DC Day 9: July 30, 2013

Today we visited Sustainable DC, Martha’s Table and Busboys & Poets.

Our day started off at the Waterfront. When I arrived at Waterfront’s Metro station, right away I noticed that the buildings in the area were new, compared to the area around the new area. I assumed that the place had gone under some development, and thought that it was strange how you could actually see a “border” of the developed area. At Sustainable DC, we were lectured what goals DC has planned, and what they are doing to achieve it. It was interesting to see Sustainable DC function as the city’s “brain”, constantly receiving signals from all parts of the city, and sending back reactions. I thought that their goals should be shared with more people, because actually seeing numbers and working for them makes a big difference.

At Martha’s Table we did some food-packing activities. We split up into groups and cut vegetables, fruits and cakes. I got to do the cakes. It was actually my first time doing a service activity, or as far as I remember, and it was fun. Martha’s Table also has a used-clothing store called “Martha’s Outfitters”. It was crowded with people, and I could tell that Martha’s Table was not just serving the community but taking part in the community.

At Busboys & Poets, we had the owner, Andy Shallal, talk to us. He made some very interesting remarks on how we see democracy, and that we the citizens are getting less representative without noticing it. As an artist, he also talked about art, and said that “Art is a metaphor”. He said that art makes a simple message, but makes you think deeper, and reaches people in different levels. I found this quite amazing how he explained “Art”, which can be one of the most confusing terms of all. I really enjoyed my time there. By the way, the desserts there are delicious.

S.K.
Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School
Japan

DC Day 9: July 30, 2013

Today felt very calm and relaxed to me unlike the past week where we were always on the move. I have started to ride the metro now with my Japanese buddy who I will be home staying with and another girl who gets off at my stop. We met this time in the Foggy Bottom metro station and headed over to Sustainable DC. We learned a great deal about how the Washington DC area is doing with moving toward being the most sustainable city in the US. Seeing the ways we can help make things last and how we can make a difference makes me see how I live in a new light. I also got to see how I have been contributing by walking and riding the metro regularly, as well as getting a water filter so I don’t need to buy plastic water bottles which litter our streets and rivers. Then we had lunch and during lunch we were able to talk more with the Japanese. For me it was mostly about what are the best snacks and telling them some American staple foods they have to try, like Chipotle and any good burger place like Five Guys. We even brushed on drugs and alcohol and how people care a lot about the situation in Japan and even America. However, I find from experiences my friends have that the police in DC don’t necessarily arrest you if they see underage drinking or my friends never get caught smoking, but in Virginia they crack down on it very hard. I think maybe because in DC there are much bigger issues like shootings going on and they just can’t focus too much on what the youth are doing.

After lunch we headed to U Street and visited Martha’s Table, an organization to help poor children and people who need food, education, clothes, and a safe environment. While there we did a service project where we prepared food to be sent out in their trucks to feed those who need it. I was on pineapples and then moved to onions, which was a big mistake. Through that experience I found out I am pretty bad at cutting produce and that onions are horribly mean to my eyes. We even got a tour of the facility and took a picture on the playground. We all wanted to play and see the young kids in day care but it was nap time. Afterwards, before we went to Busboys & Poets, we got to go into Martha’s Outfitters and go thrift shopping for a little. While there I also noticed and heard from two Japanese girls that they don’t do too much thrift shopping or DIY’s (do it yourself). However Japanese girls go get their skirts tailored to be really short, but in America especially in schools it is sort of looked down on or you get in trouble for wearing short clothes (it is the fashion now though).

