The Japanese word gaijin is often understood as a shortened version of gaikokujin, literally translated as “foreign-country-person,” which is considered a proper term for “non-Japanese” in official documents and media sources. The abbreviated version can be discriminatory against the referent, depending on the attitude and perception of the speaker or referent, but whenever enunciated, it conveys a sense of dissimilarity and alterity (Curits 33).
Maximiliano Matayoshi, the author of the novel Gaijin, heard his father, a Japanese immigrant and naturalized citizen of Argentina, use the word gaijin many times with a contemptuous attitude to refer to people of non-Japanese descent in his adopted country (Krapp). In an interview, the author states:
[Gaijin] [e]s una palabra despectiva bastante extraña … porque lo usa la colectividad japonesa argentina para llamar a los que no son de la colectividad siendo que en una primera instancia ellos son los extranjeros…. Y gran parte de desentendimiento que tenía con mi viejo viene … de que él nació en Japón y nunca se asumió a Argentina…. [P]ensaba que sus hijos eran más japoneses que argentinos de algún punto o que pretendía que lo fueran. [A]llí nace la gran pelea y allí nace también la novela … como una argumentación en contra de cierto prejuicio de mi viejo. (Matayoshi, “Parte 2” 1:32-3:06)
The birth of Gaijin can be attributed to the author’s critical reaction to the contradiction in the attitude of his father, who called Argentines of non-Japanese descent gaijin, yet in reality was a “person from outside” himself. Turning his attention to his father’s contradiction, he questions the binary understanding of the relationship between gaijin/non-Japanese and non-gaijin/Japanese, which obscures actual contradictions and tensions.
Gaijin can be read as a narrative in which the author unhinges this binary thinking by presenting multiple patterns of encounters and relations between the Japanese and non-Japanese. It traces the experiences of a Japanese boy who is forced to emigrate alone from Okinawa to Argentina during the postwar years following World War II, for his and his family’s survival and a better future. It depicts his voyage across the ocean, passing through Asia, Africa, and South America, and his experience coming of age in Argentina. Depicting the boy’s various encounters and interactions with both Japanese and non-Japanese people in different places, Matayoshi brings to light the constantly changing meaning and relation of the Japanese/non-Japanese dichotomy through the protagonist’s eyes.
The destabilization of the Japanese/non-Japanese dichotomy through the protagonist’s multiple contacts with racial, ethnic, and sociocultural differences has been already studied by Hagimoto Koichi. Hagimoto builds upon the notions of hybridity theorized by Stuart Hall and Homi Bhaba. These theories of hybridity illuminate the ambivalence and fluidity of the identity of a migrant or colonial subject born out of geopolitical and cultural border-crossings that always imply asymmetrical power relations. Hagimoto considers the fluidity of the protagonist’s identity as a consequence of his multiple encounters with the others by whom he is being othered and those he himself is othering. These encounters occur among the three different cultural spaces of Japan, Argentina, and the US (84-84, 91-96). Although his approach to the triangular intersections of Japan, Argentina, and the US, adds another layer to the emergence of hybrid identities “beyond the hyphen” in Japanese-Argentine, as the title of his study suggests, especially when concerning the question of who is othering whom in the cultural power relations of Japan, Argentina, and the US, his study still tends to locate the protagonist’s hybrid identity in a definable space called “the centroid of a triangle” (86, 95). Hagimoto's study, making the protagonist’s hybrid identity locatable, even from a different angle of the triangle context, may plunge readers into an unintended discussion that underscores the protagonist’s journey towards the construction of his hybrid identity at “the centroid of a triangle” as the end point.
This study offers an alternative way of looking into the unlocatability of the protagonist’s identity and home in relation to the processes of his becoming non-Japanese, by understanding it, not as a phenomenon stemming from his attainment of hybrid identity, but rather as a consequence of his desire and struggles, which arise at different degrees of intensities, to find a way to experience a sense of different locations of and around his identity and home, so as to temporarily move away from the sociocultural expectations and norms that define who he should be and where he should belong as a Japanese immigrant in Argentina. By drawing attention to the processes of becoming non-Japanese through the notion of “becoming” postulated by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, this study considers the moments of the protagonist’s entering into new experiences with a new sense of different locations as the processes of his becoming non-Japanese and argues that it is in these processes of becoming, in which his stable, habituated location of identity and home, being dislocated and relocated, shifts into something unlocatable.
The Process of Becoming
Deleuze and Guattari's notion of becoming can help us discern the entangled and contradictory relationality of dislocation and relocation, produced by both the protagonist’s attachment to and detachment from his habituated location of identity and home. According to these theorists, “all becoming is a becoming-minoritarian” (291), a process by which the majority is disturbed and deterritorialized by the minority. “Majority” and “minority” do not refer to a specific group of people or “a greater [or lesser] relative quantity” (291); but rather, the former points to “a state of domination” while the latter implies an “[active] medium or agent” creating volatile movements that disturb the fixity of the domination of the state (291). However, these volatile movements of “becoming-minoritarian” should not be understood as forces of the “minority” to reterritorialize or takeover the “majority” as a new structure or state (291). On the contrary, Deleuze and Guattari argue that all becomings “imply two simultaneous movements [of becoming], one by which a term (the subject) is withdrawn from the majority, and another by which a term (the medium or agent) rises up from the minority,” displaying “an asymmetrical and indissociable block of becoming, a block of [rhizomic] alliance,” which only passes and circulates between the majority and minority, without mixing the opposite two poles in order to reorganize a (hybrid or third) new system (291-93). To put it another way, the process of becoming involves a rhizomatic network of movements and assemblages through which the recognizable identities, categories, roles, and other concepts established and organized by the majoritarian “standard of measure” (“power of man”) become unstable and unrecognizable due to the emergence of minoritarian creative activities, dynamisms, and forces composed of disparate forms, speeds, modes, and styles that latently always exist in relation to the majoritarian (293-94). Following Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the rhizome, I understand that the movements of “the minoritarian” exist latently but simultaneously with the static standard of measurement that the majoritarian tries to organize. In fact, it is necessary to “retain minimum of strata, a minimum of forms and functions, a minimal subject from which to extract materials, affects, and assemblages” (270).
Deleuze and Guattari understand that “[b]ecoming is a rhizome, not a classificatory or genealogical tree” (239). Becoming constantly dismantles the organizations (organisms) which are interpreted in order to classify or trace one’s identity (and functionality), creating the rhizomic conjunction of “‘and … and … and …’ [which] carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb ‘to be’” (the organism that determines who one is) (25). As this self-explanatory conjunction (and … and … and …) manifests itself, “a becoming is always in the middle; one can only get it by the middle” and is also always multiplying connections and relations into infinite patters of multiplicities. It cannot be reduced to, traced back to, or destined towards a point of departure or arrival; an origin or destination (293). Thus, “[b]ecoming produces nothing other than itself” and “[w]hat is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes”—that is the nature of the multiplicity consistently and constantly combining itself with other multiplicities (238). This understanding of the multiplicity of becoming conveys the irreducibility and unattributability of the movements of becoming, which lead us to sense the unknowingness and unpredictability of new alternative assemblages of differences and variations that can temporally appear and disappear without producing any relations, certainly without “imitating, or identifying with something” as an end product (239).
