Search This Blog & Get A Rife

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Differences Between Temples And Shrines

For those new to Japan, there are essentially two major types of “religious” structure: a shrine (jinja, 神社) and a temple (tera, 寺).

The shrine is related to the religion of Shintoism, while the temple is related to the philosophy of Buddhism. The Buddhist philosophy is why I placed the word “religious” in the opening sentence in quotes.

People call Buddhism a religion, and does possess religious aspects, but … take a look at this Huffington Post article HERE  and decide for yourselves. Nothing I say is the be-all and end-all—you all get a call in determining things.

Perhaps a better way of looking at things, is that for the common folk entering a shrine, it is utilized more for the current life—weddings, prayers for health and or success, while temples are used for concerns about one’s afterlife—funerals, and ancestor worship.

But even that is an over-simplification of things. Keep in mind, however, that this article here is not a complete write up on Buddhism nor is it a complete write up on Shintoism… but rather is more about how a visitor can better identify the differences between the two structures, and HOW you pray.

Having dated a Tori, I am perhaps partial to the Shinto torii (two “i”’s). Actually, I loved the torii structure long before I knew a Tori.

Torii are located at a Shinto shrine’s entrance. It’s an open vermilion-painted gate that the practitioners walk through. If there is a set number of torii along the Shinto shrine’s entrance way, I haven’t figured it out yet. Sometimes there’s just the one, other times there’s dozens. They all have the same basic color and shape, but vary in height and width—some being wide enough for two average-sized people to walk alongside one another, others, you could drive two buses through at the same time.

A Buddhist temple will also have gates, but these are like the typical wooden gates that open and close and are immense in height. I’m unsure if the weight and size of the door has been altered over the centuries, but I suspect that part of it was done to repel invaders, or simply to provide a level of comfort and safety for the Buddhist monks living within.

The temple site will contain many buildings, including sleeping quarters for the monks, a worship area, and even a cemetery.

A Shinto shrine does not. It’s a rather simple site where one walks through the torii and then has a statue or icon to a particular nature deity… like a forest, stone or water god that people can pray to.

While Shintoism is more animalistic/nature, Buddhism is more about personal inner harmony. Any of you real Buddhists and Shintoists feel free to write to me and correct me… or, note that you are welcome to write a guest column to better describe your spiritual concept.

For myself, I’m none, but all. I pretty much follow the words of St. Augustine who stated simply: “Love and do as you will.” Not very religious, but a pretty darn good way to live one’s life.

When practitioners attend a Buddhist temple for worship, or walk through the torii to pray at a Shinto shrine, but experiences—which are practiced by all common Japanese.. you don’t have to chose one over the other… you choose whatever is applicable at the moment—ojigi is the key.

Ojigi is Japanese for “bow down” and its implication is obvious… reverence.

Buddhist temples: when approaching a temple gate, you bow your head before you enter the facility. You aren’t supposed to walk down the middle of the pathway - even though your sight-seeing goal is directly in front of you, let’s say. No… you walk along a side path towards an area where a fountain sits. Using a ladle, you rinse your mouth and wash your hands. Call it what you will, but it’s a purification thing.

Continuing with the purification, you’ll see a large incense burner with large sticks of burning incense. Without touching the incense stick, you cup your hand while bowing or being bent over, and waft the incense smoke over you.

Depending on the place where the Buddhist icon is located, there may be a bell to be rung or perhaps not. In my experience, it is usually outside.

One at a time - wait your turn - you face the Buddhist icon and bow. You then toss in a monetary offering. Five yen is good, more if your really want to capture spiritual attention (and she’s buying a stairway to… ).

I’d recommend not tossing in those useless one yen coins, even if you toss in 20 of’em.

After the monetary offering, you can pull on a rope to ring the temple bell to “wake-up” the spirit and then pray, or just pray. You pray with your hands clasped together (not palms together like in the Christian religion). Once done, you may leave or look around. Make sure that you take your shoes off if you are entering any of the wooden structures.

For those of you who want to do the Shinto thing (I recommend you experience any and all religions, however), as you approach the Shinto iconography, you bow and make a monetary offering.

But here’s the difference in how you pray at a Shinto shrine.

