Coping with Cultural Change

Japanese Emigrants to Australia

Jill Margerison, University of Queensland [About | Email]

Volume 3, Issue 1 (Book review 5 in 2003). First published in ejcjs on 10 July 2003.

Sato, Machiko (2001) Farewell to Nippon, Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press, Paperback, ISBN: 1 87684372 1, 161 pages.

Generally speaking the Japanese have not been recognized for their predisposition towards large-scale migration, in comparison to the Chinese for instance. Yet over the past 20 years, the number of Japanese emigrants has increased. Through a collection of ethnographic case studies, Machiko Sato charts the rationale behind the movement of Japanese men and women to Australia from the late 1970s. Entitled Farewell to Japan, this publication is a streamlined version of the Japanese text published in the early 1990s. In its original form it received a special prize from the Asian Research Council of the Mainichi Newspapers at the Asia-Pacific Awards in 1994.

Machiko Sato’s story is written from a personal interest angle. In the prologue she explains that she is herself a long time Japanese resident of Australia. Subsequently, she sets out to pool together interviews from more than 200 long-term Japanese residents of Australia. She stresses that her study is not one which theorizes about the experiences of these emigrants but rather summarizes the joys, sorrows, happiness and frustration seen through the emigrants’ own eyes (page 2). This approach categorizes the work as one which is perhaps of interest to certain social historians.

Due to the lack of overall cohesive significance, however, Farewell to Japan offers limited appeal for the non-Japanese literary market. Although the interviews have been grouped into typologies of emigrant experiences, the stories remain fragments with little other than a common Japanese cultural background and language linking each example. For the Japanese reader, this is perhaps a readily identifiable and explicable framework, yet for non-Japanese there needs to be a deeper analysis joining the experiences together.

Nevertheless, the written style of the work is lucid. The use of vernacular Australian phrases is appropriate and reads well. In one example, Sato explains the formulation of a decision by the idiom, “one day he bit the bullet and told them …” (page 151). Sato also captures the cultural difficulties some Japanese experience outside Japan. In one example, Sato (page 17) writes of an interviewee overwhelmed by her Australian cultural context.

I don’t look at the other person’s face when talking to them. I have a quiet voice and I swallow the ends of my words and sentences…. I follow the Japanese custom of ending by saying completely the opposite of what I said in the beginning.

Some readers will be able to empathize with such a lack of confidence in a foreign cultural context.

From the perspective of clarity and short human-interest stories, this work provides useful material for those engaged in advanced level English teaching, since there is enough interest and scope for both student and instructor. The experiences detailed by Sato would strike a chord with many Japanese people who have traveled and stayed overseas. A good example is that of Miyuki who before eating searched for the equivalent of the Japanese expression, itadakimasu, which literally means, “I accept this meal gratefully” (page 23). Also, some readers may have the same concerns when they read that everyone wore shoes inside the house and “children actually sat and lolled on the beds with their shoes on” (page 24). These types of cultural differences and difficulties are presented throughout the work and should appeal best to practitioners in a cross-cultural educational context.

The range of interviewee experiences is broad, providing scope for further discussion. Stories range from those migrants who arrived after consciously deciding on a long-term plan to migrate to Australia to those who had come to Australia simply through circumstance. Sato also includes short tales from cross-cultural marriages and touches on the notion of class barriers. Yet there is no in-depth analysis of these themes themselves. Rather, a major comparison throughout the works appears to be between those Japanese who can settle comfortably and surmount obstacles that face most working migrants (like language problems and discrimination) and those who cannot cope with the cultural differences. As one migrant explained, “No matter how long we are here, I feel empty.” Another (page 118) observed that:

There is a surprisingly large number of people who go back to Japan. We have the children’s clothes sent from Japan, we ask for Japanese foods to be sent, we watch Japanese television programs that our folks back in Japan have video taped for us, we mix solely with Japanese people and only speak Japanese in everyday life. It makes you wonder what we are doing here.

These stories are contrasted with that of the Japanese sisters, Michiyo and Hiroko Urakawa, who have decided to be buried in Australia and donate their property to the Australian Government, signifying their contentedness with life in Australia as well as an indication of their desire to reciprocate the respect they have been shown (page 10).

By her own admission, however, Sato explains that most of the Japanese people she has interviewed have no intention of living in Australia for the rest of their lives (page 2). “In effect they are simply enjoying a long trip which they know will end when they eventually resettle in their country of birth” (page 2). As such, the title of the work — Farewell to Japan — seems a peculiar choice. Rather, the content of the work points to notions of coping with cultural change and in some cases the endurance of the Japanese spirit. One interviewee explains, “Every time I faced discrimination I just said to myself, ‘Some day I will be in a position of authority. You just wait and see.’ This has been my motivation” (page 64).

All the same, Farewell to Japan is an interesting and quick read highlighting a variety of human-interest stories surrounding Japanese emigration to Australia over the past 25 years. I would recommend it as a valuable teaching resource, which will no doubt stimulate discussion on many cross-cultural variations.

About the Author

Jill Margerison is a Japan Fellow (2003–4) affiliated with the International Christian University in Tokyo. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland, Australia. Her area of interest is Japanese strategic security and foreign policy. She is a university lecturer and tutor in international relations. Prior to her current position, she worked with JETRO and lived in Japan for a period of six years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Queensland University and a Masters of International Relations and Global Governance from Bond University. In 1990 she received a Ministry of Education (Monbushō) scholarship to Keio University, Tokyo.

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