When subjected to culture shock over a longer period of time... culture shock can turn into a persistent state, a syndrome.

My hope is that through an objective look at the next 3+ years I will be staying in Japan, I will be able to circumvent these symptoms and provide valuable insight to others who may look to follow a path similar to my own.
>>gaijin syndrome explained<<

staring ignorance in the face

Being a foreigner in Japan has many challenges. Most are cultural or result from the sometimes overbearing language barrier. What I am discovering through writing this blog and reflecting on my experiences is that foreigners are also heavily stereotyped. I always knew that it would be assumed I don't understand Japanese, but the extent of the gaijin stereotype is even deeper than what I had realized.

And now that stereotype has a face.

Meet Mr. James, gaijin clown is a rather detailed and well-written article about McDonalds Japan's newest mascot who pretty much embodies stereotypes and prejudices against foreigners. While I don't quite know if I fall in line with the idea of protesting Mr. James, I really can't put the gaijin predicament into better words. Here are some of the best excerpts in my opinion:

Put the shoe on the other foot. Imagine McDonald's, a multinational that has long promoted cultural diversity, launching a McAsia Menu in America featuring a deep-bowing, grimacing Asian in a bathrobe and platform sandals saying "Me likee McFlied Lice!" or "So solly, prease skosh honorable teriyaki sandrich?"

That explains the problem with Mr. James pretty well. Even better, the author describes the sensation of being a gaijin attempting to fit in with an astoundingly accurate metaphor:

When asked if the Japanese language is difficult, I say it isn't. What's difficult is talking to Japanese people. One has to overcome so much ingrained baggage — often instilled from childhood in approved textbooks — that foreigners, particularly the non-Asians, are "guests and outsiders" — illiterate, inscrutable and incomprehensible. Thanks to this, I dare say that in the majority of random interactions, foreigners who do not "look Japanese" have to prove every day to new listeners that they speak Japanese just fine.

It's like having to untangle your headphones before you listen to music. Every. Single. Time. And Mr. James just pulls the knots tighter.

When questioning the offensiveness of this gaijin character based on redeeming social value, the author makes another very good point.

For example, when we see stereotyped characters on the TV show "The Simpsons," fun is poked. But eventually the characters become humanized, part of the neighborhood in The Simpsons' universe. Is Mr. James similarly humanized and included?

Well, Mr. James has a back-story, but it's one of "bedazzled tourist and guest," not one of inclusiveness. No matter how hard he tries (especially since McDonald's rendered his every utterance in katakana), he'll never be Japanese. He is the perpetual "other."

(Note: katakana is the Japanese alphabet used to write words that have their origins in a foreign language.)

I am fond of a quote by Ansel Adams from his book "Born Free and Equal" in the year 1944. The book is a collection of his photos and an inspired essay from visiting a Japanese internment camp in New Mexico during WWII. It goes as such:

In times of war we sacrifice magnificently; in times of peace we prey upon one another with sincerity and determination. The world has seldom seen our superior in intellect and accomplishment, nor has it seen our inferior in many aspects of human relationships.

I have mixed feelings about this now, but it appears that in the 65 years since publication, this quote has become grossly inaccurate.

replanting my roots

After I had been living in Japan for a while, I started to notice a recurring condition that was affecting my sleep on a nearly nightly basis. It's a little hard to explain, but I will do my best.

Dreams are rarely considered hallucinations because the conscious part of our minds is turned off while the images and very real feelings course through our still-active brains. But sometimes our consciousness comes partially awake during the dreaming cycle and is unable to overcome the images of our dreams. The intense experience of moving to a the land of my dreams and adapting to the unique activities of my job affected my sleep enough to awaken the observational part of my consciousness during my dreaming cycles.

I explained this to a friend as such:

"When your dreams become reality, your reality also becomes your dreams."

