Being A Foreign Kid in Japan


My wife and kids are currently in Japan right now, and I will be joining them shortly. We try to go every year so we can stay in touch with my wife’s family especially her aging parents. My kids love going because they get spoiled by family and friends, and there’s lots of fun things to do in Japan.

About five years ago, we seriously considered moving there because the quality of life was so good, and Japan was significantly safer than the US. However, my wife started to have doubts after hearing from Japanese moms who had brought their bi-racial kids to live with them in Japan, and some of the tough experiences that came with it. So, she asked me to rethink the plan, and after backing out of a job opportunity thete with my previous company, we’ve stayed here in Seattle ever since. We let our daughter attend the local elementary school in Japan for a week or so, and she enjoys it, but otherwise, she has been raised here in the US.

Seattle, for all its faults,1 is a nice multiracial society, and my daughter goes to a school here where there’s a pretty healthy mix of kids from various backgrounds. She can blend in easily.

In Japan, it’s the opposite of course. Since 99% of the people are ethnically Japanese (the majority of the remaining 1% are Japanese-Koreans or “zainichi” who face challenges of their own), my daughter stands out a lot. She’s very pretty, speaks Japanese natively, and is very nice. So people love her, but at the same time, she stands out pretty easily. Not as much as I do, but enough.

I mention this because my wife told me about a recent incident on the bus in Japan, where an older boy with Down-Syndrome looked at her and suddenly gave her the middle-finger. My daughter, who is American and knows what the means, was very shocked and upset. I don’t think the boy even understood what he did, considering that gesture is never used in Japan. He probably was just blindly imitating “cool” American culture.

Nevertheless, we all felt that the only reason why he did that to my daughter was that she was “foreign” and obviously made a connection. Obviously, this could happen again.

I wasn’t there to see it of course, so I only heard about it later, but it reinforced my wife’s view that Japan just wasn’t the most accepting place for kids like my daughter. If she comes to Japan as an adult, her Japanese background, good looks and language-skills would make her very popular there and she would probably do fine. However, as a kid, she stands out and other kids would pick on her. While she does make friends at school, she’s still an easy target for people who have some kind of grudge.

I think my wife is right though: although Japan has many good things about it, it is still better to raise our kids in a West Coast place like Seattle. There are many people like her, and there are still enough Japanese resources and friends for my wife to be happy and content. Plus, she has gotten so used to life in Seattle; she sometimes tells me that she finds Japan crowded and stifling now.

Personally, the decision to not live in Japan affected me too in a lot of ways. I noticed my enthusiasm for the JLPT, Japan, Japanese language learning and such diminished with it. I never quite looked at Japan the same way. The blog kind of suffered and declined too because the original impetus was gone.

Still, I feel kind of sad about this most recent incident. I always hoped that somehow we might be wrong, and that things might’ve worked better if we took a chance and moved there, but I have to admit I was wrong. Although our plans to move to Japan have been on hold for years, I feel this latest incident was the final nail in the coffin. 

P.S. While entirely coincidental, this post sort of feels like a continuation of yhe previous one

1 Grey weather, traffic, and lack of family-friendly things to do. Seattle is a hipster kind of place, which is great if you’re a hipster. I just dont fit that lifestyle. 


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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