EC Testimony 2: Bridge between Japan and America by Nanami Hiramatsu

EC23, my first participation, marked a significant decision for me. As I approach my university graduation this year, I had been wrestling with thoughts about the future direction. Should I return to Japan as it was planned, or should I stay in America? The flags of these two countries were swaying in my mind.

Before talking about my decision, I would like to share with you about my past. I spent five years of my childhood in Los Angeles. Although I was born in Japan, spending ages 4 to 9 in America led me to face an identity crisis upon returning to Japan. I felt like I had been away from my hometown for so long and faced many cultural shocks. For example, despite being Japanese, I couldn’t write katakana or kanji proficiently, and I couldn’t keep up with the TV shows or field trip memories that my peers talked about. The most challenging thing was being expected to speak English by those around me. Whenever English classes came up, I would always hear, “It’s nice that you can get a perfect score on tests without studying.” After returning to Japan, I studied English every day after school through online conversation sessions and reading English books. I also attended a cram school for returnee children on Saturdays, studying diligently while others played in the park. Until high school, I was repeatedly called out by my English teachers, asking why I couldn’t get a perfect score, why only 95 points? Japan’s English classes mainly focus on grammar, and honestly, I struggled a lot.

So I began to wonder if there was a more practical place to learn and speak English. The high school I attended had a sister school partnership with a high school in Australia. I saw a flyer on the school bulletin board recruiting host families and immediately applied. I used English in real-life situations and introduced Japanese culture and the town. It was so enjoyable that I started doing it every year. In addition to that, I also participated in programs teaching Japanese in Tokyo and Cambodia. It was during these experiences that I began to think that I wanted to continue my language learning and cultural exchange at university. Due to the high tuition fees, my parents recommended that I choose a university in Japan with a strong English program. Of course, I understood the financial aspect, but I had harbored a desire to return to my hometown from since I left at age 9 till 19. The fact that I had been doing online English conversation with a Filipino teacher I had never met for almost every day for ten years indicates how much I love speaking English. Fortunately, the only overseas university my high school had a partnership with was California Baptist University. Although the partnership had been established five years ago and no one had enrolled, and I wasn’t a Christian at the time, I was worried about whether I could keep up with the classes. However, realizing that there weren’t many schools willing to provide tuition assistance for four years, I became more eager to pursue this opportunity. Since the only English conversation class I loved in high school was taught by an alumnus of that university, I consulted with her several times. Fortunately, my activities as a host family and my English qualifications were recognized, and I obtained a ticket to study abroad. Unfortunately, after graduating from high school, the COVID-19 pandemic spread. My visa was rejected twice, and I only received it a week before flying to America. I was repeatedly asked by those around me, “Are you going to fly during the pandemic?” However, the university’s email stated that classes would be conducted in person while taking safety measures, so I had no choice but to fly.

However, three hours after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, I received an email stating that all classes would be moved online. I thought it was a text from my parents, but it was actually an email from the school. Desperate, I went to the dormitory and met my roommate. She came from Hawaii and was in the same situation. Although I wanted to go home and give up studying abroad immediately, I didn’t want to show that side of myself. She was a very good roommate, but she returned to Hawaii next semester due to homesickness.

She was the only friend I had, and from the moment she left, every day felt like being imprisoned in a cell. I couldn’t talk to anyone, and eating apples was so painful that my jaw joints hurt. I lost weight, and both my body and mind were in bad shape. I got tired of eating hamburgers in the cafeteria every day, and one day I went to the supermarket by bus because I didn’t have a car. It was okay on the way there, but I had a very dangerous experience on the way back. As soon as I got on the bus, I was bombarded with insults like, “Why did you come to America? Don’t bring germs here,” “You are more contaminated than garbage,” and “Get out of the country, trash.” I was so scared that I couldn’t do anything and just froze. From that moment on, I developed a trauma towards American buses.

