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Gaijin is shortened from "Gaikokujin" or foreign-country-person. Gaijin has a derogatory ring to it, depending on the circumstances. But it's become common parlance, at least in Tokyo.

Japan is an island, with five times more distance between them and Korea/China as there is between England and France. So Japan is one of the world's largest, most thoroughly insular island nations. While they quite handedly adapt from other countries, they have an ambivalent relationship with foreigners coming to live on their soil. Some professionals speak of a "Bamboo ceiling" in business.

In terms of being a tourist destination, Alex Kerr in his book Dogs and Demons points out that "Every year more people visit Tunisia or Croatia than visit Japan." (p. 183)

Some of that might have to do with being surrounded by ocean, but Japan is intimidating - expensive and often unwilling to accommodate foreigners.

Most places in Tokyo there are few foreigners about. If you go to Akihabara, the electronics district, or Roppongi, some of the party places at night, or the big monuments and museums, you'll see a thin but steady stream of foreign faces. But mostly it's remarkable and curious when you see another person such as yourself.

On one hand being a foreigner in Japan is stroking - you receive a lot of attention, in a way from the opposite sex. If you enjoy performing a little bit, you can feel many eyes on you.

Still many people will not care to deal with you at all, because you are visibly different. A little Japanese language can go a long way towards loosening them up, but even explicit communication can warrant a stiff rejoinder from a native Japanese intent on avoiding or inconveniencing a visitor, someone who doesn't know the way things are supposed to work.

The detailed systems surrounding communication and living are exciting to witness and participating in, but they can be intimidating as well.

As I venture through Japan I have some foreigners I've been able to speak with briefly about their experiences:

The Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan is a great source for lively Gaijin.

Gaijin Links (October 2001):
The Gaijin in Japan Messageboard can be good reading. Run by Dan Chan, this forum reflects that many of the foreigners in Japan are English teachers.

Foreign street vendor quizzed by the police.
Roppongi, July 2001

A 17 year-old fashion model and sex industry worker from the Ukraine
Yoriko - a textile worker from Peru
marina and elena
Marina and Elena - two Russian ladies working as dancers in Marioka, the provincial capital of Iwate-ken.

がいじん / がいこくじん - 外国人

Japan | trip | life

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