One of our favourite videos on the web right now is a skit by American comedian Ken Tanaka & friends. Tanaka, real name David Ury (or is it?), addresses some of the problems Third Culture Kids face in Japan. We’ll let his video do the talking:
Tanaka and his fellow non-Japanese Japanese are far from the only ones struggling with being “different” in Japan. Although Japanese people are generally and rightly beloved for their polite and affable culture, Japanese society is quite new to immigration. For many Japanese, the idea that a caucasian or black person could be… Japanese, is really hard to imagine.
We spoke with Ms. Pernille Rudlin, who grew up Third Culture in Japan, and now works for Japan Intercultural Consulting.
“Because the population of Japan is still close to 98% ethnically Japanese, many Japanese just never even get the opportunity to accept someone “new” into their culture. That’s certainly a reason neither I nor my parents (who have lived in Japan for over 30 years in total) are currently living in Japan. You never feel like you can blend in and relax and not have to answer questions about where you are from and why your Japanese is so good.”
Growing up in Japan as a white person, Ms. Rudlin describes feeling “like an exotic bird in a gilded cage. Japanese people tend to treat white foreigners with almost too much respect or kindness.”
growing up, I felt like an exotic bird
What about mixed-race Japanese? So called hafu‘s? In March 2015 Ariana Miyamoto became the first half-black half-Japanese woman to be named Miss Universe Japan. The mixed reactions, from lauding to full-on racism, reflect what many hafu‘s go through daily. In the video below, Joe tells us his experience growing up as a half-black half-Japanese kid in Japan.
Interested in the view from the other side, we also got to talk to Ms. Reiko Natsu. She is 1/4 Romanian, 1/4 Malay, 1/4 Chinese and 1/4 Japanese, but she identifies as being Japanese with Romanian blood. Though her big eyes reveal her ancestry, Ms. Natsu never experienced the trouble Joe went through. She tells of how her Romanian/Malay mother had problems fitting in, but as far as she knows her mother had also never been insulted or asked to leave the country. Would Ms. Natsu call her mother Japanese, now that she has lived in Japan for over 30 years? “No.” Would she call Ken Tanaka and his friends Japanese? “Hmmm… difficult question. We welcome them, but I don’t think they are Japanese.”