Have I ever mentioned that I’m Japanese?
Or Japanese-American, anyway. Or technically a Japanese-American American-Australian, I suppose.
Anyway, I’ve never been to Japan, and I don’t speak Japanese. Even my mother, who is full-blooded Japanese, was born in America and only went to Japan as an adult. But still there’s a lot of Japanese in her, in terms of temperament and underlying worldview. And so there’s a lot of that in me.
But it’s not something I’ve had an easy time acknowledging.
Actually, that’s an understatement. Growing up, I honestly didn’t see myself as Japanese or Asian-American at all. In my New York neighborhood in the 1970’s, we were far from mono-cultural, but there weren’t a lot of other Asians I guess. And so to my own eyes, I was just white. I don’t think I even fully saw my mother as being Asian. This wasn’t because of any sort of of hyper-progressive perspective which transcended race or anything…I was just oblivious. But it was an obliviousness fueled by shame.
I don’t really know where the shame came from, except that I know it’s a big part of Japanese thinking. It so impacted me that I used to feel embarrassed about my middle name (it’s “Tadashi”…we all have Japanese middle names) and once even pretended to forget what it was.
Of course, it didn’t remain like that. I certainly have become more aware of my ethnic background, even if it still seems a bit remote to me. And as God has led me into my adult years, I’ve even grown to embrace it, though my understanding is still limited. But like me and my brothers, my daughters all have Japanese middle names. And though I have not gotten to Japan, its definitely on my wishlist.
Yesterday, however, I was challenged to have a new appreciation for this side of myself.
I’ve been processing some personal things recently, with lots of prayers and inclining my ears toward God for understanding and revelation, often on long walks in my area (something I’m allowed to do, even in this virus-season). With this has come a fresh recognition that one of my relational habits is to shy away from conflict or tension, and at times to pursue “peace” or “harmony” over actually working things through.
Though there is some strength in being able to ease past conflicts this way, it can also result in other problems. Certainly, it can lead to me internalizing my frustrations rather than dealing with them, which can then lead to those frustrations turning into seething resentment, or outbursts of sudden anger.
And this is not good. It can lead to other troubles, and it has.
And yesterday, as I thought about it, I realized that this is something of a culturally-Japanese quality. Again, there can be strength in this, but in this particular circumstance, it was a weakness.
Connecting my own struggles with Japanese worldview is something of an unusual notion for me. As I’ve said, I don’t think much about being Japanese (or part Japanese) usually. But I realized that to move through this, I was probably going to have to. But not because I wanted to reject or move past or overcome the Japanese aspect of my identity, as you might think from what I’m writing about.
No, rather because I needed to accept it more fully.
I saw with greater clarity than before that it’s only to the degree that I accept my Japanese heritage that I’ll be able to draw from its strengths, and only by coming to see who I am more clearly that I’ll be able to manage the potential weaknesses.
It was an interesting realization to come to. I believe that this is a thought that God led me to. It wasn’t the most profound thought I’d had in this recent season of soul-searching, but it was the most surprising one. And I don’t really know what to make of it at this point, except for it represents a potential shift in my thinking. I want to give God permission to take me as far as he’d like in this process.
Interestingly, at the same time, I also started to look at the park I was sitting in (which I’m also allowed to do at the moment) like it was a piece of Asian art. I don’t know much about Asian or Japanese art, but I do know that often the human figures are depicted as small in the face of the nature and the environment, which can be huge and dominant. Recently, I’ve even begun to gravitate toward taking pictures like that myself.
And so I decided to capture the moment by taking a photograph of where I was. A self-portrait, I guess you could say, using the timer-function on my phone.
To be clear, that is me in the picture, on the bottom left, but it’s a picture taken from where I was sitting as I was praying, not of where I was sitting. But the general look was similar.
For me, the photo was a bit of a commemoration of these thoughts, a way to remember them, and to remind myself about them. Those big trees kinda-sorta represent God in his huge grand majesty, and the bigness of his creation, with me as a small but still somehow significant part of it.
It’s not a perfect photo by any means. It’s not well focused and it’s really too far away, but the only surface I was working with was the bench I was sitting on, with the phone propped up with a notebook and a pencil. And there was no way to move the bench.
It actually made for quite a big sprint to get to the other bench within the ten second window that my phone allowed. Indeed, here was my first attempt:
If you squint, you can see me running to my position, just a couple of seconds too late.
There were some other guys sitting in another part of the park. If they noticed me–running as quickly as my non-athletic frame could take me to one side of the park, sitting for a moment, then sauntering back slowly to the other side–they must have been confused by what was going on. Oh well, doesn’t matter. I’m sure they have other things to think about.
And so do I. Lots, really.
Thanks for reading along in this journey. Like the photograph, writing this post is a small step in taking hold of this revelation. If other steps become clear, I may share them here.