November 10, 2015 3:15PM JST
As an Asian with a fully Chinese-looking foreigner who was born in Japan and raised in Canada, everyone thinks I am unique and wonders why my Japanese is so good. As a Japanese person living in Japan and has not been fully travelled overseas for a long time, then I would imagine it is probably logic that they see me as having a very unique life. Even for Japanese people who have studied and/or travelled overseas for more than few months, they think I am quite rare. However, for those who have been living with people from different backgrounds in a foreign country, especially since childhood like me, they understand that there are too many people out there similar to me. There are many Asians who born to immigrants or immigrated nationals of the foreign country who cannot read, speak, or understand their descendants’ languages and within this group, a decent percentage can speak and understand but cannot read, or can understand, but cannot speak and read. I am such case.
I was born in Japan. I went to Shanghai when I was 2 months ago because my parents had to go back to their work. I was raised by my grandparents until I was 6 years old when my parents came and brought me to Japan to live with them. Some of the people I talked to, back in Canada, and many of them Caucasians, found it hard to believe that I was not raised by my parents when I was young. I had to explain that it was very common for Asian children to be raised by grandparents, even the foreign country born kids. Such case was my Malaysian descendent school mate born in Canada and raised by grandparents.
After about 6 years in China, I was in Japan, attending kindergarten and elementary school for 3 years until immigrating to Canada. This was where I learned Japanese. Although my first language was probably Shanghainese, which I spoke before going to Japan, I did not officially learn Shanghainese, so I would say my first mother language is Japanese. This was where I learned Japanese and I can speak Japanese as of today, since I talk with Japanese at home, mixing up with Shanghainese, speaking to parents, and English, to my brother who is 10 years younger than me and born in Canada, the year we immigrated to Canada, 2000.
This is the story that I have to tell my Japanese colleagues and other non-westernized Japanese people where I first started to work in Japan and while I travel. Some people would even refuse to speak Japanese to me and switch to English, which I can hardly understand their pronunciation. I tell them that they can talk in Japanese, but still they refuse. I find this is quite difficult for me to accept the fact they treat me as ‘outsider’ (foreigner 外人 (Gaijin) literally means ‘Outsider’; or the full word 外国人 (Gaigokujin) means ‘Person from Outside Country. No one says Gaikokujin; everyone says Gaijin). ‘Gaijin’ term often upsets Caucasians (particularly Caucasians living in Japan), rather than Asians, in general, especially those who can speak Japanese quite fluently and with good pronunciation.
As an Asian and if you have Asian face, some Japanese people think you are Japanese. Majority, I think, especially the older ones, would immediately guess you are not Japanese. So if you can speak Japanese, beware that Japanese can treat you quite differently! I would assume most foreigners living in Japan know this.