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.© Japan Today