Location: California, United States

There are no random acts. We are all connected. You can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind. (the five people you meet in heaven)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Awkward Moments・不快な経験

Inevitably, when people find out that I lived in Japan for several years, they say something along the lines of “What a great experience! Didn't you love living in Japan?” My standard response is: “There are things you love and hate about every place you've ever lived. Don't you agree?”

My biggest issue with living in Japan stems from being a blonde white chick with blue-green eyes. Each time I land in Japan, the discomfort will begin at some point once I've left the airport. Why? When I go through passport control and the agent sees the Japanese writing on my embarkation card, he or she always speaks to me in Japanese. When I clear customs, I always say hello in Japanese, and the agent immediately asks if it's okay to speak Japanese. Once I'm out in “the real world,” the fun begins.

In the three days I have been here, I have had to navigate numerous uncomfortable situations at the hotel. I am staying in a very swanky hotel, and I understand that most of the non-Japanese who stay here do not speak Japanese. So, when I walk up to a staff member, I always make sure that I greet them right away in Japanese. Here's where the awkward bit begins (or at least what I find awkward.) The server/receptionist/bellhop, etc. keeps speaking English to me, and I keep answering in Japanese. At some point, they realize that I really am an Asian Girl, and they end up speaking Japanese to me. (Although, in the past I have had instances where I have carried on an entire conversation with a Japanese person while I am speaking Japanese and the Japanese is speaking English.) My guess is that in the next three weeks the entire staff will recognize me as the Asian girl in a white body. Until that time, I will be stuck with the uneasiness where I continually wonder to myself, “Can’t they see that I'm really Asian????”

This brings me to today's episode. I walked to an electronics store near the Osaka train station (大阪駅) to buy a microphone for my computer. Once I had made my selection, I got in line to pay. There was a young girl (probably between ten and twelve) in front of me with her parents. I could see her sneaking looks at me out of the corner of my eye. So, one time when she was looking at me, I turned my head quickly and said, “こんにちは” (konnichiwa---hello.) She said konnichiwa back to me and then turned to look at her father who was standing behind her as if to say, “Hey, wow! The blonde chick talked to me!” Her father told her, “You should speak to her in English.” Why is it that all Japanese think that all whites are not only English speakers but also Americans? I know that in my case it’s true, but there's a whole world out there. So I told him in Japanese, “But how do you know that I can speak English?” He looked at me and said (in English), “You are right.” I bantered with him in Japanese for a few more minutes, and he told me that my Japanese was really good, but he never actually asked where I was from. Foreigners who speak Japanese are less interesting.

I feel at home in Japan. Actually, I feel more at home in Japan than I have in other places I've lived in the US. So, where does this leave me? Stuck between my feelings of being the Asian girl and the fact that I will never be embraced as such by the Japanese, stuck between two cultures. An awkward place to be.


Blogger Tea said...

I hear you, girlfriend! I still remember the time I was in the grocery store and told the clerk--in Japanese--that I didn't need a bag. She went into gaijin red alert and stammered and said, finally (in Japanese), "sorry, I don't understand English." Grrrr.

Nice reading your writing. I'm glad you started a blog!

12:59 PM  

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