Such assemblages of differences and variations can be described as “a necessarily communicating world, … [where one is allowed to] slip[ping] between things and grow[ing] in the midst of things,” to borrow Todd May's observation of Deleuzoguattarian becomings (151). For May, this world of becoming is “a world of difference, anonymous and productive, beneath and within the perceptible world of identities” where difference is affirmed (151). Difference emerges because the movements and moments of becoming always “return us to process itself, to the temporal unfolding of difference in itself, that difference which is always betrayed when it is, as it is inevitably, frozen into stable identities” (150). May suggests that this continuous return of the unfolding of difference coming into contact with other temporal moments of the unfolding of difference enables us to see the potentiality of becoming as is yet to come which can constantly disturb any fixed organizations and categorizations (150-51). Feminist philosopher, Elizabeth Grosz, also articulates this sense of the continuum of becomings and their potentiality . She understands the processes of becoming as “movements,” in which “material and living things … become something other than what they were” (1) and states: “Every thing, every process, every event or encounter is itself a mode of becoming that has its own time, its own movements, its own force. These multiple becomings both make and unmake, they do (up) and they undo” (2). She goes on to suggest that in these dynamic movements and entanglements of making-unmakings and doing-undoings—that is the “multiple becomings”—:
…orders of social organization … emerge from certain forms of life that transform those forms and that are themselves the sites of further becomings, becomings that function through the generation of a kind of politics, a complex interaction of populations, collectives, groups. (2)
In Deleuze and Guattari's words, the multiplicities of becomings are created through “traversal communications between heterogeneous populations” (239). These ongoing differentiations and variations born out of becomings can serve as dynamic ethical forces, according to social and political philosopher Eugene W. Holland, “to open ourselves up to experimentation with such lines of becoming, to leave home on the thread of a tune in order to improvise with the world and form meshwork with it” (106). Entering into the moments and movements of becoming is an opportunity to experiment with new connections and limits between the world (strata and territory) where one is formed along with other assemblages in order to feel a sense of “continuums of intensities” [“dynamic of differential systems”] (Young et al. 166) and to recognize the power that may dismantle static ways of organizing things and beings (Deleuze and Guattari 161).
Deleuze and Guattari's notion of becoming offers a critical tool for examining the moments of hiatus that not only distort Gaijin’s protagonist’s clearly defined identity and home as respectively Japanese and Okinawan—as opposed to gaijin and a foreign land—but also disrupt his search for identity and home, plunging him into a whirlpool of constantly changing formations and assemblages of multiple variations of identities and homes. Facing these volatile assemblages of identities and homes, he enters into the moments of becoming non-Japanese which make him see the infeasibility of holding onto one fixed identity and home. Because of his becoming, there arises a flow and fluidity in his static understanding of his identity as Japanese and of his home as Okinawa. However, this flow and fluidity should not be understood as some sort of force that annihilates his affinity to his origin and his desire to go home. On the contrary, the fluidity emerges in relation to the fixity of his affinity to Japan, constantly making the contradictory relations and clashes between them. This process causes him incessantly to move toward and away from both the fluidity and fixity of identity. Being entangled in incessant movements, he comes to recognize different meanings and ways of approaching his identity and home. He can no longer locate himself in one fixed identity and home, not because he decides to be fluid non-Japanese, but because he is in the very process of becoming.
Identity as Japanese, Home as Japan
Narrated in first person by the protagonist, whose name does not appear until the end of the novel, Gaijin opens with his childhood memories of postwar Okinawa, in which he depicts the residue of the war in his hometown. He describes his teacher dismissing her class because of the scarcity of learning materials. The protagonist gets up from a bench made of a pile of steel plates and leaves the tent that serves as a makeshift school. On the way home, he sees military tanks, and one of his schoolmates wants to show him some artillery shells. His companion invites him to their usual play—throwing stones from the top of a slide to explode the ammunition—which the protagonist rejects this time. He walks barefoot, watching his step so as not to injure his feet on fragments of grenades. He finds a knife on the street and cleans it in a polluted river. When he gets home, he adds it to his collections of rifles, helmets, and ammunition. At home, he finds his younger sister, who is eating rice and sweet potato stew, the only sustenance that has been available for months. He then mentions that his town was bombed and that the police station is now occupied by American soldiers: “La comisaría, la ex comisaría, estaba ocupada por soldados americanos con su bandera americana y sus uniformes americanos” (12).
Living in a town occupied by the US, the narrator begins to perceive himself, his family, and the people of his town as losers of the war who feel inferior to the Americans, having become refugees in their own town, as opposed to the victorious Americans who occupy the town and “aid” the refugees. When his mother asks him if he wants to go to Argentina, he says to himself: “[D]ecían que era como América pero mejor: los argentinos no matan a los japoneses” (15). Due to the presence of the Americans in his town, he comes to hold a strong sense of his identity as a Japanese person whose nation has been defeated and occupied. Until he encounters many different people during his voyage to Argentina, his identity is firmly Japanese.
Encounters with Others’ Eyes
The word gaijin appears for the first time in a scene just before the protagonist boards the ship. In this scene, he describes four crew members at the boarding control table as three gaijin and one Chinese. He arbitrarily locates Anglo-Saxon-looking people in the category of gaijin and sees Chinese not as gaijin, but as “chinos” The presence of these non-Japanese crew members authorizing his travel to Argentina underscores his view of them, distancing him from the “other” and reconfirming his identity as Japanese. His travel document, issued by Sweden, also reminds him that his country is Japan, not Sweden. He wonders why a country to which he does not belong issues such a document to him: “Me pregunté por qué el gobierno de un país más lejano que Argentina me daba el documento que necesitaba para salir de Japón” (16). His stable Japanese identity and sense of belonging, reaffirmed by his limited exposures to foreigners and foreign countries before his journey, destabilizes as he begins to encounter people with different cultural, social, racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds on the ship. His journey to Buenos Aires takes three months, stopping at the ports of Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, Lourenço Marques (present-day Maputo), Durban, East London, and Cape Town. During the voyage, he stumbles upon new perspectives, seeing Japan and himself through the eyes of other people.
