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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.

24 Responses to “The Gaijin Nod”

  1. Thats kinda funny… gaijin nod. I think I know what you are talking about. I was raised my whole childhood as gaijin so I never did the nod. some times I feel the need to do the nod to the Japanese that are in U.S. lol But they seem like they want to be left alone…

  2. Johan

    That’s interesting. Seeing as I have no experience of being a “gaijin” in any country other than Japan, I cannot say if this kind of behavior is usual all around the world or not!

    Would be great to hear from other people in similar situations.

  3. A couple times I honestly didn’t notice there was a “gaijin” standing in front of me. Too late for any kind of nod. I’m surprised to hear English and I’m at a lost for words. Probably seems like I need an English lesson. I think it’s a little unnatural to say “hi” to people who are in actuality complete strangers. However, it’s rude to avoid other foreigners like the plague. You might learn something new and improve your “Japan experience.” Would making new foreign friends really kill you?

  4. Johan

    Exactly! It definately won’t, and that’s why I actually do like the “nod” !

    Sure, it can feel strange sometimes (i.e. the transvestite…..) but as you say, you can make new friends out of it too.

  5. It is a strange phenomenon, isn’t it? I must say, I do find it a dilemma, as I am a friendly fellow, but it just seems odd for me that I have to acknowledge every foreigner I happen to pass by; especially, now that so many foreigners have moved into my area.

    I get a complex if one is approaching, whether to just brush by, or do the nod, which will either be greeted in like, ignored or I myself am being blanked out. It is a tough one.

  6. Gabriel

    Wow, amazing this has a name and all. I went to Tokyo this summer, it was the first time I had ever traveled to a foreign country. Me being a latino and with darker skin, everytime I noticed another on the streets we would nod at the same time. I couldn’t stop laughing after thinking about it for a while. I thought it was great though.

    Personally, I never did it or took it as something race-related or offending. I just felt compelled to do it.

  7. Kristy

    Wow I couldn’t stop laughing because its true I would most likely do the nod when seeing someone else cause waving seems like you know them and its weird to be like “HI!!” to someone you never meet so I am pretty sure most people would do the nod without even realizing it unless they are in their own world

  8. Bob

    I definitely did and received this when I first moved to Japan. It was an acknowledgment that you were both there for some reason – you’d both left a life behind to end up here, and you both sort of understood each other.
    As my time there went on I stopped doing this and started getting resentful of any foreigner I saw – thinking to myself “why are you here?” It was completely irrational, but that’s just how it was. Just before I left Japan I kind of reverted back and went back to the nod.

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