Voices | FOREIGN AGENDA

Your 'Japanese experience' doesn't have to be 'Japanese only'

by Farrah Hasnain

Contributing Writer

After living in Japan for a while you start to notice certain personality types popping up in the international community, particularly among English teachers.

There’s the “weeaboo,” a fairly recent character; the paripi (party people), who hit every nomikai (drinking party); and the gaijin (foreigner) hunter.

That last one is a term you’ll usually find online: a Japanese person, often a woman, who is looking exclusively for a non-Japanese partner. They’ve had it with the outdated attitudes of Japanese men and are searching for something different.

In Japanese, this person is sometimes referred to — pejoratively — as a gaisen (literally, a “foreigner specialist”). Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a little diversity in your group of friends, but if you start using people as accessories — well, that can be somewhat problematic.

However, that’s an issue for the Japanese community. What I’d like to talk about here is the reverse of the gaijin hunter: the Japan hunter. (The term needs a bit of workshopping, so I’ll be using J-hunter here because putting a “J” on anything — J-friends, J-food — makes for good shorthand). It is a person who discards the non-Japanese community in favor of the solely “Japanese experience.”

I’ve mostly been introduced to the J-hunter via the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme, though they’re by no means exclusive to that realm. They hesitate to interact with other English teachers, perhaps fearful that they might get stuck in the “foreign bubble.” They revel in the novelty of being the “only foreigner in the room” (as a woman of color, let me tell you that novelty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be), and I’ve seen some of them withhold information about festivals and other events in the hopes that no other non-Japanese will attend.

In the wilderness of hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties and hanabi taikai (fireworks festivals), the J-hunter asserts dominance in front of their peers by flaunting their Japanese skills. I’ve seen this executed beautifully in a karaoke room, and not-so beautifully at a nomikai to the extent that the J-hunter is merely overly enthusiastic with their “sō sō‘s” and dramatically drawn-out “eeeeeeee‘s.” Sure, there are times when they’re just trying to be helpful but, when executed in a certain manner, the underlying message is clear to the rest of the non-Japanese in attendance: Back off, this is my turf.

However, this fixation on “winning” Japanese friends or having a “more Japanese experience” than everyone else is a problem in that it propagates the myth that the Japanese experience is a singular one. It stems in part from the idea that Japan is monocultural but, while the country is definitely rich in terms of unique cultural elements, it has been blessed with diversity as well: from the Ryukyu culture of Okinawa to the Ainu culture of Hokkaido.

My own Japanese experience involves a lot of sansei (third generation) children of Brazilian and Peruvian immigrants. Where I live, the annual Festa Samba is as much of a must-see as hanami, the school culture festivals include hearty helpings of churrasco and dancing, and Christmas is celebrated with a panettone (I’ve learned that this sweet, chocolate-y bread is best served in the form of French toast).

And when it comes to JET and other organizations that hire English teachers, your Japanese experience can result in lifelong friendships with people from other countries. I have places to stay in Australia, Canada and Jamaica — and if my friends want to visit America when I go back, they’re more than welcome as well.

Furthermore, diversity is increasingly becoming a part of everyday life in Japan, whether it’s mixed-race citizens or people who are enthusiastic to use English and broaden their horizons. And that’s, in part, thanks to the efforts of the gaijin hunters.