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Posts Tagged ‘gaijin’

It’s true – everyone is a gaijin (outsider) somewhere! No matter where you go, there will always be somewhere where you don’t quite fit in. So always be nice to foreigners – one day it might be you.

I stumbled across this video the other day and it made me laugh. A lot. This is how the British are viewed through Japanese eyes.

My brother quickly responded by sharing this video, how we view Japan.

At least we can laugh about our differences!

This video captures the awkwardness of Japanese interacting with gaijin…

And finally a rather tongue in cheek look at “racism” in tokyo…

This one made me laugh, particularly because it sums up how sometimes gaijin in Japan make themselves the victims of racism stares… and if you will wear a Pikachu suit in a starbucks… well you bring it on yourself!

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This week is a very welcome week off whilst the University entrance exams are undertaken by scores of terrified looking High School students from all over Nagoya. I was unfortunate enough to be walking the wrong way back to the dormitory on Monday afternoon just after 5pm faced with a stream of about 500 students, some talking and laughing, others looking petrified from fear. Unlike the UK, you take an entrance exam directly with the university; it is said to be the most stressful part of Japanese childrens lives. After you get into your chosen university the work is relatively easy, you have free time, you can wear what you want, you can dye your hair etc and jobs are won on the university you go/went to rather than your degree, so getting into the right place is pretty much the most important thing. To pass these exams, kids got to after-school “cram-schools” from the end of school till 9-10pm most evenings during the week!

Anyway, we get the week off which is fantastic as I have time to recover from all that party planning! Luckily everything went perfectly the other night; people liked our goody bags (5000 yen vouchers redeemable at a local hairdressers, free food/drinks vouchers, chocolates, hair wax, shampoo etc) the red carpet, the prizes – concert tickets, hair straighteners, clothes etc – and everyone said how professional it was. Judging from everybody’s photos on Facebook, it looks like everybody had a good time! People are already asking when the next one is… Between George and I we know most of Nagoya so we are thinking of making it bigger – maybe 300 people!

We even made enough profit to pay for a thankyou slap-up meal at Outback Steakhouse for our closest friends who helped with the party preparations – currently still full of delicious ribs!! That place is a saving grace – although I still can’t believe that the finest fillet steak comes chopped up in little chunks just because Japanese people can’t use knives and forks! And whilst fish/eggs/horse meat/everything comes raw in Japan, steak comes medium rare even if you ask for it to be still moo-ing. Still I’m not going to complain, as where else can I get such decadent Gaijin Fodder?

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As a Japanologist (hah!) I get asked a lot of questions by friends and family about Japanese life and culture, ranging from relatively simple topics to the obscure. However the question I get asked more often than anything else is “Why do Japanese people always make the V-sign in photographs?”. One cousin even enquired as to whether it is some kind of Churchill-envy. Today I will put this great mystery to rest for those of you who have always wondered.

Most people think that it has something to do with being a symbol of peace/victory, but in actual fact it is a rather old fashioned dating device. Over 100 years ago it was used as a secret signal to members of the opposite sex who could be considered partners for marriage. Since a face-to-face conversation with a stranger in the street would be far too forward, a simple flash of the signal would show interest in that person and allow for arrangements to be made for private discussions, inevitably leading to marriage. Since then, with the invention of the camera and demise of arranged marriages single people use it as a pose in photographs to indicate their single status. Whilst this might seem embarrassing, it means singletons can more successfully pick and choose prospective partners from looking at friends’ photographs. If you see a cute guy/girl making the sign in your friends’ photograph then arrangements can be made for a not-quite-so-blind blind-date. So, be careful about making the V-sign when having your photograph taken in Japan!

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Good things that have happened recently:

Went to a free food tasting event for the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Agriculture of Japan, where I was presented with an array of about 30 different types of Japans finest exportable goods. It was slightly scary when they interviewed me and took about a thousand photos, and having to explain why the food was good/bad in Japanese but I got paid 3000 yen (£18) for my gaijin opinion on whether things were good enough to be exported to Britain-land, not to mention all the free samples and goodies I got given, and the added bonus of not needing to cook dinner that night!

