When I first created this blog, I had a nearly infinite choice of things to call it. I could have called it, oh, I dunno… “Musings on Japanese”, or “My Japanese Journey”, or a whole bunch of stuff. But I settled on this one. In fact, it really wasn’t even all that much of a decision. This was the right name.
But why, when the word “gaijin” had less than savory origins, and some may still find it offensive?
The literal meaning of gaijin (外人) is “outsider”, or, literally, “outside person”. (the two kanji separately would be pronounced “soto hito”, or “outside person”). It is a word that was coined for people who are not Japanese. It was originally a derogatory word, and even now, many Japanese don’t use it, but it’s mostly lost its connotations over the years and now many foreigners, such as me, use it to self-identify. But for me, it has more meanings than just “someone who’s not Japanese”.
See, I was raised in an environment where I never felt like I belonged. Ever since I was a small child, I was an outsider. I never fit in school, I never really fit in church, I didn’t really even fit in my own family. And, to be honest, none of that’s changed all that much. I can think of no situation at all in this life where I really feel as if I belong.
I’m not just a gaijin in the sense of being an outsider from Japan, I’m a gaijin in the sense of being an outsider to everything.
So the name of this site has deeper meaning than just a once-offensive-and-some-think-still-offensive word that means an outsider from Japan. It’s much more involved than that. And you’d never know if I didn’t tell you.
If a Japanese person called me a gaijin, I might laugh it off – and depending on the tone of voice, I might not. I do respond negatively to people who deliberately cause offense, and considering how agreeable many Japanese are, that would probably be someone who was deliberately trying to cause offense. But, truth be told, I’d be just as likely to agree as to take offense.
And that is why I’m a “gaijin learning Japanese”. For, in all honestly, I even consider myself a gaijin in the Japanese class I’m attending.