Sorry for the delay in updating the information here. I'm gonna write in parts over time and I'll add pics little by little. Make you keep coming back... : )
Here we go...
Moving to Japan:
I was born in New York, NY. My mother is Japanese and my dad is American (whatever that is...he's got some Irish in him). I don't know or relate to NY because by the time I started recording memories, we were living in a tiny town called Essex in CT. There, my memories are colored by the big rock in the back forest, all my 30+ stuffed animals I had, Becky my beloved beagle, grilled cheese sandwiches, and my friends Amy, Reeve, and Eliza. At this time, I had NO CLUE I was half-Japanese. Didn't register one bit although I remember being teased by jerks. I just knew my mom spoke some strange sounds every once in a while on the phone.
One summer, my mom took my brother and I to Yokohama to visit our grandparents, people I had met once as a teeny baby. I remember riding the train from Narita sitting in front of them feeling some sort of connection but I couldn't speak to them. They were just smiling and so cute. My brother and I had a great summer running around the neighborhood with water guns, exploring Yokohama, going to the summer festivals, being followed by kids who would mimic our English talk, having fun ourselves with the challenge of not knowing Japanese (i.e. guessing which trains would take us home and not freaking out if we were wrong), and listening to the Far East Network's Mystery Theater once a week (the one English language entertainment we treasured). It was a fun summer because we were there to explore and knew it was temporary.
Arrived in Tokyo when I was 9. My brother, who is 4 years older, went to an American school, and for some reason, I never questioned why I was placed in the neighborhood Japanese elementary school. I was the first 'foreigner' to attend so they weren't sure how to deal with me and I sure didn't know what was going on.
I do remember becoming very astute in picking up how to follow everyone. In Essex, I never wore skirts, but a couple days into attending the Japanese school where ALL girls wore skirts, I came home and asked my mom to buy me a skirt. When she obliged and allowed me to buy more than a few, I knew that following must be very important. So my mom and I settled into a pattern with the ultimate goal of getting me to fit in. And this wasn't easy for her either. For example, on our first school picnic outing, I brought my favorite PBJ sandwich. When I came home, I asked my mom that next time, I would need a homemade bento instead. So next time she made a beautiful bento using a traditional lacquer box that I liked. But I was teased and so when I came home that time, I informed her I needed a plastic 'cute & girly' bento box to match with everyone else. And so on and so forth.
Meanwhile I somehow learned Japanese. I don't remember the whole process - but I know it wasn't easy. Lots of crying and frustrated tantrums upon discovering that a kanji character I worked so hard to learn actually had SEVERAL ways of reading and it DEPENDED on what seemed arbitrary combinations with other kanji. "It's not fair, I wanna go home!" I would say. I also remember having a special tutor.
My elementary school teacher had me write a diary everyday to practice Japanese and she would write back responses. At the beginning, I just copied one sentence phrases my mom wrote for me. This is about 6 months after starting:
I learned...and eventually stopped using English. During this time, Amy and I wrote letters. She showed me some she saved, and yeah, after a while you can't really understand my English. It got pretty bad. And I don't think I was aware anymore that I was American. But my mom noticed that I was becoming overly sensitive (probably from all my efforts to follow the rules) and my parents didn't want me to completely forget my English so I was transferred to the American school. Now that was almost a bigger culture shock.
Getting Back:After learning to follow rules and not stand out as much as possible, boy, I remember transferring to the American School was overwhelming. My first impressions were of how my classmates were loud and unruly compared to the Japanese school. So much color and variety in the air!
Other than the whole middle school awkward stage (which I'll just plain skip if you don't mind), I had a lot of fun...didn't even know how special it was to be able to roam around Tokyo, entering bars and discos at age 14. It wasn't until I went to college in the U.S. did I learn that most kids don't get to party the way we did...not that I'm proud of all the ruckus we caused. At that age, I suppose all kids feel they own the world, so imagine letting loose a group of cocky expat kids in Tokyo...and back then, most owners of Japanese bars were too polite to kick us out.
But I did struggle in my own way with the whole American culture that permeated my school. Unlike most of the kids, I didn't get to go 'back' to the U.S. every summer. My closest friends were like me - from a Japanese point of view, we were very American. But compared to most of the other students, who were in Japan only temporarily, we were more Japanese. Even today, talking with my friends in mixed English/Japanese chanpon is the most comfortable, and everything makes sense when we hang out together.