Living Flexibly Beyond Borders

Shiyon Yoshida
What kind of feelings children with immigrant background have toward society and how they live their lives are influenced by various factors, such as the time of their arrival in Japan, their economic status, the surrounding environment, and their own sensitivity. However, it is not easy to overcome the barriers of language and culture in a foreign country. In the case of Shiyon Yoshida, in addition to the challenges unique to a child with immigrant background, his life was made more complicated by his special family circumstances, and we will explore the changes in his life and consciousness after moving from Korea to Japan to live with his parents at the age of 13.

Childhood spent moving from one relative’s house to another

Shiyon was born in Seoul, South Korea, and his parents divorced when he was two years old. By the time he was old enough to remember, his entire family, including his older brother and sister, were already separated, and he was left alone to go from one relative’s house to another. He moved from place to place in Korea, and even lived in Boston, USA for a year when he was just in elementary school. He lived in Boston, U.S.A. for a year when he was just in elementary school. Childhood is an institution that is said to be in the greatest need of intense affection, but he had few opportunities to interact with his parents.

“I don’t remember much from when I was little.”

Even though he grew up in a tough family environment, there is no sense of sadness in the way he talks with a carefree smile. He is now 28 years old. He is an ordinary young man who works for a medical product manufacturer and enjoys sports and drinking with his friends on his days off. He has good communication skills, and his ability to fit into a circle of people is probably higher than most. That is why the gap between him and his fierce upbringing is so striking.

It wasn’t until he graduated from elementary school that he finally came to live with his parents. At that time, he was living on Jeju Island, a famous resort island in Korea, but before entering junior high school, he decided to go to Japan where his mother and her second husband, a Japanese man, lived. 13 years old, living in Japan for the first time, living with his parents for the first time, and living in an environment with a different language and culture, this was a turning point for him.

Too adaptable? And trouble.

He attended a public junior high school in Japan and was not bullied, which had been a concern before coming to Japan, and blended in well with his surroundings. On the other hand, the language barrier was still a difficulty.

“I couldn’t speak Japanese at all, so I decided not to go on to junior high school, but to do the sixth grade again. That’s why I graduated from elementary school in both Korea and Japan.”

Even though it was an elementary school class, he was in the sixth grade. It seemed tough to keep up with him, but he had no problem because the content he had learned in Korea was more advanced in subjects other than Japanese.

The person who trained him in daily conversation was his sister, who also lived with his mother. She was forced to record news programs and imitate the announcer in order to learn Japanese intonation and lisp.

As for words and simple expressions, he learned them using Kumon textbooks for infants. Thanks to his efforts, he was able to communicate in Japanese in about six months. He now speaks such perfect Japanese that it is hard to tell that he is a foreigner unless he says so.

When I asked him if he had received any support for language learning from the local government or NPOs before entering the school, he gave me a surprising answer.

“I didn’t know that there were any organizations that could help me. I immediately entered a Japanese school as a matter of course, and my mother probably thought that if I was going to live in Japan, I could go to a Japanese school. I started using my Japanese surname right away in junior high school, but I don’t think the school cared much about it in the first place.”

The fact that people around him didn’t think much of him as a foreigner got him into trouble.

“When I took the high school entrance exam, I received a phone call from my first choice school three days before the exam date saying that I was not qualified to take the exam because I had dropped one grade. The teachers at the school and the cram school were in a panic because of that, so I guess I was a little less aware of the situation than I thought (laughs).“

I don’t want to lose my features by naturalizing in Japan.

Although there were times when he was confused by the difficulty of learning the language and the cultural differences, he did not encounter any major stumbling blocks in his daily life, basically because of his immigrant background. His grades were good and he had good relationships with people, he recalls.

However, there were times when he was forced to be aware of his roots. The words, “Is that the way it is in your country? “

“There were many times when I was scolded, both at work and at my part-time job. At school, my teachers would say things like, ‘Do they do that in your country without hesitation?’ But the country has nothing to do with it. When I was a student, I didn’t say anything back, but now that I’m working, I’ve become somewhat aware that there is a line that must not be crossed. “

Even though they have been living in Japan for a long time and have blended in well with their surroundings, they still feel frustrated when they have to deal with the issue of their country of origin. This is something that many children with foreign roots experience.

And like many other children with foreign roots, he struggled with his identity in his adolescence. In particular, he was forced to confront himself when he had to choose whether or not to naturalize in Japan. In the end, he did not become a naturalized citizen, but the reason for his decision is interesting.

