I’m often asked how Japanese view the gaijin that live in their midst, disrupting the precious harmony the country is so famous for. It’s quite a complex subject, which reaches deep into the Japanese psyche and across Japan’s 466-year history of dealing with these smelly, overly tall 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 enters an electronics store to inquire about a product, the Japanese staff get a little more nervous. While this seems like an unkind reaction on their part, to be fair to them we foreigners are awfully good at doing the unexpected, like talking to them in rapid English or asking if they stock impossible to find products. 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 expect us foreigners to be happy people to be around, overly active and expressing our emotions freely…which pretty much matches my own personality perfectly.
Foreigners in Japan seem to exist on their own plane of reality, as you can sometimes tell from gaijin in anime series.