"You've seriously never been to a mall? Where have you been?" That's the kind of question I've heard a lot since arriving in Washington this fall.
In the beginning when I'd hear people refer to American foods or stores, they may as well have been speaking a foreign language. Even stranger is the fact that I'm American. Sometimes, I get frustrated and annoyed that I feel so left out. The United States is like an entirely different country to me and here I am in the middle of it. I'm slowly working to make this place home.
So where is my home? My father is in the military, and since I was ten I've lived in Yokohama, Japan (about an hour from Tokyo). Living there gave me an incredible opportunity to learn about Japan's culture and grow up differently than most Americans. I remember wanting to go "home" at first, but as the months passed, and then years, it became evident that I was home. The country I at first found so foreign became familiar and comfortable and wonderful. I grew to love and embrace it.
Japan is an amazing country. I spent my days commuting to friends' houses by train. Thus, I learned to read Japanese so that I could improve my directional skills. I spent weekends in Tokyo with friends, clubbing until the crack of dawn with people who didn't speak a word of English. Occasionally, I would visit my grandmother and we would walk to the temples. They were grand, with statuesque gates with ringing bells and people writing on slips of paper what they wished for (prosperity, good health and a long, happy life). We would go to Denny's too, but not the one you know: when I ordered a hamburger, it came with rice. Sometimes, when it was late, my friends and I would go for walks and try to look for stars, but we never could see any. Japan has too much pollution and light. This didn't bother me, though, since the city lights sparkled like stars anyway.
While these things were a lot of fun, what I remember most about Japan are the people. They have a quiet manner and are, for the most part, soft-spoken and humble. Their generosity is mind-blowing. I remember an elderly lady who owned a small store. Whenever I walked by, she would smile and wave me in to give me candy. I didn't know her and she spoke no English, but her kindness touched me. While there were exceptions, for the most part, the Japanese were like this. They quietly try to give you something small, but extra, for your day. They are never outspoken and rarely loud, but their actions speak louder than words.
When I graduated from high school, I knew I would be returning to my other "home." My dad is a Washington state resident, so I booked a 14-hour flight and left behind the country that had become my home. I was incredibly homesick the first week, and there are times now that I still wish I could be in Japan.
Washington is a great place and I love college. I'm having more fun than ever and meeting people every day. However, I will never forget the place I call home. Sure, maybe I've never had a Krispy Kreme donut (apparently they're really good), but I have acquired a taste for sushi and learned to speak Japanese. I can see the stars now too, but I find myself looking for the sparkling city lights. They don't have those in Pullman.
Sometimes I wish I felt more comfortable here and knew more about the U.S. There are times that I catch myself feeling wistful about not growing up here. I regret that I didn't get to do things like drive to the mall or eat at fast-food places with my friends. It seems ridiculous that I can be an American and not know anything about this place. But I will in time. To be honest, I wouldn't change the last eight years for anything.
I may have missed out on some experiences, but what I had abroad more than made up for it. Maybe I'm a Japanican, an American who grew up in Japan. It may not be a technical term, but it's beautiful, quirky and memorable - just like my time there. Japanican. Now, that has a nice ring to it.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.