09 October 2011 ~ 24 Comments

Maybe They Think Hawaii is in Japan!

This conversation took place with a Japanese friend at a cafe in Yokohama:

Me: …I thought it was a very interesting article! What do you think?

Yoko: Of what?

Me: His argument that both Gaikokujin and Gaijin essentially mean the same thing: Not so much foreigner, but not-Japanese.

Yoko: You think so?

Me: Well, yeah, actually, I agree totally.

Yoko: Why?

Me: Let me give you an example. I had an experience recently. I was in Hawaii, in Waikiki, and I overheard two Japanese guys talking about a party they’d gone to the night before. Both agreed that the party was ok but would have been better if there were less Japanese there and more Gaijin. It rubbed me the wrong way, being referred to as a foreigner in my own country. Hell, I’d taken the vacation to get away from that for a spell. So I took issue with it, and told them as much.

Yoko: Really? What did you say to them?

Me: I told them that this is America, and that they were the foreigners, not us!

Yoko: That was rude!

Me: A little, I guess, but I guess I am a little sensitive about that kind of thing, for obvious reasons. But, no more rude than they were. Presuming if they spoke in Japanese none of the Americans sitting in their vicinity would understand they were calling us foreigners.

Yoko: But, if you feel that Gaijin means not Japanese then why did you say anything?

Me: I hadn’t really thought it through until I read that article; which was after the fact. And even if I had, the way Japanese were behaving in Waikiki, I was already pissed anyway.

Yoko: How were they acting?

Me: Like they owned the place! Like they were in some Japanese resort, not guest in a foreign country, in my country. I feel like if I can be on my best behavior in their country they can certainly be on theirs in mine!

Yoko: I see. (Sad expression on her face)

Me: What? Was I wrong?

Yoko: ….

Me: Seriously! They were behaving the way many Japanese do in Japan. I mean, in Japan I have to accept the excuse that Japanese are not used to foreigners so they are shy around me, to put it nicely, but if you go to foreign country that excuse because invalid. No?

Yoko: I see…

Me: And I think I know the reason why.

Yoko: Why?

Me: Because, some Japanese don’t even know Hawaii is America! Maybe they think it’s in Japan.

Yoko: That’s ridiculous!

Me: Seriously, Yoko. I ask my students…and this has happened many times…I ask them, have you ever been to the US? And they say no, but they’ve been to Hawaii! Hawaii is America, I say. And they get this look like…”Oh yeah, that’s right.”

Yoko: You don’t understand Japanese people…

Me: Tell me something I don’t know…(said sarcastically)

Yoko: Eeee?

Me: Nothing. Listen, I don’t claim to understand Japanese. I don’t even understand Americans, sometimes.

Yoko: Of course we know Hawaii is in America. We’re just being humble.

Me: Humble??? You mean ignorant!

Yoko: …

Me: I mean, come on, if a Japanese person on vacation, say, in NY, asked me had I ever been to Japan and I answered, “No, but I’ve been to Okinawa,” would they think I was being humble or that I was an ignorant American?

Yoko: But, you’re not Japanese.

Me: ….

Yoko: America, the mainland, is…expensive to visit. Plus, you have to know some English to get around. Hawaii is cheap to visit, and you don’t need much English.

Me: Ok…

Yoko: So, if we say we’ve gone to the US, then that’s just like boasting that we have money and we can speak English. We are humble so we don’t say such things.

Me: But, like you said, I’m not Japanese. And, presumably, I don’t know the rules of humble etiquette. So, why, at the risk of appearing painfully ignorant with no benefit, would Japanese be humble with me?

Yoko: Habit.

Me: I see…

Yoko: I don’t think you do. Because you are Gaijin. (Smiles) I mean, gaikokujin.



Who is this guy, Loco, anyway? Click here!

PS This is a re-post

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24 Responses to “Maybe They Think Hawaii is in Japan!”

  1. kathryn 9 October 2011 at 4:56 pm Permalink

    I’ve got a feeling you could pretty much say the same thing about Australians and Bali.

    • Locohama 11 October 2011 at 1:41 pm Permalink

      Really? Isn’t Bali in Indonesia? I guess Bali is a popular vacation spot for Aussies eh?

      • kathryn 11 October 2011 at 4:10 pm Permalink

        Yeah Bali is like the “My First Overseas Holiday” spot for most Aussies. A lot of them are shocked if you tell them it’s in Indonesia and not a country on it’s own.

