I have a question for you: loud, crazy, different and drunk. These are:
a. words used to describe me
b. words used to describe gaijin girls in Japan
c. words silently emanating from train passengers towards large groups of foreigners
The answer is (drum roll please)…all three! Yes, based on personal experience and no scientific research whatsoever, these are just some of the stereotypes you might be expected to fulfill as a foreign gal in Japan.
When you first arrive in Japan, people will treat you like an exotic, man-eating manatee, gazing at you with wide eyes of awe and terror at the same time. You’ll receive an array of compliments ranging from the confusing; ‘your face is so small’ to the ego-boosting; ‘I wish I could be you’ to the downright rude; ‘you are strong, like a man’ – er, cheers? These are all a mildly bewildering product of your average Japanese gaijin complex. But how does that make us gaijin girls feel?
After getting over my initial awkwardness at receiving compliments from people I’d only just met, I started to feel pretty awesome! I no longer interpreted the staring as a sign that I had something hanging out of my nose but instead that people were admiring my striking foreign beauty. If a group of guys in the street shouted ‘HELLO! I LOVE YOU!’ it was because they really were overcome with such intense adoration that they couldn’t bear to keep it inside them.
Over time, I think my confidence grew into misplaced pride. When you live in a culture that sees you as superior, you start to believe it. As a gaijin, I no longer had to compete with the other girls around me; I was different and special, and so didn’t have to play by any of the societal rules that Japanese women were forced to play by. I didn’t have to be meek or cute or domestic. I could be all of the gaijin girl stereotypes: loud, crazy, different and drunk. In fact, I could be whatever the hell I wanted to be without having to worry about the consequences of not fitting in.
But, of course, I do want to fit in.
As a gaijin girl, it’s sometimes hard not to feel like you’re going up an escalator backwards – thrilling but also kind of exhausting. Most gaijin girls I know aren’t attempting to follow the Japanese model of femininity (especially as we can’t even fit into the clothes) but this can make us feel rather unfeminine (6 out of 7 days we feel like a big, hairy man). Occasionally, we all get overcome with raging jealous hellfire at the tiny-framed, glossy haired, really-good-at-cooking and super hard-working Japanese girls around us……no, just me then?
In this sense, gaijin girls are both privileged and disadvantaged. Being away from our own culture and outside of the one we live in, we aren’t forced to fit into one ideal definition of what it is to be female.
Apart from society, we can choose who we want to be. Japan actually makes for the ideal place to explore what that identity might consist of. And if some parts are indeed loud, crazy, different and drunk then here’s to her: kanpai!