Homogeneous Culture

“I’m half-Japanese, half-American and I still get frustrated by the same questions from people, who may have intended it in a nice way, but is touching upon this microaggression. Just the other day, my Japanese grandmother’s sisters and their friend who’s literally known me since the day I was born, said, ‘Oh you’re so gaijin (foreigner). You don’t look like your mom.’ I think I look just like my mom but they won’t acknowledge it, even if they see a resemblance. ‘No, she’s Japanese and you’re not, therefore, you don’t look alike.’ So the fact that I get that from my own family members is really telling of the homogeneous culture Japan has painted. Also, a lot of people say they wish they were half, if I tell them I am. Or they want half kids. So I say, ‘Well there’s tons of awesome Chinese people you can get married with.’ Then they say, ‘No, you know that’s not what I mean.’ I think that’s insulting.

“I like it when I’m not treated differently. But people expect that I don’t speak Japanese. I spent the first eight years of my life in Japan then moved to Oregon, America, so I do have a big gap of when I didn’t live here and I don’t really know a lot of the vocabulary in Japanese. Sometimes I’ll stop my Japanese friends when they talk really fast and ask what a word means. Of course they’ll tell me. But until I chime in and ask for their help, I want them to treat me like one of them. Just assuming, until proven wrong, that I know everything they’re talking about. Same thing when I’m being talked to in English at the supermarket. I’d rather you speak Japanese first, then if I turn out to be someone who doesn’t understand Japanese, I can say sumimasen (sorry) and switch to English. Or walking into a restaurant, before even sitting down, the waiter will call out for an English menu. And I think for Japanese people that’s omotenashi (doing something before being asked to). But to me that’s very assumption-driven.

Funny thing is, I say I want to be treated equally and be seen as a Japanese person, and yet it’s not like I’m trying very hard. I dyed my hair blonde. I don’t dress in the latest Japanese fashion. I’m not playing everything by the book in terms of how a 25-year-old Japanese woman should look. That’s because I want to stay true to myself. I’m not going to change who I am. I’m not going to change my style when I say things that my traditional uncle won’t agree with. I’m not going to change those things about me but that doesn’t make me not Japanese.”

Nina is a Tokyo-based travel writer. Click HERE to visit her site.

Somewhere in Ginza, Tokyo

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Finding diversity and inclusion. Breaking down barriers one post at a time. Stories and snapshots of foreigners making their way in Japan.

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