How I weaved my culture into my writing in ‘My Name is Miya’

How I weaved my culture into my writing in ‘My Name is Miya’


By Mio Debnam 

I love stories, and I’ve been reading and writing them nearly all of my life, but although I’m Japanese, because I grew up in Hong Kong reading English books, as a child I never once read any stories that were about Japanese (or even Asian!) kids like me, who were living ‘ordinary’ lives.  

The only Japanese people I found in stories were thunder-voiced emperors or bewitched maidens in fairy tales! I thought that never seeing someone like me in stories was normal. Even the stories I wrote featured a cast of characters who were all blond and blue eyed!  

Embracing cultural diversity in storytelling

It was only years later that I started to write stories that contained slices of my life – writing about the food my mum cooked and taught me to cook, our everyday habits – like taking off our shoes indoors, and saying “itadakimasu!” before we ate our meals (It’s the way Japanese people acknowledge that we’re about to eat something yummy, and thank the cook!), as well as special family moments – like celebrating Japanese festivals. 

My characters still experience the same feelings and got into the same scrapes that characters in my previous stories got into – as many everyday things and feelings are universal – but now they also do things that reflect my Japanese culture, and sometimes they even borrow some Chinese and British cultural habits that I’ve been exposed to, growing up as a ‘third culture kid’! 

These days, there are so many great books that have characters from all over the world. That makes me happy as I get a kick out of seeing reflections of my own culture in other people’s stories too. I also love reading and learning about cultures which are different from mine. It’s like getting to peep through a window into their world. I love finding out how we are different and yet so alike. Even though we come from different cultures, inside, we are mostly alike. We all laugh and cry, we all feel anger, love, sadness, joy, boredom and excitement.  

Connecting with Miya 

I really enjoyed writing ‘My Name is Miya’ because it weaves in so many threads from my own life. Not just about having a close relationship with a Japanese grandma who loved to cook, about being in a multi-racial family (which mine is), and having fun with friends, but about being shy and feeling insecure, the heartbreak of falling out with your best friend, seeing how dementia can change the people you love, being sad, angry, scared and lonely and that feeling like your world is spinning out of control – and not being able to talk to anyone about it. 

‘My Name is Miya’ is fiction, and Miya’s life is very different from mine… but she does experience many things, good and bad, that touched my life too. Luckily, both Miya and I have loving families and friends and managed, each in our own way, to get through the tough times, to a point where, even though things were not completely ‘fixed’ it was better. 

Miya found it helpful to sort out how she was feeling by drawing the things that go on in her life. I found that writing a diary and finding a few trusted people to confide in helped me. Another thing that gave me comfort was reading about other kids who were going through similar problems that I was. It made me feel less alone and reading about how they coped, helped me think of ways I could help myself too. 


I hope that if you read ‘My Name is Miya’ you will enjoy seeing how her life is similar to yours, and also in what way it’s really different… and that Miya’s story will touch your heart!