Dutch | Japanese
I am half Japanese, half Dutch. I grew up in the Netherlands, but always felt a great connection with Japan. Visiting the latter made me feel at home, maybe even more than I do in the Netherlands. To add an even more complicated feeling, I think I mainly feel Dutch though, but with a twist. My Mother is mainly Dutch and partly Belgian, since her side of the family came to the Netherlands from Belgium in 1837. My Father comes from Japan. My parents met when my Mother was living in Japan. I grew up in the Netherlands.
I started feeling different when I was in high school. Discovering who I was and where I came from, made me search for my ‘roots’, so to say. I have never really experienced racism or discrimination, but the recognition of being mixed-race became very clear when I was doing some shopping with other mixed and full blood foreign friends. A security guard was constantly checking us in every isle we went. I have never experienced this in this store when I was in a store with ‘White’ friends. It really felt off for me. Because I look a bit in between, so it usually takes one to know one in regard of me being mixed-race, but somehow it almost always creates a bond. I can easily blend in, I guess. I’ve always been very interested though in the history, culture, protocol and for example business etiquette of Japan and The Netherlands and I’ve read a ton of books about these subjects. I think this gives me more knowledge about both cultures and habit, which makes it easier for me to actually blend it. Being able to do so completes me in a certain way. But it took me quite some effort to get to that point and I am glad I did.
Neither one of my parents forced me into another culture. My mother was very open about both cultures. Since Japanese aren’t the world's most open people in general, I eventually learned to read between the lines and understand the social structures in Japan and thus understand more about the culture. My father is a well-travelled man with a fairly open view to other cultures, which is not very common for a Japanese person. So, maybe he isn’t the typical Japanese. I think that makes things a bit easier for me.
I’ve had some challenges dealing with the parents and mainly grandparents of an Indonesian girl I’ve dated in the past. Being Japanese there is still a bit of a sensitive subject. It’s contractionary for me since both my grandfathers were in the same war on opposite sides. They were both cooks though. I am still very much challenged by people calling the Japanese names for what happened in the war. It’s not something the current generation can do anything about, so it shouldn’t be on their / our plate. We don’t call the Germans any names anymore for what happened in the past, but I think that comes from them being our country neighbours and we are confronted with them more often. People are not confronted with the Japanese that often and it seems that this makes it ok to still call the Japanese names. It’s not. It hurts.
I surround myself with people who inspire me and with whom I share a common interest. Such interest usually make you go to certain places where you meet people from certain environments. Being mixed-race is an enriching experience. A bit of a best of both worlds story. I can tap into what I’ve learned from being Japanese and the things I value in the Japanese culture and society such as their courtesy, integrity, loyalty, politeness and honor and on the other hand be as straight forward and open as the Dutch can be. I think it’s both beneficial in my work as an entertainment and music lawyer and on a personal level.
I do speak a bit of Japanese, since I have followed a language course at Leiden University and have been visiting Japan now and then since I was 12 or so. For the part that I do not speak fluent Japanese, it has affected me in a way that I cannot very open and directly communicate with the largest part of my family members there, since they either do not speak English or are afraid to do so, even though they have university degrees and jobs on an academical level.
I feel everything is catered to making another person in the group feel at ease or special. But it’s most certainly not a one-way stream. Protocol, punctuality and feeling for aesthetics are also part of this. It creates a communal feeling. Etiquettes and courtesy are the lubricant for social interaction and are seen as necessities for a society to be functional and orderly. I can really be touched by how deep this goes. Take food for example. I’ve never had a bad meal in Japan. It’s simply unpolite to serve bad food. The range of good food is very big, but what I find most interesting is that the philosophy behind serving good food and being a good host, gives the experience of having dinner so much more than just having a regular, function snack. It’s about sharing a moment and not just about feeding yourself as a necessity. I can see and feel a part of the Japanese culture translated into the food that is served and the attention and serviced that accompanies the food.
The answer to ‘where are you from’ depends who asks and with what intention. If the question is aiming at being mixed-race, the answer will be half Japanese. It the question is aiming at how super-multicultural I am, I also add the Belgian and Dutch parts to the story. If another ‘Brabants’ (dialect from the South of the Netherlands) speaking person asks me, I’d say from Geldrop, the town where I grew up. If somebody abroad asks me, I’d say Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I think Amsterdam is the most common answer at this moment, though.
Being mixed-race means I can tap into both cultures and this adds a nice and unique touch to who I am. It enables me to be the best of both worlds. For me, being mixed-race in today’s society is great and it’s getting better as more and more people are handling and accepting the past. I like being mixed-race and I am proud of it. It’s an easy conversation starter, even a bit mysterious and exotic maybe and less a reason to be left out. I do not get discriminated and I am very lucky for this, because I do realize this is not the same for all mixed-race people.
If I had the opportunity to be reborn I would like to return about the same. I am happy and proud about who and what I am.