re: doubles

I’m not a fan of the old “best of both worlds” myth.  Not unless the other side of that coin -worst of both worlds- is given as much weight.  However, I didn’t want to simply tout a “tragic japanese-american” fallacy over here today either.  Here’s what I found to counteract that.

The Hapa Advantage

By Leah Nanako Winkler


“Hybrids are better”—Shayne Kao

…In the belated honor of “LOVING DAY,” I’ve asked 10 hapas in NYC and beyond (including myself) the following: what we like about being biracial, and how it has shaped us in this world. So, let’s eat some good food and enjoy the sunshine as this community continues to grow and we find each other and ourselves among the masses!


Name: Teddy Hose

OCCUPATION: Illustrator, Animator, Graphic Designer

NATIONALITY: Dad is American (3rd Generation German), Mom is Japanese (straight from Japan).

I definitely enjoy being biracial, it gives me perspective culturally, and I usually get a positive response when people ask me about it.  I like the feeling of being unique because I work in the creative field where that is highly valued.  I also believe it makes me more tolerant since the East’s values and tendencies are clearly different than the West.  I can’t help but see things from more than one angle, which can be refreshing. I’m honestly able to communicate better with non-white people in my experience.  Being able to connect with someone based on feeling “different” is always something I look for, as cliché as that sounds.

I think one advantage with being hapa is that we don’t have the typecasting that comes with being one race. Not to say there are those who equate mixed race people to one race (Obama being declared as the first “black” president), but this aspect is great for someone who’s an artist like me.


NAME: Stephanie Silver


NATIONALITY: Half-Japanese, Half-German/Austrian/Hungarian—aka Germanese, or Double-Jap, or Jap-Squared, or the Axis Powers (minus Italy).

STEPHANIE SAYS:  I grew up with ramen and tempura dishes one week, and pastrami sandwiches and matzo ball soup the next. Which dessert do I like more: mochi or cheesecake? At a frozen yogurt shop, I don’t have to choose anymore. I can have both flavors, a twist, a blend, a hybrid!

Feeling a connection to two distinct cultures. Recognizing my features in an Expressionist painting, and my emotions in a woodblock print. Strangers telling me I should go to Israel, no Berlin, no…Okinawa. Remembering trips to Hawaii during Summer, and New York in the Fall. Learning to surf and going to Temple. Living the in-between life in Los Angeles. Being accepted by most Asian and Jewish groups and looking non-descript enough to pretend I was Latin or Creole to fit in there too. But feeling especially drawn to people with a similar mixed heritage. I had a deeper understanding with them and I was eager to find common ground.

I think seeing how one side of my family would ostracize one or the other of my parents made me embrace different ethnicities more. I’m constantly finding myself attracted to minorities. And I think their families are more accepting of me because of my mixed heritage. It’s as if I’m neutral territory, truly American. I could date Raymond, who is Korean, and his parents wouldn’t mind because I was only half-Japanese. My Japanese grandparents certainly would not feel the same about him. I could be considered as a potential wife for David and Daniel, both Jewish, simply because of my last name.

People are comfortable around me because I blend easily, but they’re curious too. I hear them saying to their friends with pride, “she looks Hawaiian, right, but her father’s Jewish!” I was born into something exciting and somewhat new. We’re a growing group of biracial mixes, foreign yet distinctly native. We’re the physical manifestation of the end of racism.


NAME: Justin Baldwin

OCCUPATION: Artist, but an unknown one, so I have a day job working for a Japanese company.

NATIONALITY: I am an American, as is my father. My mother is now a U.S. citizen, but was born in Japan. On my father’s side of the family, there is Irish, German, British, and who knows what else … and, I suspect that on my mother’s side, there may be some Russian (going back a couple hundred years), since my mother has fair skin and green eyes (plus, she’s from Sapporo, and the prefecture of Hokkaido is closer to Russia than anywhere else in Japan).

Although I didn’t study Japanese until I finished college, the biracial factor inspired me to study Japanese and eventually live in Japan. This has subsequently made a profound impact/influence on who I am, and what I do. I suppose, in this sense, it has helped secure jobs (first with the JET Program, and then with the Kurashiki Board of Education, and now with my current corporate incarnation as a Professional Gaijin/Scapegoat). Being biracial in college helped me connect with Roger Shimomura as a student, who remains a close friend and mentor. So in many ways, even though being biracial has not always resulted in the most pleasant experiences, it has led me down avenues that I might not otherwise have taken, meeting new people and places that do end up being very beneficial and positive. Besides, as I mentioned, there’s a certain freedom to being undefined.


