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New Millennium, Age Old Question

Author:Author unknown, Issue: January 2000, Topic: Commentary

So, here we are at what is arguably the dawn of the new millennium. We've survived Y2K without a hitch (except for some slot machines in North Carolina, USA). America On Line (AOL) is trying to merge with Time-Warner in an attempt to "shape our lives." Linux is gradually taking over Wintel desktops world-wide with its open architecture and open philosophy. Apple is not only profitable, but has prophesied numerous computer industry technical firsts. The future is now.

Understanding that we are at a revolutionary stage in technological and social development, I have a question for all you AT readers out there: what is community?

A little more than a year ago, a guy called Lazlo posed a similar question at a seminar I attended. The audience was a group of foreign English teachers employed in public and private schools throughout lbaraki. The context was simple: all of us had lived in Japan for some measure of time, and Lazlo wanted to know when we stopped being "guests in Japan" and started being community members. Included below are a few of the criteria he offered to help determine our status in Japan:

  1. How long does a guest stay at any given location?
  2. Do guests pay to be guests?
  3. What do guests do when the are dissatisfied with their surroundings?

My answers were:

  1. If it is more than a week or two, you stop being a guest and start being a burden.
  2. In hotels we pay for various services, in essence employing the hotel staff to do our bidding. At a friend's house, we might pay for groceries, but we'd probably stick them with the long distance phone bill.
  3. Most folks would just go; go to a/another hotel or go home.

Seldom would they make any serious attempts to change things.

Those criteria made me stop and think a while. At the time I had lived in Japan for close to a year and a half: much longer than any normal guest would be tolerated. Like any civil servant, I paid taxes, social security and health care. Finally, when I saw things I disapproved of, particularly Japanese stereotypes about foreigners, I tried hard to change them. In doing the things listed above I had undoubtedly ceased being a guest in this country.

With the advent of the intemet ideas of community have radically changed. Community has become more purely social: we don't need to live somewhere special to be part of an intellectual "cyber community." However, the criteria for being a community member still apply. "Cyber community members" often join and choose to stay. They "pay" by contributing intellectual capital, or ideas. Furthermore, "cyber community members" are constantly at work attempting to change their surroundings to make them more hospitable and user friendly.

Living in Japan I often hear talk about the so-called "Gaijin Community." I Iike to think that this is just short hand for "gaijin members of the Japanese community," but I'd like to see if the rules of community apply to foreigners living here.

  1. Since coming to Japan, I have been considered a member of the "gaijin community." That is more than two years now, so I suppose that l'm no longer just a guest.
  2. As a foreigner, I imagine I am fairly well adapted to the Japanese lifestyle, but I do, in fact, pay to be a member of the "gaijin community." I pay heaps of cash to eat gaijin food, wear gaijin clothes, and watch gaijin TV on cable. On occasion I go to one of the local gaijin business establishments and pay to consume whatever they have on offer. l hope that I contribute intellectual capital to this community through numerous outlets, including this publication.
  3. I believe that my presence in Japan has helped shape the "gaijin community." Beyond my simple existence, I have always attempted to support gaijin-friendly businesses, and have tried to encourage connections between various members of the "community" in order to build strength and solidarity.

By now you might be asking yourself what the point to all this nonsense is. Well here it is: if you've read this far, you now may believe you that you are a member of the "gaijin community" in Japan. As a member of the gaijin community in Tsukuba, it is time to pay your dues. Every month you, our loyal readers, pick up your copy of the AT and read it cover to cover. If you've been here long enough you make a mental check list of the material that you've read in previous issues or when browsing the internet. But most of the time you do these things without giving back: whether that means shopping at our sponsors' businesses, or just dropping a thank-you note to the Tsukuba Expo'85 Memorial Foundation or the lowly editors of this publication.

So, we're giving you a chance to do something; something positive as a member of the AT reading community. We are asking you to contribute something, anything. We are dying for original material, but as editors we've done all we can. Only you, our loyal readers, can improve this publication., From reading some well written posts on TAIRA-net and hearing a number of eloquent (albeit a bit drunken) arguments at Frontier, I know that there are people out there with original and interesting things to say. Why not share them with the rest of us so we can grow as a community?

the Jackroller

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