Japanese While White

I naturalised as a Japanese citizen almost two years ago, and so when I travel abroad, I travel on a Japanese passport.

This is interesting.

My first overseas trip was to the UK, where, for the first time, I had to join the queue for non-EU people. After a really, really long wait, I got to the desk.

“Oh wow, I didn’t know they gave these out,” says the immigration officer.

“Yes, they do. It’s not actually much harder than naturalising in the USA or Canada.”

“It’s really rare.”

“There aren’t many of us.”

“Did you have to give up your UK citizenship?”

“Yes; Japan doesn’t recognise dual citizenship.”

“That’s a shame.”

“It is.”

“So, you’re visiting family?”

“That’s right.”

“Enjoy your trip.”

Fairly painless, really. The next trip was to the USA.

“So, you’re Japanese then.”

“Yes.”

“So why do you have a British accent?”

Accent? You’re picking up on my accent? Oh, wait, you’ve had sensitivity training, haven’t you. You’ve been told not to tell people that they don’t look [nationality on passport].

“I was born and grew up there.”

“So, how long have you lived in Japan?”

“About thirteen years.”

“Do you speak the language?”

“Yes; it would be a bit difficult to live there without doing so.”

“There are a lot of immigrants here who never manage it. So, what’s the purpose of your visit?”

“Visiting family.”

“Enjoy your trip.”

All right. Next time, back to the UK.

“Oh! You’re Japanese?”

“Yes. I naturalised last year.”

“You don’t exactly look like a typical Japanese businessman.”

Ah. You haven’t had sensitivity training.

“No, I don’t.”

“What’s the purpose of your visit?”

“Visiting family.”

“Have you been to the UK before?”

I confess that rather flummoxed me. Still, “yes” was clearly less wrong than “no”.

“Yes.”

“Enjoy your trip.”

And then another trip to the UK.

“How long will you be here?”

“Ten days.”

“What is the purpose of your visit?”

“Visiting family.”

“What is their relationship to you?”

“Er, mother.”

“Do you have a return ticket.”

“Yes.”

“Can I see it?”

The officer turns to his neighbour at the next desk.

“Can you have a look at this?”

“Oh! Sixteen years in the job, and this is the first time I’ve seen someone not of Japanese origin with a Japanese passport.”

Well, you might have seen a naturalised Korean or Chinese, but you wouldn’t notice. Just smile and nod.

My original officer takes my passport back.

“But is this OK?”

Hang on. You are seriously considering denying me entry to the UK because I am white. That is… not part of the standard narratives.

“Oh yes, it’s fine.”

Thank you, more experienced immigration officer.

And then, of course, there’s Japanese immigration. I was a bit nervous the first time, joining the queue for Japanese citizens, which moves quite quickly, and then getting to the front, where the officer says,

“Thank you, sir.”

(Well, the Japanese equivalent.)

Wait, that’s it?

The next time, my officer has a badge on saying “In Training”. That means I’ll be the first white Japanese person they’ve seen. So…

“Thank you, sir.”

Oh. Not a flicker.

It was the same reaction the next two times as well.

As I say, travelling on a Japanese passport is interesting.

Posted in Japan.

Leave a Reply