Leah Nanako Winkler

As I scroll through these responses, once again, I am overwhelmed with a simultaneous sense of comfort and disorientation. Entering my mid-20s, I’ve come to accept and embrace the positive effects of my ethnic background, by associating with and learning from the people mentioned in this article. I am learning quickly that my identity crisis/investigation is only a small fraction of a cultural search of where we, as biracial people, stand in this society. The importance of seeing the glass as half-full, as opposed to half-empty, is equal to seeing ourselves as double, rather than “half” of two races. In many ways, we are lucky and unsheltered. I am excited to see how this perspective continues to grow, as I meet more and more of you and hope to strengthen our voice in any and every way possible.

© 2009 Leah Nanako Winkler


Although “mulatto” is not the “double” on which this article focuses, the perils of navigating a biracial identity that remains disrespected by, unsupported by, unacknowledged by, and unacceptable to the mainstream society surrounding the individual are so accurately communicated that I just had to post this.  Crux of the issue: “feeling of being an incomplete person has sometimes led to deep depression.”  I think that the only way around this is to eradicate the illusion of separation by infusing into our collective consciousness the truth of oneness.  No halves.  No sides.  No divide.

Also touched upon here is the aspect of chaos that the Americans have injected into the Okinawan landscape that is worth analyzing.


Okinawa-born Japanese-American musician Caroline Lufkin (unrelated to article)

In Japan but surrounded by U.S. influence, Okinawa struggles with split identity

By Chico Harlan


CHATAN, JAPAN — These days, when Melissa Tomlinson describes her fraught relationship with the United States, she speaks in English, the language she once rejected.

She grew up here on the island of Okinawa. Her mother was Japanese, and her father was an American who served in the U.S. Army, came to Okinawa, fell in love, fell out of love, then fell out of touch.

“I had plans to track him down, find him and punch him in the face,” said Tomlinson, 22. “I just wanted to figure out my identity.”

Tomlinson’s family tensions illustrate the complex cultural clashes that dominate the politics of Okinawa and, lately, relations between what have been the world’s two largest economies as they cope with a rising China and a belligerent North Korea.

For the more than 60 years since the end of World War II, native Okinawans and U.S. troops stationed on nearby bases have developed deep, passionate and generation-spanning ties that complicate political and diplomatic debates about the future of the U.S. military here.

Those passions have recently claimed the head of one Japanese prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, who had called for the Americans to be booted off Okinawa, and caused his successor to sharply tone down his party’s assertive stance toward the United States.

A vocal majority of Okinawans still demand closing the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. American officials, citing proximity to North Korea, China and Southeast Asia, insist it remain in Okinawa. Japan, in its attempt to mediate, has only frustrated both sides.

The current resolution, which Prime Minister Naoto Kan says his government will honor, calls for Futenma’s eventual relocation to a less populated region in the north of the island. Kan apologized last week for the “heavy burden” facing Okinawans.

Many locals on this Pacific island hosting more than half of the 47,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan complain most commonly about the noise, congestion and crime. But emotional blood ties and cultural confusion amplify those concerns. Tormented by her identity, Tomlinson said she has tried to kill herself “a couple times” in the past two years.

Tomlinson said she struggles to convince herself — and others — that she is truly Japanese and Okinawan. She called her identity “ambiguous” and said her feeling of being an incomplete person has sometimes led to deep depression.

A generation of biracial Okinawans know about intercultural relationships, writ small. They know about romance and separations, child-support battles and reunions. They know that Japanese children refer to their biracial peers as “halfs,” and nowadays, they know of the local American-Asian school, for biracial children, where those kids are taught to call themselves “doubles.”

Okinawa’s demographics separate it from mainland Japan. Here, the rates of single-parent households and divorce are twice the national average. At the American-Asian school, 70 percent of the 80 students come from single-parent households, Principal Midori Thayer said.

“Unfortunately, some kids never live with their father, but they cannot lose their DNA,” she said. “Their body shows that they are not 100 percent Japanese.”

Denny Tamaki, 50, the local representative to the Japanese parliament, knows only that his father, an American serviceman whom he has never met, was named William.

When William returned to the States and Tamaki’s mother decided not to follow, she burned his photos and letters. When they moved to a new home, she didn’t give him their new address. When Tamaki turned 10, his mother took him to a government office, where they officially changed his first name to Yasuhiro.

