Monday, June 22, 2015

A Very Japanese + Irish Day

I've talked about my two cultures a lot. I've certainly spent a lot of time in my life explaining my precise racial and cultural background.

(Can I get a nickel every time I tell people I'm Japanese and Irish, by the way? And maybe a dime every time someone reacts with, "Really? Wow!")

But my mixed background never becomes as apparent as when both sides of my family get together. It doesn't happen very often; we're usually with one side or another.

My grandfather died three weeks ago. He was my mother's father, my Japanese grandfather. In accordance with Japanese tradition, he was cremated. We had a memorial service at my grandparents' house.

I don't know how it works in other Buddhist sects (my mom's side are Nichiren Buddhists, but even there, there are a million different sects), but in my mom's, we chant and then there are some ashes that you lift to your forehead three times as you pray, and then there's incense. I have the basic prayers memorized, although I have no idea what I'm chanting or what the words mean. So we did that--my mom's side of the family, some family friends, majority Japanese.

My Irish side--my dad's two brothers and their families--came, too. Now, they're Catholic and they've never been to a Buddhist memorial ceremony, so it was all new to them. And they don't get to eat Japanese food a lot.

My cousin: "I don't usually like sushi, but this is sooo good."

(Did I mention that my uncle's a sushi chef?)

And so, I found myself being truly mixed and biracial and all that jazz. On the one hand, I'm having conversations with my younger, white cousins. On the other, I'm talking to my grandmother in Japanese. I'm translating from Japanese into English and vice versa. I'm explaining Japanese food to my white relatives.

Like I said, it's rare for both sides to get together, but when they do, I'm really glad that I've been raised in two rich cultures and that I can blur the lines between them--because when the two come together, there I am.

Also, completely random note: I'm being interviewed over at Michelle Tran's blog today. My first author interview!

13 comments:

  1. You speak Japanese! That is beyond awesome! (I totally want to learn, by the way. I know a few words.) I had mixed Asian friends in college and none of them spoke another language. But there was this Japanese girl in my French class who told me she had to translate the French to English and then to Japanese before she could understand it. So wild. That's so great that they raised you with both.

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    1. Well...I speak enough Japanese to get by in a conversation. I only understand about every three or four words on the Japanese news, though. Hated going to Japanese school on Saturdays growing up, though, and actually, I've actually gotten better at Japanese just by being around my relatives.

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  2. So sorry for your loss. And I'm really jealous you have an uncle who's a sushi chef!

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    1. There's a reason why I'm picky about my sushi...

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  3. Sorry for your loss, Michelle. I don't have any grandparents left, so if you still do, do enjoy our time with those.
    It is cool to be part of as many cultures as one can be!
    So when you're with your Caucasian family, what things to do you? General American things? Baseball, burgers, etc.? I feel like in the U.S., we are so around White-American culture that it's sometimes hard to understand if that's Caucasian-American's culture, or The United States in general. But then it can't speak for all U.S. Citizens, and is surely the majority simply because of Europeans taking over and forcing their ways upon many races.
    Anyway, lol, it's just something I at times find myself thinking about, since I'm Latina, but born here and... well maybe it's just me trying to make sense of things and categorize them to understand my own history and upbringing here in California without getting into my Mexican culture--because if I bring that in then I try to separate the Aztec history from the Spanish history and I'll never escape my thoughts!
    LOL. This is something that I can wonder and wonder about and try to get to the bottom of for for ever! The Americas...such an interesting blend of everything.

    P.S. Maybe your uncle can cook me something! I don't like sushi :x and i've tried a couple of times to give it a chance.

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    1. My Japanese grandma is the one grandparent I have left and we've all been spending a lot of time with her. She used to babysit me after school.

      Well, my white side is Irish-American and until my dad's generation, they only married other Irish-Americans, so they're typical Caucasian Americans in some ways, but we're still pretty Irish-American in some of our traditions, I think. Or at least they are, because they're all Catholic and observe the religious aspects. We have a lot of colorful ancestors on the Irish side and we like to tell long, elaborate stories. It took me a while to separate my white side from general white, WASP-y Americans. I didn't really meet anybody white who didn't know where their ancestors had come from until college and I found it kind of odd. How do you not know where your family came from? All the white kids I knew growing up knew which person in their family came over to America and from where because NYC has a lot of immigrants.
      I appointed myself the family historian because a) I like history and b) I really want to know as much as I can about my roots. If I have to explain myself to people, I feel like I should know as much as I can.

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  4. First, sorry for your loss!

    You are blessed to have both families at a distance where visiting is possible. My mother's side (Japanese) of our family lives in Japan and my father's side in Chicago. The only time in my life when I spoke fluent Japanese is when we lived in Japan while my father served in the military.

    My mother was Buddhist and my father Catholic. What's up with these two groups finding each other? I would love to have been the translator between the two sides as each culture does have contrasting views and customs. Like I mentioned, you are truly blessed!

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  5. First, sorry for your loss!

    You are blessed to have both families at a distance where visiting is possible. My mother's side (Japanese) of our family lives in Japan and my father's side in Chicago. The only time in my life when I spoke fluent Japanese is when we lived in Japan while my father served in the military.

    My mother was Buddhist and my father Catholic. What's up with these two groups finding each other? I would love to have been the translator between the two sides as each culture does have contrasting views and customs. Like I mentioned, you are truly blessed!

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    1. My mom's side is closer--like two miles away, I guess?--and my dad's side live on Long Island. My mom's immediate family all immigrated. We have a lot of relatives in Japan, though (like...I'm pretty sure all of Nagasaki prefecture is somehow related to us). Mom was determined to make me speak Japanese, so I was sent to Japanese weekend school, which I hated. We didn't do the go-back-every-summer to Japan thing because I didn't have to. My family were all here.

      My dad and I have a joke that every half-Japanese kid is either half Irish or half Jewish. :-) There are a lot of things I don't understand about both sides--not being Catholic, I don't really get some of the ideas or traditions and not really being a Buddhist, there are tons of things I don't understand there--but basic things, language, food, customs, I understand.

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  6. I think it's wonderful that you're Japanese and Irish. I love the Asian culture and I always wished I was Irish. :P

    I am so sorry for your loss!

    I wish my uncle was a sushi chef.

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  7. This was really interesting. Thanks for sharing a glimpse of your life. Sorry for the loss of your grandfather.
    I added your blog to my feedly list.

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    1. Thanks, Mary. There's a reason why diversity is a big thing with me.

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