Monday, November 7, 2011

OGS: Only Gaijin Syndrome

So, this post might be a little controversial.  It might rub people the wrong way and might make me seem butt-hurt or whatever.  But these are my "true feelings" on something I've encountered in Japan.  Apologies in advance.  Do not read this if you take yourself too seriously or take me too seriously.  Some of you who know me well may have heard me speak extensively on this subject.  If you have, please, for your sake, just skip this post.

So, from both of my experiences of being in Japan (studying here and working here), I've noticed quite a trend in regards to foreigners in Japan.  It's something that all foreigners exhibit at some point in their stay in Japan.  It's a debilitating disorder known as "Only Gaijin Syndrome" (OGS).

For the unfamiliar, 外人, or "gaijin", is a Japanese word meaning "outsider" which is used as a blanket term for foreigners (although, almost all Japanese are polite and use the term 外国人, or "gaikokujin", which literally means "a person from a foreign country".  Gaijin is used mainly by foreigners themselves nowadays as sort of a "reclaimed word").

OGS refers to the unwarranted sense of self-importance that foreigners feel stemming from the perception that they are the only foreign person in Japan.  They are the only white person who can speak Japanese.  They are the only Westerner who appreciates the taste of natto.  They are the only American who denounces the US's savage ways for the civility and peace of Japanese life.  In other words, they act like self-righteous pricks.

The symptoms of OGS become most apparent when two gaijin pass each other on the street.  Those within the throes of OGS will make painfully obvious attempts to avoid any form of contact or association with the other foreigner, lest they seem weak and unworldly.  They'll take another route from where they're going so they don't have to be next to you.  If they're with a Japanese friend, they'll do their best to speak as loudly in Japanese as possible to show the other gaijin how assimilated they are into Japanese society.  If eye-contact is accidentally made, the OGS sufferer will make a threatening scowl towards the hapless other gaijin as if to say "Get out of here!!!  This town's not big enough for two gaijin!!!".

There are several causes of OGS.  One of the more common root causes is to attract the ever elusive Japanese mate.  People looking to get with a native contract OGS when they feel that the only way to a Japanese person's heart is by showing how exotic and different they are while also totally into and a part of Japanese culture.  This display is accomplished by distancing oneself from all other foreigners, as their equal foreignness will just make the OGS sufferer look less foreign, and therefore less special and attractive.  The other main cause of OGS is the foreigner's neurotic desire to actually become Japanese.  This futile effort starts with them dressing in extreme Japanese fashion styles, getting stereotypically ridiculous J-Pop hair, only watching Japanese TV, and, finally, rejecting all other people of foreign descent from entering their presence, as that will somehow thwart their quest to become "purely" Japanese.  If you live in Japan, avoid these people at all costs, as they'll berate you for your lack of Japanese-ness and assimilation.

While Gaijin with OGS can be found almost anywhere in Japan, there are specific places where sightings are much higher.  The first is in any university's high intermediate or advanced Japanese language classes.  OGS sufferers will often come to the delusion that, because they're very good at speaking Japanese, they are Japanese!  Even though they have many traits in common with their fellow classmates (ex., Japanese speaking ability, delusion that they are actually Japanese, unwarranted sense of self-importance, etc.), they will almost 90% of the time never be friends with their classmates.  Instead, they'll engage in a constant battle of oneupsmanship over their Japanese language ability or how many friends they have on their Mixi page.  The next place you can find typically female OGS sufferers is in the hippest fashion sections of town (for example, in Tokyo, Harajuku or Shibuya).  Here, you'll observe such displays of OGS as foreign girls dying their hair in typical gal fashion colors while wearing a 10 inch thick layer of makeup done up so that their original non-Japanese race is so distorted you cannot tell what planet they hail from.  They will also be wearing an outfit that screams "LOOK AT ME!!!  I'M SUCH A FASHIONABLE JAPANESE GIRL!!!".  Finally, the virtual haven for the pandemic of OGS is non-other than the utterly useless forums!  Here, OGS sufferers take avoiding other foreigners to the next level by aggressively posting in ways to convince other foreigners not to come to Japan.  One need only look at a random thread like, let's say, this one, and see that these classic OGS victims have paradoxical minds.  Here, they can be seen convincing a new-comer not to work for an English school because they're horrible and a shitty job and people who work there are assholes, yet they themselves work there.  These advanced cases show that another symptom of OGS is becoming a bitter individual hell-bent on making others suffer in your misery.

While I'll admit that in the past I've suffered from OGS on a couple occasions, through my years of research and countless encounters with OGS-ravaged victims, I've discovered a cure!!!  The first step is saying out loud, "I will never, no matter how hard I try, become Japanese!"  Repeat until you actually believe this yourself.  Next, the OGS sufferer must become self-aware and contemplate how their actions were wrong.  They need to realize how self-righteous they sound when they say they're only in Japan "to study zen" or how ridiculous they look when their hairstyle makes even a host blush or how annoying they are when they refuse to acknowledge and discus English-language shows even if they're well-known in Japan.  In other words, the path to recovery starts by realizing you have a problem.  If you know of anyone who suffers from OGS or suffer from it yourself, please, get help immediately.  Have an intervention.  Help is possible!
While the above was a little tongue-in-cheek, the sentiments behind it are real.  Bottom-line: many actions that people like this display are borderline racist and ethnocentric.  I often hear complaints from foreigners of Japanese speaking to them in English.  Well, what if that Japanese person wanted to practice their English?  Many foreigners also lump all Japanese together and make them out to be just one type of thing when the reality is that they are all just as different as you and I.  The same thing applies to foreigners lumping everyone in their whole country together as well.  Either way, it needs to stop.  It's fucking annoying and just makes you look like an ass.

The bottom-line is that every society/culture has their good and bad.  America has a lot of faults, but so does Japan.  No place is perfect.  Just be yourself.  Don't try to be anything you obviously aren't.

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