Celebrating the People Who Function the City You Love

Growing up in Tokyo as a French-Japanese and white-passing child was a unique experience, to say the least. Everywhere I went the Japanese grandmas would marvel over my curly hair and big eyes, admiring my non-Asian features. Staff at the airport would try to talk to me in English using their limited vocabulary, and would outwardly express their shock when I responded to them in perfectly fluent and comprehensible Japanese. At tennis tournaments, I would feel the eyes darting towards me as the tournament staff attempted to call my unique last name and felt nervous as numerous people watched my matches just for the sake of watching a non-Japanese girl play (though they would find out later I very much am Japanese). 

These were the kinds of things that bothered me while growing up. I hated the sense of feeling different in what I considered my primary and most important community. But that wasn’t enough to make me dislike my city—in fact, I love Tokyo. I love the train station bustling at rush hour with hundreds of people trying to make their train to get to work on time. I love the sounds of the cicadas, buzzing as I bike through the park during the summer. I love watching the kind people on the streets, always picking up and returning dropped items to the owner (even wallets!). I love the smell of the bakery, the whiff of fresh brioche dough baking in the oven, waiting to come out crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. I’ve always loved Tokyo and I still love Tokyo more than anywhere in the world. And what I’ve come to realize is this: it’s the people that make it a city I can proudly call my home.

The policemen who kindly help the young and old with directions, the grocery shop owners who kindly offer a free sample of fresh fruit, the primary school teachers who keep the young children safe on field trips, the people bike-repair shop staff that pump my empty tires with air, there are so many people that partake in seemingly small roles that end up being the foundation of the city. They are the ones who make Tokyo beautiful, habitable, and so attractive to foreigners. 

During AAPI month, I want to honor the people that make Tokyo such an incredible home to me. Within my family, my mom, my grandma, my grandpa, my aunts and my uncles, but also the people outside of my family who have contributed to my experience living in Tokyo. Celebrating AAPI heritage helps recognize the contributions, achievements, and experiences of AAPI individuals and communities. It brings visibility to our cultural heritage, traditions, and history, and helps break down stereotypes and promotes a more accurate understanding of communities. It is a month where we can validate AAPI identities, and foster a sense of pride and belonging which strengthens our cultural identity. It is the month where I can take time to show my love and appreciation for my home and the people that make up of it.