First of all, what's a "gaijin"? Well, if you have no idea, I'll let you in on the translation. It means "foreigner". To the Japanese, everyone who isn't Japanese is a foreigner. Actually, it's more like, anyone who doesn't LOOK Japanese is a foreigner. Having a few Asian friends, I can honestly say that they're mistaken for Japanese people all the time. Which can be a good, and a bad thing. It means that sometimes Japanese people will attempt to speak to them in fluent Japanese, and other times they're completely ignored as being one of the many. One of the most challenging aspects (and interesting) about living in Japan, is the fact that as a "gaijin" you constantly stand out. People will stare. It happens, a lot. They seem to have no problem just staring straight at you like you're a zoo animal. It can be unsettling, and at times annoying, and I suppose on the rare occasion it makes you feel special (in that weird sort of uncomfortable way). As a white female with curly hair, I find that most of the time I do my best to ignore the stares. If I was in my own city in Canada, I would guess that they just think I'm attractive. That's the confusing part in Japan, you lose all sense of whether you're attractive or not. People just stare. The irony is that Japanese people are commonly plagued with the fear of being stared at, yet they have no problem looking right at you with their jaw dropped. Yes, I am clearly white. Thank you for noticing.
So what happens when you so clearly stand out from the crowd? Many different things can happen (besides the staring). Sometimes people will be rude because of their ridiculous xenophobia (fear of foreigners basically). Rudeness is almost entirely unheard of in Japan. Japanese people are typically the most polite, most considerate (and most fashionably dressed) people there are. Honestly. I didn't realize that so many people could be so nice without anything to gain in return. It's just a part of their culture. That's why it's always shocking when someone is actually rude. It's like a cruel reminder that they're still human. Maybe they're not that much different than us after all. Canada is known for being a "nice" country. Canadians are definitely nice, but not at all in the same way. See, a Canadian will pretty much tolerate anything that's drastically different from what they know, because hey, that's their right to be different and we have so many foreigners that we're used to many, many cultures. The important thing to keep in mind is that not all Canadians are nice. In Japan, people are so unbelievably courteous that they would bend over backwards to help you, even if they're not used to anything different.
It is Japanese culture to conform to the group as much as possible. There are some youth that enjoy participating in some sort of counter culture where they dye their hair funky colours, but they still belong to a group. Belonging to a group is of the utmost importance, and exclusion is a death sentence. So when they see someone who's VERY different, it can be unsettling for them. Sometimes they're curious, but most of the time they try to ignore that anything is different at all. As though it's not even happening. Let's just say that Japanese people are the masters of passive aggressive behaviour. Now, I'm not putting them down in any sense. I appreciate how welcoming they are (generally speaking), and I know I've enjoyed the help and admiration of quite a few people. They just deal with people who are different in a very unique way.
Gaijin or not, expect to receive the best customer service you've ever received in your life. I'm not kidding. I don't think any country in the world can trump Japanese customer service. Example, if you walk into ANY store the first thing the clerk(s) will do is welcome you warmly and enthusiastically into the store with an "irasshaimase". Then when you're ready to pay and get to the counter, they'll often say "douzo" which is a type of "please" that denotes an offering, in this situation they're letting you know that you can come up to the counter with your items. Then they'll quickly and carefully scan all your items, and arrange them very precisely for you in a bag or basket. When you hand over your money, they'll say, "oazukari shimasu" which basically means "I will treat this as if it were my own". They make sure to count your money in front of you, and then count your return change so you can see exactly how much money was processed both ways. After all is said and done, they thank you with an "arigatou goziamasu" and smile. Holy crap, they really care. You almost never run into someone who isn't trying their damnedest to make sure you feel like the most important customer on the planet. On top of that, NO ONE expects a tip AND they'll force your money back if you try to leave a tip. They are expected to provide exceptional customer service to everyone for their regular wages. It's crazy.
A perfect example of exceptional customer service is when I visited an electronics store for a phone charger. I was carrying a heavy box and as soon as I entered the store, one of the staff rushed to my side and took the heavy box from me. He then proceeded to help me pick out the exact charger I wanted. I happened to pick the cheapest one, but it didn't matter. When we walked up to the counter, and no one was at that particular till, someone literally ran from stocking the shelves to turn on the cash register for me. He then processed my 450￥ item (about $5) and thanked me profusely for my patronage. Holy crap. Never in my entire life have I ever received such an exemplary level of customer service, particularly for an item worth $5. They make you feel like royalty every time. I don't think I can come back to Canada (or any other country) without thinking everyone is very rude and expects too much money for nothing.
