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5.30.2012

The Illusion of Homogeneity in Japan and Its Cruelty


When I was attending primary school in a white neighborhood in the United States as the first ever Asian child to attend that school, there were times when I felt that the other kids were making fun of my ethnicity. I am sure it was no illusion. And there were many times when I cried to myself about how unfair that was because I had not CHOSEN to be born Asian or Japanese... that is what I am.

It may have been why I yearned to return to Japan as early as age 11.

As a Japanese national, I wanted to graduate from a Japanese university, and decided that it was best for me to attend a Japanese secondary school to go to a Japanese high school so that I could attend a Japanese university.

I told my parents this and it was decided that I would attend boarding school and return to Japan ahead of the rest of my family.

A few weeks later, my father was given orders by his employer to return to Japan. So the entire family was returning and I did not need to go away to boarding school.

What was tough and cruel for me was that even though I hail from Japanese parents, was born in Osaka, and speak Japanese as my mother tongue, the kids in my secondary school saw me as "an alien." I was "gaijin" or outsider, and they taunted me for everything they could possibly find that was different from the comfortable, near uniform existence that they led for the first 11 years of their lives.

My mother allowed me to get my ears pierced for my seventh birthday, which was my first birthday since moving to the US in 1974. That labelled me as a juvenile delinquent in Japan.

My mother has naturally chestnut hair, which is lighter than the "black like a wet crow" colour that the Japanese cherish, and on top of that, her hair is naturally wavy. I inherited those instead of my father's slick black and straight hair. That added to my being different and delinquent.

I was not the tallest girl in my class, but was among the three tallest, which made me stand out because I was taller than most of the boys.

Lastly, of course, I spoke English fluently while my classmates were just about to embark on their English education journey, starting with the ABCs. Even the teacher hated me for that.

So I toughened up in the way only kids who have a rough time fitting in do.

It helped that I was athletic, got top grades, and was articulate when I spoke.

I had no illusions of being the most popular girl in school, but I was known. Everyone knew about the "cocky foreigner with the red hair."

Today, when I make the rare effort to appear at class reunions, I am still subject to curious gazes and comments about my unusual career and family.

I despise people who tell me how "lucky" I am that I speak fluent English and have "beautiful half children." That is what they call half-blooded children, "Halves."

My twins are doubly "cursed" - they are twins AND halves.

Whenever we took them to a group medical check up hosted by the local government or the zoo, people pointed and spoke of them as if I was deaf. Said they,
"Oh, look! Half twins!"
"Oh, they look like dolls! Half twins!!! Look!"

Some even had the audacity to take photos of them with their mobile phones or cameras without asking me or the twins' father.

Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore once said that it is easy to defeat a single Japanese, but impossible to beat Japanese when we come in groups.

The flip side of that is that if one does NOT fit into a clearly defined group in Japan, one is an outsider and those on the outside of "the circle (of trust, if you will)," cannot be trusted.

Have no illusions - once on the outside, one is always an outsider.

Sometimes the distinctions made are subtle, but other times, it is quite obvious and feels even obnoxious.

With the aging population and declining birth rate, Japan may have to rethink its tight immigration policies. But no law will be able to change the social mindset about outsiders and insiders. It is too ingrained in our DNA.

It is one of the reasons why I pain over the future treatment my twins will receive as they grow up...

And then again, of course, they will be tougher than the other kids who have never been subject to such treatment. Their mother is a fine example of that.

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