Having worked at Starbucks some years ago, I have learned that the coffee house is not simply a place to grab a “joe” and go. It’s a place where people go to study, read, relax, or people watch. Most importantly, it’s a place for friends to meet and talk. Japan, in particular Okayama, seems to do it right as it is sprinkled with cafes everywhere for people to come together, enjoy a cup of coffee, and share stories. This day was just one of those days, except these friends had a more focused agenda.
On the rainy afternoon of April 6, several brave souls gathered at a tiny coffee shop in Okayama City for some lattes and a small chit-chat about what it’s like being an Asian Pacific Islander (API) foreigner living in Japan. It was an organized event sponsored by the Asian Pacific Islander AJET (API AJET) to allow API JETs to share their experiences as an “invisible gaijin” and for those who are not API foreigners to contribute their thoughts. The group consisted of three Asian Americans, two Caucasian Americans, and two Japanese citizens. Both of the co-founders of API AJET (my buddy from Ibaraki-ken and me) attended the gathering. After some giggles and snapshots of our latte art, we relaxed and conversed.
After several hours of open, honest opinions and heart-felt stories, we managed to distinguish some positive and negative aspects. As pointed out by one of the non-API JETs, sometimes looking Japanese has its benefits in the classroom. When teaching English to Japanese students, the students may feel a bit comforted that a person who looks like them can speak perfect English and might lead to the breakdown of the barrier that English is too difficult for Asian people to learn. On the flip side, especially outside the classroom, an API foreigner will either get no attention when in a group of diverse-looking foreigners or receive all the attention in Japanese-speaking situations.
The main issue that one of the API participants mentioned was that it would have been helpful to have publications on the real JET experience, and not just “awesome” experience essays. Covering the everyday life of JETs from all backgrounds would help shed light into what to expect before moving to Japan and provide the early support that JETs might want.
Since the commencement of the special interest group, API AJET has created a Facebook page, a Google+ page, an email account (email@example.com), along with an online newsletter as mediums of support and education. If you’re interested in attending future chats and other events, feel free to reach out to us.
Let’s meet, let’s coffee, and let’s share! ◆