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I can still remember the five year old boy stepping off of a plane from Japan, finding himself in an entirely different world. Dazed by the lethargic trip from my home country halfway around the earth, I failed to fully take in my new surroundings. Although the airport was filled with various different dialects, English chatter seemed to be the most prevalent. Store signs spelled out words that I assumed meant something, but otherwise could not comprehend. The airport’s intercom chattered directions that I could not understand. As I followed my parents through the seemingly enormous building to find our next flight, I found myself coming to a realization that this bizarre world that I had found myself in is now my home.

My first experiences in an American classroom were far from spectacular. Up until that point, I was used to seeing only Japanese kids in a classroom, so the level of racial diversity that I saw in my new class was staggering, and a little bit isolating. White kids, Chinese kids, and Hispanic kids were all present, but not a trace of a Japanese kid anywhere. No one was there to listen to my not yet translatable thoughts.When the teacher asked me a question, I could never understand what she was trying to ask me. Even the help of my classmates could not change my confusion, and I felt even more isolated as a result. The innocent kindergarten classroom felt like a hostile territory.

The only place that I could find any kind of solace during my first few months in America was the Japanese language school that my parents put me and my siblings in as a way to retain our Japanese identity in a very different culture. I could easily converse with basically every one of my classmates and I had no issues with understanding the concepts, as they were all in Japanese. During the first year or so,the place felt more like home to me than the American environment that surrounded me.

Eleven years have passed since I took my first step into the United States, and those early memories of my arrival and my first English classroom seem incredibly distant to me. By this point, English has become a second language, and I have no problems comprehending a teacher’s question. I have become a much better participant in the classroom, and writing English sentences has become second nature. This is the result of being exposed to American culture for the past decade. Although I am proud of my ability to assimilate into American society, it is at the same time alarming to my Japanese identity.

The weekly Japanese school that I continued to attend ever since I started living in America became more of a burden as the years pressed on. My constant exposure to the English language and American culture in general forced the Japanese aspect of my life to take a backseat, and I lost the enthusiasm that I used to have in learning Japanese. As a result, my development in speaking and writing Japanese slowed down significantly, and I would often find myself struggling to remember various kanji (Japanese characters) on my weekly exams. I also began to fall behind on my communication skills as well, for I found myself having more and more difficulties in communicating with my Japanese peers and my family members. I spoke less Japanese throughout the day and more English. The Japanese portion of my life just became not as important as it once was.

So for a very long time, I blew off Japanese school as much as I possibly could by not paying attention. I loathed having to get up early on Saturdays to go and attend the school and I rarely behaved in class. I constantly expressed my desire to drop out, and as a result I learned very little Japanese for quite a while. Yet I never did drop out. I continued to attend long after I told everyone in my class that I was going to quit, and I still attend the school to this day as often as I can. I could never pinpoint an exact reason as to why I stayed, so I just assumed that it was a matter of bad timing and the fact that my parents never offered an opportunity to let me quit. However, lately it has become very clear why I never stopped showing up to Japanese school? I wanted to stay Japanese as much as I could. When I look around my house, I see a great deal of Japanese influence all around. Dozens of Japanese movies, novels, and comics stacked our shelves. My parents go out of their way to purchase Japanese products at Asian markets. My father subscribed to two television providers in order to watch Japanese programs. My mother cooks Japanese food every day, and even prepares traditional feasts on appropriate Japanese holidays. It became clear to me that my parents were not willing to give up their traditional way of life just because it is harder to maintain it in another country. By seeing this, I realized that their enthusiasm in staying Japanese has influenced me as well. I decided that although I may not necessarily be good at speaking or writing Japanese, trying to learn it and speak it was at least worth it.

At times I wonder what my life would have been had my parents not made the decision to move to the United States, but I usually fail to come up with any sort of scenario, and I don’t want to. I feel truly grateful to have been able to live in America, and I would not wish to have it any other way. Moving to America allowed me to appreciate my culture by solidifying my Japanese identity more than I probably ever would have had I stayed in Japan. Looking back at the first few months of living in America, constantly being lost in translation, I remember the sense of confusion that I always had, but at the same time I feel assurance. I am assured that my life eventually became easier, and that the little five year old Japanese boy struggling to understand a single English sentence will eventually realize the importance of his language.

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