There’s always a seat next to a gaijin/alien

The Tokyo Metro outdid themselves with their “train manner” (sic) poster for September (official site).

In the crush of Tokyo’s crowded trains that run at 150-250% of standing room capacity, oddly somehow there’s always an empty seat next to a gaijin/alien. While having that extra space is pleasant, the implication of The Empty Seat can be grating as my fellow blogger, “Loco” explains

…. just relax and ignore it, I’ve told myself
umpteen hundred times since my arrival here
and today was no different. It was just too
blatant! The empty seat beside me, on the
crowded train, exclaimed what the people and
the culture would find unseemly to say
verbally: : we don’t trust you, we don’t like
you and we don’t want you here.more…

Find many more examples of the gaijin seat phenomenon in the Comments section…

Published by

Taro

I'm a pale, alien, quadruped who has worked for 25+ years at "Maybe-the-Largest Inc." in Tokyo.

47 thoughts on “There’s always a seat next to a gaijin/alien”

  1. loco wrote:
    … (-; Hilarious ad!

    Hey, who needs to write jokes about Japan when we have the Japanese PR machine doing all the work for us?

  2. Amazing… so.. err.. photoshopping a PSA which doesn’t even show what you are purporting to complain about? (IE, the foreigner isn’t even sitting down, so there isn’t really a seat empty next to him).

    Perhaps there is a tendency for seats to be left open more frequently next to foreigners, but it is also true that many people once standing will stay standing… I’ve been in many situations where someone has sat beside me while seats next to other (Japanese) passengers remained vacant (and standees remained).

  3. Brenden wrote:
    I’ve been in many situations where someone has sat beside me while seats next to other (Japanese) passengers remained vacant (and standees remained)

    Y.M.M.V.
    In this case, I’m a pale alien and the quote is from an Afro-American. At this stage (25+ years in Japan), I am bemused by it but many other foreigners are not. Most gaijin notice the always-the-last-empty-seat phenomenon, but I’m glad you haven’t.


    Refer to:
    . . . . Gaijin Perimeter | outpostnine.com

  4. Ah……….

    Right……

    Well, I for one am quite proud to have inevitably been a part of an artificial (but all the more-likely accurate from all that I’ve heard from FG over the last couple of years) PSA campaign.

  5. I’ve found that I’m actually higher on the totem pole in terms of not being shunned than quite a few other types. For example, people will often sit next to me instead of:
    – old men, especially if they look smelly or unshaven.
    – teenagers
    – someone talking on their mobile phone, or using a device that seems intimidating, like a laptop or PSP.
    – someone who’s eating or drinking (although that’s sometimes me!).
    – someone with big headphones, even if the sound isn’t audible.

  6. Basjohn wrote:
    …I for one am quite proud to have inevitably been a part of an artificial (but all the more-likely accurate…) PSA campaign.

    alien taro  blue eyes dazzled animated

    Thanx Basjohn!

    Sorry I had to appropriate and remix your pencil-neck geek cartoon to approximate my more pointy cleanhead, blue-eyed likeness.

  7. i’ve only lived in japan a year, but i commute any where from 30 minutes to 3 hours by train a day and i’ve never had this happen to me… and i’m never really the last possible seat chosen by anyone.

    is this empty seat thing a phenomenon that happens only to male gaijin??

  8. svbrown1 wrote:
    i’ve only lived in japan a year, but i commute any where from 30 minutes to 3 hours by train a day and i’ve never had this happen to me…

    Sheesh, like I said, Y.M.M.V.
    For Loco and I this happens almost every day (which for me is 25+ years of commuting here in Tokyo).

    Comment via Japundit.com –Gaijin talks about racism in Japan
    I’m also a foreigner in Japan and some of what this guy says is spot on. The “gaijin seat” on the train is very true. I’ll be on the train and quite often the only seat left will be next to me, and people will still pass it up (I even try to sit on the edge next to the doors to leave only one seat next to me). I sigh inside but I don’t make a big deal out of it.

