These past few weeks have been overwhelming in terms of making new friends. It’s always funny how a quiet evening drinking at a cafe can quickly turn into an adventurous night on the town and an invite to the family BBQ (true story). While I was trying to pretend like I can keep up in conversation, I was vaguely aware that the conversation switched over to foreigners living in Japan and interacting with foreigners. They expressed how they want to interact with more foreigners (I’m assuming they mean more Americans and Europeans), but find that communicating with the one’s here to be a little daunting.
The most common issue was of course the language barrier, which I can understand. You can’t really communicate with someone if there isn’t a common language. The second problem was just stereotypes trying to avoid the otakus (anime nerds) and all the ones with yellow fever. Which I can understand I wouldn’t want to talk with anyone who thought rap and hip hop was the only aspect of black culture. However there was a third issue they brought up that seemed to be kind of ridiculous; foreigners that aren’t interested in talking to Japanese people or at least not in Japanese.
I was at a lost for words. I mean why would you travel thousands of miles away from home to not speak a word of Japanese to an actual Japanese person? But then it hit me, I think the foreigners they’re talking about are stuck in a trap. Something I call the “Gaijin Trap”.
This happens when you live in another country for a while but you don’t really make I think a connection with the host culture. This disconnect could happen for a number of reasons maybe you didn’t really want to live abroad and you’re only here because of work. Maybe you don’t find the culture as interesting as you thought you would. I think everybody has fallen victim to it or at least has the potential to. I know I have when I first studied abroad in Osaka. My main group of friends from that time were other English speakers and I felt comfortable that way. I had fun of course but not experiencing things the way I should’ve been. Which didn’t really make me feel the most confident in my skills when I returned home.
So what can someone do to prevent this from happening? How can you break loose from the perpetual cycle? This isn’t a step by step guide on how to make authentic Japanese friends but simply just a little bit of food for thought. Maybe the problem is just simply being to self-involved. Self-involved meaning always waiting for someone else to make a move or assuming that you inherently don’t fit into whatever image you’re currently looking at. Looking back on my experience from before and my experience now. Some of the best times I’ve had come from me simply making the first moves and letting go of that initial fear of not being good enough.
I have to remind myself just because I look different on the outside, doesn’t entitle me to any sort of special treatment. Especially in a place like Japan where being different isn’t necessarily a good thing (personal experience). I’ll be the first to admit that I fell victim to this way of thinking before. Always thinking of myself as the “other” when in reality that really wasn’t the case. As much as I’m intimidated about starting conversations with Japanese people I’ve come to find out they’re just as intimidated by me. And even if they don’t plan to visit the U.S. anytime soon, most people find the casual culture exchange to be just as interesting.
What are your thoughts on the situation? Do you think the “Gaijin Trap” exists? I’d love to hear outside opinions.