Assets for moving in space

Article published on April 14, 2009
community published
Article published on April 14, 2009
Today I've been contemplating two "assets" I "own", which I normally don't reflect upon: white body and EU passport. What is in common between them? They facilitate certain movement in space and produce certain expectations in others. And, of course, I've been contemplating this in relation to my research about migration.

We usually are not conscious of what we get by simply being born in one country or another. So, having an EU passport now seems so natural. I don't think of my EU passport as something I have, rather, it simply is in my pocket to be used whenever I need it. I don't see it as an integral part of my personality or as a treasure I should cherish. Instead, my EU passport is something which I reluctantly take with me when I travel or register somewhere. However, I first started to reflect on it in Brussels, when Ron and Renee kindly invited me to the community centre they volunteer for. Immigrants can use internet there and get some cookies. Ron joked that if I need a husband, I could pick any of the guys sitting there, as they would all be happy to marry my EU passport. Also, my friend R. told me recently that one of her acquaintances at an international university jokes that she is stressed: the studies are almost over, but she hasn't found a marriage partner with an EU passport. When I had a cherry viewing party with the local Filipino community here in Tokyo, one of the first questions I would be asked upon getting acquainted would be "what type of visa do you have?" Hearing that I can stay in Japan with no worries for three months without a visa as an EU citizen felt exotic and marvelous for them. Yet for me it's only natural, and I was mumbling to everybody over having to leave fingerprints and a photo upon entering Japan. I haven't been out of EU and affiliated countries for a looong time, apparently.

In addition, recently I've been noticing that having a white body prescribes certain kind of movement in Tokyo space and reactions from others. I won't go deep into the discussion whether we are bodies or have them. Simply, again, I've never thought of it as an item which I have and can use to get certain things. My previous post shows how a white female body, nothing else, can earn me job offers and very fast "employment" (for those who haven't seen me, I'm definitely not a long-legged godess who could be hunted by model agencies :) so it only confirms that being white is already valuable enough in Japan). The Asian hostesses in the second club greeted me with unwelcoming looks: they probably sensed that a European would be more marketable. Also, I remember one incident on a train. I was going back from my trip to Gunma prefecture. It was already past midnight as I boarded the train from Tokyo to Kashiwa. There was a man sitting in front of me. I caught his look when looking around, he made a little smile. After drowsing for a few minutes, I looked around again, and the man was still staring. He didn't try to hide it! From his annoyingly tender and patronising look I could read that he feels he has a right to stare at me! However, earlier the same week, during a Japanese class, we read a text about how the Japanese pretend to be sleeping just in order to avoid catching a stranger's look. I know that it's very impolite to openly stare at someone you don't know. Yet the man had a different idea. Once he had identified a white female body, he needs no further information - he allows himself making a conclusion that Japanese etiquette doesn't apply to me. He wouldn't be bothered to consider the possibility that maybe I've been living in Japan for ten years and raising three kids speaking only Japanese, or that maybe I'm a daughter of the US ambassador, or maybe I'm even naturalised in Japan. Or at least that I know enough Japanese etiquette to find his behaviour offensive. I'm 100% sure he wouldn't do it to a Japanese woman. Also, as I was on a train with B., an elderly man beside her was peeping at the English book she was reading and making funny faces after trying to read. Again, I'm sure he allowed himself such "naughtiness" just because we looked different.

This exceptionalism through physical difference takes more serious forms, too. I strongly recommend this video about a foreign female body moving around in Tokyo space and being constantly inspected with suspicion.