Japan and the Japanese became a topic for discussion in class when the earthquake and following tsunami hit Sendai and brought calamity, death and disaster to the Japanese last year.
The mainland Chinese LOVE Japanese food and you’ll see sushi restaurants all over the place.
You’ll even see “sushi rolls” (Swiss rolls wrapped with seaweed sheets) at the bakery:
Coincidentally, our topic for that week was “Culture” and we had just finished reading a passage about customs, food, practices and traditions from all over the world.
Then, a girl piped up,
“Miss, I really admire the Japanese especially the video where they lined up to leave the buildings in an orderly manner when the earthquake happened. If the earthquake happened in China, I think many Chinese would have died because we all want to run out as fast as possible!”
Me: “You really think so? I know I was quite impressed by how helpful the Chinese were during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.
I think many people around the world were also impressed when they saw China soldiers helping the injured people, ordinary folks sharing food and watching out for kids…”
Many of them nodded.
“How about you? How do you feel about the different cultures we’ve just read?” I asked a group of cheeky boys, who looked unnaturally solemn.
“I hate the Japanese! I am very happy many of them died in the earthquake and tsunami!” one boy-next-door answered stoutly.
To be honest, I was very surprised and caught off guard because he’s one of my nicest students. In fact, his mom would pass him gift baskets of food to give to me.
Keeping my cool especially as 49 other students were waiting for my response, I said,
“Thank you for being honest. It’s okay to voice out your opinions. It really is. (I looked around at the other students to assure them I was OK with that outburst.)
Now…why do you feel that way?”
“Because the Japanese are bad! They killed many Chinese during the war! Many of my family members died because of the Japanese!”
“Mmm…the Sino-Japanese war happened a LONG time ago, right? Why do you still feel so angry about the Japanese?”
“Because my grandmother says they are bad. She says that we must hate the Japanese. We must NEVER forget what they did to us…”
“Can I tell you what MY grandmother said? My grandmother was pregnant with one of my uncles but a Japanese soldier kicked her in the stomach.
Then, when the war got really bad, my grandmother’s family had to run away and hide in the hills.
Hiding in the hills, one my uncles, who was just a baby died from starvation.
My grandfather had to give up everything he owned to Japanese. He was slapped on the face when he couldn’t speak Japanese well.
Guess what? MY grandmother said that it’s all over. What’s past is past. Hating the Japanese is not going to bring the dead baby boy back to life.”
Some heads nodded in agreement but I think most of them were listening to how that boy would react.
The boy kept quiet but he waited for me to continue.
“Do you STILL hate the Japanese?”
He nodded, a bit hesitant now.
“You like Authentic Japanese Origin Matcha Green Tea, right? Will you stop drinking Japanese green tea now?”
“What about your sushi? Sushi nori? Your Kewpie mayonnaise? I also know that your Mom loves Nishiki rice from Japan…it’s the best rice to make sushi…”
He looked at me…I’m pretty sure he’s thinking about his matcha tea and his favorite Japanese restaurants.
“What if I told you that I was Japanese? Would you hate me too?”
He stared at me now – so did the other boys in his group.
He shook his head, “No, teacher, I won’t hate you. Are you really Japanese?”
I shrugged my shoulders and gave him a sly smile…
“I don’t know. Anyone could be Japanese, right, because there are so many mixed marriages. How can you tell if someone is really Japanese?
She responds by smiling with giving us a kawaii pose)
You guys call her “Japanese girl” because she looks very Japanese but she’s 100% Chinese.”
“Yumiko” gives us a sweet smile, nods vigorously and continues with her peace signs!
Mr. “I-hate-the-Japanese” is starting to see the reasoning.
I decided to aim right at the heart.
“What if YOU fell in love with a Japanese girl?”
He starts to blush and a few of his friends ribbed him but he was adamant,
“不可能!” (bù kě néng) Impossible!”
“Eh…never say never. Love is blind, you know?
By the time you find out she’s Japanese, you are so in love with her, you can’t even remember your mother’s name!”
The class roared and the young man laughed in spite of himself.
Of course, his guy friends started strutting their kawaii poses, fluttering their eyelashes and blowing him air kisses.
When they settled down, I said,
“Do you guys see how pointless it is to hate an entire race of people? Just because one or a few of them did something bad, it doesn’t mean that ALL of them are bad.
You’ve got to stop and THINK about what you are doing, ok?”