Gaijin in Foreign Habitat

A visitor in Japan is a foreigner: Gaijin. I have been called a foreigner before. In Mexico I was a gringo, in Ethiopia a faranji, in the Middle East a ferenji. Even at home in Prague I am a cizinec, forever a stranger in a strange land.

The difference is that if I keep my mouth closed on a Czech tram, nobody really knows if I’m a foreigner. In Japan, it is far more obvious.

Mark and I don’t know what to expect. In my mind, which seems to combine the little I know of Japanese culture with anime, Shogun, and Lost in Translation, I am either going to be decapitated, regarded as an exotic white love muffin, or a hailed as a national hero.

In two days it becomes clear that nothing bad is going to happen. The Japanese are some of the more pleasant people I have ever had the privilege of meeting in their homeland. They treat us like kings, but that is because we are visitors and customers, not because we are exotic. They are polite, respectful, and extraordinarily helpful and generous.

Neither are we regarded as exotic man muffins. Women don’t seem to be attracted to us as novel as much as we are either kind of ignored or quickly registered as overheated, sweaty, human salt licks with curly hair. Additionally, we are awkward, extremely linguistically limited, and can’t properly work bathrooms, doors, metro tickets, and utensils. We are essentially cavemen.

I won’t lie; I am slightly disappointed. As a short, stocky white guy, I have never in my whole life been exotic to anyone. Even in Prague, I arrived long after Americans were regarded as foreign, exotic, or sexy and had been shifted to the category of people who have a lot of money but can’t stop complaining. In Ethiopia, I was stared at a lot, but I think that was more because of my fashion sense than anything else. The only people to stare at us in Japan were the two men we shared our onsen (hot spring) pool with and they seemed mainly fascinated by how much two people can sweat and be in water at the same time. I was looking forward to being exotic just once in my life, but alas.

In Osaka, one of our friends tells us that though we think we are being largely ignored by Japanese women, we are “secretly fascinating.” This falls hardcore in line with what I have been telling myself my entire life in regards to how women perceive me, so I find relative satisfaction in the explanation.

Never wanting to be unprepared, we come up with a list of Gaijin pick up lines in the St. Louis Suntory Jigger Bar in Kanazawa. The place is packed, a classy throwback joint with  metal beer glasses and a lot of top shelf liquor that we can’t afford but buy anyway. We make out list in case we are approached by one of the thirty women in the bar who are so intensely secretive about their fascination in us that they never even hint to let on and somehow manage to keep their eyes on their comrades rather than stare at us. It’s impressive.

Would you like to lick the salt off my shirt?

I couldn’t help but notice your horse is fresh.

Your onsen pass out area or mine?

Just for the record, my grandfather always disagreed with Truman’s decision. Well, until after his fourth beer.

Roses are red, violets are blue, if you don’t go out with me, I’ll commit seppuku.

As the women keep their fascination a perennial secret, we never have a chance to test these out, which is just as well since deportation is a bummer while vacationing. Maybe they’ll work in Prague.

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