One unexpected aspect of expat life in Japan is making friends with gaijin — the word the Japanese use for “foreign-looking” foreigners — from various countries. (Incidentally, Koreans and Chinese are usually not referred to with this term, instead being called by their nationality, e.g. kankoku-jin or chugoku-jin.) While I might not think I’ve got much in common with someone from Peru or Poland or Brazil, something about living side-by-side with other foreigners in Japan makes us all understand each other a little better. I’ve developed a love for Peruvian pollo a la brasa chicken I didn’t know about before I came here, had beers with Iranians passing by on the street during the Golden Age of Beer Vending Machines during the 1990s, discussed 20th century history with a Vietnamese girl while we waited to take our drivers’ license exams, and have talked politics with friends from Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It’s not quite as romantic as Hemingway’s “Lost Generation” of Paris in the 1920s, but it’s still fun. It’s also interesting learning the various “Japanese” accents foreigners speak, which are as varied as the accents of English that exist around the world, though no one thinks about this much. The other day I was watching a cooking show with my waifu which featured a foreign chef whose nationality I wondered about. “That’s Mario Frittoli, the famous chef in Tokyo. He’s obviously Italian, can’t you tell by his accent?” But I had no idea.
Being an expat in Japan can be interesting.