I was recently asked by one of my Twitter users if, after living in Japan for nearly two decades, I still consider myself a foreigner. The answer of course is yes — one of the cardinal rules about Japan is, even if you shout tenno heika banzai! (“Long live His Majesty the Emperor”) then commit seppuku on the steps of the Imperial Palance, you can’t ever really “lose your gaijinity” and become Japanese. The best goal is to get your language ability to the point where storekeepers and other people you deal with will just shut up and talk with you normally, rather than complimenting you on how good your Japanese is, since after a certain point getting a nihongo ga jozu (“Your Japanese is very good”) compliment actually means you still have a ways to go. For one reason or another, my life has been an interesting parallel to that of my father, who was also named Peter Payne. After getting bombs dropped on his head in London during World War II, he emigrated to Canada and then the United States, where he lived for the rest of his life. He became an American citizen, but you could never take the British part away from him. I, too, found a new home in Japan and have strived to give something back to my adopted country in the form of starting a successful company that employs 20+ people and brings Japan a little closer to the world. But I think I’ll always be an American in Japan.
Besides, being a gaijin in Japan is more fun than a Japanese who’s bad at kanji.