Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The English Eigo complex.

If there is one thing I could name that has amazed me the most here, it is the "Eigo complex" (or English complex) that Japanese people have. Now initially, I did not really think much of it when I entered the country. English is just a language, so what more is there to think of it?

People here will cower from you if you speak to them in English. It is not because they dislike you, but it is because they are intimidated. People here study English from a young age and are taught that it is a very valuable skill, therefore it is highly valued. If you take a look around, there are advertisements for English language schools literally everywhere. As a career, I am unsure of how it is perceived, but I know that having that ability is very sought after here.

The image associated with English-speakers here are that they are White.. not Asian, not any other race. If you happen to be a White-American speaking both English and Japanese fluently, you have quite an advantage here. Just from witnessing the experiences of others, I have seen your typical White male suddenly become popular overnight. Case in point? If you fit the bill, perhaps you might have a chance out here to do something (hopefully not just teaching English).

As for myself, I am an American born Japanese. My Japanese is nowhere near native-level, but it is more than enough to get by. Everyday is a study session for me, whether it is me learning new words, learning harsh lessons, or understanding the different ways of thinking. The only downside to this is that I am frequently mistaken for being Japanese. Is being looked at as "Japanese" a good thing? Yes and no.

  1. Japanese people will hold "Japanese" expectations of you if they consider you as one of their own. Most people cannot fathom the idea of a Japanese person growing up outside of the country, let alone not being able to speak their language fluently.

  2. If you one day you make some kind of mistake that completely offends someone Japanese, you won't be able apologize and get away with it like a "foreigner" can.

  3. You won't be quite as sought after. It could be just treated as 'special.' It may be a good or bad thing, but your image won't save you here. The best you may get are stares from other people walking by wondering, "Why is this Japanese guy speaking fluent English?"

Now this might be a nice argument to defend myself with, but one has to consider the view of how 'non-Japanese' might see their experience here:

  1. Japanese people will not hold "Japanese" expectations of you, therefore, they will just excuse you from pretty much anything. This also means they won't take the time to explain to you what anything means.

  2. If you one day make some kind of mistake that completely offends someone Japanese, you may get away with it easily.. but somehow you don't feel right. In a way, you want to be treated more as 'one of them.'

  3. Be prepared to get the stares and the funny looks. You fit the bill of being the 'foreigner,' but now you have a lot of 'show and tell' to do. Be prepared for the best or the worst.

I guess there is no real 'middle-ground' here, so to speak. If you are mistaken for being Japanese, you'll get the full harsh lesson on what it is to be. If you are not, people may never take the time to show you what it is, nor accept you as one of them. What would you choose?


  1. It sounds like if you can speak, write and read both languages fluently, you are marketable and is highly valued in the market. On the other hand, your are subjected to both traits, for being Japanese, you are looked upon as higher standard if you born in Japan, but as a American, they are intimidated because English is something you need to master if you want to compete in the global economy. The fact you speak English in Japanese in a liberal manner, maybe a insecure issue.I may be wrong, since I don't live there.

  2. Hello. I'm someone who's interested in Japanese culture. But there are still many things I don't understand. What is actually the meaning of "complex"? (like the one you mention in your article).. thank you