Tamaki knows little English and wants Futenma moved off Okinawa because “it feels like we’re living under occupation.” But he has a passion for American music — Aerosmith, for instance — and American television shows.

A decade ago he tried to track down his father, with no luck. When his kids ask about their grandfather, he tells them that it would take the detectives from “CSI: Miami” to find him.

Search for a father

Tomlinson’s mother and father were married on Okinawa, and then moved together to Georgia after his tour on the island ended in 1975. Tomlinson was born in Hinesville, Ga., while her father was stationed at Fort Stewart.

Tomlinson’s parents separated when she was 3; she returned to Okinawa in 1990 with her mother. Her father retained custody of their two older children, who stayed in the United States with him.

Growing up, Tomlinson said, she remembered nothing about the separation, and never spoke to her father or siblings. “I’ve had to live with some tough decisions,” said Melissa’s father, who requested that his name not be used.

Tomlinson said her conflicted feelings were often fueled by her mother, who told her she looked “like an American” and tried to hide her from her co-workers. She said they fought frequently, and she told her mother: “Why did you have me? I want to be a Japanese, but I don’t get to choose.”

In school, her dual identities battled. Sometimes she was an American who didn’t speak proper English. Sometimes she was a Japanese who didn’t look Japanese. For several years, she tried to forget every English word she knew.

During high school, she said, a teacher encouraged her to learn English because she would need it if one day she wanted to track down her father. “Maybe you can hear the truth,” the teacher told her. “You should know both sides.”

At the University of the Ryukyus, Tomlinson tried to find English-speaking friends. She watched American television without the subtitles. Still, she confided to friends that she felt depressed.

From her mother, Tomlinson had heard only nasty tales about her father, who was once stationed at the Army’s Torii base. After her junior year in college, in spring 2009, she decided to try to find him and left school for a time.

In March, her U.S. military ID card, a privilege from a relationship she never had, was expiring. The Army passed along her father’s address. She e-mailed him, asking for him to sign the required forms for a new ID.

Weeks later, she heard back from the father who had not seen her since she was 3.

“Hi Melissa, Hearing from you, to say the least, came as quite a shock,” he wrote. “I was not aware that you could speak English let alone read or write it. The last time we had contact, and I am sure you do not remember it, you could only speak Japanese. Trying to bridge the gap with words after all this time would be futile. In life sometimes we have to make decisions that we don’t know if they are right or not, but we have to live with them.”

Tomlinson read and reread the e-mail. She discussed it with friends, and together they parsed the words. Their relationship continued, e-mail by e-mail, and she learned that he liked fishing, and that he missed Okinawa, and that he says he has thought about her every day.

For all these years, he wrote, he avoided contact because he didn’t want her to be torn between parents.

“It would have made your life miserable,” he wrote.

little. black. sambo.

For someone who has a romanticized view of Japan as a near-perfect country/society, this is quite disappointing.  It’s not the first I’ve heard of Japanese insensitivity to stereotypes of African-Americans, and I hope that’s all it is.  Insensitivity.  Oh, Japan.

Little Black Sambo Comes to A Japanese Kindergarten

By Geoff Dean

The end of the last year of kindergarten and/or nursery school in Japan usually features a school play. My elder daughter played Toto in a very loosely arranged “Wizard of Oz” (there were two other Toto`s and all the boys were flying monkeys, meaning there was no scarecrow or tin man) while my younger one recently took a shot at “Alice in Wonderland” in a form probably unrecognizable to Lewis Carroll.

So when a nursery school in Saitama ran a school play, it was nothing out of the ordinary. There were songs, cute costumes, dancing, and kids who cried when the couldn`t remember their lines. Pretty much par for the course. Except that the school play was “Little Black Sambo”.

The Midori (Green) Nursery School of Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture (about an hour northwest of Tokyo) might have escaped notice if one concerned parent of a biracial child who attended the school, had not posted the play`s contents to Facebook. On questioning, a teacher at the school admitted reading the controversial book to the kids in her charge and arranging the school play based on the book. She said the kids “all” loved the book and found it very “cute”. The children even sang a ditty she wrote that was translated as “Little Black Sambo, Sambo, Sambo. His face and hands are completely black. Even his butt is completely black.”

