October 25, 2005 – Yes, we understand the word gaijin

Today was one of those days filled with minor annoyances that all added up to make me grumpy.

Recently some of the teachers learned that the City of Mishima was offering free Japanese lessons to foreign residents, with signup at city hall. I got up in the morning to meet a group of teachers so we could all go sign up together. It took me about 15 minutes to find my belt, and then when I got outside, I found that my bike tire was flat again. I ended up being late to meet the other teachers at Numazu station.

Finding Mishima City Hall was a bit challenging. There were no English signs (not entirely surprising considering we were in Japan), but we had no idea where to go once we got into the building. Since I was voted to have the best Japanese skills, I went to ask the man at the information desk. He didn’t really understand what I was asking about, so he decided to call the one person who speaks English on staff. He told the person on the other end of the line that there was a group of gaijins asking about Japanese lessons. Upon hearing the word “gaijin” we all laughed, while he seemed legitimately surprised that we were familiar with the word.

The word gaijin literally means “outside person”, and is used when referring to foreigners. The word itself is not inherently offensive, depending on how it is used.

Realizing we could understand a bit more Japanese that he expected, the information desk man referred to our group as “gaikoku no kata” the next time. This literally translates to “foreign country person”, and is a much more polite / politically correct way to refer to a foreigner. The suddenly much more polite man directed us to another building across the street, where an English speaking city worker helped us sign up for Japanese lessons.

After the adventure in signing up for lessons, I rushed home, got changed, and hurried to work. I was not supposed to have any group kids classes on my schedule, but things changed and I had to teach 2.

In the evening I talked to The Penpal. We had been planning to go to Canada for Christmas together, but it sounds like she will not be able to get the time off anymore. Our trip is not looking very likely at this point.

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