Looking Back 振り返ってみた (Part 4: Study Abroad in Japan 第4:日本で留学)

I left for Japan just after my 19th birthday in September. When I arrived, I used my pink DoCoMo mobile phone Yasushi had given me when he came to visit in Pennsylvania, and called him to say that I had arrived at Kansai Int'l Airport. He replied "I'm in Osaka." "...WHAT?" He had decided to hop on the shinkansen and see me on my first day in Japan, even if only for a few hours. We ate some fugu sashimi together, walked around a bit and it was already time for him to go back to Tokyo.

The next few days were filled with orientation and information. We had an official welcome party, where for some reason I was asked to give a short speech in Japanese. We met our host families and went home with them. My host family was a family of four, mother, father, and 2 boys aged 6 and 8, living in Ashiya. The mother was a piano teacher and the kids were learning piano and violin, and so every day I was treated to lovely Classical music coming from the living room. The father was a surgeon, and although he wasn't around much, when he was, he was a lovely kind man and someone I could enjoy a challenging, intelligent conversation with.

After moving in with our host families, we started to prepare for school. In the morning, we had Japanese class. In the afternoon, we could choose from Japanese-related classes taught in English. We had our Japanese placement test, both written and interview. Even though I had only been studying (formally) for 2 years, I placed into the highest level class. While for me conversation was fairly easy, writing and reading kanji correctly was very challenging. On weekdays, I would always spend the few hours after the kids went to bed and before Yasushi finished work studying kanji.

Weekends and school holidays were always busy and exciting. When I stayed in Ashiya, my host family would include me in family outings with them such as going to the mall in Kobe, up Mt. Rokko, Himeji Castle, Universal Studios Osaka, amusement parks, BBQs with friends, and hot spring trips. I also went on several field trips as part of the study abroad program. And almost every month I would get my small blanket and pillow and ride a bus from Osaka to Tokyo 8 hours overnight to see Yasushi. In that one year, I probably went more places and experienced more things in Japan than most Japanese people! I stayed at a Buddhist temple in Mt. Koya, went to a tea ceremony and saw autumn foliage in Kyoto, saw whirlpools and learned about the Hanshin Earthquake in Awajishima, made Sanuki Udon in Kagawa, ate rabbit stew and went in a natural hot spring in Akita amongst 6 feet of snow, saw the giant torii in the ocean and monkeys in the mountain in Miyajima, visited the Peace Park and ate okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, painted Tobe-yaki and went to Dogo Hot Spring in Matsuyama, saw cherry blossoms blooming in both Shukugawa and Ueno Park, went to Disney Sea, saw a Takarazuka show in the original theatre, and went to two Hello! Project concerts.

Yasushi and I spent our first Christmas together that year, and I ate my first Christmas cake! For New Years, we went to his grandparents' house and we all had a big family dinner. The next month, we celebrated the 1st anniversary of the day we met, and got engaged. But just one week later, things took a tragic turn for the worse.

"My father's been in an accident. I'm at the hospital now. The whole family is coming..." I rushed and rode on an overnight train to Tokyo, but he passed away at 12:18. The wake was at his house the next day, and the funeral was to be that following weekend. I stayed by Yasushi the whole time offering support, but the shock, grief, and frustration I experienced that week was too much for me to handle, and I started having panic attacks. I seeked out counseling when I went back to school, and was told "You've been through a lot, you'll get over it". I tried to go on, and kept a B average in all of my classes as well as participating in a Korean class at the university.

