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The following are stories/biographies of real people living in Tokyo. They have been written by students at the School of International Liberal Studies, Waseda University. The stories/biographies have not been edited.
Tokyo is a diverse city with a diversity of people making for a multicultural experience. I hope you enjoy the selection of stories/biographies.
What Do You Really Know About Her?
-Do Not Judge a Book by its Cover-
Written by Park Cheulsoo
“First impressions are the most lasting”, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”: As such, there are a lot of sayings or proverbs highlighting the importance of the first impressions. However, first impressions could be often misleading and entirely wrong; you cannot deem a person by his or her first impressions. It also happened to me recently when I interviewed and got to know more about Kuwahara Rie.
The first time I met Rie was on September 2015 at ShinOkubo, Korean town near Shinjuku. We were introduced by a friend in a purpose of learning each other’s language; she had visited Korea more than 30 times, so she wanted to learn Korean language more and I also wanted to regain my Japanese skills, which were mostly gone during fulfilling two years of military service at Korea. To be honest, Rie was stunning beautiful and attractive; she was about 5.5 feet tall, in shape, and her laughs would make every man in kind feel drawn to her. However, the fact that she was born in Tokyo and currently lives in Daikanyama of Shibuya, a very well-known place for high land and house prices, and that she is twenty-eight years old with no prominent full-time job while she had visited Korea more than 30 times, also visited Dubai, France, Italy, Germany, Hawaii, Las Vegas, LA, China, Singapore and Hong Kong , and that a bizarre hair tufts attached to her bag, which was actually a “Fendi” fur key chain that costs over a hundred thousand yen, led me to perceive that she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She was a truly happy and positive woman, but it seemed like she never had any serious troubles or worries, never been through a turbulence in her life, maybe lived inside a bubble. However, I figured it out that my prejudice from her first impressions was wrong; she has a surprisingly sad past, and that made her a happy woman now.
Rie could not see her father again since she was ten; her parents got divorced because her father’s company got bankrupted and he lost a job. It might seem very cruel and harsh that the reason for a divorce is unemployment of a husband. However, she explained, in Japanese culture and society, where it is strongly a patriarchal, it is normal that a husband must have a job and make money to sustain his family. As far as Rie remembers, her father did not work for a while, and just kept drinking at home. Rie’s mom had to work for managing family’s living expenses and received financial help from grandparents. Therefore, Rie, to some extent, understood and respected the culture and her mother’s decision to divorce, but she still wanted to see her father. Her father also desperately wanted to see his lovely eldest daughter; he used to call home and send letters to Rie. However, her mother did not want Rie to meet her father, so she used to hang off the phone calls from him and hide letters away. Young Rie purely listened to her mother and decided to wait until she turns twenty and when she would become an adult, she would directly go to see her father. However, who would have known, that decision had become the most regretful choice in Rie’s life; her father had passed away from a disease when she was eighteen, a high school student. Rie often looks back on the past when she used to play around with her father. She said, if she could meet her father again, she wants to have a simple dinner while enjoying normal father-daughter conversation as grown-ups.
Experiencing parent’s divorce and her father’s death at relatively young age, Rie could not control herself and started gradually to become a bad student. She had to move seven times because her father kept chasing family during the divorce trial. Since Rie moved region often, she could not make many friends in school and also began to lose her interests at school. She often skipped classes and even hung out with bullies outside of the school. Filled with a stress and a desire for freedom, she became obsessed with heavy-metal and punk music, and became a huge fan of Dir En Grey and System of a Down. Attending most of their live-concerts, Rie, sometimes, did not even go back to her house. She also had lots of piercings on her lips and ears to look cool like band members. Of course, her mother was worried but Rie did not listen; maybe she did not want to listen to her once again, after her father’s death.
However, Rie had not totally given up on her dream; she was very talented at art since she was young. Influenced by her grandfather who was an art teacher, Rie had many opportunities to learn and improve her basic art skills from him. Even though she put art away from herself for a while, during harsh times in the high school, she knew that she was into nothing else but an art. Instead of going to university, Rie decided to attend nail school. After graduating from there, she worked in a nail salon and later she also opened and managed her own nail salon. Since she wanted to learn more about art and drawing, she started to learn China Painting at the age of twenty one. Observed Rie’s potentials and abilities, the art teacher asked Rie to become his assistance. While supporting his work as assistance, Rie had a chance to develop her skills and could eventually become a teacher of China Painting.
