I stood amidst an ocean of black hair and matching dark blue kendo robes, and I could not help but think to myself, “They wouldn’t know diversity even if it was covered in rice and wrapped in seaweed”. There I stood in unknown territory, wearing bright colored clothes that contrasted with our surroundings. I progressed slowly through the crowd, looking for something or someone familiar like a lost child. Up until that moment, I had taken racial diversity for granted in America. I never realized how unique my own culture was until I experienced someone else’s. My first trip to Japan showed me how much I treasure living in the United States, and how I value my unique heritage.
In the summer of 2008 I ventured overseas with my Japanese language class on a 15 day trip to Japan. I went to practice my language skills and develop a greater knowledge of Japanese culture. I became interested in Japanese language and culture because my heritage is half Japanese. Coming from Japanese descent created an ironic scene for me as I explored a new, yet familiar way of life. Part of the trip was a one week stay with a family in Hiroshima. I began to genuinely feel Japanese as I lived in their home, ate their food, and abided by their daily way of life. My gracious host mother couldn’t have made me feel more at home. But as welcoming as the Japanese are, there is always a subtle reminder that one is not truly Japanese unless born and raised there. I felt awkward yet somewhat accepted as strangers stared at me on the train, perplexed by my racial makeup, asking themselves “Could he be…?” This situation posed an interesting question that I hadn’t considered before. What is my true identity if I am not totally Caucasian, yet not entirely Japanese at the same time? Experiences on the trip brought to light what makes me who I am.
What was most interesting about being in Japan was the paradox of feeling different for being white, whereas at home I felt different for being Japanese. Different aspects of my behaviors fit with one race or the other. My friends say things on a daily basis like “You kick the ball like a ninja” in soccer, or “You’re so Asian” because I eat with chopsticks occasionally, but those types of comments have become typical and I never thought much of them. As I explored Japan with my American friends, I discovered that many of my unique personality traits were identical to a typical Japanese person. Aboard the train or bus, I stood quietly as many of my companions enjoyed loud conversation that disrupted the near silence of daily commuters. I continuously found myself annoyed, asking myself “Seriously, why are Americans so loud?” Similarly, I kept tight on the right side of the sidewalk as we walked from place to place to make way for others, while my friends traveled as an impermeable blob that clogged the street sides. I have always possessed certain tendencies that never stuck out to me until I went to Japan. Those actions made me feel like one of them, rather than a careless, stereotypical teenager from the United States. Yet on other occasions I couldn’t help but stick out, as I was still the unmistakable American walking down the streets in an Abercrombie shirt with a Coke in hand. I learned that I truly embody the diversity of two very different cultures in my everyday life, but have always taken it for granted. Now, I take pride in the fact that my friends notice the Japanese facets of my personality.
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