Different Expectations

“I’m originally from Korea but moved to Canada and lived there for about 15 years, so I consider myself more Canadian than Korean now. I work in the legal industry and I practice law. I think I blend into Japanese society to a certain extent, which is why I like confusing people. Even though I really don’t speak Japanese that well, I can still sort of communicate. It also helps that I kind of look Japanese. Sometimes cab drivers would be surprised to find out towards the end that I wasn’t Japanese in the first place. I can do that using bits of the language that I’ve been rehearsing for a year and a half.

“While Japan is great and all, there’s a need to fit in. I get along with the foreigner crowd, no problem. But people in Tokyo, while seemingly friendly, they have boundaries. Unless you’ve known them since high school or through work or they’re a family friend, it’s not easy breaking that barrier. I have friends who say it took them eight or nine years to finally penetrate those barriers and become friends with Japanese people. In a way, that forces some of us, foreigners, into a close-knit community.

One time, I tried to talk to someone at the airport who was reading a Stephen King novel. I remember thinking, here’s someone who speaks English. But the reaction I got was, ‘Sorry, no English.’

“Even when I switched to Japanese, they still brushed me off. Maybe that person was tired or not sociable. But it’s just completely different how people interact in Japan. I would have the same conversation in Canada and people would be a lot more receptive. I could just randomly walk up to someone or hold the door for someone and randomly start a conversation.

“I guess people have and cultivate different expectations, growing up. We just have to respect their culture. To be crass a bit, you wouldn’t talk to strangers in public restrooms. You wouldn’t talk to the person next to you while taking a piss. It’s an unwritten rule of etiquette. And you need to observe Japan’s customs while you’re here.”



一度、空港でスティーブン・キングの本を読んでいる人に声をかけたことがありました。英語を話す人がいたって思ったのを覚えています。でも、帰ってきた反応は「Sorry, no English. (英語は話せません)」。だから日本語を話してみたんですが、それでも彼らはもう話しかけないでほしいというような感じでした。その人はただ疲れていただけか、内気な人だっただけなんだと思うのですが。でも、これが人との関わり方の違いだと思うんです。カナダで同じように誰かに話しかければ、自然と会話が始まります。街を歩いてる時だって、誰かのためにドアを開けてあげる時だって、ランダムに会話を始めることができるんです。人はみんな違った考え方を持っているし日々それを養っていると思います。ただお互いの文化を尊重するべきなんですよね。ちょっと汚い話かもしれませんが、まさかとなりで用を足してる人に話しかけたりなんかしないでしょう。それは暗黙のエチケットだから。そうやって僕たちは日本にいる間、日本人の習慣を観察して学んでいかなきゃいけないと思うんです。
【翻訳:Tomomi Yuri

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Finding diversity and inclusion. Breaking down barriers one post at a time. Stories and snapshots of foreigners making their way in Japan.

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