Japan is a great country – most people are polite and nice, but there’s always those selected few that are mean, rude, and sometimes even racist. I never thought I would bumped into one of those people while I was here, but of course, I was proven wrong. To make it even worse, you’d think it’d be a stranger, but unfortunately, it was from someone I knew.
Recently, my friend’s host family wanted to thank my roommate and I for always letting her stay over and have dinner with us. We didn’t think much of it, considering that’s what friends do, but her host family thought it was extremely kind of us. They offered to take us to Costco, which was an hour ride away, to pay us back for our “kindness.” We were more than happy to accept – we needed to stock up on a lot of things for the apartment and Costco allowed us to do that at a lower cost. We would be able to buy our cleaning supplies and cheap blankets for winter. It was a trip that we were super excited to make.
On the day they picked us up, we introduced ourselves using the Japanese that we knew. We thanked them for taking time out of their day to drive us to Costco and the day went by pretty smoothly. It was hard communicating with them in the little Japanese that we know, but everyone was nice and friendly. At that time, we had no idea that they were saying nasty things behind our backs to my friend, who was trying her best to defend us.
On the way back home at around noon, I noticed that my friend was feeling down. She had a frown on her face and her eyebrows were furrowed. It looked like she wanted to say something, but was at conflict with herself about whether or not she should actually say it. I waited a minute or two, seeing if she was going to say something, but when she didn’t, I casually asked her what was going on. She looked uncomfortable, so I didn’t push, but eventually she explained everything to me (in English, so her host family wouldn’t be able to understand).
She told my roommate and I that her host parents were looking down on us. For my roommate who is Chinese-American, her host parents were talking about how Chinese people are “dirty” and that she was probably dirty as well, so it’d be better to not buy her food. For me, a Vietnamese-American, they were talking about how “unintelligent” I was because I was Vietnamese. They also made comments about our Japanese, saying that it wasn’t the best because we were a certain race.
My friend was getting visibly upset as she kept explaining the terrible things that her host parents were saying. In the end, I had to cut in and tell her that it was okay and that things like this are bound to happen some time in life. She told me that it wasn’t and continued saying that she was trying to tell her host parents otherwise with her limited Japanese. My roommate had to reassure her that it was fine, but it was clear we were uncomfortable with the truth.
After that exchange, we sat in a heavy silence until we were dropped off in front of our house. It was hard look my friend’s host parents in the eye when we knew what was being said about us, but we still thanked them and bowed good-bye.
They were incredibly kind of us, so it was weird to hear that they had such low opinions of us, despite not knowing us.
Racism is apparent in every country, and I often heard about racist encounters in Japan from my fellow previous program-mates, but it truly is different when you experience it first-hand. Of course, it’s better to not go through that at all, but an experience is an experience, so I’ll take what I learned from that and move on. Sometimes you just have to bite your tongue and smile through the uncomfortable situations for the better.