I’ve been racially discriminated against!

This morning I ran into 3 students while walking to school and listening to my iPod. I clearly heard them say to each other: “Gaijin dayo ne.” (Just like a foreigner.) and  “So da ne, gaijin tte kanji. Ukeru!” (Yeah, just like a foreigner, that’s funny!)

The students aren’t allowed to use music players (or cell phones) when going to and from school, so their comments are driven by envy mostly. They know that since I’m not Japanese I carry if you will a ‘hall pass’ and can escape from some school policies and activities. This discrepancy is a fact of daily life in my school – ‘foreign’ staff expectations differ from those of Japanese in many cases.

It’s GOOD racial discrimination. The views and customs of the non-Japanese teachers are respected, and many of us gaijins certainly appreciate it.


7 thoughts on “I’ve been racially discriminated against!

  1. Hi !!

    As I am not at all familiar with the Japanese way of life, this post of yours raises several questions in my mind:

    1) Why aren’t the pupils allowed to listen to electronic devices going to and from school?
    2) I realize foreign staff might have different expectations from the Japanese, but in that case… why the H*** go live in a foreign country ??? Isn’t learning about other people’s way of living precisely tha attractiveness and lure of going elsewhere???
    3) Are the Japanese teachers subjected to this “no electronic device” rule?
    4) Reading the content of the youths’s verbal exchange, I wonder if this really was “positive” discrimination. The sentences themselves seem pretty down-putting. Maybe it was one of those oral things, and one had to have been there and heard it to understand… maybe I’m a little too suspicious, but more and more often, in France, a comment of this kind is meant to belittle the person, as in “he’s a foreigner, he doesn’t know any better”..

    As I said, I know (close to ) nothing about the Japanese culture and way of life. My comments therefore are not meant to be anything but inquisitive.

    Have a nice day!

  2. 1) When students commute to and from school in Japan, they often travel long distances on trains and buses. Over an hour is normal. Since our school is all girls and conservative, they have several rules to ensure the students properly represent the school’s values and manners. This includes no cell phones without permission, absolutely no media players, and they’re not even allowed to stop anywhere at all (stores, hang out with friends, etc.). These rules are shared by other schools in Japan as well.
    2) Interesting question. We foreigners can learn about the way things work here just fine, but if you worked in schools here you would understand why there’s a difference in expectations. To make a long story short, they basically work very hard all of the time and have very little time off. This work includes an incredible amount of meetings, as well as cleaning the school, promoting the school to the public (which I actually am helping with), preparing and running over 50 events a year (they’re not your simple ‘talent show’ but extremely elaborate with military precision), and they take week long trips with their students to various locations, including abroad (not the ‘field trips’ I experienced in America, but a highly regimented and exhausting affair for all involved). I am not exaggerating about the amount and quality of work. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: they hardly have any vacation time the entire year.
    Another aspect of this is we non-Japanese are here to teach English and foreign culture. We don’t need to become Japanese, we should behave as we would in our own countries more or less.
    3) Japanese teachers are free to use phones and music players, etc., but the fact is we are always running into students on our way to school, and for them it’s easier to not use them so they can enforce the school’s rules (not hypocritical). For non-Japanese, we’ve got the ‘gaijin pass’, we aren’t figured in the equation for some of the very Japanese customs.
    4) I am sure the students’ comments were without malice or condescension. I know them and they were just poking fun in a very harmless way. It’s different in Japan from any Western country I’ve been to, so making comparisons in many cases doesn’t work, you gotta be there.

  3. Thanks for your answers. I always find it fascinating to learn about others, their lives, cultures, customs…
    It does seem like a gruelling life! I had heard about the Japanese “obsession” with work, but it seems a lot more real than just hearsay when you talk to someone involved it the work process. Do the foreign workers have as short holidays as the Japanese teachers? Or do you have somewhat longer holidays, as you would in the US?
    We here have vast amounts of meetings as well, but the French aren’t too keen on field trips, and there’s more and more red tape to cut through before you can go anywhere…
    By the way, are you English or Amercican? This, I find, makes a great difference in the way (a) you perceive things abroad (b) you are considered abroad by the natives. I personally am American and French, living in France. Different, but still the same background of history, religion… It must be quite a shock to move into a totally different society and culture, although the fact of being married to a Japanese woman gives you an “insider’s view”.

    Have a good day!


  4. Japanese people spend a lot of time at the workplace. Whether or not they are efficiently using their time is another question.
    Yes, foreign workers do get more time off at my school and many others in Japan, it’s one of the reasons why we like the racial discrimination sometimes.
    I’m American. I’d say in general British people and Americans are treated similarly in Japan. I can imagine the difference in perceptions in Europe, though. To Japanese, we’re both predominantly white people who speak English and are from very far away.
    Moving here was certainly an experience, but yes, having a Japanese wife as I do means I have family in Japan, which makes me more of a part of Japan than those who don’t have that. It also helps that my wife’s family is great and we get along really well!

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