The first thing he notices is that he and many other Japanese passengers stay in the lowest, third-class section, where metal three-tier bunk beds are crammed together on one dark and noisy floor without partitions. They are under the surveillance of the Chinese crew, who do not allow the third-class passengers to go up to the prohibited areas. Looking at them, the protagonist recalls the Japanese general who visited his school and inculcated anti-Chinese sentiment by portraying Chinese men as abusive and inferior to the Japanese, who must be liberated from their inferiority so that they can live as the Japanese do (22). His memory of the general’s indoctrination is then connected to a memory of his father’s description of their old Chinese neighbor Mr. Chow, who was neither abusive to his family nor inferior to them, and who made a wooden toy for the protagonist (23). He goes on to recall that his father was fired from the school where he taught on the day of that same general’s visit because he spoke out against the Japanese government’s propaganda (22).
The image of the inferiority of Chinese people, an element of Japanese imperial discourse, was already condemned by his father in the past and is now rendered fallacious. In the eyes of the protagonist, the Chinese are the superior ones who give orders to the inferior third-class Japanese passengers. At the port of Hong Kong, the first stop, he also sees Chinese-looking passengers in Western suits arriving in big cars and going up to the first-class section (27). In contrast, he runs into a former Japanese soldier in his third-class section who lost his right arm, singing a war song and drinking sake alone on the floor.
While observing this contrast, he witnesses Chinese people at the port throwing stones at the Japanese passengers. Later, one of the Japanese boys, Kei, sneakily buys his way into the first-class area to see a Chinese girl by paying money to a Chinese crew member, but is beaten up by some Chinese men. The protagonist also gets involved in a fight with a Chinese man, but later they make a truce over a ping-pong match. In the midst of the tensions between the Chinese and Japanese, the protagonist experiences a peaceful exchange with a local Chinese family who come close to the ship on a boat to sell noodles to the passengers. At first he doubts if this is an honest business, but the noodles that he eats prove that it is a sincere service (27).
The protagonist’s observations of and interactions with the various Chinese people on the ship expose a contradiction in the Japanese imperial propaganda, which attempted to instill in him the homogenized image of Chinese people as inferior beings to be liberated by the superior Japanese. Contrary to the propaganda, the protagonist witnesses not only the inversion of the power relation between the Chinese and Japanese, but also, more importantly, the heterogeneity of the Chinese people, which contradicts any binary categorizations. By inserting the individual human faces of Chinese people—the noodle vendor family making a living from the boat, a Chinese crew member letting the protagonist and Kei enter the first-class area in exchange for a little money, the beautiful Chinese girl to whom Kei is attracted, and a tough Chinese boy who fights with the protagonist but later makes a truce over a ping-pong game—alongside his description of the angry and hostile mob of Chinese people at the port, the protagonist delineates the futility of situating Chinese people in a homogenizing category.
The Japanese immigrants are not welcomed at the next stop in Manila either, and people gather to throw stones at them, while merchant families on boats reach out to pitch their wares. At the port of Singapore, the protagonist notices tattered Japanese wartime flags on the masts of sunken ships. He and Kei take the risk of getting off the ship to walk around the unwelcoming city, where they see more remnants of the Japanese occupation—decaying posters and street signs in Japanese scribbled with insults. An aggressive mob then starts yelling, throwing stones at them and violently beating other Japanese bystanders. The protagonist and Kei cannot rescue the others and end up being chased by the mob, eventually making it back to the ship after hiding until the hostile mood subsides. The other assaulted bystanders are locked in a police station for their safety, according to the police, and returned to the ship three days later.
The hostility that the protagonist witnesses and experiences first-hand in the port cities provokes him to reflect on the old knowledge inculcated in him by the Japanese imperial education system. He remembers the announcement of the capture of Singapore by the Japanese Navy: “En la escuela, luego de informarnos de la captura de esa ciudad por la armada japonesa, el director decidió suspender las clases de la tarde para realizar un festejo” (35). Just like the incongruity that he sees between what he learned about the Chinese at school and what he observes on the ship, another contradiction comes to light. His memory of the entire school celebrating the Japanese capture of Singapore clashes with the reality of the people at the port, who hate the Japanese people. He constantly faces this sort of dissonance, forcing him to review his old beliefs from different angles.
Seeing Japan from the perspectives of the people of Hong Kong, Manila, and Singapore, he notices that the meaning of being Japanese is constantly unsettled by the contradictions between his old knowledge inculcated in Japan and the new knowledge he has acquired on this journey. At the port cities, he sees that the meaning of being Japanese includes being detested by many people in the former colonies of Japan. However, this new perspective is neither a linear shift in meaning from “defeated and occupied” to “detested,” nor a simple multiplication of the descriptions or binary categories of detested Japanese and the formerly colonized who detest the Japanese. On the contrary, because he gains this and other new perspectives by discerning the tensions at the boundaries between the old knowledge and the new, his new understanding of being Japanese becomes relational and contingent upon his boundary-crossings.
Encounters with a Japanese Community on the Ship
The protagonist meets Saato, who prefers to be drinking alone, but sometimes tells the other Japanese passengers war stories that challenge the official version of the Japanese imperial discourse. Saato openly criticizes the authority of the Japanese military:
Mientras tu querido director estaba en su casa, cientos de sus alumnos eran enviados al frente…. Chicos de tu edad morían a mi alrededor…. Algunos luchaban sólo con varas de bambú y se lanzaban al enemigo como si fueran invencibles. Corríamos hacia las ametralladoras sólo para morir y para ver morir a otros. (54)
Saato goes on to describe how soldiers and families took refuge in the caves, where many of them committed suicide by grenade, while some escaped from the caves, but seeing American tanks coming, dived off the cliffs to die. Saato was one of those who were captured and sent to a camp for prisoners of war (54). His story reveals the sorrowful reality concealed by the official discourse of heroism and patriotism.
Kiyoshi is another Japanese boy with whom the protagonist makes friends on the ship. Kiyoshi reminds him of his neighbor’s son, whose entire family, including the son, was killed by bombing. Memories of the horrendous bombings of the protagonist’s neighborhood are immediately evoked when he meets Kiyoshi, because such experiences with death seem to dwell latently in his mind. Even in a trivial conversation about clothes, the protagonist cannot help thinking about death: “El saco y la corbata eran de Kiyoshi, en realidad de su hermano, que al morir le dejó mucha ropa. La camisa era mía—sólo la había usado en algunos funerales—…” (44).
These Japanese passengers have something particular in common with the protagonist. They have to leave their country for Argentina to start a new life, pushed by physical and psychological losses and damage caused by the war that cannot be easily surmounted. This commonality suggests that they may share the same sense of belonging to a nation that lost the war. However, it does not suggest unity among the Japanese passengers. Each passenger the protagonist meets is described as an individual with a specific face, name, and social class, as well as a different attitude toward patriotism. The protagonist shows his own skepticism about a celebration honoring the Japanese emperor’s birthday. A festival to celebrate the birthday and New Year’s Day is organized by the Japanese passengers, and each of them seems enthused about the event. The protagonist is not interested: “A mí me tenía sin cuidado el nacimiento, la muerte o cualquier cosa referida al emperador” (84).
