This month marks two years in Japan for me. A lot has happened in that time, the vast majority of it positive. There’s no doubt that this place has become a home to me.
When I was preparing to come to Japan, many people (some who had been here and some who hadn’t) told me that I would always feel like an outsider in Japan because of the homogeneity and culture. The thing is, they weren’t wrong. In the rural area where I live, foreigners are rare enough that young children—and sometimes even elderly people—will often stare, and anytime I visit a larger city, I’m assumed to be a tourist who’s visiting from abroad for a week or so. I know that no matter how long I lived here, that would stay more or less the same. I’m never going to feel absorbed into the country in the same way I might if I lived somewhere else.
Still, Japan has had a profound impact on me in many ways, and that feeling of being an “other” hasn’t negated that. In some ways, it’s probably strengthened Japan’s influence on me because it makes me think about things a lot.
One of the things I often think about is Japan’s influence on my writing.
I’ve written only one story that takes place in Japan, and it was in the point of view of a tourist visiting Japan who met an American living here. I doubt I’ll ever feel comfortable writing from a Japanese person’s point of view. I’ve watched too many white authors try to write from the point of view of nonwhite characters and screw up majorly.
For similar reasons, just setting stories in Japan makes me uneasy. It’s not like the world needs a story set in Japan that centers white people or is written by a white person. Outside of anime, that seems to be most of the stories about Japan that Americans know. (Lost in Translation and Memoirs of a Geisha being prime examples.)
At the same time, this country is where my life is, and I love Japan. I’d love to write about it more too, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t feel comfortable doing that now. Maybe I’ll discover a way that I do feel comfortable with it in the future, but for now, I don’t. Even as Japan probably continues to influence my writing in subtler ways.