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Saturday, Nov. 18, 2006


How to tell if you are Gaijin-Japanese

In the U.S. we use the term Japanese-American to refer to Americans of Japanese descent. The Japanese use the terms nisei and sansei to denote second- and third-generation Japanese. Then there is hafu to describe those who are "half Japanese" and half something else (such as mermaid?).

News photo
Oh, the things I could do! AMY CHAVEZ PHOTO

But I've never heard of an American-Japanese in Japan or a similar term to describe foreigners who have emmigrated here who appear to be gaijin but live like and act Japanese.

This group I refer to as Gaijin-Japanese. We eat Japanese food, we speak Japanese, we may even hold positions within the community other than "token gaijin." We've given up gaijin privileges such as talking in loud voices, wearing jeans to work and blowing our noses in public.

Many of us are even trapped in the Japanese work ethic and would have died from karoshi (death from overwork) had it not been for repeated revivals through CPR. We have assimilated. Or so we think.

You know you are a Gaijin-Japanese when:

* Your life revolves around garbage days. If you've ever wondered why Japanese people never take a vacation longer than a week, here's why.

Garbage days are planned so that no one can be gone very long or they risk of getting sick from E. coli when they come home to rotting kitchen scraps. Either that, or the garbage will have taken on second lives re-sprouting, crawling all the way up the stairs and taking over the second floor.

There is no taming garbage in Japan, and no place to store it, so you must be around on garbage days to send it off properly.

Furthermore, nonburnable garbage can only be thrown out on the third Wednesday of the month and recyclables only on the fourth Wednesday, so should you be out of town on those days, you may as well move in with your garbage when you get back.

And if it's sodai gomi no hi (really-big-garbage day), forget going anywhere that month because if you miss that day, you'll have live-in garbage for the next several months. Should you decide to leave anyway, you may come back to find Oscar from "Sesame Street" living in your garbage can.

Gaijin-Japanese have gotten into the garbage rhythm and even take part on neighborhood garbage days policing the heap. You have the garbage dates written on your calendar and you could even recall the dates if asked.

* All of your family overseas is seriously ill. One family member kicks the bucket every year around the same time, a coincidental pattern to justify leaving the country to take a longer vacation.

You are considering converting to Buddhism so that you can observe the custom of hoji, requiring you to return home for several obligatory ceremonies at set intervals after the death of each family member, ensuring a visit home once a year for eternity.

* You realize that obaachans rule. And this is good. As a woman you have, more than once, considered buying those baggy elastic-waist band granny pants that look so comfortable.

Face it, if they weren't in such ugly colors, you'd already have a few. (Just for wearing around the house, of course. You wouldn't actually wear them out in public. Not yet, anyway).

That's probably why they only sell them in drab colors; if they made them in fashionable colors, everyone would want a pair.

So, to ensure they stay in the domain of the obaachan, and thus you have to earn them, they are restricted to various hues of gray and brown. But once you have them, you have truly earned the cloak of invisibility, because no one cares what obaachans do. They could steal the Mona Lisa and no one would notice.

You've got your eye on one of those obaachan carts. You are secretly looking forward to having one some day and have checked out all the models and are hoping for new colors and designs for when your time comes.

You also realize that with one of these carts you'll have something to haul off the treasures you freely take from the neighborhood "really-big-garbage day" pile and no one will say a thing. You really could steal the Mona Lisa.

* * * * *

But, I suppose the true sign of the ultimate Gaijin-Japanese is when your name is engraved on a stone pillar at the temple or shrine because you made a large donation. Enough said.

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