I am lucky to have been able to travel back to Canada at least once every year, and to have taken my family to Canada a number of times since living in Japan. My daughter, Emma, who is only 11-years old, has been to Canada six times, I think. Ken, who just turned six, has been there twice - less than Emma had been when she reached the age of six, but still pretty good for a six-year-old, I think. What can I say? With two growing children money has now become a lot tighter.
In addition to my trips home both alone and with the family, my parents came to Japanonce, together in 1993, and my mother came a second time, alone in 2003. There are a few things that keep coming up between me and some Canadians, first from my parents together, then from my mother alone, and periodically from others as well. They have often commented about how I treat my children, or interact with them. More than once - many times, in fact - after seeing me with Emma, Mom has said,
“Oh, don’t do that! She’s a big girl now.”
For a long time I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about, and it kind of sounds like I am sexually abusing my children, or something. But I sincerely think that there is some manner of culture clash going on between my conception of my behavior and some Canadians’ perceptions of it. To begin with, we seem to harbor different ideas about parental/family behavior. I have pointed it out to people, for example, that our living conditions in Japan are radically different from what Canadians are familiar with, and that this becomes reflected in our behavior towards each other. First, here we do not have, and we are not accustomed to a lot of privacy. Certainly not what Canadians or Americans are used to. We livein very close quarters which by itself, I think, successfully goes a long way towards explaining why I might behave more “intimately” with my family than a Canadian father might. Even now we still sleep together as a family, side-by-side on futons laid out on the tatamigrass floor coverings, like salmon swimming upstream.
Next, Japanese culture lacks a lot of the traditional sexual prudery of many Western cultures. This might stem, in part, from the close quarters an general lack of privacy. But it might also be related to a widespread lack of any sense of Original Sin and innate human guilt in Asian morals. I mean Japanese (and other Asians) do not approach the human condition with a sense of guilt about our bodies and as part of our human nature by design. So, in the case of our family dynamics, there is a lot more physical closeness than what Canadians are used to. Of course, with Emma entering her teens now, this will change quickly, I expect. But the point remains that Japan has a very different ‘Body Culture’ than Canada does, and because my behavior is somewhat Japanized, I exhibit it in Japan and in Canada.
To a certain extent, my behavior and tastes, ideas and expectations have become Japanized over the last fifteen years of living here. Again, as an example I can refer to my yearly visits to my hometown, Guelph. I am confident that when I go shopping and talk to cashiers, or go to the bank or the post office, or try to answer questions from Customs and Immigration Agents at the airport, or just when I engage in conversation with practically anyone there is a lot of miscommunication and missed language cues between us. My verbal expressions and linguistic affectations as well as my body language and facial expression are probably all a little skewed, causing those around me to pick up on the fact that I am not from around there. Maybe they think I am an American tourist, or something. More than once I have told people that I am“from Japan”if they chance to ask me where I’m from. This causes confusion. Despite Canada’s official policy of multiculturalism, my response causes many people to reply,“You don’t look Japanese,” or “Can you speak Chinese?” It’s crazy and mixed up. I proudly resist easy attempts to classify me.