Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Listen To The Music

It's August 24, 1991 - a Saturday here in sunny Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan.

I've been in a bad mood for a long time now, with only a few days in Thailand to alleviate it (thank you ladies!). I also picked up the runs there, and it's been 12 days and I'm still feeling dehydrated, tired and poopy.

As such, I get up bright and early (for me) at 9AM and go over to Maniwa-san's pharmacy to get myself some medicine. Maniwa-san is about 60-years-old, reminds me of Yoda actually, but without the sage wisdom. Instead, he's a leecherous old man with a wicked sense of humour and I like him and he me.

He's part of the Ohtawara International Friendship Association. It always seems strange to me that a small city of 50,000 would have such an association... I mean, how many internationals are there here? Apparently quite a few, thanks to an elite industrial sector that often has people come from sister companies to work in Japan. As well, there's also the Asian Rural Institute where farmers learn Japanese farming techniques. There are also a few New Zealanders and Aussies who come and work the always bustling bar scene. Apparently nothing attracts a crowd like a gaijin (foreigner).

In my 13 months here, I've not come across any hate crimes or crap like that. Sure people call us gaijin (which doesn't really mean foreigner, but rather 'outsider'), which is a bit insulting... but the Japanese don't really mean it that way.

Heck... they call us gaijin-san.... Mister Foreigner. Sure, other Japanese folks correct them from time to time, but even by 1991-standards, foreigners are a bit of a sensation... an anomaly here in small towns and cities throughout Japan... less so in the major metropolises like Osaka, Kobe or Tokyo.

For many people in Ohtawara, the only foreigners they have ever seen are in the movies and on television, so when they see one up close and personal walking by or riding  by, they stop, point, stare and say: "Hora! Gaijin-da (Look! A Foreigner!)"

Whatever. Some foreigners here get up in arms about this. It bothers them that they are being singled out for being different.

To them I say: Get over it. It's why you are here. To internationalize. Teaching English may be our job title (for some), but it is secondary to just getting people to realize you are no different from them. We love, we hate, we laugh, we cry. We work, we play, we drink, we sleep. There are always going to be differences, but when people have never seen a foreigner before—it's okay for there to be some staring or excitement.

I know that when I would enter a school for the first time—especially a primary school (Grades 1-6), I would be elevated to Rock n' Roll superstar status!  I'd be posing for photos, shaking hands, being touched and signing autographs. It's completely overwhelming, but just think... I was the first foreigner these kids had ever seen in person. You really want to make a good impression so as not to screw things up for any others who come after. You don't want to sour anyone's opinion.

By the way... there are people—gaijin who fled the scene when Japan was hit hard by the triple threat of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear radiation. I'm not going to judge them—that's for others to do. However, a new term was coined: flyjin. There was also one coined for those who stayed: fryjin... owing to the fact that they would be cooked should Japan suffer a nuclear holocaust.

For a fun-filled rant, I would direct you to my buddy Mike in Tokyo to read his blog:

Myself... how did I handle being a gaijin in Japan? How could I stand people calling me names or staring at me? Well, while not so much of a problem or concern for me in 2011, growing up in Toronto, the city had more than its fair share of racists. I'm brown-skinned. I'm of Indian descent (the sub-content). That made me thick-skinned. At least in Japan, I never detected any malice in the words of people. I wish I could have said the same about Canada.

All I could do about racism in my own country was smile and try to ignore it, and not let it bother me. It was the same in Japan. If you think that people are calling you an outsider, why let it bother you. Technically speaking, you are one.

I am an outsider in Canada, too. But I am Canadian. And I will fight for that right.

Japan? I am an outsider. But I'm there to educate them in more than English.

In India... I've never been there, but I would imagine everyone would know that I am not a real Indian... that I am an outsider.

Where do I fit in? Globally. To those who hate being called a gaijin:  Suck it up. There are worse things to go through. Try to educate people as to why you feel the term is offensive. They are Japanese... not baka (stupid).

Huh... I guess I got a little bit off track there. Let's end this now, and get back to August 24th, 1991 tomorrow.

Andrew Joseph
Today's blog is by The Doobie Brothers: GOTTAGETAMESSAGE

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