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Tianjing Zhang

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Tianjing Zhang is a Chinese transgender woman studying at a university in Japan. She has had to adjust to Japanese culture, but is grateful for the respect of the Japanese people and university shown towards her sexuality, a respect she would not find in China.

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My name is Tianjing. I was born and raised in Ningbo, a big harbor city with a population of 8 million. Before my high school graduation, I barely leave my hometown and I never thought so until the determining decision was made. I decided to go to an international high school in my hometown. when I finished my course and got my diploma, unlike most of my classmates, I chose to go to Japan for my further education. It was not a usual step for all my classmates went to North America or United Kingdom.

After my arrival in Japan, things were familiar but strange, although, before I went to Japan, all my knowing of this country was from anime and books. I like Japanese literature and it is one of the most essential reasons why I come to Japan. Japanese people look alike Chinese people, but slightly differential by the wearing style and how Japanese people act and speak. Indeed, the language is quite different since I had no basic knowledge of Japanese language before I got to Japan. I was shy in my beginning years, but I tried my best to not be treated like a foreigner though I am absolutely a foreigner here, but I always fail to do so.

Moreover, I am a transgender woman. Leaving a different country as a sexual minority is never an easy thing. Luckily, so far in Japan I live relatively comfortable compared to my life in China. Although, I have not managed to change my ID information officially, my life in Japan was barely influenced.

The most embarrassing and toughest thing for me is to update my residential card, since the photo of me on my passport and I now look rather different. I still remember what the officer in immigration bureau said to me when I update my photo on the resident card. She said, "iro iro atta ne" [these are different things]. It took her three minutes to confirm that I am I but eventually, she gave me the new card.

In Japan, I can see that people are always extremely polite to each other, especially when dealing with strangers. Even though I can feel they act politely very superficially, I feel good they keep private space. When I did passing in Japan, I was so afraid of being noticed by other people because of my abnormal acts and wearing. I was facing huge pressure from not only from my parents, but also other people’s including my friends’ opinions to me. If I was in China, people might not treat me as friendly as Japanese people do if they perceive that I am a trans. It was the amicable environment in Japan that helped me come over with my fear. Some may observe that Japanese are indifferent. I will say it is called respect. My university, Waseda University, is also a pioneer supporting LGBT rights in Japan, and that makes me feel safe. There are LGBT-friendly policies being introduced and toilets for all genders are everywhere in college. My friends and staff in college also give me plenty of help. I am so grateful for everything I experienced in Japan.