Gaijin. That means �goutside person�h. I�fve heard that the politically correct version is �gGaikoku-jin�h. That means �gperson from an outside country�h. I can�ft say that the original version offends me that much, as it is just plain true that we are outsiders. Why try to sugar coat it. I find that among foreigners in Japan, the reaction to being a visible minority varies. Some absolutely hate being constantly noticed. Others treat their difference more like celebrity, and almost revel in it. I lean toward the latter. I figure we better get use to being somewhat of a curiosity in a country that is 99% ethnically homogenous. Yer not in Canada anymore, Dorothy...
It is a little easier when you know that most people are positively pre-disposed to North Americans. I remember once saying to a friend at home that, having lived in Japan, I know what it�fs like to be a visible minority. As a member of a visible minority in Canada, he kinda scoffed and said that it is a little harder to play the odd one out when the majority is condescending and disrespectful. He�fs right. I remember being in Korea for only three days and having one drunken man come up to me yelling, �gToo many white!! Get out! Get out!�h I mentioned, in the presence of a black woman from Washington DC who I was traveling with, that it was a slimy feeling, to know that I was disliked because of my skin color. She remarked that she felt more that way in her own country than she did in Korea. Ouch.
The experience in Japan has been quite different. Yesterday, my sister and I were on a train, and an old woman came over from her group of seniors and said to us, �gPlease, welcome to Japan.�h The grammar might have been a little off, but we sure appreciated the sentiment. You could tell she was a total hero among her group of friends, as you could see their looks of disbelief at her boldness in going right up and talking to a foreigner. I mean she could have been killed.
It does tend to be true that some Japanese people are terribly scared of foreigners. And that can lead to awkward/pathetic situations. It can be extreme too. I had one student last time I was here who explained it all to me during our first lesson. He began by making it clear to me that he had no interest in learning English. So why was I there? Well, years ago he had been walking up Mount Fuji with a friend of his. The friend had some gaijin friends that he had met on the way up. My student said he was so scared that he literally stood behind his friend and shook with fear. He told me that he realized this was utterly absurd, and determined to change his feelings toward foreigners. So I was there to be a foreign friend, to chat and exchange cultures with. It was the best teaching gig I have every had. He paid me $50 an hour so he could teach me Japanese. He is still a very good friend. And he doesn�ft tremble when I come around. Mission accomplished.