As I edge slowly and reluctantly towards the end of the book (The Roads to Sata) I’m reading now, I’m starting to think back on the whole story and his whole experience and all the interesting encounters he had had, spiced up by his subtle sarcastic humour, creative style of writing and abundance of knowledge about Japanese history and literature. At some points in time, I imagine myself in his shoes, though never really realistically since my appearance has hardly given away my gaijin identity. Some times, I imagine myself doing as crazy an adventure as he had done; sometimes I wished I had the courage and determination to do something like that. (Please refer to the previous English entry to find out what this book is about/ what he has done)
On page 235, I came across one of the most thought-provoking conversations written in this book. I must say that many of the conversations/ encounters he had had were interesting and highly amusing, but I found this particular conversation very relevant even in our lives today, more than 30 years after he wrote about it. This was a scene at a grilled-chicken bar (yakiniku) in Yamaguchi Prefecture (the southern most prefecture of Honshu). There were only two customers in the bar- the author and this other man who had decided to send his son to an university in Switzerland. Here goes the conversation:
“We Japanese must become kokusaijin,” he told me using a word much in vogue that means, literally, “international person.” He wore a black striped suit, a red striped tie, cuff links and a Homburg at a rakish angle, and he repeated the word kokusaijin at least three times a minute, so that after a couple of beers I felt inclined to ask him what the hell he meant.
“Do you mean the Japanese must become like the Arabs?”
“Or like Somalis or Ethiopians?”
“Of course not.”
“Koreans, Peruvians, Pygmies, Eskimos?”
“What you mean,” I growled, “is that they must become like white genteel Americans and live in detached bungalows with lawns and jacuzzis and sip Lipton’s tea in the afternoons.”
Indeed, we have become so used to the word “internationalization” or “globalization” that we often overlook the connotations that the words carry, intended or not. We may not necessarily intend it to mean “americanization”, but as seen in this conversation, sometimes behind the words we use and in between the lines we say, such innuendos are hidden so perfectly that we do not even realize. As he correctly pointed out, amongst all the hype about “going international”, how many of us are actually thinking of becoming anything else but American or the stereotypical Western?
Of course, I must admit that as we enter the 21st century, “becoming international” now includes learning a foreign language (as it is becoming mandatory in high schools/ universities), taking part in voluntary work in the poorer South-east Asian and African countries, and perhaps learning about foreign cultures (such as appreciating ethnic food/ dances from all over the world).