Little America

It’s so strange working at an international school. I work in this mini-American land that’s been carved out of a small chunk of Tokyo, right off of Roppongi and next to a McDonald’s and a Starbucks. Whenever I exit the subway station and step foot into “Little America” as I’ve nicknamed it, it feels a little like I’ve crossed the line into some well-preserved museum of American pod-people. It’s a little like “Little Italy” in New York City or the Chinatowns that exist in every city on the planet. It’s a little pocket of people who live and work in Tokyo but in their own Americanized version of Tokyo that’s completely separate from the one experienced by the Japanese.

And these Americans…they’re American, but not. They eat while they walk and yell into their cell phones and talk and talk about nothing like American-Americans do, yet at the same time, the food their eating is an Onigiri and their cell phone was made by Softbank and they talk in a hybrid of Japanesified English and finish every sentence with ‘ne’. It’s really surreal.

My four year old American students believe that street lights in America are blue (not green) and that all ambulances the world over say “please move out of the way” while they blare their sirens, because that’s the way it is in Japan and this is the only home they know. And yet they come to school with lunches consisting of rice balls that have been smeared with chunks of melted butter and they wear shirts from Old Navy or Target. It’s a fascinating dichotomy.

Most of the international schools exist on a couple block stretch and it’s the only place in Japan where you’ll see more heads of blond hair than brown. Every day we take our students to the park to play and we’re immediately swallowed in a crowd of white people. Mom’s with their Starbucks mugs out on play dates with their one year olds, dad’s in gray sweats out on their morning jogs. And I feel like I could be in a park in a city almost anywhere. White Plains. Jersey City. Baltimore.

Anywhere but Tokyo, that is.
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4 thoughts on “Little America

  1. i love reading your blog and finding out about a world so far away. i know i’ll never understand but it’s still neat to learn a bit.

  2. That’s so interesting! There’s a lot of work being done re: immigrant ethnic identity building in Canada, but very little scholarship exists studying those same effects on expats. Man, I’d love to get a grant to go work on that! Maybe ten years from now, post grad school… Blech.

    Still, it’s kind of cool, right? You’re witness to an ethnographer’s dream phenomenon!

  3. Hi Rhi,

    I don’t think anyone can ever really understand this place…but it’s fun to try. Why do have an interest in Japan?

    Aimless Ambition,

    You don’t need a grant…just get a job teaching English here and you’ll get to study it all you want! : )

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