Make sure to look both ways.

reflections Sep 20, 2020

I’ve come to notice that every big project that I undertake starts off fuelled by at least a bit of anger. And fortunately, as I work through a particular project, that anger then transforms into something more positive and insightful.

For example, the very initial idea for the Rest and Reflect program arose when the hashtag “shinrinyoku” started appearing in my feed.

I’d always wanted to create products centring on nature as similar to many other people, being in nature has been so important in maintaining my mental health and wellbeing. So, I began exploring “nature” on Instagram and it led me to finding #shinrinyoku and social media accounts claiming some kind of ownership over this Japanese concept.

I called up my friend Yeo and collaborator on this project and said, “we should probably jump on this before all the white people take it…”

Beautiful Japanese words.

森林浴 = Shinrinyoku is just a regular Japanese word that is so average and normal because admiring nature is intrinsically inherent in traditional Japanese culture. It loosely translates to “forest bathing” which has such a romantic feel to it that once again, people can’t resist being drawn into this idea and then of course, wanting to own and claim it as their own.

I find myself being triggered by people using random Japanese words out of context because they claim they love Japanese culture. “Zen”, “umami”, and “ikigai” (lol) are some common culprits. And it’s funny that words like “meiwaku” (being a bother to others) and “gaman” (grit and patience) don’t seem to catch the same kind of attention, when in actual fact, these are the words that structure and uphold both traditional and modern Japanese culture.

Anyway, so when I saw people using the word “shinrinyoku” and non-Japanese people claiming ownership of this practice, I was like, “no thank you, this is not yours to exploit…”

What is taken from me, I also take from others.

But as much as people want to take and own the practice of “shinrinyoku” from my Japanese culture, I realised that in the same way, there is much that I just take and claim as my own from other cultures too. Being so caught up in how unfair it was that Japanese culture gets whitewashed all the time, I forgot to think about how equally I steal and use footage of this already stolen land for my own profit.

I feel that I’m allowed to create videos and talk about shinrinyoku just because I’m Japanese, however in the process of doing so, I’m forgetting that the forest I am capturing is not my land nor have I ever made any efforts (beyond words) to acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners of the land on which I live and work. 

And I think this is the kind of balance and awareness that we need to talk about as Asian Australians. Not only do we experience racism, oppression etc, but we also perpetuate and uphold oppressive systems because once again we sit right in this interesting in between.

To explain a little further:

There’s no denying that we as Asian Australians live with great privilege. Many of us are highly educated, highly employable and enjoy all the privileges of our white peers (that is if we play by the rules…)

But sometimes we forget this because growing up Asian in Australia is hard work. Your sense of self gets beaten down and you feel burdened by the weight of being “other”. You start to notice all the rules that you need to adhere to, to experience "success" in Australia, and once you see these things, you can’t unsee them.

And when this happens, we can get so absorbed in our own stories and our own experiences of inequality that we forget to see the systems of inequality that we ourselves perpetuate.

As a community, we face issues like the bamboo ceiling and the model minority myth, however we also continually perpetuate classism, colourism and racism all the time. We can’t move forward if we spend all our time thinking about how unfair things are for ourselves, without opening our eyes to all the ways in which we exclude, abuse or oppress others. 

This in-between area that we sit in is a complex area to navigate. We need to be able to look towards and acknowledge our own pain while at the same time looking towards all the ways in which we perpetuate systems that cause pain for others. When it comes to issues of inequality or justice, we must always look both ways, even though this might mean that we have to acknowledge and address a double dose of pain or grief.

Looking both ways.

If I bring this back to my Rest and Reflect program, I spent many weeks looking only in one direction. I was looking towards the very common pain of feeling like my Japanese culture gets taken away from me, exploited and then marketed in a way that I can’t compete with (and subsequently feeling angry about it all).

Yet it was only much later that I started to look the other way to understand that I was working on and using footage of already stolen Aboriginal land. And without looking towards this direction, my work only perpetuates broader systemic injustices and my efforts to support one racial group is done so at the expense of another.

I also see myself looking in a third direction (I guess this is a junction now?) that acknowledges that I am a product of Imperial Japan that colonised and terrorised most of Asia not so long ago. Without looking in this direction, I'm unaware of the many elitist views that sit deep within my Japanese identity and my work again has the potential to feed into racist and colonial values.

Actionable steps when looking both ways.

As Asian Australians, we need to always ensure that we look in all directions equally if we are to create real change in both ourselves and the wider world we exist in. We can allow ourselves to feel emotions like sadness, anger or pain, but we must use our privilege to transform these experiences into positive action. 

For me, I take action by focusing on what I can control and always presenting my work with integrity (this relates to the first direction). I ensure that I dedicate 5% of all income to First Nations led organisations to acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land of which I live and work upon (relates to the second direction). I also try my best not to shy away from learning more about WWII and continually examine the many elitist beliefs that I still hold about my Japanese identity (relates to the third direction).

These are some of the ways in which I navigate this in-between, nuanced area of both experiencing and perpetrating oppression or injustice and I am excited to be amongst company that shares this drive to create meaningful and holistic change in the world.

Reflective exercise.

I invite you to explore this topic in greater detail via the reflective questions below:

  • Think of yourself at a junction with the ability to look and turn your focus on different directions. You might be looking in one direction towards your own racial trauma and then also turning to look towards the ways in which you may perpetuate systems that cause harm to others.
    • Which metaphorical direction feels easier to turn towards?
    • And which metaphorical direction have you found yourself neglecting to look towards?
    • What other directions are there in your life that you can turn your focus towards?
  • What are the ways in which you contribute to systemic injustices in the world? Ie. In what ways do you still ascribe to sexist, racist, colourist, or classist views?
    • And what are the feelings that arise as you identify these things about yourself?


If you are drawn to the practice of self-reflection to create further change and clarity in your life and the world we live in, please feel free to explore our 6-week online Rest and Reflect program.



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