Meanwhile, amid the hustle and bustle of preparations for the celebration, Saato throws himself into the ocean from the deck. His decision to end his life exposes his despair caused by the Japanese government’s lies about heroism and patriotism. In contrast with the majority of the Japanese passengers who gather to honor the emperor, the protagonist’s comment and Saato’s suicide contest the idea of honoring the emperor, fracturing the unity of the Japanese passengers.
The protagonist has perceived himself initially as merely a member of the defeated Japanese who must leave his home country; the identity imposed upon him by the US occupation, affirmed by his family and society, and even accepted by himself. However, through many different encounters and interactions with different groups and individuals, his perception of who he is begins to change. His perception shifts from being in line with the majoritarian perspective to that of a third-class passenger in relation to the first-class Chinese passengers, a member of a detested nation in relation to the people in the Asian port cities, and a Japanese person who no longer trusts imperial propaganda in relation to the other Japanese. If this relationality complicates his initial perception of his identity, it is also this factor which leads him to perceive the complexity of other people’s heterogeneous identities beyond the binary categorization of Japanese and non-Japanese.
The dismantling of the majoritarian subject through the emergence of the minoritarian as an active medium, generating new combinations of perceptions, resonates with Deleuze and Guattari's notion of becoming. The protagonist’s perceptions are being multiplied in these simultaneous movements of the majoritarian and minoritarian. As noted above, becoming is the very process of creating a multidirectional web of assemblages and movements through which established concepts—such as identity, race, and home—are destabilized. His multiplied perceptions enable him first to perceive the variations and differentiations of identities floating and passing around him and then to recognize the irreducibility of his identity.
Encounters with Plural Gaijins
This irreducibility is intensified by the other irreducibility of the term gaijin through his encounters with plural gaijins. However, the irreducibility should not be understood as a phenomenon that eliminates the (re)assemblage that organizes his identity even in the process of his becoming. The process of becoming is an end unto itself. But as Deleuze and Guattari remind us, the organizing forces to establish forms, subjects, and functions always coexist with the movements of deterritorialization; “always trying to plug the lines of flight, stop or interrupt the movements of deterritorialization” (270). The protagonist’s encounters with gaijins illustrate, more vividly than his previous encounters, the simultaneous movements of the organizing forces of binarism, which fix his identity to that of a non-gaijin/Japanese, while the deorganizing forces multiply his identity beyond the gaijin/non-gaijin binary.
The first group of gaijin he meets are the American soldiers who occupy his country and do not speak Japanese. The relationality is established between American soldiers who “matan a los japoneses” (15) and Japanese people whose land is occupied. But as soon as he encounters gaijin crew members on the ship, he notices differences between them and the American soldiers. One of them speaks perfect Japanese and advises the protagonist not to get off the ship at the Asian ports (26). Two other Anglo-Saxon crew members bring Kei, who was beaten by some of the Chinese passengers on the same ship, back to his floor. During a storm, another one grabs the protagonist’s and Kiyoshi’s arms to drag them back to a safe place. These crew members are described as personable and gentle people who do not look down upon the third-class Japanese passengers.
A Dutch radio operator named Mark is among the gaijin crew the protagonist meets. The protagonist sees him as a gaijin different from the Americans: “Mark era el primer gaijin con el que me llevaba bien. Me gustaba que no fuera americano—era holandés—y que me tratara como a un igual” (59). Not positioning himself as a member of a defeated and occupied nation in relation to Mark, unlike his relationship to the American occupiers, the protagonist feels comfortable enough to share Saato’s story of the cave suicides at the end of the war: “Cuando hablábamos de la guerra escuchaba mi versión y después comentaba lo que informaban las radios occidentales. Al contarle la historia de los refugiados de las cuevas, se sorprendió y dijo que los japoneses éramos gente extraña” (59). Although they exchange their versions of the war, there still exists a clear demarcation between Mark, the gaijin who categorizes the Japanese as strange people, and the protagonist, the non-gaijin/Japanese whose identity is reduced to that of one of many strange, Japanese people.
Mark also allows the protagonist to listen to poetry readings broadcast on a Japanese radio station, which inspire in the protagonist a nostalgic memory of his mother’s voice. In the radio operation room he is also exposed to different languages, including Mark’s mother tongue. The room functions as a space of cultural contact where Japanese and other languages intermingle, where Japanese and gaijin individuals dialogue with each other, and where they share perhaps conflicting perspectives of the war. The protagonist’s interactions with Mark, unfolding the variations of his posture toward the term gaijin, destabilize the rigidified divide between his identity and gaijin established through his contact with the American soldiers. This can be a moment of becoming in which the protagonist’s “minoritarian” desire to be in the radio operation room rises up, freeing him from the rigidified divide between gaijin/non-Japanese and non-gaijin/Japanese made by the “majoritarian” organizing force, to borrow again Deleuze and Guattari's terms. However, at the same time, this unfolding of the variations in his distance or closeness to gaijin identity is interrupted by the organizing force that moves towards maintaining the fixed relationship between the gaijin Mark, who gives the boy permission to come to the radio station room and protects him, and the non-gaijin boy, thrilled to accept the invitation to be protected by this gaijin. Although the protagonist states that Mark treats him as his equal, in this moment of becoming, he does not reach anything “appearing,” “being,” “equaling,” or “producing” (Deleuze and Guattari 239). As seen below, Mark appears one more time in the novel when the protagonist and Mark depart the ship upon arriving in Argentina, but they go their separate ways never to meet again
As the processes of becoming continue at different degrees of intensity, the unattainability of a fixed identity becomes clear for the protagonist. When the ship enters the Portuguese port of Lourenço Marques on the east African coast, what catches his attention is the hierarchical relation between African laborers and White bosses who whip them for the slightest clumsiness or minor mistakes:
En el muelle, hombres de piel oscura … se apuraban a mover cajas y subirlas a nuestro barco. Llevaban el torso desnudo, los tobillos encadenados y todos mostraban largas cicatrices en la espalda…. Mirábamos a esos hombres y a los otros—gaijin con látigos en la mano—que los vigilaban y que parecían disfrutar cuando el hombre que había tropezado con un tablón de madera gritaba de dolor por el golpe del látigo. (63)
Confronting this mid-twentieth-century slavery, the protagonist simply witnesses the relation of power between Black “slaves” and White “masters.”
