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My Japanese American experience began at birth with my parents and grandparents being Japanese American and my Ji-chan, first generation Isei. I was brought up to respect my elders and was close to my Ba-chan who lived with us. She taught me from an early age to listen to my parents, study hard, play hard in sports, respect others and to do the very best I could in everything I did. While probably not unique to being Japanese American, it represented what my grandparents and parents worked for; respect, caring for others and the need to excel.
This was reinforced in my early schooling as I attended The International School, a private, language immersion school in Portland through the 5th grade. We were taught in Japanese. We learned that while we were Japanese Americans, our Japanese teachers reinforced the same personal attributes that my family instilled in me. Being a Japanese American carried with it the responsibility of taking the best of being Japanese and combining them with high expectations of being American.
As I entered Tigard High School I was pleased to discover that I could continue my language studies as Japanese was offered there. I started with Japanese 2 and because of my prior education I was able to excel and was accepted into the Japanese National Honor Society that spring.
Membership in the Japanese National Honor Society and volunteering at various school and community events further exposed me to the Japanese American community. Each year, we hold our annual Japan Night, where we raise funds to help others. The first year I was a part of JNHS, we raised funds for tsunami relief in Japan. Last year we collected money to donate to SOLVE, an Oregon Coast clean up organization. Since the time the tsunami hit Japan much of it’s debris ended up on our Oregon beaches so we decided to raise funds to donate to SOLVE to help clean them. This year our fundraising will benefit people in the Philippines.
During the summer I assisted at Ikoi No Kai, a Japanese American senior citizen’s lunch. I helped the regular volunteers to greet the honored guests, serving lunch, pouring drinks and cleaning up. My knowledge of Japanese allowed me to speak with some of the guests, which improved my skills and honored them by speaking to them in their native language. I also organized and lead a group of Japanese Honor Society members to assist at our local Tigard Library with an origami workshop. Children of all ages were invited and the students and I went through the process of demonstrating the step-by-step process of folding origami’s, thus introducing these young people to a part of Japanese culture.
Born to and raised by Japanese American parents and grandparents, continued exposure to the Japanese culture through my educational opportunities, and my involvement in Japanese National Honor Society has taught me many important life skills, but the skills that have impacted me the most are community service and the need to help others.