Recently on a talk show in Japan, a host discussed an event that occurred on Mt. Fuji. They spoke of an American man that went to Mt. Fuji and decided to not wear a t-shirt. The man was approached and was then told to put his T-shirt back on. He of course followed instructions without issue. This event however lead to many opinions that the individual was blatantly disrespecting the sacredness of the mountain and questions began to arise as to the reasoning behind his choice. Surely, he knew that in the more conservative nation of Japan that this may have been irresponsible? Even more recently, French fans of the Rugby World Cup were seen making a line on one of the Japanese railway trains and carrying each other creating a big enough disturbance that many Japanese citizens posted it all over social media. As events regarding gaijin are becoming more rampant we must find the heart of the issue and have a logical and informative conversation to push the narrative of a better relations between gaijin living in Japan and touring the area
Firstly, let us understand what Gaijin means. “Gaijin” is the less formal version of Gaikokujin which means foreigner. While this word is usually never used to mean anything negatively, some may denote it as derogatory to individuals who are not born in Japan, not of the Japanese race or who lack pure Japanese features. For this blog however we will use the word gaijin to mean someone not directly born in Japan and we will not use the word in a derogatory fashion.
Are the Gaijin at Fault?
Next let us step back and realize that not all gaijin can be put into a one size fits all model and every gaijin should not be expected to have the same values as those present in the introduction. A German citizen who is donating blood in Kanagawa is not the same as the French individuals who were present on the train. Further, the French tourist who was just minding his own business on a nice summer day in Tokyo cannot also be compared to the French individuals on the train. People of all walks of life cannot be boxed in to a group and be judged just by their race, nationality, etc. What we can say is that part ignorance and part arrogance led to these unfortunate events. The American individual more than likely hikes or runs without his shirt and did not know of the norms. The French fans I believe could have just been drunk and happy due to the sports events. I am sure that this hasn’t been their first rodeo. The problem in these instances wasn’t whether or not they had malice in their intent but rather whether they should have known of the cultural norms prior to entering Japan. For this, as I do not know them personally, I cannot directly state whether they knew or not. Perhaps they wanted to act similarly to how they are back home?
What Can Be Done?
We must realize that what is normal in one area may not be the norm in another. We must continue our quest for understanding ,educate ourselves in cultures other than our own and be ambassadors for our nation while we are a guest in Japan. Just because you put your feet up on the table when you eat in your home it may not be courteous to do so in your father-in-laws. Before visiting an area ensure you are well versed in cultural norms. Next, if you see someone who is not abiding by the norms in Japan, in a polite manner explain to them (before a Japanese citizen does) in the correct etiquette. If a citizen of Japan sees this, he or she may be less judgemental as if a person of a different culture is trying their best to bring a bit of order, it shows that not all gaijin are here to start trouble. This thought process can also happen if the individual refuses to listen to your suggestions. If even you are confused at what the norms are I typically go by the rule of thumb that I will conduct myself in a similar fashion to the Japanese citizens around me. This is the easiest and best way to ensure a cultural misunderstanding doesn’t happen
Individuals from all walks of life will continue to travel to Japan. While I do wish that everyone would try their best in order to not create any issues during their travel it is impossible to control all human nature. Another incident is inevitable but we have the time to show Japan and the world we are above the simple minded chaos creators. We can create a positive and more enduring image of our national identity while absorbing the peaceful qualities of the Japanese culture. Lets us not dwell on cultural misunderstanding but improve relations while we continue on our quest for understanding
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