Until recently, I had thought that men have lots of advantages over women, especially from the point of health. Needless to say, men are blessed with more physical strength than women, so they seem to get better chances of careers because of this biological feature. Their careers are not interrupted by childbirth either, and they tend to get higher positions in the future. And I had felt that if I were a boy, I would not have to suffer from symptoms of my chronic illness, chronic thyroiditis, for it is almost unique to women. Although I have inherited this genetic defect from both of my parents, if I were not a girl, the symptoms might not have appeared, or they would be much milder. At least, male patients need not be distressed by menstrual irregularity, unlike female patients, even which seems to be enviable for me. Therefore, I had envied my younger brother, who has no chronic illness at all, and he had been often said to be “a child prodigy” by people around him. He was smarter than me, better at sports than me, and loved by more people than me. Until recently, in consequence, I had thought that men are endowed with much more things than women, and the inequality cannot be remedied, after all. However, now I am seeing disaster with my own eyes. My younger brother has become an invalid and very depressed, despite great consideration by his parents, teachers, and relatives. Now his facial expression has completely disappeared, and he has hardly come to speak with his family. Besides he wanders around town, sometimes for no purpose, and tortures himself with this coldness. I wondered why an 18-year-old test taker would do such desperate things at first. He had shut himself up in his room, did not take the Center Test seriously, which is essential for going to university in Japan, and went job-hunting without our parents’ permission. He did not study for college even though his grades in high school were better than mine. My father said to me, “Probably, your achievement in entrance examinations puts pressure on him.” But I could not be convinced of that explanation. Rather, I noticed that the male-dominant culture that exists in my family and among my relatives might have driven him into a corner. Maybe, that is the true cause of his agony. As I mentioned above, my brother used to be a talented boy. He was really quick to understand when he studied. He also mastered many kinds of sports, joined in many activities, and played with his friends. And he won several prizes in essay contests; so many people around him always praised him, and had high hopes for him. Yet, there was a big problem in this way. My parents, especially my father, and my relatives often told him, “Only you could have done such great things. Your big sister cannot do the same things, because she is a feeble girl. She will be not so hopeful like you. But all of us support you as you are a child prodigy. You are a boy, so you will accomplish many more things than your sister.” Hence, it was natural that he looked down on me, and I felt hurt by their words. I gradually came not to mind them, however, and decided to do what I needed or wanted. Fortunately, I have been blessed with many good people and companion animals, and now I live a full life. In a sense, this gender-biased education ironically worked well for me. I could live freely up to now, being contrary to my parents and relatives’ expectations. The problem I have to analyze is that the education which my family had given to my brother damaged him terribly in the long run. I had thought that he was made much of and was satisfied with his education. But I was completely wrong. His depression actually started three years ago. At that time, we had just lost our grandparents who had lived with us, and he started to be in the dumps at home. My parents did not worry about him so much then, since he looked fine when he went to high school and he took part in the swimming club’s activity. Now I know that he frantically pretended to be OK. My family told him, “You have done as good a good job as the last exams”. They kept encouraging him as before. They encouraged him to study harder and take more exercise because he is a boy, which turned out to be completely disastrous. He became more desperate and rebellious, and came to ignore his family. Although they should have been concerned about him, my parents left him alone, for they thought that he was just about to enter a boy’s rebellious phase. And then, his depression became worse little by little. He broke off relations with his family, and finally he has become like a dead person. Indeed, there is no doubt that the death of his grandparents was traumatic for him, but the core of his problem was his gender-biased education and him not getting enough consideration as an individual. Furthermore, I also found that my fixed idea that men are much healthier than women was thoroughly wrong. After my brother’s impulsive behavior was revealed, my mother called his class teacher and had a talk with her about him. At that time, she talked with my mother kindly, which showed an important counterexample to my assumption. She said, “I know that some boys suffer from depression because of their age. The cause may be related to a hormone imbalance in their growth period. Boys tend to be impulsive, and sometimes desperate. Perhaps, he is in such a condition now. I think it is good for you that you give him a rest and watch over him carefully.” After getting this advice, my parents have come to listen to him as much as possible, although he speaks as little as ever. However, I feel that it is a good first step for both of them to cure his mental disorder. And now I understand that boys can also have unique health problems, and they need adequate consideration without any gender bias. Therefore, I have learned two things in this chain of events about my younger brother. The first is that gender-biased education should be remedied for both boys and girls, because it sometimes brings