The Outsider

Some kid at school called Me First a 外人 today. Most would translate this to mean “foreigner,” but a more literal translation would be “outsider.” In a country obsessed with belonging to the group, it’s a thinly veiled insult as opposed to the more proper 外国人, person from an outside country. Unless you’re a seven year old like this kid and haven’t learned to veil your insults yet. Then it’s just being mean.

Things like this make me sick to my stomach. I chose to be a 外人 here; my kids did not. It’s difficult for me at times, being the constant outsider, and that’s even with another set of experiences I can compare my Japanese existence to. The ability to compare usually let’s me just laugh it off. The children don’t have anything else to compare life to. The 当たり前, status quo, here is all that they’ve experienced. For the most part, anyway.

And this kid at school? He’s obviously heard foreigners being spoken of in a disparaging manner. Never mind that 90% of the world aren’t Japanese, right? This is the crap he’s gonna have to deal with every day of his life.

And how did Me First respond? He told this kid, “In Japan, you call me half. In America, I’m an American.”

Nail, head, BAM.

He said it in such a matter-of-fact way, because to him it’s a simple truth. That’s his American experience in a nutshell.

I hope the America of today can live up to that nutshell.

Me First being the kid that he is, I hope that is the end of this issue for this school year. If the same thing happened to Sister (perhaps I should say when, not if) I doubt that she will handle it as well. I’m glad they at least have each other to lean on.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. gaijinwife
    Apr 06, 2012 @ 21:13:35

    Yay for Me First. That’s great. This is something I worry so much about. I know its a matter of when not if and I worry about how I will feel to. Like you, I feel bad that its something I’ve chosen not them. Arrrghhhh, Bloody Japan and being so group single racial.


    • hamakkomommy
      Apr 06, 2012 @ 21:45:45

      We’re lucky that there are three other “half” kids in his grade (two of them have a parent of non-Japanese Asian descent, though, so they don’t stick out as much) and maybe ten kids of mixed heritage in the school.

      Of course Me too is now saying she wants to move to Kyushu and play in your backyard but not with the cat because she was wild (she SO isn’t wild,) so we may end up outnumbering the natives shortly.


  2. Coco
    Apr 06, 2012 @ 21:21:20

    Clever boy! Cross that off the list of things to worry about.


  3. Kym (@kymmytha)
    Apr 07, 2012 @ 08:49:44

    The other day I was getting my two kids off our bike when something fell to the ground. A sweet woman came over to pick it up for me. Then her little girl said something about the 外人さん。I’d never heard it with さん on the end, so I was telling my hub, and he insisted it’s not an insult. I think it must definitely depend on attitude – kind of like the way gay friendly people can use certain words affectionately, although they used to be the worst kind of slurs. On the other hand, when I visited Japan in 2000 I saw a mum slap her child in the face for saying 外人。
    Your son is a star.
    HALF is the word that makes my blood boil. Half what?! Soooo J-centric.


    • hamakkomommy
      Apr 07, 2012 @ 23:28:08

      Totally depends on the tone, right? I hear $B30?M$5$s(B a lot these days. MIL likes to say that. I always refer to Japanese as $BFb?M(B, and PIL thinks that is

      I have mixed feelings about the word “half” too. But that seems to be the word Me First prefers to describe himself. He doesn’t see it as a negative, as opposed to being called a gaijin. THAT was meant in a negative way. Son handled the situation better than I could have.

      Should have let him do the talking at the kuyakusho the other day. Probably could have saved me two trips.


  4. Beth
    Apr 13, 2012 @ 13:26:07

    Me First handled this really well. My kids are bi-racial and my daughter is becoming more aware of race and different cultures. It is not as big a deal in the US as Japan, though I have gotten the question, “What are they?” I’m not sure of the best way to prepare my kids or help them figure out how to identify themselves. I’m glad you posted this, because it gives the perspective that kids (especially strong kids like Me First) can figure out who they are and how they fit into the world.


  5. Lost in Tokyo
    Sep 06, 2012 @ 21:33:14

    My older daughter has had to deal with this too. Not so much in kindergarten, but as soon as she entered elementary school the onslaught of “half…half…gaijin..gaijin…are you an exchange student?”… Well, you know the rest… started.
    For the past couple of years, I have tried to counteract the “half” stuff by telling her she is not a “half”…she is a “double” and has two countries and most of her friends at school probably don’t (especially the ones chanting “half…half”).
    I’m not sure if this strategy is actually working or not…and I doubt it makes my HRH all that happy…but I can’t just let this wear her down.
    Me First really did a great job!
    (And, I agree. I hope the ideal US that I hold in somewhere in my heart…and that I try to portray to my daughter…will live up to her expectations in the future.)


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