Home > Japan > The Gaijin Nod

The Gaijin Nod

This entry was posted by on Tuesday, 22 August, 2006 at

Japan train

Originally uploaded by ALEX FOUQUET.

We’ve all done it, or at least, seen someone do it. Some dislike it, some think it’s great – what am I talking about? The gaijin nod of course!

In short, the gaijin nod is when you meet another gaijin (means foreigner in Japanese – but not in polite terms) in the streets of Japan, you mutually greet each other with (usually) a slight nod and a smile. In certain situations, you could even say “Hi” or “Good Morning” (but that is a more advanced form of this gesture). Some people, mainly foreigners suffering from so-called “Gaijin Complex” do not particularly like the notion of the gaijin nod. They either don’t like it because a) since they are suffering from gaijin complex, they dislike contact with all other foreigners in Japan and would rather be left alone; or b) they think it’s racist behavior to acknowledge some unknown person on the street simply because of race or nationality.

I disagree. I think the gaijin nod is not about racism at all – it is simply a nice gesture towards another human being who happens to be in a similar life situation as yourself. When you see another foreigner looking slightly lost walking around in the outskirts of Tokyo, you cannot but smile and think “yes, I have been in the same situation as you” and at that instant you feel some kind of small connection to him/her and gladly give them the gaijin nod.

I would argue that the chances of a gaijin nod occurring between two random foreigners is reverse proportional to the size of the town you are in. Lately, you will probably not greet every single foreigner you see in Tokyo, but when I was living in Kobe, you would not pass a single opportunity to nod to your fellow man. Granted, when I nod a greeting to the 6ft Thai transvestite I bumped into in Shinjuku, I cannot honestly say we share much common experiences….but that is probably the exception to the rule. So, the next time you see a dumb schmuck of a foreigner on the train, why don’t you make his day by greeting him with the gaijin nod?

By the way – I blogged this directly from Flickr, thus the slightly different layout. I think it looked pretty OK with the image floated to the right, so I might try this layout more in future posts.


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