Dutch | Japanese
I identify as Dutch & Japanese and an atheist. I grew up in the Netherlands and therefore identify more as Dutch than Japanese. I used to wonder a lot about how my life would have been if I grew up in Japan, but always end up being really content with my life as it is. My Mom originates from Japan and my Dad originates from the Netherlands. They met in Japan when my Father went there travelling for his second time. He was interested in the food and language and they met in a youth hostel I believe
I think I recognised from an early age on I was a bit different than the other kids. But I must say I haven’t really felt discriminated that much as it could have been if I were full Asian for example. I feel like in the Netherlands there are more negative stereotypes and connotations for people who grew up here with two Asian (/non-Dutch) parents instead of one. I think I realised soon enough that my Mom was different than other kids Moms. My Mom kinda spoiled me with for example ‘poffertjes’ (Dutch dish: tiny tiny pancakes?) for lunch and other kids would say ‘my Mom would NEVER’. But I’m not sure if that necessarily has to do with her being Japanese but more of her sweet personality but anyway. As kids we would bring snacks to school and I would sometimes have ‘senbei' (rice crackers) with me and everyone always wanted to try that. I think that made me feel a bit different /special as well. My Mom didn’t teach me Japanese and spoke Dutch to me from an early age, I think that shaped a lot of my (Dutch) identity as well. Even though she’s lived in the Netherlands for thirty years her Dutch still contains a lot of errors. I understand her perfectly but it’s always hard when she talks to people in a public place and I see how they treat her differently or not take her seriously because her Dutch isn’t perfect.
I think my environment partly made me feel proud of my dual heritage. I believe that in the Netherlands, like any other country, discrimination due to your outer appearances is a common thing. Because the Netherlands is pretty ‘multi-cultural’ it’s not uncommon to be mixed, or to have a different heritage than solely Dutch. However I grew up in an urban area, close to international areas. I would have had a different childhood if I grew up in the countryside. (As you may notice I think about ‘what if’s’ a lot). But what I’m trying to say is that my background never made me feel ‘less’ or like an outsider. Of course whenever I’m at work or meeting new people the question ‘where are you from?’ almost always comes up but I guess I understand why people are interested in my heritage because they sometimes can’t ‘place’ me.
My Mom always stayed quite in touch with her culture. The place where I live is known to have a pretty big Japanese population (expats etc.) and there are a couple of shops where my Mom gets her food supplies and stuff. She’s also been teaching painting and drawing classes to Japanese kids since I was born so Japanese culture has always been there. Maybe not as prominent because my Mom didn’t teach me the Japanese language. I’ve always felt a bit disappointed about that because it takes away a lot of communication and culture I could’ve experienced. But I went to university to study Japanese culture so I’m trying to kind of experience that part as well. For the Dutch culture, I think I’m lucky that Dutch culture isn’t that strict. The people here are pretty open to different cultures (even though there still is a lot of prejudice and discrimination against certain groups of people) but I think I’m lucky the attitude towards Japanese people and culture has been positive throughout my life. Of course it should be like that for everyone. I believe I’ve experienced some ‘racial cat calling’ such as groups of boys or weird old men in Amsterdam saying stuff like ‘nihao’ and other kinda racist stuff when I walk by. Or people making jokes or assuming I eat sushi every day, or worse just mix up everything that is Asian and ask if I do/eat that too. Or people in restaurants or shops assuming I don’t speak Dutch and start in English, I usually then say some well-articulated Dutch words and they realise I can speak Dutch and they get a bit embarrassed sometimes. But I guess little things like these are hard to change and are far from the worst things that could happen.
When people ask ‘how Japanese’ I am I tell them that I feel 80% Dutch, and 20% Japanese. The 20% is mostly my outer appearance not being stereotypically Dutch, and the things that come along with not being ‘entirely’ Dutch, I think. I don’t align with the Japanese society and mindset. There are a few things I really love about the way things are handled in Japan, for example the attitude of the people, service commitment, the discipline, the kindness. But when I think about it longer all those things have a downside as well. It’s really hard to always smile and be nice for example (customer service is next level in Japan). And I can only imagine how suffocating the strictness and expectations in Japanese society must be. I only have to think about those aspects of Japanese society and immediately am happy I was able to grow up in a much more free and liberate society. But where I want to go with this is, that I’d like to believe I chose my friends because of their personality, and the connection we feel with each other. Of course, your personality and identity are interwoven with your cultural background, so I think in some way I choose people that perhaps are more open to other cultures and backgrounds as well. So unconsciously it’s easier to connect with people who are mixed as well, but the most important thing is to find people who like you for who you are, and not where you originate from. I feel very lucky to have some close friends who support and love me for who I am.
