AP Writer Natalie Obiko Pearson describes her life as a “haafu” in Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun.
I’ll always remember the feeling of liberation upon arriving in America. My appearance drew no attention, I spoke English with the neutral American inflections picked up at the international school — I could pass.
Then came the pitfalls of my complete unfamiliarity with America: I knew none of the references to popular culture; I wasn’t used to interrupting people so I never got a word in edgewise. I thought a Subway sandwich was something sold in the subway.
In Australia and the United States, countries of immigration built on diversity, I can pass as a native. In Japan I can only do it over the phone. The game is up the moment they see my face or hear my name — Pea-ya-son, as it’s pronounced in Japanese.
Trapped in a culturally ambiguous haafu land, I find kindred spirits in people who have grown up as immigrants or so-called “kikoku shijo” — Japanese partially raised abroad who don’t carry an ounce of foreign blood, yet are marginalized once they return.
Still, the fact that such people exist in Japan means there’s an end in sight — the makeup of the country is changing.
Many here believe that Japan, with its rapidly graying population, has no choice but to open its doors to a massive influx of foreign labor within the next couple of decades. Japanese society will doubtless endure some painful teething. But, frankly, I can’t wait.