Bow twice - not the nod, a good waist bending bow. Twice.

Next you clap your hands. This is also meant to attract the attention of the Shinto spirit. And then you bow again.

I would imagine that unless you can pray in Japanese, any Japanese pantheon of gods or spirits may not understand your prayers or thoughts… so don’t take offense if your five-yen payment for success in dating isn’t at the top of the deity to-do list.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Monday, October 15, 2018

Anko

I love anko.

Anko or an, is a sweat bean paste, and is found inside rice cakes



Although it has a similar consistency to mashed potatoes, it sure tastes different.

Anko, while sometimes created using a sweet potato, is more commonly processed using red azuki (aka adzuki) beans.


I can say I prefer one over the other considering I have not tried the sweet potato version, but man-o-man, I sure do love the red azuki bean version.

To create the anko sweet bean paste, the red azuki bans are boiled, strained to remove the skin, and then sweetened with sugar before stirred into a paste to create what essentially looks like bean jam.

Per yesterday’s blog on amaguri (roasted chestnuts), anko can also be manufactured using it as the main ingredient.

Okay… enough of that… some people may find anko sweet bean paste a tad too sweet, but aside from the type II diabetes I now have, I think it’s just the right amount of sweetness.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Amauri And Other Chestnuts

When I traveled to Japan for the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme back in 1990, bits of homesickness would sometimes creep into the dark recesses of my brain.

While I certainly had numerous friends alongside me to help take the sting away of being away from home for the first time ever, there was another cure - sometimes found within my hometown of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken.

That, would be the old man and his mobile roasted chestnut cart. A rarity back home in Toronto, but certainly it was the smell of familiarity.

I know it sounds ridiculous… it wasn’t as though I was eating chestnuts all the time back in Canada… and yet, when I smelled the roasting chestnuts from a kilometer away in Ohtawara… well, it transported me across the oceans and through time.

Amaguri is the Japanese term for sweet chestnuts - though it can also be called yakiguri (roasted chestnuts) … and while I can’t say I paid attention to how they were roasted in Toronto, in Ohtawara, the vendor roasted the chestnuts in a pan held over heated pebbles within the cart.

The vendor added a syrup atop the amaguri in the pan to add a glaze, as well as create a sweeter taste and wafting fragrance.

Looking for a slice of home? Go find a Japanese roasted chestnut vendor. 

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Superstition - The Good, The Bad, And The Engi

I don’t really wish to make any wide-sweeping statements about the Japanese, but let’s just say that generally-speaking, the population of Japan is highly superstitious.

In this case, I mean the Japanese, through their belief in Buddhism, that “all things come into being through the interaction of causes and conditions”.

In Japanese, this belief is called engi.

For the average Japanese, engi refers to anything that leads to good or bad events, so a good omen is a good engi, and a bad omen is a bad engi.

But when it comes to engi… where the fug do you start?

Look… we, in Western society, all know that the number 13 is bad luck. It’s why we giggle nervously about Friday the 13th, or note how many buildings do not have a 13th floor, skipping it to go from 12 directly to the number 14. Of course you realize that the 14th floor is really the unlucky 13th floor, no matter what you call it. You can’t fool bad luck with mere chicanery.

By the way… do you know the origin of the bad luck associated with Friday the 13th? Sure… it was a good movie, but it’s origins lie back in the 1300s and the Knights Templar.

After Christians captured Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099AD, Christian pilgrims wanted to travel to the Holy Lands… but to do so, they had to cross Muslim-controlled territories. To aid the pilgrims, Hugues de Payens, a French knight created an order of knights to protect their passage through. This group was called Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ, then the Temple of Solomon, and then later the Knights Templar.

However, by 1303AD, the Knights Templar lost control of their hold on the Holy Lands, and set up its base of operations in Paris, France.

The Knights Templar had, over the centuries become adept at amassing wealth and power… something that worried Pope Clement V, and angered King Phulip IV of France—it is believed the Templars may not have wanted to provide additional loans, when France already owed them so much.

So… on Friday, October 13, 1307, the French military launched a surprise attack on all known Templar knights, arresting nearly the entire order, including Grand Master (leader) Jaques de Molay.

