Posts Tagged gaijin
There are around 100,000 Shinto shrines in Japan ranging in size from massive structures like Mishima Taisha down to tiny miniature shrines on the side of the road. The Penpal has a neighbourhood shrine near her house, and today I was invited to the annual festival where her father volunteers.
The neighbourhood shrine was small, but was surrounded by a large courtyard where I found the usual stalls that are found at festivals around the country: yakisoba, yakitori, takoyaki, and some treats for the kids. As I was filling myself full of delicious yakitori, I started to notice that I was the ONLY person at the festival who wasn’t Japanese. Many of the people seemed surprised to see a gaijin at the neighbourhood festival. Even after 3 years in Japan, it’s still fun to surprise people by eating with chopsticks or speaking Japanese, both things that aren’t normally expected from a foreigner.
In addition to the food, there was also a free bingo game with lots of prizes. As people got bingo, they got to choose a prize from the prize table. Eventually it was my turn to get a bingo, and I proudly walked to the prize table at the front of the crowd, smiling as people stared at me. I chose a badminton set, which was probably not ideal considering that I’m moving back to Canada in about a month.
In the evening I got to enjoy a wonderful home cooked meal at The Penpal’s house, a treat for someone who eats convenience store and pub food far too often. After dinner, I was shown the family photo album including pictures of The Penpal as a kid. Japanese people as a rule don’t smile for pictures, but The Penpal took that a step further looking positively annoyed at having her picture taken.
When we had embarrassed my fiancee thoroughly, the Penpal and her mother went to wash the dishes. What came next was the highlight of the evening: I was watching TV with The Penpal’s father, my future father-in-law, when he handed me the remote control for the TV. I think this means that I am now officially accepted into the family! Hooray!
Today is our last day in Japan. We have some family coming to visit in the afternoon, but I wanted to get Tiny Dog out for some fun during the day. The Penpal’s father dropped off TD and I at a nearby playground.
The playground was near a large park, and had a big fun play structure that was full of kids. TD had been here before, and quickly started climbing and playing among the other kids. He kept trying to talk to the other kids in English, so I had to keep reminding him to speak Japanese.
At the playground there was one little girl who kept staring at me every time she walked by. Eventually her curiosity got the better of her, and she asked her father loudly in Japanese “Daddy, why is there a foreigner at the playground?”. Her father, embarrassed, tried to shush the little girl as I tried not to laugh. A few minutes later after I said something in Japanese to TD, she went back to her father and excitedly told him “Daddy! The foreigner is speaking Japanese!”, again followed by her father trying to get her to be quiet.
I find that in Japan, TD does a pretty good job of blending in with Japanese people. He has some Asian features to his face, although his hair is brown instead of black. When he speaks Japanese he sounds like almost any other 3 year old speaking Japanese. He doesn’t look completely Japanese, but he looks much more Japanese than I do. I have wavy blond hair, a large nose, a goatee (not common in Japan), and am usually wearing at least one item of clothing with Canadian flags on it. I am easy to notice in a crowd of Japanese people.
In my 3 years of teaching English in Japan, I got used to people staring at me because I was different. Adults would try to sneak a look, but kids, having no filters at all, would be happy to stare or say something to friends or family. This happens much more often the further you get away from major cities and into the smaller towns where it’s less common to see gaijins.
The whole experience was a funny reminder of my previous time in Japan. I’m curious to see how people react to TD and I as he grows up!
After work I went out for some karaoke and drinks with Koalako and her friends in Numazu.
Usually when I go out for karaoke, I’m with at least a few English teachers. Tonight I was the only non-Japanese person in my group, and possibly in the whole building as well. Koalako is functionally bilingual but her friends weren’t so it was a good chance to practice my Japanese. We had a lot of fun and I wasn’t completely awful at singing.
On our way out, the karaoke remote had an unfortunate accident on the stairs to the front counter. We apologized to the staff and Koalako attempted to reassemble the remote for the staff. They acted like it wasn’t their first time to see a remote bounce down the stairs.
Seriously though, who puts a bunch of stairs in a place where people are drinking?
The Penpal and I met up with some of her friends and we spend a beautiful sunny day at Izu Mito Sea Paradise, which is always fun. I have been a few times before and you can read about them here and here. The friends brought along their young daughter, hoping she’d pick up some English from a real live gaijin. After a few years in Japan I’m getting used to the fact that I am a bit of a novelty to most kids, and have actually started enjoying the experience.
While we were driving, I had the window down and rested my arm on the door. In the short time that we were driving there and back I got a wicked sunburn on my left forearm. I am a very pale person, and the sun is NOT my friend.
(2016 note from the author) Holy crap I was skinny back then!! I’m still pale as a ghost, but I at least have a bicep now.
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.
On my lunch break I went to the nearby Lawson convenience store for lunch. On the way back to NOVA, I was followed by two young kids who saw me and started saying “Gaijin! Gaijin da!” (Foreigner! It’s a foreigner) loudly behind my back. I was very close to turning around and saying “Nihonjin! Nihonjin da!” (Japanese person!), but I decided to be nice instead.
