「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら
「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら


Thinking outside the box

By Samantha Loong


"How can you be from New Zealand?" "But Malaysians have darker skin." "Are you mixed?" "But you look so Japanese." "Even your hair is black." "But you have dark eyes." "Parts of you look Japanese, but parts look more Chinese." "You must be mixed." "Are you sure you don't have any Japanese blood?"

When I first meet people in Japan — Japanese and non-Japanese — these are just some of the painful questions and comments I have to steel myself for. And they often come exactly in the order above from educated, well-travelled people. Instead of finding out more about New Zealand, or what brought me to Japan, these people often end up making me feel like an object for them to dissect and put into one of their boxes.

Across the world, many educated, well-travelled people often put others into boxes from an early age. From what we're supposed to wear and play with, to how we're supposed to behave, boxing people into restrictive categories stops everyone from learning about others and themselves.

I've had to endure years of having to explain and defend my identity. So I was pleasantly surprised when I moved into my Kobe neighbourhood and met some individuals who showed an incredible — and sadly rare — ability to think outside the box.

First was the greying gas man who came to fix my water heater. He saw my name on the form and asked where I was from. I readied myself for the interrogation and said, "New Zealand." He paused and replied with something I'd never heard before: "Lots of Asian people live in Australia and New Zealand, don't they? What's it like?"

Next was the Kansai "aunty" that I buy my bento lunches from every morning before work. When I told her I was an English teacher, she surprised me by asking if I was from the U.S. I said "New Zealand," and instead of the typical response, she said: "One of my regulars is a Taiwanese lady. I admire how both of you can start new lives in another country."

And then there was the tofu seller, an elderly, friendly chap. Once, he heard me and a friend talking in English outside his shop. The next time I went to his shop, he said how he thought it was cool to be able to speak more than one language.

Putting things into boxes can be useful: safe to eat vs. unsafe to eat. Everyone has created boxes in their lives, whether intentionally or not. But when it comes to people who don't fit the box you thought suited them, life — and conversations — will be much more interesting if you don't try to stuff them back in.



The Japan Times ST: October 2, 2015

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート




2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版