The truth is, upon further thought, my bedroom has never quite felt comfortable to me since I moved in. Despite being a pretty Western-style apartment as far as Japanese apartments go, my bedroom has always had a bit of a foreign atmosphere to it. Perhaps it is the futon on which I sleep or the lack of familiar images on the walls (my landlord won't let me open any holes for hanging pictures), but I didn't pay much attention to this as I thought that it would become more familiar as time passes.

The scariest time happened recently after returning from my month-long travel across the country. When my consciousness awoke, I was able to recognize that I was in a bedroom, but my vivid dreams made me think it was someone else's bedroom entirely. This really hurts the relaxation of sleep when you feel like you are sleeping somewhere you shouldn't be.

And then the solution came to me, not two days after my sushi incident. It literally came to me, arriving in my mailbox both virtually and physically. My parents (acting independently but through a seemingly divine happenstance) sent me pictures from my childhood that arrived on the same day. The picture from my mother was in my inbox when I logged on in the morning and an envelope containing two full-sized pictures from my father (indirectly from my grandmother) was sitting in my mailbox when I got home later that day.

Sitting on my living room floor (because I don't have a sofa yet) and looking at the photos, I realized what I had been missing since I arrived. When I packed and shipped my belongings, not a single picture was among the items I sent. I had thought about it briefly at the time but decided that I didn't want to risk handicapping myself with a bridge back to my "old life," as a friend of mine similarly described when lamenting about going to college close to home. Now I see how foolish that thinking was and how important these old pictures are to me.

Without hesitating, I ran out and bought a couple frames for the pictures. One now sits at the head of my bed and the other greets me every time I walk into my living room.

As much as I want to explore this opportunity to change, I must not push myself too hard. It is easy to get lost and forget where you come from when in a foreign land. With these pictures now in place (and perhaps more to follow), I have set up reminders of how I came to be who I am today.

Now when the phantoms of my reality invade my dreams and wake me up thinking I am lying in the middle of a tourist route at some ancient temple in Kyoto, I can roll over and be reminded by the picture of my siblings and I as infants that I am exactly where I ought to be.

And this is where I ought to be, because a work visa speaks louder than prejudiced whispers.

back to the basics

Hello my faithful readers! (Do you really exist?)

Life has been pretty intense since my last post as I have somehow managed to settle into an apartment, find some kind of rythm at work, and overcome the language barrier day after day. On top of that, I spent the last four weeks travelling all across the country visiting my friends and sightseeing the most significant of locations in Japan. With just a backpack, shoulder bag, and a hip pouch with my camera in it, I rode on plane and train alike from one destination to the next without taking a break. Now I'm finally back in Kanazawa and resting before classes start up again in two weeks. Photos of my month-long vacation can be found on my Picasa web gallery. I hope to create albums for Osaka and Kyoto soon.

As I traveled, each destination greeted me with a new role to play as a foreigner.

Visiting with my friends in Nagoya was a good start as we noticed that each store, restaurant, and movie theater had at least one other foreigner. Since Kanazawa has very few foreigners, I was reminded what it's like to be part of the somewhat common crowd once again.

In Sapporo I was the guest being shown around by my Japanese teacher (a very wonderful person for being so kind to me!). Although she wanted me to do many 'gaijin-like' things just to see the Japanese reaction, I continued to try and act as Japanese as possible.

In Tokyo, the Japanese paid me little attention and would always use what little English they knew when speaking, making me feel like any other citizen.

In Shizuoka I was a bit of a spectacle and became even more of one when my ability with the language showed.

Fukuoka refreshed my perspective of being foreign when I took a day trip to South Korea and experienced for a few hours what it's like to have a complete lack of understanding of the language, both spoken and written. This experience improved my empathy for similar foreigners in Japan as well as my enthusiasm for dealing with the foreigner identity thrust upon me in Japan where I have better understanding.

My presence in Hiroshima felt welcome as I visited a World Heritage sight with many other foreigners and I was interviewed a total of four times at the annual memorial ceremony of the A-bomb.

The way I was treated in my last two destinations seem to have made me forget about the foreigner identity in Kanazawa. Osaka and Kyoto both are ripe with foreigners and as such I was not treated out of the ordinary in the least bit, other than my friends laughing at my attempts to use the local dialect.