    YouTube Video:
    gaijin talks about racism in japan
    “…
    every foreigner here knows the ‘GAIJIN SEAT’ on the train, which is the seat right next to you, is the last one to get taken

    Yokoso Nagoya! » Gaijin cooties
    All foreigners have gaijin cooties, which makes them undesirable to stand or sit next to on a train. Apparently the big, hairy, sweaty foreigners are dangerous

    train seat racism yokoso nagoya gaijin cooties
    Click for full-size illustrations and droll commentary.

    Seat Lepers
    By Nick Hall | seekjapan.jp
    One of the few aspects of living in Japan that annoys me is a phenomenon I call the ‘leprosy effect’. The kind of situation this usually occurs in is one that I’m sure many of you can empathize with: I’m sitting down in a crowded train car next to the only free remaining seat, watching Japanese passengers spill in through the open doors while the train hums idle at the station.
    One of the passengers spots the available seat and darts for it, but just as they’re about to sit down they notice me sitting in the adjacent space. Realizing I’m a foreigner, a look of surprise and sometimes even panic appears on their face. They suddenly decide not to sit down, instead remaining standing or going off to look for another seat as if I have some kind of contagious disease.
    It doesn’t matter that I’m dressed respectably in a suit; my white skin, blue eyes and ‘big nose’ identify me as a ‘seat leper’ who nobody wants to sit next to. By now all too familiar with the ‘leprosy effect’ after several years in Japan, I just watch bemusedly as the same pattern of avoidance is repeated by a string of passengers every time the train stops at a station.
    More…

    And:
    . . . . Gaijin Perimeter 2007 Jan. | outpostnine.com

    greatteacherachan.com: Gaijin Buffer Zone
    “I am ALMIGHTY GAIJIN…When you go to the cinema in Japan, you always request your seat of choice as you purchase your ticket – despite the fact that I’d picked the back area, which was very crowded, I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the clerk had kindly left a two-seat Gaijin Buffer Zone around me so that no one would have to get too closemore...

    As always in Japan, Y.M.M.V.

  9. Just one or two empty seats next to gaijin?

    Shit, I scream, “Allah akabar!” and the entire train car has empty seats.

  10. Take the Gaijin Test
    Japan Q&A | 2007/11/29
    Are you still a foreigner in Japan? Do you agree with any of the following statements?
    (long list of life in Japan quirks)

  11. A non-Japanese sits down next to you on the train and you get up and move. You’re not prejudiced, but who knows what they might do?
  12. Eric Holcomb commented:
    OUCH!!! The seat on the train thing hurts. Every night on my way home, the seat beside me will _only_ be filled if the bus is PACKED!

  13. Y.M.M.V indeed. Sad to hear that so many have had this experience. Like I suggested before, it hardly ever happens to me. In fact, I remember having this conversation with a friend of mine:

    F: Those racist f###s never sit next to me on the train.
    Me: Well, you are a pretty big guy (he’s close to 190 cm, and 120-130 kg of fat and muscle)
    F: Yeah…
    Me: And you have a goatee.
    F: I guess…
    Me: And those sunglasses you’re wearing now, I bet you wear those on the subway even at night.
    F: True…
    Me: I might not sit next to you either :-).

  14. Thanks for the link. You mean my experience isn’t unique? I try to laugh it off. And honestly, it doesn’t happen that much, but when it happens it is very noticeable.

  15. Demographics may indeed enter into it. I’m pale, female, middle aged and not too big, so maybe I look mostly harmless. I don’t recall this blatantly happening to me but I may have just been enjoying the extra room too much to notice at the time. But I never had anyone run away if I sat next to them.

    The strongest reaction I had was surprise when I’d stand up and offer my seat to an elderly person or someone with a small child.