Over the ensuing years, the captured Templars would be jailed and tortured and executed, and of course stripped of wealth and lands. The Templars were forced to confess to crimes they had not comitted, including heresy and devil worship (which was how King Philip IV could spin his attack on the holy order with The Pope). It was worse than the Salem Witch Trials.

And that’s why Friday the 13th, and the number 13 is considered an unlucky number in western society.

In Japan… a bad engi could be: cutting your toenails at night.

Or using the Japanese words for “separation”, “cut” or “part” in a wedding speech are considered bad engi.

Numerically, because perhaps because the Japanese never dealt with the Knights Templar, the numbers 4 and 9 are considered bad engi.

Four in Japanese, is pronounced as “shi”. While it uses a different kanji (Chinese symbol) when written out, it is pronounced exactly the same as one would for the word “death” - shi.

4 = shi (四)
death = shi (死)
4 = shi = yon

Yes… “yon” is the word used instead of shi, when counting the number four.

As such, most Japanese when counting, for example, will say “ichi-ni-san-yon-go” for 1-2-3-4-5, rather than the unlucky way of ichi-ni-san-shi-go.

Living in Toronto, when I was doing judo as a kid, we used the word “shi” for four, because we didn’t known any better.

The Chinese and Japanese also dislike living in a home with the number 4 in its address, or having a telephone number with it… you just don’t want to have people muttering “death” around you.

As for the number nine… in Japanese, the word used is ku (pronounced as “Coo”)… but because the word ku sounds like the Japanese word for “suffering”, it, too, has an alternative word.. or rather words (plural): kokonotsu, and the pronunciation as kyū (pronounced “q”).

9 = ku
suffering = ku (苦)
9 = ku = kyū and/or kokonotsu

Yes… hospitals never have a bed with the number four or nine, and hotels (many, not all), refuse to offer a room with the number 4 as its number.

And THAT, my friends, should be reason enough to prove that Japanese society is a superstitious lot.

Good omens? Well, if a Japanese person is having a cup of o-cha (green tea), and they see a stem floating upright in the liquid, that’s a good engi.

I don’t know what it’s a good omen off, but I assume it’s a kin to the American adage: Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck”.

Worth much more than a penny. Penny, aka actress Kaley Cuoco from The Big Bang Theory.

We no longer have pennies in Canada, so I guess we’re outta luck.

My mother used to say that the number eight was always good luck. In Arabic numbers (which is what we use in western society), if you flip the number eight sideways, you get the infinity symbol. My mom liked that.

That and the fact I was born on the 8th… every house we ever lived in in Canada had to either add up to eight, or have the number eight in it. Really.

It’s a shame I only learned that 15 years after she died. Though by some coincidence, every home I've lived in since becoming an adult - with the exception of Japan, has included a sum total of eight, or has had the number eight in it. Yes, it would have been waaaaay cooler (and coincidental) if my Japanese address would also have an eight.

In Japanese, the kanji for eight - hachi (八) is the same as in China… but if you look at it, the way it is drawn makes the symbol resemble a fan opening up… an an unfolding fan is supposed to be a goo engi.

I swear I’m not making any of this up.

Other Japanese symbols of luck:
  • the beckoning cat (maneki-neko) placed in restaurants and shops to attract customers or fortune (see HERE for a more indepth look); 
  • the decorated bamboo rake (kumade) which is meant to help “rake in good luck”; 
  • Otafuku, the goddess of mirth, whose smiling white aristocratic face brings good fortune (the whiter the face, the less time you spend outdoors, ergo you ain’t no peasant); 
  • Symbols of a crane and a turtle, represent longevity of 1,000 and 10,000 years respectively; 
  • Red Snapper fish is good luck because the Ebisu god is always shown holding a red snapper under an arm; 
  • the owl… sure its a symbol of wisdom, but in Japan the word for owl is fukurou, which includes the word “fuku” (happiness) plus it can be separated to “fu” (no) kurou (suffering), ie no suffering.
I’m sure there’s more, but a black cat just walked in front of me and I dislocated my jaw screaming in fear and now I have to go to the doctor.

Luckily, I’m in Canada.

