"I am the only German on Okinawa." That was my first thought when my friend from the NGO-Center Okinawa approached me to ask if I wanted share about my culture.
I have only met other Germans a few times here on the island and so my natural feeling is that I am the only one around. The more frequent association with Germany I see here are the occasional German baumkuchen in the supermarkets or the siemens sign that promotes hearing aids from Germany.
My friend from the Okinawa Multiculturalism NGO-Center asked me after my weekly Japanese class, "Are you interested in hosting a German event here at the center? We would like you to talk about your German culture to Okinawans."
I knew the Japanese were very interested in Europe but I wasn’t sure if I could fill a whole evening with things to talk about Germany- in Japanese! But I agreed. The weeks flew by and I started preparing for the event. I was confronted with questions like: What is typically German? What is your culture like?
As you travel and as you live in another country you start noticing what your own culture is really like. You recognize what you do differently and you start adjusting. And sometimes you refuse to adjust. Can you go away from the comforts of your own culture and live in a totally different one? Do you like or just bear the changes of a new lifestyle?
As I was preparing for my German event, I recognized that there are certain things I do that make me German. For example: I love black licorice which everyone else around me, Americans and Japanese alike, detest. The lists and organized computer folders that keep my life in order are very German as well.
But what about the typical things everyone knows about: Bavaria (I have never been); The Alps (I have only seen the Swiss side of the Alps); Oktoberfest and the traditional Dirndl-dress (I live in the mid-west of Germany. Very few Dirndls there)?
It was hard putting together a presentation about Germany. It really was. I feel like I cannot define what my culture is like within a few minutes. But there is always something that speaks more about your culture than a thousand words: Food.
Yes, that is German! Food! My German event should be about food! We know how to do food! And that proved itself to be the best idea ever.
The event came around on Saturday, August 20th and it was such a fun time. My friends and I planned out a dinner for the visitors. We made bread with everyone there and baked individual little Doitsu-pans. Toppings like butter, jelly, sliced ham, cheese and drinks like juice and tea helped set the perfect German Abenbrot dinner table.
My speech about German culture, politics, how Germany deals with refugees, our war history and the integration into Europe went well, even though my Japanese lacked a bit. The dinner was a wonderful experience for the visitors and we got to talk a lot about travels, the German school system and language.
One of the best ways to share about who you are to the Japanese is the interactive way. Seeing you and experiencing your traditional dances, music or your everyday dinner routines gives others a glimpse of your world. You make travel and culture real in your environment. You are unique in who you are and your Japanese friends are blessed to see a different person, someone who has grown up in a foreign environment.
So whether you travel through Japan, live here or visit, be yourself and show people you meet what it means to be a gaijin like you.
If you live in Okinawa, come and stop by the NGO-Center in Ginowan. The next cultural event is right around the corner, on September 23rd, 2016. The theme of that night will be Argentina. The guest speaker focuses especially on the history of the Salsa dance. If you would like to come or need more information about it, please give the NGO-Center a call so they can make sure your spot at the event is secure.