Friday, August 20, 2010

Can I touch your hair?

I watched Karate Kid (Best Kid in Japanese- isn't that amusing, that the Japanese don't use the word "karate" in the title?) a few days ago. You should totally go watch it. But then, you might not want reccommendations from someone who's seen 10 movies in under a week. Just saying.

It rang so true for me, as a black person in Asia. One of the first things the Chinese heroine says to the Black hero is "Can I touch your hair?" I can not tell you how often this has happened to me. I have had complete strangers come up to me, and ask "Touch? Ok?"

At first it's kind of creepy because - well- you'd be freaked if random people walked up to you on the street (and in parks and at arcades) and asked to touch your hair. But after a while, I thought about it, and I realised that I might be the only black female these people will ever see.

Part of my mandate as a JET (participant on the Japan Exchange and Teaching program) is to internationalise. Japan has been isolated from the rest of the world for so long, that there are a million and one misconceptions about the rest of the world.

- Everyone who doesn't live in Asia is a native English speaker.
- All Americans are blonde and blue-eyed.
- Westerners eat bread at every meal.

Seriously, the list is endless!

So, if letting a random woman pet me can improve her understanding of the world, it's really a small price to pay.

What was it they said?

One small hair touch for a Japanese, one giant world touch for Japanese kind!

...or something like that :)


Tere Kirkland said...

I think it's awesome that you totally get "why" people want to touch your hair and think of it as promoting someone's understanding of the world.

If only everyone could think like that.

As for the movie, I don't doubt they decided to leave the word Karate out of the Japanese title, despite the success of the (albeit decades-old) franchise), since it is set in China where they practice kung-fu and other martial arts that are NOT karate. This is a huge distinction for cultures with such a rich history of martial arts.

I get the Hollywood mentality to say, "hey, Pat Morita is dead, Jackie Chan's getting old..." and then fill in the blanks with Will and Jada's adorable son.

BUT... it's just like Hollywood to disregard the fact that karate and kung-fu come from two very different cultural backgrounds. It happens all the time, but that doesn't make it right.

Hopefully more programs like the exchange you're doing will help.

Great post!

Claire Dawn said...

Actually, Tere. They do acknowledge that kung fu and karate are different in the movie. I guess they just wanted to ride off the name.

And the original movie is also called "Best Kid." Maybe there was already a "Karate Kid." Or, more likely, it sounds a lot less cool in Japanese.

Kelly M. Olsen said...

What a wonderful opportunity you have living in Japan. I agree that it is a small price to pay to educate people. It was like that for me when I was pregnant; people just assume it's okay to place their strange hands on my belly. I don't usually like people in my personal space (I even have my own bedroom because I don't like sharing a bed with anyone while I'm sleeping), but I understood that pregnancy is something a lot of people have never experienced, so I didn't mind too much.

I love your blog site. I look forward to coming back and reading more posts. Good luck in all your endeavors...

Kelly Olsen

Claire Dawn said...

Thank you, Kelly! I'm glad you enjoyed.