I received a very perplexing question today: How is one treated as a gaijin?
While a jumble of examples filled my brain, like this one time or that other time or a few days ago, none of them felt like I could use them to generalize and so I concluded that I had no idea how to answer this question…
From various stories I’ve heard, there seems to be a multitude of ways one can be treated as a gaijin in Japan, but I cannot begin to enumerate the ways one is treated as a gaijin. I’ve known of exclusionism, alienation, and even plain rudeness, but I cannot say those are the only ways foreigners are treated here. I’m sure a lot of foreigners in Japan have sob stories to share, but I’m also pretty sure there are several who will say they’ve received nothing but hospitality and kindness from Japanese people.
When I worked in a rural town somewhere north of Tokyo as a Foreign Language Teacher, I was expecting to feel lonely, probably from being ignored by the entire population, due to stories of past teachers. Whilst during the day, the teachers were busy and didn’t pay much attention to me, the office staff always invited me over for coffee and gossip. I was getting better at Japanese then, but I still often didn’t follow some of stuff going on. When they saw I was a bit lost, though, they slowed down and tried to explain in simpler Japanese. After a few stories, they’d ask me about my country and how we thought of this or that. They always made a point to make sure I was included in the conversation. I felt quite important at that time, sharing all I could. I felt at that time that I was the only one who could shed light on some of the mysteries about my country. They almost always seemed to be interested in things foreign to them.
At school, Language Teachers usually have some designated place to have lunch, like in a classroom, or in the teacher’s room, or with the special education class, but the office staff insisted I stay with them because they had a heater in the winter and a cooler in the summer. If I’d stay in the teacher’s room, they said, I’d just feel left out. Of course, there were other foreign teachers in the place where I worked, but they said they were not given the same treatment. In fact, they felt left out and most of them left the job after a year or even less in some cases.
While I was thinking about this whole Gaijin Treatment thing I remembered that I had read this article from Ampotan a few months ago. It was quite insightful, and it has become a discussion of sorts a couple of times at work with my co-workers. We usually end up with a conclusion that you are treated how you are asking to be treated…
I’m still a bit at a loss, but is there anyone out there who might have a clearer understanding of how it is to be treated as a gaijin?