The Gaijin Smash: between ignoring and disrespect local rules

tunimaal 12 November 2012 4
The Gaijin Smash: between ignoring and disrespect local rules

This post is also available in: French

Japan is renowned for its rules of life strongly present. Did you know that there is a term to define the fact that foreigners do not comply to those rules: The Gaijin Smash.

On this blog, I had the opportunity to present several concepts directly related to foreigners in Japan, such as the Gaijin Complex or even the Gaijin Nod. Today, I’d like to introduce the Gaijin Smash.

The Gaijin Smash: what is it?

Japan is known around the world for its ubiquitous rules of life and human relationships that are different from those in Western countries. So imagine, when a foreigner arrives for the first time in Japan, even if he took the time to learn a minimum on this differences, it can be difficult to respect all of them. It is very common to see foreigners do not “respect” the rules of life in Japan.

The Gaijin Smash is the phenomenon where a foreigner “violates” in a voluntary or involuntary way the rules and customs in Japan. Clearly, when there is a Gaijin in Japan, whenever we do not respect a rule, this is a Gaijin Smash.

gaijin nod, signe entre étrangers au Japon, sign between foreigners in Japan

Girl in Ameyayokocho – Tokyo

The “involuntary”Gaijin Smash

This form of Gaijin Smash is most prevalent in Japan. In fact, it concerns all the actions called involuntary when a foreigner ignores local customs and act in an unconscious or involuntary way.

In general, this behavior is due to either:

- a lack of knowledge of the rule

- a ponctual oblivion of the rule

It is very common to see a Gaijin who do not respect the rules, which may be obvious to others. Moreover, the Japanese themselves, know the complexity of their lifestyle and do “not take rigor” when foreigners do not respect certain customs (at least not face to face). For some of them, it is neither more nor less than a Gaijin who knows nothing about their way of life and it is “excusable.”

An example of an “involuntary”Gaijin smash is when somebody do plant his chopsticks into his rice. This sign refers to the funeral and can be misunderstood by local. Many foreigners do not know this rule upon arrival and not knowing what to do with their chopsticks may want to put them in their rice bowl.

This form of Gaijin Smash is the most common and certainly the most innocent of the two because it is based on a large cultural difference and a necessity in terms of time to absorb it all.

The “voluntary” Gaijin Smash

This form of Gaijin Smash is also widespread. Maybe a little less than the form called “involuntary”, but still widespread. What is it? Simply a foreigner knowing a rule of life in Japan and deciding to ignore it for various reasons.

The reasons that can push a Gaijin to don’t follow a rule he knows and control are numerous and can vary between individuals: tired of making efforts to adapt, think that this rule is unnecessary and unjustified, laziness, want to have some fun, ….. There are so many it would be impossible for me to list them all. Moreover they vary among individuals.

gaijin smash, tokyo street, rue de tokyo

For example, one of the most common “voluntary” Gaijin Smash is happening at the red light. Indeed, for many Japanese (many but not all, far from it), when you are walking and the light is red, you should not cross the road, even in the absence of traffic. For many Gaijin, this may seem absurd, and therefore this rule is violated.

The impact of the Gaijin Smash

The Gaijin Smash may ultimately have an impact on the lives of foreigners in Japan. It would seem so, at least for some Japanese. In fact, they tend to believe that foreigners:

- are disrespectful and wild for some of them
can not assimilate Japanese culture, too complex for them
want to impose their way of life in Japan
– ….

For example, recently took place the celebration of Halloween. It is an American holiday celebrated by parsimony in Japan, particularly in Roppongi. For many Japanese, this is a feast of “barbarians” and it should not be held in Japan because it disturbs their normal lifestyle supposed to be quiet and respectful of others. However, during the Halloween party you’re supposed to disguise and scare people and fun. During this event, many foreigners don’t hesitate to do the Gaijin Smash (and even some Japanese who celebrate this event). It is not uncommon to hear complaints about the celebration and see the Japanese claim it is not celebrated in their country anymore, at least not on this way.

In summary, the Gaijin Smash has an impact that damage to the image of foreigners in Japan. The cumulative voluntary and involuntary Gaijin Smash can build a negative image of foreigners for the vast majority of Japanese. The fact is, it is very difficult to tell the difference between a voluntary and an involuntary action, and both have the same impact in the end.

gaijin smash, tokyo street, rue de tokyo, gaijin in shibuya

My personal experience

As a foreigner in Japan, I made several Gaijin Smash (voluntary and involuntary) and I will continue to do some.Why? For multiple reasons such as my lack of control of Japanese culture and all its rules, ease and convenience through idleness and any other form of apology that I could list.

For example, I often cross a red light when there is no traffic or no children next to me (I still try to don’t give a bad example). Or even when I use my chopsticks to cut food with my two hands like scissors (though I usually do not do it in restaurants). For these examples this is “voluntary” Gaijin Smash.

Of course, I committed many “involuntary” Gaijin Smash. For example, when I arrived in Japan, when I met people, I introduced myself and asked them some questions about their name, work or even their age, even for the ladies. But in Japan it is impolite to ask the age to a women. Or, being a naturally touch person, it was common that I put my hand on the shoulder of a person with whom I spoke. But over time I learned, I adapted and I am more careful, although I admit that it is not always easy.

There are too many rules, here in Japan, so I do not think that a foreigner, or even a Japanese can be able to follow all of them, all the time. And only the experience of living in Japan may allow you to know and reduce your Gaijin Smash or not (as you wish).

And you, what do you think of the Gaijin Smash? How did you feel about those situations I’m talking about above (if you have been to Japan before), or how would you handle them?

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  1. Taylor 12 November 2012 at 19 h 24 min - Reply

    Kind sir; as a French-speaking foreign national, you are also committing some “l’etranger smash” with your well intended English. For instance, in your list of excuses you may use for your gaijin-smashing, you note your inability to “control Japanese culture” when I think you actually mean to refer to the incompleteness of your knowledge of that culture. Still, your efforts to illuminate these very common gaijin problems is appreciated. I was in and out of Japan for more than 20 years, so the fact that I don’t experience gaijin smash myself is not a good gage of the truthfulness of your thesis that there are “too many rules in Japan.”

    • tunimaal 17 November 2012 at 7 h 39 min - Reply


      thanks for your sharing. I think that everybody has is own experience, but for most of foreigners, and even for some Japanese, there are too many rules too follow. This is my opinion, based on my experiences. ;-)

  2. Taylor 17 November 2012 at 22 h 04 min - Reply

    Of course all are victims of their own experiences. But remember that you are the foreigner, and all cultures have rules, including yours, and foreigners will always think there are too many. The very polite Japanese will agree with you when you say there are too many rules in Japan, but that does not mean it is true for more than the foreigners. For the native, the rules were learned in childhood, and don’t really amount to rules, so they are not noticed unless brought up by Gaijin.

    • tunimaal 18 November 2012 at 11 h 12 min - Reply

      Actually, when I was living in Vancouver I met many Japanese people and most of them where saying the same thing “I really love Japan but our country and culture have too much rules and etiquette, it is boring for us”. And when they say that the question was just “How is life in Japan”. Even here in Japan, some of them, say that. This means something, don’t you think so?

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