Tokyo Interlopers aims to give insight in to the lives of Tokyo’s non-Japanese residents in the hope of allowing them to celebrate their differences. It’s also a project pointing towards the future of Tokyo.
I was first made aware of it through Time Out Tokyo, who likened Tokyo Interlopers to the famous Humans of New York, only with a foreigner twist. Rather than dilute the essential points of TI with my own interpretations, I decided to make a post with a straight-up Q&A, and let Cory and TI founder, Tac, tell the story for me.
Personally, I think Tokyo Interlopers is essential in helping to break stereotypes about foreigners in Japan and find some of the answers truly fascinating…
Is the concept based on Humans of New York and what other motivational factors were involved?
Cory: The idea of New York is that it is a melting pot filled with people not only of different nationalities but people from every industry including finance, music, art, and blue collar work. The image of course in many Asian big cities is that while the vibe is very much metropolitan what is lacking is the diversity of cities like New York, London, and other Western cities. So, through our project we are trying to let not only local Japanese people know that foreigners are now contributing to Japanese society at a growing pace, but we are also trying to show to the world that Tokyo is growing as an international city.
Tac: TI was inspired by HONY. Even though foreigners only make up a small percentage of Japan’s population, increasing demand for foreign workers amid a labor shortage will see more growth in immigration. Already the employment of foreign nationals topped one million in 2016, which is a watershed moment for Japan. This will have implications for Japan’s hitherto homogeneous society. We wish to shine a light on this changing reality and perhaps even help the Japanese government promote their Cool Japan agenda to the world (with the Olympics coming). Also, through individual stories of people, we hope to give a voice to this unrepresented segment of society.
C: The stereotypical answer is that Japanese view foreigners as “outsiders” and that integration is impossible for foreigners. However, like anything the answer is not exactly black and white. Some Japanese are accepting while others are not, but in between this is a growing acceptance that for Japan to move forward (and have a steady supply of workers) it is necessary to incorporate the skills of foreign born residents. All three of us (Taq, Tim and Cory) have lived here long term so we know how to blend in with Japanese culture while still maintaining the important aspects of our own unique identities and culture.
Personally, I didn’t struggle with culture shock or the Japanese way anywhere near as much as I had thought I would, even 6 months after arriving in Japan, but of course, I was working from home. I’m interested to know if you’re able to identify any negatives that have arisen from a professional/work environment.
C: For me personally, I know that it’s just the little things that can be a bit of an annoyance. For example, complimenting my use of chopsticks or my Japanese language ability, and no matter how long I live here it is something I will never stop hearing. So to some degree just by my very nature of looking different, and nothing to do with my behavior, I am singled out as different.
Can you remember what you knew about Japan before you ever came here?
Has beginning Tokyo Interlopers resulted in any change in perspective for you personally?
Is the inspiration for starting TI different from the goal? What do you see as the aim for Tokyo Interlopers?