disastrous results. It not only hurts girls’ character and leaves anger in their minds, but also causes distress to boys who may feel cornered. In my final analysis, no one will be happy with such prejudiced and old-fashioned views. Instead, what people need is to communicate with each other with gender-equality, and respect the individual. And they also have to consider those who are distressed about their future and so forth. I know that that may be difficult in today’s busy society, but it is getting more important than ever, and it is crucial especially for young people to be considered. In short, people need to realize gender equality, value individuality, and have adequate consideration or others. And the second thing that I have learned is that people also need to pay attention to their health conditions when necessary. Many people actually have health problems more or less, but they tend to be regarded as personal matters still. In my brother’s case, now I remember, he suffered from a throat disorder and could not swallow food for some time, yet our parents practically neglected him because they were busy with their work. Consequently, that disorder has not been cured yet, and he has deepened his loneliness. Thus I claim that people should never ignore other’s health problems nor be indifferent to them. That will not only remedy gender bias but also improve people’s lives for sure. I think that once this task dealing with people’s welfare starts to be coped with, the circle of gender equality and health will eventually spread to equal employment and careers opportunity. There is, however, a problem of acceptance which stands in equality’s way. While my mother supported my gender-equal idea when I discussed it with my parents, my father has almost no understanding of it. He said, “The thought can only be realizable by the privileged few. I believe that many people would feel happier if they follow their gender roles, and we need to give up our dreams to some extent when we face harsh reality.” He refuted me after listening to my opinion and said, “I admit that you are much smarter and more talented than I had thought, but it is because of your innate ability. Although your younger brother is not in good condition to study, I know that he has other talents such as swimming. He is different from you since he is a boy”. It is unfortunate that my father goes into his shell. He is clearly obsessed with his persistent notion gender bias, which shows that he is also a victim of discrimination. I feel that some people are likely to internalize this value unconsciously, and to be wounded all the more by the invisibility. The problem is deep-rooted even now, so its improvement will require time and campaigns by more and more people. Recently, I went to my brother’s room to serve him a meal. “Your lunch is here.” I opened the door and put the basket on a table. He just glanced at me, and soon turned to his desk. I wondered if he really wants to tell something to his family because of his slight glance at me. He is going to see doctors from the psychiatric and pediatrics departments soon, so I hope that the cause of his poor physical condition will become clear, and he can receive good treatment. What I can do for him now is watch over him fondly and support him as much as possible if he should ask my help. I do not have the innate ability my father thinks I have, but I am not a feeble girl either. Now I know that standing up and facing difficulties is the best solution. I stepped out of my brother’s room and closed the door, while looking at his blank profile.
“In dreams begin responsibilities” (Yeats)
I still remember the first time I read the epigram above. It was during a scorching hot summer day four years ago and I was entertaining myself with a very well-known novel, namely: Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami. I remember the epigram being uttered in a stream of thoughts by the 15-year-old protagonist, a brave and restless boy who had headed out for a symbolic journey in the attempt of turning the tide of his destiny. Words cannot express how much that single quotation had impressed me, but suffice it to say that I have not forgotten it ever since then. Four years later, I have somehow came to believe that I had not fully grasped its meaning until I finally resolved to set out for my own personal journey. Every journey, indeed, gives us a new insight into things and turns us into better, more balanced people, but it also requires a certain degree of sacrifice and discomfort from our part.
Thus, here I am today, a 24 year old girl from a small, remote town in Southern Italy, coming to grips with life in one of the biggest and most exciting metropolises in the world: Tōkyō.
All of my life I have been fascinated by Japanese society and culture. As most people of my generation, my first contact with Japan was through anime and comics, but growing up I had the chance to learn something about its traditions and history at school or through the Internet. I used to look, almost mesmerized, at the pictures of stunning temples set against breath-taking natural scenarios, and of refined, stark inhabitations. In those moments, I remember almost feeling like such places could only exist in fairytales.
Needless to say, soon after high school, I ended up enrolling in university, resolved to learn as much as I could about Japanese language and culture.
The more I studied about Japan the more my interest grew. I began venerating everything concerning its culture and felt particularly attracted to its arts and traditional sense of aesthetics, as it was completely different from what I had experienced until then. I wanted to go to Japan with all of my heart, but, being born in a quite humble family, I always had to put off my plan and wait for a better moment. However, that moment finally arrived in the form of a scholarship provided from my university. I studied hard in order to get it and, to my surprise, I actually managed to win.
