Did you know we Canadians actually refer to the United States as being a Central American country? Shhh... it's a secret. Okay perhaps that was made up.
Yes, I can call myself a Canadian because despite having the citizenship, at the very least I have traveled this country from coast to coast - but still need to hit the three territories - and have had the opportunity to interact on more than a casual basis with peoples of all nationalities including a large sampling of our indigenous folk - from being a guest in their home to spending a morning fishing for salmon in a robust Canadian river, to looking for fossils in the Alberta badlands to eating a lobster fresh from the traps of a maritime fisherman.
I don't know why I am lucky enough to have been afforded such opportunities, except for the fact that I guess I am indeed lucky.
I am a proud Canadian, but thanks to the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme which allowed me the opportunity to live in Japan for three years in the smallish farming/industrial city of Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken, I can at least call myself a bit of a global traveler.
While I did not get out to see such climes as Hokkaido - which I suspect is a lot like the beautiful area of Northern Ontario, nor did I get to go to visit far-away tropical region of Okinawa, I did take the time to visit many of the parts in between.
Despite my inability to actually see the supposed majesty of eternal Mt. Fuji (or did I) owing to something benign as weather, I got the chance to talk to and visit quite closely with many aspects of Japan.
It's kind of why I consider Japan to be a second home to myself and why after being more than 20 years removed from the country I am still fascinated enough by it to write about it in these daily blogs.
Like many others before and since me, I also used Japan as a bit of a stepping stone to visit other countries, spending time in such wonderful countries as Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and Saipan... which is across the waters from Guam... hardly a key tourist destination for the average gaijin (foreigner), but one which was fantastic nonetheless.
Of course, being a JET participant also allowed me the opportunity to meet folks from the U.S.A., all corners of the U.K., Australia and New Zealand - fellow AETs (assistant English teachers) and CIRs (coordinators of international relations, I think)... not to mention a plethora of travelers and workers from other countries like Iran, Iraq, India, Pakistan and much more.
Other journeys later in life have taken me to Germany and The Netherlands (I was born in England and count my heritage as from being from India). Living ion Toronto - while perhaps never the great melting pot it assumed it would be back in the 1970s, it at the very least has a large immigrant population, and I have friends of every color and nationality and if I were to take things a step farther have probably dated women from every country in Europe - invading more women than Hitler did countries.
And yet... despite Canad being so open with immigration and having in a brief 10 minute foray out between watching soccer, baseball and the hockey free agent frenzy, I have talked with people from the Caribbean, South Korea and Russia today.
I couldn't quite do that in Japan, which despite some desire to be more international, has done very little to actually make itself more international.
Back in the 1960s, I believe Canada was faced with the dilemma of a population growth that was somewhat stagnant... not to mention that prior to that it seemed to have a discriminatory immigration policy ensuring that Asians were not really part of that mix to be allowed into Canada.
But that changed in 1967 - Canada's 100th birthday, plus a great time of global political and social revolution - see anything by the Beatles, plus Canada was on the world stage as host of a world's fair, Expo '67.
For whatever reason, that year Canada softened its immigration stances and adopted a points system for all people trying to immigrate to Canada - probably why my family was able to get here in 1968, after five years in England.
There were five long-termed criteria: education, personal characteristic traits, training, skills, and age. As well, four short-term criteria were also applied: arranged employment, knowledge of French or English, having a relative somewhere in Canada, and the overall availability of jobs in Canada.
What I am saying is that in order for Japan... a country mired in an aging and declining population figure, perhaps it's time to move beyond the parameters of only allowing foreigners to work in your country and maybe time for them to be allowed to live in your country with the express interest and desire for your country - Japan - to become their new home.
Maybe it's time to adopt a modified version of Canada's 47-year-old stab at becoming a more globally international nation...
Obviously Canad and Japan are nowhere close to being the same type of country... Canada has always been a country of immigrants (though I bet the Natives and Inuit would have something to say about that and the European usurpers)...
But the people who call themselves Japanese are also usurpers... this land of the rising sun was ruled by people long before the Yamoto Japanese came to port. But, aside from the Ainu, that is neither here not there (ahem).
But Japan has long been a country where it has kept out outsiders... and I'm talking even before its isolationist policies of 400 years ago - a thousand years... more? Where as Canada owes its origins to a larger European mix from only 500 years ago or so.
Japan has long been afraid of mixing up its Japanese blood with that of the outsider. Think of it as something from Harry Potter... with Japan trying to maintain its magical pure-blood status, shunning the Muggles and their so-called inferior blood lines.
Unfortunately, Japan, that way of thinking has gone the way of the shogun dinosaur... or even the Emperor, a deity now in name only.
I'm just saying that thanks to Canada's immigration policy 47 years ago, Japan has a writer (me) who more often than not tells the world all about the positives of your country.
Who knows what you'll get if you make immigration a bit easier to achieve?
The oft-posted photo above is of myself perched on my western balcony of my apartment in Ohtawara-shi - with me sitting in my usual reading spot catching a few rays... wearing my short shorts and sideburns - neither of which I have now, though I still have the legs to pull it off - the shorts, that is. I no longer look good in sideburns since my hair is shorn and worn short nowadays.
The 1991 photo was taken by my good friend Matthew - an American (though I don't hold that against him) - who stuck his head out of my bedroom window to get the shot. To read how the flag (mounted on a makeshift flagpole made from a clothes hanger) was procured, read about it HERE.