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, October 12, 2018

Job Offer: English Teacher In Japan

Wanna work in Japan but are too lazy to check out want ads? Let me help! Here's one I had sent to me. Yes, I see the irony.

English Teachers Wanted (Spring 2019 Start, Overseas Applicants Welcome)
Company: Borderlink (株式会社ボーダーリンク)
Job ID: 129215
Location: Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Tokyo
Post date: Sep 18, 2018
Industry: Education / Teaching
Function: Teacher, Instructor (ELT, Conversational English)
Work Type: Full Time / Entry Level
Salary: ¥215,000 ~ ¥250,000 / Month

Requirements

  • English: Native level; 
  • 12 years of education in where English was the medium of instruction; 
  • University graduate with bachelor’s degree or higher (any field); 
  • Visa sponsorship available

Description
Borderlink, Inc. is looking for flexible and adventurous individuals to join us next spring as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) across eastern Japan.

Since 2000, Borderlink, Inc. has been one of the leading recruiters of highly-skilled, dedicated English teachers at elementary and junior high school levels. Our ALTs work in public schools during regular school hours, sharing their knowledge and insight with students and fellow Japanese teachers.

ALTs generally teach between 3 to 5 classes a day, depending on the school schedule and frequency of the ALT's visit. Working alongside a Japanese teacher, ALTs follow a practice known as "Team Teaching" where responsibilities are shared. ALTs also eat lunch with their students, play with them at recess and help out during school cleaning time. This makes the ALT's role in the school, one that is not only enriching for the students and staff, but beneficial to you as well. You'll learn as much about yourself as a person as what you pass on to your students as a teacher.

With the increased focus the Japanese education system has placed on English during the run-up to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the need for high-quality ALTs has risen. Although prior teaching experience and Japanese ability are not required, they are greatly sought after. Cities want the best. Here at Borderlink, we'll work to help you be the best. Our extensive support system includes:

-Training: We provide an orientation & training session for new employees to get them acclimated to Japan and the Borderlink teaching system. This training continues with seasonal sessions hosted by our team of veteran trainers and even specialized 1-on-1 training when required.

-24/7 Help & Support Line: We're here to assist you- however we can, whenever we can. We also provide help with Japanese translation on request.

-Immigration & Visa Support: We will help facilitate your entry to Japan and support your ability to work with us here.

-Banking & Accommodations: Moving from overseas is a big commitment. If you need help finding an apartment, we can connect you with the help you need. We will also help you open a Japanese Bank account and give you guidance in handling other essentials.

Lastly, we want all applicants to know that at Borderlink, we work to constantly improve ourselves and how we handle relations with our ALTs, the schools, and cities. We value our teachers' input and opinions, and do our best to recognize creativity and talent wherever we can. Just was we strive to better ourselves and how we conduct business, we hope that you are ready to do the same. Above all else, teaching needs an open mind and an open heart, as it's more than just a job- it's a life experience that will stay with you forever.

So are you ready to start the road towards that experience and come to Japan? We're waiting to hear from you! Please apply today, and thank you!

*Already in Japan? You're welcome to apply! Part-time positions are also available for domestic candidates; please see the application form on our website.

*Only those who pass the initial screening will be contacted for an interview.

See the ad HERE at GaijinPotJobs.

Thanks to my friend Vinnie who keeps sending me such things suggesting I get a real job.

Oh... and for reference, back in 1990 - 28 years ago - when I joined the JET Programme, my monthly salary was ¥300,000.

Keep in mind I didn't have key money to pay (up to 5 months of rent) paid up front, had my Board of Education office pay MOST of my rent,  had a three-bedroom place with two balconies, all the appliances, Heating and A/C... well, I lived like a king and always had plenty of money left over to blow on such things as condoms that were too small, vacations to other countries, REAL jewelry for women, oh, and plenty of booze to kill off any infection that thought it could survive in my body.

I'm just saying that the salary offered is okay... but the cost of living has increased in the course of 28 years, and there are other things to consider, such as key money, stupidly high Tokyo rents for teeny-tiny apartments that you will have to share, possible evening curfews (if you work for a company that  has helped find you living quarters), and much more.

If you take this job, do not do it for the money. You do it because you want the experience of a) living  and experiencing Japan; 2) you think you might like to be paid to speak English; 3) you are looking for a way to lay low until the heat fades.

