Japan is a nation that is steeped in history, culture, and modern innovation. From sushi to samurai to anime, Japan has something for anyone with an interest in the traditional or modern. It is also one of the most highly advanced countries in terms of technology and robotics. But despite this level of advancement, there exists a wide range of diversity within the Japanese population. This diversity poses interesting questions as to what makes someone truly “Japanese”.
To answer this question, filmmaker Greg Lam’s feature-length documentary “Being Japanese” dives deep into the many aspects that make up the national identity of Japan. The film explores the stories and experiences of different groups within Japan, such as ethnic Okinawans from Okinawa Island in the south; Ainu people from Hokkaido Island in the north; Nikkei-Brazilians, descendants of Japanese coffee farmers who migrated to Brazil in the early 1900s; Zainichi-Koreans, descendants of Koreans who arrived as forced laborers when Korea was annexed by Japan; and Hafu/mixed race/half Japanese people and Returnees/Kikokushijo, both groups having difficulty fitting into society due to various levels of discrimination.
The amount of diversity present in “Being Japanese” may come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with this culture, but it demonstrates how resilient and innovative the people are despite being faced with adversity. Ultimately, it appears that being “Japanese” comes down to self-identity– if you feel that you are Japanese then you are indeed considered so by many others within the country.
This thoughtful documentary encourages viewers to think deeply about what it means to be part of any group or nation – not just Japan – by highlighting overlapping issues across cultures and civilizations. For those interested in exploring history through an anthropological lens, learning more about cultural dynamics or simply wanting to gain insight into today’s Japan: Being Japanese is an invaluable view into Japanese identity worth exploring.