Japan Sure Feels Like Home… But It’s Clearly Not

In my last post I talked about how at home I felt in Japan. And I stand by that. But a couple of random recent events have reminded me that I am very much a foreigner here.

Random Event 1: Joining a Taiko Troop

There was a ‘matsuri’ the other day (sort of a cross between a religious festival and a street party: think food stalls, carnival games, and half-naked men carrying a miniature shrine up and down the street). As part of the festivities there was a demonstration by a Japanese drum (aka ‘taiko’) group. We decided that drumming would be a good accompaniment to our freshly purchased Japanese street-treats. So we sat down on the kerb, putting us quite close to the action. We had, however, underestimated just how close to the action we-or rather, I-would get.

That’s right. Ginger haired white man that I am, I was prime choice for the “let’s drag a randomer from the crowd to join in” moment. Actually I don’t even know if they would have done it except for us Western folk. So that’s how I found myself drumming and shouting along with a bunch of Japanese folk drummers-as this shaky 10 second clip will attest to .

I’m not going to lie: it was good fun! But it did make me very aware of the fact that I stand out in a crowd in Japan (not vertically of course-I am still only 5 ft 6). I can’t hide the fact that I’m Western, and this probably won’t be the last time I’m called upon precisely because of that.

Random Event 2: Forgetting My ID

Because I’m on a tourist visa here I need to have my passport with me at all times: just in case I get stopped by the police and asked for proof of identity/residency. This hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’ve heard of others to whom it has so I’m generally quite diligent. Sharing a cell with some Yakuza is not my idea of fun. (Although it would probably make for a good blog post!)

A couple of Japanese policemen

Japanese policemen: most friendly, occasionally scary

Anywho, the other afternoon I went out for a stroll and was in the act of purchasing some canned coffee (have I mentioned how much I like it?) when I realised that I had left my passport at the guest home.

After this I was very aware on the way home that I would be quite stuck if a police man stopped me. Especially when a patrol car stopped in front of me… to let me cross the road! Normally I’m not even aware of the fact that I could be asked for ID and occasionally I forget that I’m obviously a foreigner in Japan. But this walk home I was incredibly aware of the fact that I’m only allowed to be here because I own a little book which says that Queen Elizabeth says it’s cool (or something like that).

What to do with this?

As I said, I still feel very much at home here. I love Japan and am incredibly excited about the prospect of living here long-term. But these occurrences have made me realise that as much as I might feel at home here, I’m actually not.

There are many things that could be said about this. And I’ll say some of them in due course. But for now I’m interested in whether others have had similar experiences (especially if they’re humorous ones!)?

Have you ever felt the tension of feeling at home, but also as an outsider?

How did you respond?

To those who stay/stayed long-term, did the tension shift with time?

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6 thoughts on “Japan Sure Feels Like Home… But It’s Clearly Not

  1. sandykins

    I think I may have mentioned this one to you already but one day I was at Nakajima park in Sapporo and a little boy stopped in front of me, waved and said “he-rro”. It took me a second or two to realise what had just happened. I was amused by the fact that he assumed I was an English-speaker – he could’ve said Bonjour, Hola or whatever, but nope since I don’t “look” Japanese I must be American/English, or whatever else he thought I was. 🙂 A funny reminder that I was, am, and always will be a “gaijin” in Japan!

    (PS. you need to change the video’s privacy settings and make it “public”…I can’t view it)

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    1. levibooth Post author

      I don’t know if I did know that story. That’s quite interesting. I guess I don’t have to deal with that added…burden(?) of having people treat you like a native English speaker when you’re actually not (although you sort of are!).

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  2. Ash

    You still need to change the settings on the video. I want to see you putting it out there for ginger people everywhere. Oooh, ow. Totally getting electric shocks from my computer. Ow.

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  3. bethanywhite92

    Shaky? Don’t diss the video 😛
    And I think I’ve been calling it ‘can coffee’ instead of ‘canned coffee’ this whole time. Hmmm.
    Other than those two distressing points, great post! 😀 See you in September!

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    1. levibooth Post author

      Did I say ‘shaky’? I obviously meant ‘artistic.’

      Oh, and the Japanese is literally ‘can coffee,’ generally spelt using katakana (the phonetic alphabet for Western loan words) so I think you’re OK. I just tend to translate it as ‘canned coffee’ because… hmmmm, I’m not sure if I actually have a reason.

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