HAMBURGERS, NINJAS, AND ALL THAT JAZZ / Yume Morimoto

Hello, reader of this journal. My name is Yume Morimoto. I am very well aware that I am an uninteresting individual and it pains me to make you tediously sit and read through a description about myself, but bear with me, as I will introduce myself briefly for the sake of my argument. I am a twenty-year-old female university student at Sophia University’s English department in Japan. To paint you a picture, I have naturally pitch black hair dyed an unexciting brown, I have eight penitent piercings on my body, seven of them acquired by the age of thirteen, I have calve muscles that are almost as wide and brawny as my thigh muscles from the twelve years of ballet training I’ve had, and I have a Harry Potter-like scar in the middle of my forehead that my melodramatic mother wept over because “girls shouldn’t have marks on their beautiful faces.” When I was a little girl growing up in the United States, kids would pull me aside on the playground and inquire quite earnestly, “Are you secretly a ninja?” When I was an awkward teenager in Japan, classmates would ask the fresh-off-the-plane returnee to pronounce “hamburger” or “New York” for them in an American accent. Now you know about my lackluster hair, my remorseful ears, my thunder calves, and maybe even a bit about my unreasonably dramatic mother. If you were not just flipping through these pages, and I was not in my disorderly room chugging sugar and milk-diluted coffee, and we were face to face conversing with each other, I suppose you would wonder…is that an American accent I hear? Why has she told me about her irrelevant body piercings and her melodramatic mother? What is her ethnicity? Then, I presume you would eventually ask, “Where are you from?” Sadly, if you asked me this latter question, I would not be able to answer it. Which brings me to the point of my seemingly irrelevant self-introduction of boring old Yume Morimoto. I can tell you my race, my age, my school, a bit about my past, and even a bit about my external quirks and characteristics. What I cannot tell you is where I am from.

This fact often presents problems for me. Our home address is certainly a key identifier of ourselves, as is, the city, or the country we live in, which is often assumed to narrate our nationality, race, or cultural identity. “Where are you from?” is a cliché but practically indispensable question when it comes to initiating a conversation. Introductions when getting acquainted with others, like the one in my ever so exciting opening of this essay, often requires not a home address, but an insight into your origins and heritage. Home can just mean, a house, but it is so much more than that. It is apparently your origin, your identity; it is an extension and projection of ourselves. Yet, I do not have a place where I can say I am from, and here is why.

I can’t recall the first three years that I supposedly spent in Japan. It is somewhat of a fable or myth for me because I have only been told repeatedly about it at humiliating, often intoxicated family gatherings. Apparently, I was a quiet and calm infant, with slow-growing hair, but fast moving feet. I troubled my parents by scampering around the house like a maniac but being virtually bald until I was three years old. Right about when my head started sprouting little hairs that looked like black fluff, my parents could finally stop worrying that I would be perpetually bald and more importantly, my father got a job in California. I still reminisce about the picturesque summers in Orange County. Or maybe it wasn’t even summer, it’s pretty hard to tell when it’s dry and warm all year around. There was a generally vacant pool right next to my house, where my brother and I had a daily routine of avoiding sharks and befriending the exotic fish while recklessly surfing the massive imaginary waves. Endlessly chasing the ice cream truck on shiny scooters, having unseasonal egg hunts when it’s not Easter, lying in the freshly mowed grass and unluckily getting soaked by the backyard sprinklers…California was where my childhood was.

Right when these innocent elementary school days concluded with girls forming cliques and spreading rumors instead of cooties, my father got a promotion that required my family to move to New York. The next six years in New York was a whirlwind of changes that began with the same guiltless childhood days but ended with over-applied eyeliner, midnight sneak-outs, and the ongoing temptation of drugs, alcohol, and sex. I was at the height of teenage imprudence. Consequently, it was also where my Japanese identity was bleached and tainted by the desire to fit in. I completely abandoned my already fading Japanese colors and traded them in for shades like the pitch black of nights out, the cherry red of tacky lip gloss, and the ashen charcoal of mascara stains. New York was my place to be a rebellious teenager, and to this day I do not regret a thing. My shamelessness can only be justified by some of the confidence and knowledge I gained at that time of countless teenage impulses. I’d like to assume that maybe this unruliness was caused by the constant fear of having to “go back” to Japan.

