Since moving to Okinawa, I have had to reexamine how I look at myself, others, and the world around me. Needless to say, my experiences aren’t as extreme as other expats stationed in the rural countryside or in cities where foreign women are viewed as hostesses or ugly English teachers. After all, I’m on Okinawa and the amount of Americans is in high abundance. Despite the fact Okinawans live amongst foreigners, not a day goes by where I’m not reminded I am different, the “other”, and not Japanese.
1. My Hair
My curly lion’s mane was my signature back home and carried over here. You can spot me a mile away with my head full of brown, crazy, tresses. When I first arrived, students asked, “Is your hair a perm?”
Hadn’t they ever seen natural, curly hair before? If Japanese want curly hair, they get perms that end up looking wavy. I spent my first two months fending off students sneak attacking from behind to touch my hair, explaining my hair grows out of my head this way, and my parents have curly hair, thus my genetics. I guess when you live in a sea of straight hair, it’s strange to think something other exists.
2. My Honesty and Expressions
One of my friends in the social studies department, Y*, admires my blatant honesty. When he asked if I thought my Cross Fit crush was hot, I didn’t skip a beat, “Oh yes! He’s so handsome!”
Japanese typically don’t show their emotions. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of Japanese friends express themselves marvelously and I appreciate them for it. However, I’ve come to observe through Japanese comedies, there isn’t a myriad of facial expressions either. I know they are capable of expression because I often see children make a variety of faces.
In addition, they use the expression inshindenshin which means communication of mind with mind. I’m sorry, but I can’t read minds. I am neither Edward Cullen nor Marvel super hero. I’m a bit socially retarded and I would appreciate directness. Thanks.
3. I’m Bossy
When it comes to kicking ass, taking names, and getting shit done, I am your woman. While working on the Kakehashi project with my kids, the script was not done, the filming had not started, the teacher in charge didn’t want to ask for my help, and it was due in 10 days to our government board. When the head of the English department gave me full power, I immediately put the kids to work, Japanese system be damned.
Within one week, the filming, acting, and video were finished. I didn’t ask anyone for their permission or their thoughts. I just did it.
While speaking your opinion and giving orders is intimidating in America, it’s not so sought after in Japan. Most Japanese go with the group consensus, afraid to mess up the harmony. Even if someone thinks differently, they usually won’t speak out because going against the group means you’re out of the group and causing trouble.
I may be adding to the stereotype as a brash and abrasive foreigner, but I hate to break it to you, Japan. The rest of the world is not as fake nice as you.
4. I Question Everything
The Japanese like to be given the answer. Their yearning for the correct answer outweighs why many of them don’t question it.
I’m going to bring up Y* again because I rack his brain for answers about Japanese culture. One of my male students wrote an incredibly inspirational opinion on Rent a Friend companies in Tokyo. I believed his entry was wonderful and restored my faith in the youth of Japan.
When Y* read it, he started laughing and I was very confused. There was nothing funny about it. If anything, my student’s entry melted my heart.
“Why are you laughing?” I ask Y*.
“Men don’t really talk about their feelings.”
“It’s because bushido.”
“The spirit of the samurai.”
Clearly confused with wrinkles on my forehead, I say, “But the samurai are all dead…”
5. My Size
When I tell you I am ENORMOUS in Japan, it isn’t an understatement. I wear a size 14, a medium or large in tops, and have a size 9 shoe. While I’m a good curvy in America, in Japan, not so much. I know I’ve been complaining about my height, but height is nothing in comparison to my body type. If I tell someone my weight, their initial thoughts are: I am morbidly obese and diabetic.
If I need clothes, I have to go to the Super Size Store and their clothes are so baggy, I may as well wear a trash bag. Rare trips to mainland are spent haunting the magic wonderland of H&M. Cute shoes do not exist if you’re above size 8. If I want them, I go to the men’s section. Some men’s shoes have a feminine touch so I’ve been getting away with men’s high top kicks.
In America, where people of all different shapes and sizes exist, I felt comfortable in the skin I was in. I was never so body conscious until I came to Japan, where a fat comment is easily passed from woman to woman. No wonder even the tiniest of Japanese women find it important to go on a diet.
So what does an expat gal living in Japan do to create a positive body image? My solution—Cross Fit. As long as I’m fit and feel good about myself, that’s all that matters to me.
Thanks, Japan, for reminding me I’m different and I’m grateful to have been brought up in America, land of the free and home of the brave. As a child born to a Mexican mother and an Italian American father, I have encountered my fair share of differences between Mexican culture, American culture, and bastardized Italian culture, but they all make me unique. Thank you, Japan, for reminding me I’m special, I was born second to no one and equal to a man. Despite our cultural differences, Japan, I find you to be very endearing in pointing out what makes me, me.If you’re interested, check out my new YouTube video featuring Kyle Gott and whale watching!