Japanese and Korean Canadians Person-to-Person, Let’s Forget Political Issues
When new immigrants from all over the world acquire Canadian citizenship, they ceremonially swear to respect each other regardless of race, religion and original nationality. That said, “delicate sentiments” or, worse, “enduring grudges” may still remain between those of Jewish and German origin over The Holocaust, or between those of Turkish and Armenian origin over alleged genocide, or, closer to home, between those of Chinese and Korean origin and us Nikkei Canadians and resident Japanese over the so-called “Nanjing massacre” and “comfort women” issues. Perhaps it’s only human nature.
Such sentiments remain all too real, particularly for the older generations. But Canadian citizens and residents are obliged to respect each other regardless of race or religion. Without this respect, how can a multi-ethnic society like Canada function? The solution, in my view, would be to keep public actions and statements, on one hand, and private conversation between spouses, family members and close friends, on the other, separate. “I don’t like people of such-and-such race or nationality, because of this and because of that…” Often actually referring to fellow Canadians, one might say that to a spouse, children, but to say that in a public forum or write it for publication, it is considered not politically correct (not PC) here in Canada.
As for racial prejudice per se, there’s a strong possibility that if parents, with their strong influence, harbor racial prejudices, these would be passed down to their children. Going back to my college days in the early 1960s in Tokyo, my constant companion and drinking buddy was one Gunzo T., a sansei from Hawaii. I used to converse with this kind-hearted and ever-considerate friend in a mixture of English and Japanese. One day he got acquainted with Helen N., a student in the same academic year, in the cafeteria. Helen, who happened to be Korean, went on to become Gunzo’s close friend. Around that time, he told me: “My mom is always bad-mouthing Koreans, so I’m glad I got to know Helen. Now I know there are nice people among Koreans too.”
Fortunately, in the case of my parents, they harbored very little racial prejudice, partly because my father was a Japanese-Finnish hapa. “Very little” because I believe people with no racial prejudice are extremely rare. My father disliked the Soviet Union as a nation, but not once did he say: “I don’t like Russians.” Quite frankly, I might have harbored racial prejudice toward black people in my student days when I didn’t have a single black friend. I was once particularly offended by a Tanzanian student, who seemed to be getting friendly with my then girlfriend, so I “took him outside” and threatened him “Don’t hit on my girlfriend, or else!” Thanks partly to the R&B and jazz music that I‘ve come to love thereafter through my guitar, I’ve gotten to know many Afro-American and Afro-Canadian jazz teachers, fellow musicians and buddies whom I routinely call my “brothers.”
Back around 1967, I was a cub reporter with Reuters news agency. During one vacation, I took a trip to Amsterdam, Holland as I could afford the relatively-cheap hovercraft trip and lodging in my modest salary. As an Indonesian student, whom I’d known since my high school days in Tokyo was staying in a student dormitory in one of the city’s suburbs, I called on him but he had gone out somewhere. Wondering what to do, I was walking around the semi-deserted dormitory when I ran into an Oriental person who looked like a Japanese. When I explained my predicament in English, he invited me into his room and offered me green tea. It turned out that he was from South Korea, but back in those days, Japanese and Chinese people were a rare sight in the Netherlands, the only visible Asians being those from Indonesia, her former colony. I recall discussing something like “Our governments might have various outstanding issues, but when we meet in a foreign land, we feel close (natsukashii in my mind ) to one another.”
In 1981, I moved to Singapore, having been hired by a new English-language daily to be launched. In those days, Japanese people along with made-in-Japan products were still relatively rare in Singapore. During my stay there until ’97, I worked as a newspaper journalist, a government agency PR officer and editor of Singapore Airlines’ first Japanese-language inflight magazine. I made many friends and acquaintances of many nationalities as Singapore, like Vancouver, is a truly global city. But for some reason, I had very few opportunities to come in contact with Koreans. But one time around 1983, I had an opportunity to interview the site supervisor of a big South Korean construction firm building an industrial park. From his bearings, one could tell he was a former military officer, probably army, and the sturdy men under him had also done military service. I next interviewed for my story the press attaché and the commercial attaché at the South Korean embassy.
The interview, mostly with the commercial attaché was naturally conducted in English, Singapore’s main official language. As soon as the interview proper was over, the press attaché opened up. “Dewa kokokara Nihongo ni shimashōka (now, let’s do it in Japanese).” He was definitely more fluent than when he was speaking English. It turned out that previously, they had both worked at the Korean Embassy In Tokyo. Idle chatter soon turned to the topic of after-work entertainment. They said they would often go to a nightclub where, after some drinks, they would ask the bar hostesses out, saying: “Let’s go eat some ramen.” That was when the commercial attaché sighed deeply: “A… natsukashii na….(Oh boy, I sure miss it…).” The reaction was heck of a lot more interesting than his comments about the construction project.
Also quite interesting was a recent article I read about Mr Katsuhiro Kuroda, currently Sankei Shimbun’s contributing columnist abroad who has lived in Seoul for well over 30 years, first as a student of Korean language and then as a foreign correspondent. His various comments are both right on the mark and unique in perspective, so allow me to pick out a few.
As stimulating and interesting life in Korea has been for him, why doesn’t he ever get tired of it? Mr Kuroda explained by using a word he invented – idōkan [異同感] which translates as “a sense of being different AND the same.”
“It seems different but is actually the same, and it seems similar and dissimilar at the same time,” he says. Then there is food and beverage culture. Where there used to be so-called “Japanese-type [nisshiki]” restaurants that served, for example, sashimi with kim chi (pickled cabbage), there are now more and more authentic Japanese restaurants. In the past, the media would be up in arms if restaurants should use Japanese-language signs and menus. Nowadays the trend is for restaurants to put up signs and show menus in hiragana.
At such places, people would enjoy anti-Japanese programs on TV as they quaff glasses of beer. In the past, American and European brands were the most popular, but now Japanese beers are their overwhelming favorite.
Recently, one student was enraged when he discovered the “dreaded” Asahi mark on the paper that wrapped his sushi. So he protested vehemently to the shop where he bought it, and made them change their wrapping paper. The media hailed him as a “ patriotic young man.” But of course, he ate the sushi. Mr Kuroda points out that “in Korea today, anti-Japanese (hannichi) does not necessarily mean the same as dislike of Japan (nihongirai).”
Here in Vancouver, I chat casually from time to time with a South Korean couple who run a store in my neighborhood. We seem to get along fine despite the deterioration of government-to-government relations between our two nations in recent times, because I think we both understand the spirit of “let’s keep politics out of it.” As well, Mr R, an English-language student from Tokyo who stayed with us earlier this year, was always hanging out with Korean students, playing basketball and soccer and going out to restaurants. He was a happy-go-lucky “jock” type with a passion for lacrosse. It seemed they weren’t concerned about the issues between their governments in the slightest, and Mr R’s English of course improved. Among our readers, too, there must those who are broad-minded and happy-go-lucky, who are enjoying friendships with people who “happen to be” Korean.
In closing, let me thank all you readers who “happen to be” Nikkei, ijūsha, Koreans from Japan, hakujin (please look this up if you don’t know), emigrants from parts of Europe and, hopefully, from Africa, South America and the Caribbean too. Thanks for putting up with me this year. Please have a Merry Christmas, happy Rosh Hashana and Oshōgatsu and a terrific 2016. (Warning: I may strike again.)