Estranged Nikkei

“I grew up in a predominantly Mexican and Italian neighborhood with a lot of immigrant workers. I was one of the only Asians, so growing up everyone saw me as Japanese. To other people Japanese was my identity and I represented Japan. I was frustrated that despite being seen as Japanese I couldn’t speak the language and I really didn’t know the culture. I thought, why can’t I be this person that everyone thinks I am and also who I think I am. I felt like I needed to fill a cultural hole that I had. In college I took Japanese for the first time just for the college requirement. I thought that through the language I could come to understand both Japan and my own personal culture. While it obvious to say, I have come to realize the simple fact that there are huge cultural and ideological differences between the culture of ‘Nikkei’ like myself (someone of Japanese descent) and the culture of Japan.

“I also had my own stereotypes of Japanese people. One of the reasons for this was that I grew up learning about the culture from my Japanese grandparents. From their stories I thought everyone always bowed to say ‘itadakimasu’ before eating, and that everyone in Japan was traditional. But after visiting various homestays in high school and college I realized that some young people don’t even do these things, and that the different regions have slightly different cultures.

Tabata Station

I just get scrutinized a lot. Everyone looks at me like a Japanese person.

“When I first got here I was parking my bike and there was an old man nearby who tried to say something to me. I tried to respond in Japanese but it didn’t sound fluent, so the guy gave me a perplexed stare and acted like I was stupid. It really made me really angry, I was trying to speak the language but couldn’t. Now when I think back, it was probably pretty confusing for a guy to be looking at a Japanese person that couldn’t speak Japanese. Sometimes people wonder why I can speak English, and it gives me the opportunity to tell them my story and to let them know that there are many Japanese people or people of Japanese descent who are living in other countries.

“I played softball for a number of years, one day I saw this local baseball team practicing. I randomly asked them if I could join their team, but they said I could only practice with them, because girls can’t play in the games. I showed up to practice the next time and they were probably expecting me to be a manager, but I went out there to actually play. So the second time I came they asked me what number I wanted on my jersey. I was confused, and asked them why they wanted to know. They replied that they wanted me to play in games.”

(Follow Kristy’s adventures in Japan on her blog:

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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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