I grew up entirely in the U.S., but it often does not feel like it. Raised by my Japanese mother, I inherited traits that are more commonly associated with Japanese people. In many situations, I am seen as overly caring, humble, selfless, and hardworking. I have always taken pride in these traits of mine—they have made me an amicable and thoughtful person in all of my relationships. However, as I became more conscious of my mental health and self-love, I slowly came to realize that I needed to give up my Japanese-ness a little to preserve my own relationship with myself.
There are a few terms in Japanese that I think consume me, even subconsciously. I practice gaman when I am having a bad mental health day or when I am exhausted and stressed out about school—I push through because that is the Japanese way. I always think about how I can care for the needs of others too. Growing up in a Japanese household, you always have to be considerate of everyone else in the room. Omoiyari, ki wo tsukau… It is part of the Japanese vocabulary. When people compliment me, I must respond with “No, I look ugly today!” or “I’m not smart at all!”—I cannot seem to actually accept what they say because of kenkyo. Japanese humility has never allowed me to feel confident in the same way that my American peers often do. I find myself constantly overworking myself because there is this idea of sekininkan towards one’s work. It is almost ingrained in us to turn these seemingly innocuous characteristics into unhealthy habits.
Of course, it is necessary to practice kindness, diligence, and humility sometimes. In fact, I often find myself thinking, “If only everyone had this Japanese mentality, the world would be such a better place!” But more often than not, Japanese people are too committed to these ideals. By being hyper-aware of the feelings of those around us, we often forget to take care of ourselves. After years of acting this way, I realized that I needed to show more omoiyari towards myself. I have a sekinin to take care of my mental health too. I did not need to give up the Japanese way—I just needed to channel that energy to my own well-being more, and stop being so scared of disappointing others along the way.
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphic by Ayumi White