After spending his first few years living in the U.S., he’s spent the rest of his life answering the same questions over and over.

There’s a phrase in Japanese, kikoku shijo, which literally translates to “girls who returned to the country,” but since it’s actually used for both boys and girls, a better translation is “returnee.” Because of how important international operations are to many Japanese companies and government institutions, many Japanese people spend at least a few years living overseas, and if children spend part of their formative years in another country, they’re referred to as kikoku shijo once they come back to Japan.

One of the writers for our Japanese-language sister site, Shawn, falls into this demographic. Born in the U.S. to a Japanese father and Chinese mother, Shawn lived in America until he was nine, when he moved back to Japan. He’s lived here ever since, but being a returnee means that he’s had certain questions and reactions come up time and time again while living in Japan, and he recently made a list of some of the most common, plus his (in parenthesis) mental responses to some of the weirder ones.

1. People always tell me “Say something in English.”
(Um, like you want me to say the word ‘something?’)
2. “Come on, just say anything!”
(Then they start to get impatient and angry.)
3. So just to get them off my back, I’ll say “Japan.”

4. Then they get pissed because they wanted me to say something else.
5. So next I try saying “The United States of America.”
6. “Wow…,” they say, and then there’s just an awkward silence.
7. In English class, I always got picked to read things out loud.
8. When no one else could answer a question, as a last resort the teacher would call on me.
9. Then the teacher would smile and say “I should just have you teach the class today.”
(I’m not your assistant!)

10. Classmates would use me like a dictionary, asking “Hey, what’s this English mean?”
11. When I’d say, “Sorry, this English is too difficult for me to understand” they’d snap their tongues and get angry.
12. When I go to karaoke, my friends ask me to sing the English lyric sections in Japanese pop songs, since they think it’ll be easy for me.
(But it’s actually really hard!)
13. Nine times out of ten, when I try to act cool singing in English it just makes everything awkward instead.
14. So to get things back on track, I’ll sing the 1987 J-pop hit “Get Wild.”
15. Then when I finish, they’re like, “Even though you lived in America, your personality isn’t wild at all!”
16. People ask me “So when you lived in America, did you fire a gun?”
(Dude, I moved away from America when I was NINE.)

17. “Did anyone ever point a gun at you?”
(Again, I was NINE.)
18. “Did you get a tattoo when you were living in the U.S.?”
19. “Did you try any drugs?”
20. “Did you have a blond girlfriend?”

21. Because I lived overseas, everyone thinks I must be rich because my dad has some elite-level job.
22. “You lived overseas? Shouldn’t you look cooler and more handsome, then?” people say.
23. My friends will sometimes joke around and say “OK, let’s see your passport” like they’re stopping me for an immigration check.
24. “Do you have to pay taxes?” people ask, as though I’m not a Japanese citizen.
25. “When you die, do you want your grave to be in Japan or America?”
(Way too early to be deciding that, don’t you think? And how come I have to pick between just those two?)

26. “So do you think of yourself as Japanese, American, or…?”
27. Actually, I really did spend a lot of time worrying about my identity in my teens.
28. But I often find myself remembering the lyrics from Japanese band Blue Hearts’ “Seishun:” “Why do you think you can tell who I am, just because of where I was born or the color of my skin or eyes?”
29. Then I realize how much I love ‘90s J-pop.
30. And then I realize I love Japan too.

For his part, Shawn isn’t actually angry at being asked the same questions over and over again. “I’ve lived in Japan for a long time now,” he says, “long enough to understand the feelings Japanese people who haven’t lived overseas. They don’t mean any offense, and they’re just asking about things they’re curious about.”

It’s a magnanimous, understanding stance for him to take, and especially accommodating when you consider that some people apparently think that he’s an experienced marksman.

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