Charity Event for the Philippines Seeks to Aid, Interculturalize, and Build Community Review p.14
Hafu ハーフ Poem p.12
I went out for ramen Report p.2
Arturo Toyama Higuchi Fiction p.9
Secret Asian Man
First Block 6 Hawaii 5 Asian Pacific Essay p.3 Islander Gathering Learning, Unlearning, Re-learning
First Block 6 Asian Pacific Islander Gathering by Geoff Wen (滋賀県) KYOTO, JAPAN: Over a threeday weekend in September, members of API AJET residing in Shiga, Kyoto, and Hyogo all gathered together for the first Block 6 API meet and greet. While it was an intimate affair, we all got a chance to meet and talk about some of the things that we all had encountered. Some of us had been in Japan for only a few months, others had been in Japan for a few years, and some alumni came who have moved onto bigger things. After some introductions, the attendees found that while growing up, we were fortunate to have experience with Asian culture, so interesting conversations sprouted up about the stories and “compliments” we had all received from our teachers and other Japanese people about using chopsticks or how each individual piece of sashimi was explained to us at enkais. We all were able to laugh about it, because of our experience using and eating these things prior to coming to Japan, but we all did
API AJET members at the First Block 6 API Gathering in Kyoto, Japan.
note the kind of balancing act of wanting to be polite, but also trying to figure out how to say we have eaten, used, or seen these things before. It was noted that perhaps this is the easiest way for Japanese people to easily start small talk with us. We discussed how questions and reactions from Japanese people can be handled and in the end it comes down to the perspective you want to take. It’s similar to when a Japanese person was to visit another country and be asked multiple questions about things they eat and don’t eat. The response from anyone in the world living in a new country comes down to how you want to see it, positively or not. As API, we talked about these things along with working to try and remove some of the
stereotypes that society has. In the end, despite being a short meet and greet, it was wonderful to be surrounded by such positive people. We kicked a soccer ball around, enjoyed some snacks, and just got gathered as any group of people would. We talked about work and some of the crazy stories we all had. We laughed about dealing with the winter (most of us have or had not dealt with snow before coming to Japan). And we talked about what it was like being an API. The best thing to see may have been how cheerful everyone was and how we take these challenges (some related to API and some not) in stride with a smile on our face… unless you have to walk to work in the snow of course, then you may shed a few frozen tears. But that’s a story for another time. ◆
All Things Asian Pacific Islander • Contributing Writers:
Thomas Belfer • Erika Ehren • Arturo Toyama Higuchi • Alexis Tai • Albert David R. Valderrama • Geoff Wen • Melody Wong • Front Cover Photo: Toyama in Autumn by Akiyo Horiguchi • Additional Photographs: Rochelle Zheng • Layout & Design: Albert David R. Valderrama • Staff Editor: Erika Ehren • Chief Editor: Albert David R. Valderrama
Learning, Unlearning, Re-learning by Melody Wong (岡山県 2011~2013) Melody Wong was the co-founder and former National Co-Representative of the Asian Pacific Islander Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching (API AJET).
clock hits 9:25am and I burst through the security doors at the consulate saying my good mornings to my colleagues. Ohayo gozaimasu. Ohayo. Ohayo gozaimasu. After returning from Japan to Los Angeles in August, I was fortunate enough to land a temporary job at the Consulate General of Japan in Downtown LA. The month prior to that, I felt like I had to get my groove back into being American. Let’s go to Costco and buy all things big! Let’s chat up a storm to everyone around me in English! Let’s learn how to do the Miley Cyrus twerk! But the minute I became an assistant to the JET Programme Coordinator, I was immediately surged back into the Japanese work environment. Bow your head, respect your higher ups, don’t talk back, and work with a computer that has no internet. It was a little bit surreal, being in Japan…in America. Having said that, my experience at the consulate has definitely been an amazing one and I would never give it up for anything else. I was given the opportunity to switch back and forth between a Japanese work place and an American university environment at the same time. I worked my butt off at the consulate and recruiting on campuses while talking a thousand times over about JET. It’s something most post-JETs would love to do: get paid to talk about