Japan’s not all about sushi and karate

2011-03-12 13:04

I first came to South Africa in 1994 with my parents. My mother is from Wentworth and she was homesick.
My father is Japanese, he was a sailor and a chef on a Japanese fishing boat that docked in Cape Town.

They met in a book store, fell in love and got married.

My favourite place in South Africa is Durban ­because of the weather and the beach.
I’ve lived in Johannesburg, but I found everything to be so far apart there. I’d like to visit Cape Town one day.

The thing I’ve come to love about South Africa is that people here are very driven and passionate.
The country has a great atmosphere and I love the nature – the wild animals, the veld, the safaris and the amazing scenery.

What I don’t like about South Africa is the crime.
When I was young, I remember visiting Durban at ­Christmas time and we’d go and see the lights on the streets.

Now, after dark, everyone is indoors and you can’t go out and see the lights because of the crime.

In Japan the work ethic is extremely high, as is the discipline.
The work environment in SA is not very adventurous, people don’t take risks or ­explore new ideas.

They want to be safe. But if you don’t take risks you miss out on the possibility of good things.

Being Japanese in SA is interesting.
You get a lot of diverse cultures here, but it’s not every day that you see a Japanese guy walking down the street. So it’s often hard to interact with people, there is a huge ethnic barrier. It takes a bit more effort to interact with strangers.

I am half Japanese and half coloured and when I lived in Japan during the height of apartheid, I was the coloured boy.
At primary school I was the gaijin – the foreigner – and it wasn’t pleasant.

I made some friends, but the majority of kids didn’t want me in the mix. I was often on my own.

Back in the day, Japanese society was xenopho bic, but these days I do my best to know what’s going on there.
I was born there, and it’s still my home country.

Since I left in 1994, I think Japan has become a lot more diverse. I see more foreigners going there on business. I see Japan opening its arms to welcome people and I sometimes wish I was still living there.

People are a lot friendlier here since 1994, there is not such a brick wall when you are trying to interact with strangers.
Now, when I talk to people who are interested in Japan and my experiences and I tell them I am half coloured, they ask me what it feels like to be a combination of such ­diverse identities.

The thing I’d like people to know about Japan is that it’s not all sushi and karate.

It’s also a very cultured and spiritual society. Japanese ­people ­believe that there is life in everything and Buddhism is a major religion in Japan, where we have lots of Buddhist shrines and temples dotted on all the secluded mountain ranges.

It’s a very technological society; but it has a really deep, old-school, spiritual side.

If I could take a South African to Japan, I’d take them to Tokyo, which is the New York City of Japan.
It’s all hustle and bustle and technological innovation.

I’d also take them to the mountains of ­Shizuoka Ken to show them the contrasting faces of Japan; and then to the Tokyo Tower, which has fantastic views of Tokyo.

The thing that makes me most proud of being Japanese is that when we go down, we don’t stay down.
After the nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during world war two, we chose to build ourselves up from scratch.

From that disaster we grew stronger and are now one of the world’s most powerful economies.

The food I miss the most is ramen, a Japanese-style soup -and-noodles dish with meat and ­vegetables that have a distinct taste.

My greatest hope for SA is that one day we will all put our differences aside and embrace different cultures and beliefs.

I believe we can do it. The 2010 World Cup was beautiful, I saw complete strangers talking and interacting with one another about the controversial France vs SA match, ­laughing and talking about things you don’t see on any other day.

My hope is that one day we will just be one big, happy family that embraces diversity.
My favourite South Africans are the entire cast of the Pure Monate Show. I loved it, it made me laugh so much.

It used to be really hard to engage with South Africans, because I am half foreign and half South African.
But all my friends are South African now. I don’t find it hard to make friends.

There is no South African food that I just don’t like.
My friends will tell you that I have no problems with eating any food.

I used to get called Fong Kong a lot.
One day I was walking down Russel Street in Durban, ­minding my own business, when two guys came out of a bar, looked at me and said: “Hey Fong Kong, sizokushaya!”

It was so random, I just kept walking. It used to happen a lot, but not any more. I don’t know what’s changed, perhaps it’s because I’ve just gotten bigger.

The thing that infuriates me most about South Africa is that people don’t get to know the cultures of other people.
Instead, they judge you on your looks and what they have heard from unreliable sources.

They are too quick to judge.

I will go back to Japan when I have enough­ money, it’s an expensive trip.
It’s a very good ­economy and if you’re a driven professional you can easily get a job.

My advice to anyone thinking of moving to South Africa is come and make your own judgments.
You’ll hear lots about crime, but come and make up your own mind. This land is beautiful.

I have never thought too deeply about what it means to be coloured.
I go with the flow.

When people ask me what I am, I say I’m Japanese and coloured and I move on.
I am what I am.

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