At Busboys & Poets I was surprised, I thought we were going to just learn about what they do at Busboys and learn about why he created the place. I was shocked though at how we began talking very passionately and I mean VERY passionately about how our freedoms are depleting, about how we could become a fascist country, and about our voting rights. During the discussion we also learned that in Japan the young people don’t really even vote and that is almost the same here. Personally I wasn’t a fan of Mr. Shallal, but I did however like what he got me to take away. I liked that Busboys & Poets was a place as he said where all cultures and people are welcomed and art, politics, and music collide. He made me realize how much freedom we have begun to lose and if we do walk out of classrooms in protest it results in harsh punishment. So it makes me think if we are so far down this road of lost freedoms how do we take our freedom back and how do we stand up and fight for it. That is a question I think for everyone including me and Mr. Shallal because if we want to stand up and do anything we are punished and discouraged, but how do we keep on pushing?

–       R.A (:

Rebekah Armstrong
School Without Walls
Washington, DC

DC Day 8: July 29, 2013

Hi! This is HO.

One week has passed since we began our program. Now I know other members well and feel comfortable with them.

Today we first discussed teen pregnancy, what we learned so far, and which words describe us well (for example, flexibility, open minded etc.) at School Without Walls. We did “Head and Heart” activity again. Also we wrote down what to discuss / want to know / want to see.

Then we walked to the Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam Memorial. We saw Lincoln’s famous speech, The Gettysburg Address, on the wall. This was my first time to see famous speech “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” in English. I have only known Japanese wording “人民の、人民による、人民のための政治” , so it was really impressive for me. After that we visited DC Central Kitchen and finally walked to the Union Station and we got home.

I’m interested in “to use food as a tool”. This phrase was said in DC Central Kitchen. This means that giving meals isn’t radical solution to help poor people and what we need to do to help them is to make people living by themselves. They said they aren’t doing soup shop. I was surprised to hear that because I’ve never thought like that. Everyone can think of giving food for free but few people can consider the poor’s living. From this experience, I learned that if we want to change something, we have to think of essence. We learned “iceberg” on the first day, and I think this organization looks under the “iceberg”.

H.O.
Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School
Japan

DC Day 8: July 29, 2013

Today we met at School Without Walls expecting to meet someone and to do an activity. The schedule was changed, so we ended up touring DC again, which is always fun with the Japanese exchange students around. We visited the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial, both I had yet to visit so it was a pretty interesting experience. At the time of our visit to the Lincoln Memorial, it was defaced with a green substance and I personally couldn’t understand why someone would want to ruin something so important to thousands of people. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my time at the memorial with the Japanese students. We took pictures together, made our way through the immense crowd and even listened to a story about someone who witnessed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech. After the Lincoln Memorial we visited the Vietnam Memorial and talked about why the war was even started in the first place.

We later walked to the National Museum of American History and I partnered up with H.I., the person I’m staying with while in Japan. While at the museum we saw the Food, Star Spangled Banner, Dollhouse, Changing America and the First Ladies exhibits. I would have to say we spent the most time in the First Ladies exhibit but my favorite was the Food exhibit. I really liked seeing how different the food was packaged then as opposed to now and I enjoyed seeing foods and utensils used by people from different cultures.

At around 2 the TOMODACHI crew regrouped and headed to the metro where we caught the train to Judiciary Square and visited the DC Central Kitchen. While there we took a quick tour and talked about how they got started and what they did. DC Central Kitchen aims to help people in ways other than providing them with food. It wants to get people to a place where they’ll be able to provide for themselves and their families. The day was really enjoyable and I feel as if we all learned a lot, whether it was from each other or from the places we visited.

Jatalia Wilson
Eastern SHS
Washington, DC

DC Day 5: July 26, 2013

We changed things up this Friday and met at School Without Walls (or Walls for short), where we’ll often meet from now on, instead of going to the American Councils office.  I was excited as even though I knew no students would be there, it is my school and I felt proud and excited to go back and show my new Japanese friends.  “Why such a strange name?” I was asked.  “You mean you don’t have a gym or a field at school!?”

Once settled in, a panel of experts came and talked to us about issues in U.S.-Japan relations.  Three organizations were present as well as a student our age that had traveled to Japan in the past.  Not only was the panel interesting and informative, but it also made me excited to go to Japan from what I was hearing about their experiences there.

