So says Arucard

え? ア、ごめん。





"You don't look Asian!" "I'm not." ...Am I?

Whenever I meet someone new at a party or other social function beside church, the conversation inevitably turns to where I'm from. For simplicity's sake I usually say Illinois or, more recently, Pennsylvania. At churches I usually say that I am from Japan, just because that's what they expect to hear from a missionary kid like me. But it always boils down to just one place, because the truth is really much more complicated. If I tell non-church people that I am from Tokyo I have to suffer their reaction of, “But you don't look Japanese!” If I answer Pennsylvania, they ask what I was doing there, and I say college, which was true. But really, I don't know where I'm from. I'm most comfortable in between places; I'm most comfortable being perpetually on the move - being a traveller. But that is not a good answer for someone who's expecting geographical coordinates.

Now that I've been in the States for the past three years, I don't get the question as often, but sometimes someone will still tell me, knowingly, “Japan must be really different from America, huh?” I usually just smile and nod and chuckle, because the truth is much more complicated. The truth is that Japan is nothing and everything like America at the same time. How can I explain that in a single-serving conversation? How can I explain that it's the minute differences in the culture that make living in Japan totally different? How can I sort my experiences out in my head objectively to see that some things I take for granted, take for 'normal,' are really everything but? If someone asks me what a typical day as a high-schooler in Japan was like, here is how I would answer:

“Well, I wake up in the morning about 7:00, because school starts at 8:25. I usually hit the snooze button until 7:15, at which time I wake up and get dressed. I reach into my closet and throw on a pair of faded jeans and a Weezer t-shirt. I tromp downstairs to the breakfast table, pour myself a bowl of Raisin Bran and some orange juice, and eat breakfast while listening to a morning show on the radio. After breakfast I quickly get my chores done, after which I put on my Adidas tennis shoes, grab my backpack filled with English, History, and Math textbooks, and go to the train station to catch a train for school. I listen to Guns 'n Roses on my iPod during my 20 minute commute. I get to school, say 'Hi” to a few friends, and go to my locker to put my books away. My girlfriend runs up and gives me a hug and a kiss, and I am off to first period Bible class.

The day progresses, taking me through English, Global Issues, Advanced Algebra, and Yearbook class, after which I have lunch in the school cafeteria, spaghetti. After lunch is Home Economics, Spanish, and Biology classes. School ends at 3:25, after which I have wrestling practice 'til 6pm. Practice ends, and I go to the local convenient store to buy a quick snack. I meet a friend there, and we go to a local McDonalds for a burger before I take the train home again, this time choosing the Goo Goo Dolls as my soundtrack for the train ride. I get home, play some Unreal Tournament 2004 online, and then eat cold dinner. Tonight my family had a pork roast. After dinner I play some more online, and then do some homework while IM'ing with five of my classmates about plans for our school's winter formal. I watch an episode of LOST that I downloaded, and around 11:30pm I go to bed, a full day having passed.”

How does that sound different form a day that any American teen would have? Sure maybe the “train commute” would be replaced by “car ride”, but that's really about it. Is that what people who expect me to delve into details about crazy Asians doing kung-fu in the streets and dodging dodge mental taxi drivers and punks on motorcycles want to hear? No. But it's the details, the boring details, that make life in Japan so vibrantly different from life in America. My story, with the details, would be really different.

I wake up at 7:15 and roll off a futon. My alarm clock has a Japanese character for the day of the week. My closet has two sliding paper doors and holds futon on the bottom shelf. The milk and OJ that I have for breakfast are packaged in liter cartons made from recycled paper. The DJs on the Armed Forces Network morning show are named Staff Sargent Peters and Airman First Class Rodriguez. My chores include things like separating colored glass bottles from clear glass bottles, because Japan recycles them differently. I have to sort aluminum and steel cans, and cut up milk cartons for recycling. I bike to the train station, and have to park my bike in an underground bicycle parking lot that has a monthly fee. Commuter trains arrive every two minutes or so, on the dot. While on the train I have to lower my backpack from my shoulders to the floor in order to accommodate more people in the jam-packed train car. As I swipe my train pass to get through the ticket wicket I see other kids who attend my school try to avoid paying, and then pretend they don't speak Japanese when they are caught. My Bible class includes Christian responses to other world religions such as Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shintoism. More than half of my classmates in any and all of my classes are Asian. In Spanish class I sit next to a girl who already speaks English, Japanese, and Korean fluently.

At lunch, which was served to me by Japanese lunch ladies, I sit with a bunch of guys and the conversation turns to whether 'halfs' (usually half-Asian half-white) girls are more attractive than pure Asian girls, with the final consensus split right down the middle. My girlfriend is pure Japanese so, of course, I am biased. My snack after wrestling practice is not Snickers and soda, but rather green tea and riceballs. The store sold Snickers, sure, but I wasn't interested. My friend and I walked to the local McDonalds (which has free WiFi), because it was within walking distance, much like every other business we frequent. There my friend asked my advice concerning a mutual friend who has started drinking – something easily started when alcohol is available in vending machines. The Japanese businessman sitting next to me on the train during the ride home reads a pornographic magazine. I play online games at speeds double that of what most gamers in the States are used to. Because of the nature of being in the city (Tokyo) and the density of the population, cable companies can afford to provide much better service to more people at a lower cost. MSN Messenger is the client of choice for my buddies, something nearly unheard of in AOL and AIM-dominated America. I fall asleep to the hum of a kerosene space-heater, because Japanese homes do not have central heating.

These are the details that make my life unique, but these are not the details in which I feel that the person opposite me is interested. So what do I do? I water my life down to something he or she can relate to, at the risk of he or she being disappointed. This makes these conversations easier for me because I can have a canned speech that I give to everyone. They wouldn't understand even if I told them, would they?