your JET experience fresh from coming back. However, when my contract position was up, I found myself a little torn up between the cultures. What do I do now? I’ve been practicing being Japanese and unlearning my American ways for two years and now I’ve got to relearn how to do things. Of course, being Japanese can be taken offensively. There are many qualities to being a Japanese person as there is simply being a human; but because Japan is such a homogeneous society, there is a certain aspect to their culture that can be generalized and grouped easily. So when I am referring to being Japanese or being American, it means to uphold the values of the respective cultural ways. As a Chinese American born and raised in southern California, I have always been torn between eastern and western ways. Having lived in a western society all my life, it always seemed to have an upper hand with my upbringing. The importance of independence, being opinionated, speaking up for yourself, and treating everyone equally are strong suits of what it means to be American. When I lived in Japan, I found myself being heavily reliant on people, quieting my opinions, not speaking up, and not being treated as an equal. I was essentially stripping my Americaness, and part of my developed identity, away. Coming back, I have carried my newly learned Japanese ways and discovered that I am sinking in western society. I’m getting pushed around more so than ever, I feel immensely guilty even at the thought of speaking up, and my hyper humility has made me more shy than I have ever been. What happened to that strong, independent woman who had no trouble standing up for herself before? So, now I am on a personal path of learning all over again. I’ve learned to be me in the states pre-JET, I’ve unlearned a part of me to assimilate to Japan, and now I am re-learning everything I have gained through all my experiences and tacking it on to being a Or draw. Or take pictures. stronger, better me. The clock strikes 5:00pm. I’ve finished my time at the consulate and Or whathaveyou. I’m ready for my re-newed life in America. Otsukaresama deshita, @API is always looking for Nippon. You’ll always be a part of me as I continue learning. ◆ contributions. Share your story today! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Charity Event for the Philippines Seeks to Aid, Interculturalize, and Build Community written by Alexis Tai (茨城県)
espite falling snow and icy roads on December 15, 2013, Inawashiro Mahabi-Ina in Fukushima hosted a Charity Event Skills Auction with thirtythree attendees, including six Japanese locals and four people from outer prefectures as far away as Yamanashi, who were gathered to share a traditional Philippine meal and offer their time, money, skills, and appetites to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan (“Yolanda” in the Philippines). Erika Ehren and Russell Aquino, both 3rd year JETs in Fukushima and people of Filipino descent, spearheaded the event after learning the extent of the damage from the Category 5 Super Typhoon that struck the islands last November. Over 6,000 fatalities, 4 million displaced, and $35billion in damages resulted from this disaster. “My heart hurt,” says Ehren of her reaction to the news in November. “I feel intrinsically connected to the Philippines and to know that so many people that I feel this connection to were suffering was really difficult for me to handle. And I felt really helpless. Anything I did, anything I wanted to do, I felt that
it wasn’t enough.” That’s when Aquino approached her with a proposal to make an event to help. After a mere three weeks and a whirl-wind of organizing and preparation, with the help of their CIR Andrew, their plan to raise money for the Philippine Red Cross in the form of a lunch and skills auction came to fruition. A huge amount of interest from potential attendees forced a location change. Snow resulted in unrealized plans for Philippine dances and presentations and quizzes. But somehow the event transformed into much more than a way to donate to a cause; it became something educational, personal, and even community building. “Sure we thought it would be great idea to be able to raise some money to send, but that became almost a secondary goal for us,” says Aquino. “We just wanted to get a group of people together and share a little bit about the Philippines. Like, you’ve heard about the devastation of the typhoon, but there really is more to the country than that, and here’s a little bit of it. So it became more of an interculturalization event.”
“We just wanted to get a group of people together and share a little bit about the Philippines...”
Left: Filipino food prepared by the event organizers. Right: Russell Aquino and Erika Ehren.
