Are You Japanese?


My name really shows that I am Japanese. More on male side. As soon as someone hears or reads my name, the first question is “Are you Japanese?” Ethnically YES. Nationality-wise NO, outside of Japan. So, my answer is always Japanese-American.

Question marks stay on their face. Next reaction is “Oh! your mother is American.” Then on, “But you’re not white!” I explain my 40+ years of history that I was born and raised in Japan but my passport is American, and so on.

I ran into some folks with similar experience, for example, Russian woman with a quite Russian name who lived in France now working in Singapore as a French citizen. Parents are from different countries and have two or three nationalities. There are lucky people who have choices like me, or unfortunate who were forced to select nationality due to political, social and economical reasons for the better life.

In the beginning, I blamed on ignorance of those who asked me such a question. Now when I hear “are you Japanese?”, I figure that Singaporeans prefer to categorize everything, trying to fit in the box. There is no middle.

However, Singapore population is consisted of three dominant ethnical groups: Chinese, Malay and Indian. Each expresses, Singaporean Chinese, Singaporean Malay and Singaporean Indian. That leaves question mark. How narrow-minded I was is that I did not know Japanese-American or Mexican-American, such expression is quite unique to Americans. If I introduced myself, American-Japanese, I was wondering if that would be less confusing to digest for Singaporeans?

In New York where we pride on any diversity, I have never questioned, “Are you Japanese?” Quite refreshing to be asked for my ethnical identity, this caused me sort of identity crisis for the first time in my life (being Japanese-American for 5 years now, though), am I Japanese or American? What’s the difference?

Thanks for stopping by.



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