I touched on this in my post about cultural appropriation and Japan studies, but one of the reasons I got irritated in Japan with the constant “where are you from?” questions, was less for myself (I’m not from there) and more because it’s a burden that the children of my friends and coworkers raised exclusively in Japan have to bear (who may not “appear” to be “Japanese” at first glance, particularly if they’re multiracial). Addendum: I realize this post probably comes as flippant and ignoring the greater issues of being non-white and Japanese or multiracial and Japanese in Japan, especially given that time has passed since I originally wrote it and more people are now discussing this topic in relation to Ariana Miyamoto, Miss Japan 2015. In addition to her story, I’d like to also share some more recent articles on this: this article on “passing” and multiracial erasure in the US, and this one on the film Hafu: Mixed Race in Japan. And to note that, while there are negative stereotypes about white and white-appearing people, that white-appearing people often are associating with “benevolent” stereotypes, which, while problematic, are not nearly as damaging and dangerous as the negative stereotypes about Black people and people of Korean, Filipino, and Chinese descent (regardless of nationality) are.
Kanadajin3’s “White Japanese People – 白人系日本人” is video with commentary from several white people raised in Japan and the challenges they face as racial Others. The video is bilingual and very well done, highlighting the perceived connection between race and nationality in Japan. Don’t think that Americans and other nationalities don’t do this, too–see “What kind of Asian are you?” for a great response to Americans who do this. That still doesn’t make it okay in Japan–it means we need to think more seriously about how subtle and insidious racism can be.
I’d love to see more stories, especially from non-white minorities in Japan, who are by far more marginalized. Also, don’t read the comments.