The Missing Fragments of My Japanese Identity
The following reflection is a guest post written by Hikaru Sean Isayama, a 2020 alumnus of the Reischauer Scholars Program.
Moving from Tokyo to California in second grade, I knew very little about my home country. I may have looked and spoken Japanese, but the more time I spent in the United States, the more I felt like my identity strayed away from my Japanese cultural roots. For most of my life, I was hesitant to proudly call myself a Japanese American simply due to the lack of knowledge I had about my home country.
That was until I stumbled upon Stanford’s Reischauer Scholars Program (RSP), an online program that introduced Japanese history, society, culture, and the U.S.–Japan relationship. With its focus on deepening cross-cultural knowledge, this was the perfect opportunity to reconnect with my cultural roots.
On the first day of the RSP, I was astounded by the diversity of the students that were present. Students in the program were from all around the country, each showing unique individual interests and strengths that they added to the class. Alongside these friendly and committed students led by our brilliant instructor Ms. Naomi Funahashi, the RSP provided a motivated and collaborative environment to learn about my home country. The activities in our virtual classes included not only the review of insightful readings that we were assigned, but also the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to meet top scholars and experts in U.S.–Japan relations and ambassadors. Having had the chance to converse with these speakers, we were introduced to significant ideas and insights about the U.S.–Japan relationship that developed my diverse perspective on the topic.
Throughout the course of the program, the inclusive environment of the virtual classrooms allowed us to comfortably share and challenge ideas we would bring up. With each of us from very different backgrounds, we were able to have insightful conversations about the cause of isolationism in Japan, the effect of industrialization on the Japanese economy, and many other concepts about Japanese history and culture.
To me, the most memorable days of the RSP were the joint virtual classrooms with the Stanford e-Japan program. Through these joint classrooms, we had the opportunity to converse with Japanese high school students, where we were able to deepen our mutual cross-cultural understanding. From the bunkasai, to the undokai, to juku, these joint classrooms gave us the opportunity to learn more about the exciting Japanese culture and contemporary society from a primary source. With nearly no opportunity to speak with Japanese students outside of my family during my time in the United States, I was able to take away many valuable insights I keep to this day thanks to the unique opportunity given by the RSP. With each meeting with these students, I was given a clearer image of what it truly meant to be “Japanese.”