Anyway, as I was saying. Being a gaijin gets you a lot of attention. Sometimes people will attempt to speak English with you, even if it's a few words. Other times it will garnish you some odd behaviour. For example, I've had some women comment on my skin. One day when I was visiting a very traditional and authentic ramen shop for the first time with some friends, the woman who managed, cooked and ran the entire shop just had to say something to me. She came up to me outside after our meal and said (in Japanese), "I couldn't stop staring at your face. Your skin is so beautiful". She then proceeded to stroke my cheek with her hand. I stared at her wide eyed, completely surprised! I blushed and thanked her for her compliment. I just couldn't believe what happened. Another notable instance was when I moved to my apartment and was having my utilities hooked up. The Japanese woman handling the hooking up asked me how old I was, I told her "25". She was shocked. She then continued to compliment me on my beautiful skin. Apparently, my skin is appealing. Generally, they can't guess white people's ages and always guess too high. I was certainly complimented.
If it's not my skin, it's my hair. Sometimes when I'm teaching the students, they will lose it over my hair. They will repeatedly say, "kuro kuro" when means "going round and round". I have curly hair and they find it so interesting. They often try to touch it, and they laugh when I shake it around. I'm sure it's not just children who find it fascinating, but it's children who have no boundaries. Speaking of no boundaries...I'm quite well endowed for a woman, and the children don't fail to notice. They might comment in Japanese, thinking I don't understand, or if they're young enough, they'll try to touch them. I've had a couple of little girls try and grab them, or pat them. I just remove their hands gently and move away, distracting them with the lesson or a game. Yes, thank you children. I do have breasts.
When it comes to adults, my curves can intimidate and bring a lot of attention. Sometimes I dress up and that's when I notice a whole new kind of stare. Sometimes it doesn't even matter if their girlfriend is right there. Sort of surprising really, I guess they just chalk up to, "I was just looking at the weird gaijin..."...and the fact women don't have a lot of say in Japan. Let's just say, I'm a feminist and I walk confidently. I hold my head high and speak knowing what I know, and not pretending otherwise. Women in Japan are like shrinking violets - they behave so passively most of the time, that it depresses me a little. I'm hoping my confidence will rub off a little.
Anyway, let me sum up the gaijin experience. There are stares. There are odd, and sometimes inappropriate comments crossing social boundaries, and there are people who are super curious about you. Then there are the people who have no problem yelling at you because you're a foreigner. All-in-all, Japan will make you feel like royalty, and an oddity. Which is saying something, because Japan is fucking odd.
I know that I haven't been updating as frequently as I should but due to present circumstances, I've been overwhelmed by a myriad of conflicts.
I thought as a courtesy for my readers and as a cathartic gesture for myself, I would share a little about what's going on in my life presently.
My relationship of over three years has ended. As I've mentioned before on a previous post, "If you love someone, you must let them go". I can say in all honesty that I will always love them but I can also say that we're not meant to be together. At first I had a hard time accepting it but I suppose that's rather normal. Eventually I realized that it was much better to be apart than together. A sad lesson to learn, I suppose but a necessary one. Everyone deserves to be happy, whatever that means. Sometimes that means you have to break up.
I feel lucky in a number of ways. One of them being that I don't hate them. I can truly say that my love for them is unconditional. I also feel lucky that they said what they did and ended things when they realized they didn't love me. I don't want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't love me. That would be doing a great injustice to both parties involved.
Now that I'm single again I can honestly say I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel like I have my wings back and I'm no longer trapped in a tiny cage. Despite admitting to a few close confidants and the pages of my diary that I was unhappy in my relationship and wanted to leave, I could never seem to admit those feelings to myself. I kept denying them. I wanted to believe I was happy because I loved them. Yet I think we all know that at some point those buried feelings will surface, again and again. I would just take it out in my diary. I looked back on things I'd previously written and I realized how tortured I felt. I never felt loved and perhaps that truly was the case.
If someone is unhappy with themselves, they'll never be happy with someone else. Love or no love, it's not going to make a difference. I desperately wanted to believe that if I loved hard enough that I could make someone happy but I forgot the key to happiness, "Only you can make you happy". Any effort on my part was sadly futile.
