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Showing posts with label Gaijin as a bad word. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gaijin as a bad word. Show all posts

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