Being an art teacher, Rie became more ambitious; she now hopes to become an artist who could draw a good piece of work. She wants to draw a good piece of work that could be shown to her students. Her students are mostly seniors. Before Rie works as an art teacher, she did not have many chances to speak with elder people. However, through having conversation with them while teaching, Rie could learn various things. Especially, Rie respects her elder students’ passions toward learning art. Some of them have very bad eye sight, wearing big glasses with thick lenses, so they squint and make humorous face whenever they draw for the detail part of their drawing and painting. It takes longer time for them to finish one work, but they never complain or quit. Others have weak arms, so they shiver their hand when they paint, but they never quit. Rie is profoundly impressed with their aspects and passions. She is happy when she teaches her students. Therefore, Rie wants to draw a good piece for her students and teach them how to draw and paint well. In order to do that, whenever she goes for a travel, she always visits museums. She believes that appreciating and experiencing various pieces of art works are tremendously important. By doing so, she hopes she could draw from diverse perspectives, and finally produce a fine piece of work.
At the end of the interview, Rie said that she is satisfied with herself and happy now. She has experienced a lot of things including good ones and bad ones, but through experiencing them, she could finally become a happy person. Based on the interview, Rie had gone through much more than I expected. She has a sad past behind her golden smile. She was not travelling a lot of countries just to kill her time or spend money but to visit museums around the world and get experience for her new dream. She lives her life and does what she wants to do. Indeed, “do not judge a book by its cover.” The first impressions of Rie gave me wrong prejudices about her; before I interview her, I stereotyped her as a typical type of Tokyo girls from rich family, but it was not true. Lots of people judge on others based on their sense of values, knowledge, and experiences. Just by meeting and experiencing them few times, people tend to believe that they know about others. However, do not easily say that you know, whether it is a person, a society or a culture, because most of the time you do not know.
XY in Japan
(A biography of Michelle Mina written by Zac Oshima)
To many young high schooler teens college is somewhat daunting yet exciting thing to look forward to. For Michelle Mina this was nothing different. She entered her first year of college at Lewis & Clark, Portland Oregon in 2012. A small sized college with a total student enrolment of just under two thousand students. Whilst her and her peer freshmen sat through orientation, eyes sparked with excitement and fear about what the next four years will bring in this new college, new state, new city, Michelle was also thinking about what it meant to be back in the United States. It had been more than eight years since the last time she lived in the U.S. and she was anxious about this big change. Previously she had spent both middle school and high school attending an international school in Tokyo, Japan. Since Lewis & Clark was such a small school there was a literal handful, about 6 students, who came straight from Japan and entered the college.
Back in Japan Michelle attended the American School in Japan. An international school based in west side of Tokyo. Michelle is a dual citizen and “Ha-Fu” meaning she has parents from two different countries, U.S. and Japan. She has spent most of her life residing in Japan. It has been one year since she moved back to Japan after transferring from her college in the U.S. to the International Christian University (ICU) in 2014. While growing up in Japan and attending an American school provided a certain diversity she realized once she moved back to the US that even that diversity was skewed. International schools consist of a lot of high economic class families, business expats and so on. She quickly noticed the lack of minority voice she had been exposed to through out her teen years.
During her first year in college she had made many friends that were LGBT. One friend in particular had come to her to talk about relationship advice. Michelle was in a long distance relationship and so was her friend K. K had a partner that was not from the United States, but they were very serious and wanted to be able to live together. K knew that a marriage can warrant residence for a foreigner in the United States, so he told Michelle his plan to get married to his partner. Michelle had to break it to K that the state of Oregon and many States at the time would not recognise his marriage to another man, meaning his partner would not get permission to stay in the United States.
