As I am a foreigner, it is very common that people ask me the same question at first time I meet them: 'Where are you from?'
Nonetheless I don't get it offensive, I don't answer straight. It's boring to say something they expect me to say. So I usually answer: 'I'm from Okinawa.'
I have observed three different types of response to it. One of them is that they completely don't know what country I'm from. The second – they are little confused not knowing if it is a country or a city. Then they ask: 'But is Okinawa a part of Japan, is it not?'. The third response I meet sometimes – not very often but neither very rarely – is: "Oh, you are from Okinawa! Wow, I practised Karate.'
Then I develop mixed feeling which is sort of nice that they know about Okinawa but later on I'm anxiously afraid they might be going to talk about films like 'Karate Kid' or maybe 'Kill Bill' or some Hollywood Karate films that in my opinion have nothing to do with Okinawa.
Yes, Okinawa is the Japanese island where Karate was invented. It started on the island long time ago when Okinawa even didn't belong to Japan yet, by the influence of Chinese Kung-Fu.
I'm quite surprised that in Warsaw I've met many people who have practised Karate seriously, more than in any other country I have lived (except Japan of course). My anxious prediction that they are going to talk about those stupid films was often useless. Many times they knew more about Karate than I did. They were serious Karatekas.
In fact, I have never practised Karate, however I've seen it everywhere on the island I grew up. I was very impressed, when I was a small kid, when some adults broke bricks or roof tiles by bare hands, and while I tried to break anything by myself – I was just hurt. It seemed to me a kind of magic or something that I wanted to be able to do but wasn't able be so serious about.
I've trained many kinds of sport. When I was ten years old I started to practise Kendo and quieted after three years of training. Later I trained ping-pong for three years and later hand ball for three years. My experience shows practising Budo sports like Karate, Kendo or Judo is different from playing ball games. It was more like being in a military. It's actually true as long time ago it was trained for not-being-killed and for killing-if-necessary. When I say 'military', many people might find it as aggressive and brutal as men's world, but I do not mean that. That was more about being disciplined and being mentally strong, rather than just being physically strong. And that was quite tough for twelve years old. I needed something more enjoyable.
My friend Andrzej called me one day to say that his six-years-old daughter Matylda was practising Karate and she wanted me to come to see her practising. Matylda is a very sweet girl so I promised to go to see her practising, of course. At her practice I saw small kids running and laughing. The trainer was making effort to make kids enjoy the practice. When a kid didn't listen to his master, then the kid had to sit on the corner just watching other kids enjoying the practice, until the master said he could get back to the group. I was shocked, it was quite different from my concept of Karate or any Japanese Budo. In Japan, I wouldn't expect practice could be so much fun and it would be more discipline.
Small kids love running and physical interference with other kids. The practice I saw in Warsaw was built on that children's psychology and well understood that points. In spite of the fact the discipline seemed much less than I would expect there, the worry was not need. I saw teenagers and some adults practising in the next room who were very serious about it and it was what I would see in Japan as well. It needs a little more time for kids to understand it and they were too small to be serious and quiet.
Matylda was so happy I came and so busy showing me off and it was very nice experience for me too – seeing my culture travelled through the the world, being accepted so widely and deeply and somehow locally modified but nicely adjusted. But first of all, I was happy that Matylda loved practising Karate.
I often discovered a good part of my culture when it was picked up by other culture – like Karate being practised by Poles or Okinawan music played by Americans. It was always worth checking out what others know about my culture.
So, I will continue telling them 'I'm from Okinawa' when they ask me 'Where are you from?'.