Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Glory of Being Gaijin

Japan can be a real trip for westerners who have never experienced the land of the raising sun. The first time I stepped foot on Japanese soil I was taken aback by many things. My first taste of Japan was like cotton candy flavored vodka; it tastes good but left me feeling very dazed and confused. Japan can be a mixed drink from hell or a horny gal you just cannot get enough; either way you will come back for more. After a while Japan can wear down even the best of us to the point of total mental and emotional exhaustion. You can look into the eyes of some gaijin while walking down the streets of Tokyo and see a cry for help. They have that look in their eyes that speaks to the masses and says, `dammit enough already! I am gaijin. I am different. Cut me some slack already!` They have tried with all their might to fit into a culture that, at times, expects perfection even when such a goal is obviously impossible. These battle warn gaijin have forgotten their one big advantage; they are gaijin.

I figured out very early in the game that I have an advantage over the majority in Japan. No one is really expecting me to fit into society. While I am not being excluded from society by the majority, there is a unspoken feeling by the majority that it is perfectly fine by them if I am kept at kicking distance. On the surface this may sound like a bad thing but it is actually a very good situation for me and most other gaijin. In Japanese society we have the unique ability to move in and out of society with relative ease. For the most part the Japanese are very accepting of minorities. Most even welcome the diversity of having people from all over the world visit and live in their nation. I must may that Japan is one of the most accepting cultures in the world. While they do not roll out the welcoming carpet they do greet you with a warm smile and hot sake.

With all of that said there are many gaijin who feel a certain pressure to try and fit into Japanese society in every way, shape and form. More often than not those who do jump balls deep into aiming for total acceptance find themselves burnt out and jaded within a couple of years. While I have only been a resident of Tokyo for a little under a year I have realized that I am not expected to become a full card carrying member of Japanese society. This may sound strange but it is very true. I have figured out the basics as to what is expected of me as a gaijin on a daily basis:
1) maintain a productive job which is a benefit to Japanese society.
2) pay your taxes(for the most part. There are ways to get out of this in some situations).
3) Don`t make too much trouble.
4) Be cool and keep your head low
5) learn at least a little of the Japanese language

Believe it or not that is about all that is expected of gaijin in Japan. At least this is what I have experienced in my personal journey living in Tokyo. These five very simple things really do not take much effort. As long as I mostly stick to the basics of expectations I am free to do and say whatever I want at any given time. I can slip in and out of societies strict social order as long I am not getting in the way of the natural flow of things too much.

I know that some people will disagree with me about this but those people have their reasons for feeling in such a manner. I do not have any problems with someone who wants to dive head first into Japanese society. I say go for it and you are a bigger person than me if you achieve such a task of 100% acceptance. Maybe you can share some insights with the rest of us. As for me I am ok to stand tall at the edge of Japanese society dancing around like a monkey on acid. Most Japanese laugh their ass off at me anyway. They do not laugh in an offensive manner rather they laugh at me because I make little effort to become `oh so Japanese.` Because I am gaijin it is ok for me to get away with being a little KY from time to time.

Overall, I really do love Japan. I love living in Tokyo even more. The people and the culture is a true wonder to me and most likely always will be in some ways. The important thing for me is to never forget that I am a mountain boy from West Virginia. It would be a shame for me to forget the lessons I learned from the people who had been charged with the duty of making a man out me. I have a hell of a good time living in Tokyo. Japan has given me more than I will ever be able to return. All the Japanese are asking of me is that I be cool do not cause too much shit for them to deal with. If you wanna hate me for that it`s ok by me because I am not the one with a problem you are. If you wanna be friends with me I welcome you with open arms.


Jason said...

Don't live in Tokyo for more than two years, otherwise you might find yourself losing some of your love for it.

Also, this blogger commenting system of having to enter a captcha always makes me hesitate to make the effort to comment.

TheGhost said...

Tokyo will never loose it charm for me. I love the place and always will.

Concerning the commenting system. I have taken off the captcha for now so everyone can comment freely. I will see how this goes.