Fascinating lunchtime conversation with several faces of Japan


Hi Blog. I gave my speech this morning without incident, to a crowd of probably over 100 people, on “Non-Japanese Residents and their Health Treatment–What’s Necessary in this Era of Multicultural Co-Existence”, at Osaka University’s Suita Campus, Osaka University Convention Center. One of five speakers. You can download my powerpoint presentation (Japanese) at http://www.debito.org/iryouhokenosaka100807.ppt

After the speech, however, I had a most fascinating conversation which bears archiving at Debito.org. Over lunch, four attendees and I discussed issues of identity and assimilation.

Person A was a third-generation Zainichi Korean, who had lived in Japan all her life, and whose family had been Japanese citizens of Empire between 1910 and 1945 (her father had even been born a Japanese citizen, in Japan).

Person B was a Peruvian who has lived in Japan more than ten years and is fluent in Japanese.

Person C was a Japanese citizen who has lived a sizeable portion of her life (including two years of her childhood) in the US, been graduated from major US universities, and now works in an American university.

Person D was another Peruvian of Japanese descent who has lived in a few countries, but has been in Japan for three months.

I asked each of them whether they would naturalize into the countries where they live now. The answers were as different as the backgrounds.

Person A (the Zainichi Korean) would not take Japanese citizenship. Her Korean family would object, and she is very proud of her Korean heritage (and resentful of the treatment her family received from the Japanese government–stripping them of their Japanese citizenship after the war). She also happens to be married to a Korean, who is also negatively predisposed to her becoming Japanese. Moreover, if she did become a Japanese, she would lose her ability to be “different” in Japan in the ways she also likes.

Person B (the long-term Peruvian) would not take Japanese citizenship either, since she has no husband or family here, and would prefer to get Permanent Residency and see how she feels after that. She notes that Japanese often wonder why she stays here with no roots, and she does feel ties back to Peru that Japanese citizenship would affect. Ask her in a few more years.

Person C (the Japanese citizen working abroad) has not lived long enough in the US to feel “American”, although she doesn’t feel fully “Japanese” either. She is a kikoku shijou–a returnee child, who often has trouble reintegrating back into the Japanese educational system after a spell abroad. The problem is, she doesn’t feel like anywhere is actually “home”. Ask her in a few years how she feels about America, she said. Meanwhile, she’ll get her Green Card.

Person D (the Nikkei Peruvian) wanted to naturalize as soon as possible. She has been to Spain, Mexico, and the US, and never felt all that comfortable there. But she feels more in tune with how people think and interact here, and more “at home” given her Nikkei roots. She feels like she’s here for the long haul.

And Person E (yours truly) DID naturalize, as you know. But I did it because I live here, like it here, have strong ties and financial obligations, and don’t see my legal status of citizenship in any way bearing on my identity or personality. I am me no matter what my citizenship is. But I’m seeing more and more that I might be a pretty rare case in the world.

I got a lot out of this conversation. You might too, so here it is, blogged for posterity.

Arudou Debito in Osaka

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