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775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Letís Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: Iíll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes íRí Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japanís Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters ďRĒ Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
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714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
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691: Let it Flow
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548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged
By Ai Uchida

The other half

Think you know what living bi-culturally is all about? Think again

Ai Uchida is a singer-songwriter for the Tokyo-based music group AVANT GARDE

I am “half.” In Japan, this means I am half-Japanese. Recently, I have been on the receiving end of one too many uninvited pieces of advice on why I should act more or less Western/Japanese, and it has come to my attention that you need to stop doing that. Heads up, people—there is a third culture unique to Japan. It’s made up of well-educated, diplomatic, successful people who are doing a lot of interesting things all over the world, even though they’re often misunderstood in their home country.

I’m not talking about being misunderstood by Japanese, I’m talking about being misunderstood by you. I’m suspicious you don’t realize that when two cultures overlap—as they usually do for a child with parents of different nationalities—a totally new culture is created. Contrary to what the term may imply, being “half” does not mean being “incomplete.” So, if you are not half-Japanese; if you are not multicultural (not to be confused with “bilingual,” please); or if you are multicultural, specifically half-Japanese but are having a bit of an identity crisis about it, I’d be gratified if you would continue reading.

You may ask, “What’s the big deal? Isn’t everybody with one Japanese parent and another parent of a different ethnicity ‘half?’” Not necessarily. People with one Japanese parent are certainly ethnically half-Japanese, but not always part of this cultural group. There are many factors that distinguish these people from others.

For one, Japan will almost always be the country where their identity is cultivated. I am half-American and half-Japanese, but when I’m in the States, I am nothing more and nothing less than an American. Ironically, this is the great thing about being an American. But in terms of building character, I would not consider a half-Japanese person who was raised all his or her life in the States as being “half.” There can be exceptions anywhere, of course, but a similar notion can probably be applied to half-Japanese kids raised in other countries. I believe a person must experience the mental and emotional process of growing up in contemporary Japan to identify with this third culture.

Secondly, half-Japanese people automatically have some kind of identity crisis that they must work through in order to come to terms with themselves and in order to find a happy medium between their parents’ cultures. This might take place at age 9 or 90; it might be a momentary realization or one that arrives after $200-an-hour therapy sessions. My point is, there comes a time—unique to most multicultural people—when they reach a very real and conscious understanding of who they are. I am not implying that they become “more” after reaching this point or that they are “less” before it. I’m simply saying that, once becoming “fully half,” they have the freedom to build on a sense of self—as does anybody who is at peace with his or her character. Inevitably, this leads to a deeper appreciation for life.

Actually, I see a similar quality in many young people who are not ethnically Japanese but who have spent a significant portion of their lives here. I also see it in Japanese who have spent a great deal of time abroad. I believe that they have the same mentality and face similar challenges when defining their relationships with people and events around them. All of us grew up understanding by instinct—or, when we were children, by simply accepting—the rules of two or more cultures that often clashed. We’re the ones who empathize with the tension that Japanese feel when a foreigner does something unexpected or socially unacceptable. We are also the ones who can justify why the foreigner behaved that way.

And here I return to the reason why a bilingual person cannot be confused with a multicultural person: It is very difficult to study a foreign culture with the aim of assimilating into it. Culture is an intricately and illogically arranged web of delicate ideas and traditions. There are simply things you don’t “get” unless you were there when the web was woven around you.

Maybe you have half-Japanese kids, maybe your girlfriend is half, or maybe you have been working here for 20-plus years and you know everything about Japan. But you’re mistaken if you think you and I are in the same boat. Unless the web was woven around you, the best you can do is speculate about how people like me relate to the rest of Japan and the world. And you know what? Most of us are doing great. We’re figuring things out as we go along, just like you are, and we’re doing all right.
So, please, enough of offering “advice.” You might want to take notes instead.

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.