To put it briefly, my dream had come true. How many people can claim the same? Conscious of my good fortune, on October 2013 I officially embarked on that dream. I became an exchange student in Ochanomizu University, a very well-known women’s University. I have been studying at Ochanomizu University for almost seven months now and I am extremely glad for the chance I have had to improve my Japanese language skills and to meet people from all over the world, who have enriched me in ways that I will never be able to put into words. The months I have spent here have been so full of emotions, experiences and discoveries that I know I will never forget, as they will always be a fundamental part in my life journey.
Nevertheless, no fairy tale can possibly exist without at least a complication, and not surprisingly, my story is no exception. I had left with the most genuine enthusiasm and with the naive belief that nothing could have weakened my joy, but I was soon to be proved wrong.
After arriving in the super technological, never stopping Tōkyō, I struggled for some time to find the Japan I had pictured in my mind. All around I saw tall buildings, neon lights, and very busy salary men making haste in the streets, but absolutely no trace of the almost otherworldly country I had imagined. The beautiful kimono and the enchanting landscapes were nowhere to be found. Instead, I had been catapulted into a much more lively and chaotic reality which I was not sure I could handle.
I suddenly felt lost.
For far longer than I could even imagine, I had been concentrating all of my energies on studying a language and a culture that were completely different from what I had previously thought. I realized I was discovering the real Japan for the first time toward the end of my academic life and this made me feel quite uneasy. What if I had made a mistake?
At the same time, I was having some difficulties getting to know and making friends with the locals. I have always been a very shy person, and as such I was no stranger to that kind of problem. However, in Japan it got even worst. It might be the cultural differences or my hesitations in speaking the language, but I could not help feeling inadequate and uncomfortable whenever I tried to have a conversation with somebody. I admired the elegance and composure of the girls I saw at the university every day, but I felt as we were poles apart and I was completely unable to establish any contact with them.
I lived my first three months in Japan in a sort of alienation. I forced myself to do as many things as possible: go sightseeing, try the local cuisine, and put effort into studying the language, but still I could not enjoy any of the things I did, absorbed as I was into my own emotions. It was as if my confusion and anxiety had taken over my whole self and I could not feel or think but through them.
Then, one day, something started to change. Time was healing my wounds and, contemporarily, it was giving me a different prospective on things.
In dreams begin responsibilities I remembered and now I knew why.
For such a long time I had nourished the idea of a perfect place, somewhere I could take shelter in order to escape my own reality and I had suddenly been confronted with the fact that such a place does not exist. As hard as it was, I realized that it was about time I accepted the truth and got over my childish misconceptions.
Never before I would have expected that realizing my only, long-awaited dream would have eventually put me through such an harsh lesson. But if there is anything I have learned from this experience, it is that achieving one’s dream does sometimes imply facing hardships or unwanted tasks, but this does not lessen its value.
So, I chose not to give up and not to resign to the feelings of confusion and bewilderment. I had been lucky enough to fulfill my desire, and now I felt the responsibility to not to abandon my journey halfway and to go all the lengths it required me to go. Moved by this brand new resolution, everything started going into a better direction. I realized that the Japan I had always imagined was not a mere fantasy, but it cohabited, in a more complex way, with its more chaotic and modern side. I started exploring the city with new eyes and finally found that before I had only seen a part of Japan’s multifaceted ever-changing identity, and that the aesthetical principles I had so much admired in my students years, could be actually appreciated everywhere from the small gardens that sometimes sprouted up among the high-rise buildings to the temples, or even in the contemporary architecture.
Liberated from the blinding darkness of disappointment, I could finally rediscover the love for this culture and live everyday like a blessing. I also found myself less and less disjointed from those girls I used to consider so far from me. Indeed, going beyond my initial impressions, I realized that, despite the cultural or ethnic discrepancies, they were just like me: obstinate and resolute women who were trying to make their way through the world.
Now, after seven months in Tōkyō, I can hardly recall those feelings of anguish and pain. This city has became my home and I would not want to be anywhere else. In these months I have came to love it and to appreciate it as it is. I no longer feel lost.
If I was asked “What is the biggest news of 2013?”, my answer would definitely be “Kim Lee’s divorce with Li Yang”. Kim Lee, an American from Florida, got married to Li Yang, one of the most famous English teachers in China in 2006. Kim Lee then became a victim of domestic violence. She made legal history in Beijing, for the first restraining order was issued for her protection. This is a milestone case not only because it has opened public discussion on domestic violence, but also inspired victims of domestic abuse to start to think about their future.
