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Multi-cultural Miyuki: bringing Japanese culture to Hong Kong

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Writer, runner, heritage educator, traveller. DB’s Miyuki Lynn is bringing Japan to Hong Kong’s Japanese residents the fun way. Elizabeth Kerr reports

Don’t be misled. Miyuki Lynn is, in her landmark 50th year, by no means getting forgetful. But when she waffles a bit when asked how long she’s been in Hong Kong, it’s proof of the universal constant that once somewhere becomes home, all temporal metrics fall by the wayside. “How long have I been here? Twenty? Eighteen years? The more time goes by the less you think about it. I’ve been in Hong Kong overall 25 years,” she says, clearly counting in her head, and finally settling on 19 – though that’s a fluid figure.

Miyuki, a travel writer, interpreter, school director and Tokyo native looks as poised as would be expected of former Cathay Pacific flight crew. Her posture is enviable but she doesn’t look uptight or imperious. She looks like every other HongKonger who became enamoured of the city on a visit – for Miyuki that was in 1993 – and eventually relocated. And like so many transplants it became home without her even realising it. Miyuki lived in Tokyo until she was nine before moving to the United States when her finance professional father got transferred. She finished high school and university in Kyoto (with a detour in Hawaii to finish uni in a bikini on Waikiki) but headed to the SAR in 1994 with Cathay. It was also a way to get back to her roots.

Teaching third-culture kids

“I wanted to live in Asia. I’d lived in the States for so long… I was curious about living in other parts of Asia,” Miyuki begins. Hawaii gave her a taste for a new world lifestyle, and returning to Japan wasn’t on the cards. “There were too many rules and too many things you couldn’t do in Japan. I didn’t want to work there,” she explains. It helped that her dad had moved to Hong Kong. The 19 years she’s referring to is the time she, her Cathay pilot husband – a New Zealand native –and their two secondary-school children have lived in Discovery Bay. Miyuki is philosophical about her sense of self; she’s grown into her cosmopolitan skin, but it quietly lies at the foundation of why she started a school.

“I haven’t lived [in Japan] in so long I can’t really say I ‘miss’ it. I’ve lived most of my life in Hong Kong. I lived in New York and Seattle, and I went to university in Hawaii. I don’t really consider it ‘home.’ I was born there. I am Japanese, but…”

That school is the Hong Kong Japanese Supplementary School (JSS), which was founded to teach language and culture to Japanese and mixed-heritage kids (from kindergarten to roughly 13) living in Hong Kong about their, well, heritage. When Miyuki’s son was in P1, she started looking around for the kind of heritage classes she’d taken as a Japanese child in the US and came up empty. “There were plenty of classes that taught the language but nothing that taught the heritage and the experience,” she recalls. The classes on offer weren’t quite what she was looking for, and it turned out she wasn’t alone. An informal survey, after striking on the idea of starting her own school (she has a partner), found many of the other 15,000 to 20,000 Japanese residents in the SAR wanted their kids to have that education too.

It was off to the races. As is the case with most things in Hong Kong, rental space was the biggest challenge, but eventually Miyuki found a school willing to board JSS in Yau Ma Tei, and another partner in the Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong. The self-funded JSS officially opened in 2011, after a fundraiser in Causeway Bay (where the second campus is), with 88 students: Miyuki had hoped for 20. JSS currently has about 180, and there’s a waiting list.

Miyuki uses a Japanese government curriculum for language and JSS’s own curriculum for heritage, which encompasses everything from New Year mochi-pounding to visits to Yakult’s factory in Kwun Tong. The school is not about indoctrination. It’s about recognition and understanding identity, something increasingly important in a shrinking world.

Miyuki explains: “I’m Japanese, my kids’ dad is from New Zealand, my kids were born in Hong Kong. They’re classic third-culture kids, and there are lots of kids like that in Hong Kong. They can lose their identity; they don’t know who they are. I went through that growing up in the States. Both my parents are Japanese and I still felt lost. So, it’s important for them to understand where they’re from (both parents’ sides), where they’re born and where they live. I want that for my children and plenty of other parents do too.”

Travel writing on the run

Naturally, Miyuki isn’t just co-running a school, she’s putting her history with Cathay to good use by continuing her travel writing – in Japanese. To that end, she recently published a travel running guide, so to speak, designed to get people out and running internationally. Miyuki herself started running after her son was born and 海外のいろんな マラソン走ってみた! [Running All Over the World!], her third book, details the marathons she’s run (often with her children) in 10 different countries.

“I’m more of a travel, fun runner. I don’t really care how I do as long as I finish,” she says with a laugh. That attitude is blasphemy to anyone with a competitive streak, but Miyuki is happy to enjoy the place as much as the workout. Her book covers marathons in Vietnam, Nepal and Malaysia (up Kinabalu) among others. One of her favourites is a wheelchair-friendly course in Angkor Wat, which winds among the famous temples. Her times there are, admittedly, not that good. “I stop a lot,” she says with a chuckle.

This summer she’s off to South Africa for the Big Five Marathon. Known as the wildest race of  them all, no fences, no rivers, nothing at all separates the runners from the African wildlife. “You run with rangers,” Miyuki deadpans. “I think I’ll finish that in record time.”

But if this guide does well, Miyuki hopes to write a second edition going in the other direction, for overseas runners to try Japan’s routes. In light of the attention the country is getting in the lead up to the Summer Olympic Games, Miyuki is likely on to something, and she is indeed focusing on inbound travel stories at the moment.

“There are 47 prefectures in Japan and I want to run all of them,” she gushes. She’s done six to date, and she calls running there “amazing,” thanks, in part, to the warm welcome runners receive.

“The Nagoya Women’s Marathon is the most interesting,” explains Miyuki. “I think it’s the biggest [of its kind] in the world and it’s about 60,000 runners. At the finish line there are men in tuxedoes to present a blue box from Tiffany. You don’t get a medal: you get a Tiffany necklace.”

For the immediate future though Miyuki’s running around will be centred on her kids; she’s packing both of them off to New Zealand for the new school term. It’s her daughter’s first in Aotearoa, and it was her choice. “I was happy for her to finish here, but she wanted to go,” says Miyuki. Like mother, like daughter.

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