Below, she recounts her experiences, and shares with us inspiring words about what it was like to submerge herself in a culture different from what she’s used to.
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There really is no other place like Japan. It’s strange and cramped and busy and generous. It’s filthy and obsessively clean, loud, peaceful, disorienting and blissful all at once.
I’ve been living at my uncle’s house, so I get a glimpse into how people really live here, and it’s been intense to say the least. Each day is different, which is what I love about it. Since much my family doesn’t speak English, I’ll often find myself en route to a destination and have no idea where we’re going! After the first couple of weeks here, you kind of get used to the strangeness and just go with it.
I have a massive amount of family here, so there’s always someone coming over to the house bringing gifts. “Omiyage” in Japanese, and Japanese are BIG on omiyage! Every time I meet up with someone, I’m given bags and bags of gifts, from sweets and good luck charms to actual kimonos. I’ve never experienced anything like it! It’s inspiring to see how rich the Japanese culture is, and I’ve really been getting into the rituals here. Some of the superstitions make me laugh though: I’ve never been judged based on my blood type until I came to Japan. I guess I have an undesirable blood type, so when I tell people I’m B positive, they kind of look disappointed and say ‘oh really? …I didn’t expect that.
It’s been amazing getting to share so many stories with my family and hear what Japan was like 60+ years ago. We’ve been going through old photo albums; and each time I look at the pictures, the person who stands out to me the most is my grandma. She is an extremely strong-willed person. She left Japan and moved to the US when she was very young and when I mention that to the girls here my age, they tell me that was almost unheard of during that time. It was such a different time back then, and for a single woman to leave the country was pretty rare.
But she couldn’t live in a country that she felt was trying to turn her into something she’s not. She’s the kind of person who won’t submit to anything that doesn’t feel right in her heart; that outlook has always had a deep impact on me. I knew her story growing up, but actually being in Japan and experiencing the culture for myself, I have a new sense of appreciation for her. She’s an incredible woman! It’s really been a gift to learn about this side of my family and get a better understanding of where I came from.
I kept thinking about this the other day: If my grandma didn’t make the choices she did and start a new life for herself, everything would be completely different. She paved the way for the rest of us. It’s because of her strength that I get to reap the benefits and live a life of complete freedom. It just goes to show how the choices we make today are constantly affecting those around us; even if we aren’t aware of it at the time.
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I’ve had three exhibitions since my arrival, one of which was my first solo show — and it was in Tokyo! I’d been dreaming about having a solo show for years, but who knew it would take place in Japan — that still amazes me! I’ve noticed a funny thing happens when your dreams become reality: It’s one thing to dream about what you want, planting seeds and really putting it out into the universe, but when the dreams actually become real and you’re living them, it’s a totally different world.
When I first got to Japan, I was amazed at how easily things fell into place and how receptive people are to my work here. I kept imagining it would be the best feeling to have a solo show; and as it was actually happening, I was surprised by the range of emotions it was bringing up. I’ve always believed in my work, but I had that little voice in my head wondering if I’m really ready for a solo exhibition, and if it will be good enough. I can recognize that’s just fear; but in the moment, fear can feel so real. Like anything else, you just have to take a deep breath and do it. I think a big part of it is learning to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
In a lot of ways, this experience in Japan has been about overcoming fears. As it turns out, the show itself was amazing, and any feelings of self doubt instantly melted away during the opening night. It ended up being kind of a surreal experience, as I looked around the gallery and saw all my work hanging up on the walls, it showed me what’s possible. It really got this fire started inside of me and made me realize what I want to create in the future.
When the time comes to leave, I feel like I’ll be leaving a piece of myself behind. A lot of growth took place here; and so it feels bittersweet to part ways. Above everything else, I’m so grateful I’ve been able to experience this time with some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.
To sum up my entire experience in Japan would be impossible; thinking about the last few months brings up so many emotions. Sometimes I feel like an alien here, totally out of my element, but because my family is here, I never quite felt like a tourist, I got to see Japan from the inside. I feel as though I’ve been given a tiny glimpse into the mystery of this place, but I know I’ve only experienced the tip of the iceberg, there’s still so much to learn.
Japan, you’ll be in my heart forever.
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