On being Asian-American in Japan

Now that I have internet, there’s going to be more photos coming up on my tumblr! Feel free to check it out. 

Japan is a very homogeneous place. It’s historically been isolated. It’s very difficult for foreigners to obtain Japanese citizenship. As a result, the large majority of people here are, naturally, Japanese.

As a result, Japanese people have an odd fascination with non-Japanese people, known as 外人(gaijin, literally “foreign person.”) We’re rare, after all. Groups like mine—with 18 college gaijin—get lots of attention. Little kids and middle schoolers in particular enjoy staring at us.

People have even taken photos of us.

Japanese people, as I’ve experienced, don’t expect gaijin to know any Japanese. Like, at all. So, unlike America, where we expect everyone to know English, saying any Japanese to a Japanese person them induces shock.

If you’re white in Japan, then, any effort is appreciated. But what if you’re not white? What if you’re Asian, like me, who at first glance could pass as a Japanese girl? I’ve been told that Asians that are in Asian countries, but cannot speak the native language, are totally rejected. I expressed my worries to a friend of mine:

Which, for the most part, has proven to be true. Except I mentioned before that I had a really bad cold, the worst I’ve had in years. I was coughing and sneezing and hacking and sniffing, hoping to god I wouldn’t get any of my fellow students sick. And in fact, there was a way I could prevent it. A very common thing in Japan, when one is sick, is to wear a hospital mask:

This way, the afflicted does not spread their germs. So I decided: Why not? When in Rome…

I wore the mask for a couple days, throwing the people around me into confusion.

Cashiers assumed I was Japanese, and didn’t hesitate to speak their language rapid-fire at me:

The best was when my group went to watch a sumo wrestling tournament, however. The guy at the ticket booth was handing out programs in both Japanese and English. To the rest of the kids, he automatically handed them an English flyer. But when I came up, he paused:

Otherwise, though, I haven’t experienced much trouble. Thank goodness! And now I’m better, so the mask is off. Besides, as soon as I open my mouth, people can pretty much tell I’m a foreigner.

My goal by the end of this trip is to be able to pass as a Japanese girl for 30 seconds. Think I can pull it off?

In which I spend 13 hours more or less playing Tetris


While I’m in Tokyo, I will have no free internet. Therefore: Me posting this means that either I am mooching internet off one of the other kids, or paying 100 yen per fifteen minutes of wi-fi. Yikes.

Also, be sure to check my tumblr, where I’ll be posting photos!

I wasn’t expecting to write a post about going on an airplane. After all, I already did that last summer. I thought it was just going to be another plane ride. Cramped, long…you know, standard.

As it turns out, it was quite a different plane ride, for two reasons:

  1. I was (am) completely sick the whole time.

About three days before departure, I came down with the worst fever I’ve had in years: runny nose, the chills, fatigue, headaches– the real deal. Luckily, I was blessed with something called “ibuprofen” that can alleviate the symptoms somewhat…

But I was still delirious the whole time.

I’m pretty sure I used up all the tissues on that plane. At one point I filled a barf bag with tissues so I could take it back to my seat.

But that’s irrelevant. More importantly, this plane was…

This plane was recently launched by Japan Airlines, hoping to provide a better experience for those traveling for Japan. A typical plane ride has, you know, movies, TV shows, and music to entertain its passengers. But this one also had…

As you can imagine, I did not get much sleep on that plane ride. Did I mention that I’m addicted to Tetris?

And the food they served us was a step above ordinary freeze-dried, notoriously gross airplane fare. I was served seafood curry for dinner that night.

They fed us so much food. So much. By the end of the ride, I looked a little like this:

But in the end, after a 7-hour bus ride to Boston, a 13-hour plane ride to the Tokyo/Narita airport, and a 1-hour drive into Tokyo itself, I reached the youth hostel safely. And that’s all that matters, right?

And besides, I think the whole experience helped fix my sleep schedule.

But at that point, I had received an inordinate amount of sleep and was charged to go for the day. Coming next!

How to get your own seat on the bus

To get back and forth from Boston to Philly, I take the bus. It’s the cheapest option, though not always the most comfortable. It can get a bit cramped at times, especially on the weekends. And sitting for 7 hours straight ain’t that cozy either.

So it’s most advantageous when no one sits next to you. Two seats to yourself to sprawl out and relax! However, when someone asks to sit next to you, you can’t say no. That’s simply rude.

Unless no one wants to sit next to you in the first place.

Like when I was on the bus the other day:

And that’s how I ended up with my own seat on the bus.

(In all fairness to myself, though, I really am sick. I need to buy more cough syrup tomorrow.)