Being Half Japanese / by Emi Day

Last night, I saw the first documentary about half-Japanese people living in Japan.

It surprised me that I was a little sad. I've lived in a few places (mainly South Dakota) where being "happa" or "hafu" was what really made me unique. I learned to be proud of my differences, even a bit smug that I travelled internationally throughout my childhood.

Tonight, I became acutely aware of my "special snowflake syndrome." While I logically knew that I wasn't the only one, emotionally, I'd never felt real empathy in dealing with things like wanting to be perceived as Japanese, striving to speak the language, or having to prove that I am my mother's child.

It opened up those weird middle school emotions of how we've each had to come to terms with our mixed identities.

I am grateful too: there's a lot of shaming and ostracism in Japan that I've never had to face. And my broken, cute, inebriated fourth-grade level Japanese impresses native speakers who only consider me American.

I've realized it's the baggage that came with my mother's Japanese identity and her adjustment to this culture that I've inherited and processed... This documentary showed that I know so little about being Japanese without her influence. 

There are only a few things about me that I attribute as Japanese: my cravings for comfort food include pickled radish, eel, sweet beans, rice, and noodles; my abilities to balance and refine as a designer; and my understanding of the spiritual world and karma. 

I still hope that someday I'll be able to unlock this secret elite world of pure Japanese culture, but for now, I'm pretty content being just another mixed-race American.