Every time I read the news about Kim Lee’s divorce, I was reminded of my best friend in primary school, Lili Wang. She suddenly transferred to another school without saying goodbye after her parents’ divorce, because her mother suffered from domestic violence and wanted to escape from her husband. Lili once mentioned to me that even after divorce, her father would visit them unannounced, threaten her mother, or do things far worse than that. In fact, filing for a divorce at that time was not what normal people would do, for it required far more determination and courage than today. It must have taken so much for Lili’s mother to make that decision. However, it turned out that divorce could not set Lili’s mother free either. There was no such thing as a restraining order back in 1997. This concept was firstly introduced and became better known to the public thanks to Kim Lee’s divorce from Li Yang in 2013.
Of course I was too young to understand why Lili left without saying goodbye, and for a long time I was so angry with her. With time passing by, I finally figured out why. Lili’s mother must have told her not to tell anyone about their whereabouts, in case of being found by her ex-husband. Yes, that was basically the only choice she had then, and what was wrong with that? All she asked for Lili and herself was simply a new life without fear. Watching Kim Lee fighting and praying for her, was pretty much was the main impression that 2013 left on me. Though Lili’s mother had to leave for a new life, I still respect her for being such a brave lady to divorce her husband in that relatively conservative age. However, Kim Lee’s case has pushed me to think hypothetically that Lili and her mother might have been able to stay if they had had a restraining order issued by the court. This means we might have been able to go to the same junior school, high school, or university. Indeed, who knows? That is why I did, and will always back Kim Lee up, for she has made the concept of “protection order” well known to the public and inspired a lot of victims of domestic violence to start to think about fighting for their own rights.
There is no doubt that Kim Lee’s victory is a hard-won. Her husband, Li Yang, is one of the most famous English teachers in China, who at the same time owns a successful company in the English education industry. Given the fact that the current Chinese law still has space to improve in the field of domestic violence, when Kim Lee went to the police and to the neighborhood committee, their hands were tied, too. There are several laws, for instance, marriage law and criminal law that deal with domestic abuse. However, their descriptions are ambiguous which might result in irregularities. Also, in Chinese culture, it is generally considered that family conflicts should remain between family members. Domestic abuse might be considered a private family matter, and as a result, victims tend to keep quiet after being abused. However, Kim Lee, refused to give up fighting for her own rights. Even Kim Lee’s friends thought she was out of her mind too. She could have directly turned to the American Embassy for help, but instead of doing that, she decided to sue Li Yang under China’s legal system. That is because she wants her daughters to know that no one can beat her—not just because she is an American, but because she is a person—a woman. As a courageous woman who never compromised in the face of adversity, she survived the long trial. That was one small step for her, but one great leap for victims of domestic violence.
I want to thank Kim Lee, for she has taught every woman in China the importance of hanging on. Hanging on to their rights, hanging on to their hope, and hanging on to their life. Only when women do not tolerate domestic violence and fight for themselves, could security, hope, and peace be guaranteed.
“Home sweet home,” as this saying shows, home is a place where people are able to go back. Usually, people are relaxed at home, and they cherish their home very much. I believe that each people have their own homes, both physically and mentally. Looking back at my experience, I haven’t had a strong attachment with my own home, where I lived. This is because I moved in different places every three or four years until I became a junior high school student. After that, I finally settled in one certain place, and I have been living in this place for more than 10 years. However, I still don’t have strong attachment with my home and district. This may be due to the fact that I have never been in the school in this district. When I was in junior high school and high school student, I was studying in private school, and I did not go to a school which is near by my home. Because of this, I have no friends around my home, and I do not know very well about the district I am living now. The home which I am living now is just a place where I can go back and spend time there with my family.
Because of this experience, my definition of home may be wider than others. For me, home is a place where people are able to go back, or want to go back, and both physical and mental home are included. I believe that home is not only a place where we are able to go back easily, and the distance doesn’t matter. No matter how far it is, home is a home if people believe so.
Sometimes, we don’t realize we have a home besides the place where we live, but certain events make us realize the existence of it. A school, for instance, is a home for me. When I was a junior high school and high school student, I studied in the same school for six years. Right after I graduated from the school, I often visited there with my friends, but I do not visit there very often these days. Last summer, I had the opportunity to teach extra English classes for junior high school students there, and I visited the school for the first time in a year. I walked to school from the nearest station for about 15 minutes, and I realized how calm it was. The school is located a bit far from the station, and there is isn’t anything special around it. There is no supermarket or convenience store. As it was summer, I just heard the sound of a cicada and the wind. This made me feel comfortable, and I realized this place is my home. I don’t miss the school very much as I graduated a long time ago, but I realized it is a place I can call home. Moreover, the school was renovated after I graduated and it looks totally different now. Besides, most teachers I had are not in the school any more. However, the school is still a home for me. Though I do not visit there very often, the school still exists physically and the memories I had there remain in my heart.