This is not the first time that the racial insenstivity of Japan has gotten them in trouble. A few years back, a toothpaste brand called “Darkey” featured a grotesque picture of a person of color with hugely oversized lips and glowing teeth, the implication apparently being that this toothpaste would make your teeth as shiny as those of a “darkey”. It was ultimately pulled from the shelves but not without much consternation. Many Japanese friends asked me what all the fuss was about.

Another involved the drink Calpis which is sold as Calpico is the states. The carton of the drink featured a “minstrel Al Jolson-style” black faced person with a top hat and the proverbial oversized lips. It was also eventually withdrawn.

I am especially concerned that “Little Black Sambo” was performed in a school where a biracial child was in attendance. How was he/she expected to feel? Did the teacher even consider that? I rather doubt it.

Still, the problem in my view ultimately stems from the lack of exposure and contact (deep, not superficial) that Japanese people have with the outside world. Traveling to and shopping in Guam and Hawaii does not equal “cultural sensitivity.” Especially in rural areas like Saitama, the idea that some might find “Sambo” offensive has never sunk in. But then again, when we have a governor of Tokyo like Shintaro Ishihara who constantly blames the rise of crime on foreigners and especially the Chinese, despite reams of data to the contrary, what can be expected?

Now, as for homphobia, ageism, sexism and glorification of the abuse of women in Japanese media….OK, don`t get me started already!


The facts that the story is read at the school and that this “play” was performed are disheartening, but it gets worse!  The parents of the biracial child complained.  Big time.  And yet the school refuses to remove the book from the classroom, or to stop the children from singing the offensive ditty.  I found this letter detailing the fallout after the performance on

Dear Black Tokyo,

I would like to bring the following matter to your attention.

A daycare center named Midori Hoikuen (みどり保育園), or Green Daycare Center, in Tokorozawa City in Saitama Prefecture, located just 30 minutes by train from Ikebukuro station in Tokyo, has been teaching hate speech to three-year old children daily, despite the protests of the parents of at least one biracial child in the class.

Although technically a private institution, the parents were originally instructed by the city of Tokorozawa that their child would have attend daycare there.

During the two years that the child has attended the daycare center, the parents had never once voiced a single concern about the operation of the daycare center until much to the their shock, the daycare center based a play / musical to be performed on Saturday, February 27th, 2010, on the book Little Black Sambo:

This is the very same book that several Japanese publishing companies had stopped printing due to public outrage in 1988. When the book was reprinted by one rogue publisher in 2005, many residents of Japan–foreign and Japanese–signed a petition encouraging the publishing company to use a different title and illustrations for the book due to their offensive nature:

Unfortunately, now that the book Little Black Sambo has been republished and widely distributed in Japan, it is apparent that the book is now being taught at Japanese daycare centers and quite possibly preschools and elementary schools across the country as well. At least two additional volumes of the book have also been printed by the same rogue Japanese publishing company.

…Here is a quick translation of some of the frightening lyrics from the song the children are being taught to enjoy singing daily at the daycare center in Tokorozawa:

“Little Black Sambo, sambo, sambo
His face and hands are completely black
Even his butt is completely black”

Obviously, that kind of speech should never be taught to children by teachers at a daycare center. Those words are more akin to what might be taught by a white supremacist group.

Apparently, the book they daycare center is using even comes complete with demeaning pickaninny images.

Now every time the 3-year old biracial child sees a black person he starts using the racial slur and mentions their black skin. The parents now fear taking their own child out in public or overseas. As the child is of such a young age, it also is not effective for the parents to tell the child not to use those derogatory words outside of daycare, as the child will only use them more.

In an attempt to be as understanding of cultural differences, as it was possible that perhaps the daycare center teachers were just not aware of the problems with the book, the parents of the biracial child both wrote letters in Japanese explaining the history of the book, why the title was discriminatory, and mentioning that they thought that illustrations showing demeaning racial stereotypes were not appropriate for young children.

The parents even showed the teachers that the term “sambo” was offensive and derogatory, both in English and in Japanese.

Beside being used as a disparaging reference to black people, the English dictionary makes it clear that the word is also used to refer to people of “mulatto ancestry,” in other words, the offspring of parents of different racial origin.

After doing a little research, the parents soon found that the term had been in use and deemed derogatory as far back as 1748, 150 years before the book Little Black Sambo was even written. In addition, the derogatory word “sambo” has been prohibited from being broadcasted on TV or radio in Japan, which was also explained to the daycare center.