Snowfall in Inawashiro during the event. And Ehren and Aquino know something about interculturalization as North Americans of Filipino descent. “I’m half,” explains Ehren. “I was born in the US but I’ve been to the Philippines I think 14 times—pretty much every other summer. I’ve experienced monsoons and flooding in Manila, and I know how bad that is there, and I just can’t even imagine what those people experienced after Typhoon Haiyan. It just felt very important to me to do something to help.” Aquino, on the other hand, was actually born in the Philippines. “My family and I moved to Canada when I was 10 years old,” Aquino explains, “so I have a very vivid recollection of the Philippines and a strong tie to it. So when this event happened, I knew I had to do something, even if I didn’t know anybody in the affected region. I’m one of them.” Just as Ehren and Aquino’s connection with the Philippines drove them to offer tangible, financial aid, their connection also drove their heart behind interculturalizing attendees at the event. There is little chance to learn about the Philippines in Japan, they explain, and in light of a disaster it might be easy to slate a group of people as victims. This was something Ehren and Aquino hoped to combat. “If we could share even a little bit about the country that would allow people to move beyond totally having the image of the Philippines as a typhoon victim then I thought that would be a success,” says Aquino. “[Attendees] got to know
the names of some of the food. They got to see the outfit that Erika was wearing, which was part of a traditional costume. And now they have an idea, yeah, Filipinos love mangos, hence the Philippine mango juice.” The event also invited attendees to do more than merely become donors to a cause by asking what skills they personally had to offer. Attendees donated Japanese lessons, PowerPoint tutorials, artwork, and even their own hospitality as hosts for snowboarding weekends in Fukushima. They were creative in their giving, and playfully competitive in their desire to win even a box of Christmas cookies. Aquino says, “Whether you attended as a contributor to the skills auction or a purchaser or even if you just attended and saw [the auction], and thought, ‘Oh what a great idea. Maybe I can take something of this and use it at another event’—it’s building community right there.” The financial success of the event was in large part thanks to the ¥100,000 contribution from Eyes for Fukushima (E4F), a charity group that was established after the earthquake hit the Eastern coast of Japan. After the earthquake, the Filipino community put in a huge order for E4F’s fundraising T-shirts and supported their fundraising efforts. Ehren explains, “when they heard about our charity for the Philippines, they said that there was no question: ‘We are going to help you and give back to the Filipino community.’” (For more information about this charity, please see their website: http://e4f.fujet.org/). With their contribution, the event raised a net total of ¥295,400, allowing for a USD$3,000 donation to the Philippine Red Cross. “To say that we were astonished at the amount of money that people gave, the generosity that they showed, would be an understatement,” Ehren explains of her feelings about the event. “Even days later, I can’t even believe how wonderful people were.” “I want to say thank you to everyone who came to the event,” Aquino says in closing. “Yes, financially we are able to help. That’s wonderful. Yes we achieved our goal of cultural introduction to the Philippines in a small way. That’s wonderful. But in the end, it’s the fact that a lot of people came and a lot of people showed support. It makes the panicky moments, it makes the falling down in the snow moments, it makes the crazy drives and the having to stay up until 5 in the morning and wake up at 7, and smelling like fried food for two days—it makes all of that worth it just to see a whole community come together.” ◆
“If we could share even a little bit about the country... that would be a success.”
CIR I n t e r v i e w :
Arturo Toyama Higuchi Courtesy of ザ・CIR Newsletter: Turning Over A New Leaf (November 2013)
Hola amigos. ¿Cómo están? My name is Arturo Toyama Higuchi and I’m 30 years old. I was born and raised in Lima, Peru in South America. I have Japanese background, but I only spoke Spanish at home. I started learning Japanese when I turned 19, and I had the chance to improve my Japanese thanks to a scholarship to study at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. This is my fourth time in Japan and second in Okinawa. I came in April 2012, so this is my second year in Okinawa working as a CIR at the Prefectural Government. I’m very happy to be here.
達させるチャンスをいただきました。今回 で日本に来るのが4回目で、沖縄は2回目で す。2012年の4月に沖縄に来たので、県のCIR として働いて今年で2年目になります。ここ にいる事をとても嬉しく思います。 What made you interested in the JET Programme? Why did you decide to become a CIR? どういうきっかけでJETプ ログラムに興味を持ちましたか？なぜ国際交 流員になろうと思ったんですか？
The JET Programme was interesting for me because ever since I was a teenager, my dream was to work overseas and work with people of different nationalities. I Hola amigos. ¿Cómo están? 私の名前は saw it as an opportunity I couldn’t miss. 当山樋口アルトゥーロ、30歳です。私は生ま I decided to become a CIR for many れも育ちも南アメリカにあるペルーのリマで reasons, but I think the most important す。日本のバックグラウンドがありますが、 are the following: to be a bridge between 家ではスペイン語で会話していました。19歳 Peru and Japan, more specifically to help の時に日本語を習い始めて、奨学金のおかげ the Japanese understand a little more で東京外国語大学へ留学して、日本語を上 about Peru; and to grow professionally
Higuchi as one of the staff for the Uchina Junior Study.
