Search for Shangri-La
Every year, as the weather turns cold and the nostrils start to mucify, I find myself feeling nostalgic for other places I've lived. It's Japan I miss more than anywhere else, and it's not the hot springs of Beppu, not the smoke stacks of Oita, but Miyazaki that occupies that special place in my heart. I think it was a powerful experience for me, those two years in the Zak. Never before had I lived in a foreign country, and never before had I had the opportunity to spend so much time with my grandparents. It was like coming out of the closet after an entire childhood deprived of contact with Japanese people. I wanted to run across Aoshima beach, naked, screaming, "Yes! I'm Japanese, and proud of it!"
A few years later, that sentiment was amended to, "Yes, I'm Japanese! Well, okay, not really, but I kind of am, sort of. My pronunciation is pretty good...what's that kanji again?"
Now and then, I wonder if it would be better to live in Japan instead of the States. A Japanese speaking foreigner, I'm a lot more marketable in Japan than in the US, which means that I'd probably make more money in Japan. It's proximity to Korea is convenient for Yoonsung, and moreover, Yoonsung already speaks decent Japanese. I find myself pouring over websites of companies like Maruhon, wondering what it would be like to work the rest of my life in a Japanese company.
But then I snap out of it. My god, if I have kids, they would never be Japanese citizens! Then there's the prejudice Yoonsung, and my child, are likely to encounter if we live in a large city. I read things like:
"Japanese children who are not born in Japan, or whose parents are not 100% Japanese, may experience racism from a very young age and can even be subject to beatings by their peers and adults, but mostly they are merely ignored. One recent example is of a 9 year old boy of 1/4 American heritage whose teacher aggressively pulled his nose while yelling 'Pinocchio, Pinocchio' until his nose bled. Initially the school refused to confront the issue until the boy's parents became incessantly vocal. The confused child was quoted as asking his parents if he was 'dirty' because he was 1/4 American. The teacher, a member of the Japan Teachers Union, was forced to resign."
Yes, like the US with Abu Ghraib, I'm sure Japan's Ministry of Education would claim this was an isolated incident, but shit like this is enough to convince me that Japan may not be the ideal place to raise my future 1/4 American children.
Here is a good research paper (pdf) about the state of Koreans in Japan.
By the way, Maruhon seems like a great company, but I'm not sure I'd want to live in Hamamatsu. It's an industrial city, home to Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki. After Oita, I've had quite enough of smoggy skies. The section "Preparing for the Tokai Earthquake" on the city's website also reminded me of the impending mega-disaster. I suppose living in the shadow of Mt. Fuji is the last thing you'd want to be doing when the big one hits.
Once, on the streets of Tokyo, a crazy woman grabbed my by the shoulders, looked me in the eye and said, "I can't wait until the big one hits and wipes all this scum off the earth."
It's no wonder the Japanese can be so fatalistic.
So where's the best place to go? There are plenty of places in the US with large, multiethnic populations, but they are also expensive. According to this fascinating report on the self-sufficiency standard in Hawaii (pdf), a family of three (2 adults, 1 infant) living in urban Honolulu (makai) has to earn $34,678 yearly just to make ends meet. That means living in a small apartment, no cable TV, no Play Station, no trips to McDonald's, no car, no movies. The situation is no better in other diverse US cities like San Francisco or New York. So I guess I'd better have a good job.
Then I look at home prices in Andong and think, "Dag! I could buy a brand new 890 square foot condo for $100,000!" Then I look at my employment options there and think, "Dag! I'll be 55 years old and screaming 'This is an apple!' to little kids!"
Then I take a deep breath and realize that no place is perfect, and that wherever I choose to settle down, I'll probably be pretty happy so long as there's no war or famine. As The George says, "She'll be alright."