“I practiced my dancing and posted the videos on Instagram every day during the stay-home period from April to June 2020,” Yuna Yanai says. She always tries to make her voice heard in class, too. Everybody has something they struggle with, no matter how well they think they should be able to do it. For Yuna, that’s no reason not to try; if she thinks she might be able to do it, she gives it a shot. It’s all about being herself, she says. Read on to find out more.
Yuna YanaiFourth-year student, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Sociology & Social Work
Yuna is an accomplished name in the world of Double Dutch, where performers do a bevy of tricks to music while jumping two ropes. In addition to winning an official achievement award for her feats from her hometown of Komae City in 2012, Yuna has already made five appearances in the Double Dutch world championships. With her wide-ranging experiences in Double Dutch forming her personal foundations, Yuna is currently pursuing her studies in Prof. Hideki Ishihara’s seminar on gender issues at Meiji Gakuin. Her favorite saying is “Everything has a meaning.”
Living the Double Dutch life
I’d always had a great impression of Meiji Gakuin. Both of my older brothers, who are three years older than me, applied here, so I’ve always kind of associated college with the Meiji Gakuin name.
I’ve been playing Double Dutch since I was a little girl. From elementary school all the way to high school, it was pretty much my life. I figured I could draw on all that Double Dutch experience when I sat for my university-entrance examinations and did my admissions interviews, too. I was so nervous on the day of my Meiji Gakuin interview that I don’t remember a word of what I actually said. What I do remember, though, is feeling right away that it hadn’t gone well. That’s why I was so happy when my family sent me a LINE message with the news that I’d gotten in. I couldn’t help but cry—not just out of pure relief but also, I think, out of a feeling of validation. All the years and effort I’d put into Double Dutch had gotten me to where I was. That was an amazing feeling.
During my first two years at Meiji Gakuin, I’d go to classes during the day, head to Double Dutch practice after school wrapped up in the afternoon, and then finally get home after 11:00 p.m.. I remember the first year being so hard; getting used to college life was hard enough to begin with. I’d take whatever classes my friends were taking and go to check out whatever clubs my friends were checking out. I suppose you could say I just opened myself to everything. The classes were eye-opening, too. I remember being amazed at the sheer scope of what sociology covered. I went in thinking that sociology was all about environmental issues and things of that nature, but I was excited to find that there was so much more—psychology and economics, for example—that had deep connections with the field.
One of my favorite classes was Course Practicum A, where students had to analyze and give presentations on what publishers are aiming for and how they lay things out in magazines. It was fascinating to delve into the content from a fresh perspective, talking about things like the impressions that models’ clothing leaves on readers and the reasons why a magazine might use a certain color palette on a given page. When I did my presentation and got positive feedback from the class, it was really validating. The whole experience took my interest in sociology to an even deeper, richer level.
How can I help people who are struggling to find answers?
When I was in high school and starting out at college, I’d often hear people around me speculating about other people’s sexuality: “Do you think she’s into girls?” “Do you think those girls are dating?” As I noticed those questions seeming to pop up a lot, I started learning about how sexual minorities struggled with that reception and suffered from the negative implications. I found myself thinking about what I could do to help them, which is what led me to take a serious interest in gender issues. I eventually decided to take my seminar with Professor Hideki Ishihara, who specializes in studying sexual minorities, and began delving into the related resources I could find in the literature and on social media.
So… What are you trying to say, Yuna?
My seminar started in April 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic putting virtually all of our classwork online. One of the things that has really stood out to me about the class is how much the students contribute. Professor Ishihara is always asking for our thoughts, and every response drives the discussion further. But it’s not always easy. Have you ever felt like you have to come up with the “right answer” and say exactly what your professor wants you to say? It’s a feeling that ends up creating doubts; you get timid and clam up because you’re too scared of being wrong. That was me when the seminar started. The thought of dropping my guard and letting people see my identity as a person was so scary that I shied away from ever going into detail, preferring to say things that I thought were safer, more abstract, and, in a word, lacking substance.
“So… What are you trying to say, Yuna?”
When I gave one of those guarded, abstract answers, the response I got put me into a position that I couldn’t get out of: “So… What are you trying to say, Yuna?” That’s when I realized I’d been wrong in thinking that students were just supposed to say vague things that kind of sounded right. Ever since, I’ve been honest. If I don’t know the answer, I say I don’t know. As soon as I started saying what I was really feeling, the ideas and opinions started to flow—there was an opening for real substance. Up to that point, I’d been putting a stifling lid on who I was.
- Could you explain what that means?
- This is how I see it. What do you think, professor?
- Am I getting this right?
Now that I’ve gotten more comfortable asking these kinds of questions, I feel like I’m a lot more active in discussions with the seminar group. I can’t really contribute without a good basis of input on the issues we’re discussing, of course, so I need to make sure I’m informed. Newspapers and reference materials are a big part of that basic foundation, but I’ve also been gleaning a lot recently from Instagram Live. I watch broadcasts by influencers on topics like gender and discrimination, keep notes on the things I learn and react to, and then bring the notes to class to share. From my point of view, engaging with influencers’ ideas directly—without the filters of media—is a great way of getting real, pertinent information, especially with COVID-19 making it harder and harder to do research in the field. The whole experience has brought me to a realization that seems like it should be more obvious: that you have to root your thinking in what’s actually happening instead of trying to idealize everything in the abstract.
Why dance? To get better!
Being more honest with myself has made me a better Double Dutch performer, too. There’s a certain Double Dutch trick where you jump really, really fast, and it’s one that I’ve always been good at. My teammates started seeing me as the one they could count on to stick the high-speed jumps every time. Although it was gratifying to have that kind of standing, the expectations eventually made me feel like I was always under so much pressure to deliver.
I kept telling myself that I couldn’t screw it up. If I couldn’t do those high-speed jumps, what could I do? My experience in the seminar, where I learned to be more open with myself and less scared of disappointing people, helped me navigate things. Thinking more and more about who I was and what I wanted to do, I decided I wanted to make the element of dance—which I’d loved for a long time—a bigger part of my Double Dutch performances. I started practicing like there was no tomorrow. I danced and danced and danced almost every single day from April to June 2020, regularly Instagramming videos of my routines along the way. The videos were like a gauge for me: I saw the view counts and responses from commenters as a way of evaluating myself, and I kept posting new content to track my progress. After about 100 posts or so, I could see that how people saw me was changing. Realizing that I was going in the right direction, I was so much more confident in who I was.
They say that persistence pays off. Those three months showed me just how true that old saying is.
Being true—and staying true—to myself
Looking back on my time so far at Meiji Gakuin, it’s so fulfilling to know that my academic studies and my experiences in Double Dutch are coming together in such a cool way. I’m starting to get a clearer idea of possible future plans, too. Although the COVID-19 situation complicates things, I’m hoping to go into the fashion industry and spend some time studying abroad if I can.
Why fashion? For me, it ties into what I’ve learned at Meiji Gakuin. Picking out and wearing clothes helps people feel more confident in who they are, which is obviously important to me, and I also think fashion can shed some illuminating light on gender issues. It’ll be some time before I know exactly where I want my career vision to take me, but I know that I’ll continue to be myself and push forward, without any regrets, over the rest of my time at Meiji Gakuin.