and as a person. This program is really ので、自分は彼らにとって新しいペルーを教 helping me to fulfill the goals set years えています。また、いろんな人たちが私に対 ago. して大きい期待を寄せているので、たった唯 一のペルー出身CIRになることは大きな責任 JETプログラムは私にとって、10代からとて があります。そして彼らの期待にこたえられ も興味があることでした。外国で働いて違う るようにベストを尽くしています。問題の一 国籍の人たちと一緒に仕事することが夢でし つに、職場では私しかスペイン語を話せない た。私はこれを絶対に見逃せないチャンスだ ので、病気になることは許されません(笑)。 と感じました。CIRになると決めましたたく さんの理由はありますが、すごく重要な理由 Can you give us a few examples of が二つあります。一つはペルーと日本の架け what it’s like working in your office? 橋になること。もう少し詳しく言うと、日本 What are some of the main things 人にペルーに対しての理解を深めてもらう手 that you do? Anything related to 助けをすることです。そしてもう一つがプロ Peru? あなたが所属している場所について フェッショナルとして、そして人として成長 いくつか例をあげてください。主にどういう すること。このプログラムは、私が数年前に 仕事をしていますか？ペルーに関連する仕事 設定した目標の達成へ近づけてくれます。 もしていますか？ The majority of CIRs in Japan are from English-speaking countries. What’s it like being the only CIR from Peru? Have you encountered any difficulties? 日本にいる国際交流員の ほとんどが英語圏です。ペルー出身の唯一の 国際交流員として、どんな感じですか？困っ たことはありますか？ To be honest, I think every CIR encounters difficulties of their own, but I’d say I have not had problems communicating with other people. That is because I can also speak English, and at work, the languages I use the most are Spanish and Japanese. What’s it like to be a CIR from Peru? Well, it’s great! Most Okinawans don’t know much about Peru except for Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines, so any topic I talk to them about is new information. Being the only CIR from Peru also means a big responsibility because there are many people expecting a lot from me, so I’m doing my best to live up to those expectations. One of the difficulties is that I’m also the only one who speaks Spanish in the office so I’m not allowed to get sick. (laughs) 正直に言うと、CIRの皆さんはそれぞれ違う 問題にぶつかるとは思いますが、私に関して 言えば、英語も話せますし、職場では日本語 とスペイン語を使う事が多いので、他の人と コミュニケーションをとることは問題ではあ りませんでした。ペルー出身のCIRになるこ ととはどんなこと？う～ん、すばらしいです よ！多くの沖縄の人たちは、マチュピチュと ナスカの地上絵以外はペルーをほぼ知らない
Yes. I have a lot of duties here in Okinawa, but I’ll just mention some. For example, I translate different documents, interpret for ambassadors who visit the governor, go to schools to introduce Peru to children, teach Spanish, etc. The job I like the most is the program called Uchina Junior Study where Okinawan descendants from around the world gather here for two weeks to learn about history, culture, nature and the reality of Okinawa. For this year’s program I’m in charge of the participants from Peru, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. Everyday I do something different, so it’s an exciting job! はい。ここ沖縄ではたくさん仕事があります が、いくつか例をあげます。文書の翻訳や、 知事表敬の通訳、学校訪問した時に子どもた ちにペルーの紹介をしたり。世界中にいる沖 縄県系の子孫たちが集まり、歴史や文化、 自然や現在の沖縄について勉強する｢ウチナ
Higuchi helping Miss Mexico.
Higuchi in Peru with a study group from Okinawa.
ージュニアスタディ｣事業がいちばん好きで す。今年のUJSでは、ペルー、メキシコ、ア ルゼンチン、ブラジル、そしてボリビアから の参加者たちの世話をしました。毎日違う事 をするので、とても興奮する仕事です!
