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Journals from Doshisha University, Japan

2011-05-26 Belonging

The time is flying by and it’s already almost summer. The weather is in absolute disarray with the changing season, hot one day and cold and rainy the next, and the wind goes every which way. Everyone is gloomily anticipating tsuyu, the muggy 3-week rainy season before summer heat really begins. Bugs are reappearing (oh joy) and, judging by the nightly bellowing, Frog-zilla has taken up residence in the dorm garden.

Spring semester began shakily but has turned out to be so full. The happiest change so far is a bit embarrassing to write about, but, since I probably won’t be able to write many more journals without mentioning this fellow, I ought to introduce him. In the Bible-study circle (club) we’re a part of, Yuya’s always the laughingstock. But from the time we were first introduced I was drawn to him—he’d spent a year abroad in America, and had this way of accepting me as I was, not as a foreigner, and not as if he thought of me as a Japanese girl, either. He’s often made fun of for being “un-Japanese” and “American-ish” with his strong opinions and slightly selfish individualism. I’m often complimented on my “Japanese-ness” for my reserve and, if you’ll allow me to jiman (boast) a good sense of kouki, or understanding Japanese non-spoken communication, something Yuya rather lacks. Between us there is a funny kind of cultural happy medium. When it came out to one mutual friend that we were dating, his response was, “I thought you two might get together, the weird American and the weird Japanese!”

There's nothing like a boyfriend for keeping busy; Yuya is a first-year grad student at Doshisha and sometimes all we can manage in a week are study sessions together, but even sitting quietly working across from him is wonderful. Yup, I guess we're a lost cause!

I’m also finally feeling I’m really fitting in here. I’ve become a fixture in the circle and was even asked to lead the Bible study one week recently.  I was nervous and even memorized a little bit of what I wanted to say, but I was so happy I was considered “one of us” enough by the leader to be given some responsibility. I went back to the club I’d tried joining last semester, and found myself in a new position there too—the leader suddenly asked me to explain the purpose of the club to the new members, 19-year-old freshmen who looked up at me shyly. I had somehow become a sempai (upperclassman)! Church on the other hand has been difficult from the beginning. Yuya asked, “Oh, is it a really nihon-rashii (Japanese) church?” “No,” I replied, “More than that, it’s Kyoto-rashii” Kyoto people are welcoming to tourists, but truly becoming a part of the community is tough here even for Japanese new to the neighborhood. Christians are friendly thanks to a shared faith, but that Kyoto culture runs just as deep. But even at church I’ve at last become part of the family. Not as Leah and not as a fellow member, mind you, but as “the American girl who speaks pera-pera (fluent) Japanese”. That’s how they introduce me, with some seeming pride, to visitors. I might still only be a foreign curiosity to them, but I have definitely become their foreign curiosity. Well, I can’t expect Yuya’s open-mindedness from everyone, and the fact they’ve made a place for me to belong is nice.

Classes have been going well, I’m taking a lot less than last semester and am much happier with more free time to study on my own (especially for the upcoming Japanese Language Proficiency Test!), worry about my thesis, and go to circle and club events. For the Harry Potter fans, I’ve finally relaxed from being such a Hermione Granger and am becoming more of a Ron Weasley. Not good for my grades, but I’ve finally realized I won’t be here in Japan forever and there are things more important to me than straight As. I hope any Linfield professors reading this will forgive me!

If I had left after only a semester, or (as several exchange student friends did) after the earthquake, I would have had so many regrets. I’m so glad for the second semester which has given me the chance to really belong here, to meet people like Yuya, to “grow up” in Japan!

~Leah Sedy

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