I’m often asked how Japanese view the gaijin that live in their midst, disrupting the harmony the country is so famous for. It’s quite a complex subject, which reaches deep into the Japanese psyche and across Japan’s 470-year history of dealing with these smelly, tall and hairy barbarians from across the sea. For the most part Westerners in the Japan of today exist in a special place where the rules don’t apply, at least the same way they do for the natives. Western foreigners are mysterious, physically different from Japanese in obvious ways, and every time an American or a Brit or Australian enters an electronics store to inquire about a product, the Japanese staff get a little nervous. In addition to being fearful they’ll be called upon to use English (even if we are speaking fluent Japanese to them), from the point of view of straight-laced Japanese people, we foreigners are awfully good at doing things no one expects, which is a source of stress for them. Often the first (and sometimes only) contact a Japanese person will have with a Westerner over the course of their lives is the happy, outgoing eikaiwa (English conversation) teacher they had in school, and often the image of Westerners is defined by this first cross-cultural exchange. As a result, the Japanese generally go through life expecting foreigners to be happy, energetic and positive, expressing their emotions openly…which pretty much matches my own personality.
Japanese feel some anxiety when it comes to dealing with gaijin.