In relation to these gaijin in Lourenço Marques, he becomes just another foreign traveler and remains outside the power relation. Earlier, before entering the port, his identity has been defined as Japanese in relation to the American and Dutch gaijin. Similarly, at the Asian ports, antagonists perceive him along with all other Japanese people to be deserving of stoning. However, his identity as a Japanese person whose country is occupied and hated in the postwar era becomes insignificant in Lourenço Marques. He notices that the port shows no remnants of the war: “La guerra parecía no haber llegado hasta allí, no se veían las montañas de escombros ni los pozos que dejaban los bombardeos…” (63). The unfamiliar land with its power relation between Black Africans and gaijin exposes the protagonist to another racial, socio-political, and economic divide that exists in the world. This divide based on a binary racial classification of Black and White does not seem to affect him directly, but this binary relation also merges all outsiders who do not fit in either category into a homogenized unity of “insignificant others” who have no direct contact with either side. The protagonist senses that he is perceived as one of these insignificant others, and never interacts with the local people. What he does is simply to observe the racial divide from a distance as an outsider: “Intentaba mantenerme alejado de todos. Tenía miedo de los hombres blancos que no dudaban en lastimar a otras personas y de los hombres negros que caminaban con la vista en el suelo…” (64).
In other African coastal cities, he witnesses a similar racial divide. In the eastern South African port city of Durban, he immediately notices “la población dividida por el color de la piel” (76) and thinks: “Aunque aquí no había hombres que llevaran cadenas, los pies que se arrastraban descalzos delataban que alguna vez las habían llevado y aún eran los únicos que cargaban con las mercancías de los barcos” (76). As in the previous port, the protagonist observes the close relationship between the local people’s skin color and their social class from the outside. The Japanese passengers are perceived simply as “generic” foreigners whose nationality does not matter. This perception becomes clear in Cape Town, the next and final stop before their destination. Two of his Japanese friends are robbed, not because they are targeted by an anti-Japanese mob, but because they are simply easy targets as foreigners. Thus the protagonist’s identity as Japanese is temporarily erased and he becomes an insignificant, foreign traveler. As the term gaijin is destabilized, his new identity as a generic foreigner breaks off with his old Japanese identity situated in the binary category gaijin/non-gaijin. However, this is not what makes his identity unattainable or unlocatable. His identity is now reorganized into that of a subject, a foreign traveler who resides outside of the binary relation of gaijin White masters and Black slaves. it becomes unlocatable because his destabilized perceptions and categories of his identity in relation to others come into contact with this destabilization, making different kinds of assemblages of multiplicities, moving between discompositions and recompositions—that is—the “multiple becomings,” to use Grosz's expression (2).
The protagonist can no longer unerringly locate his Japanese identity in the same way he has done before. He is deeply involved in the movements of becoming non-Japanese. As seen above, his becoming non-Japanese does not mean that he is attempting to imitate a gaijin or other non-Japanese person to claim his transformed or evolved identity. Rather, it is the very moment of detaching himself from the fixed forms and meanings of his identity, connecting the remaining parts of his identity with other assemblages recreated by the same processes of becoming, and creating different assemblages and unfolding variations. Deleuze and Guattari indicate that becoming is to “[s]aturate, eliminate, put everything in” (280).
In this process of constantly dismantling fixity, even his nostalgic feelings towards his homeland evoke a sense of becoming. The following scenes capture his dismantled, nostalgic feelings. Looking at the turtles among the waves at a beach in Cape Town, he remembers those of his homeland. On another occasion, the stars over the southern Atlantic Ocean provoke in him the fond memory of his father telling stories about the constellations in Okinawa. One of his Japanese friends on the ship comments that the turtles are always traveling and “[n]unca están en casa” (82). He is reminded that there is no home to which to return. His nostalgic feelings situate his home in the proper place of Okinawa, clearly confirming that this place is to the home to which he belongs and must return. However, these feelings immediately withdraw him from this firm idea of home and belonging. Locating and dislocating himself as being in and from Okinawa, his nostalgic feelings evoke a movement of becoming in which the certainty about the precise “place” of his home is ruptured. His home becomes unlocatable because all the parts of his dismantled home collide or converge with each other and with the new parts that arise in the dismantling process.
Moving around this sense of an unlocatable home, the protagonist steps outside of the Japanese community on the ship. Meanwhile many Japanese passengers feel a strong connection to the Japanese community on the day of departure from Cape Town, the last stop before their final destination. When Kei asks if the protagonist is interested in working with him at his uncle’s dry cleaners, he rejects the offer. Many of the Japanese passengers on the ship plan to work at their relatives’ dry cleaners, but the protagonist distances himself from the immigrants’ typical path of working at a family shop.
However, the protagonist’s separation from his Japanese community members always coexists with his attachment to his hometown, which is never to be erased completely. Another example can be seen in an immigration facility. There, he is treated as any foreign immigrant who has arrived in Argentina seeking a better life, without being defined as Japanese. As do many other immigrants, he wants to start his new life immediately in this foreign land in order to “conseguir un trabajo y ahorrar para regresar a casa” (101). However, by “regresar a casa,” he means going back to Okinawa,. His dislocated sense of home which sets him afloat is combined again with his attachment to his hometown. Repeatedly dislocated from and attached to his Japanese community members and homeland, the forms and meanings of his identity and home are constantly reassembled and deviated. This reassemblage can be understood as a Deluezoguattarian moment of becoming in which the meanings of the protagonist’s identity and home become imperceptible.
Unlocatable Identity and Home in Argentina
In Argentina, where he starts his new life as a Japanese immigrant, the relationships that he establishes there with Japanese families, Argentines of Japanese descent, and those of European descent add other layers to the already continually mutable assemblages through which his understanding of identity and home is repeatedly constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed, thus complicating further the locatability of his identity and home.
The protagonist starts living with Kei and his relatives, the Arakakis, who are a Japanese immigrant family running a dry-cleaning business. They are Japanese, but have two Argentina-born daughters, Elisa and Julieta. He describes this new temporary home as a shelter which provides him with t a sense of belonging to the Japanese community and to Japan. Conversations with Kei in Japanese and Mrs. Arakaki’s homemade Japanese food make him feel connected to Japan, and that sense of connection becomes even stronger when he encounters Argentine society outside of this Japanese shelter.
The protagonist and Kei take a private Spanish course with an Argentine professor of European decent while they work at the store. Meanwhile, the protagonist falls in love with their professor’s daughter, Nenina. There seems to be a mutual attraction between them, but Kei reminds him of the racial distance between Nenina, a gaijin, and the protagonist,: “Nenina nunca se fijaría en vos, dijo. Ella es gaijin y vos no” (151). Kei’s words distress the protagonist, but he realizes that “[n]ada era real. Al menos nada parecía real para un joven japonés que sólo sabía planchar y hacer cajas de papel” (164). He perceives himself as a simple Japanese immigrant who does not correspond to Nenina’s status. When Nenina asks him what he wants to do in the future, he answers: “Regresar a Japón” (157). In relation to Nenina, who belongs to the Argentine society of European descendants, he becomes more conscious of his identity as a Japanese immigrant and of his home in Japan. In another scene, when he finds out that Nenina’s family has left town without saying goodbye to him, he is upset. This disturbing news motivates him to move to the northwestern city of Mendoza, a with a Japanese couple who have just arrived in Argentina. This couple, Masaaki and Midori, are his new family and offer him a home, embracing him as their family member.
