I feel it on my 3-minute walk to campus. At times, it is subtle; the quiet yet furious pace of students late for classes in Building 11. At times, it is pretentious; the Shinjuku laughter of the working men and women in their blue suits, escaping their offices for a night of ramen, beer, and karaoke. It is the pulse of the greatest city on Earth. It is the beat of life that I now see, feel, and hear every day in the heart of Tokyo as a freshman at Waseda University.
Where I grew up, there was a beach. My friends and I often spent time there, especially when the pandemic hit Southern California. It was our getaway from the outside world, a sanctuary of calm instilled by the rolling of waves and the bobbing of dolphins. But it was also a haven to find inspiration in the unrelenting freedom of the seabirds, simple creatures finding the courage to spread their wings and trust in the fortunes of the winds to soar above us all.
Driven by this inspiration, I applied to the Reischauer Scholars Program (RSP), knowing the improbability of being accepted into a competitive program at Stanford University. I did not have perfect grades nor the brand name of a famous high school. What I did have was the courage to spread my wings and trust in the fortunes of the winds. I had a story to tell, and unbelievably, RSP Instructor Naomi Funahashi chose to listen.
The course was essentially a retelling of my family’s past, beginning with Amaterasu emerging from darkness to losses in battle during the Genpei War. More relevant and recent to the personal connections and experiences of my own parents, we studied about the Zainichi Koreans and incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. RSP was my history… as well as my future, as it turns out.
RSP ignited the realization of my deep, hidden connections to Japan. Six months after RSP concluded, I successfully applied to four Japanese universities and chose to study International Relations at Waseda University. I spread my wings as broadly as I could, and the winds took me from the quiet San Diego suburb of Carlsbad (think of Mitsuha’s Itomori) to the maze of skyscrapers and shrines that is downtown Tokyo.
It is funny how one seemingly insignificant decision—for me, having the courage to apply to RSP—can change the course of one’s life. It was in RSP that I began to hear the steady pulse of my homeland beckoning my return. It was RSP that gave me the courage to spread my wings. And it was because of RSP that I now find myself breathing in, savoring and experiencing the energy and adventure that is the lifeblood of my new home, the capital city of Japan: Tokyo.