Monday, 3 June 2013

Musings: What Does "Gaijin" Mean?

Why this photo? I could talk about how
this topic isn't very pleasant, like the clouds
that block an awesome view of Mount Fuji
(that is Mount Fuji by the way), but the truth
is, I didn't want a photo of me when I
shared this post to Google+ (shallow,
I know)
Last Wednesday, Tofugu posted a really excellent blog post on what the word "gaijin" (外人)may mean to different foreigners. Coincidentally, I was working on (in my drafts folder anyway), a post on being a gaijin in Fukuoka. (Tofugu, if you read this, look at the synchronicity! You should totally take me on as an apprentice(; ). So, I decided to do a two-day, two-part blog post on being a foreigner. Today, I'll look at what the word "gaijin" means to me, and tomorrow, I'll share my experience.

Note: this doesn't mean that the discussion on the issue is finished. I'm still learning, still thinking, so don't be surprised if some time down the road, part three comes out.

Ok, so words. What do they mean? There's always that nursery rhyme "stick and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me." Perhaps it's due to the influence of the rhyme when I say that the word "gaijin" has no negative connotations for me. Please note the words "for me".

Because seriously, I'm the girl that identifies myself as gaijin. It will come out sometime in my introduction (if my name didn't give me away straightaway). In fact, I sometimes use the "baka gaijin" excuse (basically, I use this excuse to cover every single faux pas I make). To me, I am a gaijin. I will never be Japanese, so why should I care if others don't see me as Japanese?

While I say all this, I must add in two caveats. First, my experience in Japan is hugely positive. I have been told (by my seniors) that there are universities where one is told "you're in Japan, you don't need English", and I have heard of stories of discrimination, but I've never faced anything like this. I first studied in TUFS, where the fact that all the students here major in a foreign language means that they are more welcoming to foreign students. Now, I'm in Fukuoka, which was one of the first open ports (for foreign trade), and is said to be very open to foreigners and foreign influence in general. So obviously, the word "gaijin" has never been used as an insult to me.
This is the face of a gaijin.

The second caveat is simply the fact that I'm Singaporean. And as you should have seen by now, my race is Chinese. This means that I don't stand out that much from other Japanese (as compared to say, a Caucasian). My default look is "blending in" not "standing out".

What about you? Do you, unlike me, see the work gaijin as some sort of insult and should be avoided? I'm simply too lazy to say the word "外国人 (gaikokujin - foreign country person), and well, I use the baka gaijin excuse a lot. If your view is different, or you had some experience you want to share, do tell me, I'd love to hear about it.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, where I talk about my experience in Japan.

ETA: Read Part 2 here

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