“My nationality is Korean, but who am I after all? For a while, I had a lot of questions, but I couldn’t come up with an answer. If I had wanted to become a naturalized citizen of Japan, I could have. If I wanted to do it now, it would be very difficult, but it was quite easy to do until I was 20.
The reason I didn’t choose to naturalize was because I thought that if I became a Japanese citizen, I would lose my unique characteristics. It’s not that I don’t want to be Japanese, but it’s natural for Japanese people to speak Japanese. Japanese is the only language that I have been striving for my whole life. I didn’t want it to become the norm. “

Incidentally, with the exception of his Japanese father, all of his family members are Korean citizens, but he is the only one who uses a Japanese surname. This shows that he does not simply decide his position based on whether he likes Japan or not, or whether he wants to be Japanese or not.

Why he doesn’t make the most of being Korean in his career.

What is consistent is his attitude of avoiding things that are given to him regardless of his own efforts and abilities. After dropping out of college for family reasons, he was invited to work as a teacher at a cram school he attended in junior high school, but changed jobs to an IT company within three years. The reason was that he wanted to test his abilities in a completely different world, rather than rely on his connections and the kindness of those around him. After that, he moved on to work for a major foreign logistics company and a medical products manufacturer. He asserts that he has no desire to use his Korean roots in his work.

“I’ve been approached by Korean entertainment agencies about changing careers. But I didn’t really feel like it. When I think about it again, I feel like I’m cheating by working for them. If I hadn’t been Korean, I wouldn’t have been able to do the job. If I were to use a game analogy, it would be as if I were the only one with a special weapon from the start. “

A Mother’s Words That Changed My Personality

In general, it was fortunate for Shiyon that he was able to settle down in Japan. He was much more affected by his overly complicated family environment than by the disadvantage of being a foreigner, as I have mentioned. In fact, just before he came to Japan, he was severely bullied by his mother.

“I was bullied by the whole school when my friends found out that my mother had come to Japan to work. But even though I was physically hurt by the beatings, I didn’t think it was too hard. I didn’t think it was harsh because I didn’t have a standard of harshness in my mind. Even though I was moving from place to place, I thought that this was normal, and even if someone said something about my mother, I just accepted it as, “This is what happens when people know. I wouldn’t be able to stand it now. “

Perhaps he was unconsciously protecting himself from harsh circumstances by looking at himself objectively. Even though he got along well with others, he played alone all the time, thinking about how painful it would be to be separated by moving away. He was not good at talking to others and was even hesitant to go to the convenience store by himself. It was his mother’s words that changed his inward-looking personality.

“When I was in Korea, the only thing I could report to my mother over the international phone was how hard I had worked in my studies, so I was very diligent. But after I came to Japan, she said to me with great concern, ‘You are a shy person. He saw that I talked a lot in the house but not outside. ‘ I didn’t want people to think that, so I changed my mind. “

When he was a student and even after he became an adult, the desire to please his mother was the source of his motivation to do things. But recently, he says, that feeling has changed.

“I grew up in an environment where my parents were not together, so I have always been a good boy because I wanted to please them, but when I quit my second job, I felt really tired. I felt really tired and wondered why I was being so stubborn. “

I asked him if his motivation had changed, and he nodded.

“Until then, even if I got along with everyone, I never had any sense of trust. It was hard for me to continue being like that. The experience of being bullied in elementary school was a big part of my life, and I felt that I had to take care of myself because no one could help me. That’s how I’ve been living my whole life, but if I continue with this stance, I’ll never be satisfied. I got tired of thinking that if I wasn’t satisfied, I wouldn’t be able to have fun. “

The current support from schools for children with immigrant background, including Japanese language learning, is not sufficient. Some students, like Shiyon, find it difficult to continue working hard with the spirit of “no one will save me, so I’ll do it myself. With this in mind, he sends this advice to children in similar situations.

“Even if you came to Japan for unavoidable reasons, I think it’s better to interact with Japanese people more and more if you want to live in Japan, including improving your language skills. If you get out of your own community and take action on your own, it might change a lot. “

On the other hand, it is also true that his independent spirit has cast a shadow on his mind as a negative factor. This is the part of him that has been hidden behind his friendly smile. Now that he is aware of this uncomfortable feeling he has been having on a daily basis, he has gradually begun to develop a sense of trust in others, and I hope that his future life will be a happy one.

Interviewing and writing: Hiroshi Yoshida