SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

SHIN Hyewon “How to keep proper distance?”


When I was a junior high school student, I wrote an essay as a homework about myself. I do not remember well about its detail. But conclusion was very compliant saying “I am what I am” as a Korean who live in Japan might be beyond high flown by novels.  And I remember that I was glad when our homeroom teacher praised me.



I was a fearless teenager who were nerves about small matters keeping myself open and did not hesitate to expose my thinking in public.  Looking back that time, I feel giddy and dread to concede “a foreigner who lives in Japan”. I was not an admirable Japanese speaker. I kept sending small messages to the people around, so that they can change their rigid ideas about me.



Sociologist Prof. KISI Masahiko wrote in his book “Assimilation and Dissimilation” that minority means they are kept asking about their identities and majority means they are free from such questions. I did not know the outlook. But I think there was a strong meaning, to keep on asking the question to myself and but to people around me.  



And now, I chose “foreigners” who live in Japan as my research and I am continuing it. People may think that I have become more forethoughtful and nervous as compared to my teenage. When I speak about something, I stop for a while to breathe deeply and reconsider it. It feels that I am adult now and have to speak means: If you can differentiate yourself as a person and a Researcher (Professionally) then it is a proof that you have grown up.



I am collecting and accumulating feelings of wrongness obscurely which I feel in my daily life.  At the time of entrance ceremony of schools, I heard “Only Japanese can enjoy beautifulness of cherry blossoms”, “Glad to be born in Japan”. I am not concerned about words which are unimpressive. I have just acknowledged for the words “As I thought, you are a Korean” or “Now, you are complete Japanese” despite they are not malicious. I had a feeling of frustration rather than consideration very often when I reveal my name to a friend with whom I converse. Our communication slowed eventually.



Such feelings were my motivation and basic stance of my research.

I intended to proceed, keeping possible attention not to be lugged when I debate. What it means is a continual working and answering despite being severely criticized by others. It might be the same for everybody.  What I have in my thought might have been answered already and I was asked to explain it more precisely and freshly. When I went on reading predecessor’s consideration, I realized that I had to find new words for explanation. I realized to keep my thought to under one’s hat to overwhelming deed.



As individual concerned, I could not be an advocate for others. I felt strongly that I was working for unprecedent research and I proceeded my research in actual fields. What I experienced and felt in Japan was just a track. Likewise, experiences and sensitivities as “foreigners in Japan” present infinite varieties. When I encountered such occasions, I, as individual concerned, was confused, depressed and hurt. Research will not give “desirable” answers. Generalization might be just arrogance.



Looking  back as mentioned above, what I got as graduate school student were respect for predecessors and awareness for others.

I got prudence also because of such respect and awareness. I could not keep proper distance between a person concerned and a researcher thou but sometimes, I became overcautious or emotional.

I inspired myself thinking that other researchers would be in difficulties to keep proper distance and had trial and error.



If I could borrow my childish courage like old days when “I am what I am”, I think it would be meaningful to keep distance as “who I am”.

Thinking that, I hope I will proceed my research life. 


SHIN_Hyewon : 2019 Raccoon, Specially appointed Associated Professor,

The University of Tokyo, Komaba, Liberal Arts Division



SGRA Kawaraban 653 in Japanese (Original)



Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sabina Koirala