At the crossroads

The Story of a Small Japanese Girl with a Big Heart

October 10, 2013  |  By Andreea-Ioana Vihristencu, Romania

At the crossroads

Photo : Kazuki Shimada

After living her whole life in the exotic Far East, in a country that provides, literally, everything, she suddenly chose to change things a little by joining in a bold and an astonishing journey. Nanami Katoh is a recent graduate whose guts and thirst for self-knowledge is way greater than her fear of the unknown. When I first met her I had no idea that such a tiny Japanese girl hides so many life stories.

‘After I graduated university, I tried to work at a worldwide history magazine but the competition was too high and unfortunately, I could not make it. Since then, I worked nonstop in order to raise money for a journey outside Japan. I had not given up on my interest in becoming a publisher and I spent a lot of time searching for the lucky ticket. My reward came when I found this organization called Projects Abroad which sends volunteers from all over the world to developing countries to participate in various projects. I knew that was my moment when I found that they offered a journalism project too’, Nanami started her story.

Even if her mother was strongly unwilling to let her go, Nana signed in with no second thoughts. Her adventure started in India: ‘Even if India is an Asian civilization too, everything was completely different from what I imagined it would be. The flavours, the people, the sounds, the lights, everything was more intense, abounding in colors. I enjoyed this experience because it was something new for me, but I was quite let down by the other volunteers. They did not share any interest in learning something. It was like talking to stones whose only feedbacks were some big smiles. But after all, I incredibly miss India.’

After spending there 2 months, the time to leave the East had arrived. She took her bags and her powerful will and flew to Europe. In her own words: “It is my first time in Europe and I am so excited because everything is so beautiful and the remains of past people and cultures are still visible in the architecture of the buildings, the folklore and especially in the art of cuisine.” Nana was always interested in Europe, but I’m curious to know why she chose Romania instead of England, France or Italy, countries better known for their culture, tourism and history: ‘I was not well informed about Romania. In Japan it is known as a dangerous place, with not that friendly people. I wanted to convince myself of this invalid rumor.’ After being here for over a month, her impression of Romania has changed considerably: ‘People are so friendly and willing to help you no matter what your problem. I stay with two old ladies that are so cute! They cook for me every day, which makes me feel loved. I have to say that they are masters in cuisine because their food is better than the one from first class restaurants. Also for me is kind of uncommon to eat at home, because in Japan, we usually do not have time to cook so we go somewhere for dinner. The only problem is that they do not speak English and it is quite hard to be understood. Brasov is one of the most beautiful towns I have ever seen, everything is so historical.’

After talking about her reasons for being a volunteer and travelling all around the world, I asked her about her passions. What does a normal Japanese girl do? Nana’s free time is taken up with the samurai art of Iai-do, the way of the sword. ‘In translation it means military art. It is not a sport; it helps me concentrate, but the reason I do it is because for me it is a prayer. The sword is my universe. It symbolizes God, so one has to be extremely careful with it. For instance, we are not allowed to step over it, because it would be like stepping over God, meaning that we do not take him seriously. We practice it regularly in a gym, but twice a year, we perform at a shrine in front of an audience and we try to share our happiness with them.”, Nana explains. Nana joined this “Samurai club” when she was at university. At first, she was not sure whether she would like it or not, but when she saw the movements and how the performers’ face expressions changed, she completely fell in love.”

I also completely fell in love with Nana’s story! She showed me that if you are willing to follow your dreams you can make it no matter what the difficulties. Her life has not been easy but she did not give up and she still fights for all that it’s worth. Thanks to this tiny Japanese girl I have gained a fresh appreciation more of her culture and a new understanding of why Asians are so well-known for their power to work hard. It seems to me that no matter what they do, they always give their hearts and souls to it.

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