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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why Is It Hard For Japanese People to Live With Foreigners? It is?

So... you the foreigner have just moved in to an apartment or house in Japan... did you notice all of the For Sale signs pop up all around you?

Probably not - because it would be in Japanese, but basically, if you happened to see signage suddenly pressed down into the grass next door... sorry, pressed down into the small area where grass SHOULD be, perhaps that should be clue enough to realize that someone is moving.

Now, if you weren't already paranoid enough just by being in Japan - yes, they are talking about you... sometimes - now you have to wonder if the Japanese are moving simply because it is time to move, or because you moved in and "Kso! There goes the neighborhood!"

Or... just why is that after that family moved away when you moved in that the apartment still hasn't been rented? Didn't you hear that there is a dearth of living space in Japan, which is why, rather than build more affordable living quarters they tend to jack up the rent for everyone?

How can there be living spaces in japan that no one wants to move into?

Is it you, oh mighty foreigner? Do the Japanese simple hate to live next door to foreigners?

That is the crux of the forum question and responses going on over at Job Discussion Forums, the self-proclaimed: "The Internet's Meeting Place for ESL/EFL Students and Teachers from Around the World!" - see HERE

The main poster - from 2013 - Black Beer Man , a moniker which suggest they like dark beer, rather than that they are Black says: 

Have a look at this job posting for a real estate agent position. It says that Japanese people have extreme difficulty living in apartment buildings occupied with foreigners.

"Despite this need to coexist with foreigners, it is difficult for Japanese people to live with them in harmony due to anxiety caused by cultural differences and the language barrier. These obstacles make it harder to organize a society of coexistence for both Japanese and foreigners. (Company name omitted) JAPAN was established in order to solve these problems in terms of renting and settling into a new environment."

It goes on to say "...we hope to raise the language barrier between customer and landlord, thus creating a harmonious living environment, free of anxiety and fear."

Fear? Really? Is dealing with foreigners THAT stressful? I've heard the cultural differences and language barrier arguments before. However, considering the fact that Japanese people hardly ever speak to their Japanese neighbors, they are already not likely to speak to their foreign ones. Therefore, I think this argument is invalid. If problems with the foreign tenants do arise, there should be at least one employee at the real estate company that manages the apartment that can speak enough English. If an English speaker does not exist at the real estate company, maybe the foreigner's employer can help with the communication.

In many other countries, the native people do not want people from specific cultural groups living in their apartment buildings (like the French and Muslim people). However, it seems like the Japanese are not comfortable with foreigners of ANY kind.

What do you think? Why is this so?

Me again. Wow... an interesting poser of a question.

Do the Japanese really not want to live next door to a foreigner?

Now... granted I lived in Japan back in the early 1990s (1990-1993), so perhaps my thinking is outdated - that's my qualifier... but I don't think the Japanese have regressed into anxiety and fear of foreigners simply because 20 years have passed.

I personally never really talked much with the neighbors - except a greeting if we saw each other.

It's like now here in Toronto - I don't really interact with the neighbors. I say hi and all that crap, but I'm not BFF's with any of them.

I'm friendly but hardly friends.

I'm not saying that others aren't friends with their neighbors - good for you if you are... that's just not my bag. Despite the tell-all nature of this blog, I'm actually a pretty damn private person and rarely discuss what is REALLY going on in my head for fear of... well... fear. 

As a kid - in this very same neighborhood and house, I would spend time chatting with the neighbors  - who were all retired grandparents. I enjoyed talking to them, and since they were the ones who initiated the conversations with a "Hi Andrew" and a wave to come over, well... I learned a lot about them and the way things used to be in Toronto's suburbs and the city itself.

More importantly, I still remember what I was told. 

Still, despite the camaraderie shown me by the neighbors, I never participated in parties and stuff with them - they had their own grand kids et al. Family, you know.

This is sacrilegious, right? I mean everyone getting along...

I did end up (as an adult) carrying many of them out via coffin to their final resting place - an honor for me, to be sure. I certainly never received any monies or gifts in their last will & testament. Didn't expect it and wasn't disappointed.

