Gaijin Complex

When I first came to Japan I lived out in Saitama along the Tobu Tojo line somewhere between Shiki and Kawagoe. Out there in the “country” it’s often rare to see an unknown gaijin (since we all taught for Nova) and if you should happen to see one it was custom to make eye contact and give a little head nod. This simple gesture conveyed that we hoped each other was getting along well in a land so different from our own and was a sign of respect. In effect it basically said, “Hey, you look like me and there are not many of us! So I hope your getting along well here and I wish you the best of luck.”

I then moved to Mejiro and have found that approximately 50% of you gaijins out there are inclined to give a head nod when passing a fellow foreigner and the other half make a bold and obvious attemt to NOT make eye contact. This is not by mistake and it should be obvious to us gaijins that upon passing another gaikokujin we have to make a deliberate decision to acknowledge or not acknowledge. It has only recently reached the 50/50 percentage when before I would put those who acknowledged other gaijins at about 65%.

Therefore, I would like to discuss the mindset of those that deliberately look the other way when passing a fellow gaijin. It’s not like they don’t see us since most gaijins stick out like a sore thumb. So is it that they want to try and fit into the society so much that they avoid all contact with other foreigners? Or is it that the number of foreigners are getting larger and passing another gaijin isn’t as rare now as it used to be? Or perhaps it is simply the city mindset where you’re not supposed to be polite to anyone and mind your own business?

As for me I usually pass 1 or 2 gaijins in a day and give the polite head-nod. But then again Mejiro is a nice residential area and not like Roppongi, Azabujuban or Aoyama with a ton of foreigners……..

8 Comments so far

  1. Jim O'Connell (unregistered) on September 15th, 2004 @ 1:58 pm

    There are many people who avoid eye contact and I’m not sure what the motivation really is behind that. It happens. Don’t get offended.
    After a while, you do stop noticing other foreigners, though. I think I have, for the most part, unless the foreigner happens to be a good-looking girl, that is.
    Where I work, there’s lots of foreigners and tourists to be found, going to lunch, milling around, getting lost. While I’ll help someone buy a train ticket or trying to decipher a map, I’m not really likely to acknowledge someone beyond that.

  2. taro (unregistered) on September 15th, 2004 @ 3:08 pm

    Ahhhh, the “gaijin/gaijin complex” has been that way since the days Lafcadio Hearn. Basically, the presence of another gaijin on your turf “ruins” the special-unique power a gaijin gets from surviving and thriving in Japan.

    The archetypical of this attitude was the original henna gaijin, Lafcadio Hearn, who went to great efforts to ignore other foriegners, wear kimono and act more Japanese than the Japanese to make up for his own inadequacies.

    So when you are passing a fellow foreigner who makes a bold and obvious attempt to NOT make eye contact, be aware that it just because you represent a threat to their

  3. Kristen (unregistered) on September 15th, 2004 @ 4:48 pm

    I don’t nod to people unless I recognise them–folks in my neighborhood, generally–whether they are Japanese or foreign.

    Should someone smile or nod at me, I’ll return the greeting in kind. But I don’t go out of my way to bob and bow at every person who crosses my path. It’s a big city with a lot or people to nod at.

  4. Adriaan Tijsseling (unregistered) on September 15th, 2004 @ 11:01 pm

    I rarely nod, unless I know the person. I don’t see why I should nod, since I wouldn’t do it in another country either. I lived in England, but I didn’t nod to every non-english person I met there, same for the States. If I had to nod to every stranger, I’d be a bobblehead doll.

    I guess some foreigners need to feel some bond with other foreigners in Japan, maybe a kind of homesickness?

  5. Christopher Kobayashi (unregistered) on September 17th, 2004 @ 3:34 am

    I used to try with a ‘WAZUPP’ type of nod, but no response. I used to try and make eye contact too, but failed at that also.

    I blend in too well… But I dyed my hair :)
    Now I blend in more :(

  6. Rick (unregistered) on September 27th, 2004 @ 1:12 am

    Blending of cultures,not always seamless,but has been around for a long time. So,has fear and resentment of outsiders.I think every culture has people who just hate outsiders and people willing to accept all.Too bad the people who are against outsiders,or differant races,or cultures are allowed to effect the world so much. It is possible to retain your culture and invite others in simultaneously.It can add to the uniqueness of your culture to share it.

  7. Charmaine (unregistered) on September 27th, 2004 @ 7:15 pm

    I tend to agree w/ Adriaan. I’m Chinese, and it wasn’t like I was nodding or saying hi to every Chinese stranger on the street when I was in the states. But I must say when I hear native English outside of the office, sometimes I get the urge to just go up and talk to the person … of course it’s just an urge, rarely acted upon.

  8. Adamu (unregistered) on October 9th, 2004 @ 3:27 am

    Japanese people don’t nod or acknowledge each other, so I think some people (like myself) tend to pick up on it. I actually chafed for a while after coming back to the States when random people would talk to me. After some thinking, I’ve come to the realization that it’s healhier to be friendly, even if it’s just a nod, than to ignore everyone and walk around with mental blinders.

    As for deliberately avoiding eye contact, in my case that’s the result of experience. After one too many awkward conversations with random gaijin about temples, Yoshinoya, and gay hentai manga, I decided that it’s best not to bother.

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