О насVOSTOK Magazine - это первое независимое медиа об обществе, культуре, истории и политике стран Ближнего и Дальнего Востока. Мы пишем обо всем, что кажется нам важным и интересным.
In a famous story by F. Kafka a protagonist turned into a cockroach. A similar thing had happened to me; the only difference is that I'd been a monkey.
When I was in the Land of the Rising Sun I hanged out with many Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese… At first I was confused: why are my Asian friends always staring at me? Why is my every move being watched? The point is, for Asians, especially for people from small towns, conversations with Europeans and "pale faces" are very rare. That's why every foreigner in East Asia is in the public eye. If you managed to get to a remote place in Asia, your appearance would cause trembling, and you would sometimes feel like you're on the circus arena.
Now we live in a civilized world, Earth is now, thanks to globalisation, a tightly integrated society, but white skin still astonishes Asians. Let's take Japan as an example and try to find out why it is so.
Japan is a country that had been isolated from other cultures for a long time. Yes, there had been some relations with China and Korea, trade with Holland, but all that had been happening under the control of the elite, and commoners were left out of all this, so the appearance of a foreigner had been an astonishing event for them.
Later Japan opened up, or to be specific, had to open up. Japanese tried to integrate into the Western society and to become a part of it. However, Japan was not welcomed with open arms, and so Japanese society began to mentally distinguish themselves from the outside world attempting to prove that Japan is a country of gods and Japanese nation is supreme.
What happened to common people at that time? They believed in their uniqueness and got confined in their society. Of course, historical context is important to understand the situation. But what is going on now? The best illustration would be two stories from my experience, as they help to look upon this problem from different sides.
There are special air-conditioned glass rooms on the train stations in Japan where people try to save themselves from heat. Such rooms are usually full, but from time to time some space gets vacant and those who want can enter. When you stand on the platform, everyone inside this room is carefully examining you, but the moment you try to capture the gaze, they look somewhere else. At that time their faces display excitement and tension, but those Europeans who are visiting Japan for the first time don't pay a lot of attention to it, as they don't understand the reason for such behavior. So did I. I was a bit embarrassed by an uncommon reaction, but nevertheless I decided to enter this glass room. You won't believe it, but 5 minutes later I was alone. Even though it was 40°C outside. Why? Well, it seems, Japanese people were not ready for a close interaction with a representative of "another world" and were just terrified when they saw a "white monkey".
In the university in Japan I had some groupmates from Korea. They were cheerful, energetic, talkative guys and girls who were eager to talk to me or my Russian friends. But at the same time our every word and move was a cause of their great delight. Once we even heard that they called us "elves" and asked why we were given such a name. The answer was astonishing: "All of you have eyes and hair of different colors".
Even young Asians perceived us as small unusual "monkeys" who are really exciting to look at and take photo with.
The attitude of Asian people toward Europeans varies from "I'm scared" to "I want to be like you". Elder generation communicates with "white skin people" without great pleasure. Young Asians, on the contrary, despite of fear try to become close to Europeans. However, don't think that elder people act badly towards Western guys. For instance, a Japanese old woman will always try to help you if you ask her to explain something. While young people won't always be open to you. If you ask a Japanese girl out, most likely she will tell you about some sudden business.We can say one thing for certain: there is no conflict hidden in the scared eyes of Asians when they are looking at Europeans. Even though you will be a monkey in this situation, don't grow into that role too much. Just smile, say something nice and go on talking and pretending you don't feel like an exhibit from a museum.