Foreigners in Japan are evil …

…at least what Tokyo Shinjuku ward belives. They have put out a very nice brochure about how to behave as a foreigner in Japan: English (local copy) and Japanese (local copy). Nothing in there is really bad, but the tendency is so clear that it makes me think – what on earth do you believe we are doing in this country?

Now what is so strange on that? And if you have never lived in Japan you will probably not understand. But reading through this pamphlet I felt like a criminal from the first page on. If you don’t want to read through it, here a short summary:

  • The first four pages (1-4) deal with manner, accompanying penal warnings for misbehavior.
  • Pages 5-16 deal with criminal records, stating the amount of imprisonment and fines for strange delicti.
  • Pages 17-19 deal with residence card, again paired with criminal activity listings and fines.
  • Pages 20-23 deal with reporting obligations, again ….
  • And finally page 24 gives you phone numbers for accidents, fires, injury, and general information.

So if you count up, we have 23 pages of warnings, and 1 (as in *one*) page of practical information. Do I need to add more about how we foreigners are considered in Japan?

Just a few points about details:

  • In the part on manner, not talking on the phone in public transport is mentioned – I have to say, after many years here I am still waiting to see the first foreigner talking on the phone loudly, while Japanese regularly chat away at high volume.
  • Again in the manner section, don’t make noise in your flat – well, I lived 3 years in an apartment where the one below me enjoyed playing loud music in the car till late in the night, as well as moving furniture at 3am.
  • Bicycle riding – ohhhh, bicycle riding – those 80+ people meandering around the street, and the school kids driving 4 next to each other. But hey, we foreigners are required to do differently. Not that any police officer ever stopped a Japanese school kid for that …
  • I just realized that I was doing illegal things for long time – withdrawing money using someone else’s cash card! Damned, it was my wife’s, but still, too bad 🙁

I accept the good intention of the Shinjuku ward to bring forth a bit of warnings and guidance. But the way it was done – it speaks volumes about how we foreigners are treated – second class.

21 Responses

  1. Regis says:

    You do realize the irony of a white dude complaining about being treated like a second class citizen over some silly pamphlet. Others have experienced a harsher version of “second-class” citizenship than what you describe here.

    • Thanks for your very insightful comment.

    • Frans says:

      Following your logic, no one is allowed to complain about anything because there’s always someone who’s had it worse (cf. Dear Muslima). Oh, and if haven’t blown your righteousness meter yet, the only darker-skinned person in the brochure seems to be the lowly garbage thief on page 2.

      • Regis says:

        Like Dr. Preining said, “Thanks for your very insightful comment.” I wasn’t claiming racism in Japan doesn’t exist, for I know it does, and I don’t doubt Preining experiences discrimination there.

        However, Preining claims that he is “just pi**ed by the usage of the word ‘microaggressions'” (PPS to his Sarah Sharp post), yet the word itself more accurately describes the racism he experiences here than the sort of racism typically experience by, say, young black men in New York City.

        Nevertheless, he has a legitimate beef. Now given his experiences with racism in Japan, I would be very pleased if he, on this blog, showed empathy for the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, or the equivalent in his home country (assuming it is majority-white and western).

        • Frans says:

          Here‘s the link I had to search for to understand what your red herring the size from here to Tokyo was talking about. I agree with your comment there and I guess I’ll leave it at that.

        • What you kindly remind me what you are raving about? First of all, yes, other discriminations are very much a topic for me, too. But due to the fact that Japan is a civilized country (in contrast to the US), people are not killed here. So Black Lives Matter doesn’t have an actual problem here.
          But rest assured, should I ever be forced to live in the US, I will write about it.

          • Adam says:


            Hey listen, please redouble your efforts to avoid being forced to live here. We barbarians are quite happy not having you here.

          • Thanks, will do. And you please redouble your efforts that less children, black, humans are killed in your country. You have a good chance coming up rather soon!

          • Adam says:

            Seriously, just like that, you go from being insulted to being insulting. Good show.

