Episode 11: Gaijin Kusai – Smelling Like A Foreigner

The Japanese have long been notorious for their  racial, ethnic and social discrimination.

They have traditionally been incapable of accepting other races and ethnic groups into their inner circle and treating them the way they treat other Japanese; even the Japanese who look or act a little different are not accepted.

As long as an outsider is a guest, whether in a home, a hotel, a place of business, or anywhere else in the country, the Japanese are so friendly and hospitable that it often becomes almost just a little bit intrusive and un-nerving for those who are not condition to such extraordinary treatment. But once an outsider becomes anything other than a guest, the attitude of the Japanese changes dramatically, becoming anything from distant to cautious, insensitive, uncooperative and even antagonistic.

Now you maybe be asking yourself, didn’t you yourself run into this phenomena as you weaved your way around this homogenous society, and the answer would have to be a resounding yes. However, things changed once my Japanese level was at a place where they could no longer question my position in their neighbourhood and indeed their cloistered society.

They then, although somewhat begrudgingly, treat me merely as an anomaly in their system unlike the foreigners who come and go and, as the the Japanese have a history of thinking whom also, “stink like butter.

You will have to extend some understanding to the Japanese as this automatic discriminatory reaction undoboutably derives in parts for the historical isolation from all other people.

But one could also argue that this ingrained societal construct derives from the traditional image that the Japanese have had of themselves as being absolutely unique in the world, and also being absolutely homogeneous.

In other words, anyone who was not born and raised as “pure Japanese“ and who did not look or act “pure“ Japanese cannot possibly be fully Japanese, socially or indeed, get this legally.

Let’s take this dramatic example of the several hundred thousand people of Korean ancestry who are born and raised in Japan, look exactly like the Japanese, are still regarded as foreigners in a racial, ethnic, social and legal sense.

Just to put this into real time perspective for you dear listener, it’s like in the United States where you would ostracize the descendants of the English, the Irish or the Germans immigrated to the United States within the last hundred years.

Till this day, any Japanese who associate with foreigners in Japan over length of time, or who stay abroad long enough to pick up non-Japanese attitudes and mannerisms, is likely to be labelled as gaijin kusai, or stinking like a foreigner, and there after being discriminated against in someway.

The origins of the expression gaijin kusai is interesting.

When butter and meat eating foreigners first arrived in Japan in the mid 1500s, their body order was so powerful, and so unpleasant to the Japanese that prolonged exposure to it made them ill. So from the beginning, foreigners in Japan were known by their distinctive smell.

Soon thereafter anything that the Japanese recognizes foreign, including attitudes, manners and products, was labelled bata kusai, or “stinking of butter”, or gaijin kusai.

This built-in discriminatory faculty of the Japanese was heighten to a fanatical degree by the military during the 1930s with the use of English being prohibited.

Words that has been derived from English were purged from the language.

All foreigners in Japan were treated with deep suspicion, as were the Japanese unfortunate to have anything other than pure black hair.

Japan subsequent defeat in World War II, the military occupation of the countries by several hundred thousand Americans and Allied troops and civilian personnel, the influx of thousands of foreign commercial and diplomatic residence and from 1964 on, the mass exodus annually of millions of Japanese tourist abroad, the large number of Japanese businessman and the families posit overseas and the equally large number of Japanese student studying abroad, has not yet been enough to overcome the gaijin kudasai mentality of the Japanese.

Till this day, one of the most serious social problems in Japan is the mental and physical abuse inflicted upon children who have lived and studied abroad, by their own school mates and often by the teachers as well. 

I’ve actually experienced this myself when I was teaching early on in my career in a series of junior high schools in rural Japan

Indeed Japan’s anti-foreigner feelings are so deeply embedded in the psyche of the people that it will, unfortunately, surly be a few more generations before they will finally diluted this societal concept down to the point that anti-foreigner sentiments will no longer be a problem.

In the meantime, there are hundreds of thousands of individual Japanese who have been raised without anti-foreign prejudice, or who have essentially overcome whatever prejudice they inherited, and their numbers are growing.

It is highly interesting from my point of view here in the Land Of The Rising Son, that when I see the behaviour of many foreigner tourists now flooding into Japan. I can not help but to think, maybe, just maybe, that even though the majority of these foreigners do not “stink of butter”, they do act like, and thus remain in many ways, wild savages and cave-people, honky stomping all over aesthetic sensibilities of the Japanese.

Gaijin-Kusai - Land Of The Rising Son