in this embarrassing social situation."

    - This proof could be amusing, do tell.

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  3. Don't you start as well, beatwho!

    Anon, that is class! I still meet people surprised, shocked, at the fact I don't have blue eyes. "But you're European, aren't you??"

    (interesting to note that it was discovered not too long ago all blue-eyed people share the same genetically mutated ancestor)

    The thing about Jackie Chan is, if you compare people to him, under the motto" all Asians look the same to me" they hate it. However great an acrobat and entertainer he is, he is a deeply ugly man.

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  4. If you're going to compare them to an ugly-yet-talented Easterner -- and you'll get this one, because you work in The Industry -- compare them to Tomonobu Itagaki. I have much respect for the man, but he puts Keith Richards to shame.

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  5. It's unthinkable, really... a nation of people who have been bombarded, since birth, with Hollywood images of what is cool and sexy: round, blue eyes. We are movie stars, not real human people. A bit like having breast implants here in the States. Give them a few hours to decompress and the conversation -may- return to normalcy. Try not to go mad, JC.

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  6. I've discovered one of the pivotal roles of wife and family is their ongoing duty to put me in my place at every opportunity - a duty they clearly relish. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who receives this "attitude adjustment" on a regular basis. :-)

    Hey Doesnotequal, I spotted Itagaki smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk outside my hotel a couple of nights ago (GDC) and can confirm your assessment. He was with a beautiful woman, of course. Go figure.

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