きれいなもの（そしてそこまできれいじゃな いもの）を見せる事が出来てとても嬉しかっ たです。 What is your definition of “international exchange”? あなたにと って「国際交流」は何ですか？
Since you’ve been a CIR, what has been the highlight of your job? Both in and outside of work! 国際交流員とし Well, what I answer may sound obvious, て、今まで一番印象深いことはなんでしょう but to me international exchange is か？仕事に関係することとプライベートも！ to teach and learn about different countries and cultures. One of the main This year I was part of a team that roles of the CIR is to teach Japanese was in charge of the “Kaihou Youshu” people about your country and try to program. Its goal is for young Okinawans amend the stereotypes they may have. to learn about the history of Okinawan I believe international exchange also migration and know the reality of the means treating people from other races, descendants living overseas. So, every nationalities, ideas, religions, etc with year they go to a different country. In respect. the beginning they used to go to the US, but since 2010 they decided to go この件に関しての私の回答は結構明白です to South America. Fortunately, this year が、私にとって国際交流とは違う国や文化を they decided to go to Peru! As a result 教えたり学んだりすることです。国際交流員 I was asked to join the team. I was in としての重要な仕事の一つとして、日本人に charge of the translations, making the 外国の事や、日本人の持っているステレオタ schedules and organize the program イプを改めさせることです。また、国際交流 with the Okinawan Association in Peru. とは、他の民族や国籍、アイデアや宗教など I was happy to show the beautiful (and を、敬意を持って取り扱う事だと思っていま not so beautiful) aspects of my country す。◆ to the participants. Read more in “ザ・CIR Newsletter: Turning 今年は｢海邦養秀｣と呼ばれる事業に関わりま Over a New Leaf (November 2013)” した。この事業の目的は、若い沖縄の人た http://www.cirhomepage.org/newsletter ちに沖縄からの移住の歴史や移住した人々の 現実を学習することです。この事業では、毎 年違う国に行きます。初めのころはアメリカ へ行っていましたが、2010年より南米に行く ことを決定しました。幸運なことに、今年は ペルーへ行くことが決定していました。なの で担当者よりこの事業に関わらないか、と聞 かれました。私は主に翻訳やスケジュール作 成、ペルーにある沖縄県人会との調整等 を担当しました。参加者に私の出身国の
Secret Asian Man Hawaii 5
written by Albert David Valderrama (茨城県)
peration Hibiscus was going according to plan. The eight-hour flight from a short stint in Seoul was complete, and I was able to rendezvous with my new entourage after changing disguises in an airport lavatory. Everything was perfect. It was almost too perfect. Once reconnaissance was complete, I was scheduled to take part in a matrimonial ceremony and act as a bodyguard for a military official. The officer had apparently possessed one of the highest clearance levels possible, and my orders made it clear that his safety was not to be compromised at any time during his leave from base. First, though, our team had to secure the perimeter and canvas the area days in advance for any bugs or enemy spies. The team was an assembly of men with whom I had conducted missions in the past. On point was “Vegeta,” cryptographer and medic. On tech was “the Prince,” computer expert and counterfeiter. On supplies was “Bags,” wheelman and resident mechanic. And on logistics was me, codenamed “Brother,” information specialist and linguist. No matter how much of our mission histories overlapped, however, we had never worked together before under such foreign circumstances. Though we had been a unit years ago for nearly a decade
on and off, it was our first time doing a “shield” mission, and it was also our first time in the middle of the Pacific. But the most important point to realize was that the old team was back together again, minus one. That was why it was all the more suspicious that everything had been going off without a hitch. One afternoon, that changed while reconnoitering a nearby plaza for anomalous elements. It was the day before the main event, and we needed to get it all correct. We had to make sure that nobody’s cover was blown, and somehow it was all too easy until that point. “Tourists,” it said on our summons. “Mainland Americans, vacationing in Waikiki. English only. No accents.” Copy that. We knew the drill. Blend in. As the Prince and Bags were finishing up final surveillance procedures at the venue, Vegeta and I walked the surrounding area. We passed by a few restaurants, hotels, and shops on the way back to base, checking for mysterious persons and miscellaneous things. We entered a few establishments to dig deeper, but nothing seemed out of place until we arrived at a ukelele store at the end of the avenue, supposedly staffed by local Continued on the next page.