As my first year of university was coming to an end, I met a friend. Her name is Hana. She heard from her advisor’s sister that I was struggling, so she came to see me in the dorm. Hana lost her parents in a car accident when she was one year old. She was adopted by a Taiwanese missionary mother and an American father who were serving as missionaries in China. She told me that she had been bullied at school because of her different appearance from her parents many times. Still, she said, “I am with you. Wherever you go, I will protect you and never abandon you until I fulfill my promise to you.” She said that Genesis 28:15 gave her courage. When she asked me what I liked, I said, “Picnics,” and she immediately brought a picnic mat, and we enjoyed the sunset together. It somehow calmed my heart. Then Hana asked me, “Have you ever read the Bible?” I said, “I’ve opened it, but I’ve never read it thoroughly.” Then she read Matthew 7:13-14 to me. It said, “Enter through the narrow gate.” It was the Bible verse I chose to make a bookmark for Bible class in high school. I still believe that this verse is an encouraging verse for me.

Since meeting Hana, I started going to Magnolia Church, which is a 5-minute walk from the university. Although I liked worship, I struggled a lot to understand what the speakers were talking about. Bible study was also very challenging. I thought it would be easier if it were a Japanese church. However, the reality was that there were no Japanese people at my university. I searched for Japanese churches on the internet several times but gave up when I realized I didn’t have a car. However, in the fall semester of my sophomore year, when face-to-face classes resumed, the events I had always wanted to participate in at school also resumed. I heard that there would be events to convey various cultures from around the world, so I volunteered. I set up a Japanese booth and handed out origami and Japanese sweets to many students. Then someone who seemed to be Japanese came to the booth as a helper, and that’s where I met Hibiki-senpai. Many people came to the event, so we didn’t have time to talk slowly while handing out origami and sweets to each other. Still, since I finally met a Japanese person, I got their contact information. The fall semester was busy, and we couldn’t meet after the event, but we happened to meet again in the same class in the spring semester. Hibiki-senpai approached me and invited me to Gospel Siloam Church. There are hundreds of classes and classrooms at university, and there are various schedules and online versions of the classes, but it is definitely God’s plan that I ended up in the same class as Hibiki-senpai.

When I started going to Gospel Siloam Church, I was very nervous. However, many people, including Pastor Inatomi, accepted me like family. It’s a place of refuge for me, especially when I feel homesick. Moreover, I love the Friday ministries. I can connect with Japanese exchange students and sometimes talk about the problems unique to exchange students, which is very comforting. If I hadn’t connected with Gospel Siloam Church, I don’t think I would have stayed in America. Although I had ups and downs like a roller coaster, every time I praised and worshiped, I felt that God had planned many wonderful things for me to return to America.

To increase the number of exchange students saved overseas like me, I want to study the Bible more and tell my family and friends in Japan about the greatness of God in order to increase the people of His kingdom. After graduation, I will work in Japan, but God gave me the best gift when job hunting was not going well at all. It was at the Los Angeles Career Forum. While I was panicking because I hadn’t decided on a job yet, I participated in the corporate exhibition festival. There, I met a company where I could utilize my interest in cultural exchange and English. It turned out that the company was headquartered in Torrance, where I spent my childhood. I went to their booth first. The next day, I received a phone call and had several interviews with the presidents of Japan and America, and I received a job offer. I was very happy to know that I could return to Torrance.

At EC, I talked to people with various backgrounds about various things. There was someone who lost her parentsto suicide, other one who disliked Christian homes and left the church, and we talked until 6 in the morning. They had pasts that could be talked about forever. I made many friends who believe in God together like me. I want to meet them more regularly even after returning to Japan.

The theme of EC was “Takumi- Master Craftman” and I realized that I am a bridge connecting Japan and America with the theme “What was I made for?” After graduating, I will return to Japan for a few years due to financial reasons, but I definitely want to come back and tell many students. For that, I think I need to study the Bible more. I want to tell people that if you don’t give up, you can meet wonderful people, and you are loved by God who is never alone. I really want to convey that. I am grateful to everyone who prepared and operated EC23. I have been looking back at the photos and videos many times. Thank you for your hard work.

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