Japanese on the Move

Japanese on the Move is a project facilitated by Professor Ingrid Piller from Macquarie University and Dr Kimie Takahashi from Assumption University of Thailand, who have collected and collated personal stories and reflections  on what it means to be on the move and at home and to belong to two (or more) countries.

This is a project which hits the exact pulse of where we are today: people moving from country to country, cultures to cultures, in a world that appears to be getting smaller by the minute. Concepts such as transnationalism and globalisation comes to mind. But these words are not just concepts. They are real to so many of us that live in places other than our place of birth. Whether it be temporarily or permanently is no longer the question. Like it or not, we are on the move.

Participants, Japanese on the Move by Ingrid Piller and Kimie Takahashi



I had the honour to be interviewed by Kimie Takahashi and Ingrid Piller, along with 49 other participants, and to share my thoughts at the launch of their project at Japan Foundation, Sydney. Here is what I said at the launch:

I grew up in Tokyo, going to the American School in Japan. The Americans taught me that to make a good speech, we can either start the speech with a quote from someone famous and or with a rhetorical question. When I arrived in Australia back in 1981, I quickly learned that in Australia, good speeches begin by telling a joke. But in Japan where I was born, speeches begin with one great apology. I am very sorry to take your time in making this speech….  even if no one had mentioned the war.

But then again, in Sydney where most of us live, today, we begin our speeches by acknowledging elders past and present of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, on which land we gather today.

This is Sydney 2012.

When Kimie Takahashi first approached me with her project Japanese on the Move with Ingrid Piller, both linguists, I wondered how the study of linguistics related to issues of transmigration. I think I was one of the first of the fifty people to be interviewed, and I wasn’t quite sure what to say in answers to their seemingly simple  questions such as why did you come to Australia and where is home. I say seemingly, because although they appear simple, to someone like me – like you –  these questions are loaded with our individual day to day struggles and endevours to find our own identity, our community (which community?), our own voice in the wider world and within ourselves. We do this through our day to day lives with our partners, our children, our parents, our siblings, our life–long friends – those we love who may not necessarily be living within the same borders as us –  borders, national and or cultural, real, or sometimes imagined.

It is about finding a sense of belonging, then letting it go.

Now that this project is launched, and I have watched all 50 stories, – all very different, yet all deeply resonant within our collective experiences of being Japanese on the move – I now understand why this project lies in the realm of linguistics. If linguistics is a study of  human language, and if language is a complex system of communication, and if communication is to do with its original meaning of the word to share, then sharing, we have done. Complex, it is.

We have not only shared our individual stories, but somehow in this process, we have found a common voice. The voice of all of us who have crossed borders, moved and are moving throughout our lives between different cultures and places  – and constantly negotiating and re- negotiating how we may be and how we may become in this ever-changing world.

I want to thank everyone who participated in this project for sharing your stories with me. I know how difficult it is to commit yourself on a recording for all to see and remember, when your views on subjects such as Japan, Australia, home, citizenship, cultural differences are all in itself on the move. Our views are bound to change. They are meant to evolve.

Strangely enough, I feel a sense of belonging with all of you – you, like me, have from time to time – if not constantly – travel in the space between belonging and not belonging.

Thank you to Kimie and Ingrid for empowering us with this knowledge. And thank you, especially for getting our stories out of academic texts inaccessible to many of us or in specialized documentary productions, often losing itself in the maze of obscure film festivals. It is out there on the net for many people to view and share. We are in Sydney and cyberspace in 2012.

Thank you for giving us all a voice.

-Posted by Mayu Kanamori









  1. Kimie Takahahashi

    It’s so fitting that I’m reading your blog post while at an airport in Malaysia, waiting for my connecting flight to Thailand on the way back from Australia. Your speech at last night’s launch touched the heart of many of us who are always on the move, and made us think again about where we belong and what it means to be Japanese, Australian or transnational. Thank you again for your thoughtful speech and we look forward to having more collaboration opportunities with you.

Leave a Reply