  16. Back home I’m rather typical college girl at 5’8″ 120lbs (172.7cm 54kg). People here in Japan ask if I play basketball and oddly if I am a model (both of which I am too short to do successfully in the States).

    However, I had quite a few Japanese squeak and run away when I sat down next to them on the train unexpectedly. When this happens while my Japanese girlfriends are with me on the train, they always console and tease me saying, “That bozo (‘kore yatsu’) must be embarrassed and got a stiffy.” :-)

  17. Claudia D. wrote:
    … I had quite a few Japanese squeak and run away…

    You’re not the only woman running into this:
    Ms. GreatTeacherachan reports the gaijin seat effect even in crowded Japanese movie venues imposed by the theater staff.

    greatteacherachan.com: Gaijin Buffer Zone
    I am ALMIGHTY GAIJIN…When you go to the cinema in Japan, you always request your seat of choice as you purchase your ticket – despite the fact that I’d picked the back area, which was very crowded, I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the clerk had kindly left a two-seat Gaijin Buffer Zone around me so that no one would have to get too closemore...

  18. Let’s Train Bingo!

    Seek-Japan train bingo game
    Train Bingo!
    By Jefferey Tanenhaus and Geoff Ciotti | seekjapan.jp
    ….To help pass the time for frazzled commuters like you, we’ve designed a special bingo game. The board is without traditional numbers or vocabulary words, but the rules remain the same as to how grandma plays in the retirement home, or Japanese students play in English class. Be the first to spot any four featured squares in a horizontal, vertical or diagonal row, and you’re the big winner. Simple as that.
    So sharpen your pencil, grab a friend (or the nearest salaryman), rush onto the train (mind the doors), and let the games begin!
    via Seek Japan :: Train Bingo!.

  19. A “Kentanakachan”* in blog in Japanese (Google Translate) picked up this story offering the Japanese rebuttal viewpoint on the Gaijin Seat Exclusionary Zone ….

    Key points of anonymous Japanese commenters, which kentanakachan gently derided* on the blog:

      –Gaijin/foreigners are stinky, odd acting, and scary so of course we avoid them (admitting the Japanese do leave the seat vacant).
      –Gaijin are much more racist (thus admitting Japanese are racist).
      –Gaijin go home!
    *Of course there is a famous “Ken Tanaka chan
    who is a fun comedian/performance-artist
    who spoofs the Japanese so this could be
    some sort of trolling,
    ha, ha.

    More info via:
    http://www.kentanakalovesyou.com/
    http://kentanakalovesyou.blogspot.com/
    http://www.youtube.com/user/helpmefindparents

    *Updated: Thanks to the advice from Eido Inoue, I changed the incorrect focus of “blame” from kentanakachan to the anonymous Japanese commenters on kentanakachan’s blog.

  20. @Taro: regarding the kentakanachan blog entry:

    Where did you see those three points: (1. foreigners are stinky, 2. foreigners are more racist and 3. foreigners go home) on kentakanachan’s post regarding this entry?

    Have those phrases/points been deleted? Because they sure aren’t there now. Or did you not understand the Japanese (or perhaps relied on too much machine translation; I think you lost the nuance regarding the point he was making regarding foreigners that don’t sit down next to foreigners)

    P.S. I’ll give you a hint regarding your error: the points about body odor, going back home if you don’t like it, etc, are IN THE COMMENTS (by an anonymous) and not written by the blog author.

    In particular, “kentakachan” rebutes and disagrees with the anonymous commenter, not this post.

    Please be more careful who you assign/attribute blame to (as you call his entry a “rebuttal”) and analyze the Japanese more carefully.

  21. Eido Inoue:
    …I’ll give you a hint regarding your error: the points about body odor, going back home if you don’t like it, etc, are IN THE COMMENTS (by an anonymous) and not written by the blog author….

    Yep, mea culpa.
    Just as I figured “kentakachan” was having fun with the anonymous commenters, in his disarmingly gentle way of humor (which sadly is lost on me).

