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  • Writer's pictureSweet Orange

#28 おかげさま(2)Thankfully (Okagesama) 2

Rev. Kodo Tanaka 田中孝道

Title: Thankfully (Okagesama) 2


In Japan, an island country, a foreign country is called “kai-gai,” which means “out of the sea”. The word “out” seems to reflect symbolically the mind of Japanese people like me, who were born and raised there. As expressed in the phrase “Shame on a journey can be scratched away (because I do not belong to that visiting community).”, we have a distinct sense of “inside and outside” and act differently depending on a situation. Because Japanese people are islanders with almost a single ethnicity, we seem to presuppose that everyone looks the same, speaks the same language, shares the same values in life, and does not move “out” of the community. In such kind of environment, notions like “It is a matter of course that we all are expected to share the same feeling.” and/or “You should sense what is expected before you are told.” If all people should be the same, it is much less necessary for one to deal with the issue of “what I am”. However, from a bird’s-eye view, countries in this world that exist as an island are the minority.   

In contrast, Southern California, so-called a melting pot” is a community where people from all over the places with different ethnical backgrounds immigrate to live. The color of skin, custom, etiquette, are all different. Because it is the place where everyone is supposed to be different, you cannot expect that people should sense something that is not told or written. Accordingly, the issue of identity matters to everyone and so do Japanese people, who came from an island society where all people are supposed to share the same values. It even matters to children of Japanese descendants, who get deeply involved in American society by attending school. They need an explanation and understanding of customs and behavior they are told at home. For them to be proud of their own ethnical culture and tradition, we adults are responsible to know and tell the meaning of these customs. We need to be a sample by putting them into practice at home. 

It would be difficult especially for people like me, who came from Japan, to look at their home country, its culture and custom, and myself ultimately, from the perspective of “outside”. However, we cannot know darkness if a day consists only of high noon. We cannot know light either if a day consists only of night. Because we experience the environment of “outside”, we can know values we live by, which we got accustomed to while in Japan without wondering why. If so, to experience the different cultures in the world “outside” can be the finest opportunity to understand one’s own identity. I believe that all our experiences here will contribute not only to our local community but also to Japan and its future.  

First, let us look at money in America. All bills and coins say “In God We Trust”. The idea of God’s creation is a foundation of all western religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and we the human beings are also supposed to be created by God. The word “god” is generally translated in Japanese as “kami”. However, it needs attention that when we Japanese hear the word “kami”, I think it would be really hard to come up with an image of “one creator”. Because the word “kami” in Japanese easily draws forth an image of the multiple divine figures that reside everywhere in nature, such as the ocean and mountains.  

Next, let us look at language. In English, the subject to describe oneself is always “I”, because a person is created by God as an independent figure. Regardless of age, sex, or social status of whomever you talk to, the subject of “I” never changes. Meanwhile, in Japanese, the subject frequently changes depending on who to talk to. When you talk to your child, you would call yourself “mother/father”. You would call yourself “teacher” when you talk to your students. When you talk to an elderly person, you would pick “Watashi” to call yourself politely instead of “Ore/Atashi”. In contrast to English, in the Japanese language, the subject always should change appropriately to fit a situation. It is interesting that in Japanese, the relationship between two who conversate always comes first for a speaker to properly address himself. I think this feature of the Japanese language serves as one of the reasons for Japanese to struggle in learning English. 


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