On the train to Mendoza from Buenos Aires, he dreams about his father’s death, his family’s escape from the bombings of the war, and dead bodies piled up in wells in his hometown. He also dreams that the train is traveling over waves on the ocean toward Japan: “El tren navegaba sobre olas. Volvía a cruzar océanos para regresar a Japón. Yo aún escuchaba los empalmes de las vías, un ruido seco al subir y otro al bajar. En el horizonte sólo el mar y un sol celeste sobre un cielo a veces blanco y a veces anaranjado” (177). Traveling with Masaaki and Midori connects the protagonist closely with his memory of the ocean and sun of Okinawa, as well as to the journey on the ocean during which he gained a sense of community with the other Japanese passengers.
If this Japanese family far from Japan keeps him in touch with his homeland, it is also this same family that temporarily detaches him from the idea of returning. When the couple’s baby, Claudia, is born, he articulates for the first time that he no longer needs to go back to Japan: “Parecía no necesitar nada más en la vida: no pensaba en regresar a Japón …” (199). Midori and Masaaki announce that the protagonist is an uncle to Claudia, and he is happy with this new life and his new role in the family. However, the sense of belonging to this family does not lead him to forget his family in Okinawa, nor to discard completely his idea of going back to Japan. Moreover, this sense of belonging does not mean that now feels at home in Argentina.
Despite his encounters with local Argentine people who are receptive to him, his experience of being stared at reminds him that he is not Argentine and that Argentina is not his home. In school, he notices the other students’ gaze: “[T]odos rostros iguales entre sí pero distintos al mío, y todos me miraban…. Tardé unos minutos en encontrar el aula…. [A]l abrir la puerta, treinta rostros giraron hacia mí” (203). Argentine society places him in the category of the “other” based on his “strange” physical appearance. A group of boys make fun of the protagonist: “Che, chino, pasame la pelota…. Chino boludo, volvé a China, chin chu lin, gritaron y dejé de escuchar los otros insultos” (204). He tries to ignore their racial slurs. However, ignoring them does not protect him from racial categorization. Instead, it leads him to involuntarily accept this racism which emphasizes difference and foreignness. Nonetheless, acceptance does not mean that he passively surrenders to racism; rather, it enables him to appropriate this racial othering, bringing him back to a sense of belonging to Japan which prevents him from feeling utterly excluded and abandoned.
When Masaaki’s bookstore business burns down because of the protagonist’s careless disposal of cigarettes, he feels too guilty to go home and stays with his classmate Lara with whom he has a close friendship that later becomes romantic. She encourages him to go home: “Te espera en tu casa, dijo. Esa no era mi casa, no pensaba regresar. Tengo que volver a Japón, me dije…. [Allá] nadie me miró jamás curioso por mis ojos distintos y ninguno de mis amigos estaba arruinado por mi culpa” (215). Dealing with his guilt, he clings to the thought that his home is in Japan. This thought gives him the impression of regaining a sense of belonging, which he thinks will replace the sense of belonging shared with Midori, Masaaki, and Claudia. However, it serves only as a strategy through which he shifts the issue of his fear of going back to the Japanese family in Mendoza into an idealization of Japan as a country where there is no racial discrimination. Here he finds an excuse built upon Argentine racial othering, which he appropriates to convince himself that there is a home waiting for him in Japan, but not in Argentina.
Although the protagonist gradually confronts his fear of not being accepted by the family, asks for their forgiveness, and recovers his relationship with them, he continues to use this emotional strategy to cope with his loneliness. Lara’s decision to go to college in Buenos Aires disappoints him. Once again he uses the idea of going back to Japan to protect himself from his feelings of loneliness. In discussing their future, he tells Lara, “Regreso a Japón” (222). But Lara detects his lack of sincerity: “No parecés contento, dijo…. ¿Volvés porque querés volver o porque pensás que debés hacerlo?… No lo sé, dije” (222). As at the time of his estrangement from the Japanese family, the idea of returning to Japan shields him from a feeling of abandonment.
Showing his affinity to Japan, he seems to draw a line between those who belong to Japan and those who do not, in order to separate himself from his Japanese families in Argentina and his Argentine friends. However, it is impossible to see this as a clear demarcation because the protagonist himself does not fully belong to Japan insofar as he is treated as a member of the Japanese families in Argentina and is a legal member of Argentine society. Further, is it possible for him to deny and refuse the border-crossings which allow him to become close friends with those who influence his identity formation, such as Nenina and Lara? Similarly, can he assuredly situate the Argentine-born daughters of the Japanese families, Elisa, Julieta, and Claudia, in either group? These questions demonstrate that his urge to draw a clear line between the two as a coping mechanism always clashes with the ambiguity of his relations. Whenever this urge arises, it intensifies his state of becoming non-Japanese, in which the location of his identity and home oscillates further through myriads of contacts with different groups of people. This urge to draw a clear line resonates with Deleuze and Guattari's description of the organizing forces that are “always trying to plug the lines of flight, stop or interrupt the movements of deterritorialization” to reorganize categories, forms, subjects, etc. (270). Without the organizing forces, one is considered to be “just depraved … just a deviant … just a tramp” (159). Even facing this risk, he stays with his state of becoming.
The ongoing collisions (or perhaps conjunctions) between his attempt to rationally organize his understanding of identity and home and the dismantlement of his idea caused by his many different encounters and interactions finally lead him to experience a rhizomatic way of “going home” in the zone of the unlocatable.
The protagonist goes to college in Mendoza and starts working at a local radio station as a translator and commentator. He and Lara lose contact with each other after a year, but then he receives an invitation to her wedding. He arrives in Buenos Aires to attend it and reunites with the Arakaki family and Kei. Their warm welcomes give him a sense of belonging and being at home. During his stay, he finds himself attracted to Julieta, the younger daughter of the Arakakis, with whom he grew up during part of his youth. He always felt comfortable around her, and now her confidence, intelligence, and beauty captivate him. Nothing romantic happens between them this time, and he goes back to Mendoza to finish his studies to become a doctor. He seems to have settled down in Argentina as a Japanese Argentine and never mentions the idea of going back to Japan.
