This past Sunday, I joined a group of IES Abroad students and e-pals participating in a community service event at St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo. We spent the afternoon playing soccer with the organization, Futaba Association. The event we attended is held four times a year, and many of the same families attend the light-hearted soccer practice as a chance for their kids to socialize with volunteers, like us, and other kids with Down Syndrome.
The kids’ energy was contagious and I couldn’t help the smile from spreading across my face as I high-fived my newfound friends for each perfect pass and goal. I admired Megumi’s leadership, Anna’s tenacity, Takumi’s energy, and Daiki’s scoring ability. When the games finally came to an end, Anna threw her arm around me and we posed together like that for the final group picture. Even though my legs felt numb, sweat drenched my shirt, and my face was red because of the humid atmosphere, I still remember the feeling of smiling so hard that it hurt.
As we made our way back to the station, one of my IES Abroad classmates extended his hand to me and said,
“It’s nice to finally get to meet you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, confused, “We’ve been here for three weeks already!”
“Well…” he paused, “It’s just that I think this is the first time I’ve felt like I’ve seen the real you. We haven’t talked much before this point.”
The exchange stayed with me.
In Intro to Japanese Society, we learned about the idea of uchi and soto. Soto refers to “outside.” Uchi refers to “inside.” It’s a particular mentality that surrounds the Japanese dynamic of identity. When you’re outside, or out in the public sphere, you are expected to act according to societal rules. This means acting in a way that promotes harmony and reduces friction within the community. The home is seen to be private residence, where one can retire the uchi mentality and relax in the “safety” of the house. This idea is closely tied to the fluctuation between displaying honne (one’s true feelings) versus tatemae (public behavior).
Until my classmate pointed out the change in my behavior, I had never thought about it critically. To me, it’s simply an immutable aspect of my personality. It seems almost natural that I change personalities depending on where I am—I act differently depending on what sphere I am currently in, whether it be my friends, my family, or my classmates. Perhaps to say that “I change personalities,” is almost too severe. It’s more like showing different facets of my personality to different people depending on my familiarity with them.
I have heard arguments condemning the honne and tatemae dynamic because it is perceived as insincere or manipulation. I don’t agree. When my name is mentioned, I am one of those people who is referred to as “nice” or “kind”. While I don’t object, I know that these are euphemisms for having a bland personality. But, that’s how I aim to come off. I never share any strong opinions, and I tend to reflect whatever opinion the other person has already shared because don’t want to offend anyone unintentionally, or say something they disagree with. I have always had difficulty speaking my mind, or saying what I feel in a straight forward manner.
I did not even think twice about how my personality was perceived until my classmate brought it up. But, I’m glad he did, because I was able to think critically about why I do this and who it really benefits.
This past week, I was appointed to the IES Abroad Student Council. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had been nominated, and told my friends that even though I wanted to be on the Student Council and plan fun field trips for our class…Maybe I wasn’t the best fit for the position. Perhaps, I thought, I am too quiet, too shy, and too self-conscious to lead effectively.
“What are you talking about?” my friend interjected, “Of course you have to vote for yourself. If you want the position, you have to vote for yourself!”
“Don’t be nervous! I’ll vote for you!” my other friend said, smiling.
I didn’t tell them at the time, but their words really meant a lot to me. I was happy to be nominated, and even if I didn’t believe in myself, they supported me anyways. That was the first time that I felt the lines between honne and tatemae begin to blur—the first time I felt that I could trust them with my insecurities and not just paste a smile on my face.
This past Monday was my first practice with the KUIS soccer circle--a feat of bravery I never could’ve accomplished without the support from my KUIS friends and IES Abroad classmates who encouraged me to participate. Even though I spent most of the time expressing my nervousness with the phrase, “doki doki,” I was able to introduce myself in Japanese to some of the players on the club! As I sit here thinking of what to write for my Student Council introduction paragraph, I can’t believe that I have grown so much in the short time that I’ve been in Tokyo with the IES Abroad program.
Although it’s only been a month, there are so many memories I cherish.
Exploring Tsukiji Market with Alyssa and Katie. Praying at Sensouji Temple with Harumi and Haruna. Talking with Lee-san, Ishikawa-san, and Caleb-san at the IES Abroad Office. Traveling to the top of Tokyo Tower with Naomi. Doing origami with my host sister, Teana. Commuting with Chris to Kanda every morning. Joining club soccer with Brooke. Talking with my host parents at dinner. Playing soccer against Kellan and Thomas (and losing). Reminiscing about Hawaii with Brittney and Katie. Being in Jissen Level 1 with Marissa, Alexia, Sierra, Kaochi, and Callie. Speaking Mandarin during Japanese class with Claudia. Exploring Harajuku and Shibuya on the weekends.
Last blog, I talked about being “aware of my growing pains.” Within the past month, I certainly felt uncomfortable moving outside of my comfort zone, but, I was wrong about one thing. It’s not always about overcoming obstacles by yourself. It’s also about learning to depend on others, and trusting them to support you as you move forward together.
More Blogs From This Author
<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>