Staring Contest

September 22, 2013

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Today marks the one-month mark for living in Japan. The time is passing rapidly and I’ve filled my days with studying the language, eating incredible food and visiting ancient temples and shrines that are older than my country. There is one thing that still catches me off guard from time to time: the staring.

I have blue eyes, light hair and freckles- I don’t exactly look Japanese. I’ve traveled to Asia previously and have gotten the same sideways glances and head turns, but for some reason, I didn’t expect that in Japan. Japan is fully industrialized, I thought to myself. They probably see foreigners all the time. That may be so, but it doesn’t seem to diminish the fascination or the urge to look.

I was curious about the staring phenomenon so, of course, I googled it. I guess I was wondering if I was making it up in my head or not. Turns out, I am not the only foreigner who has experienced this hyper focus. There are many, many blog posts on the Internet about this exact same topic. Some are angry, some are reflective and others are simply informing future Japanese sightseers.

I’ve decided that, when dealing with the staring situation, there are three options: You can look at it as a positive, you can ignore it, or you can view it as negative.

Option One: There are some great reasons for why people might be staring. Think of those every time you notice someone watching you.

1. People are naturally curious about where you are from and why you have visited Japan.

2. People like your outfit or think you have cool style.

3. People think you are “kawaii” or cute. Take it as a compliment.

If you are comfortable enough to engage your “starer” in conversation, you’d be surprised at how much more at ease you’ll feel.

Option Two: Who’s staring? You’ve got your plans for the day and nothing else is of any concern to you.

Option Three: You feel nervous, self-conscious and very much like an outsider. This kind of thinking haunts you all day long and colors your experiences in Japan. You can’t take in the beauty of a temple when you are more concerned with who is looking at you looking at that temple.

Bottom line is that it is difficult to get used to the staring at first. You cannot change the reality that, as a foreigner, you look different from the homogeneous Japanese population. What you can control, however, is your own attitude. I’m sticking with Option One.

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