An American abroad

Becca Hurwitz/Staff

As one of a few Americans living in a small town in Japan, I’ve had to do a lot of explaining.

Over the last three months I’ve lived here, I have fielded questions about the United States such as: “Are all the cheeseburgers huge?” and “Have you met Orlando Bloom?” And of course, ones about American politics.  

Japanese newspapers have been thoroughly covering the United States election. There has been some anxiety about a candidate who has expressed moves to null or complicate Japan-U.S. trade relations, about a man who has threatened that Japan should have to pay more for the cost of the American military presence in Japan. And, as the only country that has felt the destruction of nuclear weapons and has dedicated itself to spreading peace and nuclear disarmament, Japanese newspapers have been following this man with cavalier rhetoric concerning nuclear weapons.. The news of the election results made front page news even in my small town, and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has had to make a public statement to reassure the Japanese people that even with Trump as the American president, Japan-U.S. relations will be OK.

Answering innocuous questions as America’s representative to the school in Japan where I teach English was all right. But now, answering questions about the election, America, our new president and what is going to happen, feels uneasy.

To say that I did not vote for Trump is not enough to defend myself and America internationally. To point to the polls that showed a landslide victory for Hillary and to shrug, to say “Well, I guess we were all wrong,” is not enough either. To say I am shocked and baffled and ashamed is not adequate. To say that Donald Trump does not represent America is going to be increasingly difficult, as it seems the American system elected him to represent us. To say,I am sure Japan is going to be just fine is naïve and misguided.

One teacher who has been curious about Trump over the last few months approached me after the results and asked, “What do you do now?”

Some of my peers in Berkeley are taking to the streets to show their dissent, and the events are making the newspapers here. The Japanese Prime Minister Abe decided it was best to schedule a meeting with Trump. And as for me, someone who feels small in the scope of America, very far from America with very few answers, and as a representative of America in this small town, I am going to show that I am more representative of America than Donald Trump and his threatening politics.

I came to Japan for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I am half-Japanese. I’ve come to a country where my Japanese last name fits but I do not. I come as a stranger, and I feel that in many ways I come as a stranger because of men like Donald Trump. I have come to Japan with no knowledge of the language or culture, because xenophobic men incarcerated my grandparents for being Japanese-American during World War II. After, the political climate of America convinced my grandparents it was better to assimilate, to not carry on the language. The  fact that I can come here in 2016 and have the opportunity to be representative of America speaks to the strength of my grandparents and to the Japanese-American community at large. Even though just 80 years ago the U.S. told my grandparents they didn’t count as citizens because they were Japanese-American, and even though in 2016, I still have faced racism and bigotry in the US and am watching it unfold against so many people of color I am still American.

So, when my students tell me, “Trump hates Japan,” I can’t exactly deny that. I will tell them that men like Trump hated my grandparents too just for looking Japanese. I will let them know that if men like Trump do hate Japan, or any of a number of those who are different, my presence should say something: Trump is not America. As the next four years unfold, we will see if this fact will be enough; it certainly cannot be enough if passively approached. But for the moment, that is the only answer I can give for these hard questions, and would rather be answering more questions about America’s large food size.


Elizabeth Kurata is a former Weekender writer.