I am not going to miss the staring. Of course, it can be cute when a 3 year old stops dead in her tracks and lets her jaw drop open as she unashamedly stares at me. However, anyone who is over 4 years old is not excused! There have been foreigners in Japan for at least the last 150 years, and there have been foreigners teaching in the public schools for over 20 years. Of course, the foreign population of Japan is only 1.6% of the population, so we are a rare commodity, however that doesn't mean we are freaks/animals in the zoo.
In Bangladesh we met people who had never seen a foreigner, who had never heard English spoken, and who had never had their photograph taken. Of course, they stared. We knew they would, and we weren't disappointed. People would stand less than a metre away and just stare at us (Geoff, Xav and I). I had my photo taken with random strangers, much like what happens in Japan.
I suppose I can excuse the staring in Bangladesh, given how few foreigners there are there. However, in Japan I am not so forgiving. I have pointed back, and replied "where" when older people have said "foreigner" whilst gesturing at me. I guess it's a small way to make myself feel better. I am looking forward to coming back to Australia because everyone is a 'foreigner', at least the way Japanese people understand it. I have tried to explain how there is no singular 'Australian' appearance, and have demonstrated with photos of my friends and sisters, but I don't think they quite understand.
My worst staring moment in June was when the new music teacher at one of my schools just stopped, pointed at me, and exclaimed the first time she saw me. I was so tempted to return the gesture...
And yes, I do live in rural Japan, but there have been foreigners here for a long time. In World War 2 the area was populated with New Zealanders, so even the older people can't claim that they haven't met many foreigners. Currently there are arond 12 foreigners, most of us teaching English, so a great many of the citizens of Hagi are exposed to us everyday but still they seem surprised when they see me at the supermarket or the post office. Students postively freak out when they see me at the train station, or around town. I guess they don't think of me existing outside of school.
At the end of the day, I will always be the foreigner, no matter if I am speaking English or Japanese, and despite the fact I have a name.