My Nippon (Japan)

June 8, 2012
By Anonymous

My name is Mae (name changed)
I am 17
I like ice cream.
I do not understand
These phrases began my career in learning the Japanese language.
I began taking Japanese at age 6.
Mostly because my father pushed me to
I did not understand its full value

The value of learning a new language that is half of me
Yet it was the key.
I felt a connection to the language,
Though it was sometimes anguish,
To wake up early each Saturday morning to learn a foreign language.
The Japanese songs my father sang to me when I was a baby are deep within me
I absorbed the songs and felt the meaning
I can hear the sound of the words and see the letters written on a page

Yet at that age, I didn’t quite understand
And it was a great demand
I made friends in the same situation as I
We wouldn’t lie,
Learning Japanese made us sigh.
Still, we were immersed in the culture and it helped me feel connected to my family in Japan.
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.
We threw soy beans at Oni to scare them away as tradition.
We made sushi.
I became accustomed to Japanese mannerisms, like bowing and saying “unnnn” for yes and nodding one’s head constantly.
Saturday was our special day to spend living like a Japanese.
I got to live it.
My love for the culture was lit.

Each year the school competed in a Japanese speech contest.
A short speech in Japanese
Spoken in front of a large audience and several judges.
Writing in a language with a completely different format, different way of expressing meaning and emotion, was challenging.
I was in terror having to perform my speech in front of native speakers.
When it was time to leave for the speech contest, I hid in the closet
I felt very low and did not want to go
My parents and friend pulled me out
Though I still pout.
Tears streamed down my face
But I wasn’t going to make a case

So we left in haste.
Traveling to Japan in utero
Then at two, meeting my grandparents
Then with my father to commemorate my grandmother on her 49th day of remembrance
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I was 10??

I felt at home
I heard the language which I had arduously studied each week, spoken fluidly.
The sounds triggered my memories of my father singing and speaking to me
This made me want to cry
I wished I could be more connected to my Japanese side

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
Now I understand

It was given to me in a golden hand.

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The author's comments:
This expresses something about myself that is important to me.

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