Student Essay: Myself as Other and the Beauty of Internationalism

Posted on April 26, 2008 | evankirby

A former student of Genki Japanese Language School wrote the following report after her stay in Japan. Her reflections on her time here may be useful for others thinking of coming to Japan, so we have received special permission from her to reprint the report here. We should warn you, it's long, but it's a great read!

Myself as Other and the Beauty of Internationalism

I sway with the rhythm of the train traveling the forty-five minutes from Chikushi Station to Tenjin Station. I am crammed between business men all holding identical black suitcases and young women in high-heeled boots and short skirts text-messaging to unknown recipients on their cell phones. All around me, men and women sleep in seemingly the most uncomfortable positions, and yet I wonder at their collective ability to wake up right as their stop comes up. “Gojyosha arigatou gosaimashita,” the cool feminine voice rises above the familiar clackaclackaclacka of the train, “Kono denshya wa Fukuoka Tenjin-eki kyuuko desu.” As the polite recording goes on to explain that the next stop is Futsukaichi, I finger the flash cards attached by a ring to my purse, feeling flustered and yet never more at home. As I savor every moment—my third morning, my fourth morning—I feel the disconcerting prickle on my skin that tells me that at least one person is staring at me. I look up, and a businessman turns away. I look around and two more women pretend to be looking at something incredibly interesting just to my right and left. I am unsuccessful in fighting the urge to roll my eyes, and then wonder guiltily if Japanese also know of this American expression. Here I am, all of my American-Woman-Jewish-Latina-White-Bisexual self, and yet to those around me, I am only known as one thing: gaijin, foreigner—other.