Tips for black people coming to Japan: bikkurishita!!

By Eddy Montilla

Some years ago, I remember that I had six students in my classroom. Two girls were African Americans and the other four were white. I gave them a black and white copy to do some grammar exercises. At that moment, one of the two girls said: “All people printed on this copy are white!”, and then, the two girls began to color some of them with a black pen while the other four students remained silent. That’s how I learned that when it comes to talking about racial matters, many people are very sensitive. For example, the phrase “black people” that you read in the title could not be nice for some people in USA, but please remember that this post is for all people.


     Now, let’s get to the point. Japanese people are well known for their hospitality and politeness, but because the country was isolated from the world more than two hundred years in the past, you can see a lack of good information and education on international matters. As a result of this problem, some Japanese people’s vision about other countries, the world etc. lags behind reality, despite Japan’s advanced technology. Take a look at what you could find after living a couple of months and learning basic Japanese to understand what people are saying and read also some tips to deal with the situation:

  1. Common, but erroneous perception about nationalities: If you are white, you are from USA (usually, the first idea that comes to their minds), Italy or France. And if you are black? You are from…Africa!!

    TIP: Take the question about your nationality as a joke. Besides, it will be a nice opportunity to explain about your country to them:)

  2. Dealing with police officers: You will be dozens of times more likely to be stopped and asked to show your ID than a white foreigner.

    TIP: Look on the bright side of this situation… At least, Japanese police officers are friendly, and they will not shout or point with their weapons at you!!

  3. Excessive astonishment, fear or comment: The last and thorniest part. Many Japanese people know about the outside world through movies or Japanese sensationalist TV programs rather than news or social studies. So, stereotypical ideas are frequent. When you are waiting for the elevator and the doors open or when you are behind someone and this person turns and looks back, you could hear this word “bikkurishita”, which means “You scared me! Or what a fright you gave me!”. Some people, especially children and women could say “Kowai!” (I am afraid of…you!) when you make eye contact with them by accident or not. Finally, if you are a good observer, you will notice some people looking at you furtively and making some comments.

    TIPS: Keep a nice smile on your face and keep considerable distance from people when possible. Remember also that these people will be very friendly with you once they know you. And the most important thing: This situation is not Japanese people’s fault, so try to understand first and be understood later.

Copyright 2012 by All rights reserved.


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