Micro-joys: the little things that lift you up

Since I suspect most of us had had our fill of micro-aggressions, what about micro-joys, to shamelessly steal an idea from a comment by David K.? These are the small interactions where you feel you’ve had a successful interaction, you’ve put the smile on the face of a native, or you’ve turned a micro-aggression into a positive experience. Here is one of mine, to get the ball rolling and maybe to start a discussion on whether such should be seen as a win, or just as part of normal human interaction:

  • Being recognised as a regular at restaurants and getting special service. For instance, just last week in two different places they remembered our faces and pushed two tables together instead of just being squashed up at a single, despite being busy. I’d like to think it’s partially because being foreign it is easier for them to remember my face.
  • Giving up your train seat to someone older, and getting a smile of thanks, which I attest to them having a "foreign gentleman" image.
  • Being asked where I’m from, as it gives me an excuse to talk about Scotland.

I reserve the right to pinch anyone’s input and use it in a Japan Times article. :grin:

Leave a comment ?


  1. I’m trying to think of some specific “wins”, but fundamentally, I go to work, I go out with my family at the weekends, we go on vacation around Japan, etc., and I’d say pretty much 97% of the time, I get treated like a normal human being (on or off the leash).

  2. * Giving directions to lost people. It helps them, and I love the flash of cognitive dissonance across their faces.
    * The extra attention my kids get. Now is a good time to be born haafu.
    * As per Ken, giving up seats, holding open doors, carrying suitcases for elderly travellers.
    * Taxi drivers. I enjoy those chats. I’ve even forced tips on a couple for the quality of their banter.
    * “May I join you…” For some reason, recently I’ve had a few Japanese men of my age invite themselves into my bar conversations with a foreign friend, who have been real quality. People who want to practice their English learnt from postings abroad and who’ve got something to say.

  3. When small children, who are staring at me in uncertainty, burst into a smile when I give them a quick “inai inai baaa”

    When grown adults burst into a smile when they realise that that off-the-cuff remark I just made would earn three cushions on “SHOTEN”

    Come to think of it, the look I get when people find out I watch “SHOTEN” :smile:

    Another favourite, was when I was watching the World Amateur Sumo championships at Ryogoku a few years ago.
    I went alone, mainly to indulge my two major passions at the time, Sumo and photography. I asked one of the stewards where the “JiyuuSeki” were, and he said anywhere in the first six rows.
    I immediately knew he meant to say “Anywhere BUT the first six,” but I figured what the hell and sat down in one of the four seater carpeted stalls.
    A while later a Japanese man, who was on his own as well, asked if he could join me. I said yes.
    We watched in silence for a while, before the actual occupants of that stall came along and we had to move.
    We both gathered our belongings, apologised and stood, and as we were struggling to put on our shoes, we both noticed that the stall immediately behind was unoccupied, flashed each other a quick conspiratorial glance, and sat right down again.

    And then there was my first and only English lesson;

  4. @Tony In Saitama: That’s a nice wee story, thanks! :lol:

  5. Holding a door open a little longer for the person behind you. It is something that is not generally done in Japan, but always appreciated. :grin:

  6. Chrysanthemum Sniffer

    Some Japanese kids once asked me for directions at a crowded main station in one of Japan’s major metropolises (plenty of other Japanese locals around). It also seemed to be a conscious choice, as I saw them discussing who to ask first. Maybe they thought I was going to be surprised and therefore more likely to give them the time of day.

  7. Wataru Tenga once commented that his response to a girl in a shop saying 日本は長いですか was お嬢さんより長いでしょう, which made me smile.

  8. When needing to ask a question to a stranger, asking a question in Japanese, getting a reply and engaging in a dialog, then catch them saying (either to me or their group or both) a sigh of relief or thankfulness etc about not needing to speak in a foreign language.

  9. I love this idea, so much better than negativity.

    My brother, who once hung with the Hare Krishnas once received some great advice: why not compliment rather than insult those you dislike/don’t understand. It effects a qualitative change in your perspective to do so.

    Anyway, I have given directions to non-locals in my town, it felt good, it was at that moment I felt I belong. Other micro-joys? The owner of the music shop who taught me much about Japan and music in general, but also had a wide open mind and got hooked on the drone, math and other metal I foisted on him.