  22. Hello.
    I once commented on kentanakachan’s blog as Iruhito (入人) and I’ve just noticed that my comment has been quoted on this blog by someone.

    But unfortunately, I have to say that my comment is quite severely mistranslated. Taro quoted my comment as
    Gaijin/foreigners are stinky, odd acting, and scary so of course we avoid them (admitting the Japanese do leave the seat vacant).
    which is definitely not what I meant.

    What I wrote is that the seat to anyone who has some features tends to be avoided, and one of such features is that
    who are sweaty, or who have strong odor
    and that is often the case for white men because they often wear shirts without underwears, which most Japanese men do.

    To sum up, I just pointed out that one reason that white men are avoided might be the cultural differences of fashion, not the ethnic or genetic one.

  23. Day-Bee-Toe wrote:
    …to sum up, I just pointed out that one reason that white men are avoided might be the cultural differences of fashion, not the ethnic or genetic one.

    Fair enough.
    I can agree with that but…

    The fact is EVERY single time I have been on the Tokyo train—without exception—for 26 fucking years the last seat to be taken on the car is next to me.

    “Understandable” perhaps…racist, most definitely.

  24. Well, I have no idea about your case and I neither agree or disagree about it, because I don’t know any of your experience. In addition, I am not sure if I have ever seen that a seat next to a foreigner is kept empty while all the other seats are occupied. As far as I experienced, when a seat next to a foreigner is kept empty, there are plenty of empty seats in the same carriage, and when the carriage is enough crowded, all the seats are occupied except for some “special” cases; I mean, in cases that the seat next to the empty one is occupied by an unpleasant, suspicious or extraordinary person (in many cases, a teenager or a middle aged man).

    To tell the truth, the reason I noted above is not the only one that I mentioned on kentanakachan’s blog. I mentioned some other possibilities for the empty seats, and they are the “special” ones I wrote above.

    The one I guess the likeliest among them is the size of body. Many Caucasians and Africans are much taller than an average Japanese guy, for whom the seats in trains are designed. As a result, if a very tall man have a seat, the place next to his is naturally too small. The same goes to fat people, who are somehow much more common in the West than in Japan.

    Please not that I’m not saying that the phenomenon you have experienced are not racist. I am simply mentioning that seats next to someone can be avoided for many rational, not racial, reasons.

  25. Taroさん

    the fact is EVERY single time I have been on the Tokyo train—without exception—for 26 fucking years the last seat to be taken on the car is next to me.

    ぼくは、Taroさんよりかなり長く東京にいますけどね、外国人の席のとなりがことさら空いていた、というのは見たことがないですよ。

    だから興味があるんです。

    ツイッターの写真はTaroさんですか?スキンヘッドってのは、日本人でも外国人でもご承知のように避けられる理由になりますよ。

    もう一つ面白い例がありましてね。

    たしか、3yencomだったんじゃないかと思うんですがね、昔ブロガーの写真を掲載していたブログがあった。その人を偶然、中央線で見かけたことがあった。ほんのちょっと小太りでね。その方、日本人の若い女の子とたどたどしい日本語でしゃべりながら、隣同士にすわっていましたよ。

    以前、この件について、議論したことがあるんですよ。

    http://blog.goo.ne.jp/kentanakachan/e/f4855f66e71b3e47eb352c13c230379e

    そしたらね、JapannewbieのHarveyさんが、やはり、そうしたことはある、っていうんですよ。

    だから、ありえない話ではないと思うんですが、日本語で問題提起してもらわないと言っていることが理解できない日本人も多いと思うんですよ。

    例えば、カメラでももって電車に乗ってみて、その様子を公開して、日本人にうったえたらどうでしょうか?

