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The other day I was doing some winter clothes shopping at the local Uniqlo store when something peculiar happened. For the past couple of weeks I have been living in Dazaifu (Fukuoka prefecture), a small, yet historically relevant village where the ‘Asian-other’ population (Korean and Chinese) is rather large, while ‘Western-looking people’ are almost unknown. I am now getting used to people staring at me when I go to the local supermarket – something that never happened to me in places such as Kyoto or Osaka. Anyway, what happened at Uniqlo was much more interesting than the usual grannie freezing at my sight in the middle of the miso aisle. A group of 4 kids (5 to 7 years old I would say) and their mum where also checking out clothes when they bumped into me. The mother was holding a 5th baby in her arms and I could tell from her built and facial features that she was half-Japanese, half-caucasian, probably American. I am not good at numbers and genealogy, but I would say that if she were half, her kids should be at least 1/4th something (either Japanese or Western, depending on the father). Fact is that the 4 kids where literally shocked at my sight. They forgot about their mum and started following me. They would not speak to each other but just stare with huge, glaring eyes. What were they looking at? What did they see? I should say that this is not the first bunch of kids I meet in Dazaifu, but their reaction was completely different: Japanese kids might be curious to check out how a foreigner looks like, but they are usually not so insistent. This group of kids, instead, was literally x-raying me, speechless, with eyes so big that I could see my face reflected in them… or was this what they actually saw in mine?

I might be wrong here, assuming much about their background that I don’t know, but I had the clear impression that these guys, growing up in the countryside, with almost zero exposure to foreigners, saw in my face, completely different from what they are used to in their everyday life, something that belonged to them. It could be the face of their father, or uncle, or grandpa. It certainly isn’t that of their school teacher, even of her mother: it is alien to the models they apprehend in their everyday-life. The encounter with something that somehow belongs to them, though they still cannot recognise it as such, shocked these kids as much as it shocked me. I don’t know whether their mum realised what was going on or not (she was very busy with her baby) and I was left to wonder whether this encounter became a topic for conversation or not. It surely was a very, very interesting experience for me…