          • Adam says:

            You’re welcome. and also will do.

            Actually, am doing. I’m here actually working in the communities that you’re talking about.

            And you’re uh…


            Well hey, you’re sure doing a great job posting on the internet about it, huh?

            Keep up the good work!

          • Simply don’t get it what you want to say. I guess you agree that the homicide rate in the US is the highest in the so called developed countries.
            And yes, I consider protection of life a sign of civilization.
            Combining these I conclude that the US (but not only) has a certain lack of civilization.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree with most of your points; especially I dislike the waving with penalities here.

  3. asdkfjölsd says:

    I think this is very helpful and supportive as it helps to manage and fight my inherited inner urges to commit crimes and show bad public behavior.

    It’s not easy to live with this birth defect that we foreigners have, you know…

  4. Anonymous says:

    I can’t help but sympathize with the Japanese people here. On average, they are very civilized, unaccustomed to rudeness.
    Giving direct “feedback” to rude behaviors is considered rude as well. Not surprisingly, many Japanese tent do be very xenophobic. “phobic” as in afraid, not spiteful.

    Unfortunately it would be quite tricky to hand off the pamphlet to all rude people (even if they are Japanese). Or to all people to the world, just in case.
    So it ended up being something discriminatory and authoritarian. But… what would you do instead?

    • Hi,
      thanks for your interesting comment. And I agree that on average the Japanese are very civilized and polite. But at least for what I see, the foreigners in Japan are not much different, very civilized and polite. As I wrote in the above blog, I haven’t seen *one* foreigner talking loudly on the phone in the public transport, but the number of Japanese doing this (or playing music aloud, gambling aloud etc) is rather big.

      So if this pamphlet would be titled “manner and rules in Japan” and not specifically targetting foreigners (maybe add a chapter on residence card), then all would be fine.

      And I would happily hand the pamphlet to those guys walking their dog in front of my place, without collecting their dog’s “fun”, or to those below me rambling around till 3am, or those on the train. Irrespective of Japanese or NJ.

      And this is the core point – the pamphlet picks ot foreigners for bad behavior which is equivalently present in the average Japanese. So why distinguish?

      • Frank says:

        Because you’re living within a culture that is more xenophobic, if not outright unapologetically bigoted, than what we westerners like to admit “enlightened” people are.

      • I had a look at the brochure, and frankly: I don’t find it that bad:

        * for one thing, it does try to convey some facts/laws/regulations
        in a simple, easy to understand manner.

        * especially the sections / rules to keep foreign women out
        of adult entertainment suggest that this brochure is not only
        targeted at high potentials / researchers, but towards all kinds of
        foreigners (including high potentials, yes). I don’t know Japan
        well enough: maybe there are some poor, foreign minorities? Anyway,
        it’s the country’s right/duty, to enforce their rules. – Whether
        those rules are the most inviting ones for you as a foreigner,
        that’s another question. If you aren’t happy with these rules, then
        as a foreigner usually you don’t have a chance to change them
        (participate in politics), but you could leave the country more
        easily then many Japanese, I would guess.

        * I think it’s wise to always be grateful for the chance to be
        a foreigner: there is so much to learn for you, and you are very
        privileged in having this multi-cultural experience. If on the
        other hand, you encounter difficulties (injustice?) as a foreigner,
        then it’s up to you, if you are willing to pay the price or leave
        – at least if you are a high potential.

        * Different countries seem to have very different views/attitudes
        towards foreigners: whether they regard them as an enrichment (a
        competetive advantage maybe), or (in the worst case): welcome them
        to take advantage of them (exploit them). – Again: you better
        accept their rules. – In that sense these strict Japanese rules can
        also be seen as a means to protect their foreign minorities: not
        allow their Japanese managers to take advantage of them (exploit them)

        • Hi Andreas,
          thanks for your interesting comment. Many good points. First of all, I don’t see anything problematic with the *content* of the brochure, the rules are fine (besides I would hope for more Japanese obeying them). I was all about the way foreigners are pointed at as if they are *typically* the ones breaking the rules.