But the anxiety didn't just go away. I still had panic attacks when in stressful situations, even after I returned to America for a few weeks in June, to visit my friends in PA and NH and go to the new vacation condo my parents had bought in the Caribbean. I hesitated to open up to my parents about the panic attacks because I didn't want them to worry about me. Or maybe it was actually because I didn't want them to insult and mock me and ignore me again. Unfortunately, the second sentence came true as I had a panic attack once in front of them and that's exactly what happened. We were in a loud restaurant, and my mother had been insulting me continuously for about 10 minutes, calling me an "asshole", a "jerk" and saying that I didn't deserve to be taken out to a restaurant because of my horrible personality. I started to cry and hyperventilate, my heart pounded and my hands shook uncontrollably. My mother, even seeing my distress, started to mock and insult me more. "Are you having an asthma attack?" (I had never, ever had asthma in my life) "Do you need to go to a crazy hospital?" I calmed down eventually as the attack naturally subsided, but I couldn't stomach more than a few bites of my dinner when it came. My parents ignored me and ate and carried on the rest of the night as if everything was fine, or as if I wasn't there. I called Yasushi after that and broke down again telling him what happened, and he reassured me that I would be in Tokyo soon and that he would give me a big hug when he saw me. I always felt so safe when he reassured me like that, even a week later in PA when I was talking to him on the phone and my mother was on the other side of my closed door, shouting and screaming through it that I am "a jerk, an asshole, and Yasushi would divorce me within a year." He always insisted that he would be there for me, and he never broke that promise.

So even another week until June 27th felt like an eternity when being abused every day. I got on the plane to Narita Airport, and stayed in Tokyo until August. Even though I didn't have school or work and was considerably less busy than I wanted to be, I was still happy. I watched TV and read books in Japanese, studied Korean in study groups, took walks, cooked, and started posting videos on Youtube. I was inspired by interesting channels like MrCook and TokyoCooney. At that time there weren't many foreigners who spoke Japanese making videos on Youtube, so my channel became a little bit popular. However my "fans" from 2channel took things a bit too far. But I overcame that and kept making videos, as it was a fun and rewarding hobby for me. In August, before I had to go back to Hawaii, Yasushi took a holiday and we went to Okinawa for almost a week.

But then it was time for me to go back to Hawaii. But now graduation, and marriage, was something so close I could touch it.








Looking back 振り返ってみた (Part 3 High School Graduation and University of Hawaii 高校卒業とハワイ大学)

Graduating high school and going to University of Hawaii was the start of life on my own, as an adult. I changed in a lot of ways in just 2 years.

First, summer of 2003. I was a highschool graduate and preparing my cross-country move to live in Hawaii and go to college at the age of 16. Graduation was a very emotional time, as I said before, high school was one of the most important times in my life to me, and reaching all of these milestones was something bittersweet. I was proud of myself, but sad to have to say goodbye and move on.

On the other hand, I couldn't wait to get out of that small town and that house. Saying that my parents and I didn't get along is an understatement. I was always insulted both to my face and behind my back when I was at home. My parents tried to force their interests on me by taking me out to concerts that I had no interest in, and when I started to refuse to go with them, they would forbid me from going out with my friends or volunteering at the Playhouse that weekend. My mother is obsessed with fashion and beauty products, and when I started to refuse to be her doll to have my hair dyed, makeup done, and be dressed in whatever clothes she thought were "fashionable," she said I was a "scumbag" and not a "normal girl." I did my own hair and makeup for the Prom, she wasn't even around to see me in my dress. When it got closer to graduation, things got worse, not better. I was mocked and teased for crying over having to say goodbye to my best friends, and told that I would never survive in the "real world" because I was so "socially awkward" and had "no personality."

There were times when they supported me, and trusted me to make my own decisions, and offered advice. However, when it came to going to college, most of their advice was largely uninformed as neither them or my older brother had gone to college, and none of them had ever studied Japanese as well. I was constantly told that watching Japanese anime and listening to Japanese music wouldn't help me learn the language, despite the fact that when I set foot in Hawaii I was already having small, awkward conversations with tourists, ordering in restaurants, and I tested into an accelerated beginner course for students who have studied Japanese before. My Japanese teachers continued to be impressed with my grasp of the language and how fast I seemed to pick it up.

Yes, going to college opened a lot of new doors for me. I learned to live independently, and while I had lots of great friends I also was never afraid to explore on my own either. I could get around all the major points in Honolulu by walking or taking the bus, something unheard of in my small town where people think an "outing" is driving 5 minutes to the local ice-cream shop!

