When gaijin go doolally

Much has been made of and reported about the apparently annual gaijin Halloween train hijacking of last Saturday. In the event a bitchslap of reveling foreigners all board the Yamanote line train and have a mobile Halloween party, while other commuters try to simply use the train for its intended purpose.

This year’s reported highlights were a predictable backlash and death threats from racist Japanese forum dwellers, partial nudity and the vandalism by a foreign participant towards the train’s lighting system. Plenty of photos and videos to be found on sites like The Japan Probe and others.

I don’t really have a problem with the party itself. It’s not the kind of thing I enjoy, though; standing in a hot, crowded area, drinking lukewarm beer out of cans and shouting “WHOO!” until I’ve convinced myself I’m having fun. Also, the idea that commuters were inconvenienced is somewhat thrilling to me, as my misadventures on trains have been reported on previously. The train is a Hellish place, and as it’s the one location most Japanese forget about social obligation and act like territorial and aggressive berks, I find it a little rich that most of the backlash was about making the ride for non-partiers a rather harrowing affair.

One thing about this whole affair that does stick in my throat is the predictable reaction from the apologists’ corner. There is this widely held belief that any foreigner in Japan is only a “guest” and an ambassador for the entire non-Japanese population of the world. This is one thing I never read in the contract. I’m my own person and have no desire to represent all white-skinned people of the world. I get up for old or sick people on trains (in the unlikely event of me being able to snag a seat) and am always polite to shopkeepers. I try not to act too aggressively or arrogantly at work and in private, and that’s good enough for me. Also, I don’t expect others to be ambassadors either. So some drunken idiot got half naked in a train party; that has little bearing on me. And sure, some Japanese will use this as ammunition against the wider immigrant society as a whole, but those kinds of people will use any old excuse for their xenophobia. If it’s not a drunken train party, it’s the fact a foreigner was ahead of them in some queue, a foreigner buying that last onigiri or a foreigner taking up valuable train space (which I suppose is understandable, all things considered).

Most importantly, I am not a “guest” in Japan. I live here. And though the Japanese government does little to make me feel welcome, like not giving me citizenship papers or a family register, as well as forcing me to be branded a card-carrying foreigner wherever I go, I do pay my taxes, I pay citizenship moneys and pension, I contribute to Japanese products at work and help the Japanese economy by spending all my hard-earned and taxed wages on Japanese products. I own a home in Japan, pay mortgage, basically I have a life here, I live here. I am not a “guest”. Apologists who try to tell me that I am are simply adding fuel to the fire of misconception that unless you are born in a location you have no right to be there, a notion very popular amongst some Japanese.

This is why I am always confused on application forms where I have to fill in my “home country” or when I’m asked “what is your country?” The natural response, as a long-term citizen in Japan, is always “well, Japan, obviously”. When I travel abroad to meet family, coming back to Japan is always “coming home”. Just because I am not Japanese doesn’t mean I can’t live here. Sure, you’ll have to make some concessions to the native populace, in the form of language and customs, if only for your own sanity. It’s no good coming here and pretending you’re in America. I’m happy to note that most of the Japanese people I hang out with don’t necessarily disagree with me.

Just remember, when foreigners speak out against other foreigners in Japan and tell us that they represent all foreigners everywhere and we should behave, they are not speaking for me.

(with apologies to Danny Choo, who runs a kick-arse site and obviously isn’t one of those apologists I’m complaining about)

10 comments:

  1. I want to come and work and live my life in Japan. What a bummer I am going to be finger printed. Like Gaijin papers wasn't bad enough. I don't feel very comfortable with having an organization based upon violence to have my information like that.

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  2. Metroid: An organisation based upon violence?
    You don't get fingerprinted by the Yakuza..

    My experience says that the government is an organisation based upon bureaucracy - If anyone wants to find you based on the info they collect you can guarantee ther will be at least 20 bits of paperwork to be filled in (in duplicate), 6 meetings with superiors, and only then will they be allowed to look at your form. And only if they do it at 07:42. In the document storeroom-annex. Which is 30 miles away from anywhere. And trains don't start arriving there until 07:44.

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  3. While I agree that you shouldn't be judged based on what other non-Japanese foreigners do I highly disagree that having a party on the Yamanote-line is somehow okay, just good fun or whatever.

    Riding the crowded Yamanote-line (or any crowded line) is enough of a problem without a bunch of assholes making it worse. I'm all for a party, I've organized 300 person parties in Tokyo. But that's just it, I respected others by taking my party somewhere appropriate, not doing in on a crowded public transportation system.

    You want to party, take it to a club or a park. Don't do it in the train.

    One thing I felt I learned during my stay in Japan is the idea of not feeling like I have some kind of right to do anything just because I'm *free* but rather with freedom comes the responsibility to share. Do whatever you want as long as you try not to bother others. I think that's a good thing.

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  4. I just hope that in the same way we do not want Japanese to make generalizations about foreigners, we also try not to make generalizations about the Japanese.

    Of course, the message above does not apply to JC or his post. I just wanted to put it up there for the other readers.

    Gman: I totally agree with you. Also, I personally believe that the only reason why people try to have a party on a "public" train is really just to inconvenience other people (or maybe I'm just getting old).

    -Jason

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  5. Well said, Jason.

    Gman, I honestly have no opinion either way on the party. It's not something I'd ever organise or attend. I'd avoid the train if I knew it was happening. but it's really so far removed from my own personal world that, well, it'd be a bit presumtupous of me to judge it.

    Like you if I'd organise a big do, I'd do it at an appropriate venue.

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  6. I'll add one more thing.

    I could be wrong but it does feel like this is not something the Japanese would do. Sure some random drunken kid or salaryman pukes on the train daily but I don't think 250 drunk and rowdy Japanese would go do this kind of thing (disrupt a public space just for the fun of it ... not counting political demonstrations)

    So, while it does seem unfair to judge all gaijin or western gaijin by an event like this it also doesn't seem unfair to see it as distinctly not Japanese.

    Of course feel free to post examples of groups of 200+ Japanese adults doing something as disruptive. I'm certainly not the most up on Japanese shenanigans. The closest experience I've had would be the Torigoe Matsuri but it's in the context of a Matsuri and besides, the police FULLY cracked down on it.

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  7. Sometimes doing un-Japanese things isn't neccesarily a bad thing. A lot of reports said a lot of Japanese commuters were bemused or joined in. Simply, I don't know. I wasn't there. I neither condone nor condemn it. I am just not interested at all in it, really. The post was mostly to have a go at those claiming all foreigners are "guests" in Japan - *that* annoyed me. :)

    Besides, 250 drunk and rowdy foreigners can't be half as bad as the fart that was wafting around the train on my way home tonight. good grief....

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  8. I really, really enjoyed this. The humor works brilliantly, and the animation is much better than I had imagined. The way you have “blended” (hehe) it all together makes this look like a solid, whole product, as good as any Pixar short. Probably better. But then again: That’s my opinion.
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