Things Foreigners Should Know About Japan Before Living Here

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So I wrote a poem to say at the One love festival in May but it didn’t work out as planned. So I performed it tonight at a Jamaican restaurant in Harajuku, Tokyo named Jamrock. This was my second time there. Went there back in December 2010. I invited a few of my friends and most of them came out. Even my Wednesday evening student came along with his wife.

This was a “poetry night” of sorts dubbed “Evening Musings” put on by a group called “Writer’s Block, Tokyo” and done once a month at this same Jamaican restaurant. I had no idea there were so many performing poets in this area. I love this kinda stuff as those who know me personally, already know. Thanks for telling me about it Biankah….  Some guys from Australia and Scotland also performed, as well as a couple of us Jamaicans and I think 1 American guy. While one of the guys were performing, some dude at the door kept interrupting. I am not sure why. He was definitely drunk and he was pissing off most of us. He kept shouting “What is IRAQ spelled backwards“?????? Seriously Like what tha????

Outside of that, it was pretty good. Poetry of all sorts and forms. The last time I performed was in April. I wish I had more opportunities though. Back in Jamaica it was pretty much weekly or close to that. I performed “wi waah peace” and the poem I wrote for the One love Jamaica Festival event called “One Love“.


Mi borrowing some of yuh pichas Biankah ….

Things Foreigners Should Know About Japan Before Living Here Part 1

1) You will be stared at –

Whether you like it or not, whether you are black, white or purple, unless you wear your
Asian suit, you will be stared at….. However, the intensity of the stares vary from community to community, prefecture to prefecture, town to town etc… for eg… In the BIG city parts of Hiroshima, Osaka, Fukuoka, Tokyo and Kobe etc. The stares are far less intense…I wish I could say the same for Yokohama but it is not so….

Let me see if I can further break this down by race and if you are in a very rural town or even suburban area……Yokohama is city but many people behave like people from the country side, with the exception of being nice.

White/latin or otherwise clear skinned ——————–Stare intensity x3

2 or more clear skinned persons are seen together ——-Stare intensity x5

A non-Asian clear skinned and an Asian (Japanese or otherwise) Stare intensity x6


The intensity increases if its 2 people of the opposite sex. And this may be accompanied by chatter and occasional laughs

Black or dark skinned in any way —————————-Stare intensity x7 

2 or more dark skinned persons are seen together ———–Stare intensity x9 (accompanied by a very very uncomfortable look and demeanor )

A mixed crowd of dark skinned and clear skinned people together—Stare intensity x10

A dark skinned person and an Asian ————————- Stare intensity x12
The intensity increases if its 2 people of the opposite sex. And this may be accompanied by chatter and occasional laughs.

Again this is in the rural areas and in Yokohama as well. I do remember going to Tokyo, and this lady was walking by and could not stop staring.

As to why foreigners are stared at so much, its still beyond me. There are many reasons and excuses given. If you are black….. God help you, especially in Yokohama….

2) Japan is Expensive

Many people assume wrongly that because these brands like, SONY, TOSHIBA, PANASONIC, SHARP etc etc etc.. are Japanese brands, it means that they are cheaper in Japan… Ha… nothing could be further from the truth…. Those brands are here in abundance yes but the products, what ever it is, are not cheap…. Its probably the same price or more expensive here… Even bread and soda are expensive here… The only thing that I can think of that is cheaper here in Japan, are cars. Nothing!!!! else that I can think of is cheaper here.


3) Many Japanese people you meet, may ask you the same set of questions … Most popular questions include:

i) what is the difference between Japanese and Jamaican women?
iii) how long have you been/plan to be in Japan?
iv) why did you come to Japan? (a lot of them are actually expecting you to say the culture)
v) do you like Japan?
vi) do you like the food?

Almost every Japanese person you meet in Japan, will ask some or all of these questions to you.

4) Japan is an extremely paradoxical country

i) So even though Japan is big on technology and has these name brand technological stuff… If you should go in a regular school classroom, you might see very old computers with old Windows operating systems… Ohh and at some schools, not sure if its all of them…. The class rooms do not have AC units… So in the hot and humid summer, you will fry, if you are a teacher.

ii) You can find very old buildings and companies that are around even before 700 BC SERIOUSLY!!! As a matter of fact the 2 oldest companies in the world are Japanese. They are Kongo Gumi and Ho-Shi owned by the same family for centuries. But at the same time, just around the road from those old buildings, you might have a highly sophisticated, earthquake proof, rotating building full of lights….

iii) You will have persons who realllly love foreigners or are realllly disgusted by foreigners…

iv) Japan is one of the most peaceful countries in the world, but they also have one of the highest suicide rates in the world

5) Time –

Everything is on time in Japan… And sometimes ridiculously early… If a Japanese person says they will meet you at 5:00 they really mean 4:45.


6) Food –

Some of the foods here are delicious, some are not so good. But in general, being very very general here, if you refuse food offered to you by a Japanese person, then it is equivalent to throwing the food in their face…… And you are expected to eat everything given to you…. If you are eating around kids, you will be stared at…… and even though you are already weird because you are not Japanese, you will even seem weirder if you don’t like the food given to you….

So don’t be surprised if you are offered food that you don’t like, refuse it, then start to get some weird treatment from the person(s) who offered it to you…

eg. My friend back in 2008, refused the school milk and ooooh Boy…..He had a difficult time getting through the school year with the teachers…..