        And yeah, I’ve heard people complain about the “foreigners” meaning the Indonesians (not the other redneck Aussie tourists).

        • Locohama 11 October 2011 at 4:13 pm Permalink


        • Magenta 14 February 2012 at 6:15 am Permalink

          Not my parents. They can speak Indonesian and we spent three months travelling/living there when I was a baby. They travelled through rural areas and paid to live with poor people when offered as a way of helping out instead of hotels. When I was little my Dad played in a Gamalan as a hobby in Darwin and I spent much of those years hanging out with Indonesian dancers.

  2. Orchid64 9 October 2011 at 5:16 pm Permalink

    This is one of the regular crocks of garbage explanations that the Japanese give in order to explain away the obvious in a way which is less embarrassing to them and they use the “you don’t/can’t understand because you’re not Japanese” thing to talk in some convoluted circle and obfuscate the fact that what they’re saying makes zero sense. It’s not that they are defying human logic, but rather that you simply can’t possibly track the intricacies of the Japanese culture and mindset. I noted how every time you refuted a claim with logic, she came up with either a weak reply or said you can’t get it.

    I’ve talked to plenty of people who have said the same thing as your students when it comes to HI. I ask if they’ve been to America and they say “no” then list HI among the list of places they’ve been. If it was about not appearing boastful, why are they quite fine with listing nearly every major European country as part of their lifetime travel experience? I’ve also never had anyone be shy about saying they traveled anywhere out of a desire to be “humble”. This is simply nonsense, especially when speaking to a native English speaker and studying a foreign language (which is often for travel of some sort and not to simply wake up one day and say “good morning” to their parents in a foreign language).

    You should have continued to press the conversation to see how long she would have kept dancing the illogical explanation jig before she ran out of steam and gave in from pure exhaustion.

    • Locohama 11 October 2011 at 1:45 pm Permalink

      Wow orchid love, I felt the venom in this comment directly…this “crock of garbage” must pluck your nerves too.
      And you know I’m just the kind of person to press until the steam runs out…at least I used to. Now the “Crock…” just de-motivates me from trying to help and I schlepp away in shougannai-dom.
      And you’re absolutely right…the European countries never fail to make the list of places visited.
      Thanks for the shout!

  3. Will 9 October 2011 at 9:34 pm Permalink

    Loco…you are in Yokohama, near the supposedly ‘better educated’ of the group. Just imagine how sublime it can be out in the countryside…which is just a matter of minutes in either direction on the train.

    Nice to see you are not trying to surf the ‘North Shore’ at Waikiki Beach…Diamond Head in the background…thoughts stray to the spot where ‘they’ practiced bombing Pearl Harbor before the real thing.

    As for the ‘gaijin’ thing…I’m beginning to think ‘fuck ’em’ in terms of people who think that way.

    I’m tempted to say the photo was taken from a boat…

    • Locohama 11 October 2011 at 2:13 pm Permalink

      “Loco…you are in Yokohama, near the supposedly ‘better educated’ of the group. Just imagine how sublime it can be out in the countryside…” LOL! That’s some funny shit, Will!
      Yes I was on a boat! Riding out to see for a submarine ride…second highlight of the trip. the first: Busting 44 magnum caps at a gun range at silhouettes imagining they were Japanese tourists in Waikiki, clutching their bags and acting like I was the “Gaijin” in my own fucking country!! Just joking, kinda…
      Thanks for the shout yo

  4. audience 11 October 2011 at 1:02 pm Permalink

    You might be one of the few black/white Americans who see Hawaii as a part of the US. I live in upstate NY. People here recognize that Hawaii is a state, but they don’t seem to accept the locals as “Americans.” I guess having Asian/Polynesian heritage can be a burden for Hawaiians.

    • Locohama 11 October 2011 at 2:16 pm Permalink

      Yeah, I bet some of these people wouldn’t recognize any one not black or white as American. It’s a popular fiction that America is a melting pot in the minds and hearts of Americans. Maybe 50/50. Thanks for the shout audience (cool moniker)

      • audience 12 October 2011 at 4:53 am Permalink

        “It’s a popular fiction that America is a melting pot in the minds and hearts of Americans.” I agree with you 100% on that one. People (Americans) also recognize the reds (Native Americans) as their own. Everybody else belong to “eternal foreigner” category.

