Foreigners in Japan: Greasy Gaijin

Being able to converse in three different languages has enabled me to engage with and observe all kinds of people. I’ve often felt out of place, never belonging to one side, but always maintaining a position in the middle as an observer of different groups.

Gaijin and Gaikokujin in Japan have a complicated reputation. I would like to discuss the Western, Anglo-Saxon male, as a foreigner in Japan. Here are some of the groups I have noticed. If I missed any, please add them in the comments.

Warning: This post may be offensive

Frat Boy

  • most likely here via JET or eikaiwa chain
  • recent university graduates
  • little practical work experience
  • high sense of entitlement
  • complain a lot
  • live in gaijin bubble
  • in Japan very short term

Escaper & New Experience Seeker

  • I’ve met ex-nurses, teachers (real ones), civil servants, real estate agents and so on, who came to Japan to experience a new world
  • make the most of their time in Japan
  • have work experience
  • usually reliable
  • some ran away from something back home and took refuge in Japan; they can be mysterious, quiet ones who rarely socialize or quite the opposite
  • usually here short term, as their goal was a break, not permanent refuge

Anime & Manga Geek

  • study Japanese to access more anime/manga
  • usually speak rambo-like Japanese (from watching too much ninja and/or samurai anime)
  • IF they come to Japan, they must refine their Japanese (no more anime talk)
  • the introverts I’ve met seem to have better language ability
  • as long as they have a high speed internet connection, they don’t have to be in Japan, but may stay for other reasons

Traditional Culture Obsesser

  • visit temples & shrines for prayer
  • engage in Shinto & Buddhist practices
  • read/learn/talk about bushidō, samurai, ninja and the feudal era on a regular basis
  • want to have a Japanese wedding ceremony
  • practice seiza
  • drink matcha the proper way
  • would like to be here forever

Mr. Charisma & Pervo 

  • socially awkward
  • little experience with women in home country
  • have little pride, therefore will persist to any level to be with J-women, even if this behavior would be considered ultimate douche-behavior in home country
  • gaijin women can see his true identity; they are his kryptonite
  • see J-women as their nightly conquest, exploiting naivety
  • most likely here for life; Superman does not return to Krypton
  • more here

Language Geek

  • often in Japan as exchange students or
  • eikaiwa or ALTs who study hard in their spare time
  • try hard to make Japanese friends and/or conversation/exchange partners
  • generally content with Japan

Japanophile

  • love everything and are interested in all things Japanese
  • often have a distorted view of Japan due to zero, to little experience in Japan
  • only exposure to Japan is usually via English language resources
  • listen to J-Pop
  • usually only here as a tourist

The Last Samurai

  • would vote against all immigration policies (if they could vote)
  • believe Japan is and should be monocultural
  • anything Japanese is better
  • the Japanese way is the right way
  • avoid other gaijin; feel threatened around gaijin; believe gaijin are dangerous
  • “whaling is our culture, we don’t tell you to NOT eat hamburgers”
  • would naturalize as Japanese, if it weren’t against their beliefs

Hater

  • bitter
  • critical or negative about anything Japanese
  • believe because Japan is different (from their home country), it’s wrong
  • live in a bubble with like-minded people
  • learn very little of the language, if any
  • don’t respect local customs
  • feel trapped in Japan and can’t return to home country (but why is the better question)

Here for Work Only

  • common among US military, factory workers and those with a special trade
  • often try to live the same way they would back in home country
  • learn survival Japanese at most
  • not interested in Japan; don’t pay attention to Japanese media or culture (living in the bubble, but not bitter)
  • here short term
  • send money back to home country

Wife & Half Kids

  • fit into this category plus at least one other
  • in Japan his kids will be viewed as half (half in Japanese refers to someone who is half Japanese.
    • While being half is viewed as stylish and cool for adults, half children are sometimes the target of bullying
  • some integrate really well; some are terribly bitter and live in the bubble
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7 thoughts on “Foreigners in Japan: Greasy Gaijin

  1. That's a much more comprehensive list than others I have seen. Most people only view 4 types of foreigners here in Japan.

    You should also include what I call the 3 stages of integration into a foreign society.

    The Honeymoon Stage
    Nothing can be wrong in your new country. You see everyday as a comic book adventure; driving, food shopping, meeting people. Most people start as a Japanophile if you use your terminology.

    Next
    The Self-imposed Hell Stage
    You have settled down and now everything is wrong. They just don't act like they do in your country of origin. You compare everything to said country, with it always beating your new country. You want to go home immediately but something keeps you here (mid contract/semester etc). All that describes you here is Hatred.

