Revisiting roots

Sophomore Alana Nii reconnects with her heritage by taking Japanese at Jefferson.


Performing at 2019 iNite, sophomore Alana Ni does taiko, or Japanese drumming

Aafreen Ali, Staff Writer




Three alphabets for one language. These differences from English were only a few of the challenges sophomore Alana Nii faced when learning Japanese as a way of finding her family’s culture in herself.

As a fourth-generation Japanese-American, Nii has some separation from the Japanese side of her family but wanted to reconnect with the Japanese heritage that her family had lost over the years.

“When my grandparents were growing up, they had to deal with a lot of prejudice since they too were Japanese. Eventually, their desire to assimilate into American culture caused my family to lose a lot of their own,” Nii said. “In middle school, I started learning more about my family history from my parents, and I realized I wanted to reconnect with this part of me I felt like I had lost touch with.”

This cultural connection motivated Nii to switch from French to Japanese after hearing about Jefferson’s Japanese program. Though she had started learning the basic alphabets and phrases on her own in middle school, she faced challenges in the beginning with the syntax and structure of the language because it differed so much from English.

“The way Japanese is structured, you have to finish your sentence and listen to the entirety of the sentence that was said by the other person, whereas in English you can spit words out and people will get what you mean,” Nii said. “That was, and still is a big struggle for me, so my grammar tends to be really off if I don’t think out everything I’m about to say way in advance.”

The grammar and alphabets were difficult to learn, but she improved her understanding in the class under teacher Koji Otani.

“Otani Sensei is a good teacher, but above that, he’s a very kind, hard-working person,” Nii said. “He’s really nice about not giving out too much homework, and he’s always fun to talk to.”

Nii enjoys the lessons in class, as she learns much about the culture and the language from them. She furthers her understanding through participation in many of the Japanese department’s activities, doing shodo (Japanese calligraphy) and leading the Japanese iNite act of taiko drumming. These activities, combined with the culture lessons done in class, helped Nii make connection between her life and Japanese culture.

“They’re all little things, like my grandmother’s onigiri, or my dad’s sense of style for certain things, that I see when we do our culture lessons in class,” Nii said.

Through lessons in class and cultural immersion through activities, Nii finds her growth in skill and reconnection with the language to be amazing.

“I think my own personal connect with the language and culture has definitely come a long way, and I’m really looking forward to keep improving for two more years with Sensei,” Nii said.