    More micro-joy: oseibo, ochuugen, aisatsu presents from new neighbours, having a conversation with a father of my son’s kindergarten friend… even though we have never met, the free samples of drinking vinegar at the department store – even though I haven’t bought a bottle in more than two years

  10. While coming home from work and passing by my local police substation *, getting a respectful greeting from the officer on guard at the entrance, and sometimes an update about anything that me or my building should know about (excessive loitering / parking by unknown cars in our no parking / standing zones) — last week they mentioned they saw a kid from my building use the crosswalk going to school — during the time zones the kids know they’re supposed to use the land bridge (歩道橋), which is safer but a little more out of the way.

    * I have a relationship with them from working on the HOA of my building.

  11. When people around me stopped complimenting me for trying to speak Japanese; work meetings became Japanese-only as long as I’m the only non-Japanese; and strangers (waitstaff, work visitors, whatever) started addressing me in Japanese directly instead of English. People now basically expect me to handle the language, and that feels like a victory over my own linguistic ineptitude.

  12. These are the small interactions where you feel you’ve had a successful interaction, you’ve put the smile on the face of a native…

    Okay, here’s one of mine:

    I was on my way home, walking through the underground tunnel to Tameike-Sanno station. In the middle on the tunnel there was a Japanese lady standing there with long crutches under her arms. On the floor beside her, a paper carrier bag filled with [too many] books. The string handle had broken away on one side. The bag was out of reach and there was nothing she could do to reach it. No one else seemed inclined to solve the problem either.

    So I did the natural thing, walked on retied the handle onto the bag as best I could, put it back in her hand, acknowledged her thanks and carried on, with the assumption that was a good day for both of us.

    (Actually, she did start to root in her purse, I assume in preparation for an exchange of namecards, though I’m not sure — I daijoubu desu’d and went on my way…)

  13. Glad you liked it Ken. Glad you stole it.

    Restaurants are great! My wife works at a local teppanyaki and just eating there with our daughter all the time is a bundle of micro-joys as the other coustomers chat with us.

    As for the name, I can’t just be “David” as it has added baggage around here. (There are way too many Davids in Japan BTW!) Maybe I’ll stick to “David in Kansai” or my old SN “sleepytako” or something.

    (P.S. I guess I’m one of the 12 just for following the twitter account! HA!)

  14. 1) Talking to a customer on the phone at work, giving them my name (ボイドと申します)so they know who to contact if they need to call back, and having them ask me what kanji that is. That little silence of dawning realization when I tell them there is no kanji…

    2) The collective lizardbrain hive-mind at sporting events that transcends nationality, when everyone might not be the same color but are wearing the same color. My wife and I go to a ridiculous number of Nagoya Grampus games over the course of the year, and we’ve hugged and high-fived so many random fans I’ve since lost count — and made pretty good friends with a few of them. We’d talk about my background during idle moments, yes, but that’s always secondary. Standing side by side cheering for the team is first and foremost. People ask me why I like sports… this is why.

  15. @David K.:

    Perhaps you can use ダビデ? Then people will think you’re a naked Greek dude, which I’d think would be an image improvement over the alternative! :razz:

  16. @The 2-Belo:

    That’s another microjoy – a friend thought up a very cool kanji combination for my name (it makes Japanese sense and kinda fits me). Signing/hankoing with that always makes people smile.

  17. @The 2-Belo: Haha! One of my old co-workers use to call me that. Much better than デブ! :razz:

  18. @VK:

    I came up with 母井戸 (“The Mother of All Wells”) which almost makes Japanese sense because there actually is a family name called 井戸. My wife is too embarrassed to let me use that, however.

  19. I’ve started getting really friendly “ohayo gozaimasu”s from the elementary school crossing guards near the JHS where I work, and they don’t seem to say it to any Japanese people. :) Always makes me smile in the morning.

