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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

What Is a Gaijin? Part 2

Without needing to beat the hafu issue to death, let me present a slightly different takes on things.

First... a hafu is, in my estimation, a derogatory Japanese term for someone who was born to one Japanese parent and one non-Japanese parent. Half-Japanese, in other words.

It’s not a term used outside of Japan to describe anyone. It is a term used by the Japanese to cement their pure Japaneseness over others they deem inferior. Because they are half-Japanese.

Oh yes it is… or why else even have the term?

In Japan, while I was an assistant junior high school teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme between 1990-1993 in Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara City), Tochigi-ken (Prefecture of Tochigi), I came across one tweenager who would be today considered a “hafu” by the the misinformed Japanese, or bi-racial, by others who feel the need for a tag, or simply "tween" by those who don't need to define by race or parentage.

The term hafu wasn’t in use back then when I was there - or if it was, I never heard it uttered.

The 12-year-old, Grade seven female student attended Wakakusa Chu Gakko (Wakakusa Junior High School), an affluent school in my rural city… certainly not like some of the others populated with kids of farmers.

Although some of the farmers in my city were quite affluent.

Actually… one’s social status does not determine whether or not someone was a “hick”… so I’m actually sorry I brought up the affluence part. I blame Justin Trudeau. (You can look him up with the word Trump, via Google or Bing or whatever search engine you prefer.)

Anyhow, the girl looked Japanese to me, but she was actually born in Peru… to Japanese parents in Peru.

She speaks Spanish and Japanese - both with the fluidity of someone who is 12. In other words, if she never spoke Spanish, in my mind you’d never know about her Spanish heritage from merely living in Peru.

But now that she has moved back to Japan with her entire family, you would think that it would be status quo… A Japanese girl back in Japan. No big whoop.

But it is to the other Japanese kids… and it is to the Japanese adults she encounters.

Because she wasn’t born in Japan—despite speaking Japanese, looking Japanese, dressing identically in her school costume like the other female Japanese kids, eating and drinking the same Japanese foods et al and in the same way as the other Japanese kids—it was still pointed out by the other kids, that this young woman was considered to be a gaijin.

Gaijin is a Japanese term used to denote someone who is a stranger, a foreigner or an outsider.

She’s not a stranger to these girls.

She’s not a foreigner because she at least looks, talks and acts Japanese. Maybe.

But she is an outsider.

Having not been part of the Japanese hive mind collective since birth… and despite even her parent’s and school’s best attempts to kata-ize her to all of the Japanese elements of life, she is still considered to be an outsider.

She missed out on all of the social bonding that the primary school kids have, and even a year or so of the initial bonding they might have had together in junior high school because she was living in Peru.

Rather than be celebrated for her global jaunt as a world traveler, she is instead teased and harassed and made sure she she is aware that she is not Japanese, despite all appearances.

She is a gaijin. An outsider to the Japanese collective.

Look… I know no society is perfect, but there has to be a change in Japanese attitudes over what constitutes someone being Japanese.

Just because someone who is born in Japan and raised in Japan yet happens to have a parent who is non-Japanese—that should still make someone Japanese. Screw that "hafu" designation.

You know they ("hafu")feel Japanese… but Japanese society has a nasty habit of not letting go of the fact that these “half-breeds” to not fit Japan’s rather narrow definition of what Japanese person is.

The same holds true for the now middle-aged woman who once lived in Peru. Born of Japanese parents. Raised in a Japanese fashion. Speaks the language. Looks the part… how the fug, when she goes to Japan to live, is she not considered to be Japanese?

There is an innate fear the Japanese have, to distrust the "foreigner".

Those devils from the United States of America came with warships to threaten—ever so slightly—to open up its borders to trade back in the mid-1800s.

Before that, in the late 1500s when Portuguese sailors entered Japan’s ports they brought with them booze, guns and STDs, as they befouled their women. 

In the 1600s, even after Japan closed off its borders, Christian monks tried to convert the Japanese—only to find they weren’t welcome and were summarily executed.

Then the gaijin kicked their ass during WWII—and while the Japanese can respect that—they also hated them for stripping away the godlike power of the Emperor, and then rewriting the Constitution to give more rights to everyone (especially women). And then they propped up Japan’s economy, bought its goods, and even accepted some charity during the rebuild.

Nowadays? The Japanese still expect all foreigners wanting to do business with it to do business its way, regardless if the foreigner way may be a quicker and easier thing to do.

Granted, the foreigner way is often: “I don’t care how you do it, but do it quickly.”
Whereas the Japanese way is: “I don’t care how long it takes, let’s do it right.”

I know I like the Japanese way here.

But, when it comes to the treatment of those who do not fit the mold of what its society believes defines a Japanese person, that’s when I take offense.

Andrew Joseph

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