Monday, January 2, 2012

(日本にいる)外人は何ですか? What is a Gaijin?

下記の投稿は、私が2010年1月14日 に、Best of the Blogs で投稿しました。

So what is a Gaijin? In Japanese it means foreigner. Japan is unique in many respects, the foreign experience for the last 40 years or so has also been quite unique.


America is a land of immigrants. And Americans, well in general we think of immigrants not really being successful until the second or third generation. The problems of langauge, and understanding a different culture are immense. And the older a person is, the more difficult it is.


My own Grandfather came to America from Sweden. He was 20, and spoke no English. He landed in New York, but heard that there Swedes living in Chicago. So he made his way there and became a house painter. He worked hard and bought a nice house in rural Wisconsin. He married, and my mother was born, and the result of that was me.


A pretty average American story. But when I came back to the US from my first posting in the Marine Corps in Japan, and I told my Grandfather that I would spend the rest of my life in Japan, he got angry. "What! They will treat you like idiots! You will never get a good job!".


From the average American experience, this is what a person would expect moving to another country.


But as I said, Japan is unique. A lot of this is due to history. Japan has always had a very vibrant cultural life. And when Commodore Perry's squadron forced Japan to end it's seclusion in 1854, Japan eagerly embraced Western technology and culture.


Until WWII, there were very few Westerners living in Japan. Mostly missionaries and a few businessmen. However, Japan's defeat in WWII was a shock. Japan is a proud country, with a long history. The truth is, Japan made excellent weapons, and Japanese were excellent soldiers. The only way that America won WWII in the Pacific is because America had more of everything.


But to Japanese people, they felt that Americans must possess some special inner spiritual quality that guaranteed victory in the war.


As I have said, Japan has a long history with deep culture, and the treatment of the guest has always been a refined art.


Now combine this tradition of treating guests well with regrading Westerners as superior due to their military victory over Japan, we have the beginnings of our unique situation.


When I first arrived in Japan in 1974, there were still few foreigners living here. The average Western foreigner was either former American military, or a backpacker tourist. The tourists would come to Japan for a year or so, and make their money for their Asian trip. In those days, you could hear stories about the great Hashish to be had in Kabul, or riding a bus from Calcutta to Istanbul for $40.


Japanese curiosity about foreigners and the West was insatiable. People would pay you money just to talk to you in English. So some people made a bundle of cash off the English business.


Since so many Japanese regarded Westerners as superior, many foreigners made a lot of money doing TV commercials. All beauty product commercials used to have White Western women, car commercials used to use Westerners exclusively.


When I came here in 1974, it was still very difficult for most Japanese to travel outside Japan for financial reasons. Thusly, the intense interest in any Westerner in Japan.


By the 1980's, several Gaijin had written books that went something like "YOU can go to Japan and make a lot of money!". Then, we had a flood of people, who to put it mildly, were not exemplary representatives of their country.


You could take Mr. Nerd from Cornfield Village USA. At home, the major job position he could aspire to would be sub assistant manager at the local Wendy's. He would not be able to get a date to save his life.


Now this person arrives in Japan. On his first night in Tokyo, he meets a Japanese businessman who wants to practice English. He gets treated to a full course dinner, and is given $100 for Taxi fare, even though the trains are still running. He goes to a bar and meets a stunningly beautiful girl who wants to have sex with him so she can practice her English. In his first week, he lands a TV commercial and pulls in $6,000 for sitting around on the set.


Now this kind of thing goes to some people's heads. Many people began to actually believe that there were superstars. Charisma Man is a comic strip of the time that parodied this effect.

こう言うな事で、普通の人は自分がスーパースターと考えました。当時の外人が書いた漫画、 ”Charisma Man””カリスママン”が、この事をパロディーしました。

Frankly, for many years I have been disgusted by most foreigners. I have worked as a manager for a foreign casting agency. We would supply foreigners for TV shows, movies, and commercials.


Things like showing up on time, bringing the proper clothes they were told to bring, bathing, these things were too much for many people. Canceling jobs at the last minute, or not showing up at all.


My wife was very surprised one day on getting a call from an agent, that I should wear a suit for the next day's film job. And the agent defined a suit as a dark jacket and trousers of the same color, a white shirt, a conservative tie, black leather shoes, dark socks.


Well, the person reading this might think "Well of course!". I remember one day on the set. My Gaijin was supposed to be a banker in conference with Japanese bankers. He showed up in a cream sport jacket, a plaid work shirt, jeans, running shoes, and the necktie was a Donald Duck necktie. There was a lot of screaming over that one.


I also had a guy who boasted of not having changed his underwear for a year. His aroma filled a conference room for 300 people. He also boasted about not brushing his teeth for ten years. I won't go into that one.


And there was the guy who always took off his clothes. When it was time for him to film, I would announce "Mr. T could you put on your clothes. We are going to film!"


The fact is, most Gaijins came here and let themselves go to seed, and became arrogant. They expected special treatment as a matter of course.


Even the word Gaijin has become controversial among some Westerners. There are people out there who claim it is prejudicial. They say "Gaikokujin" is the proper word.


Well, Gaijin is formed from two Chinese Characters, meaning outside person. Gaikokujin has three characters, meaning outside country person.


To tell the truth, their meaning is identical, neither has any special prejudicial meaning.


And I do get irritated when some idiot who has been here a year and a half lectures me about Japanese prejudices, and tells me I don't know what I am talking about.


I have only lived here for 37 years, and I write articles in Japanese. To such idiots, I don't know anything.


And of course, these arrogant Gaijin never learned Japanese, they always got by in just English.


But times have shifted. Years ago, Japanese people would be afraid to approach me in public because they would think their English skills were insufficient. Today people approach me on the street in Japanese.


Japanese car and beauty product adverts use Japanese, no more Gaijin.


Or if a commercial does want Gaijin, they fly the director and cameraman to LA, and use professional Americans.


And most young Japanese are simply indifferent to Gaijin, just another person, nobody special just for being born somewhere else.


And frankly, I find that very relaxing. I never liked speaking English after I came here anyway, I wanted to speak Japanese. I can't tell you how many sure thing dates I blew. Some gorgeous babe would hook up with me, things were going swimmingly, and she would coo to me "So when are you going back to America?"


My reply would be "Well I am going to change my passport to Japanese, and stay here forever. I will never go back to America"


Then she says "You Creep!" and stomps off. Well actually, the truth is that many of my girlfriends before I got married simply did not like Gaijin. But then I was always different. While most Gaijin were working English teaching jobs, I worked in Japanese corporations, or as a Japanese construction worker.


But I must say that there has been a sea change in the type of Gaijin coming here now. They have a genuine interest in Japan and Japanese culture. The anime boom in particular has attracted a lot of people. They study Japanese before coming here, and they don't have the arrogance of people 20 years ago.


And what about those arrogant Gaijins of 20 years ago, where are they today? Well there is a process I call "Economic Darwinism" which means that in tough economic times, the idiot shall not be employed. These days, there simply is not any use for a Gaijin who cannot speak Japanese. Unless they have carved out some special situation, they disappear. I suppose they have gone back to Cornfield Village USA to see if that position at Wendy's is still open.


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