However, a letter from his mother in Japan expressing her longing for his return unsettles his sense of who he is and where he belongs. He has mixed feelings of wanting to respond to his mother’s request while also saddened by the thought of his separation from the Japanese family in Mendoza. “De modo que ahora yo tenía un apellido que no era el mío, vivía en un país al que no pertenecía, y con una familia de la que no formaba parte” (241). Although his thoughts evoke the absence of a sense of belonging, Claudia reminds him that he has a home to return to in Mendoza. She does not want him to leave and asks: “¿Cuándo te vas? … ¿Cuándo vovlés?” (241). The sense of home provided by the Japanese family in Mendoza enables him to leave Argentina for Japan with the intention of returning. Thus the meaning of going back to Japan implies, not the obligation, escape, or objective of an immigrant who must go home, but his ability to choose voluntarily to return and then leave again. This new meaning of going home seems to relocate him in a new, more open home and to organize his sense of home and belonging. However, his new location now prevents him from facing other moments of dislocation and disorientation that constantly burst into his new location. Toward the end of the novel, it becomes obvious that his attempt to reorganize the location of home becomes impossible, because this new location simply becomes another temporally organized one, susceptible and disposed to be invariably dismantled by his future dislocations.
Ebbing and Flowing around Plural Homes
The new location of his home, Argentina, the country he leaves to return to, indicates a point of departure and that of a return, beginning and end, and this organized horizontal line connecting the two points assures his home and sense of belonging. However, staying in this organized line is only temporary. The protagonist leaves Mendoza for Buenos Aires to obtain the necessary documents to travel to Okinawa. On the train, he observes:
Montañas, mesetas, llanuras. Cada vez más hundido en el asiento, trataba de recordar cosas de mamá y papá, de Yumie y de mi pueblo. Pero era difícil: los rostros de Masaaki, Claudia y Midori se empeñaban en reemplazar los de mi familia. Lo mismo ocurría con mi casa invadida de libros, mi pueblo ahora dividido por calles paralelas y perpendiculares, y un Japón montañoso y alejado del mar. (243-44)
The images he tries to recall of his family in Japan and of Japan itself become the faces of the Japanese family in Mendoza and the landscapes of Mendoza. The last line, “un Japón montañoso y alejado del mar” (244), is the reversal of his dream about Japan on the train going to Mendoza from Buenos Aires for the first time—“el mar y un sol celeste sobre un cielo a veces blanco y a veces anaranjado” (177), suggesting that his affinity to Japan seems to be dwindling.
However, this passage, when read closely, shows that the words related to Mendoza and those related to Japan are alternately laid out so as to intermingle. This alternating appearance of Mendoza and Japan suggests the rotation of his sense of belonging between the two and the impossibility of detaching himself from either of them. Returning to Japan, then, always involves his leaving Mendoza, and vice versa. Seemingly, he sees his home as residing in these two places and between the leaving from and returning to either one. This interpretation draws attention to the organized horizontal line that leaves one place for the other and back again, but misses the intense energy that the alternation and rotation of the images of Mendoza and Japan bring to his movements of leaving and returning. The alternating images do not appear suddenly because he is leaving Mendoza for Japan, but rather materialize at this moment because of all of the accumulations of his previous reflections on home and identity through his countless encounters and interactions with others. As the intensity of his movement of leaving and returning becomes more pronounced, as he prepares his trip to Japan, the organized way of traveling back and forth between the two specific places becomes impossible.
At the Arakakis’ dry cleaners in Buenos Aires, his first “shelter” home in Argentina, he feels the intensity picking up speed while contemplating the past thirteen years:
Extender, bajar la plancha, poner el seguro, dejar salir vapor, destrabarla y volver a acomodar. Repetí aquel proceso varias veces. Pensar que nada había cambiado, o que si había cambiado era sólo para convertirse en lo mismo que al comienzo, me hacía sentir estúpidamente cómodo. Trece años atrás me había embarcado para cruzar todos los océanos en busca de poder, algún día, regresar a casa. Y para lograrlo aprendí a planchar, aprendí un idioma y también aprendí que existen tierras desde donde ni siquiera se puede imaginar el mar, crucé aquellas tierras y ahora me encontraba otra vez dispuesto a cruzar océanos. (245; emphasis added)
The same ironing technique that he learned at the Arakakis’ dry cleaners brings him a sense of comfort and home. However, at the same time, this sense of home makes him feel ready to leave that home and cross the ocean again.
Looking at his repeated movements while pressing the clothes, he realizes that the process of leaving and returning home will be continually repeated and that this same repeated process makes him feel “estúpidamente cómodo” (245), alluding to the sense of being in a place that comforts him—that is, perhaps, his home. This time, “regresar a casa” means going back to Japan, but the home that he is now leaving and returning to is Argentina. One can also assume that when he leaves Japan, Japan will become the home he leaves and to which he returns. Although he thinks that “nothing [has] changed” or that if it has changed, “it [is] only to become the same as at the beginning” (245), he does not intend to return to the same beginning of departure, arrival, or returning. The verb “convertirse,” entailing a process and movement, indicates the impossibility of going back to exactly the same point or moment of the beginning. Further, However, every time the movements of ironing are repeated and to be repeated, from the process of “extender, bajar, poner, dejar salir, destrabar y volver,” some unexpected zigzag movements and directions may come forth, disturbing the organized way of moving back and forth in a horizontal betweenenss. If he finds his home in the process of leaving and returning home, then the meaning and shape of his home are always in transit and flux; contingent upon his movement. His home remains neither in the horizontal line nor is locatable. A sense of being home persists somewhere unforeseeable.
The last part of the novel revolves around a love relationship between the protagonist and Julieta in Buenos Aires. Because of his love towards her, the organizing force crops up again, tempting him to nail down his home in Buenos Aires, while the dismantling force surfaces simultaneously to shake his sense of home and to dislocate it from any fixed place.
The reader learns the protagonist’s name, Kitaro, for the first time at the end of the novel when Julieta calls him to help her father, who collapses because of an ulcer attack. Kitaro helps the family get him to the hospital. Thanks to Julieta’s call, not only the protagonist’s identity, but also the necessity of Kitaro’s presence for this family become clear. Because of his conspicuous awareness of who he is and where he is most needed, he finds a sense of belonging and being at home in Julieta’s family. However, this sense also strengthens his feeling of connection to his family in his hometown in Okinawa. At the hospital, he cannot help thinking about his mother. His worries about Julieta’s father’s condition are immediately linked to his worries about his mother: “La úlcera que se le había diagnosticado al padre de Julieta hacía que no pudiera esperar para llegar junto a mi madre y comprobar que se encontraba bien” (260). His thoughts continue to go back and forth between Julieta’s family in Argentina and his own family in Okinawa.
As his departure date approaches, this movement of going back and forth is further intensified in his mind. He has a nightmare while sleeping next to Julieta. He is on the ship upon which he arrived in Argentina, desperately looking for a bag all over the ship, where he sees the Arakakis’ house, the bookstore in Mendoza, and the basement where he spent time with Lara. Panic at not being able to find his passport strikes him: “[S]in el pasaporte no podría regresar a Japón ni ver a mi madre” (263-64). In this nightmare, Julieta calms him down and offers him her chair, so that he can reach the bag: “Usá mi silla, dijo Julieta. ¿Pero vos dónde vas a sentarte? No importa … ya sentada en una nueva silla del otro lado del barco” (264). His nightmare illustrates that his strong desire to return to Japan to see his mother is always accompanied by his angst at leaving Julieta and Argentina.
