This guide brought to you by: A YEAR iN THE LiFE OF A GAiJiN.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Gaijin Factor

G is for Gaijin...

Japanese genes don't know blue eyes or blonde hair. It doesn't compute, it isn't an option. You are guaranteed the same black hair, brown eyes and olive skin as the generations before you. I'm not trying to be disrespectful just bringing your attention to the facts.

Japan is heavily influenced by Western Pop Culture, this mostly bombards the country from America. American music, music videos and films all flood Japan and are readily consumed by the masses here. These are in many cases the only exposure that many Japanese people have to Western Society. Many don't travel overseas for the fear they can't communicate. (This is true in the Western world as well, we have a limited understanding of the true Japanese culture).

When you walk down the street you look like something straight off a movie screen. With your Gaijin features you look like you just walked off the set of a Nelly video. The attention that you will get from just appearing in public will have you feeling a little odd at first. But most Gaijin find themselves craving it within a few months.

You'll get extra attention if your hair is red or blonde. Persons with dark skin are also especially admired.

For the simple fact that you are a Gaijin gives you an X factor which you could only dream of back home. You're an instant Rock Star. Everyone wants to talk to you, be your friend and buy you drinks.

In Tokyo and other built up areas you're Gaijin powers won't be as strong as Gaijins are common place. But in smaller country towns you may find yourself scaring grandparents.

Many Japanese have a warped sense of Western Society, our beliefs, our culture and social habits. This is derived from the messages within our films and television shows. Not everyone's lives are so full of drama.

All of my female Japanese friends believed that Gaijin moved quickly into sexually relationships. This opinion was entirely based on that fact that in our films "Harry would meet Sally" and within a few movie minutes they would be sleeping together.

Japanese take our films at face value, almost as documentaries. Many concepts just don't translate. I would watch films with Japanese friends which had Japanese subtitles and we would laugh at different times. My Japanese friends would stare at me puzzled at what I was laughing at.

This Gaijin Factor can attract many people who simply can't make it in their own country. It also can go to some people's heads, specially those who already have a large ego. So don't use your Gaijin powers for evil!

A Gaijin's Guide to Culture Shock

Culture shock is a term used to describe the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within an entirely different cultural or social environment, such as a foreign country.
Culture shock is something that we all deal with differently and its important that you are aware of it. Don't have the opinion that "It won't happen to you." Even if you're a seasoned traveller. Visiting a foreign country is a lot different from living in a foreign country.

Its something that normally takes three to four months to battle. There is only a period of a few weeks which are difficult. Its not a constant battle, but the feeling is normally in the back of your mind. There are a few different stages to Culture Shock:

1) The Amazement of the new environment and culture. (2-3 weeks from arrival).
2) Shock, rejection & stress. (4 weeks).
3) Adjustment. (2 weeks).
4) Acceptance of the new culture and environment. (2-3 weeks).

The first stage is when you are first discovering and exploring the country. Everything is amazing, the simplest things have you in ore. You lack an understanding on the inter workings of the culture but you are aware you need to think before you speak and act. So you don't offend anyone.

The second stage I can best describe to you as: The feeling when you walk into a party where you don't know anyone. You feel as if everyone is staring at you and judging you. You scan the room for a friendly face but come up empty handed. Now imagine that the room is filled with people dressed in formal attire and are in your underwear. Oh and also you don't speak their language... and you can't escape the party because its now you're life...

When you first arrive and you don't speak any Japanese. Most of the time the only word you will understand is your name. The human psyche tends to be a tad negative and when under stress of a new environment you'll think the world is against you. So when you do hear your name amongst a whole string of Japanese you'll think they are speaking ill of you. This isn't the case!!!

You will also find yourself thinking about sentences and even body movements over and over. This is because Japan has different expectations on what is acceptable behaviour. As a Gaijin you are expected to make mistakes. But you're want to belong & fit in (see Maslow's hierarchy of needs) So you will be attempting to make huge adjustments over a short period to ensure you're accepted.

This constant over thinking about the most simple acts is exhausting. Your body is also adjusting to a new diet as it isn't possible to maintain the diet of your home country.