My first 2 semesters in college were a whirlwind. New classes, some of them with 10 people, some of them with 100 people, some of them requiring assignments and papers handed into a professor and tests in class, some of them conducted almost entirely through a computer with the final exam in class. Instead of having classes down the hall from each other, classes were anywhere from 2-10 minutes of walking in the warm Hawaii weather. Every day was packed with activities, and I loved every minute of it. Classes and club activities from morning until evening, and then of course, on weekends I would party like everyone else. Yes, that was new to me too and I tested my limits, did some things I didn't remember the next day, but most of the stuff was recorded in my journal, with varying coherency.

And then in May 2004, my mother and brother arrived to help me move out of the dorms and take me home for the summer. Except now, that house was less of a home than ever. I was far away from my studies, friends and livelihood. The fire that powered me every day to join 3 clubs, study for hours, and make so many great friends started to die out, I started to become disenchanted with sitting in my room cut off from the rest of my world, writing kanji in a notebook in an effort not to forget them.

I went back to Hawaii in August 2004, hoping that somehow I would never need to return to Pennsylvania again. In 3 months in Pennsylvania, I sat around, visited friends occasionally, and studied Japanese but stagnated and actually forgot some of the things I had learned. The first month back in Hawaii, I saw Morning Musume, celebrated my 18th birthday by going to a nightclub with my friends, became an officer of 2 campus clubs and participated in first meetings, and learned new Japanese words and phrases every day and used them.

I changed a lot again in my second year of college. I started working, for one thing. My first part-time job at was a temporary holiday cashier at Shirokiya. I liked doing work and getting paid for it, so when the Christmas season was over I searched for another job, this time taking up a cashier position at Yokozuna, a Japanese fast-food and sushi place in Ala Moana Center. My Japanese improved exponentially as I was now using Japanese more than I was using English.

There was one more thing that changed me a lot in 2004 and 2005. I met my husband, Yasushi. We started to talk via MSN Messenger, using chat and webcam in summer of 2004. We decided to start a relationship in September, and in February of 2005, he came to Hawaii. We went to New York together in August 2005. The first year we saw each other for only 3 days in 6 months.  The long-distance relationship was very hard, and we talked and emailed every day. When I was in Hawaii it was especially hard on me because I had to wake up at 5 am for our daily webcam chat due to the time difference. Even so, falling in love with Yasushi was the best thing that happened to me at this point in my life. Yasushi always showed me that he loved me and cared for me. If I did something foolish or dangerous he was genuinely disappointed in me and scolded me. I started to work because I admired how hard he worked at his job. I also worked in food service and would do 12-hour shifts and not complain or ask for breaks. I used the money from my jobs to pay for the long-distance phone bills, and saved the rest for hotels, restaurants and such when Yasushi came to see me. When it came time for us to part, I always cried, but he reassured me we would see each other again soon. I still feel very lucky to have found such a great husband.

But unfortunately, in May 2005 I also lost someone very dear to me. My grandfather, Max Kaplan, or "Poppy" as I called him. He started showing symptoms of Alzheimer's when I was in middle school, and when I was in high school he moved into an assisted living facility, which I wrote about in my journal from time to time. I couldn't attend his funeral because of my final exams, and my parents never even took me to his grave. But at that time I had Yasushi to help me through and stay with me on the phone until the tears stopped, so I was OK. I hope Poppy's soul is at peace and I can meet him again someday. His name will live on in my little girl, Chinami Kaplan.

Anyway, near the end of my sophomore year I applied to study abroad for my junior year and got accepted to a program in Kobe. I went home for the summer again, and even though I had changed, things there unfortunately hadn't. I still had to deal with being insulted daily and having my peace and privacy invaded, but talking to Yasushi every day and getting a job at Boston Market helped the days go by a lot faster. And I had the reassurance that this would be the last summer I stayed there, because I would be spending my summers in Japan from then on.














