Category Archives: SOCIETY

The Tricky ‘Where Are You From?’ Question in Japan

Living abroad is an exciting and at times delicate beast to behold. One of the first prolific things I noticed when trapezing in and outside of state and country lines was the near-constant reminder of being asked to know who I was, where I came from, and to be able to explain my background succinctly.

Identity, where nationality intersects with ethnicity to compound the complexity of you

Appearance, voice, accent, even the way I carry myself signifies different things to different people in a way I have not been able to contain. On occasion, I’m mistaken for being from somewhere else, sometimes questioned even in my home country.

It’s a curious, interesting thing: identity, where nationality intersects with ethnicity to compound the complexity of you. An equation that is somewhat the sum total of your parts, plus or minus the other experiences that also may have defined you nonetheless.

“Where Are You From?”

In the six years that I’ve lived in Japan, a country that is 98% Japanese, it is no surprise that it has become commonplace to have to identify myself and where I’m from on a regular basis.

My approach and my reaction to this seemingly uncomplicated “Where are you from?” question have changed over time. Perhaps that’s due simply to the number of years I’ve spent fielding it in a homogeneous country as a semi-mixed person.

Conversely, it could be that the question doesn’t comprehend the complexity of which I’ve come to associate it with, especially depending on who’s asking and why. That said, I like to keep things simple. “The states,” is my usual response, or sometimes even, “I live in Tokyo.

In order to better understand the subtleties of this location-identity phenomena myself, I reached out to thirteen people to see how they navigate this …continue reading


My SNA Visible Minorities column 7: “Japan’s Botched Response to the Diamond Princess Coronavirus isn’t Racism; it’s Stupidity”, Feb 17, 2020


The Diamond Princess cruise ship case (which has been discussed extensively on this past week) fell within my SNA monthly column window this time, so here’s a preview of my take on it:

Visible Minorities: Japan’s Botched Response to the Coronavirus
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, to be published Monday Feb 17, 2020

SNA (Tokyo) — The drama of cruise ship Diamond Princess, currently moored at Yokohama and quarantined by Japan’s Health Ministry due to some of the 3,700 passengers and crew testing positive for the coronavirus, is a human rights crisis.

The Covid-19 outbreak that originated in China has killed more than XXX people and sickened tens of thousands.

Here’s my take: Surprise! I’m not going to argue that the prison-ship conditions are due to racism, but more a matter of official stupidity…

Read the rest in the Shingetsu News Agency website tomorrow. …continue reading


Tweet of the Week #68: The Sweet Taste of French Revolution

Source: Gaijin Pot
Tweet of the Week

Valentine’s Day means serious business for Japanese candy makers and for good reason. This celebration of all things romantic accounts for no less than a quarter of chocolate yearly sales, a market worth a little more over ¥1 billion.

Eat my chocolate

Celebrated since 1958 in Japan, V-Day is all about Japanese women offering chocolate to their lovers and male entourage on February 14th. While their one true love receives the precious honmai-choco (true feeling chocolate), their friends and colleagues make do with giri-chocolate which is given out of obligation rather than love.

But Japanese style Valentine’s Day is a bittersweet deal for women, who easily end up spending thousands of yen on chocolate boxes. Their kindness is somewhat repaid on March 14th, AKA White Day, when men pay them back with gifts of their own.

However, more and more women aren’t keen to open their wallets to satisfy their male colleagues’ sweet tooth.

Is offering giri-chocolate finally a thing of the past?

Valentine’s Day is still the front runner for chocolate sales in Japan, but for how long? After two disappointing years in a row, with the market dropping respectively 6% and 3% in 2018 and 2019, Halloween is now close to snatching the first place.

While the range of valentine gifts is actually expanding, the public interest seems to have turned somewhat sour. The chocolate industry took a big hit with the growing perception that giri-chocolates are in fact, a form of power harassment at work.

So every year, confectioners have to come up with ingenious marketing campaigns to encourage consumers to indulge their desire for sweets, whether they’re gifting the sweets to someone else or themselves.

Taste of what?!

Leveraging Japanese people’s romantic perception of France is always a good strategy to sell stuff in Japan. But we bet cake shop chain …continue reading


The Little Things That Make Japanese Apartment Life Easier

The little things that make Japanese apartment life easier.

Something unique about Japanese apartment life is the little things. I’m talking about the tiny objects that make living in a tiny space a tiny bit easier. This won’t be an exhaustive list, because let’s face it; there are millions of these items, but there are a few notable products that are uniquely easy to get in Japan, and are a must if you’re looking at renting an apartment. These range from cleaning products to drying racks; they are little things that I wish I’d known were household staples when I first moved to Japan.

The Kitchen

You might not be surprised to hear that Japanese kitchens can be rather small. Because of this, dishwashers are rare, and stove-tops are usually limited to a two-plate gas burner with a small “fish grill”. If you’re from the states, you might be surprised to learn that garbage disposal systems are also non-existent. Instead, Japanese kitchens have a basket in the sink, with a grease trap underneath. Food scraps washed down the sink will end up here, and the basket requires constant cleaning. The Japanese seem to have identified this as a problem too, as there are heaps of products available to make this job a little less disgusting. First of all, invest in a sink deodoriser (above, top left). This will neutralise any smells coming from the sink and slow the buildup of bacteria. You should still clean it out every day, but this will make it more bearable. For those who just can’t stomach plunging their hand into soggy food scraps, there are single use nets (above, top right) that can be put in the sink basket and simply thrown out each time.

You’ll find yourself needing multiple bins in Japan if you want to be …continue reading