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When Aiko Tanaka was born, her mother purposely chose a simple first name that would be easy to pronounce by non-Japanese. Perhaps her mother was prescient. By the age of 18, Tanaka had already left Tokyo in search of experiencing the culture of America, which, she reminisces, pervaded her quiet Japanese life in Mitaka in western Tokyo.

“I was raised by a single mom,” says Tanaka, who says that she felt wanderlust early. “I think that makes you independent. It’s why I found it easy to leave and I had no fear.”

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