Something is defacing Japan, and it’s not earthquakes nor the Abenomics.
Even during the era where Japan was the number two superpower of the world, Japan remained mostly an encapsulated and hermetic society with a touch of xenophobia. Harmony and cohesion reigned. Since the last ten years though, the country has yielded to outside pressure and has gradually opened up the gates of immigration. As expected, the result is an utter eyesore. In this country that was, until not too long ago, so beautifully different and so socially perfect, now dawns a contagion of disruptive foreigners. Here, I’m not speaking of the wave of factory workers that were brought into the country en masse during the bubble economy. I am speaking of the gaijin, the outsider, the caucasian.
Over the years, I’ve come to encounter a few types of gaijins that follow the same pattern. On one side, you have the ones trying to be more Japanese than Japanese, and their anti-thesis, the shallow deniers imposing their ill-mannered and uneducated behaviours.
Starting with the more Japanese than Japanese type, the most commonly observed is the overdoer. There is actually two categories of overdoers: the henna gaijin and the oblivious overdoer.
The henna gaijin (weird gaijin) has only one difference with a Japanese native: the skin color. They of course speak fluently Japanese, know not only all the jouyo kanji – the standard 2000 commonly used Chinese characters – but also all the obscure ones you only see in literature. They will even argue with Japanese natives about the meaning of a particular kanji. They’re also accomplished Asian history buffs. They can recite all the eras and Emperors names up to now – in fact, they can use the era dating system – and recall any events from any single day of the Meiji epoch. They’ll never miss a chance to one-up you with any social/political/economic factoids.
They know all the types of bowing etiquette and will apply each the exact degree the situation mandates, coupled with the level of politeness when speaking to their Japanese interlocutor. They can do calligraphy, flower arrangement and even the freakin’ tea ceremony. Plus, they play the shamizen, the taiko drums, the game of Go, or some obscure cultural instrument/game unknown even to most Japanese.
Henna gaijin just want to be so… Japanese. I actually pity them, because here’s a sad fact: They’re not Japanese, and they never will be. Japanese people don’t give a flying tanooki’s ass about them. Well, maybe they do give a flying tanooki’s ass, but only because they want to practice their English conversation. Henna gaijins don’t get to score more points – or any point at all for that matter. Sure, Japanese might act all impressed and give the thumbs up for all that stuff, but bottom line: they are non Japanese. They do not belong and it’s just plain creepy. Hence the term henna gaijin.
On the other hand, there’s the oblivious overdoer. This one can be observed in his native country and often evolves into a henna gaijin once he/she lives in Japan for a while. The oblivious overdoer starts with an über-passion for Japan’s pop culture, paired with an equal ignorance of Japanese society. They think that Japanese people are the most polite and accommodating people in the world. They’re sadly mistaken. Japanese, males especially, can be rather abrupt. The politeness culture is reserved for business purpose. It’s a work etiquette. Anything outside falls into the same urban jungle like everywhere else. This misconception has its roots from, firstly, watching too much crappy anime or reading too much stuff about Japan from other oblivious overdoers. Secondly, if they’ve been in Japan, they’ve not really experienced life outside stores, restaurants and public service facility, and obliviously have never been in Osaka.
Like the little reject kid that wants to get in the club, they will try to mimic the Japanese etiquette and behaviours with disastrous results. The most common blunder being the clumsy usage of the 90 degree bow in any situation, and showering with doumo arigatou gozaimasu any Japanese that shows them the most insignificant gesture of courtesy. It just creates a very awkward moment for all involved in the exchange. And don’t get me started with the deranged practices of anime/J-Pop conventions.
Japan has always been a fascinating country, and since the post-war-bubble-economy-period, it has been the subject of countless books, articles, magazines and blogs. It has been talked to death. Still, the Japanese society and history is a fascinating subject. Somehow though, the country opening the gates to immigration doesn’t suit him well and its loosing of its exotic charm. Perhaps, as some rare artifact or endangered species, it is best if we only observe it from afar. Or at least, that we try our best not to upset this unique cultural ecosystem.
Or maybe I’m just a purist asshole.