Are you trying to become Japanese?

“I occasionally appear on TV debate shows, but the role I am asked to play is always “foreigner.” It is unavoidable because it is a fact from the point of view of my nationality, but for myself, I feel bewildered because I am aware that I am a member who is responsible for the future of this country.”

– Marei Mentlein in interview on (link at bottom of this post)

The above passage will resonate for those who have been in Japan so long they are starting to realize they will probably “bury their bones” (骨を埋める) here, irrespective of whether they ever become Japanese citizens.

Almost 40 years ago, when I was making my first halting efforts to have conversations in Japanese, (both Japanese and non-Japanese) people often asked me questions like, “Are you trying to become Japanese?”

Since I was raised in a mixed-heritage family, the question didn’t make much sense to me. It seemed only natural to me that if you planned to be in a country for a while you would want to become a person who could have a great experience there, and in my mind that entailed learning to speak the local language (in this case Osaka dialect;)

Back then, I found these kinds of questions more annoying than amusing, but over the years they have taken on a different kind of significance.

According to the article:

Marei Mentlein was born in Kiel, Germany, in 1983. She studied at Himeji Shikisai High School and Waseda University. She graduated from the University of Bonn. Since 2008, she has lived in Japan. From 2015, she has worked as a producer at the Tokyo Bureau of Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, a German public-service television broadcaster. She has worked extensively in translation, interpretation, writing, and program production. She calls herself a “German by profession.”

The interview can be found at:

For more on the evolution of personal and national identity in an increasingly mingled world, see:

Watsuji Tetsuro: Human existence is a tale of “persons supporting each other, existing in the world”

Finding the place where we belong in a world in which boundaries are fading

© Dana Cogan, 2024, all rights reserved.

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