@API islanders according to a detailed mission pre-departure report. Walking in, my partner said hello. The shopkeeper looked up from a magazine and saw him cross the threshold into the store. She replied, “Hello,” and closed her reading material. Then, after I came into her view, she said, “Konnichiwa.” She stood straighter and more attentive. She darted her eyes to a closed-circuit camera, and went back to me. I froze at the entrance. It was happening again. Like the patrolman who was once in my windshield, the shopkeeper spotted me. I looked at Vegeta and signaled with my eyes that we had to go. Something was amiss. Swiftly we took a beeline back to base. Everything wasn’t perfect after all. Our identities were compromised. The operation was in danger. We called the rest of the team for a sit-rep, and as the phone continued to ring on the other end, we could feel everyone’s eyes follow us speeding through the crowd. What was going on? “Have you heard anything from the package?” a panicked Prince finally answered the line. “No,” Vegeta replied. “We thought you were watching him.” “We still haven’t gotten a visual,” the Prince explained, “and there was an incident.” Apparently another of our secret agents from Bravo Team was involved in a traffic collision while delivering some equipment to our makeshift warehouse. Moreover, Bags had to look for one of our men who had gone AWOL. I requested that they contact Delta and Foxtrot Teams. It was a Code Magenta emergency. We had to regroup. On top of it all, the package was still unaccounted for. The operation was teetering towards Code Fuchsia, so Vegeta made an executive decision. “We’re not supposed to make direct contact with the package before the day of delivery,” I told him. That was explicit in the mission briefing, but before I knew it, his things were packed and we were grabbing a cab for Downtown Honolulu.
API AJET The shield mission became a search. “Patch him up as soon as possible!” my companion yelled over the phone. “And bring back that rogue agent. We’re heading to the pad.” Before the other team members could protest, he hung up the line and ordered the driver to stop. We were at the determined pick up location, ten hours early, hoping the target was neither injured nor worse. All we could do was hope, almost literally. At the door to the target’s supposed residence, we were greeted by an electronically locked gate. It was keycardaccessible only. No other locks. No other doors. Only one way in. Only one way out. The security guards behind the windows stared in our direction. We had to get in, but it was proving more difficult than planned. In fact, there was no plan. But without the package secured, there was also no mission. “Do we just knock?” I asked Vegeta. “I don’t know,” he whispered. All of the facility’s cameras were aimed at us like a firing squad. “Maybe we should just ask,” I offered from the corner of my awkward grin meant to confuse the closed-circuit glares. “Like ‘Can the Admiral come out and play’?” He actually seemed serious. I had no other legitimate ideas. “Maybe we can tell them it’s ‘Security Guards’ Day Off’ or something.” As soon as the last “something” rolled off my tongue, though, the gate opened, and a heavy-set guard commanded us to enter. It was definitely something. But it was much better than nothing. We collectively wondered what the situation truly was. Was the target safe? Did the security guards do something? Did they know who we were? Was it a trap? It had to be one of the above. We were then greeted by a slew of questions from the guard. “Who are you? What’s your clearance? Who sent you? What’s your business? Are you armed? Do you have credentials?” They kept coming like a barrage of bullets. We had no time to respond. We had no alternate identities to use except for the names on our passports,
API AJET so we stayed quiet. Still the interrogation continued. Eleven. Twelve. Maybe thirteen questions came every second. We felt every light pointed towards us; every security guard on duty glaring like the bulbs in the lamps above; walls closing in like a giant trash compactor on a death star. There was no end to the question storm. Then a ding emanated from behind the big man. An elevator opened, and a dark figure emerged. Maybe he was there to finish us off. Maybe it would be another mission failure. Maybe it was worse. As his footsteps drew nearer, echoing in the corridor, our hearts pounded louder in our chests. The two sounds competed with each other like two drum lines, tapping and banging in a battle to see which rhythm would win. But as the imaginary music crescendoed, everything stopped abruptly with a hand. It was a handshake. “I’ve been waiting for you,” the figure said with a big smile. “But aren’t you a little early?” As his face came into the light revealing his highly decorated uniform, his name tag glimmered, “Admiral.” Our jaws dropped at the sight of our supposed target. The Admiral’s smile and voice were as familiar as our own. After the initial
@API shock wore off, we realized that indeed he had been one of our own. And at that moment, all of the lights turned on in our heads. All the pieces fell into place, and rightly so because all the pieces were under the Admiral’s control the whole time; or I should say, under “the Entertainer’s” control. Our former unit’s chemist and ballistics expert was never compromised and neither were we because everyone had been on his side. He had the clearance level after all. We were just pawns in the king’s game, and with his charm, honored to be as such. The remainder of the operation went off without a hitch the next day, with the old team reunited. Our colleague from Bravo Team was bandaged, and the rogue agent returned. More importantly, our former “Voltron” unit was able to finally share a congratulatory drink by the end of it all despite having been on edge the entire week. The stress definitely brought the team closer together like we had never been before. It was good to see that we could still meld under such circumstances. The mission was complete. The friendships were rekindled. We are now just waiting for the next set of orders to come so we could have another excuse to meet again. ◆
API AJET I enter the store full of bravado. I signal with a finger and an unsure smile. It’s just me! No words are needed, only the use of universally understood gestures from the hungry herd. Whew! My heart. I can hear the apprehensive どきどき！ They don’t yet suspect. My secret is still my own. There are no stares, no questioning glances. I am one of them.
