Unruly, exotic and strange. Is that the Japanese view of foreigners?

Are Western people regarded as exotic, funny or unruly by the Japanese?

I’ve been considering that question since reading an excellent editorial in the English-language Japan Times by Elenor Sezar.

She’s disappointed by Japanese TV.

“The exaggerated image of people from other cultures is maintained by stereotyping and caricaturing. Foreigners are reduced to others – the ones who are not us.”

Invisible presence

At least foreigners have some presence on television, whereas in other media we’re almost completely invisible.

It’s rare to see a foreign character in a Japanese film, unless they are an American soldier or an English language teacher.

This is an awfully narrow perspective. It’s a bit like seeing all Japanese women as geishas or all the males as salarymen.

Why did you come to Japan?

Elenor has a bone to pick with the TV show Why did you come to Japan?

It encourages foreign guests to praise Japan’s food, politeness or cherry blossoms.

Elenor thinks that it embodies everything that is wrong with the depiction of non-Japanese people.

“Close contact with non-Japanese people in Japan, while increasing, remains a rarity for a majority of the Japanese population, despite a rise in tourists from overseas (their numbers reached 31 million last year).

That means most Japanese people’s knowledge of non-Japanese has been left almost entirely in the hands of the mass media – and the results have not been good,” she says.

Banning foreigners

Perhaps this explains why some Japanese attractions are refusing entry to foreigners.

The Daily Telegraph claims that “a small number of unruly visitors are threatening to ruin things for everyone.”

It reveals that the Nanzo-in Buddhist temple in Sasaguri, Fukuoka has banned groups of foreign tourists due to their bad behaviour. (It doesn’t say what they did wrong – or which countries they are from.)

I have never previously thought of that temple in Fukuoka as being one of the great “must-see” attractions of Japan. But it is frustrating to find the famous temples in Kyoto overrun with tourists, both from Japan and abroad.

Selling rubbish

In my view, it is not poor behaviour by the visitors which is the problem.

The problem is that almost no consideration has been given as to how to preserve the temples’ special, holy atmospheres.

Throngs of tourists are preyed upon by vendors selling greasy food, sugary drinks and tacky souvenirs.

And the temple staff – who are supposed to be nurturing our spiritual growth – fleece visitors by selling lucky charms to make us money, pass exams or find a lover.

Many of my Japanese friends buy this rubbish with a smile on their faces. However, they have never shown me a shred of evidence that their lucky charm have brought them any real good fortune.

Why do they tolerate this tawdry trade? I say: “Overturn the tables and throw these charlatans out of your temples!”

If I share my view on Why did you come to Japan? I am sure there would be consequences.

But if I am banned from a few temples as a result, I doubt my spiritual health will suffer.