My relationship was like living in a barren, arctic wasteland. Every day I sat trapped in an icy cavern and I desperately tried to think of ways to manifest some warmth. I hoped that my own body heat would reverberate back to me, yet I was unaware of the many drafts that sucked out every last bit of heat and only made me colder. Sometimes the wind was so fierce that it howled through the small crevices and sounded like voices, then I didn't feel so alone. Over time, without my acknowledgement, the cavern's structure began to fail. One day the ceiling collapsed and exposed a bright, blue sky. I stared, uncertain. What was out there? I hesitated, comfortable with the familiar. At least I knew the cavern but I could not remember the sky. So I tried to stay. The entire cavern began to collapse around me, surrounding me with rubble. Some pieces hit me, bruising my tender body. Without another thought, I ran. I lifted my head towards the sky and raced for the only exit. I climbed furiously over remnants and finally reached the top. I closed my eyes and jumped. I expected my body to fall briefly before meeting an early demise. Yet I was lifted. Higher and higher, into the brilliant blue firmament and into the reaches of the sun. The warmth enveloped my body and suddenly my memory was restored. Flashes of a life long forgotten pressed on me. I forgot that I could just fly away. For a brief moment I looked down to the cavern. It had been completely destroyed. I had escaped with my life and I was grateful.
Over a month ago (and probably a bit longer than that), I woke up in the middle of the night from the loud sound of a thud. I reached over and felt my night table to see what fell. It was my phone. I didn't want to find it later so I looked over the side of my bed and saw it on the floor. Immediately I bent over to pick it up and somehow in my slightly awake state, after scooping it up in my hands, I raised my head to hit the steel arm of a treadmill.
It's a sturdy treadmill.
My whole vision went black and I doubled over. Then I saw stars and tried to sit back in bed. I started crying audibly, the pain was tremendous. It was the worst head pain I've ever experienced. I tried to calm down and wish the pain away but it was terrible.
Then I did what I probably shouldn't have done and went to sleep.
Lucky for me I woke up. Then I realized there was something wrong with my vision. In my left eye there was a large, flashing square. I tried to blink it away but it continued. I rubbed my eyes, I shook my head, I blinked again but nothing would make it leave. It was horribly distracting. It made it difficult to even look at a monitor and unfortunately I spend most of the day doing that.
Eventually it got smaller and smaller until I had believed it went away. Then one day, something came back. In my left eye, in just the periphery there was a spot of constant flashing. As if the scene was being replaced over and over.
I was forced to finally call my doctor. I sent up an appointment immediately and visited her. She took a look but realized she couldn't see the problem. So she sent me to an optometrist to dilate my pupil and get a closer look. I made the appointment for the same day. The optometrist did a number of tests to try and get a clear idea of what was happening. Then he sat down with me and admitted that he needed a second opinion. So he's sending me to an opthamologist.
I do have some good news, I think. The optometrist said he didn't see any retinal tearing or detachment. So that's something. However, he was uncertain because I was experiencing persistent, pervasive symptoms. He did suggest as an alternative that it might be that my vitreous (liquid-y, gel-like substance covering eye) was pulling slightly at my eye. It's kind of like when you rub your eyelids and you see spots of light (phosphene).
Of course I'm a little freaked out. It's the whole reason I avoided talking to a doctor for a long time. I know that's the opposite of what you're "supposed to do" but I don't want to be an alarmist. Trust me when I say that I'm anxious enough for 1000 people (or maybe more). Luckily I do apply occam's razor, so I can use logic to reason with myself. Usually whatever symptoms I experience can be rationally explained but this was one of those times I was better off seeing a doctor.
I think there's a lesson in that somewhere. Visit your doctor if symptoms persist (I sound like a pharmaceutical ad on television). Or maybe it's more along the lines like, never take anything for granted. I truly didn't realize how important my vision was to me until I had this strange periphery flashing. I already wear glasses (gasp) and I guess I didn't appreciate how easily our bodies can change and leave us unprepared. I find everyday I'm more and more grateful for everything I'm able to experience with my relatively healthy body.
Edit: I saw the opthamologist and he said my eye looked healthy. Apparently it really should go away on its own. That's probably not something a doctor should say to someone like me since I avoid visiting a doctor . . .but. . . my eye is "okay". That's good news. The only bad news is that my eye still flashes. I hope it goes away soon. Seriously? There was nothing they could do? Oy!
For most people female and feminine are synonymous, just like male and masculine. However there is a distinct difference. Sex and gender are not the same thing.
Sex refers to the genitalia of a person making them male, female or inter-sex (discussed later). Gender is completely different yet it is continually used as though it meant the same thing. Many words are used incorrectly. People often say cement when they mean concrete. Cement is an ingredient in concrete while concrete is the finished product. Similarly, weight is inappropriately used on health forms when they actually mean mass.
Gender is not sex. Gender is a social construction. This means that gender is something simply made-up to describe an archaic belief known as biological predetermination.
