Now Reports

Notes from an Overstayer

In Daimyo at night there are many people in the streets giving out flyers to attempt to attract customers to their nearby restaurants. Business is competitive in this area, and lately you might have noticed restaurant staff running after people with iPads showing customers their menus. They seem to be getting quite aggressive of late, with Nakasu-esque pursue and snare tactics, and it seems anyone’s fair game to the tablet-swinging punter-gatherers… well, most are anyway. I find that I get a wide berth as I make my way home near Daimyo as those fishing for business tend to retract the hand holding the flyer, look the other way and awkwardly fall silent. I cannot recall a time when this has not happened. Not that I want to be bothered by such people on the way home, but I wonder why the thought of a gaijin being approachable like everyone else is so… foreign. Maybe it’s because they assume I don’t speak Japanese. Maybe it’s because they assume that I’m just a passing tourist. Maybe they don’t want foreign customers. I think it’s a bit of all of the above. I’d like to support local small business if possible, find a cool place for food and a few drinks after a shitty day, maybe even have a chat about something other than answering the usual ‘gaijin 20 questions’. I’d especially like to support my local community, where I live and pay taxes like everyone else. Even though many places are hurting for business, it seems that local businesses are not interested in foreign customers. This lack of common/business sense in Fukuoka exists much to the detriment of its local economies. It’s a shame because there is a lot on offer, but unfortunately not to everyone.

Many foreign residents know this story, right? I’m sure that many have had similar experiences of ‘micro aggressive’ behavior where foreigners are treated differently because they are simply not Japanese, such as the flyer snub or the patronizing language flattery or any behavior or comment that seeks to reinforce difference by way of compliment. Anyway, let’s cut to the chase. What I’m trying to get to here is that it seems that in Japan, what many foreign residents would consider to be xenophobic and racist behavior and attitudes are encouraged and championed as a way of justifying a supposed homogenous society. An educational system where some canned coffee/tobacco stinking elementary school teacher can espouse the finer points of Nihonjinron, justifying the single race argument of a group of people that foreigners can ultimately have no understanding of. The result of this is that even a nihongo-packin long-term foreign resident is continually considered as an outsider, and therefore, troublesome. Troublesome to the point of not being worth the risk of inviting back to some overpriced izakaya in Daimyo. One could argue that this is just the way it is here, and ‘if you don’t like it, then leave’. The apologists love saying that.

Nihonjin dakara… It’s because I’m Japanese that [insert the rest of any excuse to discriminate or cop out here]” argument can only go so far. But logic does not prevail here- nonsense does instead and it’s kind of pathetic that in Japan people can huddle under a well worn patch-worked blanket that is a supposed homogenous society when using race as an excuse to discriminate.

When confronted with such tomfoolery, I try to offer a light-hearted but sharp retort – nothing nasty, but enough to trip up the mindset slightly. For all those getting worked up about empty train seats, anonymous “Haros!” and other such shenanigans, try and remember that Japan is not going to change for you. And so, why should you change for Japan? Maybe when Japan has earned a few basic brownie points (such as adequate and substantial laws that address racism and discrimination), foreign residents might consider making more of an effort.

These are just a few personal random thoughts that you are free to agree or disagree with… perhaps triggered by the cute girl who wouldn’t give me a flyer. One’s mind is a blur after 15 years experience of being an ‘outside person’. I like living in Fukuoka even though it’s increasingly becoming a love/hate type of situation. Nonetheless, I’d like to encourage people to make their own way through their experiences of Japan – never mind the stereotypical expectations of you, but try to forge an individual presence without compromise. Foreigners living here enjoy few of the basic rights they might consider to be the norm in other countries and treated merely as tourists, but the very existence of foreigners here is a micro-action in itself, that will inevitably bring change.

by Shayne Bowden, Australia, Curator/Sound Artist/Educator

Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn173, May 2013)

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Fukuoka City
Published: Apr 26, 2013 / Last Updated: Jun 13, 2017

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