After the panel discussion and a quick lunch at school we all walked to the White House.  I’ve been past the White House many times, often moving on quickly in order to avoid the large crowds of tourists, but today I became one as we all took a group photo in front of the White House.  The Japanese students were struck by how small the White House was, as they had already had a mental image of a large building symbolic of the United States.

A short metro ride later and we were in a very different part of the city.  No longer were we surrounded by tourists and important government buildings.  Now we walked past people just hanging out on the street, a Hispanic lady selling drinks, and overall just a whole lot more diversity.  We were in Columbia Heights, going to the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC).  Yet again I was very excited as I wanted the Japanese students to experience and learn about Latin American culture and its presence in the United States.  In the past week they had seen neighborhoods that were predominantly African American and compared these to those that were not, and they had heard bits and pieces about the Latino population in the U.S., but they hadn’t really had a chance to see it.  Now we were in the colorfully painted building, comparing Japanese culture not only to American culture, but also to Latin American culture in the U.S.  Before long a circle was made and participants in LAYC performed different Latin American dances and even the director of the program was coaxed in to dance a little.

Being Latin American myself I was proud to see the Japanese students having such a good time dancing Latino dances and comparing cultures.  A theme that we’ve discovered during our time together is the diversity found in D.C., and the Latin American community is a fundamental aspect of this.  Today, I was glad that they were finally able to experience another group of people that make up the United States and compose its mixture of cultures and colors.

Delmar Tarrago
School Without Walls
Washington, DC

DC Day 5: July 26, 2013

On Friday of the first week, we made our first visit to School Without Walls, a public high school in the District of Columbia, which will be our base for the following week. After we did a little introduction of the day and were told some additional information of the upcoming events, our panel guests arrived for the briefing on US-Japan relations. Our first guest speaker, Grace Ruch, gave us a brief session on the historical events that happened between United States and Japan. Shanti Shoji, the Vice President of a non-profit organization called Kizuna Across Cultures [KAC], told us about their effort to connect the youths of the 2 countries using the social networking service. Then, Brandon Artis shared his experience as an exchange student in Japan. Lastly, Yuuki Shinomiya and Kunihiro Shimoji spoke about Japan America Student Conference [JASC] and some other opportunities we have to stay connected with Americans from the Japanese perspective. In the afternoon, we went to the Latin American Youth Center [LAYC]. There, we had the chance to listen to teenagers trying to deal with problems that the kids of our own age group are suffering from; the topics were “Teen Domestic Violence,” “Teen Pregnancy,” and “Bullying.” Also, the teenagers showed us a Dominican dance and we were also able to do a little bit of dancing.

I was grateful that I had the chance to talk with some of my “sempais” of becoming global citizens, which is a Japanese term for elders who have been through the same situation or process as you. From the conversation I had with Mr. Shimoji, I learned that economics was an essential knowledge when trying to get into an international organization, which was something I am interested in in the future. And this is just an example of how much you can learn and absorb from a “sempai.” From this I recognized the importance of networking; therefore, I’ll try to keep in touch with all of the interesting people that I meet on this program, especially because the people who we are getting the chance to see are the kind of people I would have never had the chance to see if I hadn’t been a part of such a magnificent program. Also, the visit to LAYC made me realize how dependent I had been. I thought I cared about the society and the problems that many people of our age were dealing with, but I hadn’t made any actions to try and solve them, whereas the kids in LAYC were actually turning their thoughts to actions. I was greatly inspired by them especially because they were teenagers just like me but really believed they could make a change in the world, which I had unquestionably denied my whole life. So, before doing any service projects, I will start trying to make the world a better place by believing in myself that I can really make a difference.

A.T.
Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School
Japan

DC Day 4: July 25, 2013

Today we visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, walked around the Tidal Basin to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and had a discussion at American Councils with Dan Davidson, the founder and president of American Councils.