Now I'm back in Kanazawa with a grander view of Japan and the way foreigners fit within its borders. Already tonight I had an incident that reminded me of the reason I started this blog in the first place. In my three months of work and one month of travel, I became comfortable with a carefully crafted ignorance that I had created for myself in hopes of adapting to this culture. Let me first tell what happened before I reflect on it.

After the gym, I headed to a kaiten sushi restaurant for a delicious dinner of fish and rice. I was aware from the moment I walked in how awkward the sight of me must have been. Revolving sushi bars are an especially Japanese place that every foreigner needs to be shown how to use upon their first visit. Because of this, a gaijin sitting alone in a sushi bar is a rare sight, especially in the relatively gaijin-free areas of the country. So when one of the sushi chefs came over to my end of the bar halfway through my meal, I thought I saw a little fear in his eyes as he noticed me. What happened next confirmed my suspicion. He hid behind the long-haired chef stationed at my end of the bar and whispered something. The long-haired chef, with whom I had already placed an order, responded and made a motion with his hand in front of his mouth that appeared to indicate the speaking of words. I immediately understood that the frightened chef was concerned about 'the gaijin' and he was being assured that I could speak just fine.

At first I laughed to myself about the situation, almost speaking up and letting the frightened chef know in his own language that I understand Japanese. But then I felt a bit of panic myself as I realized just how great the separation is between native Japanese and foreigners in this country. No matter how much I study, or how long I spend here, I will always encounter people who are scared stiff by just a single look at me. I felt somehow responsible for the chef's feelings and realized that this is just the fringe of a very real racism. It made me nervous and a bit sick, unable to easily finish the rest of my sushi.

It's easy enough when with friends to laugh about being a foreigner and it's fun to make jokes about taking advantage of it at times. But now that I feel like I have a life here, that sort of separate thinking has become redundant and tiresome. I started to get upset when visiting one of my friends during vacation and it seemed like every other sentence out of his mouth began with "I'm Japanese..." or "You're American..." And when I'm alone, this sort of thing just makes me feel like I'm unwelcome or out of place.

That, I believe, is the root of gaijin syndrome. Each one of us must come up with a coping mechanism for dealing with the different behavior we receive on a daily basis simply due to our looks.

As a white male American, I am incredibly humbled.

Now that I have unearthed the cause, I must ponder on a solution. If only people had labels, I would give myself the sign "Japanese OK!"

second chances in nagoya

I know this post is long overdue, but hopefully I can remember all the best details from my stay in Nagoya, now one month ago. I am working on getting Internet at my apartment, so I haven't had the best conditions for blogging regularly.

Anyway, a photo album of the stories in this post is linked below!!


After my stressful, but fun, four days in Tokyo, I jumped on a bullet train and headed inland to the less crowded Nagoya city. Nagoya is known for being one of the wealthiest places in Japan since ancient times, so it is no surprise to learn that Kirin beer and Toyota motors both operate in Nagoya. In fact, Nagoya castle has two gold "dolphin" statues at the very highest points that have been targeted (unsuccessfully) by ninjas and thieves throughout history.

When I arrived in Nagoya, my friend was waiting for me at the station in his black salary man suit. Keisuke is a good friend of mine from my time studying in Japan three years ago. Now he lives in a studio apartment and works everyday at a typical overworked, underpaid Japanese business man's job. I am slowly coming to understand why it is that a working man/woman in Japan is willing to work 12+ hours a day for salaries considerably less than what might be found in the U.S. and not be seriously unhappy. Contributing factors include relatively socialistic values, the fact that cost-of-living is partially covered by the employer, and the family-like development that occurs between co-workers. I could write more about this, but I don't want to stray too far from my travel log.