People react differently to the stresses this places on you. I have witnessed and/or experienced the following:
  • Extremely tired, get home after work fall asleep and awaken the next morning (feeling a lot better).
  • Constantly asking your self "What am I doing here?".
  • Always saying to yourself "I don't belong here!".
  • Heightened emotions, crying for little or no reason.
  • The urge to eat McDonald's frequently. This comes from the need to eat foods that are familiar to home.
  • Increased smoking and/or increased alcohol consumption.
  • In some extreme cases vomiting from stress.
The best way to tackle Culture Shock is to understand what to expect and realise that the way you are feeling is because of Culture Shock. Here are some tips to overcoming it:
  • Keep busy, if you're working hard you'll find it hard to get caught up in culture shock.
  • Express you're feelings to a fellow Gaijin. One of the most powerful ways to over come these feelings is to talk with another Gaijin. Discuss what happened at work, how you're feeling. How the Japanese people don't make sense! You're thoughts and feelings will be echoed.
  • Read, study & observe the culture in which you find yourself, the more you understand the culture the better you can adjust to it.
  • Don't focus on the feelings of doubt that you have. Focus on the positive things that are in your life. It might be as simple as you are living your dream of travelling and working!
  • LAUGH! If you make a mistake, laugh it off! If you walked around the house in the toilet slippers LAUGH! Tell your gaijin friends about it, laugh laugh laugh!
  • Japanese people will find it funny if you speak Japanese and make a mistake. If you make a cultural mistake they will laugh. They aren't laughing AT you. Every Gaijin they have met has made the same mistake. Don't get mad, laugh with them!
  • Get lots of sleep, more than you normally would. You body needs time to recover and process the new culture.
One of my best Gaijin friends & I have a tradition of going to our favourite restaurant every Friday night and discussing to length about how we don't understand the Japanese people. From dating to asking questions in negative form. It's important to hear and reinforce your home countries beliefs, makes you realise that your not alone!

I also lived with five other Gaijin ladies in the same apartment block all teachers at the same school. Culture shock saw things get a little nasty and personal but we all worked through it. Try not to take your stress out on others. If you find yourself a victim to some else's stress, remember what they are going through. Once they come to their senses they will see the light.

Once you get through those few weeks trust me Japan is a simply amazing place! You'll never truly figure out why Japanese people are the way they are. The sooner you give up trying the better off you'll be!

Stay positive, work through it.

An In Depth Gaijin Guide to Capsule Hotels

The first Capsule Hotel was opened in Osaka in 1971 and an overnight stay would set you back ¥1,600 - its about double that these days. All are single sex only (male only/female only). Persons with tattoos are not permitted. (This stems from tattoos being linked with the Yakuza).

Most Capsule Hotel Goers are Japanese Business Men too drunk on Sake to make their way home.

All Capsule Hotels will have - communal baths, a TV room some with wireless internet access, vending machines for drinks/snacks, and public telephones. Most will have - a restaurant, a barber, spa, sauna and messages available.

If you're a light sleeper ear plugs might be a good idea, as alarms go off from about 3am onwards every fifteen minutes with 400 Japanese Business Men waking up at different times from 3am to 5am. With a tiny wooden blind you hear everything, snoring included!


As you enter the lobby you are required to take off your shoes and place them into a shoe locker [images] provided. (Socks/bare feet is acceptable). These are numbered and most don't have keys, they use the honour system. The standard questions are (asked in Japanese): Do you have a reservation? How many nights are you staying? And if you would like the naughty channels enabled (fees apply).

You pay up front and then are provided with your handy Velcro wrist strap key device. As fancy as that sounds its just a key attached to a Velcro wrist Strap with a number written on it. You take this with you everywhere, shower included.

(They offer storage for suitcases, they give you a plastic ticket to identify your bags, leave this in your locker. You aren't really meant to take any baggage beyond the lobby. But because your Gaijin you're expected to break the rules. Hot Tip: Sneak a camera in and take some pictures to show your friends!)


The capsule is just over two metres long, this could pose a problem for the taller travellers. I'm a 183cm tall so it was a little tight. There is enough head room to sit upright. There is a thin mattress with a fitted sheet, sheet and pillow all provided. The sheets have that starchy hospital grade clean feel to them.

There is a small TV built in with about 5 digital channels. They aren't bi-lingual like most TV's in Japan so you can't change the audio back to English for News nor Movies. There is also censored naughty channels if you paid extra (or so I am told). Other features include a Radio & Alarm clock to wake you up in the morning.

The key that you are given opens a locker in the change rooms. There is limited room between the lockers and I found it hard to get changed. In your locker you will find a pair of one size fits all cotton boxer shorts and a cotton robe. You are required to wear these while in the Hotel. You get changed out of your street where and become part of the cotton robe groupies. Getting changed can be a little tricky the lockers are packed tight and no seats are provided. (Rush to check out before 9am in the morning was always fun).

The other challenge is the need for fresh clothes in the morning, you need to think ahead and get to your suitcase the next morning or the night before so you can get fresh clothes. (Coin Laundry services are available). Once dressed its time to check into your box for the night.