  5. Will 11 October 2011 at 3:16 pm Permalink


    Your title reminds me of the first few pages of Friedemann Bartu’s “The Ugly Japanese”.

    Bartu had asked the receptionist as a Cebu resort:
    “Don’t they find out where they are the minute they get off the plane, change their yen, buy stamps or read a newspaper?”

    Marilou, the receptionist, responds:
    “Almost all of our Japanese tourists arrive on direct flights from Tokyo. They either come with their own Japanese guide or get picked up at Cebu airport by a Japanese-speaking local guide. So they never have to wonder where they are. Once at the beach or in the swimming pool they don’t bother to find out either.”

    Bartu then writes:
    Her revelations were stunning. How could the Japanese possibly not know that they were in the Philippines?

    All of the above was on page 2, followed by anecdotes about how ignorance and bliss-out tourists can definitely be exploited for profit.

    To be fair, the resort-trotting Japanese types who do not consider Hawaii part of the United States may simply be reflecting what comes across on certain US news media that has, in recent times, held the Tea Party in such high esteem. “See, he’s not American…just look at his birth certificate…it says ‘Hawaii’”.

    Oh yeah, thanks for the link to Beck’s article. All the info and comments really helps with perspective. Perspective…something that is not always easy to hold on to…and sometimes just barely.

    Call it tolerance or immunity. For some reason, the ‘gaijin’ label doesn’t really irritate so much anymore…unless the word is being used by a person I am directly dealing with.


    • Locohama 14 October 2011 at 12:29 pm Permalink

      “Call it tolerance or immunity. For some reason, the ‘gaijin’ label doesn’t really irritate so much anymore…unless the word is being used by a person I am directly dealing with. ” Doesnt bother me either. Only when it’s used by Japanese sitting a few feet from me at a cafe in my neck of the woods. My co-workers tend to gaikokujin and my friends use Gaijin. “Thanks for the Bartu story. Sounds like an interesting read. Maybe I should check it out!

  6. Patos 14 October 2011 at 11:23 am Permalink

    Hawaii is politically in America, but not geographically nor culturally. Those fools were wrong calling non-Japanese “gaijin” while not in their country, but I think American colonialism has gone too far. Do you feel “at home” in your country in Yokosuka?

    • Locohama 14 October 2011 at 12:24 pm Permalink

      Reallly? What does “culturally” America mean anyway? There are a lot of different cultures co-existing (sometimes peacefully) in the US. “Hawaiian” culture is just one of the colors in the great tapestry known as America. lol…I feel funny talking like that. But there is a lot of truth in that statement…and very little in yours (…not geographically nor culturally) The president of the US might take issue with your statement. I7m sure the Tea Party wouldn’t though. they like to refer to obama as exotic and barely american because he’s from Hawaii (or not even a true citizen let some tell it.)As for the colonialistic aspect of Hawaii’s inclusion in the United States, I agree completely. It was a hostile takeover and the US definitely went too far…
      I’ve actually never been to Yokosuka, but would love to get to the supermarket on base. I hear tell there it’s all-american, and I can get some grits, and honeycombs, and I need some Advil and Mylanta too.
      Thanks for the shout!

      • Patos 14 October 2011 at 3:10 pm Permalink

        Come on, you know that there is a “background” american culture which ties all the “colors of the tapestry” together. It goes across music, food, literature, movies, clothing etc. Hawaii is as American as Polynesia is French.

        Obama is an person, not a land, and not a people. Obama is surely a least as american as Bush; I can tell by the way he supports Israel at any costs. Your reference to the tea party is a half-disguised way of calling me a racist, but I’m sure you’ll understand the difference between: a person who migrates to another country to become part of it, and a country that runs over another one and decides that from now on this land is theirs.

        “there is a lot of truth in that statement…and very little in yours”. What can you say against that…