Re: 3) I had to get fingerprinted to gain access to the country... fingerprints which went to Interpol. So, the heat, in this case, may not fade.      

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Going To The Maul


Not just limited to Siegfried and Roy, a Japanese zookeeper has been mauled to death at the Hirakawa Zoo in Kagoshima this past Monday.

I know I shouldn’t make light of stuff like this, but we are talking about a wild animal that shouldn’t be kept in a zoo.

Yes… I’ve been to zoos, and enjoyed having tea opportunity to see such creatures, but I honestly believe that we shouldn’t cage such creatures. Keep’em in a wildlife preserve, sure, or in the wild where we know they aren’t liable to kill people or us liable to eliminate their domain.

Riu the white tiger—a natural genetic mutation of the more common orange and black version Bengal tiger—mauled Furusho Akira, 40, in its enclosure.

The male five-year-old Riku was born at the zoo, weighs 374 pounds and stands 1.8 meters in length.

Usually, when a death like this happens at a zoo, the animal is euthanized, but Furusho’s family asked they spare the animal, knowing how much the deceased loved the creature.

Awww. Now I feel like a jerk for making those jokes at the top of the article.

It is suspected that Furusho may have been trying to move the tiger between two cages when the attack occurred. Rules say no one is supposed to enter an enclosure until an animal has been moved.

Furusho’s neck was badly mauled, and was still alive when found, but died soon after arriving in the hospital.  

"When we found him, he was lying in the tiger's bedroom. There was blood on the ground," said Hirakawa zoo officialYamamoto Toshiaki  (surname first), according to Reuters. "It seems like he was bitten, then dragged around the room."

It is estimated that there are now several hundred of the white tigers in captivity—all born in captivity, in fact—with zero such animals in the wild. No white tigers have been seen in the wild since one was shot in 1958.

The Hirakawa zoo is home to four white tigers.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph  

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

To Be Or Not To Be A Gaijin - That Is The Question

Every once in a while I come across a news topic where I am unsure about where I stand.

Usually things are pretty back or white, but in this case I thing there are shades of grey mixed in.

Published October 7, 2018 in The Japan Times Community section, Farrah Hasnain wrote about a so-called “The Gaijin Day” held in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka-ken in Japan.

Of note, is that Hasnain is an American of Pakistani descent… IE, she notes it because she feels this enables her to know what it already feels like to be an outsider. I’m not saying she’s wrong, by the way.

Even back home in the U.S., despite how Americanized she might be, others see her as something other than American first. It's probably a color thing.

However, I don’t think she helps that view, as she calls herself “a first-generation Pakistani-American”. But I do understand her point.

I was born in England, to parents born in India, and we moved to Canada when I was three-years old. I identify myself ONLY as Canadian. Or maybe as a writer. Or Andrew. I do NOT identify myself as a hyphen-Canadian.

My opinion is: pick one.

Others, of course will disagree, usually with racist or prejudicial comments. They tend to hide behind some anonymous name. Why? If they are so correct in their righteousness, why hide? Because even they know that North American society (for example) finds such thoughts abhorrent.

Which takes me to Hasnain’s op-id piece in The Japan Times.

You should READ it first, and then come back here.

Of course, the article uses many Japanese terms without providing an explanation, but I’m sure you get the gist. If not, here it is:

No matter how many generations you may have in living here (Japan)… regardless if your great-great-great grandparents came here 150 years ago, you, despite being born in Japan, are not really Japanese.

You are not a pure-blood Japanese. You have gaijin blood, therefore you can never - EVER be Japanese.

This is the exact same argument held by yahoos in North America (for example).

Despite the Euro-centric belief system some (a few, really) North Americans maintain about their rights in the new world of North America, even they aren’t the pure-blood Americans. Those would be the true aboriginal peoples of North America.

Anyhow… I digress.

Let’s look at the Japanese word “gaijin”.

Some people call this an ugly word, others don’t. And it’s not simply a matter of non-Japanese versus Japanese.

Gaijin translates (old school) to “outsider”, and refers to a “foreigner”.

But what is a foreigner to the Japanese?

