By Mackenzie Kurtz
My host father told me that the reason there are so many foreigners in Japanese fashion ads is because it makes Japanese people focus on the clothes rather than the person. He pointed to the face of the blue-eyed, blond model in the ad I was showing him and said that if it were a Japanese face, Japanese people would look more at the face than the clothes. Since it’s a foreigner, they can focus on the suit without paying attention to the person.
I am sure that there are a ton of academic lenses one could digest this through, but when I think about what my host father said, I just can’t help but think that there is a racial component to it. People tense up when they hear the word ‘race,’ but I think that as a cultural construct it has a place in every society and that no cultural study is really complete without considering its eﬀect. Whether you want to call it ‘race’ or not, there is something deep and profound at work when a Japanese person looks at face diﬀerent from their own and sees a mannequin rather than a human being.
An open dialogue about race, and classes on ethnic studies, would give a welcomed perspective on my study abroad experience in Japan. Questions of why my host mother believes that Chinese people are criminals and that Koreans are dishonest, why I am not Japanese enough to use Japanese travel agency, why my host father told me that Japanese people can only identify with Japanese faces… these unanswered questions make me feel that my cultural understanding of Japan could beneﬁt from some sort of ethnic studies.