Biological predetermination is the belief that women are inherently feminine and men are inherently masculine. This goes hand in hand with the idea that men like women and vice versa. It is widely accepted despite its fallacies. Most people think that women are naturally nurturing, compassionate and giving, making them excellent mothers. Just like they also believe men are naturally brave, aggressive and lascivious, making them excellent in business. Oddly enough, this set of beliefs is common and unquestioned. However it is false. I'm sure that in your own life you have met women who are "masculine" and men who are "feminine". If such qualities were natural then why doesn't everyone fit in? The simple answer, they're not natural. Believing in biological predetermination would also mean subscribing to the belief that homosexuality is a disease. It's not. Some guys like guys, some girls like girls and some people like both. This is naturally occurring and doesn't fit in with this little "theory".
Life is too diverse to fit into neat little categories. That is the truth of the matter. Not every man will identify with being masculine just like not every woman thinks she's feminine. Yet we live in a society that likes labels. So we've found terms to describe things in relation to what we assume to be fact. Transgender is a term people use to describe themselves when they identify with the gender that's not typically associated with their sex. For example, a man might behave and dress like a woman and choose to call himself "transgendered" but that doesn't mean he's homosexual. Sexual identity and gender identity are not always synonymous. Transsexual describes an individual that identifies with the other sex and may or may not have an operation to make the transition. Sexual and gender identities are flexible.
As noted earlier, I mentioned something referred to as "inter-sex". The world is not a clean dualism. Things are not simply black and white, male or female, masucline or feminine. Nature is more complex than that. Inter-sex is the third sex. Someone may be born male, female or inter-sex.
Inter-sex is when you cannot distinguish the genitalia or chromosomes to be either male or female. This is not the same as hermaphrodite. It seems unlikely but it does happen in one baby in every 2000. In nations like Canada when a baby is born inter-sex, public healthcare will pay for the procedure to "correct" the baby's genitalia. This means that the doctor and sometimes the parents will make the decision to either have a boy or a girl. This sort of decision will impact that child's life forever and I fear it is made too cavalierly. Often the child will grow up identifying with a sex not their own and have corrective surgery. Why can't the baby grow up as they are? It is too much to ask for people to accept a third sex?
I hope that someday the world will be open to the unique differences and similarities that make us human.
*For Canadian residents, if you're interested in a documentary about inter-sex I recommend watching InterSEXion by CBC.
All 2009 2012 2013 2014 2015 Actor Adolescent Advent Adventure Aging Alberta Amusement Park Anger Anime Anniversary Anxiety Art Astronaut Athletes Audio Australia Author Autumn Badminton Bake Bbc Bear Beer Biological Birthday Blind Body Book Brain Busy Calm Canada Career Cartoon Castle Cat Cbc Cell Change Chart China Christmas City Clean Clothing Coffee Comment Competition Concert Conflict Contest Corporation Cosplay Culture Dance Dark Dead Death Deceit Depression Director Disaster Disney Documentary Dog Dream Drink Driving Ds Earth Earthquake Egg Election Emotion Emptiness England English Espresso Essays Exam Excited Exercise Exhibition Eye Failure Family Famous Fashion Fast Fate Father Favourite Feminine Feminist Festival Fiction Films First Fog Food France Free French Friend Fun Funny Future Gallery Game Gender Glasses Government Grammar Haiku Halloween Happiness Hate Head Health Heart Hell Hidden Hike History Holiday Homage Home Honesty Horror Hot Housewife Human Hunt India Indonesia Injury In-law Italy ITTTi Japan Jewellery Job Kanto Key KFC Knowledge Labels Lake Language Laughter Law Learn Legalize Life Liger Liquor List Loss Love Lyrics Magazine Map Marijuana Marriage Masculine Mature Meet Men Metal Metallica Metric Mie Miss Mobile Monday Money Mortality Mother Motivation Motorcycle Mountains Murder Music Nagoya Nature Nerds New Nightmare Novel Obsession Ocean Okanagan Olympics Optometrist Pagan Pandaria Panic Parents Partner Passion Past Peace People Phone Photo Pirate PKC Plane Poetry Politics Prescription President Protest Psychology PTSD Québec Queen Racism Radio Rain Reading Recipe Reincarnation Rejection Relationships Relax Release Religion Remember Rent Resolution Resort Restaurant Review Rhyme Riot Road Robot Rural Saskatchewan Scary School Science Search Service Sex Shadow Vault Short Story Simpsons Sister Skydiving Small Snow Soul South Korea Spaces Spirit Sports Spring Starcraft 2 Star Wars Station Statistics Statues Stay Stereotypes Store Story Storytime Strategy Stress Submission Success Summer Sun Sunday Survey Teach Technology Tesl Theatre Theory Throne Top10 Tour Train Training Trauma Travel Trip Trivia Troll Tunnels Tv Unknown Usa Vacation Valentine Vampire Vending Machine Video Video Games Vision Voice Waiting War Warcraft Weather Wedding Week Wine Winter Women World Wow Writer Writing Yoga Youtube