Born in Japan but uprooted to Sunnyvale, California at the age of three, Nao identifies as an American. However, she is ripped from her “happy life in Sunnyvale” when her father loses his well paying his job and the family’s savings and they are forced to immigrate back to Japan where Nao is now an outsider (91). Her life in Tokyo is terrible, leading her to vehemently declare that her “whole life started and ended in Sunnyvale” (43). Not only do her parents neglect her, Nao’s classmates bully her, shouting that she “stinks like a foreigner” and “smell like a poor person...
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...nedly thinks, “but they can’t break my spirit” (277). Like her funeral video, Nao obsessively tracks the progress of her online panty auction. However, Nao “no longer feels any satisfaction from the rising hit count” (278). She is no longer reaching for popularity, but instead now has the confidence to be more comfortable in her nonconformity.
When Nao receives the news that Jiko is dying, she and her father race to Jiko’s temple. In tradition with Zen Buddhism, Jiko constructs a final poem moments before death. Writing a message for Nao and for Haruki, Jiko pens a single character on the parchment: to live.
Her father pushes Nao to live, declaring they “have no choice” but to “soldier on” (369). With her newfound urgency to live, Nao exclaims, “I can’t die… I have to live… At least until I finish writing [Jiko’s] story, I absolutely don’t want to die” (390).
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