For 21 years, I’ve been in a complicated relationship with Japanese. I’m a Japanese American who was born and raised in the U.S. I consider myself native in English, but only mildly fluent in Japanese. Even though I speak Japanese without a foreign accent, I sometimes get stuck trying to explain things due to my lack of grammar and vocabulary. This often makes things complicated when people assume that I am completely Japanese native, when I definitely am not. Japanese is also complicated because you have to be careful with how you speak, especially towards an elderly or someone above you. As a result, I’ve always been timid speaking in Japanese. Even though I crave to learn more, the fear of sounding incompetent or accidentally offending someone has always been a tough barrier for me to overcome. It’s complicated.
HOWEVER, coming to Ishinomaki has helped me out in many ways.
As the only Japanese speaking student, I’ve had to use my Japanese to translate in many situations. At first, I was concerned of my own abilities, but it turned out, no one cared. Especially for the students, all they cared about was for their Taiyakis’ to get fried or to ask for no meat in their dishes. Easy enough for me! This trip has allowed me to strip away much of my worries of incompetency, and instead concentrate my efforts toward engaging with the community members. My Japanese, something that I was so dubious about, became my super power. Through my Japanese, I met a local lady who introduced me to the peculiar tastes of Hoya (Sea Pineapple). I’ve shared laughters with our local Otōsan (father), learned about his hardships after the Great Earthquake, and ate all the food he treated us to. Also because of my Japanese, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at the local radio station about my time in Ishinomaki and pub for our Michigan Matsuri event. It was a bit nerve wracking at first, but once we started talking, I was surprised at how long I could actually sustain a Japanese conversation. Talking on the radio was an exhilarating and confidence-boosting experience that I will hold dearly forever. Shout out to Brad for co-speaking and Lama for the moral support 🙂
(PSA: We will be hosting our Michigan Matsuri event at the COMMON-SHIP 橋通り this Saturday, 5/26 at 6-9pm. For the first half, we will be showcasing the projects we’ve been working on with our community partners. For the second half, three local singers, Moe-chan, LIBOO, and Gakudan Hitori, will be performing the night away! It’s gonna be a blasts, so come one come all!)
Through casually conversing with the people of Ishinomaki and constantly translating back and forth, I’ve realized the power of speaking Japanese. Acting as an intermediary to connect us Muricans to the locals of Ishinomaki, it’s been a challenging yet rewarding experience thus far. Speaking Japanese is complicated, but coming to Ishinomaki has helped me catalyze that drive to continue practicing my (parents’ homeland) language 🙂