Sure it could be a Dutch person, or a Portuguese person, or anyone from another country.

But in reality… the term gaijin has been in existence for centuries and centuries.

It actually refers to any person from another town.

Back in the of days of feudal and pre-feudal Japan, towns and villages were very close-knit… and travel between towns and villages was something not done very often.

When it was, that person was a “gaijin”. Yes… Japanese called each other gaijin. They literally were an “outsider” to a town or village or community.

Obviously, such commentary about strangers traveling from one town to another is no longer cause for one set of Japanese to call another Japanese person an “outsider”. Right?

Well… op-ed writer Hasnain said that The Gaijin Day festival was not about having foreign artists come in to take part, but rather it mostly involved “sansei” and “yonsei" - third and fourth-generation Japanese.

Hasnain correctly took offense at the fact that the show’s organizers called third- and fourth-generation Japanese folk “gaijin” or foreigners/outsiders.

However… WHY did these sansei and yonsei decide to take part in The Gaijin Day festival?

If it was sooooooo offensive, why would they have participated? Was it just another paycheck, and the realization that no matter what they do or how long they have been in Japan, they will never be anything other than a sansei or yonsei or gaijin… and never accepted as being Japanese.

Have they become resigned to their “fate”?

These people were born in Japan, and thus should be considered Japanese citizens, or at the very least “Japanese” regardless of their ancestry.

By that same token, any person whose family came over from England to North America four generations-plus ago could NOT be considered to be American or Canadian.

So why is Japan allowed to get away with such blatant “racism”?

Japan actually seems to care what a person’s bloodline is. If there is any hint of gaijin ancestry, that person - and its heirs - are considered to be non-pure blood.

For those of you who enjoyed the Harry Potter books and movies, that is akin to calling someone a half-blood, or a muggle.

Let’s use the term “muggle” hereafter when referring to the non-pureblood Japanese.

Japan—again, I know this isn’t the viewpoint of EVERY single Japanese person—does like to consider itself pure Japanese, ergo any dilution of genetic material via cross-breeding that results in a muggle, is simply not Japanese.

Anyone with a semblance of knowledge of WWII might also recognize the same thoughts from Nazi Germany. The Aryan master race race... blonde, blue-eyed, Teutonic. But, on the negative side, God help you if you had even a tinge of Jewish blood in you.

Jewish blood. Isn't being Jewish a religion? Perhaps I should have said "Hebrew" blood. Then again, Nazi Germany had a hate on for jews (Juden), and used that term rather than Hebrew.  

In Japan, and that whole muggle-thing.... it takes its pureblood/muggleblood thing quite seriously.

The country has a reasonably large Korean-descent base of population… with people having come over generations ago from the mainland... and regardless of the fact that those people have been in Japan for centuries, Japan still prefers to refer to them as “Korean” rather than Japanese.

At what point in time does an immigrant or a muggle actually become Japanese?

Sure their passport may indicate they are Japanese, but society does not recognize them as such, despite the official status.

It’s as though the entire Japanese society has got behind and accepts that unless one is a pure-blood Japanese person, everything else is simply not “real Japanese”.

If I married Noboko, and we had a child born in Japan, would he/she be considered Japanese? Yes. Officially. But unofficially, the Japanese would point at the heritage consumed by the father (me), and label the child as a hafu (half).

The implication is there. My child is a half-breed.

The point isn’t whether or not that is “technically” correct, the point is that such terms are politically incorrect. Or at least they are in places not called Japan.

Not everyone thinks this way in Japan, as I have pointed out - and the best example I can give is one related to myself.

It’s 1990, and I’m part of the second year of JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme participants.

Even though it’s the second year, 1990 Japan is hardly new to the concept of people from outside of Japan visiting or living in its country. It’s something that has been going on for at least 150 years and more.

However, I understand that outside of the main cities and towns around major ports, the inland cities, towns and villages may have little experience with contact between themselves and the “outside” world.

Look… even in parts of Northern Canada, I’m sure there are enclaves where they have never met an Asian person before. I can’t guarantee that, but it is possible even in 2018.

Anyhow… I had just arrived in Japan, in my home rural city of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken… it was early August 1990 and during the o-bon matsuri (Celebration of the Dead festival, essentially).

