This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to meet a new American friend residing here in Japan. She is a half-Japanese/half-Caucasian woman and is currently on her 2nd month of living here as a member of society. In an earlier post I made this year, I briefly discussed the differences in treatment between Japanese and non-Japanese people. After hearing her experiences from the last several months, I decided to write a follow-up on this subject.
At the time I had written my blog, I highlighted several things that factored into my hardships living here in Japan. I was convinced that people who did not have a "full-blooded Japanese" look would be treated quite differently.
When I asked her about how she is perceived here, she stated:
"People in Japan sometimes look at me and think 'something isn't quite right' (they are unable to discern her from being Japanese or American),' but other times, I feel that being racially ambiguous helps me."
She continued by explaining her inner-conflicts in the US and Japan:
" When I'm in the States, people can clearly see that I'm not just "white," but a mix of something else. I would check the 'Asian/Pacific Islander' box on ballots and applications, because that's my heritage... but when I think about my culture and how I live my life, I'm through-and-through an American girl (that just happens to own a rice cooker and loves me some raw fish now and again). It segregated me from others in the US and being here in Japan is no different. Even if I look more Japanese, I'm not walking-the-walk or talking-the-talk. I try to respect the culture and learn the language, but because of the fact that I'm a foreigner in this country, I will never quite be up to par."
She added her upbringing and background and how it conflicts with her everyday living:
"I was young when I started speaking Japanese, so my accent is pretty good. I try to practice Japanese in everyday conversation as much as possible but I get to a point where I'm just not picking up what locals are throwing down. I can't understand what they are saying, nor do I know how to communicate what I need to say... but that's when they realize that I'm not one of them. Even though I'm used to saying: "I'm sorry, I don't understand" or "Do you understand English?" its always a little bruising when they give you that puzzled-look because they can't speak English... or they are confused because you are clearly Asian and don't speak the language."
It is clear that this type of judgement is not just reserved for Japanese-looking people, as it now extends to anyone who looks Asian. Although I felt the expectations held of me were high, she is also going through a very similar hardship. Perhaps this is a sign that times have changed? Perhaps Japan is now opening its eyes to the rest of the world?
International marriages and foreign spouses have become more common in Japan, which likely makes it harder to discern whether one is of Japanese-descent or not; however, it makes assimilating into the culture and society that much more difficult for those who aspire to come here with an Asian background.