"Born in Mississippi, I have been going back and forth between the United States and Japan since childhood – which didn’t always make my life easy, as I faced language barriers, cultural differences, and discrimination. But the moments that helped me overcome these hardships were when I met people who showed understanding and deep respect regarding my cultural identity. I hope Chatroom Japan can be a place for international residents to chat openly about their experiences and struggles."
Our first group came from Afghanistan, Brunei, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Faroe Islands, Hong Kong, and Ukraine. The conversation started off fun, with everyone sharing a word they love in Japanese – some heartfelt, some quirky, and many quite surprising.
But the debate soon turned more serious, as the foreign residents -- none of whom regularly watch Japanese television -- shared why they don’t always feel like the media consider them to be part of their target audience.
Filling in the gaps to help foreigners feel at home
The group from Chatroom Japan’s first episode opened up to Rika about how their lives have changed since settling in their adopted country and what’s still missing. A main thread in that conversation was feeling misunderstood, including a lack of representation in popular media and disappointing interactions at work or school.
1 Battling biased preconceptions
One issue facing international residents is the misperception Japanese people have about their home countries. Painful stereotypes have made it hard for people like Mehran to feel understood.
Mehran first came to Japan from Afghanistan as a high-school exchange student and now lives and works in Aichi Prefecture. He says when he meets people "all they think about Afghanistan is war" and he worries about being labeled as a "young man from a miserable country." He is trying to change the preconception by sharing positive stories, like how he once organized a co-ed sports festival in Afghanistan.
The discussion turned to how the media can help dispel stereotypes. The participants hope to see more nuanced stories that can teach Japanese audiences about other cultures.
2 Feeling blue
University student Iryna brought up another common issue for people who live far from home: loneliness. She moved to Japan in April, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Taking classes online while living alone in Tokyo left her feeling isolated, so she signed up for some free courses at a Japanese university. But Iryna says the other students barely spoke to her.
"In Ukraine, you can just go outside and, sometimes, people will approach you and say: 'You look great today,' or something like that. And you just start talking, even about the weather. It's basic, casual conversation and I don't feel such a thing exists in Japan."
Iryna wants people to know that Ukrainians are extremely appreciative to Japan for accepting so many evacuees. But she also wants to raise awareness about how lonely the process can make people feel.
3 More good news, please!
Everyone at Chatroom Japan is determined to help solve these issues, starting with sharing the experiences of foreigners. The international residents that were part of our first episode had a suggestion for this: tell more positive stories.
Elsa from the Faroe Islands is worried about how TV's relentless focus on negative news could affect her two children. She wants to see a better balance between good and bad news stories.
Being positive doesn't necessarily mean offering up feel-good fare, said Cheng from Hong Kong. She said she's troubled by the way the media covers cases of suicide, and alarmed at the rising incidence of depression among Japanese workers. Cheng said news reports rarely discuss how to treat mental health problems. This is one way the media could take a more positive approach to its job.
After the talk
The insights and observations that emerged from our first Chatroom Japan roundtable have given us much food for thought. We're just getting started, but we're already looking forward to grappling with many more important issues in the installments to come.
"I enjoyed moderating the very first meeting of Chatroom Japan, and I'm excited for our next gathering as I learned a lot from the participants' perspectives. From what we heard, I think that maybe in Japan, international residents are more likely to be regarded simply as foreigners. Although it was heartbreaking to hear their struggles, I appreciate that they also shared their own prejudices they had about Japan before they came, their positive experiences here, and the respect towards our people and culture. It was great to know that they enjoy being a resident in Japan and also to hear their honest thoughts."
Please share your thoughts about Chatroom Japan
Want to be part of the Chatroom Japan discussion? Send us a message to let us know what topics you'd like to be covered in a future episode. Remember to mention 'Chatroom Japan' in the title of your message to make sure we see it.
Meet the creator of Chatroom Japan
Machida Keita, a producer at NHK WORLD, created Chatroom Japan as a way to help the media and international residents better understand each other.
"The stories and experiences we hear about on Chatroom Japan can help us find better ways to deliver information to foreign residents – and how an outlet such as NHK WORLD can be part of that. We want to consider problems and solutions, and I hope that the foreign residents who take part will feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I look forward to engaging with many people to reaffirm the value of our work in public broadcasting."