Who Are You?

What does it feel like to be able to experience the best of both Japanese and Western cultures? Saori Okada shares her realizations upon having been able to live and experience both cultures, and how it helped her to embrace more her being Japanese.

Nick: So this goes into our next point really about you and your sense of self: being someone who's lived and grown up into cultures.

You've told me that when you're in Japan or when you're with Japanese people, your friends are often surprised that you freely speak your mind and that you'll ask for their opinion. I guess it’s behavior that's not typical of Japanese. 

But you seem to have found this balance between Easter or Japanese and Western culture that I suspect gives you a strong sense of freedom.

So is that what it feels like? That you do have this best of both cultures experience? And you're more of a whole person? Is that how you feel?

Saori: Yes, I think this is like a million-dollar question. You know, I think about like, who are you? I think if you asked me five years ago, I definitely had a different answer than how I feel now.

To your point about how growing up, a lot of people in Japan would be like, “Oh, you're not really Japanese,” “Sometimes you don't seem like Japanese.” And they mean that as a compliment, genuinely. 

Then in the West, I think they're like, “Oh, you're so organized,” “You're so thoughtful.” Those kinds of things, and it used to really trouble me, I think, you know, when you're younger in your 20s, you're trying to figure out, okay, do I fit? Where do I fit in if both cultures are telling me that I'm not like one or the other? 

But I think as I've gotten older, I've really worked on figuring out who I am and have done a lot of reflection. And at this point, today, if you asked me, like, who am I? Or like, what is it that gives me more freedom, I identify myself as Japanese. And I think I'm proud of that.

I think my base and foundation is that I am Japanese, and I appreciate the culture, if anything, I think it is more the Western influence and the Western experience that have given me the tools to understand how to fully embrace what it means to be Japanese. In my opinion, Japanese is not where you don't think about yourselves. 

Or I think that's where people are suffering right now, because they've taken collectivism to an extreme, and they've just forgotten that collectivism at the core includes thinking about what you want to do as well for the betterment of everyone.