Unfortunately I’ve always been a bit of a picky eater, and never liked ﬁsh. Nowadays I’m leaning towards a vegan diet, because of the big impact the meat and dairy industry has on the environment, and the animals being slaughtered in terrible conditions. But besides that, I’ve been a fan of the plant-based side of the Japanese kitchen. For example tofu, edamame, natto (basically everything that’s made from soy beans). My Mom and Dad both kinda taught me to never eat until you’re a 100% full, but always keep it at a 70%. My Mom always was a fan of serving several small dishes next to the rice being the main thing (which is a kind of typical Japanese style of serving food). The kitchen’s ﬂavours are pretty mild, and I’ve unfortunately never really learned how to eat spicy.
My Mom, my sister and I always watched a lot of movies and series together when growing up. My Mom used to buy a lot of ‘book off’ CD’s as well and we used to listen to those a lot. They included soundtracks from for example Inuyasha (anime), or the Charlie’s Angels movie. But there were also whole albums or ‘best hits’ from Hikaru Utada and Ayumi Hamasaki. In conclusion, a lot of pop music. When I got older I began listening to a lot of other genres and artists as well and had a really extreme concert phase as well, where I would go to a lot of concerts, stand in line for hours, buy merch. Nowadays I think I visit six to eight concerts a year and I’ll stand in line when the doors open. In general, I listen to more Japanese artists than the average Dutch person, which is normal. I’m also more used to listening to another language than Dutch or English in movies or music, which I think is a really good thing.
My Mom didn’t teach me Japanese as a kid and I’ve always felt a bit of regret in that. I know that I would’ve been a whole different person if she did send me to the Japanese Saturday School, I would’ve had more Japanese connections and just more connection with the culture in general. But I’ve accepted it and I try to think of all the cool and cute people I’ve met at Japanese studies at university. I think language is super interesting and key to good communication. There can be a huge barrier if you don’t speak the same language. One of the reasons why I wanted to learn Japanese was also to be able to speak with my Mom in her mother language. I’ve always ridiculed Dutch fashion a bit, because it’s so plain and (in my eyes) more about efﬁciency than fashion. But it’s really refreshing to see some individual styles at university, partly because of the internationality. I deﬁnitely prefer the Japanese and Korean fashion trends over the ones in the Netherlands/ West.
I think I’ve been inspired by Asian hairstyles more often than Western because my hair ﬁts more into the Asian category. It’s very thick and heavy and Japanese hairstyles are a lot cuter than here. Also, I love cute short hairstyles, in Japan it’s really common, but here, it’s still seen as ‘boyish’ and the average girl is really fond of her long hair. I guess when women get older they cut it off, but that’s more for efﬁciency reasons than for fashionable reasons. When I had a pixie cut I would get so many comments of girls how cute it looked, how ‘brave’ I was and how they really wanted to cut off their hair too and I’d be like ‘what are you waiting for??’, and they’d be like ‘no it wouldn't look good on me’ or ‘my boyfriend wouldn't like that. First of all, hair (usually) grows back. Second of all, it’s your life, not your boyfriend’s! But I’ve always been a bit hard on people who are really indecisive and care too much about other’s opinions.
I think on a superﬁcial level I’ve gotten some ‘you’re pretty’ and a bit of admiration perhaps for my background. But it’s all getting close to people’s fetishes with Asian culture or being ‘half-Asian’ and I’ve also gotten a lot of people who are obsessed with Japan and her culture (for example anime). I think that is something that won’t change any time soon. Furthermore I believe that being mixed just gives you more of a sense of how it’s cool to be some kind of ‘bridge’ between two cultures. You’re a bit of both (or more), and it shaped a lot of you. I’m happy I haven’t experienced much negativity with my identity and I think it’s easier therefore for me to be proud of my identity. Also I think people are more ﬂuid than we think, and people can change.
I blend in quite well with society, only sometimes a question about my heritage. I’m perhaps a bit more Japan minded than the average Dutch person but also because of my studies, and people I know from my studies. It’s not drastically different though. I think Instagram shapes a lot of my current interests and views on things. I do feel like I’m always interested to hear about other mixed people, especially half-Asian. It’s interesting to see how they live their lives and how they are being their selves. I always think ‘yes sis, good for you!!’. I think that being mixed is beautiful, it’s something you’re hopefully proud of, but it should not be the ﬁrst and only interesting thing there is about you. I work at a Starbucks at the airport which is a pretty international environment. The team I work with is pretty diverse, and the guests that visit are too. As I have said before the interactions that do mention my heritage are usually pretty cool and positive. A bit stereotypical sometimes but that’s something that will change slowly but steady.
I love my heritage and how I am as a person, I don’t think I would want to be born any other way.