I left Japan with one suitcase. It was a large suitcase, but I packed unnecessary things like the books I had already read while forgetting to pack a toothbrush.
My sister saw me off at the airport. Nobu drove us there. I was feeling nauseous from anxiety but acted like I was just excited. I wasn’t excited, though I knew it was what I had wanted even before I entered Waseda. My parents didn’t ask me anything and agreed to pay the fee. The year was 1998, and the yen had just hit as low as $1=$138. The program fee swelled up for Japanese students, so they applied for a scholarship, divided among 10 Waseda students. But my parents still had to borrow money from one of my mother’s brothers, who happily obliged to help. I didn’t know about this until much later, and at the time, I thought money magically manifested for me.
People sneered at me that I was trying to become an American, that I considered anything American was better than Japanese ones, and that I was going to America because no Japanese men thought I was pretty. I had no eloquence to describe my desire then, but I believe what I wanted was power. Since I was little, I had intuitively known I wasn’t born entitled to power because I was a girl. I was vulnerable among boys like the cruel Tsuyoshi and violent Tomo, who were born boys. But I became aware that an academic degree was power, and the higher, the better. Then I’d fight back those imbeciles with words and can look down on them. I also learned money was power. If my mother had enough money, she could have left my father. To avoid the same fate as my mother’s, I needed financial power to live independently. I gained an academic advantage when I got into Waseda. Studying abroad was like upgrading the quality of sword and shield, with which I was to charge into the battlefield of the job market.
As I checked in at the airline counter and walked into the security check, my sister waved me goodbye with an expression of worry and sadness. I had never seen her face with such complex emotions. I waved back at her and turned around quickly so that I didn’t get sad myself. I knew the coming year would be an emotional roller coaster. I just hoped that I would survive the ride and end it with dignity.