Monday, January 06, 2003
We were talking about racism in Japan today at work. It's a common experience, as a gaijin (foreigner), to be stared at wherever you go, even in Tokyo. Today, like every day, when I sat down on the train, the people beside me shifted as far away from me as possible. Standing outside the school where I work, every other person who walked by gave me what would be construed in England as a dirty look. Very often, when people walk past you they make a horrible hawking noise which, I've been told by a long-term American resident of Japan, is a sign of disgust. And two of my colleagues, who can read kanji, report seeing a lot of shops and restaurants with 'No foreigners' signs on the doors - written only in Japanese, though, so most foreigners can't read them and wander in, unaware that they're not welcome. Last week, I was reading an excellent book about the World Cup, We Are Nippon by Simon Moran. He recounts an episode when his Japanese wife called a hotel in Hokkaido to try to book him a room. After the hotel receptionist has told her that they have rooms, she tells him her husband's name:

"Ah! No foreigners here."
"What? But you said there were rooms available, didn't you?"
"Yes, but not for foreign customers."
"Because they are foreign."

Yesterday, I had my hair cut by my very friendly hairdresser. I was flicking through a magazine and saw a pair of jeans I liked. I asked him if her knew where I could buy them. He knew a shop but he suddenly got all flustered:

"Ah, this shop... black."
"Black skin."
"I don't understand." (Well, it had dawned on me what he was getting at, but I played dumb.)
"You know kokujin?"

Kokujin means 'black person'. I think he was trying to say that I, as a white person, wouldn't want to go to a shop run by a black person. His English ain't great, and my Japanese is even worse, so I'm not entirely sure, but it was a bizarre exchange. Anyway, I'll have to return to this topic another time, because the Japanese view of foreigners is a complex and confusing thing.

There are rumours, on, that Apple are planning to bring out a chameleonic computer which changes colour according to the user's mood or the task the computer is performing. I want one already.

My friend Darren has pointed out that the Gloomy Bears are v similar to the teddies in Barbarella, which I haven't seen all the way through.