    Finally
    The Acceptance Stage
    If you don't jump ship towards your homeland you have made it. You now see both the good and the bad and generally stick it out. You feel like your a part of society and that you can criticize something (but not too much) and you don't gush over the small things that you first noticed on arrival.

    Most people I have know gone through these stages, some go home during step 2 but some stay. Of course there are some who just never leave stage one.

    It's funny looking at your list trying to figure out where I belong. Traditional J Culture Obsesser and Language Geek seem best, I assume thats because I spent much time studying this stuff. Good read though.

    Cheers mate

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  2. Thank you for the excellent comment. I completely forgot about “the stages,” but I wholeheartedly agree with you. Your terminology is also very accurate.

    BTW, in no particular order, I'm a language geek, new experience seeker and anime & manga geek. As for the latter, I'm highly selective. There are anime & manga that I absolutely LOVE and am obsessed with (otaku), but it doesn't mean I like them all. There are quite a few I dislike.

    Again, thanks.

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  3. “as long as they have a high speed internet connection, they don't have to be in Japan, but may stay for other reasons”

    lmfao fam. good post

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  4. This is a better list than the less comprehensive but funny 10 Gaijin You Meet in Japan list.

    Regarding the last item “with J wife and half kids” point. I think the bullied-in-school CW is a few decades out of date. Here's an anecdote:

    These days, so-called “international marriages” comprise of 1 out of every 30 to 40 marriages in big cities like Tokyo. That means mathematically speaking there's about one kid (sometimes two) in every first grade homeroom. And from my experience, these kids are often not half-white, they're often half-black or another very obviously non-Asian/non-Caucasian race.

    My children go to public school in Japan. When I first put my kid in school, I asked the teacher if she had any experience (read: understood the discrimination issues) dealing with and teaching “half” children. She looked at me like I was stuck in the 70s. “Why, of course! Who in Tokyo hasn't?”

    And sure enough, the kids really didn't care. And they don't care with the other two half-Japanese/half-black (brothers) kids in school.

    Now, there's still a problem with 帰国子女 {kikoku shijo} (“returnees”). Those half-kids I'm talking about were born in Japan and lived there whole lives here. Meaning they (only) speak fluent Japanese and their cultural frames-of-reference (ex. the TV shows the watch, the stores and toys they know, etc.) are all Japanese.

    I have seen kids that didn't “fit it,” not because of their skin or hair color but because they “talked funny,” or just “didn't get it” (they didn't understand the same pop culture — tv, etc — their classmates talked about on the playground) get ignored and/or teased.

    On the other hand, that happened in my home country too, and I suspect that happens anywhere. Kids can be cruel, and that might be a universal axiom.

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  5. @turning-japanese.info

    Great comment. I never knew the international marriage rates were so high in major cities. Sometimes it can be hard to tell when the mix is with Caucasian or east Asian. However for kids of other mixes, I see they sometimes face an initial wall with first encounters (based on their ethnic appearance); it's an extra hurdle for them to deal with. As you said, this phenomenon occurs outside of Japan, but in Japan, I rarely see any action taken against it (bullying), which is what I think the real problem is. I can remember growing up in Canada, as an elem. student, teachers went APESHIT over ANY form of racial discrimination.

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  6. “In Canada… teachers went APESHIT over ANY form of racial discrimination.” And you're right the teachers in Japan don't, enough. Mainly because there is no way that they can empathize – outsiders of any variety in Japanese society do not make it through the hoops to become a public servant.

    Now as for the apeshit in Canada, some of it was a bit forced, because it is done out of as much ignorance as in Japan: teachers in Canada tend to be small-town and lower middle class (I am one, and some of those). Sometimes a kid uses the N-word because he's angry, and would have said 'fag' to a white kid. It's wrong. The kid needs punishment, but he's not really racist or homophobic. He has shite parents, or a social environment that condones this, and that needs addressing (though teachers can't).

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  7. @Mr. S.
    I think most kids raised in Japan, regardless of their “ethnic” background, can become a public servant in Japan. Though perhaps they choose not to because of the “outside” influence in their life.

    BTW, do you think the amount of “half” celebs on TV is representative of the population? It seems that there are quite a few on TV, but rarely do I notice anyone who appears more ethnically mixed than the average descendant of Yamato.

    I have mixed feelings about the “politically correct” agenda in the west. It seems people have good intentions, but don't really understand the root of the problem.

    Like

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