Bystander and origins of boujin

The online handle name I’ve gone with for some time is boujin. I started using it back in college many eons ago and have stuck with it. I can’t say that I ever had a an extreme interest in Japanese culture or language, but my wife and I were dating back in college and I started thumbing through the Japanese language dictionary. Remember those? I gravitated towards the word boujin as it encapsulated a feeling at the time that I was a bit of an bystander.

In the dictionary you’ll see a couple of meanings for boujin depending on the kanji. You either get bystander (傍人) or dust filter (防塵). I’ve adopted the first definition, but I do see use the second is a lot more these days thanks to Covid. It feels different from the general term for foreigners here in Japan, which is gakokujin (外国人). I don’t really feel like an outsider here in Japan, but there are many times when I feel like I’m there and just not integrated. Is that splitting hairs?

Do you pick names or do names pick you? Does something happen in your subconsciousness so you begin to adopt the essence of that name over time or, like fortune telling, you look to make the connections?

The correlation I feel with the nickname to my day to day life feels oddly appropriate. And now, going into this year of paternity leave and looking at the social landscape ahead of me, it seems more relevant than ever. While I have never felt like a bystander with regards to my children, I love spending time with them and inspiring them, there will be challenges outside of my own family and interfacing with other parents. Entry into elementary school is looming large within the coming month and for my oldest son to make the most of his experience, I think my navigation of the parenting side of the whole process will set him up for success. Not something I think I was really thinking of coming into this year of paternity leave. For the sake of my own children, I feel a need to move from a more passive role in the social circles to a more active one.

Will I make the transition from bystander (傍人) to participant (参加者) and break the mold? We shall see.

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