Expat Musings

Why Is Your English So Good?

The first time someone asked me that question, I was stunned. The first time someone asked me that question, I struggled to answer in a composed manner. Why couldn’t my English be good? Why was I being asked such a question? Why was I so angry?

“I was born in America. I grew up in California,” I replied, after a moment of shocked silence.

“Oh, I’m from San Diego,” came the reply. As we lapsed into conversation, I couldn’t forget the wave, the feeling of anger that washed over me. It felt foreign; I’ve never been questioned about my English ability before. Perhaps I had been asked in Chinese before, asking why I could speak English by a curious shopkeeper or street seller; but never directly as a conversation starter in English. Was it because the asker was a white American? Was it because of his tone? I felt offended.

On the train ride back, I mulled over the question. Why? But then I realized that this question would have been unacceptable if asked in America– to an Asian American who has spoken English all their life suddenly to be asked about the validity of their American-ness, about their identity as an Asian-American. The question is akin to the “Where are you from?” question often asked to POC, as if America can’t be a valid answer because the color of their skin is not white. In this sense, this question is asking if one can’t be a native English speaker because their appearance is not of Caucasian descent.

The second time someone asked me this question, the shock was no longer there. “Why don’t you have a Taiwanese accent?” the person asked me.

“I grew up in America,” I explained. I had grown accustomed to the question; I had realized that the circumstances abroad and back in America are different; many people haven’t met that many Asian-Americans or other third-culture individuals. I was simply not used to the question; since asking this same question to an Asian-American or to an Asian who has never lived in an English-speaking country would yield very different results.

This question underlies the assumption that the askee is a foreigner– something that would be considered racist towards Asians who have always lived and grown up in an English environment. That’s why this question is acceptable when asked to Asians who have not grown up in an English environment; the asker is wondering how they acquired their English ability.

Once I came to understand how different people would react to this question, I began to understand. The assumption that I couldn’t possibly be American, the assumption that I couldn’t possibly be a native English speaker was what angered me. This assumption would be unacceptable in America, due to the ethnically and culturally diversified demographic. However, this is not the case in Japan, or in any homogeneous society. It is natural to assume that people are not third-culture individuals, or that people’s nationalities and upbringing match their ethnic and cultural background. It is natural to assume that I’m not American.

So if someone asks me this question, I’ll just take the compliment and say that their English is good too.

Publications, The Metric

[The Metric] Japan’s Gender Equality: Sexual Harassment and Victim Blaming

Japan’s failure to address gender equality contradicts its image as a developed nation

Written for The Metric

In June 2018, Japan won a shocking victory against Columbia by 2-1. Crowds of excited fans filled the bustling streets of Shibuya, partying late into the night. The next morning, news broke: sexual harassment complaints filed to the police jumped by a fold after one night. According to a Yahoo Japan article that was published the next day, during the commotion in the Shibuya Crossing area after the victory, many women were groped and harassed, resulting in a large number of sexual harassment claims filed to the police and comments on Twitter and other social media portals. One user on Twitter complained that she was groped around five times; another said the touches were not accidental, but with intention. The article also stated that it was against the law to touch people or their belongings in public places, citing Tokyo’s Prevention Ordinance Article 5, paragraph 1, number 1. It also stated that such acts are considered a crime.

What was more shocking was not merely the reports, however, but the social media comments in response to the incident. The top comment with more than 16000 upvotes simply states, “It would better if they [women] don’t go [to such places.]” Other comments follow, such as “Women shouldn’t go to these places alone,” or “Women have to be careful and be aware of the risk.” Another one reiterates these sentiments: “Well, that can’t be helped.”

The blatant victim blaming in social media comments illustrated Japan’s failure to reduce the gender gap and showed that the lack of direct action against aggressors inhibits Japan from progressing to a more equal society. While there are laws against sexual harassment, it is seldom enforced and often overlooked in both work and school environments. The axiom, “Boys will be boys” and “It can’t be helped.” is often used to dismiss patriarchal and predatory behavior. More importantly, many cases of harassment are often not reported due to the fear and shame of victim-blaming and the failure of the government or police force to resolve such circumstances.

The FIFA incident is a sharp contrast from Japan’s international image as a forward, economically powerful country. Japan is the world’s third largest economy in terms of nominal GDP, third largest automobile manufacturer, and largest electronic goods industry. It is known as a leading nation in technology and innovation. Its distinct culture and society also drew in 28.69 million tourists in 2017, according to JTB Tourism. Japanese popular culture such as Japanese cinema, manga, anime, music, fashion, and video games has shaped Japan’s image abroad as a distinct nation and tourist-favorite scenic destination.

Yet, despite all of its economic glory, Japan still struggles with gender equality; it is ranked 114th in gender equality based on the Global Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum in 2017. The report measures gender equality based on the “relative gaps between women and men across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics.” Japan is ranked last out of the G7, the group of seven major economies. Out of the four key areas, Japan is ranked first in health, 74th in education, 114th in economic participation and opportunity, and 123rd in political empowerment. Japan’s main reason for a low score is due to large gender gaps in terms of income and job promotions, as well as low proportions of women in politics, such as female lawmakers, politicians, and Cabinet members. Despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to introduce female-centric economic policies dubbed “Womenomics,” Japan’s ranking in gender equality is still extremely low compared to other developed economies.

Japan attempts to improve gender equality by creating policies that bring more women into the workforce, citing that a higher female labor force participation will bring economic growth. Prime Minister Abe pushed “The Act on Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace” in April 2016 as part of his economic policy reform. And in that aspect, it was successful in bringing more women to the workforce, from 67.8% in 2012 to 72.7% in 2016, according to the Gender Equality Bureau. However, while more women are in the workforce, there are still a lack of women in executive, management, and senior positions in companies and the government. Only 3.7% of Japanese company executives are women, and only two of Abe’s Cabinet of twenty are women. According to BBC News, Only 10% of lawmakers in the House of Representatives are women.

Japan cannot simply achieve better gender equality by stating that more women in the workforce help improves the economy. Gender equality should be achieved for the sole goal of improving the lives of both women and men in society. What Japan needs is to recognize that the problem lies within the daily lives of Japanese men and women and start to eliminate microaggressions and condemning sexist behavior, such as victim blaming. As a developed nation with the world’s third largest economy, Japan needs to recognize that its lack of gender equality in every aspect of the daily lives of Japanese people poses a risk to not only the economy, but also the well being of Japanese society.