The Other Side of the Looking Glass

I remember just before coming to Japan, I was asked to join a new Asian association to unify the Asian community of Cleveland. The name of the group is “Motivasians”. Okay, so the name leaves a lot to be desired, but I thought it was a great idea at the time. If I were still living in Cleveland, I probably would have joined. But why is that? Why did or do I feel compelled to join a group that is founded based on minority status?

When I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago about being a minority back home, she just about laughed at me. She said she doesn’t consider me to be a minority. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that. I find that an interesting perspective. I’ll admit I don’t believe the Asian minority to be at the same level of disadvantage that Black, Latino, or Muslim minorities suffer. Nonetheless, it is still a minority. And there are certain offences that minorities will suffer for no other reason than being a minority.

Living in Japan as part of the visual majority has me wondering about the relationships between minorities and the majority. For the first time in my life, I blend. I don’t get stared at. I don’t get people shouting at me from cars when I walk down the street (Yes, that has happened to me in Ohio). I’m no different looking than the population that surrounds me. This has its advantages. For example, I don’t stop the Japanese in their tracks when they see me approaching. I can give the middle finger to assholes while driving. And I can walk through Mitigawa without getting stopped by the police.

And it has its disadvantages. I don’t get put on that pedestal for “being a foreigner”. I don’t get asked to be in pictures for my gaijin appearance. Random students on field trips to Kyoto won’t ask me for my autograph or stop me to take their interview. Only “real foreigners” get chosen for that.

Here in Japan, being Caucasian is upheld as something to strive for, despite it being the minority. Why? Why is being Caucasian seen as being exclusive, regardless if it’s the majority or a minority? The U.S. is the biggest producer of entertainment. And it is the Caucasian face that is found in magazines, on television, and in the movies. It is the Caucasian face that is spreading western imperialism. And it because of Caucasian-centered marketing that associations as big as the NAACP or as small as Motivasians will always exist.

For most of you here in Japan, for the first time in your lives, you are the minority race. I hope you take the time to reflect upon this situation; and even further, I hope this experience will have impacted your perspective on being a minority once you return to being part of the majority. Albeit, it’s a bit skewed, being a foreign minority in Japan carries “celebrity status” where being a minority in our western countries carries a different stigma. But I hope later in life when you return to your countries where you blend in, you’ll be able to remember the time in your life when you didn’t.