IT HAPPENED TO ME: A Group of Japanese Tourists Got Angry at Me for Claiming to Be Japanese

Many people of my many ethnicities will not accept me because I am not “enough” of that ethnicity to “count.”
Publish date:
December 28, 2016
japan, ethnicity, mixed race

The United States is one of the only countries, if not the only country, that defines a person by biological percentages. How much of a certain ethnicity you are matters significantly to this day. For example, to stay on a reserve, you need to be a certain percentage of Native American, and in Hawai’i, to live on homestead land, you need to be a certain percentage of Native Hawaiian. This blood quantum rule/biological percentage provides guidelines and a form of classification. This classification even extends to biological physical characteristics — and I've found that's when classification extends beyond the US as well.

Living in Hawai’i, I've seen many Asian tourists come to visit the island. Being the outgoing person that I am, I always try to make conversations with people. I love meeting new people and learning about where they’re from; other people and other cultures fascinate me. Hawai’i is so isolated being smack dab in the middle of the largest ocean in the world, so every chance I get to meet someone is a chance I happily take.

One day, when I was walking down the Waikiki strip with my surf gear, I came across a group of tourists. I overheard them talking and, being part Japanese, I could tell from their speech that they were Japanese and that they needed help with directions. Being a native of Hawai’i, I offered my help and started to make small talk. I asked them where they were from and when they said they were from Japan, I was instantly ecstatic.

“I have always wanted to go to Tokyo and Hiroshima,” I said.

“Tokyo I understand. It big city and there are many people in Tokyo, but why Hiroshima?” a woman in the group asked me.

“Hiroshima is where my great-grandfather is from and I have always wanted to see where he grew up to get more in touch with my culture.”

Right as I said this, the group of Japanese tourists all looked so shocked. They glanced at each other with the most peculiar expressions, and their curious looks soon turned to dismay and outrage.

“You not Japanese,” one woman said with the most disgusted look on her face.

“You too tall to be Japanese!” another woman blurted angrily.

I have never had a conversation that took such a drastic turn for the worse, and I have never infuriated tourists before. There anger was infectious because I started to get angry.

“But I am!” I pleaded.

How were they going to tell me if I was Japanese or not? They have known me for five minutes. Just because I am, tall that supposedly makes me not Japanese? I’m tall because I’m part Caucasian and Hawaiian. I was infuriated that they were judging me merely off of my looks. Since I don’t have many physical traits that align with what's considered typically Japanese, that makes me not Japanese? I have a Japanese last name for crying out loud! Nishida is one of the most common Japanese names in all of Japan. It’s like how Johnson is a common last name in America.

But why am I even trying to prove myself to these tourists? Because this world is filled with people like them and I want to be accepted. Too many people are being judged, classified, and disowned because of their looks. Being a mixed minority woman in society is very difficult. I am Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Danish, and Portuguese. According to America’s biological formula, technically I am 12.5% Japanese, 1% Chinese, 20% Hawaii, 16.5% Danish, and 50% Portuguese. As I stated earlier, in Hawai’i, to live on homestead land the individual needs to prove that they are Hawaiian and they need to prove that they are a certain percentage Hawaiian. In this process, you have to list what other ethnicities you are along with how much of that ethnicity contributes to your biological identity.

What puts me in such a difficult space is the fact that many people of my many ethnicities will not accept me because I am not “enough” of that ethnicity to “count.” Despite having a great-grandfather from Japan and having one of the most common Japanese names, I am not “claimed” by Japanese people because 12.5% is not “enough.” Reviewing my biological identity, the only group I would be accepted by is the Portuguese. But when people look at me, I physically look Hawaiian. With my long brown hair, hazel eyes, and tall frame, when most people look at me they don’t even know what I am. There have been so many occasions where I have been asked "what" I am and it makes me feel like an alien.

I want to be accepted as a Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Danish, Portuguese woman. Not criticized by people for being a certain ethnicity or not “enough” of an ethnicity. I take pride in all of my ethnicities; it makes me the distinct woman I am.