The Holocaust Museum was just perfect for visitors like me: the ones who know what the Holocaust was, but don’t exactly know how it happened. The tour guide started by explaining the economic failures that followed the end of WW1, then the uprising power of Hitler, and how he gained his power. I was just startled by how much power propaganda can hold. Today, in the 21st century, we cannot live without relying on the social media, whether we are aware of it or not. Now in Japan, politicians are now able to promote their manifests or political beliefs through the Internet. Although this is yet far from the abuse of propaganda that occurred in Germany during WW2, we must be aware that at times, the general public can be manipulated very easily by political representation, especially in a democracy.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was very different from what I had expected. The touch of boldness in the sculpture was something that was not in the other memorials. First of all he was standing straight up, secondly, he had his hands crossed, and thirdly, he seemed to look away from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. It was almost alarming. I had never seen such an aggressive monument like this before. The engraving at the side made it even more iconic, and I thought that there was no wonder why it caused so much controversy when he was first opened to the public. Another point to notice is that he is left uncompleted, with only his front side emerging from the rock. The memorial was probably not the kind of representation that most people desired for, but I thought that it sent out a strong message to the present world: “That inequality is still a very large obstacle that we shall overcome”, which makes him seem more alive and meaningful, rather than just a big remembering rock.

When I noticed that the staff at American Councils used the word “cross-cultural”, but not “multi-cultural”, I felt I had further understanding of this organization’s initiatives. Multi-cultural has now become the world standard. We are expected to be cross-cultural, not only understanding your own country from your own perspective, but analyzing your own country from the perspective of another country. At the beginning of the program, we were taught to measure the differences we would see among the different cultures. To determine what “blue” is, we must observe the “green” and know what “yellow” is. Without a doubt, a cross-cultural mindset will bring us deeper understanding of the culture. What Mr. Davidson told us today that I was particularly fond with was that the language comes before anything of the country. After I return to Japan I am planning to start a third language which will be a new challenge for me.

S.K.
Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School
Japan

DC Day 4: July 25, 2013

On Thursday, we took a look into important pieces of American history. We first visited the Holocaust Museum located downtown near the Smithsonian and the National Mall. This wasn’t my first time visiting the museum; however, I took great interest in watching the reactions of my Japanese peers. I was surprised to find that they knew little to nothing about the genocide committed by the Nazi Germans, because of how big of a deal it was to America. Then I understood, during the time of the Holocaust, Japan had an alliance with Germany, so they never saw the impact from the point of view we, as Americans see it from. Going through the journey, I could see the shock on their faces. Although I had visited the museum previously, I always notice something new each time I go. The content in the museum touched me emotionally even though I’m not personally connected to this tragic, yet historic event.

After the museum, we sat and ate lunch in the park, looking out at the wonderful view, and fed ducks. Following our relaxing lunch break, we walked toward Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which was built to be a statue of him, surrounded by some of his most impactful quotes. We spent a moment to talk about the struggle of African Americans in society over the years. We talked about the civil rights movement, the late yet unforgettable Ms. Rosa Parks, the memorial’s position in the city and why it was chosen, and we compared the segregation between blacks and whites in the 20th century to the infamous case of Trayvon Martin, and the newly proclaimed verdict on his killer, George Zimmerman. By the end of this day, the Japanese students had a clear insight on some of the flaws in our American community, which was important for them to see in order to have a full understanding of our history and culture.

The lesson of this day would be to look beyond the surface, whether it is the surface of the skin, or the surface of an unfamiliar culture. Like Bo from American Councils said, foreign cultures are like icebergs, you can only see the surface, which never amount to much. But by asking questions and stepping outside of your own culture to understand another, you will find yourself digging deeper into the iceberg, thus unlocking a world of wonders.

