Madeleine Gutierrez

The Fulfillment of Dreams: Sushi, Monks, and Hearts

Even though I returned from Japan a month ago, the word すみません (Sumimasen) still seems to escape my mouth as I bump into people in the crowded streets of Downtown Los Angeles. This powerful word does not, however, split the Red Sea of Angelinos inhabiting my home town, or remove from me the guilt caused by bumping into these folks. Instead the word すみません only seems to envoke quizzical looks from strangers and occasionally some curse words. I know I am not in Japan when I have to remove the adhered gum from under my shoe, while I notice the hundreds of coca-cola bottles lining the sidewalk. Being in Japan means searching for precisely 130 yen jingling about in my trusty coin pouch, which are soon sucked up by the vending machine that spits out an ice cold milk tea. Japan means resisting the urge to leave the ice cold milk tea’s bottle on the pavement, for, despite searching like a madman, the trash can is non-existent.

Although Japan and I have said our farewells, we exist within each other. Japan’s culture has not yet left me. I still find myself placing the palms of my hands together and saying “いた だきます” before I eat. Since the days of my youth, Japan gravitated towards me, or perhaps I gravitated toward it. Regardless, my favorite restaurant was Japanese and Studio Ghibli films were my Peppa Pig. I once thought my love for Japan to be additive; it was, however, multiplicative: every kaiju, roll, and anime doubled my love for this country of the rising sun. When the time came to choose a language in highschool, I instantly knew there was but one choice: Japanese. Japanese’s difficulty, then, was unknown to me: I began to doubt my decision, calling my father and convincing him that this was not merely “Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto”. Who knew that the Japanese had three different alphabets (maybe four if you include romaji!). Eventually, with the support of my Sensei and a dear friend, Yui, my doubtful love for the language settled. My lifetime dream was impeded, however, by my family’s lack of affluence. I understood that we could barely pay the bills, but, in my heart, my dream lived on, knowing that I would have to wait for college to study abroad. By the greatest of fortunes, I was nominated to
apply to Student Diplomacy Corps; the rest is, well, history. Although, most histories do not end in such delicious sushi.

The road to becoming a master sushi chef is not a clear or easy one; therefore, I was very fortunate, this time, to have been pushed through this system with direction and clarity. While most sushi chefs wait years before beginning to prepare and cut fish for sushi, I became a mini sushi master in 1/100 of the time, slicing sashimi and rolling maki. In the most humble way possible, Gordon Ramsey has nothing on me and the rest of our group, which was comprised of the most fascinating people I have ever met.

It is impossible for this notation to convey the amounts of fun and knowledge gained through this active emotional experience in Japan. Whenever I listen to the Japanese Band One Ok Rock, I am reminded of my loving host family who treated me as if I were their own daughter. I begin to laugh at how, despite my lack of navigation skills, I was able to lead the group through the busy train stations, roads, and corridors of the crowded Tokyo and Kyoto streets. My back still straightens whenever I gaze upon long poles, as memories of a monk whacking us during Zen meditation begin to resurface. My eyes begin to swell up with tears as I remember Japan in all its glory: one heart for the country and myself.

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