Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Today's Rant 0722

OK. This article featuring an interview with a black British woman talking about her experience living in Japan, being married to a Japanese man and raising two biracial kids. I made the biggest mistake scrolling down to the comments which were such a shit fest.

I know that the internet community isn't the best representative of Westerners in Japan, but it is the most visible one. And this "community" is overwhelmingly white and male. What I find appalling and frustrating are the sheer number of people who seem to exist to discredit the experiences of non-white people in their homelands and Japan. 

Asian Americans have no standing to protest a "wear a kimono" event in Boston because "they aren't Japanese" and "my Japanese wife is fine with it!" The black British woman in the first article I mentioned has her experience cut down because "I thought Asians were 'people of color'" or "the author used Americanisms."

Merely pointing out the fact that the majority of English-speaking Westerners in Japan are white and racial histories from their homelands are carried with them to Japan, creating environments that can be unfriendly or uncomfortable to non-white foreigners from the same country bring about accusations of racism. Why can't we have discussions about how we, as foreigners in Japan, can create inviting spaces for all foreigners?!

The black woman gave an excellent example of how her daughter's curly hair became an "issue" with her ballet teacher. Rather than acknowledge that skin color and hair type definitely play a role in how foreigners or multiracial children are judged in Japanese society, the author of the piece is accused of racism.

I just. I can't even. I am so tired of this shit. And so tired of people. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

And So I Tried Whitening Cream

So, a few months ago I walked into a L'Occitane in one of the department stores. I wasn't really planning on buying anything, but the staff pointed me to a new product: Reine Blanche. She explained that it would help to "brighten" my skin. The bottles said "whitening."

Japan is filled with products that are aimed at making women's skin whiter. Most of them say 「美白」(bihaku) which is a combination of the characters "beautiful" and "white." While most products that promise bihaku are skin products, some toothpastes and a small number of other non-skin related items do use the name. 

As I stood there pondering whether or not to purchase a L'occitane bihaku sample set, I remembered a number of years earlier when I found a Dior box in my family's bathroom closet, filled with unopened bottles of whitening lotions. My mom said that I bought them for her years previous and the women at the counter promised that they wouldn't turn your skin white. I still have no memory of buying that box. Then I thought about a story my mom told me about her mom and how she tried to use some whitening creams on her hands, which were much darker. And I thought about my forehead which seemed a few shades darker than the rest of my face, hindering my efforts to find a foundation.

I bought the set. 

Missing a few sample pieces.


The sample set came with face wash, toner, serum, cream and sunblock in a small carry bag. I was incredibly nervous the first few times I washed my face. Would it burn? Would I be left with light patches across my face? Would I wake up disfigured?

The smell wasn't bad and my face didn't melt off, which is always great. But, I didn't feel like it was really helping my skin. I couldn't really tell if it whitened...err..."brightened" my skin. The sunblock, did make my skin look "whiter," but I would attribute that to whatever light reflecting particles they mixed into the cream.

I tried to wash my face with the stuff every night to gauge any changes. If there were any, they were slight. And possibly aided by me religiously wearing a hat every time I went out. 

When it comes to skin whitening products, I've got very mixed feelings...mostly leaning towards the negative. My skin color is darker than the average Japanese person, but not by a huge amount. I understand the history behind why lighter skin is more desirable, but again, it's one of the small things that adds up to why I can never make Japan "mine." Praise for pale, white skin is heaped upon a white friend or coworker as if it's some type of magical formula, rather than a combination of things. 

So, that's my experience with a skin whitening product. Not exactly surprising either way.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Kodoku

More often than not, I find myself reflecting on my life in Japan so far. Most of the time, I feel like I'm losing rather than winning and that thought, of course, causes me to push for *why* I would be "losing." 

It's weird. I always felt alone in the US, and when I knew I was going to move to Japan, I accepted that I would be alone here, too. 

Monday to Friday, I go to work. I think i have a pretty good relationship with my coworkers...we can joke and generally enjoy the presence of each other. Twice a week after work, I go to the homes of two different girls and talk to them in English for an hour. The girls seem to enjoy meeting with me, much to my surprise. Most weekends also involve English lessons with students of varying ages, six year olds through adults. 

Everyone is nice enough to me, but I can't help but feel terribly lonely here. Some of it is me and some of it is Japan. "Would things be different back home?" If I am honest with myself, the answer is a resounding "no." 

Go out and interact with the world through work, but as soon as the day is done, I disconnect from society. There's no connection to anyone or anything. I walk down the streets and sometimes I have to ask myself if I'm there or not, awake or asleep. 

Pick up some shampoo and body wash and get into line. Before I reach the register I've got my point card in one hand and my wallet at the ready. Half the time, the woman (and it's almost always a woman) who rings up my items looks at my face and grows tense. I can read her thoughts, "I don't know what to say in English." And since foreigners are always going back to their countries, she doesn't ask if I have a point card or if I need a bag. She mumbles the total and points to the digital total.

And so, with a strained smile, I place my point card in the try with my money. I get my change, say "thanks" and then move on to other stores where the same scene is played out until I get home. Most of the conversations I have outside of work or English lessons are something like this. At home, I turn on my laptop and the TV, start a load of laundry, organize some things...and before I know it, it's 2am.