Suzanne: Did You Know Japan Has a “Culture Day”?
Suzanne is an American living with her family in Japan. In Suzanne’s words, “I live in Japan, on the island of Shikoku, but I’m an American, born and raised in Michigan, and most recently from South Carolina. I spent a semester in France during my junior year of college, which ignited my appetite for travel. Thinking I’d see a different part of the world, I signed up for the JET Program, a one-year stint assisting English teachers in public schools in Japan. While I was on the program, I met and fell in love with a Japanese P.E. teacher, and I’ve been here ever since.”
In today’s interview, Suzanne tells us about how she and her family have integrated into the Japanese way of life, who the national heroes are in Japan, Japanese Culture Day (what a great idea!) and even the complex recycling system that the Japanese practice! Suzanne has also written a novel and two short stories about life in Japan, which you can read more about here.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How would your friends or family describe you?
I’ve always been interested in other cultures, and in reading and writing. As a kid, I was the one at family gatherings tucked away in a corner, lost in a book. I think my social skills are a bit more developed now. I’d like to think that my family would describe me as international, open-minded, and creative.
If you would describe yourself as multi-cultural, tell us a bit about what culture you most identify with and why. What culture do your kids most associate with?
When I’m in Japan, I feel American, probably because I can’t ever entirely fit in here. That gives me a degree of freedom, since there are so many rules. My children mostly identify as Japanese, although they are proud and appreciative of their American heritage. For example, my daughter loves kimono and flower arrangement and manga. She joined the tea ceremony club at her junior high school, and her hyper-attention to others strikes me as very Japanese.
Can you describe a typical day for you?
I wake up and eat breakfast with my family. (Today was miso soup mixed with rice, with some vegetables on the side.) I take my daughter to school, then go to one of the universities where I teach English as a Second Language part-time. Then I pick up my daughter from school, come home, go shopping, and make dinner. In the evenings, I watch DVDs of American movies with my husband. Somewhere in there, I try to fit in some exercise – a walk by the river – and maybe a little reading and writing.
What is the best part of living in your country? The worst?
There is very little crime in Japan, and people are generally very civil, which makes life pleasant. I also appreciate the comprehensive healthcare system here. And the sushi! The worst part would be that people in rural Japan, where I live, tend to be very conservative.
What books or films would you recommend someone who’d like to know more about your country?
Well, I’ve written a short story collection, The Beautiful One Has Come, and a novel, Losing Kei, which give a pretty accurate view of life in this part of Japan, I think. I’d also recommend the novels Ash and Orchards by Holly Thompson, If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous, the memoir At Home in Japan by Rebecca Otowa, and the short story collection Green Tea to Go by Leza Lowitz. As for movies, I’d recommend the films Departures and Hula Girls.
What languages does your family use on a daily basis?
Japanese, English, and Japanese Sign Language. (My daughter is deaf.)
Tell me about a national hero in your country. Who are they and what are they admired for?
Since group effort is applauded in Japan, I’d say that the Japanese National Women’s Soccer Team, known as Nadeshiko Japan, are among the biggest national heroes at the moment. This scrappy group of women managed to defeat the American Women’s Soccer Team in 2011, to become World Champions, bringing much-needed cause for celebration to a nation in distress from the triple disaster of 3/11 (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown).
Tell me about your favorite holiday, and what cultural traditions you practice to celebrate on that day.
I like Culture Day. I like it that Japan has a day for celebrating culture! On that day, we might visit an exhibition of art by local townspeople, or write poetry, or go to a concert.
Describe a favorite typical meal from your country
Ginger pork, a bowl of rice, miso soup, and a side of vegetables is one of your favorite meals. We usually drink barley tea with meals. We like sushi, too, but it’s rather expensive and only for special occasions.
What’s something that visitors are often surprised by when getting to know your country/culture?
Maybe they would be surprised by the extent to which Japanese people separate their garbage. In a nearby town, residents are required to separate their trash into over 40 categories!