Being an American in Japan, I'm constantly reminded that I'm different.
The language barrier is a problem with conversation, public announcements, food ingredients, and occasionally navigation. (It's my own fault I'm not better with the language.) I would need to go to a specialty store to buy shoes as large as a 9.5, and a pair of jeans in the correct size go on only as far as my knees. I've learned to avoid most restaurants I'm not already familiar with because I can't identify meat ingredients and nobody seems to realize bacon counts as a meat.
I take great pains to be on my best behavior, fit the social norms whenever possible, and always put some effort into my appearance. I want people here to like me. I'd like everyone to like me, of course, but especially here because there's that nasty bit of history between our countries and once in a while it makes itself known.
For instance, the meeting to sign the rental agreement with our landlord suddenly got weird when he casually mentioned that when he was a kid, the Americans bombed his neighborhood.
So when I went to an audition to read for a mildly racist character set in the 1930's, I was a little conflicted. The audition was in front of eight or so Japanese people, with a Japanese representative from the agency to translate. I was impressed by how serious it was – they asked about my acting experience, what part of the US I'm from, and had me run the scene several times, fine-tuning my emotions each time.
On one hand, it's acting. It's fun, and the nuance is challenging. On the other hand, when they asked me to dial up the racism the character feels against the Japanese, it went against every instinct I have. I think I did pretty well, but it was conflicting.
Then it got more awkward when one of the casting assistants (from the waiting room, not the audition room) stopped me after the audition to get some clarification about my tattoos. I make sure the talent agencies that I work for know that I have big tattoos, because it disqualifies me from things like modeling and wearing revealing clothing (and going to water parks and swimming pools). And wearing skirts.
Apparently those photos had not been passed along, so the male assistant coordinating people in the waiting room asked something to the effect of (language barrier!) how obvious is my leg tattoo? I went to roll up my pant leg to show him, and everyone around me gasped in shock. Apparently this is a social no-no. Awkward.
He ended up sending me and the female assistant to a private room for her to get some photos. There was no restroom or changing room immediately available, so they put is into a teeny room on the outside of a building containing only a photocopier. They brought over a door-sized sheet of plastic to lean against the real door to cover the window. We were both pretty embarrassed, although she was probably more so. I've had photos taken of my tattoos before (I've even been in a tattoo magazine!), but I'm not sure she'd been asked to take tattoo pictures until then. The fact that we'd never met before and had little language in common didn't help.
I don't regret getting my tattoos, I just feel bad for the inconvenience I'm causing these people who are caught by surprise. It's a unique set of circumstances that I never thought, in a million years, would happen. If someone had told me at age 10, or even 20, that I'd be an actor in Japan and that my giant tattoos would be a hassle, I never would have believed it.
My life is surreal.