Home Community Sansei Journal Introducing “Journey to the East”

Introducing “Journey to the East”

The “Monkey King,” in a Peking opera, and in a Japanese woodblock (Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892).

By David Yamaguchi, The North American Post

For some months, the Post staff has been looking for writers to help us in our task of reporting on Nikkei news in Greater Seattle. While like the “Seven Samurai,” we cannot be choosy, our ideal criterion has been someone who is young, and who can thus post viewpoints that we have been missing. On receiving a near-perfect manuscript from Benjamin Narkmon, on “Japan Week” at Bellevue College (Oct. 23 issue), we asked him if he’d like to write for us as an unpaid student intern, perhaps describing what he is learning these days as a first-quarter student at the UW.

As Ben replied, “Your idea sounds great,” here we share excerpts of the email conversations we have shared to date as a way of introducing him. An interesting young man by any account, we look forward to hearing from him directly in early 2021.

NAP: It seems… that you are at the start of a journey, likely leading to your departure for Asia. Many… readers want to be on this journey as well, but can’t be any longer owing to age, etc. It seems… it would be cool to track your UW journey, start to finish, in a series of brief articles from you. Maybe we could put them under a series title, “UW Journal, UW Journey, Campus View,” etc. Tell [us] some basics. What classes are you taking now? How do you get to/from school (bus? drive?)?  Or are you doing it remotely?

Ben: I am taking Japanese 401 (fourth year, as I skipped a few years through self-studying), Eastern Religion (RELIG202), and Language and Diversity (LING234). I am taking classes remotely as of right now, and will not be living on campus this school year. I think that by writing about my experience as a university student aiming to study abroad in Japan, it can hopefully be inspiring for others who wish to study overseas as well.

NAP: Tell us about your parents.

Ben: My father was born in Thailand, and grew up there until he was around thirteen or so, when he then moved to Louisiana with my grandmother. My mother was born in Taiwan, and moved to the U.S. with my father in her thirties. My mother speaks Taiwanese and Taiwanese Mandarin, and my father can understand Thai but cannot speak it.

NAP: Where did you grow up?

Ben: I grew up in Issaquah, Washington, and have lived in the same home my whole life. I never formally lived in Taiwan, but I have been there for summer break as a kid and a few years ago. I have many fond memories of Taipei.

NAP: Did you grow up speaking Japanese at home? Did you attend the Hoshūko, the Japanese School?

Ben: I grew up speaking Taiwanese, Taiwanese Mandarin, and English, but for familial reasons my mother began to stop using Taiwanese and Taiwanese Mandarin with me after preschool. Now, I can understand and speak enough Taiwanese Mandarin to get around the city, but I cannot speak or understand any Taiwanese. The reason I can speak Japanese is because I began learning it in high school and then self-studied for two years. I passed the JLPT N4 and then N3 [Japanese Language Proficiency Test; example test questions for these levels are online], and am now taking fourth year Japanese at the UW. I did not attend Hoshūko, as I am not ethnically Japanese. I did however, attend a Tzu Chi school to learn Chinese, but apparently, I did not take it seriously as a kid, so I eventually stopped going.

NAP: At your leisure, anytime this quarter, send us one of the Japanese writing assignments you submitted to your UW fourth-year Japanese class, as described in the course description. (This is “Isseki nicho:” One rock, two sparrows.)

Ben: In class, we had a reading about vending machines in Japan. I’ve attached my summary of it [it’s title reads, 第十課読み物の要約最終稿]. We had to write it in between 400 and 500 characters, which is why the summary may seem choppy.

As for a name for the column, I am still thinking, but one idea that popped up in my mind was “Journey to the East,” as a play on the famous story about the Monkey King. The name both incorporates my love for literature, and is symbolic of my studies that guide me towards studying abroad in Japan…”

NAP: To provide background for Ben’s closing reply, the “Monkey King,” is a legendary character from ancient China. Readers may recognize him from his role in Peking opera. In the 16th century Chinese novel, “Journey to the West,” he accompanies a monk on a journey to India to bring sacred Buddhist texts to China.

In this space, early in the Year of the Ox, look for the new column, “Journey to the East.”