 In the summer of eighth grade, on a drinking sweaty beer at the docks kind of night, my parents told me we’d finally be “going back” to the place I’d only lived for three years as an infant. Japan. Tokyo. I detested this phrase “going back” because this insinuated that we were “going back HOME.” And of course, at the time, Japan was not my “home.” None of it felt like home. The house in Tokyo was claustrophobic, not only for the huge vintage furniture my parents collected over the twelve years we lived in the States, but also for the reckless girl who loathed being confined into any tiny space. This is why the jam-packed trains and the complete lack of personal space at home was physically suffocating. Additionally, the school system and uniforms throttled any desire in me to be unique or exceptional in a crowd, suffocating me mentally. I wanted to be free, but I was just completely transfixed on disdaining and rejecting Japan as the place that I had always dreaded. Hours were wasted on desperately complaining to my parents, days were consumed hysterically sobbing alone in my room, and months were spent pretentiously displaying my anguish through deafening metal music and head to toe black clothing.  It took some time, but when I finally turned my attention to the niceties and what was really inside, there was nothing to fear anymore.

One summer night, I lost track of time or any sense of rational calorie consumption when enjoying a fervent Natsu-matsuri right near my house. While stuffing my face with sauce-smothered takoyaki, jagabata drenched in butter, vibrantly colored mizuame, and brain-freezing kakigori drizzled in neon flavors, I found myself involuntarily thinking, “I cannot wait for summer here next year.” Realizations like these came continually once I abandoned my fixation on rejecting the place I was in, Tokyo. I recently fell in love with spending time at secluded jazz bars near my station Asagaya, with its hypnotizing music, charismatic bartenders, fun-loving people, and never-ending nights that eventually do end with huge bowls of ramen ravenously consumed at 5 AM. All these little things that I am still discovering make me love Tokyo.

I have come to embrace and love all three places. But the fact is I still cannot call any of them my home. I have always wanted to proudly say without any hesitation, “I am a Cali girl,” “I am a New Yorker,” or “I am from Tokyo.” But of course, I couldn’t. Yes, I’ve had momentary stability in each environment. But, there still is nowhere I can say I am from. However, I have come to realize something and I have come to terms with something.

It does not matter where I am from. Places and people are constantly changing. The vacant pool where my brother and I swam in everyday may be a dismal concrete parking lot now. Over applied panda-like eyeliner and ostentatious amounts of watermelon flavored lip gloss may not be a “thing” amongst thirteen-year-olds in New York anymore. And fortunately, I am no longer a petulant thirteen-year old. I was an infant in Tokyo. I was an oblivious child in California. I was an obnoxious teenager in New York. But that does not mean I ate hamburgers every day (and it certainly does not mean I would want to pronounce the word for anyone’s amusement). I currently live in Tokyo, which unfortunately, does not mean I am secretly a ninja (although being a black-clad warrior/spy/assassin does sound alluring). Let’s stop oversimplifying a person based on where they are from.  My identity is not defined by the name of a city or a country. I am not permanently fixed in some immovable coordinates. The experiences I had in these places, the people I met, the knowledge that I gained, make me who I am today. The places do not define me.

So, lastly, let me introduce myself one more time. My name is Yume Morimoto. If you were not just reading through my introduction yet again, and I was not in my disorderly room sipping my third mug of sugar and milk-diluted coffee, and we were face to face conversing, I presume you would no longer ask me where I am from. Unless, of course, you would prefer to sit through a tediously long story about hamburgers, ninjas, and all that jazz.

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