#OneTeam – Landen Lucas
Q: Your childhood was a little more worldly than most, correct?
A: “When I was born, my parents were overseas in Japan. They came back so I could be born in the United States. I went back over there when I was like 11 days old, or something like that, so I was on a long flight pretty early. I lived there until I was about four and a half. I grew up, made friends, and naturally as a kid, I began speaking Japanese because everyone around me would speak to me in Japanese. I would pick up on that. When I came back to the U.S. and started school (about five or six years old), my mom put me in a Japanese boarding school and I went there until fifth grade. That was just Japanese all day. We had one hour of English a day, but that’s not much. I got to the point where I was better at Japanese than English. That’s when my mom decided to put me back in Japan for middle school, and I studied there for about a year-and-a-half in a small town. She decided to move away from Tokyo, so I had to be immersed. We moved to a small traditional town with no Americans and almost no English. There were some struggles but we made it through.”
Q: The first time you lived there, your dad was playing professional basketball in Tokyo, the second time around was much different. Which was an “easier” style of living for Americans living in Japan?
A: “We were around a lot of American tourists and everything is translated (to English) in Tokyo. The second time I lived there, we went down south into a town maybe the size of Lawrence – just very traditional Japanese. It’s called Fukui.”
Q: How did elementary school in the U.S. compare to public school in Japan?
A: “It was different. The way they do things is extremely different; it took a while to catch on. That was hard because of how traditional everyone was. People were really set on doing things there way and it took a couple months to get used to. Once I did, it was good. I thought about staying for high school, because they start at seventh grade there, but I really liked basketball. I decided it would be better to come back.”
Q: When you came back to the U.S. for middle school, what was that experience like?
A: “When I came back for the second time, it was my first time in public school. It was different because, when I came back after all speaking Japanese for so long, I needed some speech classes and I had some problems adjusting to English. I grew up with Japanese teachers my whole life and now I was going to an English public school. It was almost like I was a foreigner here. I went to seventh and eighth grade here, which was a struggle, but when I got to high school, it was all good.”
Q: Did you actually feel more Japanese than American?
A: “That’s funny because when I was younger, I always told people I was Japanese. Then when I came back here it was hard. When I was there (Japan) it was weird because I didn’t really know anything, but when I came back (U.S.) I didn’t know where I fit in for a while. Eventually I got through some things and did fine here. It was a weird adjustment going back-and-forth.”
Q: Did you stand out in Japan, being a black, tall guy?
A: “Over there it was different. Besides my height, I want to say I fit in more so than my mom. She had blonde hair and the people over there have a little bit darker skin. I still stood out a lot, but my mom did more. It was weird because people would just look at us funny when we were together, but they didn’t realize I spent most of my life growing up in Japan. It was also weird being looked at as a foreigner, when it felt like we were there for a long time. Coming back to America, they expected me to act a certain way, because other people thought I had grown up in America. It’s strange how the expectations changed. They expected me to act as a foreigner in Japan when I was comfortable there, but when I came back to America they expected me to act normal. I was just new to the whole situation.”
Q: What were some cultural adjustments you had to make in Japan?
A: “You had to take your shoes off and put on these other shoes you wear in class, like little slippers. There’s a lot of small things, one of them is really shocking to me but I kind of understand it. I went to school there for a while, and eventually, some kids tried to pick fights with me. This is in the sixth grade. I was getting pretty old, so I was pretty big. There were other kids in the school that were pretty big, too. I don’t know what it was, but I would piss them off, and they would come up to me and fight me. The first couple times I wouldn’t fight back because the last thing I wanted was to get kicked out of school. I’m thinking about how here in America if you throw a punch you have to deal with the consequences. I was looking at the teachers and these kids weren’t getting in trouble and I was confused. One day my mom noticed that I had gotten beat up. She started questioning me about what’s going on, and so we went to the principle and found out that fighting was allowed in schools to eliminate the possibility of someone building up anger and bringing guns to school. If you have a problem, as long as it stays controlled, it was okay. It’s almost like hockey rules. I was really surprised by that, but once they gave me the permission, it took probably two more fights before I hit back. But I thought it was interesting how those guys don’t hold grudges at all. If they had a problem, they would express it and they would move on. I don’t know if this was traditional to that small town or overall schooling in Japan. But you never really hear about mass shootings over there, maybe they’ve got something going for them.”
