Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Awkward Moments as a Gaijin in Japan

As an American living in Japan, I go about my day in a normal way, hitting the gym, filling my tank with gas, swinging by the store to do some shopping, etc., and the people I encounter deal with me pretty much like they would any Japanese person. Still, there are times when being a gaijin in Japan can feel a little strange, like that time (discussed a few updates ago) I went to a concert and found myself the only foreigner in a huge crowd of short, black-haired Japanese female fans. Five years ago I was sitting in a doctor's office when a TV news report about the death of Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, happened to come up. Suddenly I was acutely aware that I was an American sitting in a room filled with Japanese people, more than a few of whom were old enough to remember the events of World War II, and I probably had one of those big anime sweat drops floating above my head. This experience was repeated almost verbatim yesterday while at my local onsen hot springs bath. There's a TV inside the sauna room, and while I was sitting inside there was a new report about the death of Keiji Nakazawa, the manga artist who created Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen), the famous story about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Mr. Nakazawa was six years old on August 6, 1945 when the atomic comb exploded just 1.2 km from his school; by chance he had been standing in the shadow of a brick wall, which allowed him to survive and tell his story in manga form later. When the news report about his passing was broadcast, the sauna seemed to grow a little more quiet, although that might have been my imagination.

Sometimes it feels strange being an American in Japan.