The 7 Stages of Gaijinhood Revisited

By Michael Gakuran | | Japan | 42 Comments |

After a stunningly shrewd post by Our Man in Japan, a wily Durf left a snarky comment in reply linking to this blog. It’s left me scrambling around doing a bit a soul-searching, so I figured I would tap it out on the computer like my old Livejournal days.

Firstly, be sure to read Mr. Abiko’s blog post above, then these two if you can manage it: How’s Your Japan Blog and The Seven Stages of Gaijinhood. The first rips apart pretty much every Japan-themed blog around and the second is a rather painfully accurate look at the stages many foreigners go through living in Japan. It has brought me to my knees in self-question. Nothing wrong with a hefty dose of humility every now and then, so I thought I’d throw the topic out there and see whose head it turns.

So the graph above is basically what this is all about. The progress – or should we say plunge downwards – of the typical foreigner who comes to live in Japan. Beginning at the lofty heights of the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed visitor, right down the cynical ‘lifer’ with his wealth of knowledge.

For some reason, recently a series of events has been focussing my attention on foreigners and knowledge in Japan. People who loathe to be called ‘Japanophile’ and silently seethe at all the cosplayers dizzy in their deluded Japan-inspired fun. Those long-term residents who exchange banter constantly aiming to one-up one another in their understanding of the country. Or people who think they have acquired enough knowledge of Japan and the world that they suddenly become experts on how to fix the ‘problems’ the country possesses or offer detailed insight into why things are.

It’s a nasty place to find oneself. Not being a native of the country, I’ve always felt a sort of stigma attached to criticising the country, offering suggestions or my opinion. After all, I’m just some guy from the U.K who took a university course and now lives here, right? What possible qualifications could I have for criticising another country and its people? This has been especially pertinent for me because I’m still fresh-faced and young out of University. I’m always torn between wanting to debate as an equal with other people, but held back because some regard age and status as necessary requirements to talk to them. This awkwardness is doubled when that person is another foreigner residing in Japan. Suddenly there’s a charged atmosphere – who knows the most about the country?? Whose theories on Japanese society are actually correct??

It’s not usually an obvious, spoken thing however. It may even not be there at all – perhaps it’s just in my head. But yes, something, something awkward about criticising and debating with people older than me. Something strained about engaging other foreigner residents of Japan about the culture. One-upmanship.

And then comes along this chart. A shrewd window into the stages of a foreigner’s assimilation. Is this process unique to Japan alone, I wonder? Probably not, but it doesn’t stop me beginning to worry. Have I become just another one of those people who think they know and understand Japan and proceed to lecture others and criticise the country? Does a course in clear-thinking and argument give me right to engage on difficult international topics surrounding culture and identity, working habits and lifestyles? Look at him, just strutting along – he’s got it all figured out. I can almost hear the taunts behind my back.

I’m concerned that I may be heading down this road unwittingly. I’m not a teenager any more and the old feigning ignorance and having people educate me on topics in life is no longer acceptable. I’m expected to be an expert on politics and economics and give my opinion with aplomb. If I show even just a hint of weakness of self-doubt I’m labelled as ignorant and stupid. Far better, it would seem, is to spout off some highly opinionated idea quoting a couple of sources than to actually consider whether or not one’s views are balanced and fair. It’s impossible to be completely unbiased when giving one’s opinion, but showing self-doubt and questioning is at least a step in the direction of humility. But there’s that self-doubt again… Show just a glimmer of it and people instantly chop down and claim you don’t know what you are talking about. Give a challenging and controversial opinion and people reprimand you for ‘not understanding’.

Why is everyone so sure of themselves and their opinions?

I’m rambling a little already. Is this a self-questioning post or a rant about the self-assuredness of others? Perhaps I’m already so wrapped up in it that I’m blind to my own folly, pretending that a reasoned and logical approach will prevail above all.

So I ask you, dear reader, what are your experiences when holding discussions with other people? If you happen to live in Japan, what are your opinions of the ‘gaijinhood graph’? Do you feel that you have taken a similar path during your life here?

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