Atiya Artis
Coolidge SHS
Washington, DC

DC Day 3: July 24, 2013

Hi, I’m I.Y., a Japanese participant for the 2013 US-Japan Youth Exchange DC program. I’m 17 years old and I have spent all the days in Japan. Therefore, this is my first visit to US, as well as having a life in US. I have been having really exciting and fascinating time in here, so I would like to share one of those in this blog today.

On the 3rd day of our program, we first had two noble guests, Mr. Terry Shima and Ms. Saki Takasu to gave us the story about their Japanese American experiences. Their stories really made me think about one’s loyalty and identity. Before today, I just thought that being Japanese American is advantageous to their lives for they can have both qualities at the same time and they can enjoy two worlds, cultures at the same time in their lives. However, having their stories, I indirectly faced to the reality about being a Japanese American and I noticed that I was really biased. It was also thoughtful for me when I heard about what Japanese did to the Americans during the WWII. It was a great opportunity for me to learn the “dark side” of Japan especially from Mr. Terry Shima’s own experience because I could hardly find those facts from our Japanese textbooks.

After that, we visited to the Capitol Hill. We met with Mr. Mike Honda, a Japanese American U.S. representative for California, and had some talk on the hallway. Though he was such a busy man, he had managed his time for us. One of his words: “no one is neutral. You can’t be neutral. Everyone must be standing either side,” gave me something really to think of. It was again the thoughtful quotes for me.  Then we enjoyed a lunch in Longworth Cafeteria and had a Capitol tour. We also visited to the Japanese Memorial and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum after that. I was glad to see the Japanese Memorial because I thought people hardly forget horrible things happened in the past if we have this kind of memorial.

It was such a nice-thoughtful day for me today.

I.Y.
Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School
Japan

DC Day 2: July 23, 2013

This is H.I! I’m going to write about what we did on July 23rd. On our second day of our program, we first visited United Way, which is an organization which does things related to volunteering. Here, we learned about the organization itself and gained knowledge on volunteering. We also had a fun quiz in the style of “Jeopardy”, which is a famous American quiz show. After that, we took a walk around Alexandria, which is a historical city in Virginia. We visited the Torpedo Factory and went inside art workshops. Then we headed back to United Way and made a literacy kit, which is something which helps volunteers who read to children find a more engaging way to interact with the children. When we finished creating our literacy kits, we visited the Old Japanese Ambassador’s residence where we listened to speeches made by our sponsors of the program and met other Japanese students participating in another TOMODACHI program.

From my observation, I found the fact that Americans tend to volunteer much more than Japanese to be the most intriguing one. Although Japanese people understand that volunteering is a good thing, it still is not a common activity. There aren’t many opportunities to try volunteering. In my opinion, I think this reflects the difference in culture from two points. The first point is the distance people keep between each other. In Japan, the distance between people is relatively far, and people tend to keep a certain distance with those who aren’t familiar to them. However, here in the U.S, I feel that the distance between strangers is much closer. I see people on the metro making compliments to a total stranger, and the people passing out newspapers saying “Have a nice day sir” which all seemed new to me. Also, I think we can bring this to a deeper level of the people’s loyalty towards a country. As we have been learning, the Americans seem to have a stronger sense of patriotism and loyalty towards their country as people of diverse races need to unite. Therefore, it looks like people want to make a contribution to the society by doing what they can, like volunteering. I thought we should bring this custom of volunteering into Japan as well so that all citizens can feel like they are part of the society and become philanthropic.

What impressed me by “heart” the most was that volunteering can not only benefit the ones being volunteered, but also the volunteers themselves. In other words, lending a helping hand can make this world a happier place. I learned about the various volunteering events United Way held, and the participants seemed to be enjoying their time. By volunteering, it helps us connect with another person, expand our view of the world and can help ourselves find what we like doing. I was moved by this since I was able to see volunteering from a new perspective. I would like to continue thinking more about volunteering, and what I can do for my society, starting by taking action locally.

H.I.
Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School
Japan