This blog is being reproduced here, as it was part of the original Weekly Design Blogs for Steampunk Musha series that was lost when our information was wiped. These were my initial notes, with most of the post being lost because it was saved in its final form only online. See This Post for more information on that. This blog was originally posted January 26th, 2016.
I was fortunate enough in this life to get to spend a year abroad in Japan. I lived there, after I finished high school but before I began college, between the summer of 2000 into 2001. Since I was officially done with high school before leaving, I was especially fortunate in that I was able to live the life of a Rotary Youth Exchange student, attending effectively a 5th year of high school in Japan, and living with three different host families whom took amazing care of me and allowed me to experience real, day-to-day life as I might were I really living life as a Japanese high school student, etc. Only I didn't need to "worry" about my grades, because again I already had my diploma, so I could just do and study what I wanted most of the day (though I sat in a lot of classes, especially those that were about or taught English, as much acting as the go-to "native speaker" FAQer for my mostly Japanese-born teachers of English).
I was also 18 years old at the time, and all three of my host families afforded me extreme leniency when it came to things like going out by myself, curfews, etc. I was able to go out by myself often, even after school (which meant going out in my school uniform, which is how 90% of the people in my age were dressed 99% of the time it seemed).
I attended Ibaraki Christan High School in Hitachi, Japan. The main minister for the campus once joked that the number of "true Christians" in the school could likely be counted on one hand, as really it was just a private instituation and thus people could ship their kids in from where ever in the prefecture, like a few of my classmates that had a 1 hour train ride to school and then back home each and every day, 6 days a week. The city was ~100 kilometers north by train from Tokyo proper, and I lived only minutes away from Mito, the main city of Ibaraki prefecture. So while Hitachi was a "big city" to me, more proper big cities were just 15 mins and then a little over an hour away by train.
There were 5 over RYE students with me in the prefecture (but not at my school) -- two other Americans, a German, a Mexican, and an Australian -- and we got to often spend time with one another to share stories and our experiences. We also often went out, a multinational group of us. We were from all over the world, and even the Americans were from far reaching locations of the South, the West Coast, and Midwest (myself) and had our mix of ethnicities.
Now, I don't bring all this up to gloat or just reminisce but to establish a point. I got the chance to live in Japan, in a very interesting way. I was integrated into host families, attending a high school, got to go shopping and to eat out often by myself and with friends. I got to experience a lot of things in Japan.
Like being called a "Gaijin."
Now, before I proceed too much, you need to know a bit about this term. Gaijin is composed of two kanji - ?? - which loosely translate as "outside" and "person" or "outside person" or even more succinctly "outsider." Its connected to a longer version of the same phrase, Gaikokujin (???) which would be more "outside country person" or "foreign country person" or as short as it could be, translates as a formal version of saying "foreigner." Gaikokujin is the term, for instance, used on the visa I needed to get into Japan, and was the term used on the card I was expected to carry around with myself declaring I was a foreigner and there as a student.
Now, it's considered totally acceptable in polite company to refer to a foreigner like myself as a "gaijin" and I had host parents refer to me as "their gaijin" and it was entirely way too common an experience for me to have small children come running up to me in the streets chanting some version of "gaijin, gaijin, gaijin!" (I am and was 6 feet tall, so I already stood out in general, and between my brown hair being "too light" and my skin "too fair" it was rare for me to be confused as a native Japanese person, no matter how I was dressed). So, in and of itself the term gaijin isn't a true racial label.
But at the same time, I've seen nationalist protests I was too naive to stay away from and had people shout (in broken English-Japanese mix mind you) "GO HOME GAIJIN!" Personally, I never had a true confrontation (again, 6 foot tall with the body mass to accompany it made 18 year old me imposing) but many of those other RYE students recounted being shoved on trains, bumped in stores, and having things knocked out of their hands etc. with the epithet of "gaijin" on the person's lips spat with a bit of bile. I know at least once while we stumbled through a street (I'll admit, a little tipsy and likely being way louder than we should have been at 10 pm on a weeknight) from a karaoke box I had some very angry people chase us away and the only thing we all can remember hearing was various versions of "damn, fool gaijin!"
This all a long way to say "I know, on a personal and visceral level, how the term 'gaijin' was, can be, and is still used in Japan" and so we intend to use the term "appropriately" in Steampunk Musha -- to help set the tone the setting as much as anything else.
Gaijin in Steampunk Musha
<The original version of this post is lost>