Moved by music

Freshman moves from Japan, discovers passion for musical arts


Maddi Sponsel

Freshman Momoka Miyazaki (middle) sings with the chorus during the fall musical production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Ava Cuskaden, Club Coverage Editor

Freshman Momoka Miyazaki has loved singing since the first grade. But in Japan, her home country, there are limited opportunities for students to exercise their passions. There are fewer extracurriculars than in America, less focus on vocal activities, and definitely no show choir.

Even so, Japan was all Miyazaki had known. So when her dad’s job relocated Miyazaki’s family to America during her fourth grade year, Miyazaki was apprehensive of her new surrounding language, people and culture. 

“When my family decided to go to the U.S. with my dad, I cried and was so nervous. I had to say bye to all of my friends, and I had to learn a different language. It was too hard for fourth grade Momoka,” Miyazaki said.

At first arrival, Miyazaki enlisted the help of Saturday Japanese school and her American-born cousin, junior Anju Yoshida, to help her assimilate to her new world.

“My other Japanese friends and I were able to tutor her and help her as she gradually got used to being in the U.S.,” Yoshida said. “We would sometimes meet up together at one of our houses and help her, along with our other Japanese friends that recently moved, on their homework and school things.” 

While Miyazaki was excited by the multitude of opportunities presented to her, she still faced plenty of unfamiliar and nerve-wracking experiences that the U.S. exposed her to.

“My biggest culture shock was the school. In Japan, we have to wear specific clothes to school and will either walk or ride a bus or train,” Miyazaki said. “For lunch, most schools provide them. We are not allowed to bring our own lunch. We are also not allowed to bring snacks or sodas.”

One of the strong influences of Miyazaki’s transition into her unfamiliar surroundings was freshman Paige Gordon. The two girls’ interactions caused a long-term friendship that transcends cultural barriers and has strengthened Miyazaki’s ability to connect in America.

“In fifth grade, Momoka was still learning English and we started talking over Google Translate. She was awkward for a bit when she couldn’t talk to us, but she was quick to become everybody’s best friend,” Gordon said.  “Even with not being able to communicate the best or speak English, she thrived in the learning environment and ended up helping others.”

Miyazaki quickly fell in love with the individuality and openness of American culture. She could also explore her love of music throughout the years: from singing a National Anthem solo at a basketball game and being Mrs. Potts in the middle school production of “Beauty and the Beast” to being the only freshman in chorus for this year’s musical production. Miyazaki was even encouraged by Yoshida to try out for the Debtones, and she is one of the few freshmen this year to have made it into the all women’s varsity choir. Having lived in the U.S. for years now, Miyzaki believes that her time here has helped herself and her musical ability develop for the better.

“I am so glad my family decided to come over to the U.S. It is so easy to live for me since my personality is more like Americans. It literally changed my life. I have more confidence in myself than before and I love myself,” Miyazaki said. “I love spending my life in the US. I love Japan too, but not for living.”

As her choir teacher, Jared Norman credits some of Miyazaki’s acclimation to how she has been able to prosper in her environment and be free to develop her musical passion.

“Momoka’s very invested in choir, and so she’s very diligent. When I ask the group to write something down, she’s always taking notes and right where I’m at when directing,” Norman said.

Ever since moving, Miyazaki has known she would one day have to give up her life in America and go back to Japan. Miyazaki and her family have done everything in their power to stay or potentially come back, from extending her dad’s work visa to exploring other avenues to live in the U.S.

“I found a way to maybe come back. There’s a college called Temple University in Japan that also has a university in Pennsylvania. If I go to Temple in Japan, they might be able to send me to Pennsylvania,” Miyazaki said. “I’ve also talked about [fostering or homestaying] a lot.”

With only less than a year left before her move, Miyazaki said she is savoring all she can from America and the memories she can create.

“I really want to do the things I want this year, and I want to experience something I can’t experience in Japanese high school. I am so excited to grow my singing skill more and want to do as many activities as I can before I leave,” Miyazaki said. “I really wanted to be in the varsity choir as a freshman because I only have one year to spend in high school. I am so glad that I made it into Debtones, and I am so excited for the competition season.”

Although she has only been here for a few years, Miyazaki has left quite an impact and created a cheerful legacy for her American family and friends.

“I know I’ll be sad and lonely once Momoka leaves since I don’t really have any other family that lives in the U.S. But having her here even just for a few years was something I’ve never experienced before and I’m glad that it was her that was here. We were able to bond over the years and be closer than ever,” Yoshida said.

Miyazaki’s close friend, sophomore Brandon Keith, has no doubt that she will be able to continue to follow her devotion to the arts. 

“Momoka will find some way to keep herself musically-occupied.” Keith said. “She is so talented that there will always be somewhere or something to be a part of.”

This time next year, Miyazaki will be living life, creating memories, building friendships, learning and singing halfway across the world.

“I think I’m going to miss everything I have. My friends, school, where I live, teachers, food,” Miyazaki said. “But I really want to choose the high school and the college I can go to in the U.S. as an exchange student…if I choose a school that has a relationship with the U.S. then I have a chance to come back. Everyone says that they want to go back to Japan, but I want to live in the U.S. It is the home for me and where I want to spend the rest of my life.”