Shijo-Tsushin #14 February, 1998
NOT BEING ABLE TO BECOME
AN "INTERNATIONAL PERSON"
by Nora KOHRI
Translated from original in Japanese by Sachiko NAKAGOME
Not knowing that I was a "kikokushijo"(returnee)
The theme of kikokushijo, or Japanese returning from overseas, is something I could not sever from myself right now, especially considering the kind of work I am indulged in. But when I returned to Japan after graduating university in Canada, I had no idea that I was considered a kikokushijo. I thought the term only referred to kids who returned when they were in grade school. (I had lived in the US from 1st to 4th grade, Canada from my second year of high school till the end of my undergraduate program, and also in Singapore for 5 years as a parent.)
It's not until recently that I became aware of the fact that my thoughts and behavior are based on my experiences of living abroad. That is how deeply rooted my Americanism and Canadianism was. It has been 4 years since the last time I lived abroad, but I can't be like the people who have lived here all their lives, by just being here in Japan.
So does that qualify me as an "international person"?
The definition of an international person
The definition of an international person as defined by Yuko Shinoda:
"One who is aware of and understand the existence of the various cultures, has pride in one's own cultural heritage, and learns to respect the cultural background of others. (The establishment of one's own identity and understanding towards others.)
The composure and strength necessary for understanding the values and behaviors of people with different cultural backgrounds can only be nourished by firmly establishing a spiritual world in which one can fall back on and rely on, be it a Japanese one for a Japanese national. What teaches us that we are Japanese and that we are indispensable in this vast universe is the existence of our mothers and fathers, the history of our ancestors and the land that we grew up on."
If this is the definition of an international person, I definitely am not, will not be, can't ever be, or want to be an international person.
My parents' influence
My mother loves the United States. She would visit once or twice a year sometimes.
When she was young she met an American, fell in love with the US, studied English, acted like an American, and even converted to Christianity. My mother was the most overjoyed about my father's overseas assignments, and was actively engaged with the local community in the US and Canada. My father was also influenced by some missionaries he met when he was young, studied English and consciously chose a job that would send him overseas when he entered a Japanese company. He was so proud of the fact that he had been able to work abroad.
I grew up under the guidance of my parents who loved the US, felt a sense of inferiority about Japan, and who had felt that the US was almighty and powerful and that Japan should strive to rise to the same level as the United States.
My mother had trouble readjusting to Japan upon her return. She disagreed with the way Japanese elementary schools were carried out and often criticized Japan. In the end, she chose to live by her own values in the often closed society of Japan, and conspicuously passed on to many Japanese what she had learnt from the US and Canada. Watching her as a child, how could I have possibly learnt to have patriotism towards Japan.
What made it worse was the unwelcoming attitude of our Japanese neighbors.
I was led to leave Japan even though I had returned wanting to know more about the country.
But I still love Japan
Even though I have Japanese citizenship, speak fluent Japanese, have Japanese parents, live in Japan, plan to live in Japan from now on, I think I'd be denying the Japanese side of myself if I don't love the Japanese side of myself. I like Japan, I don't dislike it. I like Japan as an individual, not because I have Japanese citizenship. I think it's odd that a person should like Japan just because he or she is Japanese.
A person should decide whether they like a country or not, as an individual, regardless of one's citizenship.
Raising a Japanese in a foreign country
At seminars, I often ask Japanese mothers who are about to raise their children overseas, to help their children establish a Japanese identity as well as worrying about Japanese language abilities. It's very difficult though to try and teach children Japanese values, ethics, customs, and sentiment in a non-Japanese environment. I often question how it's possible to nurture a sense of Japanese sentiment at all. Even if the child can understand it, whether the child accepts it within him or herself is up to the child. Especially when values completely opposite from Japanese are instilled in the child's mind through schools or the media, it's extremely difficult for one mother to instill in a child's mind, a sense of Japanese identity.
is not so easy
I'd like to be an international person
I feel that an international person by definition, is a person who grew up in Japan, understands Japan and has pride in Japan. It would be difficult for a person who has been hopping around the globe, to limit one's homecountry to just one.
that fits no definition
Although the percentage of Japaneseness within myself may be small, I am by no means, a Japanese. But other nationalities exist inside me. I know where I stand in this world, what I love, what I accept and what kind of values I possess. I also feel I can accept others, with respect for their cultures. I don't think people have to have a sense of belonging to just one nationality. You can be an international person without a sense of belonging to one culture or nation. The expression "global person" was probably invented by a person who couldn't or didn't have that one certain foundational culture or nation to belong to. (This expression is also kind of awkward though, it sounds like a word used to differentiate between a person and an alien from outer space.)
What of the children born with mixed blood? What nationality are they supposed to define themselves as? I think there are other people who have also hopped from one country to another. I am sure there are many people who grew up unable to live in a country long enough to associate oneself to that one particular country with pride and confidence. Many people raised in Japan have emigrated to other nations because they couldn't feel a sense of pride in being Japanese. I consider all these people to be 'International.'
When I saw the name of Mr.Furuiye's company, "Roots International", I thought, "what a beautiful name!" You can plant your roots all around the world. You can have more than just one culture living within yourself, you can have more than just one nationality, just like people say with pride, I'm "Japanese-American."
I want to suggest a definition of my own. A true international person doesn't limit oneself to just one nationality. A true international knows deep down inside who they are, and with that solid foundation as a backbone, and absorbing what the rest of the world has to offer, continues to grow. That is my perception, for Japanese who are embarrassed to call themselves Japanese, because they feel so different after living in a foreign environment for a long time.
Come to think of it, I've always acted as if I belong to one certain culture wherever I go. I have the adaptability of a chameleon. In the US, I'd speak like an American and gorge down hot dogs. In Fukushima, eastern Japan, I'd speak Fukushima's regional dialect and take part in the region's cultural pastimes. In Canada, I was mistaken for a third generation Japanese Canadian. In Singapore I never needed to worry about getting ripped off by a cab driver, because I'd be mistaken for a local with my Singlish. Back in Tokyo, I'd work long hours like any other living in the Setagaya Ward. In the suburbs of Aobadai, I'd enjoy gardening like any other homemaker. This adaptability was acquired through a need to survive. I wanted to avoid causing a commotion by going about my way. The part of me that adapted may have been superficial. The colors I wore may have changed throughout the years, but the spirit, heart and values that lay hidden beneath the fa溝de of "Chameleon Nora", have never changed. I have always been myself. I have always been Nora Kohri.
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