Yuki was born in Tokyo, Japan. Her father is from Fukushima, Japan and her mother is from Kyoto, Japan. Although she is Japanese, Yuki feels as though she is half Japanese and half British, as she has lived half of her life in each country. She has lived in Devon for 25 years, previously Torquay and now Exeter where she’s lived since 2006.
‘I came to the UK in 1993 to marry and live with a British man. The first few years were tough, stressful and I felt lonely as there were no other Japanese people (or even Asian people) in my community. I couldn’t get Japanese food locally so needed to go to London once a year to shop, or I’d ask my family to send goods from Japan. There was no internet back then so there was no way of checking on Japanese news, or keeping in touch with my family and friends easily.’
People she met kept asking ‘Why do you live here?’ and ‘Why you don’t want to live back in Japan?’ Sometimes Yuki felt rejected, as though she had made the wrong choice to live in rural Devon, and it would have been better to live in a bigger city where there are more ethnicities. ‘People on the street kept asking me which Chinese takeaway I was working at, and I’ve been asked “How much?” on the street in the middle of the day! But this happened long time ago when not many Asians were living in the area.’
Examples of more subtle discrimination include people assuming she was an au pair when with her child. ‘I was pushing a pushchair with my baby in it, and people were asking me “Are you working as a babysitter/au pair?” I think it’s because my children are mixed (British and Japanese) and they are paler than me. I didn’t know what to think about this.’ People have also stared at her, in a way that Yuki felt was questioning what a non-white person was doing here. As well as this, people have assumed she doesn’t understand or speak English well and is just visiting Devon.
At first when Yuki lived in Devon she felt isolated and outcasted. ‘I thought I shouldn’t be here, I doubted myself – maybe there was something I had done to offend them? I tried to involve myself in the local community (going to coffee mornings, attending courses and toddler groups) where I was mostly welcomed. But when I’m on the street I sometimes get anxious feelings from these previous bad experiences.’
In contrast to urban areas, Yuki says that rural areas tend to have mainly one ethnicity (white) and are more conservative – they often have a more narrow-minded attitude which isn’t very inviting for ‘outsiders’.
Nowadays, she says, things are much better since she has been living in Exeter. It is easy to get food or other Asian goods and because of the internet, it is easy to keep in touch with world. Also there are more internationals living in Exeter than the rest of Devon, which gives Yuki the opportunity to learn about other cultures. ‘I feel more accepted now and I can enjoy living here without worrying about being a minority.’
‘I have lived in Devon for over 25 years. I see it has been improving when it comes to accepting minorities but still there is a big gap in local people’s knowledge of ethnic minority cultures and heritage. Maybe the best way to change this is to make sure children also adults are getting good international culture not just religious culture, world history and geography education about the countries in the world where us minorities come from as well as actual interaction between locals and minorities and learn how the local minorities live.