EVERETT — “My name is Kotoko, and I play the koto.”
That’s how Kotoko Miyamae, 20, first introduced herself to Miki Aspree, program director at Everett Community College’s Nippon Business Institute.
Japan’s national instrument has 13 strings stretched over a wood body that sits flat on the ground. Miyamae uses square picks worn on her fingertips, three on each hand, to play. She said she likes the peaceful sound the koto makes.
And yes, Miyamae said, she picked the instrument in part because of the likeness to her name.
Miyamae learned how to play at her high school club in Kobe, Japan — the city known for its internationally famous beef, and home of the suspension bridge with the world’s longest central span, she noted. The city was built along Osaka Bay in Japan, and happens to be the sister city of Seattle.
The sister city connection is how Miyamae ended up as a student at Everett Community College, she said. She thought about going to college in California, but she likes the mild weather in Washington.
Not too many people play koto in Everett, though, Miyamae said. So when she was called upon to perform on Jan. 24, she played solo in front of an audience for the first time.
“I was so nervous,” she said.
Students gathered around her at the Nippon Business Institute on the EvCC campus. It also was Miyamae’s first time playing while wearing a kimono, specially provided by Seattle- and Kobe-based business Kimono Art. The cloth wrapped tightly around her waist made it difficult for her to move, and the long loose sleeves got in the way of the strings, she said.
She played two songs that she memorized. The audience looked on in rapt silence, with cellphones up to record video. They were there to celebrate Coming of Age Day, a national holiday where 20-year-old Japanese men and women celebrate their entry into adulthood.
The day is a big deal in Japan. People gather at city halls and community centers, wearing kimonos, hakama and other formal attire. Often there are concerts by famous musicians, and afterward the newly minted adults trickle out to parties with friends and family. After all, the drinking age there is 20.
Typically the holiday is recognized on the second Monday of the year, but Everett Community College held its ceremony on a Friday.
Proceedings at the Nippon Business Institute were a little more casual.
Aside from a couple of suits in the crowd, and Kotoko in a kimono, most attendees opted for comfort, with many in sweaters to fend off the dreary January weather.
“Just wear what you feel comfortable in,” Aspree said, laughing. “That’s our tradition.”
Consul Takayuki Ishikawa of the Consulate-General of Japan called the day a moment to reflect on their responsibility as independent adults.
“The world is a complex place and constantly changing,” he said. “ … You will encounter difficulties in life and will make many mistakes. But don’t worry about it.”
Ishikawa confided that he made a lot of mistakes when he was a college student. There will be plenty of opportunities to learn from errors and to grow, he said. And there’s no need to constantly swing for home runs in life, either.
“The only way to achieve great amazing success is through many small efforts,” Ishikawa said, drawing from a quote spoken by Ichiro Suzuki, the recently retired baseball player whose fame stretches from Japan to Seattle.
One by one, students walked to the front of the room to accept certificates signifying the occasion. A few spoke about their dreams for the future. One said he wanted to become a professor of marine biology. Another, an aerospace engineer.
Miyamae said she wants to go into the trade industry. She came to the U.S. to study communication and learn English, she said, so one day she can negotiate deals with other countries. After her time at Everett Community College, she’ll seek a bachelor’s degree, possibly at the University of Washington.
Playing the koto? That’s more of a hobby, she said. But maybe she’ll teach someone to play so she doesn’t have to perform by herself again.