When twelve-year-old Waka’s Japanese-born parents fear she is “losing her culture,” they send her from her Kansas home to stay in Japan with the difficult grandmother she barely knows and attend school during what should have been her summer vacation. Now she’s not the all-A’s pipsqueak but the “big dumb jock,” and her home is not six-people noisy but quietly suffocating. To survive, she must embrace her new identity and even her grandmother without also losing herself.
One January afternoon, my mom said to me, 「和歌ちゃん、ちょっと洗濯たたんでよ」.
She was on the floor, legs tucked under her amidst a huge pile of laundry when she spoke in the very-hard-to-hear “parent-asking-you-to-do-something-you-don’t-want-to-do” tone of voice.
There was a lot going on in the house. Dad was doing his calisthenics in front of the TV while he watched the news. “They’re ‘rajio taisou,’” he said, or the “radio exercises” he grew up with in Japan. Side step right, lunge to the side. Side step left, lunge to the other side. Lunge-walk forward to adjust the antenna on the TV, and backstroke back into position. Add some arm circles to the side and, oh wow, now he’s doing high kicks, can-can style. If the exercises alone weren’t enough of a distraction, add the fact that my dad was in his gray-and-black checkered polyester pants and blue-and-white striped polo shirt, long washcloth tied around his head to control his floppy black hair. Pretty clear that style-wise my dad was stuck in the 1970s, even though we were almost halfway through the 80s already. I had a hard time believing that his “Dad-isthenics” were exactly the same as the ones Japanese people did when he lived there.