|Japanese girls wearing kimono for "Coming of Age Day"|
At first, in that terribly stereotyped and getting-close-to-racist way that we Westerners tend to think (out of ignorance and lack of experience rather than actual racism, I believe), it did seem like everyone around me looked the same. I guess that's because they looked different to the norm of what I was used to seeing, and probably also because when I first arrived, everyone was a stranger to me.
Very quickly, I realised that there is as much variation amongst the appearances of individual Japanese as there are between individuals back home in Perth. Sure, lots have black hair (although you'll be hard-pushed to find too many young to middle-aged Japanese women who don't colour their hair something other than black), but everything else about their features changes from person to person.
|Japanese kids on excursion in Koriyama|
But what surprised me more than anything is that after a while, Japanese people started to look like the Caucasians back home. Perhaps about six months into my stay, I started having to look twice at people I passed on the platform at the train station, or in supermarket aisles. "That's my old neighbour!", "That's my friend Paula", I kept thinking. Of course it wasn't; not just because the people I was comparing them to were thousands of kilometres away, but because these people were Japanese and the old friends I remembered weren't; but honestly, the similarity in looks was amazing. I kept "seeing" people I knew from home, in Japan, for the rest of the time I lived there. Strange, but true.
In so very many ways, travel has taught me that despite our differences and diversities, every single human being is basically the same, and this was a classic example of that. And that's one of the reasons why I wish everybody could have the chance to live in a foreign country for a while - wouldn't it go a long way to eliminating racist thinking?