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Views from Hamamatsu: How do you feel about Gaijin Day and the G-word?

by Farrah Hasnain

Contributing Writer

Interviews were conducted in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, the city that hosted The Gaijin Day on Sept. 1. More on this event can be found here.

Residents were asked about their history with the word “gaijin” and what they thought of the name of the event.

Lais Mayumi Uehara, 23
(Brazilian sansei of Okinawan descent)

Lais Mayumi Uehara
Lais Mayumi Uehara

The first time I moved to Japan was when I was 3 years old. I lived here for 15 years, always attended the same Brazilian school here in Hamamatsu, then moved to Brazil to finish my high school in a public school to get accepted in a public college (in Brazil). You can tell the difference between the kids who were raised in Japan and the kids who were brought up in Brazil. It’s very clear. While most of the kids who were from Japan were very polite, the (non-Japanese) Brazilian kids in Brazil were cold to us. I had culture shock when I moved to Brazil.

In Japan, none of us hugged a lot, but in Brazil everyone was more affectionate, loud and extroverted. It was a huge difference for me. I think it’s because Brazilian kids here (in Japan) don’t really have role models. Most of our parents work in factories so we have little contact with them at home or with a Brazilian who went to university.

Here in Japan, I remember that we (Brazilian sansei students) didn’t have a lot of conversations about college or university. Maybe it was because it was hard for us to be accepted into university in Japan. Japanese universities are also very expensive. I moved back here now, though. I work in a factory, but I also do photography.

Personally, I don’t feel bad or embarrassed about (the name Gaijin Day) — “gaijin” is only a word. The problem is always how it is used. If the word is combined with a pejorative attitude or poor treatment, then it can start to be something offensive to us.

Maybe I don’t feel a lot of discrimination because I’m a sansei with very strong Japanese Okinawan features. The only problem I often face is because of my tattoos, and this is something I don’t really understand. I don’t know why the Japanese still have a bad image of this type of culture.

Juan Saul (Toki) Kyoda Espinoza, 42
(Peruvian Nikkei, naturalized Japanese citizen)

Juan Saul (Toki) Kyoda Espinoza
Juan Saul (Toki) Kyoda Espinoza

To call it Gaijin Day was a bad idea. I’ve been here (in Japan) for 28 years, so I have seen that most Japanese locals are afraid of Latinos. But we have no fear. To me, the words “gaijin” or “gaikokujin” don’t hurt me, but the actions that come with them do. It can be hurtful to the ones who were born and raised in Japan.

When I first heard of Gaijin Day, I thought of my loved ones who have been here for a long time. They are never considered a part of the Japanese community, even if they know the Japanese language. One drop of foreign blood makes you non-Japanese.

Not all Japanese people are the same, but not all non-Japanese or mixed Japanese are the same either. You should respect us and call it Tabunka no Hi (Multicultural Day). Many cultures and many customs are a part of Japanese society and Japanese history. We are not outsiders if we live here. Tabunka no Hi should be every day!

The first time I heard “gaijin” was when I was very young. I was 14 years old and worked at a factory in Kosai. We were caught (for working underage) by City Hall and had to be sent to a Japanese public school until we could work again. I went to a public Japanese school and was called “gaijin,” but I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know Japanese until I went to school. It was legal for us to work at the factories at 15.

When we turned 15, we were told by our teachers that we could go back to the factories and Peru or Brazil. I wanted to go to night school and get an education. I saved up the money I earned from the factory to go to night school at 15, making ¥400 an hour. When I turned 17, I became a host to earn more. Lots of us were approached to work night jobs for better wages.

One time I tried to get a job at a Book-Off close to my home in 2003, when I was 27. I had an injury on my hand from my factory job and had to find work outside the factory. My Japanese was fine and the interviewer was confident talking to me on the phone in Japanese. I was almost hired.

I was politely declined when I came in person because they said my “gaijin face” would make “communication difficult” and the customers might not want to talk to me. Being a “gaijin” was a disadvantage for me.

I interpret for everyone here. I interpret for lots of residents who are factory workers who experience injuries and other issues at their workplaces. Some of the factories here refuse to pay for work injuries or provide interpretation for Nikkei, sansei and yonsei workers. They are treated as “gaijin” — as outsiders — when they are the people who build the important parts of Japanese technology.

In 2011 and 2012 I started to see Chinese locals working at convenience stores. Since 2013 I’ve been seeing Brazilian kids with perfect Japanese running these convenience stores and other businesses.

