Between my husband and me, we have a lot to offer our daughter in regard to Japanese culture, language and traditions. We’re both Japanese American and very rooted to Japan on many levels. We appreciate and have an affinity for the motherland and strive to expose our daughter to her heritage in the hopes she will embrace some of it as part of her identity as she grows up.

Since becoming a mother, what I have retained on a cultural level has become more apparent. I grew up with a mish-mash of Japanese and English in the house, was raised on a healthy dose of Japanese values and traditions and supplemented with trips to Japan. Now that I have a daughter to share myself with, I have to say that I’ve become more critical of what I actually do have to offer in regard to language, recipes, traditions, values and stories.

Before my daughter, what mattered most was solely my connection to Japan, but now that she is here what has come to the forefront is her ability to access her own connection to the motherland through my husband and me. While I know there are many resources out there in the community and through our networks from which my daughter can glean, it’s much more personal and fulfilling when you can directly share things with your child.

Knowing that I want to share these things with my daughter makes me feel like I have a lot more studying to do. For her sake, and thereby my sake, I want to improve my Japanese and my knowledge of Japanese history and culture. Sometimes I wish I was fluent or capable of shifting quickly between being Japanese and Japanese American, but realistically I know I don’t have to be a vessel of knowledge for all things Japanese.

I don’t have to be fluent. I don’t have to know how to navigate through the train stations in Tokyo like I do in New York. I wasn’t born that way, plus I want to equally observe the nuances of being born as a Japanese American – WWII incarceration, Manzanar, immigration stories, Los Angeles Obons and even Spam musubi are just as important for my little one.

However, I am compelled to be better at the things I have learned so far. From language to food, I hope to speak more articulately in Japanese in time and, as a cooking enthusiast, I want to expand my menu of Japanese recipes and improve the ones I already know how to make. My daughter makes me want to refine myself, craft my identity in a way where I can teach it, not just possess it for myself.

I am eager to share so many things with my daughter, but I remind myself that at the end of the day, she will choose how she shapes her identity. I grew up with a love for being Japanese, sometimes even feeling ashamed that I wasn’t better at speaking or being more of a “proper” Japanese. In the same right, I grew up with a love for being Japanese American, being prideful that we had a huge West Coast basketball league, enjoying potlucks that included rice balls, butter mochi and Jello cheescake, taking part in cultural parades where the Japantown Boy Scout troop would carry a giant daruma down the street or where your friend’s older sister was a Cherry Blossom or Nisei Week Queen.

My daughter, who is barely 7 months, is an encouragement on many levels. She inspires me to continue to push my own identity and to celebrate who we are as a family. Her pure existence prompts me to question my own cultural expectations and to remind myself that who we are, while there is a core, is undergoing constant evolution. With that, we each are our own distinct people. I can share with her everything I know, but in the end, she will shape and interpret whatever I give her and cross whatever bridges we build as her own.

I speak as if she’s turning 16 tomorrow, but everyone always tells us how they just grow so fast. Indeed she is, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

Mari Nakano can be reached by email at The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.




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