On a visit to Japan nearly two decades ago, I learned that the folks I met were interested in Americans – not Asian or Japanese Americans, but actually it was in their perception of Americans, the “white” ones. My younger cousins who were in the single digit age, expected their American relative to look like Zach from Saved by the Bell. I witnessed them say that I was supposed to have blond hair and blue eyes. Then my friends in Tokyo introduced me to their friends who commented, “he’s just like us”. I thought, ‘cool, but who else could I or should I be?’
In the earlier 90s, after their economic bubble burst, Japan still had Levi’s fever. The US was exoticized and still rare. “Yankee”, an Americanized style party girl was supposed to be “cool”. Shops with American names popped up. As an Asian American in Japan, I was treated as lesser than a Japanese person. I looked the looked, but couldn’t speak the language. If I were white, I’d get a pass into the forefront, but instead, I was a like a mute dog.
My friend Shinya once told me, “maybe Giant Robot will help change how Japanese people see Asian Americans.” He said this in 1996 and I remember that statement to this day. (I can now argue if things have changed or not with or without Giant Robot’s help.)