Okaerinasai / April 24, 2005

To the foreign visitor arriving at Narita, the numerous "Welcome to Japan" signs are no different than similar ones found at many of the world’s other international airports. Those, however, who possess even a basic grasp of the Japanese language (and can read hiragana) may be amused by the fact that the Japanese translation of that greeting, okaerinasai, has a slightly different meaning. In Japanese, okaerinasai means "welcome home".

What the airport officials seem to be assuming here is that only Japanese citizens can read Japanese and, therefore, it is safe to greet them in a different manner from everyone else. And so the Japanese get a warm "Welcome Home" while the subhuman gaijin have to make do with the standard "Welcome to country X". Those who arrive in Japan with the intention of staying for a long time are, unbeknown to them, getting a taste of things to come.

Putting aside for the moment all, slightly depressing, thoughts concerning discrimination in Japanese society (I'll be examining this issue at length in many future articles) there is another element of irony behind this dual greeting which was not lost to me when I first arrived here a little over a year ago.

Having spent the greater part of my life hungrily consuming every morsel of Japanese pop culture I could get my hands on and longing to travel to this country of my dreams, I was, indeed, happy to be finally welcomed home.