When entering a toilet area you MUST wear the rubber slippers provided. If they appear missing, all slippers must be currently occupied. Just wait for a pair to be returned by one of your fellow guests. Also remember to leave the toilet slippers behind!!! Don't go walking around the hotel with these still on. So many fresh Gaijin make this mistake which leads to embarrassment for both you and your Japanese hosts!

Here in Australia public nudity is taboo. Most would rather drive home from the gym sweaty than enter a communal shower. In Japan its completely different, with the hot springs popular all year round its very common to go to these springs with your friends and family! All in the buff! Its socially acceptable and pretty much expected. I was prepared for this... Nothing like showering with 60 other men to get over your fear of public nudity!

Now there is a set procedure to this process as well. You'll be greeted with a room with hooks and normally a basket full of robes. Undress and leave your hotel robe in the basket provided. As you walk towards the shower area there should be a pile of white wash clothes. Collect one of these on the way past. Its good manners to cover oneself while walking. Take note of the large bath in the centre of the room, but don't get ahead of yourself.

Around the room there should be 'washing stations' if you like. They basically comprise of a plastic tub for a seat, a shower head, soap, shampoo & conditioner. Spot a free one of these and take a seat. You are also expected to shave in this time. Razors and shaving cream are provided as you walk in.

Give yourself a good rinse, then lather up with soap using the wash cloth. Take your time, there isn't any rush. Wash all of you, lather up a good amount of soap all over your body. You'll see why this is important next. Then rinse. This process should take up to 5 to 7 minutes. You're first instinct maybe to get this over with as quickly as possible. But that will appear as you have poor personal hygiene.

Now this is why you must make a good effort cleaning yourself. Once you have removed all traces of soap you are to relax in the warm communal bath in the centre of the room. Nothing will send a pack of Japanese Business Men fleeing from the bath faster than a poorly washed Gaijin!

Now the water is kept at a high temperature so you may want to lower yourself in slowly. This just melts away the aches and pains from a hard day. Spend as much time in here as you like. Normally the wash cloth is placed on your head, this is said to stop you from passing out (its *not* that hot). Or on the side of the bath. Don't disgard it just yet. As soon as you've had enough, I normally could take the heat for about seven minutes.

Stand up and walk towards the exit, normally on the other side from where you entered. Ring out your wash cloth on the floor and place it in the tub provided near the door. There will be a small drying room, with electric fans blowing cool air on your now probably red skin. Grab a towel and dry. You should have now spotted more of those lovely cotton boxers and robes.

The next room has hair driers, hair product and even a barber if you need a hair cut. (They really think of everything don't they!)

There you survived communal bathing! The Japanese are so nonchalant about it, no one even batters an eye lid. I think western society could learn a thing or two from this. We've all got bodies who cares!!!


Go to the locker room, get changed (get clothes out of suitcase if need be). Leave your locker key in the lock. Put your boxers and robes in the wash basket near the door. Done deal, you're on your way! (Remember to grab your shoes on the way out).

Its something that you have to do at least once! Its truly an experience that only Japan can offer. You maybe in for a poor nights sleep, but this is something that you can tell everyone back home about. Its a affordable, its safe, its an experience!!!

Don't just be another tourist, get amongst it!

The Meaning of Gaijin

The first word I learnt in Japanese once arriving in Japan was "Gaijin" (Japanese Kanji: 外人).

It simply means "foreigner" or "outsider". When examining the two Kanji closely the first Kanji being 外 which is pronounced "gai" means foreign or outside and the second Kanji 人 pronounced "jin" means person. Literal translation: Foreign Person.

The word Gaijin is a shortened form of the polite "Gaikokujin" (Japanese Kanji: 外国人). When broken down the first two Kanji 外国 pronounced "gaikoku" means foreign country and again as with Gaijin 人 means person. Literal translation: Foreign-country person.

Many people including myself find the word Gaijin to be offensive when used by Japanese people in certain circumstances. Once living in Japan for a while you'll understand what I mean.

Once you have settled in you'll find its used quite often amongst your fellow travellers to address yourself and other foreigners. It becomes a running joke, but I would never use the word when in the company of Japanese people. (It would appear odd to address yourself or others as "foreign").

Its most commonly heard when walking the streets, you'll hear it whispered to draw others attention to your presence. The word can also be used to classify anyone non-Japanese, for example Chinese & Korean. Although this is less common.

Japan is very exclusive, they almost look down on other Asian cultures. They have a strong believe in keeping their bloodlines strong. Even Japanese people born or brought up outside of Japan may gain the title. The word Gaijin is still used by the Japanese when travelling in foreign countries when talking about the residents.

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