Aug 22, 2018
It finally happened
I once read a blog post written by a Caucasian man with a Japanese wife living in Tokyo with their children. He explained that, as people ask about his child's ethnicity, he chose to correct them. His child was not "half" but "double", being equally from both cultures instead of only half-eligible for Japanese-ness.
I loved this idea and started training my then-pregnant self for the questions that were bound to arise. My child was double, and amazing, and wonderful. To my surprise, as the years wore on, these questions were few and far between.
When we head into Sendai we sometimes get questions, usually jovial and well meaning. A normal conversation, translated to English, looks something like this:
Random Stranger: "Oh! So cute! is that a girl?"
Me: "Oh, thank you. Yes, she is a girl."
RS: "Oh! What's her name?"
Me: "Her name is Julia."
RS: "How old is she?"
Me: "She is <current age>."
RS: "Oh, she is sooooo cute!"
Me: "Thank you."
RS: "By the way, where are you from?"
Me: "I'm from America, but she's from Japan."
RS: "Oh, is her father Japanese?"
Me: "Yes. Yes, he is."
RS: "Ah. A half. Half-Japanese babies are so cute."
Me: "Uh...ok. Bye now."
I noticed many differences between my conversations and the conversations noted by the man in Tokyo, primarily that the beginning of the conversation is not about my daughter's ethnicity. There are a million interesting and curious things about my kid, including her hair style, love of Pokemon and My Little Ponies, talents with languages and tendency to pronounce the word "fart" with a British accent. She is interesting for so many reasons beyond her ethnicity that it feels insulting when someone chooses to start a conversation with that as if it were the only interesting thing about her.
For the last 5 years I have lived believing that it must be the lower population density in my area that leads to these exchanges being less frustrating. Fewer people means fewer jerks, generally speaking, and people out here have gotten used to me, to the point of cashiers at Aeon remarking on my daughter's hairstyle change, recognizing and remembering us easily.
But the other day, we boarded a train to Sendai to enjoy the last day of the Tanabata festivities. We found seats and kept to ourselves. Eventually a strange older woman sat across from us, eating loudly on the train while she talked fairly loudly to herself as if she were carrying on with another, unseen person.
I have a soft spot for people fighting mental health battles, so I kept an eye on her but also kept my distance. I have no idea what's going on with this lady and have to keep my daughter safe.
A few stops down the line, she suddenly turns to us and asks if my child is male or female. I assert that she is a girl. No harm there, innocent question. My kid's hair is now shorter than most boys' styles these days.
"Your husband's like you, right?" she said, or something to that effect. This is how my brain interpreted the Japanese, at least, and it was clear she was referring to our country of origin and ethnicity.
"No, he's Japanese." I said, any friendly lilt to my voice draining away to a soft grumble. This was now one of those conversations. Not a reminder that my kid is adorable and different for this area. More like a spotlight coming down from the heavens to highlight the foreign-ness inherent in my offspring, like some set of flaws I should have known better than to pass on.
It is possible that I am putting to much anger into this. And it isn't that I think ethnicity is beyond questioning. I do happen to believe that I can never ask these questions of people, because if you're actually getting to know someone, it makes more sense to let them reveal the parts of themselves they want you to see rather than demand access to factors that you can use to better categorize them.
The woman continued talking, asking questions I couldn't understand well enough to answer, due likely in equal parts to the food she was still munching on, her choice in vocabulary being beyond my ability, and my complete lack of interest in continuing the conversation. I don't know or care what she was getting at but I was glad to see her leave the train before our stop.
A working mom/writer/teacher, Jessica explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.