After I entered the university, I found various kinds of new homes for me. A club activity is one example. I was in club activities such as English speaking society and the committee for school festival, and they were also home for me. I also had an opportunity to study in other countries. Although I have various kinds of homes, the most important one for me is Finland. As I wrote in the first edition of this journal, I studied in Finland as an exchange student from 2011 to 2012 for 10 months. Last summer, I decided to visit there again as I miss Finland very much. I stayed in Tampere where I studied for a week, and I spent a few days in Helsinki. When I visited there, I realized that Finland is also a place where I can go back to.
When I arrived in Finland, there were two things which made me realize ‘I am in Finland.’ After I arrived in Finland, Helsinki, I took the bus to get to Tampere. On the bus, I first heard the melody of the Nokia phone. Many Finnish people use Nokia phones that have a specific melody. After that, a woman who was sitting near me started to eat an apple. These two made me realize ‘I am in Finland, I came back to Finland.’ I expected that I will have these feelings when I see my friends, taste Finnish food, visit beautiful nature, but these tiny things made me realize I was back in Finland. Through this experience I realized Finland is a place where I can go back. I noticed I got used to these tiny things happening in every day’s lives in Finland.
During my stay in Finland, I strongly felt Finland as a place where I can go back. My friends in Finland kindly welcomed me, and just being there made me delighted. The most important thing I realized is the fact that Finland is always there. Finland is quite far from Japan, and it is not easy to visit there. No matter how far it is, however, I realized Finland itself does not disappear. When I visited there again, everything was as it used to be. I visited my favorite beautiful lake, the university I studied, the apartment I used to live in, and everything was there. Of course, I am not sure if they will be there forever, and there must be some changes from now on. However, I believe that Finland itself exists there physically, and the experiences I had there will be in my heart and my mind.
I have indicated some physical homes for me, but I also have a home which exists mentally. For me, reading a book also connects to finding a home. When I read a book, it is possible to meet various characters and places and I feel that the world there can also be home. One of the most attractive points while reading a book is that it is always there. When I open a book, the characters and places always exist there and it never fades away unless a book itself disappears. In other words, it is possible for us to go back to the world which exists in the book whenever we want to. These days, I do not have many opportunities to meet and communicate with people, and I have a difficulty finding a place where I can settle. However, reading a book always shows me a new world, and a book is always with me. No matter how hard it is in the real world, a book is always there. Reading a book always helps me a lot, and the world there is definitely a home for me.
Besides reading a book, watching a musical is also very important for me. I enjoy watching musicals. Sometimes go to a theater to watch it. Some I watch several times since I enjoy them very much. In other words, I watch musicals again and again because I want to be back to the world there. I like meeting the characters in the story in particular settings. Because of this, watching a musical also relates to going back home for me.
Through the experiences I have had so far, I believe that it is quite important for us to have various kinds of home, places where we are able and also want to go back to. A home can actually be anything, and it varies from people to people. Some feel that home should be something that exists physically, while others have a home which exists mentally. Each people have different definitions of home, but the important point is to have a home. The existence of home makes us relieved, and it helps us in difficult times. It is necessary for us to try to find a home in as many places as possible in our daily lives, as a home is a place where we can go back to.
OCHANOMIZU UNIVERSITY, TOKYO, JAPAN
Although Iwaki city is a small town, Iwaki City Library is a clean and modern facility. Numerous fascinating books fill two floors of the commercial building in front of Iwaki Station. When I was a high school student, I usually went to the city library twice a month to read novels. I really loved reading, and any novel would make me happy. One day, however, I found myself standing in front of the bookshelves for law books. I skimmed several puzzling books for minutes and finally found the book that I was looking for. I wanted to learn how to legally change my family name.
When I was a high school student, I thought justice and fairness were the most important things for humans. I thought that human beings can be the strongest when they are clean and just. While seeking the way to be a righteous human being, I thought that all I needed to do was show myself truthfully. As soon as I got this idea, I went to the city library because I decided that I needed to know how to get back my real name.
My parents arrived in Japan more than 20 years ago from their home country, South Korea. They came to Japan to get a better life. My father studied hard in Kyoto University graduate school, and my mother supported him. They were poor, but they had extreme youthful enthusiasm. Later on, my father got a job in a Japanese company and they started living in Japan permanently. When my sister entered preschool, my parents changed our family name, and we became naturalized Japanese citizens in 2001.
