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What is a Westerner?

31 Comments

When you arrive in Japan, it doesn’t take long to find out you are a little different. Sure in Tokyo, Osaka, and the bigger cities, you’ll see some people that might speak your native language or look similar to you, but you’re basically on your own in the countryside. You are not Japanese, so what are you?

Authors, expats living in Japan, and even myself have been guilty of calling these people "Westerners." However, when examining the word, it is not synonymous with words like "foreigner," "non-Japanese" and "outsider." Literally, a Westerner comes from the Western hemisphere. That is anything west of the International Reference Meridian in Greenwich London, England and east of the International Date Line, which snakes its way through the Pacific Ocean. This area includes the Americas, Europe, and parts of Africa as the Western hemisphere, while most of Russia, Australia, China, and more are in the Eastern hemisphere. Nonetheless, the term "Westerner" has a commonly believed definition in and of itself.

Too many people see a Westerner as Japanese often do: an English-speaking, most likely white, individual. This ignores that there are people from Western countries, such as Mexico, France or Russia that may or may not know any English, but still reside in Japan. No, the term "Westerner" is not politically correct, nor is it even logical. However, Japan is the Land of the Rising Sun and is often referred to be in the Far East. Therefore everything is arguably west from a Japanese point of view.

"Westerner" is a convenient word that people throw around too often without considering its meaning. It is perceived to include groups of non-Japanese, while excluding other Asians. On the other hand, words such as "foreigner" or "outsider" may be more descriptive yet leave connotations that we are at ends with the Japanese as we describe ourselves as different. So what should we call ourselves, and what do we want others to call us? I just want to be known as Justin, thanks.

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It's not complicated, really. Western is short for "Western Culture," which mean "European" which meant "White."

White like John Wayne, pilgrim.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

But what is "white"?

-8 ( +4 / -12 )

The same could be said about "America". America is not just the United States of America. It is the whole thing, Canada, USA, Mexico, Brazil, etc..

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

"Literally, a Westerner comes from the Western hemisphere. That is anything west of the International Reference Meridian in Greenwich London, England and east of the International Date Line, which snakes its way through the Pacific Ocean. This area includes the Americas, Europe, and part..................."

What nonsense, the author needs to look at a map. The Greenwich meridian (that's the one in Greenwich, London, England folks) has most of Europe, and even parts of England, to its east.

If you are a typical westerner in Japan you are assumed to be American until you say otherwise.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Im going to be on tv today... Not live, it is for TBS... Hopefully I can get to talk about these matters

1 ( +3 / -2 )

tmarieSEP. 23, 2012 - 10:35AM JST But what is "white"?

Anyone of Caucasian descent. Doesn't matter where one resides be it in the Western, Eastern, Southern ...

Even where I'm from, we call Caucasian Aussies, Kiwis, Americans, Canadians, Europeans, etc Gora. Gora essentially means "White" > which basically means anyone who's Caucasian.

Almost every non Western / non Caucasian country has it's own term to classify "Westerners"

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I am interested to see somany define it as color.

I would define it as the conflux of mostly judeo-christian, European, Modern, and Capitalist values that it often embodies. It would include Western Europe, sometimes E Europe, THe US and commonwealth countries and also South American countries. Whether the individuals involved had Black/ African roots, or Indian roots or what have you, because to me it is more cultural than racial.

I think it is a useful term here in jpn because often jpns use the word gaijin to only refer to either "white" foreigners or "American" foreigners, and not include other groups such as Kor/Chin who have lived here several generations, or recently arrived Kor/CHin/ other Asian, or possibly blacks. Conversely, they may use gaijin to describe only those groups, and an "acceptable" white foreigner would then be an "American".

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"Western" is not a matter of geography or ethnicity. It is a convergence of values, including democracy, capitalism, freedom and the rule of law. Japan generally falls within this definition.

Any sentence (in English or Japanese) that starts with the words "Westerners are" is necessarily untrue and meaningless. The only exception to this rule is "Westerners are air-breathing mammals."

2 ( +7 / -5 )

Hopefully I can get to talk about these matters

What are you going to say exactly?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

But what is "white

A colour

Or in this context, another way of saying "Caucasian"

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I think the connotation of the word does give rise to the image of a white person from Europe or America. However, technically speaking, a Westerner could be anyone from the western hemisphere, including many non-white people. I guess the real question would be what do Japanese people mean by Westerner?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I was teaching a class of "Obasans" and somebody asked me, "Mr Wooster. Do you like natto?"

