Hello everyone! While you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve been missing all the American food. But I did get an amazing opportunity this weekend to visit Kyoto with my host mother. The trees are just changing color here, and it was beautiful!
Today’s subject is Japan’s relationship with the United States, and the Japanese view of Americans. When I came here, I initially expected to face some kind of racism. Japan is notorious for being racist, but I’ve come to find that it’s more against Chinese and Korean people than against Caucasians.
The biggest event that shaped the relationship between Japan and the US was of course, World War II. Japan became extremely imperialistic and committed many unspeakable atrocities during the war, mostly against China and Korea. In turn, we used the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which mainly killed civilians, and completely crippled Japan. I don’t think any side can be completely proud of what happened during that war, and that includes us.
After this, the United States set up Japan’s new constitution. It is very closely modeled after our own, except we prevented them from maintaining their own army, but do have a “Self Defense Force”. One would think that the Japanese people would be resentful towards Americans, not only for brutally crippling their country but also for setting up their entire government on our terms. Yet strangely, with the exception of a few protesters at the beginning, the average Japanese person seems perfectly happy with their current structure.
These days, the US has strong economic ties with Japan, as Japan is also one of the world’s largest economic powers. There are large markets for each other’s exports and imports. One example is all the Japanese car companies, such as Toyota and Nissan. We also have a very good political relationship with them, as they fully support democracy and human rights.
But on a day to day basis, what do Japanese people think of Americans? I asked my host mother about it. This is paraphrased and translated, but this was the gist:
“Most Americans we meet on a daily basis are either tourists or people coming here to be English teachers,” she said. “They usually don’t speak much Japanese, if any at all. So we try to help them as much as we can.”
I asked her if she thought it was rude to come to Japan without speaking Japanese, and she said no, and that she was always happily surprised and impressed when a foreigner takes the time to learn Japanese. This kind of attitude surprises me, given the hatred we have toward non-English speakers in the US.
Japanese people are indeed very helpful to foreigners. This can be nice when one is lost or generally confused, because people are generally patient and willing to help. But this can also backfire. For example, I was waiting for the bus that I take every day, and this old lady grabbed my arm and physically put me on the bus, as if I didn’t know whether to get on or not. I didn’t look confused or anything, but she assumed I was lost simply because I was Caucasian.
I also asked about the behavior of American tourists. After all, we do have a worldwide reputation for having rude tourists. But both my host mother and my host sister said that they thought they had seen both rude and polite people, and it depended on the person. They said it didn’t change what they thought about Americans.
One thing that greatly influences the Japanese view of Americans is the media. American movies, TV shows, and music are all very popular here. My host mother in particular loves American movies. Several of the people from the Oregon study abroad group have reported being told that they look like different famous actors or actresses. Because of this influence, many Japanese people have certain stereotypes about Americans. They seem to think that most, if not all Americans are blonde, tall, and have pools in their backyards.
As an American, I have had many strange experiences here in Japan that I was not expecting. For example, they warned us that sometimes Japanese guys will assume that American girls are “easy”. I didn’t really believe this until now. I’ve been approached several times on the street by random guys, who say things like “You’re cute”, or sometimes even offer me money. They would never, never say that kind of thing to a Japanese girl.
Also, many Japanese people find Americans very attractive. This is a huge stereotype, but in my experience it is very common. Big eyes, pale skin, and blonde hair are all considered very attractive. It’s not uncommon to see people try to make their hair blonde, which is very difficult with their pitch black hair. Japanese girls will sometimes wear certain cosmetics to try to make their eyes bigger, or sometimes even resort to surgery.
When I told my host family and their friends that my hair was dyed from ash blonde to dark brown, they were absolutely shocked. They then tried to convince me to dye it back, because it’s “such a waste”. As if I want even more creepers approaching me on the street to admire my hair.
When I ride the bus and the train, I often get stared at. It’s not as bad here in Tokyo; the further away from Tokyo you go, the more you get stared at. It’s hard to tell what they’re thinking. They could be thinking that they find me attractive, or they could be silently seething about how they think I’m rude. Either way, it gets kind of annoying. Coming from a place with a relatively diverse population, it’s hard to wrap my mind around a country where people are amazed by seeing someone of a different race.
Do you suppose it would be a good thing for Japan to become more diverse, or could there be advantages to racial unity? How do you think we could try to get rid of these strong stereotypes of Americans that are common around the world? What do you think of the Japanese fascination with blonde hair and big eyes?