If you experience something long and often enough, it eventually stops leaving an impression on you consciously. One of the problems with having been in Japan for so long is that there are a lot of remarkable things which no longer have much of an impact on you. Some of these things are positive, some negative, and some benign. Recently, I had an experience which I've had thousands of times before which has become so common-place that it has, for the most part, stopped registering consciously with me.
I was shopping for food in one of several tiny markets I often go to and, as is often the case, another shopper bumped into me in the narrow spaces. During any given excursion to purchase our daily bread, this will happen at least once and in the smaller places, as many as five times in one visit. About eighty percent of the time, the person who bumps into me will mumble a casual "sumimasen" (excuse me) and about two percent of the time say a more polite "gomen nasai" (I'm sorry). The other eighteen percent of the time, I get the "gaijin (foreigner) exclusive" treatment.
The "gaijin exclusive" occurs when the other party turns around to say they're sorry for bumping into you, but suddenly realize that it isn't a fellow Japanese they've buffeted but a foreigner. The process comes in several stages rapidly occurring in mere seconds and can be read very clearly in the eyes and mouth of the offending party. In stage one, they have the same bland look and slightly parted lips that preface a perfunctory expression of apology in a random encounter with a stranger. Stage two sees the eyes widen and the mouth drop open as they realize they've bumped into a gaijin and not a Japanese person. Stage three sees the eyes narrow and the mouth draws into a tight-lipped line. No apology is given and one gets the distinct impression that a 180 degree change in attitude has occurred wherein the blame has now shifted squarely onto the bumpee instead of the bumper.
In times like this, I get the feeling the other person has decided that it's my fault they bumped into me because I had the audacity to occupy space in the same country as them. The looks in these situations are almost always disapproving and a little angry. I guess it's possible that the party involved has simply decided I'm insufficiently versed in Japanese to understand any perfunctory apology they offer, but the eyes and mouth say otherwise.
Of course, on occasion I bump people accidentally (though honestly, I try very, very hard never to do so) and I always say "sumimasen". If the person doesn't see me because the bump is from the side or behind, I get a nod or no reaction. If the person does see me, I sometimes get a massively exaggerated response to the tiniest collision. Sometimes the party acts as though a little bump with my back-pack has nearly knocked them over. Sometimes they act as though I've nearly propelled the basket from their hands by tapping it gently with mine. This only occurs when they see me coming.
The thing that occurred to me a few days ago when this happened (yet again) was that it's happened so much that I don't really think much about it anymore. On the one hand, that's a good thing since I don't get angry about it (though I used to). On the other hand, it seems wrong to not take note of it as it can be seen as a way of accepting it by taking it in stride. Of course, it's rather pointless to do otherwise since there's nothing I can do to change it. It's these sorts of experiences which I find comprise the bulk of the racial discrimination I experience in Japan. They're small and don't really do any serious harm, but they're everywhere you go and are like a constant low murmur that you don't belong and that your presence makes people uncomfortable.