When I said that I did, she looked very confused and surprised. When I asked her why, she said, "Dakedo, futsu no gaijin ha natto kirai to omotta (I thought normal gaijins didn't like natto)."

So I asked her what she thought a "futsu no gaijin" was.

It was something she said that had never really thought about.

She had never considered that Africans, Chinese, Koreans, Russians and Patagonians were all "gaijins."

She had this image of a stereotype, a "gaijin," a "Westerner."

Interesting.

And this was a person who had lived in London for three years.

I found out later that while her physical body may have been in England, the spirit wasn't. She, the being, never arrived. Her husband worked at a Japanese company, her sons went to a Japanese school. She shopped only at a Japanese supermarket and ate at Japanese restaurants. On the few occasions when she did go out, she went by taxi, showing the address where she wanted to go to the taxi driver.

Her body was in England, but she was still in Japan.

We see posts on Japan Today from people with the idea that Muslims are all terrorists.

It is very dangerous to think in stereotypes.

Because no two people are exactly alike.

And that's a good thing.

Isn't it?

6 ( +6 / -2 )

The term westerner is about shared cultural history, going back to Ancient Greece, from which many of the ideas, democracy etc. we still have today. Then there's the Romans, the influence of the Christian religion etc. A westerner doesn't have to be christian of course, but it has influenced western culture significantly. That shared cultural history is what defines a westerner, its a perfectly good word as far as I can see. "Foreigner" or "outsider" or "Justin" don't describe the same thing, hence the need for the word.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Westerner's good. Or even non-japanese or foreigner. I'll take that over "alien" which was what we foreigners were back in the day ( immigration queue at narita 20 years back ).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Depending on where you are literally standing, the person next to you could be western or eastern

3 ( +4 / -1 )

She had never considered that Africans, Chinese, Koreans, Russians and Patagonians were all "gaijins."

I highly doubt she said Chinese and Koreans. They aren't caleld gaijin the way blacks and whites are.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

With all the millions of people risking their lives to enter the westerners countries illegally, being a westerner must be a sought-after goal.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Everyone not Japanese is called Gaijin. Everyone not Japanese IS gaijin!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Everyone not Japanese is called Gaijin. Everyone not Japanese IS gaijin!

Um, no. Perhaps you should ask some of the locals about this.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The author gets it a little bit right and a little bit wrong.

First, it is relatively easy to define Western civilization as historically based on the classical legacy and western Christianity, and in the modern era - rule of law, social pluralism, individualism, human rights etc. The border between the Occident and Orient ran along the Aeagean Sea separating Europe from Asia, rather than along what constitutes Western hemisphere now. These days it's much harder to delineate it geographically since Western societies are present in all hemispheres, e.g. Australia; or ethnically since many Western countries are in fact multi-ethnic.

It's, however, near impossible to find a unifying definition of a Westerner. Not all Westerners are white, not all whites are Westerners. Russia has its own distinct civilization, often at odds with Western ideas. Japan has embraced many Western notions - democracy, rule of law, free market etc. But again the Japanese are not Western in the sense that their culture is rooted in another religion and way of thinking that can sometimes trump all of the above. But then, not all white Americans or Europeans are at home with Greek philosophy, or much in favor or social pluralism and equal rights. Are they truly Westerners?

If you look at the outside world from Japanese perspective it's easy to equate Westerners with Caucasians or confuse the West with Western hemisphere, but it would be about as erroneous and perhaps insulting to the concerned parties as putting the Japanese in one bag with the Chinese or Thai.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A "Westerner" is subjective. To me, a "Westerner" would be someone living in Nevada or California. Conversely, I tend to lump everyone in the "Far East" as Asian, even though there are all sorts of races living there. I think it has something to do with distance from the location in question: The farther away you are from the location, the more the people at that location are homogenized into a single group.