I saw those kids later in another teacher’s kids class. I am guessing the novelty of seeing a gaijin walking around was similar to when you saw your teacher grocery shopping as a kid and realized they didn’t live at school.
After work I enjoyed some beer and sushi. Yum!
When the guys got back to Hello House, we organized the sleeping arrangements. Hippie would be staying on the foldy floor couch in my room, while Flounder, Code Red and Green would be sharing the extra room that I rented for their stay. Fortunately for them, the extra room had a bed. Flounder and Green agreed to alternate nights in the bed and on the floor, while Code Red set up a futon in the closet.
After unpacking, the travelers got their first experience with Hello House’s coin operated showers. After showers and a quick tour of Hello House, we set out in search of beer.
Since it was Friday night, all of the izakayas in the area were very busy. In my first three choices I was told that there would be a two hour wait, which didn’t work for us. As we walked from place to place looking for a beer, we attracted a lot of attention from the locals. It wasn’t often that they saw five enthusiastic gaijins walking around the Noborito area. One of the highlights came when I was not paying attention to where I was walking and managed to walk directly into a pole designed to separate the street from the sidewalk. The pole was just at the right height to hit me in my lower nether regions as I passed over it. The other highlight was a very drunk girl who started talking to us in English while her boyfriend held her up. When we told her we were Canadian she proudly replied “My friend is Canada!”.
We eventually ended up at an izakaya on the other side of Mukogaokayuen station that was full of hard drinking Japanese people. When I say hard drinking, I mean stumbling to the bathroom, puking, then coming back to finish their beer drinking. The frat guys approved. We ordered beer and izakaya food. Flounder and Green tried sashimi for the first (and probably last) time. After the bar we returned to Hello House to watch a bootleg copy of Wrestlemania while drinking some of the ample supplies of alcohol that the guys brought from Canada. It was a great first night!
(2014 update) It turns out that the izakaya staff were trying to tell me that there would be a 2 hour limit on our table, not a 2 hour wait. My Japanese was still pretty bad at the time.
I worked overtime at Oomori school today. This was my first time teaching outside of Kawasaki (not counting a few post training classes in Yokohama). It is amazing the difference that a more relaxed schedule and less teachers makes in creating a totally different work environment. Seeing different students is a nice change too.
Since NOVA schools are basically just glass boxes next to each other, it is easy to see and hear what is going on in nearby classrooms. During one of my lessons, the neighbouring classroom’s teacher was doing a lesson about good and bad things about Japan. When asked “what is bad about Japan”, his student responded “There are too many foreigners”. She was also of the opinion that Japan was a dangerous country, but did not offer an opinion if the danger was due to the abundance of foreigners.
To be fair, there are likely about 1.5 – 2 million foreigners living in Japan. Most people would consider that number to be “a lot”. If you asked me to make sandwiches for 2 million people, I would say that the number is “too many”. However, compared to the 125 million ethnically Japanese people living in Japan (98.5% of all residents), 2 million is a pretty small number.
I also question the wisdom of complaining about foreigners while you are talking to foreigners in an English school that proudly advertises that all of it’s teachers are foreigners. But that’s just me 🙂
Woke up and started waiting for my luggage. I called home with the phone card that Nova gave to all new instructors. After my luggage arrived, I had a long awaited shower, and found that my shampoo had exploded in my bag. After some cleanup, I was shown to the nearest internet cafe by Lux from Kitchener. Ariel Diner is a cool place to surf the net – just order food or drink and surf almost all you want.
After that, I asked Lux for help with some shopping. We went to the 99 yen store and Daiei Depaato. I bought a small stereo and some food.
In the evening, the plan was for all the Canadians from the train the previous day to meet up and go for drinks. My landlord Seiko gave me a map to the apartment we were meeting at, and some tips on places to avoid (hostess bars). After a half hour train ride and some time searching around I found the apartment. Well, I was the only one to show up because nobody else got the nice map I did. So I hung out with two Canadians and an Aussie. On the way home there were three schoolboys arguing over who had to sit next to the gaijin on the train. I was nice and pretended I didn`t hear them or understand. Everyone else is very nice here.
The alarm clock I brought from Canada was set for 60Hz electricity. How this works is the clock counts 60 power cycles and then advances time by 1 second. Japan electricity is 50Hz, so my clock was slow. I wanted to wake up at 7:30 to wait for my bags, but actually woke up closer to 10:00.
When I told Seiko that I was going to meet up with other teachers and go to a bar she got very worried. The area where the other teachers lived was slightly seedy, and most of the places in the area were hostess bars. I am sure that many unsuspecting teachers have ended up in a bar where suddenly beautiful women are pouring their drinks and they end up with a huge bill at the end of the night.
The three high school students arguing over who had to sit next to the gaijin was my first, but not my last experience where people openly treated me differently because I was not Japanese. I learned that many people didn’t expect the gaijins to understand Japanese, and it is usually pretty fun to surprise them.