Chapter 3: What is a Gaijin?

The definition of the word `gaijin` is long overdue given the title of these entries. `Gaijin` quite literally translates to `foreigner` or `outsider,` which carries mostly negative connotations here as it would in any country but especially in Japan. For the entirety of its history, the culture has traditionally shunned anyone or anything different, including cultural inconsistencies amongst its own people. If you want a historical reference, then look no further than the Edo period(1603-1868), when anything even remotely external was banned. Outsiders were prohibited from entering, and the Japanese were forbidden from leaving. If a foreigner was found, they were automatically killed without trial, extreme practices that no doubt left lasting impressions and are surely somehow unknowingly echoed in the culture today. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind while scrutinizing Japan to grasp that their presence on the international scene only began one hundred and fifty years ago, barely a page in time relative to the history of the world. This reason, coupled with the fact that they are an island nation, may explain their lack of synchronization with mainstream ideology and rationalize the source of their uniqueness as a people. Interestingly, in the west, where diversity is celebrated (at least in principle), here it is openly criticized. However, I have been told that the government is taking measures to change that dogma.

My dispatch company does not permit me to say exactly where I work but what I can say is that I live in the Kanto area(which includes Tokyo) in a primarily rural prefecture. The toughest battle to date has been, without a doubt, the paperwork, which was a nightmare to put it lightly. Not only is it bottomless but also in a pure unadulterated Japanese that shows no mercy to foreigners or Japanese people, as even my handler struggled with the process. The bank paperwork had a long list of arbitrary rules to follow: some letters needed to be capitalized, while others required to be in lowercase, no hyphens, no commas, the address listed in a specified order, and at one point, I pledged not to be gang affiliated, lest I forget having to write in Kanji for certain sections(one of four Japanese writing systems). The last nail pulling step required was the Hanko, which was the personalized stamp I ordered three months prior to arriving and which, of course, wasn’t ready when I arrived. It took three trips to the bank until I finally made any progress, primarily since all the rules mentioned above were not told or listed until we filed the document incorrectly and had to redo it. So many mysterious documents were signed in those initial weeks that a soul might have been given away unbeknownst to me. In any case, I cared very little at my breaking point, especially given my surprising apartment size and relatively close proximity to Tokyo. If the devil was satisfied with the deal, then so was I.

The first thing that struck me as unusual about the apartment was how you paid your bills. Gas and electricity statements came in the mail, which you then took to the convenience store to pay, but only in cash. I have little doubt there aren’t more convenient ways to pay for such things, something I look forward to exploring, but until then, so be it. How and why a country as technologically advanced as Japan would still rely on ink stamps, fax machines, and physical paperwork is paradoxical. Their dependence on such archaic systems may be at the behest of the sizable and rapidly aging elderly population, who would no doubt be left in the dark, quite literally, if such changes were made. Like many other developed nations, the country has too many older people and not enough young workers to grow and stimulate the economy. Leaving Japan at a crossroads of sorts, either open their borders to keep the economy from stagnating or continue the self-imposed buffer. There seems to be widespread apprehension by both the government and its people losing their culture and ethnic homogeneity if the former option came to fruition. Given the country’s history with foreign relations and Europe’s current state of civil turbulence(due to their open border policies), I would place my bet on the status quo being kept, at least for the immediate future.

Japan’s policies regarding the outside world may come off as intolerant at times, but after living here for nearly two months, you appreciate the harmony and their lack of desire to disrupt it. Everyone is in sync, everything works and is on time, and beneath the surface of all the spoken language is the unspoken communication in the form of subtle gestures and eye contact(or lack of it). So you can’t entirely blame them for not wanting to throw a wrench into that well-oiled machine and avoid the growing pains that come with mass immigration. From personal experience, I can confirm the argument carries weight as the only civil disruption I have witnessed has come from myself as I clumsily settled into the countryside. With each passing day, my crimes to society plague the innocent as I terrorize centenarian shopkeepers, dispose of trash incorrectly, and wander onto trains I’m unsure how to pay. At this point it would not surprise me to hear of a special crime division devoted to my capture.All the best Gaijin Readers, until next week, where I will chronicle working at a Japanese school, stay tuned!

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