I like this change and I hope it happens more. It’s not impossible for Japan to change and be open if they just treat us as they would treat themselves

Sok Chen, 45
(Singaporean)

Sok Chen
Sok Chen

I think it’s weird to be called a gaijin when you are a Japanese in this country by law, regardless of your origin. I’m saying this because I was born and raised in a multi-cultural and multiracial society in Singapore. In Singapore, people do not care who you are and where you are from as long as everyone plays a part contributing to the society — unless you are very special, or very Caucasian and don’t speak any Singlish! [Laughs]

I had never thought about it until I came to Japan and many people in Japan kept asking me if I was from China, even when I introduced myself as a Singaporean.

My kids are raised and born in Japan. They go to local schools, speak in Japanese and they travel with a Japanese passport. They are very confident that they are Japanese. It’d be a total shock if people start calling them gaijins.

The Japanese Brazilians and Peruvians have a strong community in Japan. But I’m sure their children don’t think the same. They wouldn’t want to be called “gaijin” by their classmates at school.

The adults called themselves gaijin because they don’t consider Japan their country and they can leave any time they want. On the contrary, their children born in Japan love the country, school and friends. They want to be part of it. They want to be called Japanese, not outcasts.

Dominic Marion Feir Delacruz, 25
(Filipino-Japanese)

Dominic Marion Feir Delacruz
Dominic Marion Feir Delacruz

The times I’m called “gaijin” are always after people hear my name, and when I tell them I was born in the Philippines. To be honest, I used to feel obliged to be cast out in my childhood. However, ever since becoming an adult, I don’t feel that way anymore. They need people like me to promote their local business overseas, so now I’ve started seeing it as an opportunity to be original, and I’m proud of it.

I’ve had countless times when I’ve had misunderstandings with the Japanese community. Without exaggeration, I’d say that most of those things have made me who I am today. I don’t feel totally welcome for who I really am. I’m expected to teach locals English all the time, and if I didn’t teach English, they’d lose interest in my non-Japanese half.

My childhood in Japan was both pretty good and also mentally suffocating. I used to be alone and was bullied in junior high and high school. Usually in school, those who are one of a kind usually meet bullies. It’s called “Deru kui wa utareru” and in English it means “The nail that sticks out will be hammered down,” meaning a person who does something different gets unaccepted by others.

I look like a Japanese man and the Philippines is a country popular and familiar to Japanese citizens. I think it made my life in Japan not as difficult as those hāfus (“halfs”) who look non-Japanese or Korean. I’m thankful for that.

Brazilian sansei male, mid-20s

To me, it’s not about the word alone. I don’t feel hurt and I do not care when I read it anywhere. But the idea, the concept of “gaijin” inside Japan and the situations it has been used towards me were always offensive. When a Japanese would say “gaijin” to me, it would mean that I would be “less.” I would not be treated as well as a Japanese at work, at my school or in my routine.

I was born in Hamamatsu. I grew up here. I pay my taxes. I speak Japanese. My family name and first name have kanji. I went to Japanese school. I only went to Brazil when I was 2 years old but I don’t remember it. But even after I have tried everything, I still get treated as below a full-Japanese person.

Gaijin Day is a slap in the face to me. They tell me I’m a gaijin in my own neighborhood. Now the city is calling me the same name.

Brazilian yonsei female, early 20s

I don’t feel strongly about the word “gaijin.” I was born here (in Japan), yes, but I don’t speak Japanese. I went to Brazilian schools in Japan too. All of my friends are Brazilian.

So yes, I feel more “gaijin” anyways. But I feel different, too. I am not 100 percent on either the Brazilian or Japanese side. In the World Cup this year, I cheered for Japan and Brazil.

If I did enroll in Japanese schools instead, maybe I’d feel sad about it, because I might try harder to make Japanese friends in my school.

Filipina, early 20s

The first time I heard about the event it sounded really fine, because a lot of fellow Filipinos were performing. But then I saw the name, Gaijin Day. It made me realize how people nowadays are really insensitive.

The event is located here in Hamamatsu, which has a lot of half-Japanese who are never considered as Japanese. They are considered “foreigners” and are not treated as equal to Japanese people. The organizers as well are not all Japanese by blood. Some of them are Filipinos or Brazilians, only without Japanese blood. I try not to be offended but I wish they would have considered the foreigners’ feelings, and the sanseis’ and yonseis’ feelings. I’d rather they called it International Day than Gaijin Day.

Interested in gathering views
in your neighborhood? E-mail: community@japantimes.co.jp