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Society Report 11/18/95

It's only a couple of more days until I go home now, and I have found that instead of winding down, I am actually getting busier and busier. It seems that everyone wants to get in their last minute playing with the "mezurashii gaijins," my wife and me. Kind people have been giving us farewell parties (soubetsu-kais or o-wakare-kais), feeding us (we call it "goching," short for "gochisou"), and taking us sight-seeing to some wonderful tourist traps. I'm quite accustomed to being too busy from too much work, but it's a rare thing to be too busy with too much playing. In fact, lately my wife and I have had to turn down quite a few offers for fun.

We can't imagine anything inherent about our personalities that would make us so popular, especially since we were not especially so back in the States. We have grudgingly accepted the fact that in many friends' eyes, our biggest merit is the fact that we are gaijins. They are thrilled if we speak a little English to them (for example, "I like sushi," or "I don't like sushi"), and they are quite amused to watch us eat runny, uncooked food at expensive restaurants. We've even had complete strangers feed us on trains.

What puzzles me is that, despite the fact that the Japanese have been so kind and welcoming to us, still we can very strongly sense the fact that we are not one of them. There are things in their culture which we will never be able to understand or completely accept, and vice versa I'm sure. What's more, it's painfully obvious to both sides. I had never realized how deeply my culture was engrained into my life until I began living outside of it. And the Japanese, with all the foreign influence that permeates their country, have somehow managed to take everything and make it Japanese. If they did not, their culture would soon vanish.

When three black Americans left their military base in Okinawa to rape a Japanese elementary school girl, outraged Japanese seized the opportunity to put pressure on the United States. They demanded that we shut down the bases, return the land, and send the soldiers home. The rape was an atrocious evil and must be properly dealt with, but it is not a good reason to shut down military bases and kick us out.

What these recent outcrys really mean is that Japanese have wanted us out for a long time, and that they have just been waiting for an excuse to drive a little harder. Of course, this kind of hostility is not hard to understand if you admit, in the first place, that the only reason Japan has been friendly to us at all, since the end of World War II, is because we offered them friendship or death.

Although my wife and I have had many enjoyable moments parading around as people's "pet gaijins," the cultural gap that exists between us and them has excluded us from those things which are truly Japanese -- everyday life. Forgetting that gaijins can have other merits besides being exotic foreigners, Japanese make it difficult for a gaijin to be part of any event where a foriegner's presence does not make things more interesting.

How could a people be so unwilling to let foreigners become a functioning part of their society, yet always be so excited to know them, play with them, speak with them, and help them? This riddle has boggled me for quite some time, but now I think I have finally figured it out. We are guests! In the Japanese culture, who gets better attention, respect, and hospitality than a guest? So we Americans come to Japan, try the food, see the sights, enjoy ourselves for a while, and then, most importantly, we go home! We enjoy the hospitality because we are guests, and it reminds us every day that because we are not Japanese, we do not belong in Japan, and we all must eventually go home.