Friday, my first full day in Nagoya, was spent entirely on my own since Keisuke had to work. I first found my way back into the heart of the city where the central station is surrounded by high class shopping and dining. Walking around, I took my lunch at a noodle shop where the staff were so well coordinated and efficient, customers were moving in and out like a well-oiled machine. But at the same time they were patient and friendly. It was at this restaurant where I discovered that I, too, can be patient with my own ability and ask for small favors, such as how to pronounce certain words, or to describe something I don't understand. Even now I'm learning what it is that people really mean when they say that I have 'very good' or even 'perfect' Japanese. I believe it is my pronunciation that they are talking about, so I shouldn't get frustrated with disappointment when I find myself unable to form my ideas into Japanese sentences.


Once I was full and ready for my adventure, I headed off in search of the Nagoya City Science Museum, next to the large 'white water' park downtown. The museum has 7 stories containing exhibits from different scientific disciplines, a planetarium, and a wonderful automated fountain display out front. I bought a general ticket for the exhibits as well as a planetarium ticket for the show of the month, "The Disappearing Rings of Saturn". The presentation was 50 minutes long and I learned in Japanese how every 30 years (one revolution of Saturn's orbit), the tilt of Saturn's axis with respect to the Earth gives the impression that its rings have disappeared. After the presentation, I continued to climb the many floors of the museum until I eventually got tired of science and wanted to get back to sightseeing Japan.

I walked many blocks back to the central station where I boarded a train that took me west of Keisuke's apartment to a large shopping mall and movie theater. I spent some time in the theater, amusing myself with the Ice Age 2 Japanese trailer before heading into the shopping mall. Shopping in Japan is especially fun for me because of how well the clothes fit me. When I'm able to find a shirt with wide enough shoulders, it really fits nicely over my slim, seemingly non-American physique.

Aside from clothes, other shops I found in the mall included a pet store, massage parlor, and a delicious restaurant that was at the time promoting a variety of matcha (green tea) desserts. The massage parlor was tempting since my feet were starting to hurt from nearly a week's worth of walking around Tokyo and now Nagoya.

In the end, I found out from Keisuke when he would be home from work and headed back on foot towards his apartment. In retrospect, I probably should have found a bus because the return trip took nearly an hour and I walked a stretch of a couple miles at least. My legs were ready for a night of rest by the time I finally made it to the apartment.

That night, Keisuke had his friend over and I enjoyed practicing my Japanese with the two of them. They were equally delighted to hear my native voice read the English that was printed on the label of a cafe latte that Keisuke's friend bought from a convenience store. And now, my promo video for Mt. Ranier coffee may very well be floating around on the Internet somewhere. Additionally, I discovered how to make Japanese puns, a.k.a. "old man gags".


The following day the two of us met up with a friend of Keisuke's from his college days, and a friend of mine from Rochester. The four of us first hopped on the train and headed to a restaurant that is known across Japan for having weird foods. This is where I got to try some spaghetti that tasted like sweet melons with wipped cream on top, and a red bean paste stew with rice pudding inside. Both tasted delicious in small quantities, but the plates were large enough to make it a meal.

Afterwards, we headed to Nagoya castle and made it 15 minutes before closing. The castle is tall enough to see across the city from the highest story, and other four stories contained exhibits from the samurai era. After a while, you start to see like you've seen it all when it comes to museums of the old like the ones in every castle. But this one also had a replica of the golden dolphins from the roof, which you could climb on and get your picture taken.

From there, we out into the rain and back downtown where I had my first Japanese movie theater experience. The theater was a small room with a big screen and the movie was called Oppai Volley - "Oppai" meaning breasts, and "Volley" being volleyball. The movie is based off a true story about a group of high school boys who had little to no motivation at anything. Then a beautiful new teacher joined and was put in charge of the volleyball team. The boys where then motivated when she said she would do anything to make them want to win, and they asked her to show them her breasts if they do win. It was a hilarious movie, and I had a pleasant time with as much Japanese as I could understand.


Sunday was another adventure as Keisuke and I hopped on the train again and rode south towards the bay. We met up with my same friend from Rochester, who drove us in his brand new car to his parents bamboo farm. The three of us plus his uncle and cousin walked around for a while digging up bamboo shoots, which were later boiled and seasoned for a delicious Asian treat. Keisuke and I also got to cut down some bamboo trees and Keisuke took some pieces home to decorate his apartment.

