Learning to be More Accepting

“Every country has its flaws and Japan is no exception. But sometimes small things add up. I’m half Japanese, half American and I’ve lived in Japan since I was 6 years old. Some people tell me I’m not Japanese enough and it bothers me, although I’ve learned not to let it get the better of me. I just tell myself, `They don’t know me. They’re not psychic so I can’t blame them.’ I think I’ve become more accepting as I got older. There’s this ramen place next to my house and I’ve been going there since I was a kid. They’ve known me since kindergarten but to this day I still get asked, `Would you like a fork or chopsticks?’ I always say chopsticks and they will not fail to give me a fork, every single time.

“When I was a teenager, it used to really make me upset. I used to be in tears about it. But now I find it funny. I’ve learned to see the humor in some dark areas. Otherwise it’s hard to live here as a half Japanese person. So I’m really glad about being able to accept that people don’t know me and that I shouldn’t expect people to know me. And I shouldn’t expect people to be polite because polite is different in each country.

“Every time I go to a restaurant I will always be handed the English menu, which makes it more difficult when the English doesn’t make sense. People would be baffled. And sometimes people want to help me out so much, they think I’m a struggling foreign person here. When they want to show me that they worked hard to present it to me in English, they would almost thrust it in my face. I don’t get offended but my Japanese friends do. I try not to talk about it too much but they see it more now and I think they realize that I deal with this all the time. They thought I was just overreacting before.

“I feel really happy that I’m more accepting of people’s mistakes and of people’s flaws. I was definitely not like this growing up as a teenager. I was very angry. But I learned that it’s very difficult especially for older people, because I live with my grandparents and they recently started opening up to me about what happened during the war.”

Accepting My Incompleteness

I hated being mixed race until a couple years ago. It was the bane of my existence. I thought everything about myself was chutohanpa, which means ‘incomplete’ in English. Based on experience, in the U.S., maybe 9 out of 10 people see me as full Asian and usually aren’t able to tell that I have a mixed background. My thinking was: if no one can tell, why even mention it and begin that discussion? Instead, I wanted to be perceived as full Japanese. After all, I was born in Japan; but here, every other person asks me if I’m mixed or half. When I first started living here, every time someone would ask me if I was “ha-fu” it would put a huge dent in my groove (haha). When I was little, perhaps because I was in the US, I felt this connection to Japan that stemmed from not living here. I was also very close to relatives on my dad’s side. My mom’s family is mainly in New York and California, and while I was close to them too, I saw my dad’s side more often and thought being close to them made me closer to Japan.

But over the past 3-4 years, I’ve done somewhat of a 180 in terms of values and mindset. I don’t like Japan any less, but I might feel less Japanese than I once did – maybe more American is a better way to put it. Perhaps working has just made me more realistic; for example, I think it’s important that my cousins’ kids on my dad’s side learn English from an early age for future education and career opportunities, especially since they’re still little and a generation where the standard for everyone may be to speak English fluently. About 60% of my friends are pretty Japanese, and about 40% are either raised abroad or non-Japanese. That being said, I know some people who only want to associate with ‘international’ people, but I don’t think that word is as easy to define or as light as people make it out to be. It’s more mindset than background.

It’s an age old story when a mixed person says they’re foreign wherever they go, but it can be pretty accurate. I was always conscious of the fact that I was a minority or a person of color (especially in middle and high school). Because you know, people say things because they think it’s funny. On the other hand, I recognize that Japanese people see me differently too but it tends to give me some leeway so I don’t have to be perfect in Japanese – the ‘gaijin card’, if you will. At the same time, I definitely identify as a person of color, but recognize that I’m not necessarily treated like a lot of people of color are, and, based on experience, I think people who are mixed East Asian can often have an advantage in the US and Japan. In general, I don’t think we go through as much as others. I could be wrong though. It’s complicated.


How one chooses to portray, introduce or explain oneself is all up to the individual, and one thing that really irks me is when people try to tell you what you are, or try to tell you your experience. So if someone introduces themself in a certain way, don’t question it. People tend to like to satisfy their ‘curiosity’ by knowing what someone is, but no one should feel like they have to satisfy others’ curiosity or preconceived ideas. Like, whenever someone asks or questions, or is like, “But you don’t look very mixed”, it can bring back flashbacks of school (in the US) where I had to fill in my race… you couldn’t check two boxes back in the day. Maybe you can check more than one box now. I hope you can. For the longest time, I struggled with the fact that I wasn’t ‘full’ anything, and thought I was chutohanpa. I still think I’m chutohanpa, but it doesn’t bother me anymore.


“My grandparents were taken
from California and put in various internment camps, then they moved to Chicago. My Great Granddad actually came to the United States from Japan, my family stayed there and everyone married into the Japanese community that was already there. There was a lot of difficult history in that period with the internment camps. After moving to Chicago, they really tried to distance themselves from their heritage. They didn’t speak Japanese and they didn’t want my Mom to speak Japanese, all in an effort to appear more American. Even so, my Mom was bullied quite a bit in school for being Japanese to which my grandparents just said `try and be as American as possible’. As a Japanese American who loves Japan, It’s been interesting because I think, I’m the first person in my family to turn back towards Japan. My Mom had never been to Japan until I invited her here.

I had a conversation with her recently asking her `how does she feel being a Japanese American?’ because as soon as she married she got rid of her Japanese middle name, because she hated it. It was ‘Masako’ which I think is really pretty, but people used to call her ‘Sak’ or ‘Sako’ and made fun of her for it.

“She didn’t feel a lot of Japanese pride. She doesn’t make Japanese food and we don’t have any Japanese things in our house, but I think that the fact that I’ve come here and had experiences here, and shown her what I love about this country, I think, in her own way, she’s reclaiming that part of herself that she didn’t really know about before and that makes me really happy.

“The thing that caught my imagination the most is Japan itself. If you look at what I’ve done in my life, in some ways it’s all connected to this country. I still remember my first trip here, it was transformative. For example, I learnt the value of trying new things and I’m more willing to open myself up to new experiences. I’m kind of lovesick for it. It’s the thread that ties my life together. There’s something about this place and the people I meet here.

“I feel like I pine for it the way that I pine for people. When I’m away from Japan for a long time, I watch videos and look at pictures of it, and cook Japanese food. Just being close to it makes me excited in the same way as being close to someone who strikes a chord with me makes me excited. I get goosebumps when I come back here. I was so afraid that the feeling was going to go away. I thought `This can’t last, right?’ or `I’m going to get jaded at some point, right?’ That fear also makes me want to enjoy it now while I still feel that way.”

Interview & photograph by: Mark Horbury





【記事/写真:Mark Stephen Horbury
【翻訳:Kaci Lewis】