As for me when I'm in Japan, I'm fine with being referred to as a "gaikokujin" or just "gaijin". Even though some may use it as a perjorative, it IS an accurate label.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If only people could see right away I'm from Holland.. I don't like if people think I'm American and my mind isn't Western at all...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Westerner is a broad-stroke word that can be used to speak in generalities.Unless the user defines what he/she means when using it, the word is more or less meaningless. As evidenced by the posts above, it means entirely different things to different people for various reasons. The multiplicity of interpretations is fascinating but clarity is impossible using a term such as Westerner. That goes for words such as American (Which of the Americas?), Asian or European. Like many JT articles on questions of this type, the question posed remains impossible to answer as the premise is hopelessly vague to start with.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There are a couple things wrong here besides the geography lesson; never hear of an "westerner" referred as someone from the western hemisphere. One problem is "Westerner" or "Gaijin" is a subjective from the point of view of the speaker. Even a Japanese can be called a "Gaijin" if he/she does not look asian. Never really heard the term "westerner" used since it would be hard a Japanese to say properly. According the the Oxford dictionary; westerner is a native or inhabitant of the west, especially of western Europe and North America. According to Merriam-Webster, (1) westerner is a native or inhabitant of the west; especially, a native or resident of the western part of the United States. (2) one advocating the adoption of western European culture especially in 19th century Russia. Now I haven't checked an Australian or Canadian dictionary. Some Japanese dictionary definitions are 1) a western European person. 2) blue eyes (planet of the Apes?) 3) Blue eyes, red hair 4) blue eyed, red hair (ref. Dutch) 5) meat eating barbarian 6) red beard (sound like a pirate) Guess it depends how old the Japanese speaker is.....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Strange article. First he says that foreigners and authors se a Westerner as something. Then goes on to infer that Japanese people also use the word. i have never heard a Japanese person use the word Westerner. Foreigner maybe. Or the continent foreigner is from. Or even colour. and lots of times country. But not Westerner.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I found out later that while her physical body may have been in England, the spirit wasn't. She, the being, never arrived. Her husband worked at a Japanese company, her sons went to a Japanese school. She shopped only at a Japanese supermarket and ate at Japanese restaurants. On the few occasions when she did go out, she went by taxi, showing the address where she wanted to go to the taxi driver.

Her body was in England, but she was still in Japan.

This. I live in a city with one of the highest concentrations of Japanese nationals in the US, a majority of which arrive for a short period of 2-5 years for work at the major Japanese automakers and electronics companies, and are not interested in integrating outside of their little bubble of Japan. I often hear this group use "gaijin" to refer to anyone who is not strictly Nihonjin, so this includes other Asians, Latinos, and even Nikkei like myself. Perhaps the rest of us do qualify, as we're all technically living in "the West".

0 ( +1 / -1 )

anything west of the International Reference Meridian in Greenwich London, England

So excluding Norwich, Canterbury, Cambridge, Hastings, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and most of France - in fact most of Europe?

The further I read into this article the more I felt my head start to implode. The last sentence seems to be the only one that makes any sense.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I guess I am a Westerner ... but I prefer being what is printed on my alien registration card ... "alien." (I still have the old card.)

Now where did I park my UFO ...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If you are a typical westerner in Japan you are assumed to be American until you say otherwise

Isn't that the truth? The number of times I've had someone say "hi buddy" or ask me where in America I'm from... ugh. Why DO Japanese people automatically assume all 'westerners' are American? It's really, really annoying.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

First, it is relatively easy to define Western civilization as historically based on the classical legacy and western Christianity, and in the modern era - rule of law, social pluralism, individualism, human rights etc.

So countries with Enlightenment ideals, really.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

'caucasian' and 'white' are also very generalized terms, just like 'western'. Most people wouldn't consider Native American cultures as 'white' cultures, but many of them are. Huge numbers of Native tribes in the NE of the USA spoke Welch as their native language even before the arrival of Columbus and became known as the White Indians for their pale skin and eyes. Recent DNA studies have proven that more than 20,000 native americans in the Eastern part of the US still have this ancient European heritage, namely Scandinavian and (Scotian). Are they not 'caucasian' or 'white' because they don't fit the stereotypical model?

Even amoungst 'whites' then.. isn't this narrow minded generalization prevalent? Japanese aren't alone in their generalizing; far from it. An interesting paradox, the concept of 'ethnicity'. We're all really not so different and yet continue to segregate ourselves and lump ourselves together based on skin and eye colour or our own cultural perceptions, which are no more than just that.. personal perception. We are just as guilty of creating and clinging to the illusions of ethnicity as the Japanese are.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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