Looking back 振り返ってみた。 (Part 2: High School 高校生時代)

Over the past few days, I've been looking over my LiveJournal in the tranquility of my room in Hawaii and reliving those good and bad memories. Thinking about things I did, and things I didn't do. What I was wrong about and what I was right about, and how I can use this information in this new chapter of my life as a mother.
I haven't collected my thoughts enough to really write them down here yet, so for now I am just remembering and reflecting.

So far I have read from 2001-2003. I My high school years. High school was one of the most important periods of my life, and most of my journal revolved around my friends, extracurricular activities and clubs, and classes. By re-reading my journal, I relived my real-life drama through almost-daily journal entries filled with a youthful passion and emotion, from being excited over the latest anime, to elated after a fun outing with friends, to raging over something that was unfair.

I made those entries on my Windows 95 PC with an 8GB harddrive and large, unwieldy monitor. It became my constant helper and companion as my generation entered the Information Age. The computer became more than just an electronic typewriter and game machine, it replaced photo developers, newspapers, stereos, DVD players, postcards, and even telephones as the Internet became accessible to more and more people. It took our parents' generation a little more time to get used to the idea, and get over their "kids these days" mentality as they wondered what could be so interesting about "staring at a screen all day"(as was frequently uttered about myself.)

I wrote a lot about my hobbies and extra-curricular activities. I was very active in theater and music programs at my school. Even though my parents frequently criticized me and hindered my efforts, saying I have no talent, going to rehearsal on a weekend is ridiculous and a waste of time, and that when I finish high school my interest in theater will also be "over,"I never got discouraged and always enjoyed my time on or near the stage. Being in the Thespian society and going to conferences in Pennsylvania and Nebraska (on the bus!) as well as auditioning, rehearsing and performing in The Music Man, Camelot, various short plays and production numbers, and then Godspell during summer were some of the best experiences in my life. The Bucks County Playhouse became a second home to me as I was there whenever I could be to volunteer and see the show.

Music was (and is, and will always be) my passion. in 2001-2003, most of my peers were listening to pop music by the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Destiny's Child, Pink, and the Latin fad was in full force. My parents listened to and played jazz constantly. But despite pressure to conform and limit myself to what other people considered "good music", I developed interests in a very wide range of unique music. The mp3s on my hard drive were organized into folders; A cappella groups, Anime soundtracks, Broadway showtunes, Classical, Evanescence, German music (this ranged from polka to techno to metal), Hello! Project, Queen, Spice Girls, X-Japan, and more.
I've always had an ear for music and enjoyed playing the piano and singing. In chorus, I went from soprano to alto because the harmonies were more challenging and interesting.

And then there was my obsession-Japanese culture. I watched anime and clips from Japanese TV shows and music videos for hours on end, sometimes alone, and sometimes with my best friends by my side. I started to study Japanese on my own using books from the library and resources from the Internet. I also enjoyed drawing anime-style pictures and filled sketchbooks with both intricately shaded pencil drawings and fun original comics, and as I learned, I wrote words and phrases in hiragana and katakana in my books as well. Of course, since the only languages acceptable to learn in my community were Spanish, French and German (the languages offered in my high school) learning Japanese made me something of a target for ridicule in my own home, and at school (at school I could study with friends, though.)

I wrote about my classes in school, how I hated Algebra and Geometry, how Keyboarding class was so hard (but paid off!) how Mr. Halpern's Intro to Physics was the easiest BS class ever. (Mr. Halpern apologized to me at one point for not challenging me, because in his words, if he did, he would "lose them.") I wrote about German class, Art class, Theatre class, English class, Intro to Psychology, all of the classes I loved and thrived in. But mostly I wrote about how easy most of the work was and wondered why there were so many people around me that seemingly couldn't understand the simple lessons being taught.

I wrote about all the other activities going on at my school that I participated in. School carnivals, volunteer activities, class projects, the Prom, and finally graduation. I wrote about the SATs, college trips, applications, and finally acceptance to University of Hawaii. I became increasingly anxious, eager to get out but nervous for the future.

