It’s not too common an occurrence, thanks to the fact that you have to climb two flights of stairs to get here, and the place I live isn’t populated by the right demographic group for selling crap to (unsuspecting older people are generally the target). However, tonight I was visited by a salesman.

Sometimes, being able to speak Japanese is a bit of a disadvantage. I ought to just play dumb, but I’m not a very good liar. This guy was trying to get me interested in some kind of device that would make the water alkaline for alleged health benefits. Yeah, dumping a bucket of lime in ought to do the trick, too, though I’m dubious about the health benefits that would provide!

He realised that he wasn’t going to sell the device to me (particularly since I said that I never buy bottled water because I think it’s a waste of money), but was astonished by the fact that he had met a foreigner who actually spoke Japanese. He actually said as much. This wasn’t an old guy, either—he can’t have been much older than I.

I find it incredible, although I shouldn’t really be surprised. Of the Western foreigners here, many have no skills other than the language they learned at their mother’s knee. I suppose that if you can speak enough Japanese to function in society, you wouldn’t want to become a regular corporate drone (the infamous salaryman) with the dehumanised lifestyle that entails.

Therefore, the majority of the visibly foreign population consists of semi-skilled English conversation teachers, who generally cannot speak Japanese. This is compounded by the visa system and its lenience towards the same group. I’m not knocking Japan specifically here; most countries try to limit the amount of immigration through visa restrictions. Apart from the small number of people like me who are allowed in to slack for 12 months, unless you are teaching or have some special skill and can encourage a company to sponsor you, you aren’t going to able to stay here, no matter how good your Japanese.

In other words, if you allow in mainly unskilled foreigners with no Japanese ability in the name of internationalisation, you ought not to be surprised when they turn out not to integrate into society or actually to impart much in the way of mutual understanding. Maybe we are getting to the root of the problem here.