Tuesday, April 25, 2006

No More a Foreigner

(9 / 13 / 2003 Mainichi Weekly)
On my way to work one day, I met a group of grade-school kids with their teacher. As soon as they saw me, the children shouted, “gaijin da!” ("alien!") The teacher scolded them, saying that it is rude to call foreigners gaijin (aliens) and that they should call them gaikokujin (foreigners).

“Hey, don’t assume I am a foreigner!” I interjected in Chikugo dialect. “About 15,000 individuals of various ethnic groups are becoming Japanese citizens annually. The color of my skin doesn’t tell you anything about my nationality. So, don’t lead the children in the wrong direction.”

Gomennasai (sorry.)” She shrugged in apology and left in great haste with her students.

This is by no means an isolated case, and I bet many other Japanese adults might have responded in the same way as this one did. In fact, while discussing the issue with two prefectural government officials in charge of human rights education a few days later, they frankly told me, “No matter how excellent your Japanese is, how long you have lived in Japan and how deeply you may be involved in its life, we Japanese will never accept you as a member of our society.”

Ethnocentrism is evident in the attitudes of the Japanese toward people of other ethnic backgrounds in Japan. Japanese citizens of Japanese heritage take it for granted that people from other ethnic groups are and always will remain outsiders.

Most of them claim they are being polite when introducing me as “gaijin-san.” However, they ignore the fact that about nine out of my 34 years of culture I carry around with me are from this country. I am not officially Japanese yet, but spiritually I am no more a foreigner in Japan. Above all, I love this nation and admire many aspects of its traditional culture. It is that love and admiration which impel me to buy a house and live here permanently with my family.

Just like people of Japanese heritage have naturally fitted into other societies, people of various ethnic backgrounds have become members of Japanese society. Although Japan has become a mosaic nation, people who are called Japanese are exclusively of Japanese descent and lack diversity. Isn’t this abnormal?

Whoever cares about the future of Japan must no longer remain insensitive to the present abnormal situation. It will take time to build a harmonious multiethnic Japan, but this does not mean we should just sit back and wait. Educators, politicians and the media must teach the public that a person of any ethnic origin can be a proud Japanese citizen.

To set an example of honesty, I have designed and self-published a poster which I deeply hope to spread all over the nation.

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