Moreover, the struggle to reach the bag to find his passport on the ship may suggest the difficulty of identifying who he is and the complexity of the identity he has formed through his journey and the experiences of his teenage years in Buenos Aires and Mendoza. The nightmare further shows that to get his passport or to find his identity, he needs Julieta’s chair. This could mean that he needs to join her in the place she is located to be with her in Argentina. However, she does not sit together with Kitaro and is now on the other side of the ship. Their enigmatic conversation at the end of his nightmare shows that he is not fully with her and that he does not completely have the same sense of belonging and being at home in Argentina as Julieta does. He is on the ship to travel again, suggesting that his sense of belonging and being at home emerges always, not only in the process of leaving and returning, but also in the process of relocating his home and dislocating it.
He travels back to Japan and spends ten weeks with his mother, his sister, and her two sons. He learns that his older nephew has been named Kitaro. He and his family in Okinawa are now more connected than before. the novel ends with a scene in which he is on an airplane returning to Argentina, thinking “en lo poco que faltaba para volver a besar a Julieta” (265). He is in the process of returning to Julieta, but this process evokes a subjunctive mood, the mood of becoming, devenir, “yet to come,” prompting ebbs and flows around his plural homes.
In his multiple physical and mental multidirectional movements of leaving and going home, not only from one point to another in horizontal line between Buenos Aires, Mendoza, and Japan, but also in zigzag rhizomatic vertical and diagonal movements, locating his identity and home in a place, or even in two or multiple places, is not attainable. His attempt to reorganize a new location simply becomes another temporally organized one, susceptible and disposed to be invariably dismantled by his future dislocations. Needless to say, this description of his rhizomatic zigzag movements borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari's concept of becoming enables us to understand the irreducibility, unattributability, and unlocatability of his identity and home.
In his review of Gaijin, Martín Cristal indicates that the only change made for the 2017 edition published by Odelia Editora is the addition of Matayoshi’s afterword. However, this is not quite accurate because the original subtitle, La aventura de emigrar a la Argentina, has been omitted from Odelia’s edition. Neither the publisher nor the reviewers of the 2017 edition have explained this curious omission of the subtitle nor have they explained any connection between this omission and the addition of an afterword. At first glance, these two changes do not seem connected to each other; however, a closer look at the author’s afterword may lead us to see why the subtitle is omitted in the new edition.
In his afterword, while affirming that Kitaro is not his father, Matayoshi reveals that creating Gaijin propelled him to reach out to his father and compile his memories of Okinawa and the journey to Argentina hidden behind his silence. The author describes how his father shared his memories with his son over cooking:
La novela me obligó a sentarme a cocinar con él. Batir huevos me dio el nombre del barco; pelar papas, el instructivo para detonar balas de cañón; picar cebollas, la historia de las botellas de gaseosa. Pero más que nada cociné y esperé, hasta que comprendí que nunca iba a llegar a esa isla que ve vislumbraba detrás del silencio. (Matayoshi, “Epílogo” 246)
This passage seems to show that the author realizes that because of his father’s silence, it may be impossible to fully capture where he came from and who he was. The author may simply want to draw attention to his father’s reserved and reticent personality.
However, it cannot be ignored that what Matayoshi delineates here is the process of writing the novel by which he comes to grasp the unattainability of the place of his father’s origin. The author’s words indicate that in the process of assembling the information about his father’s experience, which was provided sporadically and non-chronologically, he realizes the impossibility of fully reaching Okinawa; the place from which his father left for Argentina. Just as his father did not share his entire memory in a linear order with a beginning and ending, Matayoshi presents the story of a search for identity and home by situating the protagonist in the ongoing process of searching without conclusively reaching his origin or destiny.
A decision to underscore this hazy vision of the protagonist’s origin or destiny could account for the omission of the subtitle in the new edition. “La aventura de emigrar a la Argentina” might entice the reader to treat the novel as a coming-of-age adventure story in which the protagonist undergoes a series of hardships, overcomes them, and finally and successfully reaches his destination. Treating the novel in this way, however, blinds the reader to the significance of the multiple encounters and interactions with many different groups of people through which Kitaro’s understanding of identity and home becomes destabilized. Looking at the phenomenon of destabilization of identity and home as a series of moments of Deleuzoguattarian becomings has been the principal aim of this study. To quote again Deleuze and Guattari's statement, “a line of becoming has neither beginning nor end, departure nor arrival, origin nor destination; … A becoming is always in the middle: one can only get it by the middle” (293). In this same sense, Kitaro’s experience of becoming non-Japanese leads him to float only in the middle, obliging him to continue to search for his unlocatable identity and home, which are always yet to come. Perhaps it is this middle-ness that impelled the author to untie the novel from the subtitle and to invite the reader to share Kitaro’s multidirectional journey without beginning or end. This may be an exhausting journey, but it leads the reader to experience the potentiality of unknown identities and homes beyond the binary categories of Japanese/non-gaijin and non-Japanese/gaijin.
Debito Arudou, advocate for minority residents in Japan, argues that the term gaijin is not a simplified version of gaikokujin. In his article “Once a ‘Gaijin,’ Always a ‘Gaijin,’” he affirms that it is an epithet and name that demarcates a rigid boundary between Japanese and non-Japanese.
“Rhizome” is a botanical term used by Deleuze and Guattari to present a “nonhierarchical [and] nonsignifying system” (21) that is not confined to the conventional “arborescent systems” (roots–trees) which are “hierarchical systems with centers of significance and subjectification” (16). “[U]nlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states” and “pertains to a map […] that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight” (21). In “Introduction: Rhizome” of A Thousand Plateaus, they affirm the simultaneous existence of organizing forces (lines of organization) and dismantling forces (lines of flight) by stating, “[i]n a book, as in all things, there are lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification” (3).
Grosz's core discussion topic may seem irrelevant to mine because it centers on her feminist understanding of material sexual difference, based on Darwin’s sexual selection (not natural selection for survival) in biological evolution explored through the ideas of Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze, and Luce Irigaray. However, her understanding of the potentiality of ever-changing differences and variations born out of sexual selection as dynamic forces to form different shapes of life and matter and as a different way to think about the limit of identity politics and the politics of equal access that lead to a unification of differences and variations can give us a big picture of the Deleuzoguattarian concept of becoming. In particular, Introduction and Chapter 6 of her book are helpful for this study. Here, I would like to thank one of the anonymous reviewers for suggesting her book to deepen my knowledge of becoming.
See the section of “The Process of Becoming” of this study.