Kokochi is a japanese word meaning a warm comfortable place.
Mie provides the content and all the charm. Dav provides the coding, site design and other technical tomfoolery.
How I got to Japan:
I was born in New York, NY. My mother is Japanese and my dad is American. I don't know or relate to NY because by the time I started recording memories, we were living in a tiny town called Essex in CT. There, my memories are colored by the big rock in the back forest, all my 30+ stuffed animals I had, Becky my beloved beagle, grilled cheese sandwiches, and my friends Amy, Reeve, and Eliza. At this time, I had NO CLUE I was half-Japanese. Didn't register one bit although I remember being teased. I just knew my mom spoke some strange sounds every once in a while on the phone.
One summer, my mom took my brother and I to Yokohama to visit our grandparents, people I had met once as a teeny baby. I remember riding the train from Narita sitting in front of them feeling some sort of connection but I couldn't speak to them. They were just smiling and were so cute. My brother and I had a great summer running around the neighborhood with water guns, exploring Yokohama, going to the summer festivals, being followed by kids who would mimic our English, having fun ourselves with the challenge of not knowing Japanese (i.e. guessing which trains would take us home and not freaking out if we were wrong), and listening to the Far East Network's Mystery Theater once a week (the one English language entertainment we treasured). It was a fun summer because we were there to explore and knew it was temporary.
Got back to Essex and it turned out my dad had been laid off and got a job in Tokyo with Sony (of course all this adult negotiation happened while we were in Japan without my brother and I knowing). I had NO IDEA what moving to Japan meant. I do remember crying a lot when Becky was adopted away and I had to say good-bye to my friends.
Arrived in Tokyo when I was 9. My brother, who is 4 years older, went to an American school, and for some reason, I never questioned why I was placed in the neighborhood Japanese elementary school. I was the first 'foreigner' to attend so they weren't sure how to deal with me and I sure didn't know what was going on.
I do remember becoming very astute in picking up how to follow everyone. In Essex, I never wore skirts, but a couple days into attending the Japanese school where ALL girls wore skirts, I came home and asked my mom to buy me a skirt. When she obliged and allowed me to buy more than a few, I knew that following must be very important. So my mom and I settled into a pattern with the ultimate goal of getting me to fit in. And this wasn't easy for her either. For example, on our first school picnic outing, I brought my favorite PBJ sandwich. When I came home, I asked my mom that next time, I would need a homemade bento instead, like everyone else. So next time she made a beautiful bento using a traditional lacquer box that I liked. But I was teased and so when I came home that time, I informed her I needed a plastic 'cute & girly' bento box to match with everyone else. And so on and so forth.
Meanwhile I somehow learned Japanese. I don't remember the whole process - but I know it wasn't easy. Lots of crying and frustrated tantrums upon discovering that a kanji character I worked so hard to learn actually had SEVERAL ways of reading and it DEPENDED on what seemed arbitrary combinations with other kanji. "It's not fair, I wanna go home!" I would say. I also remember having a special tutor.
My elementary school teacher had me write a diary everyday to practice Japanese and she would write back responses. At the beginning, I just copied one sentence phrases my mom wrote for me. This is about 6 months after starting:
I learned...and eventually stopped using English. During this time, Amy and I wrote letters. She showed me some she saved, and yeah, after a while you can't really understand my English. It got pretty bad. And I don't think I was aware anymore that I was American. But my mom noticed that I was becoming overly sensitive (probably from all my efforts to follow the rules) and my parents didn't want me to completely forget my English so I was transferred to the American school. Now that was almost a bigger culture shock.
Bi-culturalAfter learning to follow rules and not stand out as much as possible, I remember transferring to the American School was overwhelming. My first impressions were of how my classmates were loud and unruly compared to the Japanese school. So much color and variety in the air!
Other than the whole middle school awkward stage (which I'll just plain skip if you don't mind), I had a lot of fun...didn't even know how special it was to be able to roam around Tokyo, entering bars and discos at age 14. Tokyo is a fabulously stimulating and safe city to grow up in.
But I did struggle in my own way with the whole American culture that permeated my school. Unlike most of the kids, I didn't get to go 'back' to the U.S. every summer. My closest friends were like me - from a Japanese point of view, we were very American. But compared to most of the other students, who were in Japan only temporarily, we were more Japanese. Even today, talking with my friends in mixed English/Japanese chanpon is the most comfortable, and everything makes sense when we hang out together.
After a few years of trying to be American (i.e. buying certain clothes, listening to the Top40, dying my hair, etc. - remember these are teenage years), I began to figure who I was. I discovered Reggae and fell in love with it. Here I'm with my brother at my favorite Reggae bar, Pigeon. Gosh, how many hours did I spend there?
By the end of high school, I realized I missed feeling more Japanese and felt that once I left for college, I'd be forever far away from Japan. So I graduated early to go to a Japanese high school to prove to myself that I could still be Japanese. I know that sounds messed up, but I remember specifically thinking I wanted to see if I could really fit back in. It was an interesting experience. I did and didn't fit in. I was able to behave a certain way to be accpeted and made some good friends. But I knew I was leaving soon to start a different life at college. I had so many options in front of me that my Japanese friends didn't have. So there was a lot I didn't share with them, and ultimately, I would have changed in a way that I would not really want to if I had to stay longer.
Back to the U.S.I was lucky to have my brother Ian living in Berkeley when I was heading to college. I spent a full summer living with him to adapt back to US life and I am eternally grateful to him for the wonderful memories from that time. Went to my first and only Grateful Dead concert with him, hiked in Yosemite and had all our food eaten by a bear, and got put on the Green Tortouise to head to college in Oregon.
AboutNow I don't want to conintue in detail like I did above, rambling on about college, moving, jobs, etc. My main point has been to explain that both the U.S. and Japan are important to who I am. The older I get, the more I realize I really do have both cultures deep within me. Neither are 100% and I am a misfit in both countries, which is sometimes lonely. My closest friends are those who grew up like me and we instantly understand this in between space we inhabit. On the other hand, not having one cultural home also provides me with freedom to pick and choose what works for me. What has surprised me over time is that I thought I would settle into an 'identity' and eventually stop analyzing myself, trying to figure out what is Japanese or American about me. Indeed growing older has made me more mellow and I'm just happy to be me. However, I realize this bi-cultural business is still a strong element in my life. I notice it through new friendships, new jobs, and new relationships. The more I live in the US and have to assert myself, the more I find some subtle things I do may be Japanese. Or they may be female, or they may be my family upbringing, or simply just me. I dunno. I just still think about these things. I feel I have found home for now. And it's in San Francisco, a wildly open, colorful, and livable city. I miss Japan terribly and may one day move back. But I just spent 2 years living there on my own for the first time since high school. I loved it yet I was not 100% relaxed either. I find Tokyo wonderful and stimulating beyond comparison, but on a very personal level, it's hard for me. I'm a different person there and don't explore myself in the way that I do in SF. So I came back to this city that I have loved for many years, even before I actually lived here. And I'm with Dav who is like my SF but in a huggable person. And I got my cats. And I got an ISight set up to be able to talk to my parents as if we were sitting in the same room. So I'll stop here for now. Cuz I know I'll have more to say later.
hmmn: musings from the far east(erwood)
Big in Japan
Ed the Cat
Anil, the Nigritude Ultramarine
A Full Belly
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