Although the average Japanese person on the street might think there are a lot of foreigners living and working in Japan, in reality the number is tiny, just 1.63% of the overall population here. This number, which includes Japan-born Koreans and Chinese who choose not to take Japanese citizenship for cultural reasons, compares to 8% foreign-born residents in the U.K., 9% for Germany, 11% for the U.S. and 13% for the Netherlands. Although the number of foreign barbarians in Japan may be low, the Japanese never seem to get used to us, and it’s fun to observe the confusion that arises when the two worlds intersect. First of all, all Westerners are assumed to be American, which is the country the Japanese are most familiar with; similarly, Japanese expect that all gaijin can speak English. Last month I met a guy from Italy who didn’t speak my language, so we stood there chatting in Japanese about various topics, a sight that provided great amusement to the Japanese people walking past us. Although I do still occasionally receive compliments from older Japanese on my use of chopsticks, for the most part people have come to terms with the idea that foreigners will do things like know how to order sushi in Japanese or have vast knowledge about obscure topics. For some reason, I’ve met quite a few people who were surprised when they heard I’ve married a local girl and have Japanese kids going to normal schools, despite having been here for 18 years.
Gaijin always seem to confused the poor Japanese.