A former teacher back in Okayama also opted to take lunch to work and suddenly everyone started to treat her weird.

For me, when I just got here in 2008, I told a principal that I didn’t want to take the lunch for only 1 month, because I was planning to save to go to Germany… And he instantly called my company…… Its a little different in Yokohama it seem though. It appears they have no problem if you refuse the lunch.

Well again, thats just their culture, we in the west couldn’t care less if you eat our food or not… We just need to understand each other thats all… Westerners don’t like to be forced into doing anything…

7) People who you met before, may pretend not to know you

Ok so maybe say you go to a friends house and met several Japanese persons. The possibility exist that you might see one of them in the Supermarket the very next day and they don’t pay you any mind…. Some may even stare you in the eye and look away… This has happened to me several times… My friends in Kobe, said it happened to them too.

8) You will be discussed

Whether at work, at the shopping mall or wherever, Japanese people will talk about you. If you are in the mall and a group of persons are talking about something, as soon as you are seen by them, the conversation will instantly change to discuss you.


9) People may run away from you or be scared of you

Back in Okayama, A former friend of mine said he opened his apartment door and 3 Japanese high school students scattered in 3 different directions, one apparently hurting herself… My Jamaican friend who is in Nagoya (which is maybe the 5th or 6th biggest city in Japan by population) said she was in the super market, and she attempted to ask an old lady a question… When the old lady saw her, she walked away quickly to the other food aisle.

10) Assumptions

If you are black, the general assumption by many Japanese people, will be that you are from somewhere in Africa… And most Japanese people see Africa as a country and not a continent. If you are white they will assume that you are from the USA.

11) Some Japanese people are unbelievably helpful and kind.

Sometimes I wonder if people can be so kind and helpful. Some of them will go the extra mile for you. Car trouble, at the bank, at the supermarket, you name it… some of them will get the detailed information for you about whatever you need help with.

12) Some Japanese people are very hypocritical

So off the bat, Japan is big on customer service…  They will give them self the wrong most of the time. Its a society, built on politeness at all cost. So sometimes even if you do something wrong, you might not know. And sometimes, if someone at your workplace don’t like you, you might not know… Well thats unless you turn away food offered to you. Anger is rarely shown if at all. In Jamaica its the opposite. eg. My friend said a Japanese driver almost hit him down because of his (my friend’s) blunder. And all the Japanese driver did was nodded and say sumimasen (excuse me ).

13) Sort Your Garbage

I know that in the developed world, systems like these are already in place. But for most third world countries, ha.. there is no such thing as garbage sorting. So if you come to Japan, you need to learn how to sort your garbage.


14) Girls panties may get stolen

If females hang up their under wears outside… It may get stolen. As far as I was told, this applies to all of Japan, whether rural or city.

No. I didn’t take this picture.
I downloaded it… honestly!!!

15) National Pride

Many Japanese people are very proud and think that every other race is a joke compared to the Japanese people. Many wont accept foreign marriages and many think Japan is the best country on earth. For eg. Japan has 4 clear seasons, and apparently many of them think Japan is the only country with 4 clear seasons which is not so.

16) Only USA, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand Speaks English

So if you are not from any of the above countries, and your mother tongue is English, then many Japanese people won’t have a clue.

17) Many Bugs
Japan has bugs bugs and more bugs especially in the Summer. And they are annoying sugimasu.

18) Many smokers and Drinkers

I had no clue before coming to Japan that there were so many smokers and drinkers here. And I mean its like every other Japanese person you meet they smoke… Well that chiefly the males still. I don’t see many Japanese women smoking. But the men, Oh Lord. Drinking and smoking is like a ritual.

19) Many Japanese People Don’t Care their Teeth

So just walking around anywhere in Japan, you will notice that dental care is almost like a last resort. There are many people with very very very bad teeth especially in the rural areas. It is terrible. and the Japanese tooth paste aren’t that good either. There are a few people with very nice teeth but my Lord man, a part from those with nice teeth, darn….

 My Japanese ex-girlfriend back in Okayama was a dental care assistant. She and another guy who loves Jamaican culture, were shocked when they realized I had no bad teeth.
20) Many Nerds / Otaku
Yes they are many many nerds in Japan. Some could not care less whether its night or day, they live in the magazine shops and live on video games and anime. And these are not normal nerds, they are extremely weird.

21) 75% of Japanese Girls are Cute

I must admit that many Japanese girls are stunningly beautiful…..and that speaks for itself…If you see a Japanese girl now and thought she was beautiful, just give yourself a few minutes, you will see a better looking one…That though also depends a whole lot on the area where you live… If its in the rural vicinities, then its going to be a sad story for you, unless a college is nearby.

22) There are many Old People in JapanYes Japan is an ageing population. But the xenophobic government still don’t have any good plans to combat this. Even though its estimated that in the next 50 years or so, the population will be near half what it is now. The guys don’t really want the girls, and a good couple of the girls are not interested in foreigners. Many are but many are not. So its just a sad story. It seem as if many of the girls would rather stay alone than to date a foreigner. And if you are a girl foreigner and like Japanese men, hopefully you are in the city, because if its in the rural areas!!! Then all the best in your endeavours… And it’s worse if you are black.

Contributed by Dave Collymore: Visit his blog at:

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