Q: Which culture was more accepting? Moving to Japan? Or moving to America?
A: “It’s definitely harder in America to get accepted. Mainly because of the expectations. They expected a certain thing. In Japan, they expected me to be dumb and then I surprised them in a good way. Here they expected me to be more normal, but when I didn’t really understand things it was a bad thing. It probably took a little longer to adjust here.”
Q: So you really felt more like a foreigner in America?
A: “I definitely did. It was weird and it was hard, especially when you’re going through that awkward phase in life when you don’t understand certain things. I was definitely struggling and I’m obviously happy with my decisions now. I’m glad it all worked out in the end, and I’ve learned a lot from it.”
Q: Was basketball the reason behind your decision to move back?
A: “Yeah. I still wasn’t great at basketball when I was making that decision, but I wanted to play at a high level, at least in high school. I didn’t know how far it would take me, though. Watching my dad grow up playing, I just figured it would fun to come to America and play. When I was looking at high schools in Japan, they all had basketball teams that were trying to get me to come play, but it just didn’t feel the same. I decided to come back and I’m happy with that decision. At the end of the day, I didn’t have the slightest idea that basketball would take me this far, but I’m glad I made that choice.”
Q: Did basketball help make the adjustment to the U.S easier?
A: “Being on a team is hard, too. That’s just a new thing (how often you’re around those guys). But, the basketball itself definitely helped me. Once I got to high school it was different. Middle school, you’re playing on different club teams instead of representing your school. People didn’t understand what you were doing. Once I got to high school, my freshman year, I was on varsity and doing well. That’s when it probably when it helped me a lot more than anything. People heard my story a little more and I was adjusting easier. My freshman year of high school was way better than middle school. Basketball helped me get through, if I was a normal student it would have been harder.”
Q: Do you still speak fluent Japanese?
A: “I can understand a lot, just by piecing together what I know. Speaking, I probably know as much as I did comparing to my third-grade year of Japanese. It’s frustrating because I spent so much time learning and understanding it. I see things and I know them, but the reading and writing part is hard to keep up with. Speaking and understanding, I lost some basics, proper grammar, but I’m better with that. If I went back I would make it through. I could communicate, but not at the fluency I once had when I lived there. I still know a good amount, plus I study here to get back to basics. I understand most of the stuff that’s going on. It’s good to start again here (in his classes) and learn the basic parameters because personally, most the stuff I learned came from just being over there.”
Q: What team did your dad play for?
A: “He played college for Oregon and then he played a year in the NBA with the Blazers and Supersonics. Eventually, he found out he was a little too short. He’s Jamari’s (Traylor) height, but plays center. So they tried to make him a ‘3’ in the NBA, and he’s just not that player. So then he went to Austria, he finished in Japan. When he played in Tokyo, for this team in Tokyo called the Japan Energy.”
Q: Did your parents speak Japanese to you when you were home?
A: “My dad only knew basketball terms. My mom only knew shopping terms, so I knew more than they did because I was using it a lot more. The second time I went back, my mom didn’t know much at all. So, I remember there was a work-related problem where we had to go to court, I don’t remember exactly, but it was something that was really formal. There were no translators in the city that could translate English, which is just weird. So I had to go and be her translator for her. So, I real nervous, but my mom only knew “set a ball screen,” “cut to the hoop,” and “dunk the ball.” Basketball terms. They really don’t know much. They didn’t speak much to me at home, but I always did around my friends. Families in Japan are always hanging out with each other. They would speak in English because most of the families knew English. (They were my dad’s teammates). I would speak to the kids in Japanese because all they knew was Japanese. So I ended up being better than my parents.”
Q: Do you still have friends over there?
A: “I do. I skype with them every now-and-then. I can practice my Japanese this way and It’s cool because they try to practice English with me.”