Reporter: Anna Watanabe
November 13 2013
When considering the entire spectrum of multicultural Australia, Nikkei Australians, or Japanese-Australians and their descendants, are not a particularly visible group.
However, as Dr Keiko Tamura of the Australian National University, and ABC journalist Kumi Taguchi, explained to AJS this November, Nikkei Australians have been making a profound mark on this country for over 150 years.
The first Japanese who came to Australia were acrobats, arriving in the mid 19th Century. Of these first visitors, five decided to stay in Australia, with the descendants of one acrobat, Sakuragawa Dicinoski (formerly, Rikinosuke) still living in Queensland.
According to Dr Tamura, currently Australia is home to roughly 79,000 Japanese nationals, making this country the third most popular for Japanese migrants, after the US and China. Of these long term and permanent residents, their children add to the growing Nikkei Australian diaspora.
Through her studies, Dr Tamura has found several similarities between children of Japanese migrants. Generally the children are of mixed race, reflecting generations of interracial marriage; something of particular interest to Dr Tamura and her research on World War II Japanese War Brides.
Because of this, second-, third-, and in some cases fourth-generation Japanese Australians often do not carry Japanese names, as is the case with former Wallabies Rugby Union Coach Eddie Jones and former Australian soccer player, Alan Davidson, both of whom have Japanese mothers.
Ms Taguchi, the daughter of an Australian mother and Japanese father, says she grew up in rural NSW where “we ran around, we got dirty, we wore gum boots but every night we had karaage,” she said.
“We had gyoza parties, we had friends taking their shoes off at the front door... and this felt totally normal to me.”
And like many bi-cultural Australians, Ms Taguchi says even now she still needs to re-adjust her vocabulary on occasion.
“I don’t know the word for ‘chopsticks’, I have to fish in my head and think, ‘What are those hashi?’”
But unfortunately, like many Asian-Australians before her, Ms Taguchi faced many obstacles because of her appearance and was told that she wouldn’t make it in the media.
“[But] it made me more determined to make it,” the ABC anchor said.
“I absolutely believe that if things had come a little easier for me I wouldn’t have worked so hard to write, listen, learn, and understand how other people hurt, and in that becoming a good journalist.”
Thankfully, as time has gone on, Japanese-Australians have faced less discrimination. Conversely, they’ve been welcomed into Australian society and culture with open arms. Because of this, Dr Tamura believes the Japanese-Australian diaspora doesn’t have as unified an identity as Nikkei in other countries like the US or Brazil.
But, perhaps this is the best way to be: not looking for that which divides us, but what brings all Australians, from all backgrounds, together. After all, how many other countries can boast a world-class, Japanese-born, French-trained, Australian-based chef like Tetsuya Wakuda?Dr. Keiko Tamura's presentation is available here:
Nikkei Australians: Change and Contribution
A copy of Dr. Tamura's book 'Michi's Memories' is available for purchase from the Society Secretary.