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  As I think of the importance of diversity and having different view and opinions, I recall the scene I saw over two decades ago. It was at Haneda airport (it was then the only International airport in Tokyo!) when I came back from one-year stay in the U.S. I was an exchange student and spent a year in Leavenworth, Kansas (as a matter of fact, this town is known almost solely for having six prisons in the area, and not for the college I attended!)  It was the first time for me to be away from home and away from the country. After spending a year and having a great time (it was my first venture, so to speak), I came back to Haneda.
  I was struck by the fact that everybody had black hair and looked quite skinny. In other words, everybody looked the same!  I could not believe the scene. It was the first time I became aware that the diversity of the kind that I had found in the U.S. (Leavenworth, KS is not exactly the most cosmopolitan town then!) did not exist in Japan. Diversity and differences which I had become accustomed while I was in the U.S. were people with blond, brunette, red hair, dark brown, etc. etc. with many different shades of eyes—green, blue, dark brown etc.  People in Kansas came in different sizes—some were huge, some were tall, and others were chubby and small. There were some skinny people, but every size was around. 
 Compared with that, almost all the people I saw at Haneda airport had black hair and looked skinny. As I did not communicate my arrival time right to my family, I had some time to look around at the airport before they finally came.  It was so surprising to see how similar people looked.

 I could not believe why I did not notice before.  It was the first time I was exposed to the difference between U.S. and Japan. It was so visual and vivid that it made such a big impact on me. I can still remember how I felt then. 
  I am glad that I became aware of the differences when I was still quite young. Since then, I became much more sensitive to having differences and actually seek for it. For example, I almost make it a rule to order different food when we go to the restaurant. I will NEVER say, “Same with me” when all the others order the same menu. (It is sometimes ridiculous as I feel it is almost my philosophy! It is even more ridiculous if what everybody else ordered turned out to be what I myself wanted!)  But I want to try something different all the time. I think the scene at Haneda triggered that thinking after all. 

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  • Comments (2)

    • K
    • March 28th, 2008

    To me, it appears that Japanese people HOPE to look similar each other. They are scared of standing out. And I was one of such people before ICS experience. ICS was a diversified field, where students are REQUIRED to stand out. It was indeed an unique place in Japan.

    • yishikura
    • March 29th, 2008

    Hi, K, this is Yoko Ishikura. Thanks for your comment. Being scared of standing out is sometimes “unfounded fear”. i.e. fear, indeed, but there is no rationale or logic behind it. If we can provide the opportunity to let them see that there are so many differences, and they have nothing to do with the status etc., we may be able to liberate and empower them. For that, I would like to expand the initiative like ICS in many areas.

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