written by Erika Ehren (福島県)
I sit down at the counter, my dictator stomach and I, and grab a menu. I can read it! Wonder of wonders! (But only a little.) The inadequacy of illiteracy sometimes is overwhelming, but this time this time! I think I’ll be OK. I’ll stick to the basics. But wait. The seasonal dish looks so scrumptious… ORDER IT! The dictator loudly growls in my ear. But…I can’t read the kanji. I try anyway. Maybe my dictionary? No. That won’t work. Maybe I’ll just wing it? Let’s try! My stubborn heart whispers to my brain, for it’s in my hopeful heart that I desperately wish that I could speak Japanese. But my brain, that know-it-all, knows the score.
API AJET I call the waitress. Her – Unsuspecting. Me – Resigned. The race starts well. I’m off the blocks, the words sprinting gracefully past my lips. Yes, ドリンクバー please. Yes, some ぎょうざ. But now I’ve reached the first hurdle and my Japanese mask is torn off. The words are tumbling end over end over my clumsy tongue, a bunch of muscles which have not yet been trained for the Tokyo marathon. ら over めん ぎょう over ざ お over ね and がい Dripping from my mouth like water through a sieve. I can’t stop the flow. I’m throwing drops of language about the room. Shake it! Shake it! Shake it! Casting about for the correct kanji reading like the shaking of water from the steaming noodles I so craved earlier. Shake it! Shake it! Shake it! Japanese all over the place, scattered about like drops of paint on a Jackson Pollock painting. Shake it like a Polaroid picture!
I know you expected fluency. I’m doing my best. This isn’t my native tongue. Please stop looking at me like that. This word? Or maybe that one? That’s not right either. Please stop looking at me like that. I want to yell it at the lady slyly glancing at me from across the way. Please stop looking at me like that. I want to tell the store clerk “I’m trying!” Please stop looking at me like that. I want to bellow it from the bottom of my empty stomach. Please stop looking at me like that. The heat of embarrassment sweeps across my deceptively Japanese face, a face that doesn’t actually compute Japanese. Please stop looking at me like that! I’m not Japanese. Ummm… I’m sorry. I’ll just… point at the menu これください。 I’ve… given… up… Please stop looking at me like that. ◆
It’s everywhere I can’t catch them. The right with the wrong, No, but they’re all Wrong. Not right. Where’s my grammar book? Where’s my dictionary? Just give me a moment. Please stop looking at me like that.
review written by Thomas Belfer (東京都) background photo by Rochelle Zheng (千葉県) Hafu is a film portraying the lives a a few mixed race individuals in Japan. Their walks of life and experiences vary, but they all share being part Japanese. Rather than showing a unified experience of being hafu, the director interweaves themes of identity, belonging, language, and the idea of home to show the diversity of the characters. The audience of viewers that showed up for the screening were just as varied as the characters portrayed. There were mixed race people, interracial parents with hafu kids, and others that were just interested. The film has a lot offer to anyone regardless of their racial makeup. There is an innate desire to understand and be understood by those who surround us. Many of us in the JET community can identify with feelings of being bicultural and how this changes when living in Japan. We experience the importance of language and how speaking ability can correlate to acceptance. We know how looks and mannerisms can lead to us being “othered.” The longer you spend abroad, the more home becomes something internal instead of attached to a physical place. Through looking at the lives of the people in the documentary, one reflects on one’s own identity and culture. I personally identify as someone of mixed race, Asian American, and a third culture kid. I went to this film curious about whether I’d be able to relate. While some of the character’s experiences remain foreign to me, other parts succeeded in making me empathize with them. Some of the most poignant scenes were the JapaneseKorean woman feeling like she had to keep her Korean heritage a secret, the Japanese-Mexican kid being teased in school for being gaijin, and the Japanese-Venezuelan man dealing with having to give up one passport. I don’t think the documentary tries to provide any definitive answers on what it means to be hafu and merely states that Japan is changing. As the faces and people that make up Japan change, so too will the national mindset have to change on what being authentically Japanese is. ◆
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