    パンクの格好もしていない、浮浪者にも、やくざにもみえないし、行儀も悪くないけど、外国人だと、こうして隣の席が避けられる、これはどうしたことか、と、日本語で、問題提起していただくとありがたいんですがね。

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbb_P6Fgq4w
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAIkbb_qbUs
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xxUnpCNyvA
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrvl5fFwGng
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBLUxuTFSTQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxZsznUbn7U
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3WQRD481SU

    外国人の方が、こんなの公開するよりよほど有意義だとおもうんですよ。

  26. Which golf clubs will be the best for beginner (to swing at racist japanese on the train)?

  27. @KontaOsobiste
    Which golf clubs will be the best for beginner (to swing at racist japanese on the train)?

    Such an golf club is located in the Sea Shepherd Reich ruled by Paul Watson, I presume.

  28. KontaOsobiste Says:
    September 22nd, 2010 at 5:45 pm
    Which golf clubs will be the best for beginner (to swing at racist japanese on the train)?

    そうやって、安易に特定の日本人を人種差別認定して、暴力を匂わせるのはやめていただけませんか?

    あなた因み日本語できますか?

  29. However, if gaijin plan to undergo a pubic hair waxing on the train, they must be aware there are a number of risks they should be aware of before attempting it.

    Unlike Japanese salarymen who love to mine their noses to the second finger knuckle for golden boogers while commuting on the train, performing such gaijin hair removal treatment should be done with care not to freak out the locals.

    Booger mining in Tokyo:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/73709979@N00/2298774146/

  30. 空 wrote:
    そうやって、安易に特定の日本人を人種差別認定して、暴力を匂わせるのはやめていただけませんか?
    ——

    空 -san politely chided me about stereotyping (which is just another facet of racism) in my facetious question about the best golf club to swing at racist japanese on the train.

    The problem is that the Japanese IDEAL is Groupthink and stereotyping is ingrained in the Japanese Borg-like culture.

  31. “my facetious question

    冗談だよ、というのはていのいいいいわけですね。

    「あなたは席を避けました」
    「冗談で、避けたの」
    で通用させていいのかしら?

    ”The problem is that the Japanese IDEAL is Groupthink and stereotyping is ingrained in the Japanese Borg-like culture.”

    まず、ご主張そのものの意味・真偽が不明である。
    また、ここの議論とどう関係するかも不明です。

    因みに、日本語ができないわりに、日本文化論はお好きなようですね。

  32. @KontaOsobiste
    I’m sure you mistyped some words:
    WRONG: in my facetious question
    RIGHT: in my hate-speech

    stereotyping (which is just another facet of racism)
    If you imply such a stereotyping as below, I agree.
    The problem is that the Japanese IDEAL is Groupthink and stereotyping is ingrained in the Japanese Borg-like culture.

  33. Thanksfor your link to the train seat “problem” Does someone by chance have a url to more info?

  34. I did not believe about that seat problem, but my wife said that you are right.

  35. alien taro  blue eyes dazzled animated Hey, Loco has made my “photo” famous in his newest essay:

    The Sh*t Apologists Say About The Empty/Gaijin Seat
    locoinyokohama.com | 22 March 2013

    __________

    Since Loco and I travel on the same train, the Tokyu Toyoko Line (the Yokohama→Jiyugaoka →Shibuya route), I wonder what would happen if he and I got onto the same train at the same time?
    Could we empty the entire train car with the combined power of our super gaijin forcefields. (ノ)゚Д。(ヽ)Oh!NO!

  36. Typical Japanese conversation on the train…


  37. Speaking seats and being seated in Japan…

    Don't know how people can sit a chair away from you and talk about "foreigners" like you're not there. Island nation or not, it's rude.

  38. Uncovering a ‘closed-minded’ mentality in Japan
    The International Examiner | Sept. 11, 2015 —by Haruaki Yashi
    …I started to question why people in Japan had a “closed-mind” when it came to interacting with other people, especially foreigners. When I asked one of my American friends if he had any similar experiences in Japan, he told me about a time he rode a train in Japan. Whenever he took a seat, people got up and moved. And others would avoid him on the train
    More...

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