The gaijin complex

⏱ 3 minutes

During my one month trip in Japan last summer, I posted several updates and pictures every day on social networks: Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Slices of life, anecdotes, feelings, photos... a bit of everything to show you Japanese everyday life from the inside and some candid remarks and thoughts from us Westerners.

The overwhelming majority of these posts and pictures have received very positive responses, amused or interested in what I shared. But as in every community, some 'trolls' do not hesitate to jump on you at the slightest mistake they suspect. Fortunately, they are a minority. Giving them credit is certainly not my habit, but two posts in particular intrigued me. I won't name the authors deliberately, not to target them. Here are the two trolls in question:

  • about a photo of our apartment in Shinjuku that shows the stunning view of Tokyo from the 21st floor, and a bit of the bed: 'Yeah okay but, I really couldn't be in Japan and not sleep on a futon...'
  • about a photo of a McDonald's burger (exclusive in Japan): 'Being in Japan and eating at McDonald's... :facepalm:'

I am open to any discussion about traveling in Japan, I obviously do not pretend to know everything and besides, I regularly ask the community's advice about some subjects. What annoys me (and I'm not the only one, considering the discussions I have with Western expatriates in Tokyo) are those who want to be more royalist than the king.

So, is it a shame to eat McDonald's or to sleep in a bed while in Japan? I do not have to justify anything, I do what I want as long as it does not infringe on the freedom of others (especially abroad), and this is absolutely not the case in these two examples. I sleep very well on a futon and I love Japanese food, proof is that I posted dozens of pictures of Japanese dishes during and since my trip.

The implication in these messages is wider. It means that we should not use, eat or buy anything western when traveling in Japan. Following this logic, I should not buy a drink in one of the millions Coca-Cola branded vending machines, or enter a store that diffuse some Beyonce music? Nor drinking wine, eating cheese or pizza... the list can be very long.

Some fanatics, whether they already went there or not, believe that when traveling in Japan we should live in a Japanese traditional way. That's denying Japan does not live in the Edo period anymore. That's forgeting that Japanese people themselves and especially the younger generations break a lot of traditional codes. That's going reverse from changes in Japanese society which, as a prime example, includes fewer and fewer tatami rooms in apartments and homes nowadays. More personally, that's refraining from going to McDonald's and thus, not tasting the 'sushi 🍣 burgers': Ebi, Icon Chicken, Mc Pork... Besides, considering the number of McDonald's and Starbucks Coffee in Japan, I do not think they are there just for foreigners.

If I want to blow my nose, eat a burger when I'm in Japan, I don't need to ask permission to anyone. For almost ten years I've been traveling in Japan, I have respected all the rules and did not make me out. These are not two or three little trolls who will explain me how to behave.

Whether you agree or disagree, that is factual: you will not change the natural evolution of Japanese society, nor the inevitable evolution of every other society. But even though, every coutry fortunately keeps its particular culture and authenticity. And I believe, both evolution and tradition are interesting in every society, and worth experiencing.

Updated on June 26, 2020 - Le complexe du Gaijin