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A Japanese in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
As a Japanese living in Canada...
As a Japanese living in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada I often think about ethnic and racial differences on a daily basis. I come from a country in East Asia called Japan. Yes, the land known for Toyota and Canon, renown for selling their products worldwide. Readers will immediately picture what I look like. Black hair, almond-shaped eyes, short stature. I could very easily be mistaken to be Chinese, though the Chinese are taller.People here will have some difficulty trying to guess which country I am from, but they immediately know I am Asian, but not Southeast Asian (Indonesian or Malaysian) or South Asian (Indian or Pakistani). They can narrow down their guess to three countries, Japan, Korea, or China, those countries which make up East Asia.
Japan, an ethnically homogeneous country
Japan is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries on this planet. I can say so from experience having lived in the U.S. and Australia before moving here more than three years ago. Perhaps Japan's geographic isolation has led to this homogeneity. One does not often think about ethnic differences in a homogeneous society, needless to say. But more important, one is unaware of one's ethnicity in such a society. Once you step outside, you are "hit" by the reality that the world is truly multi-racial. Only then do you compare your physical appearance or ethnicity to those around you.
People here have blue eyes
When we first arrived in Waterloo from Yokohama, Japan, my son, then seven years old, commented that "people here have blue eyes". He immediately noticed the difference between his own eye color and those around him, i.e. his teachers and classmates. I asked him jokingly whether or not his eye color would change and he shook his head, already knowing the answer. Apparently, when I was the same age, I asked my mother "will my eyes turn blue?" upon being told that I was to attend an international school in Tokyo. I asked this question seriously, not knowing that such a thing was impossible, that race was not mutable, could not be changed.
Besides physical appearance...
As a Japanese living in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood, I am often aware of my physical appearance, my almond-shaped eyes and black hair, to mention just a few attributes. However, the difference goes much deeper. My sense of temperature, my perception of brightness of light, and the beginning of the growth spurt in children, all seem to differ significantly.
Babies here weigh more
Asians have a shorter stature than Caucasians, but it's not just that we are shorter, our bones are thinner, so I would probably weigh less than someone of the same height. I can not confirm this since I do not have the chance to ask someone how much he/she weighs. However, I can definitely say that Canadian babies born here weigh more than Japanese babies. I often look at the "birth section" of the local newspaper where there are pictures of babies born recently along with the details including the weight of the baby. While it is not uncommon to come across a baby weighing 8 lbs (3.6kg), a baby of the same weight would be very big in Japan. My own children weighed far less, my daughter was 6.5 lbs (2.9 kg) and my son, 7 lbs (3.1kg).
Feeling colder at the same temperature
Having thinner bones means less muscle density, and that is probably related to why I tend to feel colder than others. I need to wear snow pants to walk even briefly outside during the cold winter months. I do not often encounter other adults wearing snow pants, other than daredevils who jog on icy roads. Even with central heating, both my husband and I need to wear long sleeves during the winter, but at my husband's office, there are some who wear short sleeves. This shows that we tend to feel colder at the same temperature.
What about in the summer heat?
Even when it isn't terribly hot, the buses and taxis usually have the airconditioning on too high, or it certainly feels too cold for me. The grocery stores are too cold in the summer as well, in attempts to keep food fresh. But it is so cold that we almost feel the need to put on an extra layer!
It's dark in here
When I visit homes of friends, I often find it quite dark inside. There are usually no extra lights attached to the living room ceiling. This would be too dark for me to watch TV. At home, we bought some extra light stands which we placed near the furniture in our living room, making it more comfortable to watch TV or read. It seems to be that people with lighter colored eyes see better in the dark than people with darker eyes. So they do not need extra lights to watch or read inside unlike ourselves.
What about brightness?
In the summer, most people seem to need sunglasses when they drive or even to stay out in the sun. I seldom feel the need for sunglasses, except maybe at the beach, but I certainly feel the need for a hat to protect my head from the sun. People with lighter colored eyes tend to absorb more light, so without sunglasses, they presumably feel almost blinded by the sunlight. Likewise, my hair seems to absorb the heat of the sun because it is darker in color. My head gets hot pretty quickly without a hat!
Earlier growth spurts
Comparing my own children to their classmates, I find that the classmates' growth spurt starts around grade 6 and continues on into middle school. My daughter, now in grade 8, has certainly grown taller, but her classmates started to grow taller earlier and now some are taller than their mothers! Needless to say, my daughter's friends have matured physically, not just in terms of height. The same could be said for boys in her class.
Despite all these racial and ethnic differences, it is important to remember that after all, we are all humans. One thing to keep in mind is that the most profound difference lies in the culture. I cannot begin to discuss the cultural difference between Canada and Japan!