Culture to me is the environment and values that shape your experiences and how you perceive the world. Within such a context, I would define my culture as the intersection of my Japanese family and heritage with my American education and environment. Growing up in the United States as a Japanese individual, I often found myself comparing the values of both countries. At home, I was in Japan. I spoke Japanese with my family, ate Japanese food, celebrated Japanese holidays, and was taught Japanese values. Outside of my home, however, I was surrounded by the United States; I went to an American public school, received an American education, and listened to American music. What makes me believe that culture isn’t defined by a single country’s values or ideals is that even within this context, I never felt like I could only be defined by one country. One part of me embodied the Japanese language and values, learning and absorbing stories and advice from my grandparents in Japan, while another embodied the American language and values, learning and absorbing from experiences at school and from friends.


My biggest intercultural experience came when I took a gap year to live in Japan. Although Japanese culture was something that was not foreign to me, it was a completely different experience living in an environment where everyone’s culture seemed so similar. Everywhere I went, people spoke Japanese and embodied the values of respecting your elders and always thinking about others before yourself. If I did anything that didn’t match Japanese values of respect, I stuck out and was seen in a negative way, as if I didn’t understand. I also looked Japanese and spoke Japanese, so there was no way for others to know that I had spent my entire life in the United States. At the beginning of the year, this often led me to feel like I had to fit in. I found myself trying to blend in with the crowd, whether it be learning more traditional Japanese values and how to properly interact in society or wearing trending Japanese clothing and hairstyles. I tried not to speak English and strayed away from my bicultural identity. As the year went on, however, I started to encounter moments where people valued my bicultural background rather than seeing me as different. Friends I met in Japan found my background interesting, and wanted to learn more. Members of organizations and companies wanted to support me because they felt my unique background would lead me to have valuable opinions in discussions.


Through my experience in Japan, I learned the value of my bicultural identity. I am now more open to embracing the duality of my identity and the culture that I come from. I also am more interested in how the cultures of different individuals influence how they perceive the world. Especially for those that grew up in multicultural environments, I am intrigued as to whether they feel connected to a specific culture or define their culture as the intersection of those different environments.