This is a bit of a heavier post, but the topic is an important one that I hope to gain some insight on. There’s been some talk on Twitter calling for non-Japanese users to not use Japanese names online. The reasons cited include concerns regarding cultural appropriation and undermining the Japanese community’s online presence. Certainly, these are concerns that should be addressed and discussed.
As you can see, “moyatori” is a username with Japanese roots, and as you probably already know, I am not Japanese. While I do have my views on borrowing from a culture other than your own, I don’t wish to write this post as a defence for my username. I’ll be talking about why I chose it, but I really don’t want to come across as defensive or hostile. The title of this post is a question because if it does make people uncomfortable, I will seriously consider changing it.
Writing this post to tidy up my thoughts on culture, appreciation, and appropriation, and to invite any discussion on the murky issues surrounding these.
Aside from the debate on Japanese names, I’ve also been a part of conversations about the appropriation of indigenous knowledge from a class seminar I had to facilitate this week. One of the topics discussed was LEGO’s inappropriate “borrowing” of Maori names in Bionicle. Obviously, LEGO was in the wrong for plucking Maori names out of context, especially sacred ones, and doing so without asking. One of my questions for the seminar was what LEGO could improve on or change, and I was a bit shocked at the pessimism of most of the responses. Some of my classmates denounced the possibility of a genuine collaboration between LEGO and traditional culture, citing corrupt incentives as an invalidating factor. Others advocated that non-indigenous group shouldn’t have anything to do with indigenous knowledge, because indigenous knowledge is too complex for an outsider’s understanding, and colonial history casts too enormous of a shadow on everything.
Perhaps it’s because Canada has a long and complicated entanglement with colonialism that my classmates would be wary. It’s difficult – and some argue, impossible – but if done right, wouldn’t it have a positive impact on children’s cultural awareness if Maori names and legends are respectfully used in LEGO projects? Isn’t there merit to Barbie dolls of different sizes and skin colours, even if the manufacturer is only making these changes for the money?
If the only ones with a legitimate claim to a culture are the members of the culture themselves, wouldn’t the progress of intercultural understanding be stalled? Also, why is “white culture” the only one that we can (and apparently should) appropriate? Because it’s the dominant culture that doesn’t need extra protection – that’s perfectly true. But on the other hand, isn’t it counterproductive to tell people to identify with whatever part of Eurocentric culture they want while installing barriers that discourage them from adopting elements from any other culture?
Here, I feel like I must also talk about myself. My cultural knowledge and background only give me enough authority to have a say on very few cultures – really only about two. I am Taiwanese by birth and Canadian by naturalization. I can only claim full fluency in English and Mandarin, but I have also learned Japanese, Taiwanese, and Spanish (in descending level of fluency). I have never lived in Japan and my Japanese speaking skills are rather rusty, but I comprehend the language enough to read most things that I need to and translyricize an occasional song. I don’t know if Taiwan having been a Japanese colony gives me any shadow points, for anyone counting, but I suppose I grew up under the influence of Japanese culture.
About “moyatori.” It came after I decided to name my blog “The Moyatorium” by combining “もやもや” (moyamoya) – a Japanese onomatopoeia meaning “hazy,” “fuzzy,” or “gloomy” – with the English word “moratorium.” “Moratorium” in the context of psychology, not law or economics. I vibed with this pun so much at the time that I decided my name would be an extension of it, and that’s how “moyatori” occurred. It’s a name that is both an identity and an identity crisis, thanks to its angsty origin. The length of the four-syllable username came to intimidate me a bit over time, so I started identifying as just “Moya.” It’s not a real Japanese name (for better or for worse?), but it has inevitable Japanese roots.
Am I hiding behind this name? Yes, probably. What of my real name? Well, which one of them is “real”? Offline, I answer to three names depending on the context: my birth name, that name transliterated into English, and the English name that my mom chose for me out of her then-limited repertoire of English names. The first is used by my family and family friends, the second is used by the translation agency I freelance for and in legal contexts, and the third is for school, friends, and any other jobs. As a consequence of this, my names don’t have a strong sentimental value to me, and I rarely ever correct mispronunciations. “Moya” is only a fourth name, and perhaps, my favourite one yet, having created it and its associated identity from scratch. (But did I steal it from a culture that I’m not supposed to own?)
I don’t wish to be depriving an individual or cultural group of their identity by claiming it for my own. But does it have to be this way? Speaking about a culture I do have a more legitimate claim to, I wouldn’t mind people picking Chinese or Chinese-inspired usernames at all. But I guess Chinese isn’t cool enough for most people to want to do that, and I also don’t tend to find incidents of “appropriated” Chinese culture all that offensive.
The line between “appreciation” and “appropriation” has always been thin, and the category in which an action falls is, in my opinion, determined by attitude and depth of understanding of a culture. I tend to give more credit to intention. “Appropriation” is rarely driven by malicious intent, so even if someone misrepresents a culture due to inherent biases or a lack of understanding, I think it can be pardoned and possibly corrected. And if someone uses an element of a culture in a way different from what the original culture intended? I think it still comes down to what the attitude is.
Non-Asians using chopsticks for non-eating purposes? Go for it! Chopsticks in the hair is a convenient hairdo and interesting aesthetic, and I’d hate to be the only one allowed to do it just because my hair’s the right colour. People tattooing Chinese onto their skins? Ideally you’d do some research on what it means, but go for it! Nobody tattoos something onto their skin intending to make a permanent joke of themselves, so I see nothing wrong there. Writing books with Asian protagonists who embody no Asian traits at all? Well, it might not be a successful book, but you do you. Tagging stir-fry creations with #AsianInspired even if the only ingredients you use are broccoli, bell peppers, and chicken? I might secretly go “haha” before hitting the like button, but what a lovely effort!
I just think we should encourage attempts to embrace another culture rather than judge them incessantly. They might be shallow, but people must start somewhere, right? It bothers me that White people transliterating their names into Chinese beside their Twitter profile is somehow controversial. What’s disrespectful about a correct transliteration?
Of course, it’s important to have conversations that further our understandings of different cultures and raise awareness about healthy representation and how not to fetishize. These are difficult conversations with conclusions that nobody can agree on, but the more we have them the better. If we gate-keep access to cultures, these conversations won’t mean much at all?
These are, of course, only my thoughts regarding one of my cultures. I can’t speak for anyone from any other culture, or whether or not my username is offensive. I am inclined to believe that several of my opinions in this post are already triggering for some to read, but I hope that they were not too hurtful. They hadn’t been written to offend.
Please tell me what I don’t know and haven’t thought hard enough about! I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on the topic, and you are free to DM me if you want to talk about this in private. DMs always open.