          To repeat, I don’t think that the rules are wrong (even if I consider some of them stupid), but the inherent assumption that foreigners are those breaking them.

          Furthermore, conveying laws and regulations in this manner is not what I would expect from a “Foreign Residence Manual” – why don’t they tell me where to get help, how to apply for this or that, etc etc? When I came here years ago I wished for a good manual explaining some things – and honestly, none of the rules and punishments was on the list *I* consider helpful, because a normal person will anyway not break these rules.

          Concerning culture/enrichment: Sure enough, 150% agreed, it is a great chance for me (although I have lived in other countries than my home one before), and I surely have already adapted to the local commons.

          I just do *not* want to get tagged as one who is prone to break any of these rules – like a child or uneducated or retarded person. Average human intelligence suffices, no need to waive the prison flag.

          • Hi Norbert,

            you may be right then, that the overall tone of the brochure isn’t the
            most sensitive one. But it’s only a brochure after all, written by
            people in the Japanese administration maybe, who have to deal with
            these legal issues on a daily basis, and otherwise have little chance
            to get know their foreign clientèle as human beings.

            Rereading what I have written: “…be willing to pay the price, or
            leave” may be a strong attitude (in that you should not swallow
            everthing), but certainly is too narrow an advice as well: you are
            right, that seeking help/advice should be one’s first instinct in case
            of difficulties, and that the brochure could do a better job in
            featuring the Japanese help offerings more prominently.

            But I am 100% sure, that there are very sensitive Japanese people,
            willing to listen/understand/help in as much as they can (in your
            private life, your work life, in the administration, on the street),
            who will treat you as a human being, not as evil.

            So you, too, should make an effort to overcome your preconceptions
            (“are evil”). – You have made an enourmous effort to learn Japanese,
            to adapt to Japanese culture. If despite all these efforts then,
            things do not always work out smoothly (I have read last blog post as
            well, that you have to seek a new job, any progress by the way?) that
            hurts, yes, I can understand that, but certainly not because
            “foreigners in Japan are evil”, dammit: stop this kind of language. –
            Rather, these cultural differences *are* difficult to handle at times,
            integration *can* cause issues, in any case isn’t always easily
            accomplished, and there *may be* shortcomings in the legal system, and
            any country is well advised to take these matters seriously, if they
            want to attract talented people.

            One more advice: try to be an ambassador of your
            Austrian/European/Western culture, and if you should ever leave Japan:
            an ambassador of Japan as well – scrap these “evil” words from your
            ambassador’s vocabulary, then – Be proud, and enjoy the stimulating
            atmosphere of living with people from different cultural backgrounds.

  5. Ryuji Imasaka says:

    Dear Norbert

    I think you seem to be overreact a little bit.
    It is racism as you mentioned but Japanese don’t realize this.
    Because Japanese have not yet faced to differences like Austrian have.
    Because Japanese do distinguish between “inside” people and “outside” people subconsciously. “subconsciously” I mean that is part of their culture, so they couldn’t realize the point you do.
    I just wanna simply say; Japanese tried to do nice to “Foreigners” because they think “Foreigners” are not able to read Japanese language, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong, I am not defence Japanese against you though.

    • Hi Ryuji, thanks for your comment.
      Overreacting – I don’t know. I had the feeling of being treated like a child or retarded who does not have an average level of common sense. Because no one with common sense will break any of these rules anyway.

      There could be sooo many *really* useful information the ward could collect and offer to foreigners, maybe add a part on manner, fine. But waiving 90% of the pamphlet the prison flag, isn’t that strange.

      Be honest – did you get something similar in Canada? Maybe you got a manual on how to start, but my guess it didn’t contain 16 pages of legal penalty listings.

      What I criticize is the attitude that foreigners are a priori incapable of proper behavior. Because this is wrong.

      And I hope you feel the same in Canada!

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