After the farm, we drove down to the fish market and ate some sashimi fresh out of the water. The fish was delicious, even though I nearly lost my apetite towards the end. Keisuke had ordered the shrimp (which comes as it does out of the water) and managed to eat most of it without incident. One of the last ones, however, thrashed in his hands as he started to split it open. But that didn't deter him from continuing to rip it in half and eat it anyway. That's a real raw diet!

From the market, the three of us when back to my friend's parents' home to enjoy the boiled bamboo sprouts. We also met some more of his aunts and cousins at a warm family gathering where they were making tako-yaki (breaded balls with octopus inside). Everyone was very friendly and curious about me. So I indulged as much as I could and turned to my friend for help with some of the translations. In the end, it was a nice homely way to come down from my stressful time in Tokyo.

The following day I got up early and caught a train to Kanazawa, my final destination. To see an album of some photos I took in Nagoya, follow this link.

But the adventure wasn't over yet! I only spent two days in Kanazawa before climbing a mountain to the snowy peaks with a group of other foreigners from the school. That's a story for another post that will involve some subject matter about gaijin syndrome.

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first taste in tokyo

See below for a link to the photo album for this post!

Now that I am settled a bit and started working, I have found some time to sit and recount my first week in Tokyo. As I mentioned before, arriving at Narita was a familiar feeling for me and my excitement for being back held off my eventual defeat from jet lag for the first train or two. At the baggage claim I caught up with a Japanese teacher from my company from back in Rochester and her husband, who came back to Tokyo for spring break on the same flight. We exchanged phone numbers before I said goodbye and met my friend for pickup.

The fight with jet lag that night was an arduous one as I had only slept for three hours on the flight. My arrival day was a Sunday and my friend who came to pick me up couldn't get any time off that week, so it was our only available time to hang out. Back at Naoya's house, I managed to get by with a nap only to wake up after the drinking had already started. Needless to say hilarity ensued between an exhausted Rob and a drunken Tetsuro.

After Tetsuro had left and I got back to sleep, I was woken up once more around midnight when a new visitor had arrived. Hearing the voices, I recognized it as my English conversation partner for two years back in the States. We had become good friends and I was disappointed that I wouldn't get to see him in Shizuoka after my stay in Tokyo. His work schedule wouldn't give him any free time to hang out if I stopped in Shizuoka on my way to Kanazawa. It turned out that his work had made Monday a holiday, so he drove two hours to hang out with us in Tokyo!

View from Tokyo TochoOur first stop the next morning was Shinjuku. We climbed to the top of the government building there, the Tokyo Tocho. Supposedly we could see all the way to Mount Fuji when the weather is nice enough, but it never cleared up enough during my four-day stay. After gazing at the cityscape from the observatory, we jumped back on the trains to head across the city. In Akihabara we found a maid cafe where the all-female waitstaff dresses in French maid costumes and serve you coffee in the cutest way they can. At 5:00 there was a change of shift and the maids were replaced by cosplayers. Suddenly we went from classical music and French maids to j-pop and sailor moons. Afterward we did some shopping in Akihabara's electronics town, Harajuku's popular fashion street called Takeshita-dori, and Shibuya's much more expensive clothing shops. Back at Naoya's apartment, I ate a few bites of food before succumbing once again to jet lag.

Relaxing in the Imperial Palace GardensOn Tuesday my friends had to return to work while I went to meet up with another friend from my time studying in Japan three years ago. Takuya met up with me at the Shinjuku train station and after a brief reunion, we decided to make the Imperial Palace our first stop. Most of the palace buildings from the Tokugawa period burned down long ago and were never rebuilt, so our site-seeing was predominantly gardens and stone walls, but gorgeous nonetheless. Just a short walk away was the Tokyo National Modern Art Museum that contained some amazing traditional folding screen.

