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The Gaijin complex is a fact of life that can be observed in Japan and translates the sensation felt by a majority of Japanese when confronted to foreigners. I therefore propose to try to analyze this Gaijin complex through this article.
Today I want to broach the subject of Gaijin Complex which all foreigners visiting Japan will inevitably face. To do this, I based on serious reading and recognition including the book “Working for a Japanese Company – Insights into the Multicultural Workplace” by Robert M. March.
I do not pretend here to make me look like an expert, but I want to share with you what I know on the subject, what I saw on a daily basis and what some people may feel.
The Gaijin Complex: what is it?
Robert M. March defines the Gaijin Complex in his book as a feeling of discomfort and embarrassment that Japanese may feel when confronted with a foreigner. This term of Gaijin Complex has started to be used in Japanafter the 2nd World War and the arrival of the Americans on the Nippon’s land.
The Gaijin Complex explained by History
As you can read in my article entitled Chronology of History of Japan and the Japanese, during the period called Edo, in 1639, Japan decided to completely close its doors to foreigners (almost completely). This closure period stand until 1853 and the arrival of the American Commodore Perry, which forced Japan to open its doors to the outside.
Following this, Japan welcomed for its first time some foreigners but in a very limited quantity. Then this was followed by the 2nd World War and the defeat of Japan (with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
In September 1945, Japan experienced a form of massive invasion after American victory. The country had never experienced this before. It never had so many foreigners at the same time on its land.
I let you imagine the culture shock that to have generated. Some will say “but that date to 67 years ago” and I would answer just 2 things:
- It takes time for a civilization or a nation to learn a new way of thinking and new way of life
- Many Japanese of that ear are still alive (Japan is the country in the world with the highest life expectancy).
The Gaijin Complex: the experience of Robert M. March
I recently started reading the book “Working for Japanese Company – Insights into the Multicultural Workplace” by Robert M. March, and I can tell you that the content immediately marked me by its professionalism and wealth.
There is a passage that stayed in my mind is the experience he has done to measure the relationship between Japanese males and females and foreigners males and females. To do so, he questioned the Japanese on their feeling when meeting foreigners (Gaijin) of the same sex and the opposite sex. Here are the results:
- A Japanese male and a foreigner male
The feeling is negative since the Japanese male feel the stress, fear, a desire to escape or a complex relative to his body, when they encounter a foreigner male.
- A Japanese male with a foreigner girl
The feeling here is ambivalent. Some will feel sexually aroused, attracted, feel envy and desire. Others feel the fear, stress, nervousness and a desire to escape when they meet a foreigner female.
- A Japanese female and a foreigner male
Same here, since the feeling is ambivalent. Some Japanese women think that foreigners are good looking, nice and gentlemen. In fact, some of them, so underlying, see foreigners as cute “pets” they love to show to their friends and they like to be served by. This is because Japanese women see the foreigners as the opposite of the Japanese who simply want to be served by the Japanese females.
For the negative perceptions they are there to nervousness, stress, fear and a desire to escape.
- A Japanese female and a foreigner female
Again, there is a certain ambivalence is present. Some Japanese would feel in a position of stress, fear and nervousness but none of them want to escape.
Positively, there a sense that they can be friends and share a good relationship even though there would be admired by the Japanese who think that the foreigner female are more beautiful.
I suspect that these results can create some reactions, but they are there to demonstrate a situation that has existed and still exists today, although things tend to evolve slowly.
The Gaijin Complex: is it racism?
A recent study of the “J-CAST Company Watch” produced results that raised concerns among people on the web. Here is a significant extract of these:
- 48.5% of Japanese would be completely closed to immigration in their country
- 19.3% do not really want foreigners in Japan
- 16.8% would agree only it was inevitable
- 14.4% agreed to let immigration into Japan
So yes, when you see these figures, we can say that many Japanese are opposed to immigration.
But if taken in another sense we can see that 14.4% are open to the arrival of foreigner in Japan. This means that 18 Million of Japanese are favourable to immigration (and yes we must not forget that they are almost 130 million inhabitants).
So add this to those who might be open to immigration and seen that you’ll see tens of millions of people who support it.
If I say this, it’s because I often hear that the Japanese are arrogant and racist. Arrogance may be felt and is event felt by many foreigners. But with regard to racism, it is much less imposing minority. Apart from extremist groups, you will not see any racist action claims in Japan.
It is also worth noting that Mr. Shintaro Ishihara known as a fierce opponent to foreigners, or even a racist and arrogant, is the prefect of Tokyo. This tends to still show some of these figures about immigration.
I thinks, and this is only my opinion, that these figures are mainly due t the History of the country, a lack of understanding between the Japanese and Gaijin, and especially a large cultural difference (Japan is a country where everything is extremely codified and Gaijin generally know nothing of these standards).
The Gaijin Complex: my personal experience
Like any Gaijin in Japan, I lived and I keep living situations of Gaijin Complex, and do so daily. One of the best known is the situation of the strain. Let me explain
You are a Gaijin, you are sitting in a crowded train and there is an empty seat next to you and people standing in front of you. They will not sit until another seat becomes available. This shows some fear, some stress that may lead to the presence f a foreigner to some Japanese.
Situations of this kind, there are dozens and I have lived dozens of them, like the children when they become either frightened or curious (no, no I assure you, I don’t make fun to scare them).
To illustrate this, I invit you to read my 3 articles about my Halloween in Tokyo, when I became a Blue Man and I’ve got to experience the Gaijin Complex:
To have talked with many foreigners of different nationalities, and for having read it repeatedly, I know that these situations are quite common. After one should not be misinterpreted or taken. We must learn to live with. It will take time before it all changes.
I will conclude this article by saying that the ideal is not to judge this situation but to attempt to understand it. I do not think this is an easy thing to achieve but nothing prevents us from trying. Finally, we can each make our contribution to the building of cultural change that is taking place in Japan by learning how to respect the etiquette, habits and local customs rather than trying to impose our own, something more easier said than done.
And you, what do you think of this? How do you live it or will live it?