  20. My Japanese is not great yet, but my neighbors still always invite me out every year to help with our neighborhood’s natsumatsuri festivities. I really enjoy making myself visible as a participating member of my community at these times, especially when we go door to door with the mikoshi, all yelling together as a team! I like to make friendly eye contact with my neighbors and chit chat as much as possible so they’ll feel more comfortable with me, since I’m usually in a hurry coming and going most other times. I’m really glad to have friendly neighbors, even in the middle of the city, in a neighborhood not known for being among the nicest. :)

    About a month ago, a little old lady asked me to help her read an advertisement in a local supermarket. I think she thought I was Japanese when she first approached me from the side, and when we made eye contact, she started saying “sumimasen!” but by that time, I had already helped her read the sign without a problem. I thought it was cute that she was a little taken aback by me not being who she maybe thought I was, but I managed to be able to help her all in Japanese anyway (keep in mind – my Japanese isn’t stellar, but I’m working on it, so to me, keeping a natural flow of conversation is a real victory!)

    Also…and I’m not sure if this fits – but even just today, I put myself out there (which I’m often too shy to do, because I know my ability isn’t great), and entered a small shrine to ask about it because I want to get more out of visiting shrines than just taking pictures of things and not exactly being sure what it is I’m taking pictures of. I started off asking in Japanese, but the man inside the shrine decided to switch to English. Thanks to his ability, and kindness in making the effort, I was able to learn a story about that particular shrine that I may not have been able to get the finer details of if he had explained it all to me only in Japanese. I wasn’t offended at all that he wanted to speak to me in English – I was really grateful, and happy to be able to learn the story. This doesn’t happen to me too often, because I’m not usually brave enough to approach people knowing that I’ll have to go it all entirely in Japanese. It really helped me feel more comfortable reaching out to folks here.

  21. @The Dude:

    usually gets a response of “大体千五百キロかな?” :lol:

    All in all I went “Me too!” about 18 times reading this list, and if I sat down and thought about it I could write a book.

  22. @Tony In Saitama:

    > 大体千五百キロかな?

    Must. Use. This.

  23. Andrew in Ezo

    Basically the same as iago. I am the only non-Japanese at my workplace, so communication is in Japanese- the joking, teasing, and bitching about work and bosses is shared. No different than if I lived anywhere else, I reckon. Oh, the staff at the Starbucks I frequent know to make a tub of decaf when I come in on weekday nights, but I dunno if they even know I’m a foreigner, perhaps just the only Japanese that orders the stuff in a day :lol:

  24. I have been mistaken for a German by Japanese a few times at conferences. It results in a good laugh. Though the one time when I prodded to ask why, and the response was “because you are big” resulted in even bigger laughs when the woman’s face turned bright red realizing how that might be taken.

    I suppose it is a compliment, as I am big enough, calm enough, and my tech skillz are good enough to seem German, but not obese and dumb and loud enough to seem American. :wink:

    Damn, what an “Apologist” I am. :headdesk:

  25. …though, I admit, it was not the outcome I desired…

  26. Sorry, wrong thread… I’m bad at this, see?

  27. @Level3: Same here, except I’m mistaken for Russian — for pretty much the same reasons that you give.

    Should I be upset because I’m being behaviorally / linguistically profiled? I am a Japanese citizen after all, dammit, and the constitution says that I am equal to those who are Japanese merely by accident of birth. I’m better! I had to pass a test! Etc.

    Except, of course, that the profiling is dead-on. I am ethnically Russian. My Japanese is Russian-accented because that’s the language that I learned first. I’m not out-of-shape enough to look USAnian, and I don’t even vaguely appear to be Asian.

    The profiling is done as a courtesy to me, with not even a bit of ill intention; there is no way for anyone to know that I’m a Japanese citizen unless I first inform them.

    I’m actually happy that random ethnically-Japanese people care enough about my feelings to make the effort to ascertain where I’m probably from and do their very best to communicate. Sure, they get it wrong — but how were they to know? Should I wear a sign around my neck?

    That’s my micro-joy: that damned near everyone that I’ve encountered in my fifteen-year stay has done their utmost best to include me, no matter what I look like or how I sound.

    And, at the end of it … isn’t that what a discrimination-free society is supposed to be about? People treating each other as equals, without regard to personal appearance or accent, and cheerfully making adjustments where necessary?

    Japanese law, as practiced, may not uphold the rights of those who appear to be foreign … but the populace sure as hell does.

