Being Japanese in America

This country, the United States of America, has given me numerous opportunities to be what I am today: a decent musician (though I do have some doubt about that).  It is a blessing to be able to talk about music and occasionally make some music as part of my job, it really is.  I wouldn’t have been a musician if I stayed in Japan where I grew up— I wouldn’t even have gotten in a music school in Japan due to lack of the specific knowledge or guidance to navigate through the disciplined preparation process. Well… I might have ended up being a Gagaku musician with no college degree if I stayed in Japan. Music, yes, but still, no Bach. Gagaku wasn’t really the field I could show myself at my best.

This country, the US of A, opened up the possibilities for me to be who I am and what I am. The openness of American education allowed me to find my passion at my own pace. I feel that I can hold my head high despite being in a social minority group in this country, thanks especially to the diverse nature of my field here.  And if I didn’t feel optimistic about being only a US citizen, I wouldn’t have waived my Japanese citizenship just to be eligible for the Japanese Government Scholarship to study Bach in Japan! I have confidence in this country.

Still, sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever live here with a feeling that I truly belong here or am a member of a tightly-knit community.  From time to time, I get reminded of the fact that I do belong to a minority group. Often it’s the ethnic stereotype joke, and sometimes it’s simply the attitude of someone who doesn’t try to hide their dislikes on Asian people. No big deal for me— so many good people here are trying hard to keep their chins up and stand tall in difficult circumstances, whatever they are…  But the interesting thing is, those unfortunate moments aren’t what makes me realize that I’m still very much Japanese after living in this country for many years…

I am a conservative guy in a non-political sense. I’m unadventurous, and even boring to some people. I like earthy colors to wear. I like things that are traditional and conventional.  Politically speaking, the classical music field seems to be predominantly progressive, but I certainly have politically conservative friends I feel close to.  More often than not, I feel at home with them, and I feel good vibes from them.  Sometimes I sense that I’m like them and they’re like me… except I’m sooo not like them when it comes to how I feel about Social Policy, likely because of my Japanese background.  For instance, Japan has a universal health care system, and there people without insurance from their employers can participate in a national health insurance program.  And they can’t be denied coverage.  I benefitted tremendously from this system as I was born with hypopituitarism (pituitary dwarfism) and needed the über-expensive Human Growth Hormon everyday growing up… the Japanese government covered the cost.  The philosophy of American conservatism aside, it is not easy to understand why some of normal everyday-people from the conservative side would want to fight against something like the Affordable Care Act that can help soooo many Americans including themselves…

I’m certain that the issue of abortion is, for many of my conservative friends, the deal breaker.  And of course, for a lot of Americans the choices are pro-life or pro-choice.  I’m from a country where abortion is illegal with some loosely-set exceptions.  I think abortion, especially as means of birth control for unplanned pregnancies, is morally wrong, but I also understand that there are some extremely difficult circumstances that makes the procedure necessity.  Japan’s illegality of abortion can only stand as it is because of the exceptions it allows— and the law’s purpose seems to be simply the reduction of the number of abortions, not elimination of it.  Here, the common ground like the compromise seen in the Japanese anti-abortion law with loopholes never gets national attention, and the point always seems to stay at illegalizing abortion or not, not really about finding a way to reduce the number of the tragedy.  There are many good people arguing for both sides, and it’s easy to predict that this debate isn’t going to settle anytime soon.  But who’s being more reasonable and logical about the number reduction?  I couldn’t agree more with the President whom my conservative friends often hate— couldn’t we put in more budget and efforts in education to reduce teen pregnancies?  Couldn’t we come up with a way to help with adoption and support mothers with babies with some financial and/or physical help so that they won’t have to consider the option of killing babies?  Do you really want your secular government to make the moral decisions for you?  …It is a problem when my conservative friends consider pro-choice as pro-abortion, because they aren’t the same.  Frankly I don’t know anyone who is literally pro-abortion.. and I have many progressive pro-choice friends.

Having Japanese parents, I obviously didn’t grow up with sentimental attachment to either Democrats or Republicans— and I’m just seeing things as they appear to me, a rational individual with spirituality and reason.  But now it’s getting like wearing a uniform of the opposing team; I belong but I don’t really, when I think about my social identity.  A half of this problem is me being from another country like Japan, and the other half is how divisive the governmental politics can be to the people in this country…  Do you know what’s interesting?  I really don’t have this kind of issues with Japanese people at all!

I actually know a few American people with similar dilemmas, but I suppose those dilemmas don’t matter to them too much, because they all grew up here.  They are Americans through and through, no matter how you see it.  I am, on the other hand, still trying to fit in, even unconsciously.  I guess I’m overthinking, but the dilemma is not a small problem.  Not a small problem, if you ask me.

One thought on “Being Japanese in America

  1. Wow, interesting read… and it addresses so much in such a short space!
    As for minorities… I am a professional minority by birth, full time, from the age of 1. I wanted to know as much as possible about the violin, hence moved to Europe. Europe is wonderful. It’s such a mess of somewhat bigger or smaller minorities, mix of linguistic, cultural influences, commonness, differences etc. You travel Russia for 7 days whichever direction, and nothing much really changes. Here you travel an hour or two and you discover yourself in another country speaking another language , believing in different values. Wow. I still get dizzy even after 18 yeas of living here, abroad. Abroad is my home-town… can I say “town”? Not really. Rather, a home-continent.

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