By having a normal Japanese name and Japanese nationality, I did not feel any different from the other children. On my first day of preschool, my mother, looking at me meanfully told me to be proud of being a Korean. At preschool, I was a normal kid. I enjoyed playing with the other kids every day. At that time, I understood neither the meaning nor the reason for her words.
At that time, being a Korean became a greater advantage than a disadvantage for me. I was a “special international person” in the small countryside town of Iwaki. I got several prizes when I wrote essays about my unique experiences as a Korean living in Japan. But sometimes classmates or neighbors laughed and taunted me saying, “Koreans eat bugs” or “Koreans smell bad because they eat kimchee.” At the same time, some Korean kids in Korea hated me because I was from Japan.
However, these adverse circumstances helped me become all the more special. Since I ate neither bugs nor kimchee, these words did not humiliate me at all. I was even as proud of myself as Sara Crewe was in A Little Princess by undergoing a “great” hardship. Having this unique advantage, I gradually became an outstanding student. I always got good grades at school, I played the piano in the music festival, I sang in the school chorus, I swam as a representative student, and I continuously got prizes for essays and drawing. Then I became superior not only because of my background, but also because of my achievements.
After I entered high school, searching the way to get back my real family name became my challenge as Sara Crewe. I believed it was another hardship that I had to overcome. I read several law-related books and found out that changing a family name is not a simple thing. It is a complicated process to accomplish and so I soon gave up. The important thing was, I thought, being special by taking some action that normal high school students in Japan would not do. However, at that time, I did not realize that I was the frog in the well that does not know the ocean.
Eventually I forgot about changing my name. I studied as hard as the other students, because the time for university entrance examination came. I wanted to be a lawyer and so I prepared to enter a law university. However, entering any law department in Japan is not easy. To be honest, my grades were not high enough to enter a public school’s law department. At that point, my high school homeroom teacher suggested that I submit an essay for an Admissions Office (AO) entrance examination. Since everyone is able to challenge the AO entrance examination, there was a possibility even for me. I jumped to get the chance and started writing the application form. At first, I just wrote about my passion to be a lawyer. However, the teacher who checked my application suggested that I write about my background instead. He said that such a unique background could be a big advantage for me. Since I knew this very well from my past experiences, I rewrote my application. Again, I wrote about how I overcame my hardship of being a Korean living in Japan. I also wrote about how strongly I want to help Korean people living in Japan by becoming a lawyer. The essay looked great to me.
After submitting my application for the AO test, I began to prepare for the interview which comes after the paper examinations. I needed to know more about Koreans and Japanese to answer the examiners’ possible questions about my motives. I started researching about law cases related to Koreans in Japan on the Internet. I surfed several sites, and I found some words. The more I surfed, the more I found. I could not believe my own eyes, and I felt like I sank into a bottomless swamp of hatred. There were a lot of words from Japanese people toward Koreans that I had never heard before. It seems they hate, despise, and loathe Koreans from the bottom of their hearts. I began to feel that I should not read them, but I could not stop myself from scrolling the screen. I clicked one link after another. Some people said that they would print any anti-Koreans handouts for free. Others said Koreans were planning to take over the Japanese government. I even learned that there were published comic books about why Koreans are hateful for Japanese people. My brain became numb as I read them. I finally shut down the computer after several hours. I did not want to think about anything.
Several days later, I checked the result of my AO examination, and I found out that I had failed the written examination. I thought that my score must have been not high enough. But, at the same time, I could not help but think that my background as a Korean could be the reason why I failed. I wondered if it was possible, because I now knew that there were numerous people in Japan who hate Koreans just for being Korean. I could not think properly, and many images came and went in my mind’s eye. My memory laughed and taunted me saying, “Koreans eat bugs” or “Koreans smell bad because they eat kimchee.” I became afraid of Japanese people and I was afraid of being a Korean.
At that time, I finally understood the meaning of my mother’s words when I entered preschool: Be proud of being a Korean because there is nothing wrong with being Korean. My brain echoed her words again and again. Until that moment, I had thought that nobody could look down on me as long as I was a good girl. I learned that I am too small to change the world. Some people would judge me as a “Korean” before knowing how good I am at studying, at swimming, and at playing the piano. And I learned that such people might also be in Iwaki, my hometown.