As for Japan... I lived there for three years in a small city some 200 kilometers north of Tokyo... hardly an urban sprawl where foreigners (gaijin) were the norm. ... and yet... in that city of 50,000 people, there were some 50 foreigners or more living there at any given time.

That's just a guess, because other than meeting them rarely or hearing of them, I only knew maybe five - two friends (Matthew & Ashley) and the rest bartenders.  Ashley didn't live in my city, but did work in it. Jeanne, another AET lived in Ashley's nearby town and worked the outer areas as a junior high school teacher. Matthew and myself were junior high school teachers, Ashely - senior high school teacher.

While the three of us hung out together, we didn't act like idiots - certainly not in  a loud manner to constantly draw negative attention to ourselves.

Matthew an Ashley learned the Japanese language far better than I did - mostly through better effort and skill, while I... I just got by with their help and the patience of the Japanese people around me.

Straight up... while every day I could certainly hear the word  'gaijin' said in reference to me - gaijin literally means "outsider" more than "foreigner", I simply put it down to the fact that in most instances it was just a term the Japanese had grown up with, and even when it was used, rarely was there a negative vibe to it.

As for my living quarters... I lived in the lap of luxury: a three-bedroom LDK with two balconies in an apartment that was built not just for a Japanese family, but rather for a Japanese family with more money than most. So... perhaps I was insulated.

Matthew also lived in a very nice and tidy place, Ashley - not so much... but not once did we ever feel that we - the outsiders - were ever a cause of anxiety for the Japanese around us.       

I never thought that the Japanese might have some anxiety with living with me next door or near them—and to be honest, I refuse to believe that sort of thought process existed between us.

In my apartment building complex, it was just families going doing about whatever it is that families do. Regardless of their country of origin.

I certainly think there might be some Japanese people who wouldn't want to live next to foreigners - but that night be for the usual reasons - like we're a bunch of party animals and noisy.

But, that's just some people believing a stereotype - that while it may exist for realsies, isn't how most people live their life.

The whole question about gaijin and Japanese living together-quandary makes all the Japanese sound like they are xenophobic.

In my city... we had an international friendship society... where's the xenophobia?

I think people who respond to forums - or rather are active participants - have strong feelings, but those are personal feelings and certainly shouldn't be taken to represent everyone. 

I think in some instances people don't want to live next door to people of other cultures. How many white people wanted to live in Harlem in the 1960s or 70s? Few, if any. It was fear of the unknown. It could have been racism - from both sides.

I think that if the real estate folks were to have asked their prospective clients why they didn't want to live next to a foreigner they would soften the blow by talking of such bull-crap excuses such as anxiety over having to talk (let's say) English.

They don't have to talk anything except Japanese in Japan. If I wanted to communicate with my neighbors - I would speak Japanese to make them feel more at ease.

But really... people don't talk to their neighbors much anymore.

For those that worry about stuff like that, there could be a perception that having a foreigner in the neighborhood could bring down property values - but that would be racist... and I am sure those people exist, but I doubt that that in 2014 it is a anything but a 'minority' voice.

Lastly... for those of you who point to Japan's immigration policy as BS... or the fact that it is next to impossible to become a Japanese citizen... well... you are indeed correct.

But, if it was a completely lost cause for gaijin-love, then why allow anyone in? Why not simply close the doors to allowing any foreigner to work in Japan?  Why not go back to its isolationist policy from the 1600s-1850s?

Because it has progressed. It takes time.

Hell... look at the west. Racism from soccer fans in Spain. Washington Redskins team name debacle in the US. Why do we still allow the team name Edmonton Eskimoes in Canadian football? They are the Inuit - not Eskimo!

Canada still has enclaves in its cities - China towns, little Italy, little India... people of race an color congregating in their own little private Idaho... how much time have we had? Too much? Not enough?

Why can't we be friends? Why can't we be friends? Why can't we be friends? Why can't we be friends?

Somewhere wondering why I didn't just copy and paste that three times,
Andrew Joseph     

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