KARACHI: “You know, when I see sushi, I feel so Japanese! But when I see Biryani, I feel so Pakistani. That’s the thing. I am both Japanese and Pakistani, at the same time.”
Anika Shaikh may be an up and coming model but a definite force to be reckoned with. She exudes a child-like innocence but there’s a fire burning within her; the fire to make her mark in a competitive world.
Donning a stylish pixie-cut, some strands of hair fall into Shaikh’s eyes and cover her alabaster skin, which glows in the dark. It’s a sight to behold as she carefully munches on her Bun Kebab at a café here in Karachi.
At first, you may think this young woman is just another foreigner exploring Pakistan but in reality, her roots are deeply embedded in the country. Born and raised in Japan, the 22-year-old has lived most of her life there. But she is half-Pakistani and Shaikh feels a strong connection to that. In fact, she wants to explore this side of her identity that she feels she cannot ignore.
“I used to have an identity issue. My mindset is more Japanese since I was born and raised there. But sometimes, I feel so isolated,” she tells The Express Tribune. “People ask a lot of questions like, ‘Do you often go back to Pakistan? I was like, ‘Wait, I’m totally Japanese like you.”
She continues, “Given my appearance, it is hard to tell. I don’t think I look fully Japanese or fully Pakistani. So in Japan, people never think I’m Japanese and the same happens in Pakistan. I used to ask myself which county I belong to but now I’ve stop thinking that way. I don’t base my identity to one country because it gives me a narrow view.”
Instead, Shaikh expresses herself through fashion. She is a rising model in Japan and has already featured in a myriad of publications, including Elle Japan. But ask her what the experience of being covered by an internationally renowned publication was like, she answers with surprising humility.
“It was actually my first time being featured in a magazine so the excitement was very indescribable. When I saw my face on the page, I got so proud and embarrassed at the same time,” she laughs. “I was like, ‘Oh, I’m on Elle magazine and a lot of people would see me!’ That was an unforgettable memory and it motivated me to further career.”
Shaikh’s father was born and raised in Hyderabad but fell in love with her Japanese mother, who can speak fluent Urdu and Arabic. The family now resides near the capital of Tokyo. But her bonding with both the maternal and paternal relatives is quite strong, despite the cross-cultural and geographical differences. “We gather and meet quite often, especially when there is a shaadi.”
Nonetheless, Shaikh admits that customs and lifestyles in both of her home countries are quite different. “A Japanese family can be more independent; they rarely gather together. I think it is really good that people cherish their families and meet often in Pakistan. I’m sure there is a warmth and love of family that you cannot get from your friends.”
Shaikh is particularly into skincare and her number one tip is to use sunscreen on a daily basis. She revealed that her daily skincare routine is “nothing special,” consisting of a simple oil and lotion after washing her face. “You should know your own skin condition and choose what you need,” advises the youngster. “But try not to keep your skin too dry. When I feel my skin feels dry, I often oil and steam it.
She also believes incorporating light exercise into her routine. For Shaikh, yoga is a must, as well as drinking lots of warm water. “I always carry a bottle of hot lemon grass green tea with me, even when it’s hot outside. I try not to cool my body too much because I have poor circulation. It helps warm my internal organs, which is good for my health, especially as a woman,” she says.
But there’s more to Shaikh than just beauty. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in British Studies from Tsuda University, Japan. The fashionista also keeps an avid interest in Pakistani history, so much so that she plans to write a book on the subject someday, with the hope that it will help the way Pakistan is perceived internationally.
“It really is a beautiful country. I hope this image will spread to Japan and the whole world. I keep trying my best to motivate myself as a model and an influencer.”