Japan and You
Within mainstream Japanese media, Japan is often touted as being a country of little diversity. Oftentimes, Japan is shown as having a single, homogenous race. Because of this perceived lack of ethnic diversity, often, various forms of prejudice still occur in people's daily interactions. That is not to say that people are intentionally rude, but that they may not be used to encountering those of different races. Some people are unaware of how certain behavior may be hurtful.
Even so, you may find such interactions affecting your study abroad experience. While in Japan, some of these situations may alienate and exhaust you. It is crucial to take time for yourself and stay motivated to ensure you have a positive study abroad experience.
Japan Study, in consultation with past participants, created the following to serve as a guide for students of color to help maximize their study abroad experience in Japan.
Prejudice in Japan
As a person of color in Japan, you will likely experience a degree of prejudice in your everyday interactions with Japanese people. This is a reality for many people in Japan. For example, some people may touch your hair without asking, or address you with stereotypical American slang. Children especially may behave in ways that may make you feel uncomfortable. Some young children may even display fear when they encounter a person of color for the first time.
It is not uncommon for Japanese people to ask people of color questions that would seem inappropriate and insensitive in the U.S. It is helpful to remember that, for the most part, the average person in Japan lacks the experiences which inform the behavior of those from more diverse counties like the United States.
While you are having these experiences, you can take the chance to help bridge the gap and educate Japanese people about how they can become more racially aware. Of course, the task does not rest solely on you. You don't need to push past your limits. But, it helps to always remember that you are actively participating in a cultural exchange. Remind yourself that you are acting as a symbol of intercultural interaction.
Staying motivated is key when studying abroad. Some days, you may feel your language learning skills are not improving. Other days, you may feel as if people only see you as a walking stereotype. It is perfectly normal to have ups and downs throughout your semester or year. This is the reality of the experience. Exploring your niches and finding ways to stay motivated can help you continue your studies with a clear and focused mind.
Understand Your Surroundings, So They Understand You
While abroad, whether you are in a share house, apartment or with a host family, you will want to make sure you get to know your roommates and neighbors.
By becoming familiar with who you live with, you can learn new things about them, their everyday life, and their way of thinking. You will also have the opportunity to explain your cultural differences to them in a polite and patient way. Those around you are often just as excited to learn about a new culture as you are, so be sure to work with them.
It is key to take time to care for yourself emotionally and mentally, even though you may feel like you don't have the time. Just be mindful that, in practicing self-care, you do not distance yourself from Japanese culture and society. Identifying and practicing effective self-care will help you recharge and remember why you wanted to study abroad in the first place. Examples of healthy coping strategies might be:
Journaling about your experience
Talking with close friends and family
Taking a moment to spend time alone
Keeping up with your favorite activities
Making new friends and meeting new people when you feel ready
Finding a space within the culture where you can relax or express yourself
Exploring outside of your comfort zone
Knowing when to say no
Connecting with others who are experiencing similar things