I found the illusive 100yen Lawson shop. This is going to revolutionise my life. Almost everything is 100yen and you can buy everything from vegetables and meat to batteries and stationary. And its open 24hrs! Its the ultimate student budget shop!

Planning to go to Osaka this weekend to see もみじ – all the autumnal colours of the changing leaves. Really excited as I’ve never been to Osaka before and as there are 7 of us going then hopefully it should be a fun time!

Bad things that have happened recently:

My teacher adding “improvements” to my woodblock print and making it look bad 😦 Somehow I couldn’t find the words to say “Please stop you are ruining it!”

Doing a role-play of working at McDonalds* in class. I am not learning Japanese so that I can get a McJob! My aspirations run a little higher!  The worst part was that it was right before lunch!

Getting my phone bill…

(*On a vaguely related note, McDonalds in Japan are a taste sensation. No, really. When you get one, the burger is HOT rather than soggy and luke warm, and always actually tastes like meat may have been involved in its production at some point! They also have burgers like the teriyaki burger, the king prawn fillet burger, and the ultimate Mega Mac which is made from FOUR BURGERS. Its like the burger that all other burgers want to be when they grow up.)

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This weekend was a blur. A very overwhelming blur! Even though I’d been told countless times that Tokyo is a very hectic place, nothing could have really prepared me for quite how crazy it is! Its like London on acid; so much bigger, buildings which touch the sky as far as the eye can see in every direction; adverts on every spare inch; people everywhere; flashing lights, television, music and sounds surrounding you wherever you walk…  Its multi-sensory overload. I’ve never felt more like a country bumpkin!

I apologise in advance that this is going to be a long entry!

We left straight after classes ended on Wednesday and took a Nozomi shinkansen which arrived a hour and 20 minutes later in Tokyo. It was my first time on a bullet train and I was incredibly impressed. They run every 10 minutes and are so fast – the same trip by coach takes over 6 hours! (They are also very comfortable; it is little wonder that they have such a good reputation.) Ironically, because we took a while to figure out where we were going on the metro, it took us almost the same amount of time from the JR Shin-Yokohama station to get to Joy’s cousins house! Luckily we got there just in time for delicious homemade Japanese curry and rice. As Noriko had had a cold, Joys aunt came over to help. It was really nice to get a glimpse of Japanese family life! Later on Joys long-time friend Chris came over and he took us for a drive around central Tokyo. I will not easily forget my first impressions of Shibuya at night – it was a Wednesday night and the streets were packed! Cruising around in a rather fast car with spoilers and listening to techno was a bit like being in the Fast and the Furious or something! Definitely the best way to see the city.

On Thursday we went shopping in Shibuya with Cynthia’s aunt, and I was really glad to have someone who knew the area show us around as the department stores are like mazes, and there seem to be amazing shops in the oddest corners where you would least expect them to be! We went for a slap up lunch – I had tempura oysters which were delicious! – and hit the shops really hard! Managed to find a really nice super long knitted wool cardigan with a real silver fox fur collar for only £30! I also got some glass gems to pimp my keitai phone, and a few gifts for people. That evening after a feast of temaki sushi we wandered around shibuya, took some purikura (sticker photos) and quite randomly got handed sweets by a salaryman.

We got one of the last trains home – the most crowded train I have ever been on! Between 6pm-12pm all the trains are packed to the brim. The marks on the platform tell you where to line up, but any sense of order ends here; once you are inside it is every man for himself! This is a photo of people being pushed onto the train by one of the white gloved conductors, something unique to Japan.

I can’t really express how squashed we were! We couldn’t move at all, backs twisted like a pretzels and feet trodden on! I don’t know how people can do this everyday. For those who miss the last train the sorry fate is a night spent on the platform, at karaoke, or sleeping in a manga cafe (a kind of Internet cafe) so most people get on these trains at all costs.

