The Same Old Questions

No matter how long you are in Japan, you will always be asked the same questions:

  • Where are you from?
  • Do you like Japanese food?
  • Can you use chopsticks?

The more adventurous Japanese will ask you questions about your home country:

  • Is summer as hot as in Japan?
  • Do you have cherry blossoms?
  • Do you speak English in England?

All these questions were recently asked of me by the dental assistant, just before I had my teeth drilled.

I can’t take it anymore!

I understand that because I’m a foreigner, people are interested in where I’m from and what I think of Japan. I am always courteous and answer politely, with a few well-practiced jokes included, but what I really want to say is…

Oh god! Here we go again! Leave me alone already! I don’t care where I’m from, so why do you? Of course I like Japanese food, what do you think I’ve been eating for the last decade? Can I use chopsticks? Yes, and I can spell my own name, too! Hot in summer? Al Gore says it is. Cherry blossoms? Now you’re getting desperate for conversation! English in England? Well, duh!

Now, I don’t mean to be rude, but it just never ends. I could be here when I’m 70 and still be asked the same things. At this stage of my life, I am really put off by these kinds of questions, despite the good intentions of the person asking.

What I’d like people to talk to me about

Normal things. Ask me if I watched that new drama, Hokaben, on Wednesday night. Talk to me about sport, politics, my favorite shopping mall… ask me about my family here and what it’s like being a dad. Ask me about my plans for Golden Week. Let’s chat about the new paper recycling rules, or what they are building by the golf course. Anything but chopsticks, natto, or a country I remember very little about.

Any of you feeling the same way?

If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!

19 thoughts on “The Same Old Questions

  1. Oh Nick… let me tell you something about Japan because you know I’ve lived there so much longer than you have…. NOT!!!

    You are a white boy! 99% of the population in Japan are Japanese! You will always stick out and you will always seem like a foreigner to them. It’s not like Canada where we have all different races and are used to seeing different faces.

    I can totally understand your frustration and I’ve had my fair share of super fantastically retarded questions asked too.. My favorite one of all time was, “so what year is it in Canada now?”

    Most foreigners only stay in Japan for short stays and most Japanese know this. They are probably just trying to make conversation with you and don’t realize that you get this all the time.. I guess you can really understand what it’s like to be Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise. Except without all the good looks.. haha just kidding, you’re hot and everyone knows it!

    Maybe you should get a tattoo on your forehead that says in Japanese not to ask you any foreigner related questions. But then again, I’d bet you’d still get some.

    Don’t worry Nick, when I come I’ll ask you what you think of Kojima Yoshio and about all those new paper recycling rules that are the talk of the town! Yep, those recycling rules will get you everytime if you’re not careful… (shakes head in bewilderment.)

  2. I used to say this about dating Nick! Let’s see, Where do you work? What are your hobbies? Do you like this type of food? What’s your favorite TV show? When’s your birthday? Etc., etc., etc. At least I never got asked my blood type???!

    I kept telling my girlfriends that I was going to tape an intro on one of those portable tape recorders (I’m dating myself here) and put it on the table to play when the questions started coming…maybe you should record something on your cell phone for future use?

    1. I didn’t think of it that way, Shane. Perhaps it’s not a “Japan thing”, but a “situation thing”. The best way to avoid the same old dating questions would be to either stop dating or decide on a partner and move beyond the intro questions. The same would work in my case. I just have to either stop meeting new people, or make friends out of them and move beyond the intro questions! 🙂

  3. You forgot “Do they have Onsens in your country?” …. if i had a dollar for every time i was asked that!

    Not to mention asking whether i like Japan better than my native country (Australia)… i mean, yes i enjoy living here but let’s not get into a competition about what’s better …. what does define “better” anyway? Beaches, bars, weather, countryside, things to do on the weekend, ability to earn money and live a great lifestyle, the list goes on.

    Honestly i LOVE living in Japan but i wouldn’t want to rate it against Australia on a checklist of the above. Both are fantastic in their own individual way.

    1. It’s interesting to see Japanese people react when I tell them I’m from England. They seem to have put it on a pedestal as one of the world’s elite countries. If only they knew what a low opinion most English people have of their own country!

  4. Neil that is interesting because I too am from Aussie land and my father-in-law always goes fishing with me in the sense that he wants me to say Australia is better.
    I’m sure that if I said that, he would jump all over me and tell me to go back there. Everytime we talk he has to say Japanese do it this way or that way and I to be honest have had a real gutful.
    I really undertsand Nick’s feelings and I suppose it is the price we have to pay for living here for so long but mmmmm it can be mind-numbing at times.

    “Both are fantastic in their own individual way” Great line mate and so very true!!!

  5. “Both are fantastic in their own individual way”

    I second Mike! Before Japan, I always said that i came from two beautiful places, Canada and Hawaii. Now I guess I have to add Japan to the list.

  6. The trick is to beat them to the punch by simply saying before they have a chance to get a word out,

    “Japan is a beautiful and safe country.” Follow up immediately with, “America (in my case), yes, yes, yes, yes, no habla the English.”

    That should stun and confuse your average low level English speaker long enough for you to make a quick get away.

    1. They usually think I’m American anyway, so I’ll put your plan into immediate effect! Nothing beats a preemptive strategy with a good dose of shock and awe! 😀

  7. I got annoyed one time when I got the chopsticks question during an English class I was teaching and actually responded with something like, ‘You know, you can teach a monkey how to use chopsticks, don’t you? Some can even communicate with talking keyboards.’

    That got a laugh from one of the students and shocked expressions from a couple of others.

  8. Why don’t you bring up the subjects you would like to discuss before people start asking you boring questions. I bet they would love to know you want to talk about things happening in their country.

    1. This is Japan, every week is golden! 😉

      Seriously though, Mami wants me to go to the zoo with me and Ricky next month… to look at the elephants and stuff. Should be fun!

  9. Higashi Yama Zoo? It always makes me sad. The areas for many of the animals are way too small. The poor tiger and polar bear seem to be stressed out. They are supposed to re-do it more like the famous one up in Hokkaido, Ahashi Yama Zoo, I think it’s called. I went there a couple of years ago. Nice place.

  10. That last line just cracked me up Nick haa haa haa!! did they have to pay any key money I wonder??????


    Every time someone does this to you, tell them that you’ve been asked them a 100 times and being asked “Where are you from?” to someone outside Japan would normally be a very rude and possibly racist question.

    Japanese people won’t change unless you let them know what they’re doing is wrong.

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