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A Dream I've Fancied for Years

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A long time ago, my aunt was given an opportunity to take part in the JET program, where college students took and immersive study into the cultural and educational worlds of Japan. She went there for two years in a row, and she was so wonderful to have that they wanted to hire her. But she politely declined, explaining that it would be hard to visit her family. Before she left, she had made a lot of new friends, and she knew that she’d keep them forever.

When she came back to America, she told our family that she’d be having a guest from Japan coming over. I was about five at the time, and was not culturally experienced whatsoever. But I was amazed when I went to Grandma’s house, because, for the first time, I was meeting someone new and different.

Harumi was her name. At least, all that I was able to pronounce at the time. She taught me origami. All day we would make shuriken and frogs and planes, and she’d tell me how to play with them. At night, I ate my very first (and most certainly not my last!) sushi roll. The night before I had to go back to Cedar Rapids, she gave me a New Years’ card with writing on the back. I couldn’t read much of it at the time, but I kept it safe.

On the way home, I had realized that I had forgotten the letter in Aunt Bethany’s room. We were already in Clinton, though, so I couldn’t go back to get it.

It appeared several years later, in a box of calligraphy set supplies that Aunt Bethany had gotten for me, a box that I promised not to touch until I understood how to use it. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I had begun to perform stroke-ordered kanji calligraphy that I found it. It was a small white envelope, with “To Madalyn and Blake” written in neat English.

Figures, I thought. Blake had been two years old at the time- still a baby. Of course the family had played with him. Although it had his name on the front of it, there was something that made it very special to me and me alone. I pulled out the calendar- a pop up of a flower garden catching my attention immediately, along with the gold numbers that created a date: 2003.

I smiled, the warmth filling my heart again. I had remembered that day. The day she had given me her own origami books, even though I was illiterate with them. The day the family of what was then only four had climbed into our old minivan and driven off. Most of all, though- it was the day that I was crying so hard that I couldn’t see because I had forgotten it.

I flipped the card over, where a gold “The Season’s Best Wishes and a Happy New Year” was written, and found a message:

Hi! How have you been? Do you remember me? I always remember that I played with you. This is a small present for you. Write and let me know about you.

From Harumi (JAPAN)

It was in that moment that I wanted to learn how to write and read Japanese. I had already been a fanatic of anime, but it wasn’t enough to motivate me into taking Japanese as my second language. This, however, certainly was. I didn’t know why, but those same tears from my forgetfulness long ago came back to me, only this time, they were warmer.

When I entered high school, I was a good student, learning Japanese along with the class, not really talking much. I was not as good of a learner in other classes- math especially. I was one of many students who took a liking to my second language as well as my first one, and often times, when I was paired up with my friend Cameron, I was helpful in grammar while he helped me learn kanji.

I remember Sensei showing us a picture of the Golden Temple in Kyoto, Japan- the same picture she uses as her desktop background. We asked her why that was her background. She told the class that when she saw that picture for the first time, she made it her goal to get there.

I guess the same thing happened to me one day when I saw the exchange student, Kozo Kamimura, in the hallways. He was a yearlong student, and at first he was very, VERY shy. He made friends quickly, and even joined the jazz band at our school. He was practically a popular kid.

I was very shy, and I had trouble speaking in Japanese, which was why I always appeared as though I had a crush on him and always stuttered. I wanted to be his friend a lot. And although I’ve been getting a bit bolder in my speaking, I’ve come to realize that the best way to do it is to immerse oneself in the truest of its settings- the country of Japan itself.

This year, we had begun with our “Shourai no Yume” (Dream for the Future) projects. I didn’t know what to do. At the same time, I was beginning to think about colleges and what I wanted to do with my life. For three years or so I had wanted to take Japanese, and when I learned I was good at it, I had wanted to go to Japan as see its beauty for myself. As it turns out, I was (and still am) also very good in Language Arts, with mechanics, syntax, and grammar. My dream for the future, I realized, was to teach English in Japan.

I am very shy of talking to people in Japanese, especially when there are English- speakers around who think I sound a bit funny. However, Japanese and the country’s culture is more of a dream for me than anything. I love the sound of the language, and I only wish to experience it more frequently- fifty-five minutes every day doesn’t always cut it.

But overall, I want to go on this trip because I have a curious and unquenchable mind. I want to know what it’s like outside the country- I’ve never stepped foot outside of the United States, let alone the East half of it. I want to feel the difference and understand, because although a picture may hold a thousand words, none of those words will be able to compare to actually going.

Most of all, I want to go on this trip in honor and gratitude of those who I’ve met along the road, to help shape what I want to do in the future. Aunt Bethany, Harumi, Cain-sensei, Kamimura-senpai, there’s something that I can’t even begin to tell you. I want to start a story, and I want it to start with these words: ???????????????????????





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