The Thunder GateFrom the Imperial Palace, we headed towards the oldest shrine in Tokyo, located in Asakusa. The shrine is most famous for its large gate and hanging lantern at the start of the long road leading up to the shrine. The street is lined with many shops that sell traditional and characteristic souvenirs of Japan, including ninja shuriken and folding fans. It began pouring during our visit and we sought shelter under the gate in front of the shrine. While we sat there, an old drunken man approached us and started talking to us in Japanese that was so slurred, my friend couldn't even understand most of it. One thing came out clear: he liked my teeth. We quickly retreated back down the street, laughing as he shouted more random things at passerby while keeping pace with us surprisingly well.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, the unifier of JapanMy last full day in Tokyo was spent mostly on my own, but I got to meet up with the Japanese teacher and her husband from from the airport. We walked around Ueno park and saw a number of musical performances that included a three-stringed Japanese guitar called a shamisen, and a choir of middle-school students. My companions recommended the Tokyo-Edo Museum as my next sight-seeing stop and I complied. The museum had many exhibits from both before and after Japan came out of its isolation period, including authentic katana blades and the document of surrender from WWII. Taking a brief rest near the gift shop, an old man sitting near me struck up a conversation and it took all my concentration to try and follow what he was saying in Japanese. He knew quite a lot about current conflicts and events in the world, which I had thought I had left behind in the US. I could do little more than agree with what he was saying but he seemed content enough to just talk about recent events with a foreigner.

Finally on Thursday I hopped on a train to Nagoya, which was a whole new adventure. For a full album of photos showing the events in this post, you can follow this link and enjoy.

Hopefully in the near future I will be posting twice more--once about my time in Nagoya and once about my trip up into the the mountains of Toyama. Thanks for reading!

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lesson 1 : humility

Not even one week in Japan and I was quick to learn my first lesson.  Returning to Japan with memories of my time studying here years ago, I could feel a refreshed sense of familiarity.  Having spent the last couple of years continuing to study the language and culture while dreaming of returning again someday, stepping off the plane at Narita was like stepping through the looking glass and into the realm of my dreams.

I was excited.  I was confident.  I was ready to tackle this country in full-force.

But I was also mistaken.

I was still very much a fledgling in the ways of Japan when I left this country last time, and it seems my years of study that followed were not enough to provide me with the necessary experience for transitioning smoothly back into the culture.  Tokyo is very friendly to the English-speaking foreigner, but that guise is draped over a city with millions of residents, most of which have that robotic facade you will inevitably encounter in any major world city.

Perhaps I should have gone straight through Tokyo to my destination rather than trying to immediately immerse myself in the countries largest city.  But I have a tendency to push myself to the edge of my ability.  On my last full day in Tokyo, while navigating the web-like Tokyo train system,  I found myself unable to pass through one of the ticket gates.  I was using the card my friend had given me and it had plenty of money left on it, so I knew that couldn't be the problem.  So I approached the window at the gate and asked about the problem.  To my dismay, I couldn't understand a single word they attendant was saying while a line of people waiting to get through quickly formed behind me.  When I finally gave in and asked for English, the attendant responded with "entrance fare" and then handed the card back after the flustered look on my face didn't change.

Afterward, I reflected on the situation and realized what had happened.  I was trying to go through an exit gate at a station that I had only just entered.  Even though I hadn't ridden any trains, the JR Line needed me to confirm a charge of 130 yen (about $1.30) to the card just for entering the station.  The attendant, unwilling to try giving any further explanation, charged the card and pushed me through to maintain the smooth transition of things.  I felt beaten, and this feeling was only amplified by remnants of jet lag and the fatigue I had gathered from a day of walking the streets.

So when I reached the bar where I met up with my friend and his coworkers for drinks, I was in little mood to continue struggling with the language barrier.  Needless to say the night did not end well as my friend got increasingly upset at my tired expressions and half-yelling attempts at communicating in the noisy bar--not a very good presentation to his coworkers.  He ended up dragging me out of there before everyone else finished and I received my first lesson in humility as an outsider of a secluded society.