    (end rant)

  28. Maybe this is simply an indication of my not-yet-perapera language ability, but I think my natural, genuine, response to the question 「日本は長いですか」 would be 「へ?北海道から沖縄までということ?」

    Anyway, thank you for suggesting the idea of “microjoys.” These happen too. The one that comes to mind most for me is when a Japanese person, as has happened once or twice, actually stopped and asked *me* for directions, or otherwise asked me something implying that they not only somehow guessed/assumed that I spoke Japanese, but also guessed/assumed that I had lived in the area (or in Japan more generally) for a long time.

    That, and being asked if I’m hafu, and/or if I grew up in Japan. International school or something like that. As someone who has only spent about a year and a half in Japan, total, over the course of three separate stints, it feels good to be mistaken as someone who is a true native/local.

    When these things happen, they make up for, or cancel out, countless so-called “microaggressions.”

  29. Just got invited to the uni 留学生 party by a grad student who said if I ever need any help just stop by her room.

    If I were a Macro-aggressionist Crusader I suppose I should have screamed, “How dare you! Just because I’m white you assume I’m a foreign student? Just because I’m foreign you assume I’m a student and not a post-doc! Call me 先生 dammit! Just because I’m gaijin you think I need “help”?! Take your micro-aggression elsewhere! Begone!”

    But instead, I said お楽しみに and am happy that she thinks I look young enough to be a grad student. (Or maybe I just look tired enough to be a grad student.)

    Guess I’m a fucking “apologist”.

    Besides, she’s Chinese, I don’t have any idea how that figures into the Macro-aggression playbook. Also, it’s a 留学生 party, so I suppose the Marco-aggressionists might approve of a gaijin solidarity thing..oh wait, Japanese will be there too. So I guess not. :roll:

  30. What happens if non-English-speaking NJ walk into a gaijin bar and the NJ staff greet them with a Hello? Isn’t that racist?

    So all NJ staff at gaijin bars should use Japanese for all customers, but what if the NJ customer doesn’t speak Japanese?

    If they reply in their own language aren’t they microaggressing the NJ staff?
    How would it then be possible to find out which language to communicate in without speaking. Wouldn’t everyone become frozen in time and stop?

    I really want to implement non-micro aggressive policies but I’ve suddenly become trapped by logics.

  31. @iLikedolphins:

    How about this real-life situation. I go into a gaijin bar. The barman looks Japanese but, unknown to me, is actually Chinese-American.

    I order in Japanese. He answers me in English.

    Who is at fault for their racist presumptions?

  32. One I encounter with some regularity and have wondered about since well before Deb’s article:

    At Indian (Pakistani, Bangladeshi, etc.) restaurants here in Japan, should I address the non-Japanese waitstaff in English or in Japanese? I’ve encountered staff who are fluent in one, both or neither, so normally I just go with Japanese unless specifically addressed in English. It feels awkward sometimes, though.

  33. @VK:

    It might be appropriate here to relate the scenario I found myself in when I was going through the security line at Frankfurt Airport back in May and, when the metal detector went off, I was called over to an inspector for a wanding.

    So the guy started with this incomprehensible stream of German: “DiesisteinunverständlicherStromderSprache?” but I interpreted that as “Please raise your arms” because he was raising his arms. He then waved this mysterious appliance that went “wooOOoo” around my body for 30 seconds, and then he said something like “IchhabekeineAhnungwasdiesePersonsagtaberesklingt vagemaßgebliche” but I had no more visual cues that explain what he might mean, so I just sort of lifted my head.

    At that precise moment he said, “Ah, English then? Please turn around,” in a tone of voice that suggested “Why the hell didn’t you tell me earlier?”

    I turned around.

  34. @Sublight:

    I usually default to Japanese as well. Usually that is safe. But, as you say, sometimes, you come across an individual that is fluent in NEITHER English nor Japanese. That is extremely frustrating.

    And I do find it occasionally amusing to speak to another foreigner exclusively in Japanese. Sometimes I will take phone calls from Japanese speaking foreigners (based on their accented Japanese) but rather than micro-aggressing them by switch to English, I usually maintain the conversation in Japanese which always feel a bit weird at the end. But I never want to make the assumption that the person at the other end can speak English.

  35. @Sublight:

    My Indian restaurant – always in Japanese. It feels weird speaking in English, to be honest.


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