I stopped doing anything and I just slept all day long. I put on my school uniform in the morning, but I kept on sleeping during the day. During the university examination period, we can go to school freely or not. I did not go to school, although I had already sent my applications to two other public universities. I could not think of anything and I was always sleepy. I felt like I could sleep forever. Since I did not study at all for a month, I failed the second entrance examination. I took the last examination and luckily I passed it. That was an essay exam, and I was good at writing essays. It was fortunate that the theme of the exam was “the Concept of Time” and not “Your Background.” During the previous two months I felt spiritless. I did not feel any emotion but fear. I always slept on my bed just below a window. From the window, warm sunshine wrapped me softly and I felt safest while in my room.
Shortly after that, I started thinking about how to be a part of Japanese society. I appreciated that my parents gave me Japanese nationality and a Japanese name then. I can be Japanese as long as I do not confess that I am a Korean by blood. Being Japanese was not difficult for me. It was even easier than being Korean. I know Japanese people and Japanese customs very well. I was very satisfied with this simple solution. If I am a normal Japanese, no Japanese person can hurt me. I thought that I could even confess to people that I am a Korean after I fully show them that I am a real Japanese-friendly Korean. Maybe some Japanese people would come to think that Koreans are not as bad as they thought by seeming me as an example. Thus, I began to feel that I did not have to be afraid of Japanese people and I had got a tranquil life in Japan as a university student.
However, of course, nobody can predict the future. The Tohoku Earthquake hit my hometown and Tokyo abruptly at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011. What made it even worse was the disaster that occurred when the Fukushima nuclear power plants exploded. My hometown is only thirty kilometers away from that power plant. Like other foreigners, my parents wanted me and my younger brother to evacuate from Japan. This was so soon after my efforts to become a good Japanese. But now, I had to be a foreigner. I resisted my parents’ suggestion with all my power. What would Japanese people think of me if I departed Japan in this emergency? It would just testify that I am a Korean and a foreigner. I needed to remain in Japan and help my friends and my hometown. At the same time, however, I knew that my hope would force my father to keep working in Fukushima. I really respected my father from the bottom of my heart, and I did not want him to be in danger. I also understood that their suggestion was for our sakes. In front of my mother’s tearful entreaty, I could not resist anymore. I finally evacuated from Japan and I left my Japanese friends behind.
For a month, I did not do anything because I did not have anything to do. I stayed in my aunt’s home in Korea with my younger brother. I spent time playing with my little cousins. I continued checking the Japanese news every day. One day I read an article about a Korean student in Sendai. He helped Japanese people with the rescue efforts and put off his plan to return to Korea. I screamed in my heart. “It should be me! I should be the person that all the Japanese people would appreciate!” I knew that there was nothing I could do anymore. I ran away from Japan but he stayed. For me, that was the only and miserable fact.
After a month, my parents arranged for my brother and me to go to the Philippines to study English. It is cheaper to study in the Philippines than in the US, and our older cousin lives there. By that point, I had already decided not to regret the past. Since I cannot change the past, I wanted to make my future better with all my best efforts.
In the Philippines, my brother and I lived in a dormitory for Koreans. A lot of Koreans go to the Philippines these days to study English. By having a clear purpose, which was to study as hard as possible, my mind was serene and cool. But then I realized that that was the first time for me to live with other Koreans. There were several students who disliked us because we came from Japan. One student reproached me by saying I should return Dokdo Island to them. Another student blamed me for the historical problems, including the comfort women of WWII, between Japan and Korea. Their actions were unreasonable to me, but I was cool enough to ignore them after experiencing the Tohoku Earthquake.
What also made me surprised was that some Koreans were really kind toward me. They recognized my blood and treated me as one of them. I was confused, but at the same time, I felt something warm in my mind. I discovered that I had another home country. Until then, I had believed that everything related to Korea was troublesome for me because of my also being Japanese. I did not know the good characteristics of Koreans until then. In the Philippines, I found out many things about Koreans for the first time. I learned that although Koreans are often cold to strangers, they are extremely kind to their friends. They always spent their time listening to me whenever I remembered the dreadful scenes of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant accident. They always listen to their friends if they have any problems. There was a new hope in my mind that evolved by spending time with them. I found that I do not have to cling to Japan if I cannot live well in Japan. That hope was unbelievably bright and warm for me.
In the Philippines, I got another gift for nothing. It was my new name. I could use any English name at the language school, and I chose Lily Cho. Lily was suggested to me by my respectful mother, and Cho is my Korean family name. I chose Cho not because I wanted to get back my real name this time, but because it was easier for teachers to remember than my Japanese family name, Shimizu. With this new name, I introduced myself to the people around me. It was like drawing a new picture on a brand new sheet of white paper. They know Lily Cho as they see what I do. Deception will not work on them, but at the same time they do not have any preconception about me from my background. None of the people there know about my hometown, my university, my name in Japan, or my position in Japan. They just know me by how hard I study English, by how I communicate with others, and by what I speak and write.