Before leaving the States, I had heard stories (and made mention in my first post) about foreigners in Japan who have seemingly lost all reservation.  My experience in humility has shown me that this is not necessarily an effect of gaijin syndrome, but a necessity to some extent for learning the language through immersion.  "Take your time" was the advice of my friend, and "get used to embarrassment."  It seems like four and a half years of study should have prepared me so much better to communicate than how I feel I can communicate now.  Nevertheless, getting upset about it will only hinder my ability and my willingness to try as my case of the syndrome worsens.

The Tip:  Come to Japan only with the expectation to do your best in this society, not to fit right in, no matter how much you think you know.  After all, simple things like using a pair of chopsticks will impress the Japanese more than knowing what to say in every situation.

gaijin syndrome explained

Welcome to my blog!  

Gaijin Syndrome was created as a multipurpose blog for the brief period of my life that I will be spending in Japan.  I will be publishing my experiences for friends and family, reflecting on my personal growth in a culture much more different than my own, and generally keeping in touch with any who wish to pay regular visits to this corner of the web.  So please feel free to bookmark, comment, e-mail, share, etc.  

Now on with the explanation of my chosen theme...

The word "gaijin" is Japanese for "foreigner".  It is written with the characters 外人 that literally translate into "outside person" and is more colloquial than "gaikokujin" (a term nice enough to indicate that the person is from an outside country, and not just alien in general).  Foreigners studying the language who come to the country for the first time often don't expect to find a large cultural niche around the idea of "gaijin" but many times they are quick to identify with both the benefits and disadvantages of being such.

The gaijin mentality comes from the fact that Japanese culture is highly structured and highly sensitive.  Children learn the structure from an early age and must conform throughout their lives if they wish to lead successful conventional life within their home country.  Naturally, a foreigner who does not have the benefit of growing up around such influences is assumed to exist outside the Japanese social system.  It is generally understood that foreigners do not and can not fit in, and obvious foreigners (those that don't look Japanese) are often treated like aliens upon first sight.

A quick Google search for the phrase "gaijin syndrome" turns up many pages that employ the phrase as a reference to the way many foreigners find themselves being treated in Japan.  But it is used more appropriately, I think, to explain the effect on the individual being subjected to such treatment.  Exchange students in Japan get the most entertainment from the situation they find themselves in and often exploit it.  Suddenly social rules don't mean anything to you as a foreigner, so you can get away with anything that doesn't break actual laws.

Another aspect of gaijin syndrome, or "gaijin complex," is equated to Marco Polo Syndrome, which describes the interaction between foreigners of a country rather than between the foreigner and the country's natives.  I find this characteristic the most intriguing, particularly the following:
...the Japanese-speaking foreigner contingent is in constant battle with themselves, vying to prove linguistic abilities, obscure knowledge, and depth of societal penetration.

Symptoms of gaijin syndrome can include any of the following:
  • Laughing obnoxiously at, and even recording, everyday occurrences that you consider exploitable
  • A lack of fear for the consequences of erratic behavior in public, as inspired by cultural isolation
  • A strong urge to ignore other foreigners randomly encountered on the streets in hopes that they don't remind you of your own foreignness
  • Bleak, utter loneliness resulting from an inability to connect with the natives on a level that is culturally familiar to you
I think most cultural anthropologists would claim that all the above are the effects of long-term culture shock.  Actually, I would agree with them.  But the phrase "culture shock" is most frequently used to express a particular nuance or behavior that a foreigner finds odd upon first encounter.  When subjected to culture shock over a longer period of time (greater than the 6-weeks of my previous stay in Japan), culture shock can turn into a persistent state, a syndrome.

My hope is that through an objective look at the next 3+ years I will be staying in Japan, I will be able to circumvent these symptoms and provide valuable insight to others who may look to follow a path similar to my own.  Assuming a strategy of acknowledging my obvious foreignness while proving just how Japanese I can be (I'm up to 80% according to my Japanese friends), I will be able to maintain my identity as an American while finding my own place within their society.