外人だ!

11 Sep

This post is all about being a gaijin (or gaikokujin, foreigner).

In the United States, if you see a person with a different colored hair or skin, you don’t bat an eye. Unless they open their mouths and come out with a really outlandish language or accent, they belong in your country.

In Japan, everyone can see on first glance that you are not one of them. And after that–well, there are plenty of glances.

There are the gawkers, who are just plain rude. A lot of these are children who haven’t learned manners yet, but there are a few people who just downright stare. It’s somewhat fun because if you meet their eyes they’ll often get really embarrassed and pretend they weren’t looking. Except for this one guy on the train who just stared back (yikes). People like these make you feel like there’s something wrong with you, and sometimes I feel kind of ashamed to be different from everyone else.

There are the ones who assume you don’t speak a word of Japanese, like the man I mentioned earlier, whose face changed to sheer panic when I opened the door, thinking he was going to have to dredge up stuff he learned in high school. It’s good if you’re able to show them you know something.

There are the ones who are super psyched to meet a foreigner, like the girl who asked me to correct her English paper in the middle of a store. I’ve only had one of these experiences, but they are fun because you can do them a favor, and do something they can’t.

There are the ones who are stunned that you can do anything at all (use chopsticks, use basic Japanese words). They hold you to a separate standard: “You speak Japanese so well!” (I’m about as good as your elementary school kid) “Oh, you are so good at using chopsticks!” (So is everyone else in this country).

There are also super sweet friendly people. There’s a drugstore near us that Karen and I visited together. We had a little conversation with the people working there, and the next time I came back without Karen, they asked after her. There’s also Godai-san from the curry shop down the street from school, who started telling us all about Kyoto and showing us some beautiful photos she had taken. I love the people who open up to differences and share something of themselves with you. But even with the nice people, you’re still defined by the fact that you’re not one of them.

I don’t mean to complain, just inform. I’ve been mostly enjoying being a gaijin in this country. It’s either opened things up for me or provided me with some good laughs. I’ve never been in the minority like this, so it’s a really interesting experience. But it’s definitely made me realize how accurate the idea of the “American melting pot” is.

I did read an article (Thanks, Uncle Charlie!) about a woman who had a different experience from mine, and much more negative. It’s a very good article and it’s given me a few good ideas for messing with the rude people. Definitely worth a read.

I think the reason it’s easier for me is that I have American and Japanese friends here to support me, a group to belong to in a country where I don’t. I’m really glad for that!

Anyhow, that’s all for today, kids! Hope everyone is well! ❤

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2 Responses to “外人だ!”

  1. Carole Deily September 14, 2010 at 2:07 pm #

    I’m enjoying your experiences and am so happy for you!
    Happy Birthday, Diane, or maybe it was yesterday for you.
    Do you still have e-mail Ix regardo? That is probably the best way to keep in touch with you. Also, do you have a mailing address? Since I visited Japan myself, I can identify with some of your feelings. Japan is the world champion of funny English, I think!
    Love,
    Carole

  2. Carole Deily September 14, 2010 at 11:23 pm #

    Hi Diane-
    Lovely to read your blog, and google around, and see where you live, and revisit where I lived. It was Uji City, a suburb S of Kyoto and scene of the whimsical activities of the legendary Prince in the first novel ever, Tales Of Gengi (“Gengi Monogatari,” ca. 1021).

    There was an annual tour of 11 places still extant in Uji and mentioned in the book. There is also a campus of Kyoto U, where I worked, in Uji. You must visit Byodo-in there, the famous temple featured on the 100 Yen coin, also of the Heian period like the novel above.

    Best greetings.

    Phil McClure

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