My Nippon (Japan)

June 8, 2012
By
Hello,
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My name is Mae (name changed)
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I am 17
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I like ice cream.
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What?
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I do not understand
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These phrases began my career in learning the Japanese language.
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I began taking Japanese at age 6.
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Mostly because my father pushed me to
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I did not understand its full value
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The value of learning a new language that is half of me
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Yet it was the key.
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I felt a connection to the language,
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Though it was sometimes anguish,
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To wake up early each Saturday morning to learn a foreign language.
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The Japanese songs my father sang to me when I was a baby are deep within me
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I absorbed the songs and felt the meaning
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I can hear the sound of the words and see the letters written on a page
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Yet at that age, I didn’t quite understand
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And it was a great demand
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I made friends in the same situation as I
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We wouldn’t lie,
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Learning Japanese made us sigh.
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Still, we were immersed in the culture and it helped me feel connected to my family in Japan.
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We made mochi-tsuki and chanted “sa sa mochitsuki mochistuki, Ju go ya-san-no mochitsuki, Pettanko Pettanko” while pounding the rice to a drum beat.
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We threw soy beans at Oni to scare them away as tradition.
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We made sushi.
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I became accustomed to Japanese mannerisms, like bowing and saying “unnnn” for yes and nodding one’s head constantly.
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Saturday was our special day to spend living like a Japanese.
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I got to live it.
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My love for the culture was lit.
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Each year the school competed in a Japanese speech contest.
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A short speech in Japanese
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Spoken in front of a large audience and several judges.
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Writing in a language with a completely different format, different way of expressing meaning and emotion, was challenging.
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I was in terror having to perform my speech in front of native speakers.
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When it was time to leave for the speech contest, I hid in the closet
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I felt very low and did not want to go
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My parents and friend pulled me out
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Though I still pout.
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Tears streamed down my face
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But I wasn’t going to make a case
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So we left in haste.
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Traveling to Japan in utero
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Then at two, meeting my grandparents
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Then with my father to commemorate my grandmother on her 49th day of remembrance
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I was 10??

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I felt at home
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I heard the language which I had arduously studied each week, spoken fluidly.
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The sounds triggered my memories of my father singing and speaking to me
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This made me want to cry
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I wished I could be more connected to my Japanese side
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Fortunately for me, at 15 again traveling to Japan again with my cousin Shizue and her mom.
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The language soaked into my brain as I heard it each day
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Walking through the streets of Tokyo we smelled and ate our way. Soy sauce, steamy udon and soba, gyoza and teriyaki.

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The same smells that made my mother throw up when she was pregnant with me, are a comfort to me
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Each Sunday when my father is home I look forward to eating a Japanese breakfast of rice, miso soup, nori, sometimes fish, and natto beans.
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I cherish the trips I’ve taken to Japan, to experience the culture that is half of me.
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Thank you to my parents for giving this to me
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Now I understand
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It was given to me in a golden hand.

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