Today is October 11th but to no one else but me it is a landmark day. Even Tetsu sort of just said "Oh". Today I am celebrating my 30th anniversary of living in Japan! Remember, I am 52 not 60 years old so I've lived longer in Japan than I have in America. So, how true a foreigner am I?
For one thing. A "foreigner" in Japan can never be Japanese. Since everyone is going to look at me and treat me as a foreigner anyway, I'm not going to try to become Japanese either by completely changing my mannerisms or by law. I have American citizenship and always will.
But I do do many things the Japanese way in order to live peacefully in my neighborhood and family (I have a very traditional husband). In the little things that don't matter however, I stick with my American ways. Since many people are interested in what Americans think and are like anyway, why disappoint them, so I am overly friendly with strangers, my clothing tends to be a little louder than my Japanese neighbors, I answer the telephone with "Hello" or "Good morning!" I am slightly dishonest when someone calls trying to sell me something and will speak to them in a more pronounced foreign accent than usual "I'm sorry, I'm a foreigner. My Japanese isn't very good." Usually the salesmen give up right away or in some cases they'll hang up just hearing that first "Hello!" I guess you'd say I use my foreignness to my advantage.
There are times when I've felt that knowing the two cultures is a curse. This is usually when I'm disgruntled with some custom and I grumble that I'd be better off not even knowing the way things are done in the States, I'd probably be more contented. To know that one way is weird but to be able to do nothing about it and look at the other way with envy all the time is a very miserable way to live. There were times when I wondered if giving my children the opportunity to see two cultures was just going to make them unhappy with life in general.
I'm sure my American friends and family would say I've become very Japanese and a little strange. I serve my brother first and he thinks I'm nuts. I don't buy sleeveless blouses or anything with spaghetti straps or that is tight not only because my figure doesn't do it justice but because people my age don't dress like that in Japan. I don't confront people if I disagree with them and have picked up the Japanese custom of being vague and at the same time cooperative. I have an American "friend" here in Japan whom I've exchanged words with just because she thinks I'm too Japanese and need to take a stand on issues that I close my eyes to. She sees me as being hypocritical. I think of myself as being accepting. Her words "You're just too Japanese!" I found somewhat hurtful.
It used to bother me that I'd hear the same line from Japanese friends too. "Tanya is more Japanese than real Japanese." or "Gee, sometimes I forget that you're foreign Tanya, and am amazed at what great English you speak!" Those comments were supposed to be compliments but I took it as "why do you think being Japanese might be better than being what I really am?" Nowadays, I accept the compliment as it was meant to be.
Sometimes I wonder if could ever go back and live in the States. This is a moot question since Tetsu has no desire to spend more than a week in the States. Even that is stressful for him. "These crazy American customs!" But I think I probably could. As I said, I'm really very adaptable.
Definitely my 30 years in Japan have meant I've had an interesting life and that's probably true for people who know me and live with me too. My mother constantly has said how enriched her life has been because I've always told her about Japanese life, the different customs and my thoughts in general. Tetsu too, seems to think I'm his personal walking commentator on American life and he is constantly asking me what Americans think about this or that issue. Hey, mister! I haven't lived there in 30 years! But he comes to his own conclusions about what Americans think just by seeing my reactions to things. (Is he being misled...?) And I think my kids too, have gained from having parents from two cultures Just being able to have traveled to the States every summer of their lives is a plus right?
By the way, that picture at the top is one of the first pictures of me after I came to Japan. Look what 30 years has done to me! It sounds like a long time but actually the time has gone by quickly. Hey! "Home is where your heart is!"