A city local was talking to my OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education) boss Hanazaki-san (Mr. Hanazaki), and he in passing referred to me as the “gaijin-no sensei”… the foreigner/outsider teacher.

That's Mr. Hanazki and myself in the photo at the top. I have better photos, but for some reason, I like this one the best.

Hanzaki-san stopped him in mid-speech and corrected him, say that I was NOT a “gaijin-no sensei”, but was simply “Andrew-sensei”.

If THAT doesn't scream respect, I have no idea what does. Hanzaki-san went out of his way - and this is 1990 - to refer to me as a teacher named Andrew, and not as some foreigner teacher.

That person who uttered the slight, bowed and apologized to Hanazaki-san and then to me - even though I wasn’t really involved in the conversation… I just happened to be nearby.

I don’t think that man meant to be insulting. I don’t believe he meant “gaijin” as an insult. He was just using the common vernacular for someone who wasn’t Japanese.

But… does that excuse his ignorance in the matter? For Hanazaki-san, it did not.

Why refer to someone as being a foreigner or outsider? That was his point!

Just refer to them by name and title - as one would any Japanese teacher.

I will refrain from stating that in Japan a teacher would still be referred to by their SURNAME and the job title, but the Japanese realize we foreigners (and we are foreigners, though you don’t get to call us as such) prefer to be called by our FIRST name rather than the Japanese standard of SURNAME.

Now… while many a non-Japanese person has taken great delight in calling another foreign person “gaijin”… it is done much the same way that the gay community has captured the word “fag”, or how some segments of the American Black community uses the word “nigger”…. it’s a case of where the community might use such terms themselves, but Buddha help anyone outside the community using it.

Although I should state that the term “gaijin” does NOT carry anywhere near the same weight as those other terms.

But that’s just the person visiting there.

What about the long-term foreigner making Japan a home? What about the person with one Japanese parent and one non-Japanese parent? What about those non-Japanese who have become Japanese citizens (like ex-sumo star Konishiki)? What about those second-, third-, fourth-, etc-generation Japanese who are Japanese but for the fact that their ancestral birthplace isn’t Japan?

It’s completely effing ridiculous.

The Japanese, when it suits them, have this belief of divine origin.

They came from somewhere, to the islands of Japan.

The Japanese religion of Buddhism… comes from China and Korea, and before that India. It’s alphabet and social customs were derived from China (and bits of Korea). It’s current Constitution was created by the U.S. (after WWII - though this IS something Japan wants to alter).

But none of that matters, as the pure-blood Japanese have figured out a way to show where they are all derived from.

Those that aren’t, are muggles.

And yet… there were such forward-think people such as my boss Mr. Hanazaki (gods, I’m probably the same age now as he was then)… who was quite willing to buck Japanese tradition to be more… worldly.

Perhaps one day, Japan and its populace will simply do away with the term "gaijin". Why loop anyone whom they consider non-Japanese under the term gaijin? Why not refer to him/her as that"Canadian" or Australian, etc.

Look... we all do it... using physical descriptors when talking about people.

Where's Suzie? Oh, she's there beside that fat Black girl. Why use the descriptor of Black or fat? We could simply say she's the one wearing a green tee shirt and jeans. Why use a physical descriptor?

Gaijin. I didn't mind being called a gaijin when I was living in Ohtawara-shi back in 1990-1993. I figured that eventually the term would fall out of favor in Japan. I didn't need to be angry or upset with the term.

Noboko, Takako, Kurita-san, Hanazaki-san, Kanemaru-san, Suzuki-san... and so many others... they never referred to us JET participants as "gaijin".

We were Jefu-kun, Mashu-kun, Andoryu-kun... terms of endearment by our girlfriends/wife, or just Jeff, Matthew and Andrew to the friends, or Jeff-sensei, Matthew-sensei or Andrew-sensei to the locals we encountered. 

I still did get upset, however, as I realized the most of the Japanese people I knew, although they had no problem with our "foreigness", did have an issue with people of Korean descent.

It's funny. I would think that the Japanese people who have Korean ancestry would be the ones who would be most upset.


Somewhere I am still sometimes a gaijin,
Andrew Joseph