This fact that the book contains offensive slurs shouldn’t even be considered news to anyone in Japan, when when Little Black Sambo was republished in Japan in 2005, the website of the Asahi News reported that the book was said to “discriminate against black people” and the article can still be found online:

In an attempt to help the daycare center out of a sticky situation, the parents of the biracial child even had the two following books sent by express mail and took them to the daycare center:

The Japanese translations of “Sam and the Tigers” and “The Story of Little Babaji.”

Both books above are modern, politically-correct retellings of Little Black Sambo that would not cause offense.

However, the daycare center said that they were not only already aware of the politically correct versions of the book, but has also refused to use them.

The daycare center’s excuse is that since all of the children have already learned the title Little Black Sambo, there will be no change in the title whatsoever. The staff have continued to teach the use of the discriminatory word “sambo” and encourage the children to enjoy using it.

In addition, at a meeting with one of the parents of the biracial child, the daycare center said that although they could not make any promises, they would “try” to change the lyrics of the song. However, it seems that additional lyrics were never actually taught and the biracial child and others in the school continue to use the hate speech filled one.

It appears that nothing has been done at all and that the daycare center is just trying to avoid the problem. Despite the parents’ protests, the daycare center still continues to use the racial slur in the presence of their biracial child and encourages the child’s classmates to enjoy singing the song which clearly contains hate speech.

Despite the daycare center’s claims, the fact is that there is no good excuse for racial discrimination.

It is shocking that a daycare center of all places, located just 30 minutes by train from downtown Tokyo, where the population includes a fair number of black people and numerous African Embassies, is teaching hate speech to small children.

As can be imagined, this has caused quite a lot of stress for the family with the biracial child. While understanding that this matter needs to be brought to the attention of the public, one of the parents of the biracial child has expressed concern for their family’s safety, and so wishes that the family not be further identified publicly.

Japanese society is based on shame and often slow to change. As a culture is appears that may Japanese people prefer to try to ignore problems and just hope they go away. Only by shaming organizations that discriminate and drawing the public’s attention to the problem of racial discrimination in Japan, will real change eventually come about.

Please take the time to contact the daycare center yourself, either in English or Japanese, and raise your concerns about the daycare center’s teaching of hate speech to young children. It will only take a minute of your time and contact information is provided below.

Midori Hoikuen (みどり保育園)

Tel: 04-2948-2613 (Monday to Saturday, 9 AM – 5 PM)
Fax: 04-2947-3924


Sayamagaoka 1-3003-52
Tokorozawa, Saitama 359-1161

Please also make your voice heard, by sending a carbon copy to Tokorozawa City Hall, Department of Daycare Services, which has been informed of this issue:


Thank you very much for your time. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.


Mark Thompson

This message can be freely copied, distributed or published online. Please help raise awareness of racial discrimination.


The Dekotora or Decotora (デコトラ dekotora), an abbreviation for “Decoration Truck”, is a kind of loudly decorated truck most commonly found in Japan and the Philippines. Dekotora commonly have neon or ultraviolet lights, extravagant paints, and shiny stainless or golden exterior parts. These decorations can be found on both the cab and the trailer, and not only on the exterior but also in the interior. Dekotora may be created by workers out of their work trucks for fun, or they may be designed by hobbyists for special events. They are sometimes also referred to as Art Trucks (アートトラック) ātotorakku).

Note that Dekotora does not refer to vehicles used for advertisements, political campaigns or propaganda.

In 1976, Toei released the first entry in a series of 8 movies called Truck guys (トラック野郎 Torakku Yarō) that featured as the protagonist a costumed trucker who drove his garishly decorated truck all over Japan. This movie was a big hit with both old and young, and caused a wave of Dekotora popularity to sweep the country. While Dekotoras were present throughout the 1970s, before the movie they were restricted to the north-eastern fishing transport trucks. It is possible that the movie was an attempt to popularise these kinds of trucks. In those days, ready-made parts for trucks were not easily available, so these trucks freely utilised parts from sightseeing buses or US military vehicles.


not a stereotype, just a fact



I really do.  It makes me so happy.  So happy in fact that people have commented on the watermelon joy they witness on my face.  When I was three I had a great Christmas.  Santa was REALLY good to me.  My favorite gift though, was a watermelon.  I wish I had the picture scanned into my computer so that I could post it here.  I do have this picture scanned in though:


This is me and my mom in Kyoto, Japan.  I am eating watermelon.  Look at that smile.  It’s so big that I almost look Japanese.