This was a terribly uncomfortable moment for Michelle. She knew that K loved his partner just as much as she loved her’s, and she wouldn't have a problem marrying her partner while K couldn't.While she always learnt about equal rights this was the first hand exposure to some real inequality. She then became more focused on social injustices not only for LGBT, but for Women, and other people suffering from a lack of responsible governments.
However, after about 3 years in the US Michelle became more and more depressed. The prolonged long distance relationship, along with a not so successful adjustment to life in the US lead her down to developing an eating disorder. Something that continued for more than half of her time in the US. One night when her depression got particularly bad she had called her parents crying. Her parents reacted, and got her a ticket home. That was December 2013. She hadn’t decided what to do about college or how long she was going to be in Japan. All she needed to focus on was getting better. Through her partner she started going to the gym. At first it was hard. Japanese women were much thinner than women in the United States. Not to mention all the mirrors in the gym. They are not an easy place to be for someone with a negative body image. She also transferred to ICU after a few months of being back in Japan, setting up for the next 3 years in Tokyo. Over time she was able to mend her own body image and instead became obsessed with training. She now trains almost everyday while tracking her nutrition intake. Now with a healthy mind and settled down life in Tokyo she started to look more critically towards the Japanese society in terms of equality and injustices.
Today Michelle focuses a lot of her energy towards promoting gender equality from the grass roots. While policy reform and economic inclusions are both good initiatives they are not long term fixes towards gender inequality. Michelle shuddered at the “Women Only” zone with in her own gym. Similarily, “Women Only” carriages on the subway shocked her. Both of these would simply be impossible to facilitate in the United States. They reminded of her of the “Whites only” fountains or “Blacks only” bus seats from the 1950s.
She noticed when she attended a reunion to the Japanese elementary school she went to that the gender inequality problem in Japan is pretty deeply embedded in culture. When talking about what she was studying in college to another friends mother, she received the comment, “Its great that you’re in a long term relationship so you don't have to worry too much about you study in university.” At the time this was utterly shocking to her. The comment implied that since she had a partner, she would get married and not work. Not only did the comment itself surprise her but it also struck her that this comment came from a fellow woman. This is when she decided to be more proactive on empowering women through social reform. Michelle now uses her social media outlets as tools to promote female empowerment. To stop the dictation of society over women’s bodies. She uses her mind and attitude towards gym training as a way to communicate this basic essence. If women can take more control of their physical body she believes the positive aspects will spill into other parts of people’s lives.
She also spends a lot of time through out the year volunteering. Ever since the Sendai earthquake in 2011 Michelle has consistently volunteered in the northern regions for rebuilding. When she returned to Japan in 2013 she changed from doing rebuilding projects to more recreation projects for children. With Friends of the Earth she hosts an outdoor camp in Minamiboso Chiba. “I really think it should be the governments job to fund and host these camps but the reality is that they don't.” The volunteers pick up the children, a group of twenty or more, and take them to Minamiboso, where they play in the sand dunes, go to the beach, visit the aquarium and so on. Some of the kids from the camp have even grown up and joined on as volunteers.
“Talking to one of the high schoolers I learnt that the children don’t understand the gravity of the nuclear disaster.”
The governments lack of interest in the children, and a society distraught by disaster have left the children in a protected bubble.
“they need a voice. But they don’t know anything about what is going on.” She continues.
When asked if she feels included in the Japanese culture and society or feels like a foreigner Michelle answered:
“At the moment, more of a foreigner. I’m still going through a secondary culture shock since living in the States and coming back to Japan. A lot of it is different from what I remember, but in reality it's the same. A new angle”
Although there are gender inequality problems in Japan she does ultimately feel safer and more comfortable living here. To Michelle, a key attribute for Japanese culture is “politeness”. However, she notes that in most of the cases that she deals with this sense of “politeness” and not speaking up is seriously holding people back. “Japan is a country that favours peace”
While this is something that a lot of other cultures should look up to, right now Japan needs more leaders that will speak up for individual freedom and justice. Michelle will continue her degree while keeping up fitness and volunteer work. She wants to be able to help people from social injustice by looking at Japan from a feminist’s perspective. She is not sure where she wants to live in the future but is hopeful of having a family in Japan one day. But if she does leave, hopefully she can move on from Japan once it is a better place.