My Gaijin Card

All foreigners in Japan have ‘a gaijin card’. I don’t mean the official ‘alien registration card’, which is issued by the government and is confusingly also sometimes referred to as ‘gaijin card’. I mean the imaginary gaijin card that allows us foreigners to do things that we’re actually not supposed to do.

Of course we’re not talking about breaking the law. I mean the small violations that we willingly or unwillingly commit every day. Like crossing the street when there’s a red light but no traffic (which in Europe is quite common). Or talking too loud on the train (unfortunately also quite common in Europe). Somehow when you’re a foreigner, the expectations in terms of following the rules are a little lower. I have to admit that sometimes I take a little advantage of that, which I refer to as ‘using my gaijin card’.

For example: you’re not supposed to eat on the train. But when I’m running late and haven’t had the chance to have breakfast, I occasionally have the audacity to eat an onigiri (rice ball) on the train. In that case I’m ‘using my gaijin card’.

eating fries on the train in Japan
I'm not sure which card these guys are using

The gaijin card automatically grants you membership of ‘the gaijin club’. When you pass other foreigners on the street, a nod and an understanding glance is exchanged. Yes, we’re in the same club. I have to admit that after seeing only dark-haired Japanese people for so many days in a row, I’m quite surprised whenever I run into another foreigner. As I feel more and more at home here, I start to forget how much I stand out myself.




6 thoughts on “My Gaijin Card

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  1. Heheh I totally eat on the train if I’m just dying of hunger 🙂 Once, I was late for a wedding party and even did my nails. I’m not proud if it, and I felt really bad, but I was like, sorry しょうがăȘい, it’s for a wedding party! Any other event and I wouldn’t have done it, but for that I just had to.
    But I do give other foreigners the stink eye if I disapprove of their conduct; I’m such a hypocrite 🙂

    1. Haha, I can totally relate to what you are saying ^_^ I also confess to having done my make-up on the train a few times, although I actually disapprove of that. And I also catch myself thinking “those damn foreigners have no manners they should learn how to behave if they want to live in Japan”, forgetting that I am a foreigner (with no manners) myself! 🙂

  2. Funny, and so true! I haven’t spent time in Europe to have a sense of the ‘rules’ there, but here in the U.S. we certainly are a casual bunch of folks. I too began to have less awareness of my gaijin-ness the longer we lived in Nagoya. We made a short trip to Beijing once, and at breakfast in the hotel we noticed a couple of Japanese women sitting nearby. I felt this enormous urge to run right up to them and say, ohayou gozaimasu! Watakushi mo nihon jin desu! (which ironically is so NOT a Japanese thing to do)! The culture does grow on you, though. It took me a long time to stop bowing to people when I returned home to Michigan (I’m down to just a head nod now and then these days). 🙂

  3. We used to do that in school. I went to an international school in Tokyo. I was on the field hockey and softball teams and we would go to away games taking the very long train rides out of town to ASIJ (American School in Japan) or Yokota High School in the US army base. We were a bunch of high school girls, some of us gaijin and very gaijin looking as well, we would be so loud on the train and we occasionally sang (!). People gave us stares and though they didn’t spit on us it sometimes felt as though they were going to. But we were pretty bad and although I look Japanese, I took advantage of the fact that I spoke English or funny Japanese…

    1. Thanks for the funny story Ayako. I guess school girls are the same everywhere. I remember a time when I myself terrorised other travellers with singing on the train. Now I am one of those people who would give the singing girls an angry stare. Guess I’m getting old(er) 🙂

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