Friday, February 04, 2005

The Gaijin Zoo!

When I was in Japan, my friends and I spent a great deal of time rolling our eyes at the foreigners who treasured their artificial celebrity based on their foreigness. I found that white males tended to be afflicted with this far worse than any other groups. (That's a generalization--of course individuals were diverse.) One of my friends, who is half-Japanese/half-African descent from Texas commented on the lack of game that these ex-pats had, "I don't mind guys hitting on me at a bar, but 'I'm a foreigner!' what the fuck kind of pick-up line is that?"

Don't get me wrong; there are great opportunities based on this artificial celebrity. In being a foreign "teacher", you are suddenly the know-all, end-all expert on your native country. People will ask you questions like, "What do people in America eat on Christmas!" "Why did YOU bomb Hiroshima?" and "What are important holidays in America?" Here let's roleplay for a minute--compose your answers in your head to see if you are ready for this kind of responsibility:

If you answered concretely, like "Turkey" or "Because we had to" or "Christmas and July 4th", give yourself a zero. You are drunk on power. If you gave an evasive answer like, "It varies from family to family" or a personal answer, "In my family we celebrate X,Y and Z, but that's just my family", give yourself a pat on the back. If you gave a ten-minute lecture on the how families of different cultures would respond differently and that they are all equally American and offered to answer further questions, send in your application to teach in Japan today--you are sorely needed, and try not to use the pick-up line, "I'm a foreigner" while you are there.

Anyway, the big mistake that these people made was to confuse "curious interest" with "respect and admiration". I'm curiously interested and bewildered in what upper-class white people do in their homes for such long periods of time. That interest does not indicate a deep respect and admiration. I've been told "Scrapbooking", but I find that hard to believe.

This comes out often in the New York Times or other major American publications and general conversations' constant references to idolization of the West in Japan. Like many things in the New York Times, it's bullshit. I've actually been in long-term arguments with other ex-pats in Japan about this and watched them get in a conversation with Japanese people about American superiority in English to prove me wrong, only to hear their conversation partners mutter racist remarks in Japanese.

As I said before, interest and respect as not the same thing. Many men in our society are "interested" in women, but do they respect them? Much of Japan recognizes white foreigners as a precious natural resource--"exotic animals that speak English" and treat them accordingly.

I came up with a sarcastic solution to meet this demand, but also to frame it in a way that attention drunk foreigners could understand: "The Gaijin Zoo". (Gaijin is a semi-derogatory term for foreingers in Japan.) The Gaijin Zoo would be similar to most zoos in Japan--drive through with the subjects at a safe distance from the customers. The gaijin would be in glass cases in their native habitat--Beatles and Carpenters posters on the wall, Beverly Hills 90210 decorations, etc.--everything that would fit the paying customers stereotypes of what these exotic animals should enjoy.

Tongue-in-cheek, I argued this business venture to my friends. I tried to get them to fund me, "People pay by the car load to see some over drugged dying polar bear, I'm absolutely sure they'd pay to see real life gaijin in their native habitat!"

Well, sarcasm is lost on some; here is the idea in fruitition complete with totally unforseen objectification of women:


Anonymous Stu said...

Interesting post... I'm living in Japan and am living proof of the Gaijin Zoo...

I'm like a wild English speaking animal that is fascinating but not something they want to get too close with or I just might rip their heads off and eat it....or worse, get them embarrassed.

I know we have "gaijin power" but I'm kind of over it. I only use it when I need it..or am too lazy to do things the normal way...

Anyway, hope to see more cool posts like this!


8:08 AM  

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