There was one more thing I wrote about, that cannot go forgotten.
September 11, 2001. We were in class and they announced that planes had hit the World Trade Center towers. We don't usually have the breaking news announced over the intercom, so everyone was shocked. We spent half the day watching the news before going home. In the following weeks my entries would occasionally take a somber note as I wrote about how I lit a candle and prayed (within my own religious beliefs of course) and then turn into anger as I expressed my disbelief with the actions the Bush administration was taking. Months later, on the day we started the war for "freedom" in Iraq I wrote about feeling physically sick and holding back tears in school. The "terror alert" color coded system seemed pointless to me at the time....and turned out to be pointless in the long run.

So those were my high school years. Lots of drama, fun, and some politics. Stay tuned for the next chapter - college!





音楽は私にとって、すごく大事です(この時代からでも、今でも、ずっと・・・)2001年から2003年といえば、Jennifer Lopez,Destiny’s Child,など、あとラティン風の音楽が人気だった気がするんです。自分の両親が毎日ジャズばっかり聞いたり、弾いたり、歌ったりしてました。でも周りの人にその自分の思ってる「いい音楽」に興味を持てとプレッシャーかけられても、自分がずっと全く違う、でも広い範囲の種類の音楽を聴いてました。パソコンの中の様々なmp3ファイルがフォルダーに分かれてました。アカペラ音楽、アニメ、ブロードウェー、クラシック、エバネセンス、ドイツの音楽、ハロプロ、クイーン、スパイス・ガールズ、X、などなど。前から音感も少しあって、耳コピーでピアノも弾くのが好きで、合唱部でも耳のトレーニングにソプラノからアルトに移動しました。







2001-2012: Looking back. 振り返ってみた。 (part 1)

As I said in my "test" intro post I am moving over here, not because of any problems or unsatisfactions with LiveJournal, I just want to have a new start with a new theme.
I just want to spend my first few entries acknowledging the years I spent writing in LiveJournal before I move on. There are lots of memories and experiences, and vital turning-points in my life that helped shape me into an adult recorded in that LiveJournal.

2001-2003...High school. I had so many great friends, and fulfilling and enriching hobbies. I was part of the school choir, the Thespian society, and I found my teenage obsession--Japanese anime.
But a lot of frustration came with being a teenager in a small town surrounded by people who simply didn't try to understand and respect an interest in different cultures, or the fact that technology was rapidly propelling my generation into the 21st century.

2003-2007...College. This is when I finally got the chance to experience life "on my own" and see what the real world is like. I spread my wings wide, even too wide, and had to pull them back in before I went down the wrong path. Luckily, someone came along to help--his name was Yasushi.

2007-2012...Marriage and Japan. I started having my own household, a full-time job, and living my dream of going to Japan. Life was good, but I knew in my heart that I would go back to Hawaii someday.

I looked back over my journal, especially from those early years. I empathize with all the frustrations I had as a teenager, and marvel at how many things I wrote 10 years ago still ring true today. I also noticed a pattern...something that would have gone unnoticed if I didn't look back and make the connections. And I had an epiphany that couldn't have come sooner for my little one due to come into the world.
What am I talking about? More to come next time.


2001-2003 高校生時代。いい友達がいっぱいいて、色んな趣味で満喫と成長してた。学校の合唱、演劇部、と、一番はまった物ーー日本のアニメ。

2003-2007 大学生時代。ここで現実の世界に入れて「一人暮らし」ということも初めて味わえました。自分の翼を大きく広げた・・・しかし広げすぎて悪い所に届く前にまたちょっと引かなきゃいけなかったのもありました・・・でもその時助けてくれた人がいます・・・名前はやすしです。

2007-2012 結婚と日本で生活。自分で家庭や職業を持って、日本で生活するという夢を実現しました。いい生活してましたが、心の底にいつかハワイに戻りたいと思ってました。


New blog!新しいブログ!

Livejournal has been great to me, but I feel that it's time to start a new blog, with a theme.
My theme will be mostly centered around my own experiences and advice, mostly about my pregnancy, raising children, and such. It's going to be a tough journey but I hope someone out there will enjoy reading it, and learn from my experiences.