        • Locohama 14 October 2011 at 3:26 pm Permalink

          Nah, no name calling from me. I just heard similar ideas about America having a “culture” and those people are genrally conservative. I grew up in NY (which can arguably be called both the American dream and the Americannightmare, but undeniably there are a great many cultures living there. So I won’t come on. I won’t say that I identify culturally with Bush, or A chinese imigrant living in Queens, or a Hisidic Jew living in Crown Heights. We do however share one thing in common: we like money! If that’s what you mean by American Culture than I can get on board with that, but if you’re talking about a common sensibility, common morality, common theology, common political positions, etc…I maintain that their is a little truth there but not much.
          I don’t think and was not calling you a racist. Sorry if it came off that way. I do get uptight though when people try to make statements of conjecture like their facts that “we all know.” That aint the America I know. And every hawaiian I’ve ever met is as “American” as Obama and I…I see more Polynessian culture here in Japan than I saw in Hawaii. LOL Japanese love themselves some Hula. Probably there are more hula schools and competitions here than in Hawaii.
          “but I’m sure you’ll understand the difference between: a person who migrates to another country to become part of it, and a country that runs over another one and decides that from now on this land is theirs. ” I do indeed. Hell, basically what’s true of Hawaii is true of the contimnental US as well.
          And, on a side note, I don’t think any president has much of a choice when it comes to support for Isreal. They know where their bread gets buttered! And you gotta go home with the date you took to the prom…usually anyway

  7. Kimmykins 24 January 2012 at 12:01 pm Permalink

    When I read this post I couldn’t help but think about what I think might be the American equivalent of the Hawaii/Japan story. Canada. Whenever I’m asked if I’ve traveled outside the US, I automatically say no. Then I might follow up with, well I’ve been to Canada. (Windsor and the Canadian side of Niagara Falls) I think most Americans would feel the same way I do. That somehow Canada doesn’t count. That when someone is asking me if I’ve traveled abroad, I don’t think they are looking to hear about my experience in Canada. I can see why a Canadian would be offended by that though. I think the only way that Canada would count in my mind would be if I had been to Quebec or Vancouver. Places that offer a substantially different experience culturally from my own. Perhaps it is the same for the Japanese? Hawaii doesn’t seem different enough so it only counts if you’ve visited the mainland? Just my two cents. Love your blog Loco.

  8. niko 12 February 2013 at 1:15 pm Permalink

    This made me laugh, because Most USA citizens always tell us local Hawaii people… “well, back in the states…” as a person from hawaii how many times they here that statement. So why pick on Japanese students when people from our own country can’t get it straight… When people from the USA still believe that we were grass skirts and don’t have electricity? Before Hawaii was taken from it’s people it’s culture was not American and it really will never be that culture. There is still a fight to have Hawaii given back to it’s people. Hawaii’s culture is mixed, but if you notice within it’s flag is that of England, so our Anglo-Saxon influence stems from that country and not America. The japanese people were among the first to work in the sugar cane fields. Their culture closely resembles the Hawaii culture of unity instead of an egocentric view like the rest of the USA. You can often read the difference about Hawaii in psychology text books. Here is one state I take issue with when people want to call it America, but lack the understanding of the only State that was it’s own country at one time and had it’s own culture and social rules which many remain in tact. As a Person from Hawaii I have never been treated mean by Japanese visitors, and they are always respectful. In fact it is the American citizens from, “back in the states” who are often rude and belittling.

    • Locohama 12 February 2013 at 2:25 pm Permalink

      Thanks niko…you sound like a big fan of the jfolks. You should be here, you’ll love it!

    • Mike 12 June 2016 at 8:55 pm Permalink

      Ive known Hawaiins that would disagree with you. Also, a visitor will treat you good, an occupier would be quite different. Just read up on what the Japanese did to the natives of Guam.

      I could promise you, that if Japan would of occupied Hawaii, you would be begging for the U.S. to return.

      The Japanese mentality during the war was that if you wouldnt stand up and fight, then it was your fault for Japan occupying your land. Japanese have told me this. They will just take it all. Some of them still think Hawaii belongs to Japan.

      Thats not to say all tourist are bad, but I dont for a minute think that Hawaii under Japanese occupation would of been better than the U.S.

      Also, those Japanese ni sei etc were running from Japan because of starvation and other problems.

  9. niko 12 February 2013 at 1:17 pm Permalink

    I apologize for the typos.

  10. mike 3 June 2016 at 1:54 pm Permalink

    Yeah Japanese do this circle jerk logic trick all the time. I always reset to my default, fresh on the scene, but this circle logic crap always takes me out of that zone, real fast! I went to the pharmacy, and one lady was speaking English to me, but the other staff was getting mad, and coming with the dirty eye towards me, and at her. The English speaking Japanese lady (cute) was ignoring them, but you could tell it was getting to her. They got this lock down grip on their mind, and it started to get to me, so the good feeling vibe wore off and I had to leave before it upset my default behavior.

    Good stuff Loco man, keep it real, and forget about the haters

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