Along came Friday and a visit to Harajuku. Disappointingly didn’t see a whole lot of bizarrely clad individuals, but had a nice wander around some of the boutiques and interesting shops. As it was Halloween, the later it got, the more we saw people in costume wandering around. Before we came, about 10 of us had planned to meet up and go to AgeHa – a superclub on the industrial outskirts of Tokyo, but after we got off the bus and saw the queues of about 2000 people we realised that there was no way we were going to get in. A few of our friends had already queued for 2 hours and were still 40 minutes from the entrance! Luckily a friend from SOAS told us about another event we could go to in Shibuya which turned out to be the most amazing party! It was an invitation only club night with performances by a dozen different artists for about 200 people, on the top floor of a 12 storey building, complete with swimming pool outside, so it felt very exclusive. People dressed up in the most amazing Halloween outfits, so although it was quite surreal it was definitely one of the best nights out in Japan so far!

After the party ended at 4.30 am we headed out into Roppongi to another club. Anyone will tell you that Roppongi is Gaijin Central (foreigners = yuk) but at that time in the morning we couldn’t really be picky. We got the first train in the morning there and by the time we arrived it was light outside! Unfortunately the club we went to was of the very worst kind, and it was even worse that I had anticipated, sticky floors, perverts and vomit. So we didn’t stay long, and decided to go for breakfast ramen (noodles) instead. By the time we got home it was 9.30 am! As you might expect we slept till 3pm!

Later that evening Joys cousins family took the three of us to the Tokyo Tower where we got some fantastic views of the city at night. As far as you can see in every direction there are skyscrapers and bright lights. It makes London look like a hamlet!

After that we went to Onsen, which are like hot springs which you bathe in. The particular one they took us to is an Edo Period themed one where you can choose your favourite colour yukata, enjoy some dinner at the food court and play some old fashioned arcade games before going bathing. Its always a little embarrassing bathing with all the other naked with other people but its so relaxing that all of it slips away after the first few minutes. Obviously the main baths are single sex, but after you get out and dry off you can enjoy the outside foot baths with everyone.

So thats the general idea of my weekend! (I had to leave out most of the details otherwise it would have been ridiculously long!) I had such a fun time, and I will definitely be going back at some point because as a city it has so much to offer and I only really scratched the surface. I was really expecting to love Tokyo, as I love living in London and I’m fairly used to city life. But despite having an amazing time, I was so relieved to get back to Nagoya! The air and streets are cleaner here, people walk half a heartbeat slower, they apologise when they bump into you, there’s hardly any foreigners, the trains seem almost empty, and obviously its a lot cheaper. Nagoya is by no means perfect, but as a place to live it is everything I need in a city.

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The strange thing about living in Japan is that you can simultaneously feel very at home but also like a fish out of water. I know the language (enough to get by comfortably!), how to get around Nagoya, all the do’s and dont’s of Japanese culture. I know a fair bit of Japanese history. I even know how to say “your pants are showing” in comical sign language. But I am still a foreigner. Now, this does have its advantages – if I make faux pas linguistically or otherwise, Japanese people very generously give me the benefit of doubt! However, I am getting slightly tired of always being treated as an outsider. (If I had 100 yen for every time someone asked me if I can eat raw fish…)

We were trying to get into a members club the other night and my half-Japanese friend George rang ahead to see if we could get without being members. The lady told him that it was no problem, that membership was not required. We then went up to the 9th floor and entered reception, where we were told that George could indeed get in without membership as he is fluent in Japanese and looks Japanese. The rest of us (foreigners) would not be able to enter, since we were not members. As it turned out, Japanese people do not have to be members but gaijin do. And to become a member you have to obtain three letters of recommendation from Japanese friends, proof of valid visa status, an Alien Registration Card, and a completed application form. I could of course join, but would I want to join a club which essentially resents my presence? I wouldn’t mind so much if everyone had to apply for membership but such blatant double standards are something I am not used to.

Anyway, it didn’t really matter. We still went on to have a hilarious evening out! It just goes to show that it is the company you hold and not the places you go which define an fun time.

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