The first and last time I did hula of my own volition was my last year of high school. The annual May Day holoku program was a big deal at my high school, and the best dancers vied for the coveted positions of the holoku queen and her court of princesses, each representing a different island of Hawaii.
Since it was my senior year, I tried out for the program and set my standards low, only signing up for one song. The weekly practices were difficult, and the eventual performance was exhilarating, but, I quickly learned that professional hula dancing was definitely not in my future. My hips are incapable of snapping back and forth on command, and my hands can’t move independently of my feet. If you go back over the recording of the program, you can spot my eyeballs darting from side to side, trying to locate a dancer that actually knew what she was doing.
After I graduated, I planned to put my dancing days behind me, resigned to the fact that hula was not my forte. However, when I relayed to my host mother over dinner that the student council was starting preparations for the sayonara party, her eyes brightened.
“I want you to dance,” she said emphatically, “it’s been a long time since any of my host students performed.”
“Oh,” I chuckled nervously, “I don’t dance. Trust me, it’s not a pretty sight. 上手じゃないですよ (I’m not very good).”
She waved her chopsticks in the air dismissively and said, “It’s fine! Doesn’t everyone in Hawaii do hula?”
So, a week before the party, I found myself in the Kanda gym, trying in vain to get my hips to sway to the beat, and to rid myself of the habit I have of just completely forgetting to move my legs altogether when I begin to move my hands.
“It’s easy,” Katie said multiple times, holding her hands aloft and gracefully spinning once in a circle.
“簡単じゃないだよ (It’s not easy)！” I would respond, falling dramatically to the floor, “Just cut me out of the program already!”
“You can do it! がんばって (Keep going!)！” Yukimi would say each time, picking me off the ground and then resetting the soundtrack.
And so we practiced like crazy in the days leading up to the party. I danced everywhere. I danced in the bathroom as I brushed my teeth. I danced on the train to class. I danced on my way to class. I danced walking through the mall. I was still asking Katie questions up until the music started playing. The performance lasted less than seven minutes and I hit about 70% of all the moves. But altogether, I was proud of the end result. What mattered most to me was laughing and dancing with my friends, and seeing so many familiar faces smiling at me from the crowd. Surrounded by friends and family, I truly felt at home.
When the songs ended and I stood in front of my classmates, e-pals, Kanda friends, and the host families, side-by-side with my hula group, I knew that I couldn’t have imagined a better end to my time in Japan.
When looking back at my time with IES Abroad, I can’t help but celebrate the often overlooked moments of triumph. The first time I successfully charged my Suica card. The first time I successfully navigated through Tokyo Station. The first time I had to speak Japanese in order to send a letter home. The first time I told a cashier in Japanese I didn’t need a plastic bag.
At the time, they seemed like impossibly small steps forward, too small to notice day-by-day. It’s only when I look back that I've noticed how far I’ve come--how much I've changed in these past four months.
In the end, I’ve come to really appreciate all those little victories, because those small steps forward have led me to where I am today.
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<div>Emi Okikawa escaped from Oahu, Hawaii by hiding in the cargo hull of a plane headed for the East Coast. </div>
<div>She was last seen at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.</div>
<div>Recent rumors have surfaced about her being set loose in Tokyo. Be advised, the suspect has been spotted eating her weight in Japanese pastries and sitting in animal cafés for multiple hours a day.</div>