The Japanese are known for their hospitality or Omotenashi. According to Coto Academy, the term defines Japanese hospitality. But its meaning goes way deeper than the way of providing hospitality. The noun means “to entertain guests wholeheartedly”.
Having traveled extensively in Japan, studied both the language, history and culture I was taken aback when flatly refused entry to a piano bar in Kyoto recently. After a day wandering around a city that is easy to love, the idea of relaxing and listening to some cool Jazz music seemed like a great way to end the day. I went to the bar to ask opening times, which I could clearly see on a sign but was told I could not come, of course, I had a puzzled look on my face but this was met with no English spoken from the other party.
This post maybe somewhat contentious, and indeed as a white European woman, I rarely experience racism or cultural alienness. My heart is heavy for those who have to live with this on a daily basis. Over the years of travel in Japan and elsewhere in the world where my physical appearance is different to others, it is understandable that people are curious. This makes me recall a trip to India with my blonde, blue eyed friend who drew a fan club wherever we went, and indeed in the early years of my travel to Japan, my blue eyes seemed to freak people out! fast forward to 2017 and gaijin are not so much of a rare sight in Japan, so this attitude was quite unexpected. This led me to delve a bit further around the streets of Gion. Gion is a neighborhood frequented by the elusive Geisha and the well-heeled people of Kyoto.
Gion is a neighborhood frequented by the elusive Geisha and the well-heeled people of Kyoto. What I discovered was that there was numerous, very secretive and closed door type of establishments. I initially found this curious until I returned to my hotel and thought it through.
So, had I just been basically told that I was not allowed into the bar because I was Gaijin?
The word for foreigner or non-Japanese is Gaijin. It is slightly derogatory but universally used. An interesting article I read discusses the phenomena that no matter how hard one tries, learns the language or even worse, being born and raised in Japan… if you are non-Japanese, you will never fit in. This article drew a lot of heated commentary admonishing the writer when in my opinion he was pointing out the elephant in the room. I have not had to face this on an on going basis, but this to me seems like racism. Indeed entire thesis has been written on this topic, so I am only scratching the surface here, but comments on this would be eagerly received and discussed.
I believe I did experience racism. Why should I be surprised? our fellow humans are subject to this on a daily basis all over the world. Maybe it is because we expect too much from the Japanese Omotenashi.
Conversely, I am often treated with such cow tailing from people, specifically in India, that it is embarrassing, for want of a better description to feel as though I should be looked up to as a westerner.
Hopefully, and again in a perfect world, one day, as the song goes we will all be One Tribe. ( Black Eyed Peas)
One tribe, one time, one planet, one race
It’s all one blood, don’t care about your face
The color of your eye
Or the tone of your skin
Don’t care where you are
Don’t care where you been
‘Cause where we gonna go
Is where we wanna be
The place where the little language is unity