This is a conversation that I usually have with people who I am getting to know:
“So Megumi, what even are you?”
“It’s complicated. I am Japanese by blood but I have lived in the United States for 17 years, and I am a citizen of both the United States and Japan.”
“So do you consider yourself as Japanese or American?”
“I don’t know…I guess I’m a mixture of both.”
One of the main reasons why I wanted to write this article was because,after moving to Japan, I really struggled with my identity. I have noticed that Japanese people find immense comfort in labels, but I did not fit any of them that were given to me. I am not a kikoku-shijo (returnee), ha-fu (half Japanese), or gaikokujin (foreigner), and to not be able to use any of these labels made me feel like I was not a part of Japanese society. So, I thought I would give the long version of the answer and the story of how I came to answer these questions in this manner.
Until I was in third grade, I was completely content with my identity. I spoke English at school and Japanese at home. On Saturday mornings I went to Japanese school where I was to speak Japanese. My perception of this “normal routine” changed drastically in fourth grade when a girl came up to me at the playground and told me, “You don’t belong here” simply because I was one of the few Asians in a predominantly white neighborhood. Naturally, that hurt a lot. It was the first time that I realized that my bilingual situation was unique.
For the next couple of years, I continued to think about what label worked the best for me. Should I have gone with my looks and say that I’m just Japanese or with how I was raised and say that I’m just American? The answer to this question varied greatly depending on who I was talking to. If I was with a Japanese person, they would consider me as the “Americanized Japanese girl,” but if I was with an American, they would refer to me as the “Japanese.” It felt weird for me to have that dissonance between the two countries, and I yearned for an identity that was applicable to both countries.
But then something happened in Japan that completely upset my inner balance of my two nationalities.
During my summer vacations, I was kindly given the opportunity to enter the public school system for a few weeks in Japan each year. When I went during the summer of eighth grade, it started out like any other year. There were a few people who remembered me from previous years, and most people were just fascinated by how a Japanese-looking girl could have such perfect English but sometimes struggled to communicate in Japanese. About a week in, I saw something written on the blackboard in the back of the classroom, so I looked closer. It said, “Kitamoto, go home.” To say that I was disappointed was an understatement. Someone who I had thought was my friend had let me down, and it then made me question the Japanese people. Why would I want to be associated with a group of people who wouldn’t let me be a part of them?
So after that encounter, I was hesitant to label myself with any specific identity at all, so I simply said that I was Asian American. But still, I did not feel that it was right. So I did one of the hardest things to do as an adolescent, which is to forgive the person who wrote a derogatory message about me on the blackboard at my school in Japan. I realized that one person’s actions should not justify my opinion of the whole demographic. Overall, Japanese people were and are pretty neat, and I learned to proudly identify with them.
As for the American portion of my identity, I have never felt too detached from it, since I lived there for nearly my entire life. But that certainly doesn’t mean that I have my moments with it. When I moved to Japan for university, I always introduced myself as the girl from the Midwest in the United States. After constantly using this method of self-introduction, I wasn’t sure if it was true to my identity if I pushed my American side forward, and I also began to question if I should be proud to be from the United States. Now, I know that I cannot think that at all. The United States raised me and shaped me. Even though I don’t live there anymore, I can’t turn my back on the place that has given me so much.
I have mentioned the ups and downs that I have encountered in relation to my identity, and I am grateful for every single one of these experiences. There is not a thing that I would change about my life. Without these experiences, I would not have become the person that I am today. Now, I can proudly say that I am both Japanese and American, because both cultures and countries are both important to who I am as a person. It took me so long to realize that I don’t have to be a specific percentage of American or Japanese in me.
I am in no way trying to brag in this article. Since nationality and identity are becoming a more prevalent topic to think about because of an increase in people with multicultural backgrounds, I am trying to share my story so that people who are going through a similar identity crisis as me know that they are not alone.
This article was written by HC Waseda Guest Writer, Megumi Kitamoto.