After a year passed, I did not persist in many things, such as legally changing my real name, dealing with people’s prejudice, or dealing with the history between Japan and Korea. Some people really liked me in the Philippines, and I learned that I could live not for every person in the world, but for the several people who love me for being me. I learned that I do not have to worry about my responsibility as a Japanese or Korean too much from one of my Filipina friends. She told me we should be busy enough to think about things in the present.
After the one year moratorium, I decided to go back to Japan. Everyone in my family, besides me, moved to Germany with their acquaintances’ help. But I wanted to retry my life in Japan. I learned that I do not have to worry about others or countries too much as long as the people in front of me are kind. I discovered that suspicion produces nothing but fear. This time, I want to live my life without fear in Japan. I want to be strong enough to accept others’ kindness without doubting it. I want to help people and I want to laugh not because I need to, but because I want to. I just want to be able to say that I love both Japan and Korea from the bottom of my heart sometime in the near future.
OCHANOMIZU UNIVERSITY, TOKYO, JAPAN
When I think about myself, how I have been formed, I always assume English is an inevitable thing for my life. I have learned tremendous things by studying English and I encountered many people. Studying English absolutely opened a new world for me and it made me open my views. In this essay I would like to illustrate the relationship between English and I.
I started studying English when I was a junior high school student. I entered one private junior high school and the curriculum there emphasized English. Because of this, I had many English classes compared to students in other schools and I had English lessons by a native speaker at least once a week. I did not have any clear purpose, but I was really interested in studying English at that time. I just wanted to progress in English skills more and more. So I studied English hard everyday. I used any materials for study at that time. I subscribed to a weekly English newspaper and read every article, even though I did not understand the content very well. I also listened to national public radio almost every day though I did not understand it at all.
As I was really absorbed in English, I decided to major in English in the university. I just wanted to continue studying English and improve my English skills. After I entered the university, there were many chances for studying English. When I was a freshman, I participated in studying abroad program in New Zealand. I studied English for six weeks there. Thanks to this experience, I was really motivated for studying English compared to before. In addition, energetic and powerful people there gave me energy and I became more positive.
After I came back to Japan, I studied English harder and harder. I was interested in studying somewhere as an exchange student and I studied hard to have an opportunity for exchange studies. Fortunately, when I was a junior, I got an opportunity to study in Finland as an exchange student. Finland is not an English-speaking country, but I wanted to know how English was taught there. I was also interested in the attitude Finnish people have toward English.
Studying in Finland was very interesting and I experienced a lot of things. Summer is only for two months and during that time, the sun shines until late at night. On the other hand, in winter, there is hardly any sunshine for a few months. People there are strong enough to overcome harsh winter and they cherish nature very much. I felt that nature is in the center of Finnish people’s lives.
Finnish people speak good English. So, I did not have any difficulties communicating with them even though I did not understand Finnish very well. In the university, some classes are available in English as well. Surprisingly, all classes in the English philology department, (the department in which I studied), were available in English. Most professors and students are Finnish but they teach and discuss in English.
Staying in this kind of small country taught me crucial things for my life. Beautiful lakes there indicated to me how important it is to be myself. Lakes are everywhere in Finland and I often went to see them when I had some hardships. Watching the surface of beautiful lakes made me calm down and they gave me energy to move forward. Walking around lakes was one of the most crucial activities for me. In addition, I also learned the importance of having a strong will. I always had difficulties with classes in the university and it was challenging for me to study together with Finnish students there. Their English competency is very high and I always compared myself with them. One day, I asked one professor some questions about English pronunciation. As I did not have confidence about pronunciation, I asked him how I should practice. He answered my question and he also told me the saying ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ He said that I can improve my pronunciation because I have a will. This phrase encouraged me a lot and I practiced harder and harder. This saying still helps me when I have some problems.
English is just one language, but it is crucial for me. Studying English is a tool to spread my view. I encountered many people and learned many things with English. I visited New Zealand because I wanted to improve my English skills and I experienced a lot in Finland because I could communicate in English. Studying English helps me to grow as a person; it is more than just learning a language. I have been studying English for 10 years so far and I am still studying it. Studying English is a way to experience many things and I believe it will help me to find a way to contribute to society. I would like to continue studying English so that I am able to give something back.