How to Overcome the Gaijin Complex
By Yumi Nakata
On July 5, 2014
Thank you to everyone who took the time to read and comment on my previous article about dealing with the gaijin complex in Japan. I appreciate all your comments.
I wrote the article for anyone who is planning to visit Japan for the first time and for them to know the various aspects of Japanese culture, some of which may be unpleasant. In my previous article, I talked about what foreigners can do in order to make their stay more fun and rewarding in Japan, but the gaijin complex cannot be the excuse for Japanese people to discriminate foreigners.
Gaijin complex and racism are different.
Most Japanese have mixed feelings of envy and inferiority towards certain ethnic groups and this feeling may manifest itself in actions that look like racism but are actually the Japanese attempt to deal with foreigners respectfully and equally.
People discriminate against certain races or ethnic groups because they look down on them and they see these races and ethnic groups as inferior to them. To me, that is the core definition of discrimination. But in Japan, many Japanese people admire and look up to westerners. You can say that it is a form of discrimination but it’s not the same as hate based racism.
How can Japan improve?
As Japan will be hosting the Olympics Games in 2020, I think the Japanese government should try to integrate English education into elementary schools throughout Japan. Japanese children don’t have a lot of opportunities to interact with foreigners in a very homogeneous society like Japan. So it will be crucial for Japanese people to become more open minded about people from different countries and cultures. Even if Japanese people don’t speak good English, it is important that we show more globalized aspects of Japanese society to the world.
But what can we do to really overcome the gaijin complex and racial discrimination?
Japan is one of the most modern industrialized societies in the world, but this discomfort associated with foreigners is still a huge part of our culture. Even though Japan is very homogeneous country, we should learn about other cultures, races and foreign languages (mainly English). I do agree with some of the comments left on my article that it is time for the Japanese government to step up to improve the education system in order to motivate Japanese people to be more open minded and global.
First the Japanese government should really reassess their current English education system, especially given that most Japanese people can’t speak English. I think it is very important for Japanese government to teach the citizens the importance of tolerance. Discrimination stems from ignorance and intolerance. I think that every public and private schools should have a cultural exchange evens in which students can join and experience different cultures from around the world.
Overall I think both sides need to work towards a better understanding of each other’s cultures. Foreigners who come to Japan should understand the reasoning behind the gaijin complex and work to help Japanese people understand their culture. And Japanese people need to understand that we live in a connected world and stop using the homogenous nature of the country as an excuse for their actions and work harder to be part of the global community.