Who am I? (Part one of a planned four-part post)

The question “Who am I?” is asked every day and we struggle to find the answer every waking hour until our death. What I will be talking about in this is how my life has affected who I am today.

I’ll start off with culture. I’ve lived in two (totally) different countries in my life: Japan and the USA. When I was seven years and four months old, my family moved to Japan. Until then, I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a nice place.

I spent a year in elementary school over there, as well as some time in prep school. My prep school was trilingual: English, Japanese, and Mandarin (primary dialect of China). To be honest, I don’t remember much from there. I do remember that I learned how to tie shoelaces and write cursive (which I have since pretty much forgotten,) as well as attempt to learn some Mandarin. My attempt at learning Mandarin was my first exposure to Chinese writing, which eventually helped me when I went back to Japan. I remember seeing only one kanji: “smoke.” How that is influential, I do not know. It may be that from that age, since I did not actively write kanji that I can only seem to read it today.

I hardly recall primary school. The strongest memory is of how since I and another kid, Sean, were always troublemakers, the teacher made “was I good today?” sheets. At the end of the day, we would get stamps if we were good. Nowadays I get suspension if I’m bad 😛 .

Back to Japan. Because the school systems are different between Japan and the US, I had to go through about 2/3 of first grade again. In Japan, school begins in April, a time that generally implies the beginnings of things, between spring and the sakura that are usually in full bloom then. On the other hand, American schools start in August, for a reason that I do not know exactly. My only guess is that it is agriculture-related.

Anyway, because of the difference in school systems, I graduate 12th grade at age 19. That overlap, however, probably shouldn’t be perceived as a bad thing. When I entered Japanese school, it was the beginning of the second trimester. It was then that the Japanese school started teaching kanji. Because they started at a more beginner level, I could build my foundation of reading kanji. To be noted, also, is that because my mother is Japanese, she as well as my teacher  in prep school, Koji-sensei, was teaching me Japanese. So even though I don’t remember, I was fairly fluent in basic Japanese at a seven-year-old level. My mother spoke of me sometimes ‘translating’ for her at stores even though she was speaking English because I thought she was speaking Japanese (in actuality, I was just repeating.) Sorry. Back on track.

Because I was a transfer student, foreigner, bigger than average for my age (Japanese kids are TINY), and my general lack of cultural understanding, I was bullied. Japan is a very hierarchical society.  Lacking cultural knowlege, I didn’t comply to my senpai‘s (those superior to you only in age) requests/demands that I do something. Their logic because of the culture was that because I was a kouhai (inferior in age) I was supposed to obey everything they said. Not knowing that, my natural response was “Pshh, why should I?” Naturally, not conforming, I was treated like the old Japanese saying: “The nail that sticks out will be pounded down.” I don’t remember the exact flow of things, but things usually ended up being my fault. I was talked down on, and when I couldn’t take it anymore, I would mildly beat up the kids. I did pull a Mike Tyson once, too, albeit not completely.

My life in primary school continued like this until I was in 5th grade. In 5th grade my family decided for me to go to an international school on the outskirts of Tokyo. However, since this international school had the same system as American schools, I had a 4-month gap of idleness. My family and I went to America and had an extended break-ish thing.

I have a mix of American and Japanese culture, and I can transition between either of them at any time. How I am culturally affects my personality, and how I share my faith, and also how I think about my faith. Actually, it affects how I think and behave about everything. My culturural experiences are my foundation for everything in my life.

In that time in America, I rediscovered my original culture in people’s hospitality and openness to many things, and I wasn’t treated worse just because I was younger. I was treated for who I was and what I said, no my age.

My cultures started clashing. And after their clash, they resulted in something beautiful.

I’ll talk about that more in my next part, my personality or temperament.

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