November 21 – Watari-cho

After taking the train to Watari-cho, we soon took a taxi to a museum where we learned about the origins of the city of Watari.  First we saw samurai armor from the Edo period, including a replication of the armor that belonged to Date Shigezane, the founder of Watari and a relative of the famous Date Clan. Afterwards we saw old supplies used by farmers to not only make rice, which was their cash crop, but also silk. As we went through the exhibit, we also saw articles of clothing that were worn by farmers and religious ornaments that were made from rice plants. We also were able to see an old fire engine used by early firefighters of the Edo period, which seemed very advanced for its time, and a boat we learned how to sit in.

Then after we went through the exhibit, we went to visit the organization WATALIS, where we learned about how kimono fabric was put into different uses in the past as well as today in the process called the “up-cycle,” which is similar to the concept of recycling, and made cool hangers covered with kimono fabric.

Personally the thing that struck me the most about our visit in Watari was not only having fun while making cool hangers, but also learning about how the organization was going to create products for the Olympics in Japan for the year 2020. But even after that, the one thing that truly impacted me was the point where the head of the organization gave me a piece of kimono fabric and told me that I reminded her of her son. After hearing this, I really felt close to her and the company. I also enjoyed conversing with other employees within the organization and grew closer as we did. This was actually one of my favorite days, just because of how special it was.

Joel Bernola
Ellington School of the Arts

November 19 – Fishing in Minami Sanriku

Today we went to a local fishery in Minami Sanriku. Minami Sanriku is located in Tohoku and was the hardest hit by The Great East Japan Earthquake. 95% Minami Sanriku was destroyed and more than half of the population was lost. The fishing market was also devastated. Nearly 90% of the commercial property was lost and all ports were lost as well.

We went fishing with a local fisherman named Mr. Marouk, who was just elected as the city councilman. Going out to sea was fantastic for the first time. The fisherman told us how great the water had been since the tsunami hit, which was pretty weird at first. Then he explained when the tsunami hit it was like it cleaned the banks. That is good because it helps the taste better and is better for the environment.  We had a chance to taste Hoya and Oysters fresh out the ocean. I tried the Hoya and Oysters but they were very salty.

As we were going out to sea, the fisherman told us how hard it is living in Minami Sanriku after the earthquake and tsunami. He explained that they need younger people to help out in the fishing industry because they are getting older and need the younger generation to help them. Without the young people helping Minami Sanriku, fishing ports would be on the edge of shutting down because the fisherman do not have any help. He said the children graduate from college and want to go to the city for more opportunities and to fulfill their dreams.

Once we got back to land we had a barbeque and ate the food we caught. Mr. Marouk told us what happened to him and his family when the tsunami hit. He said after the earthquake hit, 30 minutes later the water started to draw back. He took his family to high ground and then took his boat out to sea. He came back on a lifeboat. Once he returned to his family, he made them move to even higher ground. He had a feeling the next wave would be even higher. Once he and his family reached the top, the second wave came and it covered the place where they had been before. He made a quick decision that saved his family’s life.

He also talked about “Omotenashi” which means hospitality in Japanese. He wants people to come and visit Minami Sanriku not to see how the people were devastated but to learn about their culture and take great experiences back home.

Tenaj Gueory
McKinley Technology HS

November 18 – Meeting Yuuri

The first place we went to in the Tohoku region after Sendai was Minami San-Riku. As we neared and entered Minami San-Riku we saw miles of barren land with just a few buildings that the tsunami spared and didn’t fully wash away. The floodgate was mangled and broken, and the disaster prevention center was just a skeleton of the building that used to stand there, and bring peace and hope to its citizens. It stood there red and with mangled pipes and stairs barely holding on — like the few survivors who clung for their lives to the stairs and antenna at the top.

We had just pulled up in front of the junior/high school building and looked out into the town. There was a small area with several little stores, but aside from that everything was gone, just the single road going down the middle and the few buildings that survived to decorate the barren plain.

After our small little tour of Minami San-Riku we had the pleasure of meeting with a high school student and alumni of the TOMODACHI program named Yuuri. She was in her junior year so about our ages. She told us a captivating story of her experience with the tsunami and what she is doing now to tell those stories and help out. She was at school when it happened, which was located at the top of a very high hill safe from the tsunami’s reach. She and her classmates watched as the town was engulfed by the waves. Her grandfather was killed while in one of the hospitals when the tsunami came and swept it away. She would never get to say goodbye. The courage and strength she had was truly amazing and inspiring. She had acted as strong and unafraid as possible during that horrendous time as she tried to comfort her friend who was in so much fear. However you cannot be strong all the time, and so she herself became fearful of the tsunami as she watched it take away everything, and the friend she had just comforted came to her rescue.

A few weeks later she said that they posted pictures of missing/dead people to be identified.  One happened to be a teacher she was very close with. She like many people hoped it was someone else not someone they knew and cared about. This teacher meant a lot to her. She listened to Yuuri and cared about her; however Yuuri realized she herself didn’t say how much she appreciated her. That was one message she gave to us. Tell someone you love them or appreciate them before it’s too late because you never know when they will be gone forever.  She and other students at her school tell their stories to outsiders and those within the town. Yuuri and only one other girl tell their stories in English though.

Another theme we saw like others we met was the emphasis of remembering and wanting us not to forget them. Many of us, even I, shed a tear for her story. The courage she had to tell the story again and to have lived it was amazing. She was a true inspiration. After she met with us and we asked several questions, we all went back to our lodge. We got to eat dinner with Yuuri and learned more about her. We ate a cute little dinner with fried oysters and other items. For dessert we made melted bananas with chocolate over a giant bonfire. We ran around and played soccer, a sport she just so happened to play. I felt like a kid again or at least as if I was back in America with my friends and bonding. While at the bonfire we discussed the day and Yuuri’s story.  We each reflected about what we saw and how Yuuri’s story made everything we had been hearing about Tohoku feel real. She had hopes and dreams like most young kids, and hers was to bring people from all over the world together to tell their stories, and connect. I know I wouldn’t forget her and hope to help spread her idea.

Rebekah Armstrong
School Without Walls

The Keio Experience

From the jam-packed bus that took us to the school, to sitting in a statistics class with the teacher lecturing in Japanese and students falling asleep, spending time at the Keio High School was one of my more memorable experiences during my time in Japan. I had been really looking forward to meeting and interacting with Japanese students my age and most definitely had this opportunity while at Keio.

“Does every American family have a basketball hoop in their driveway?” I was asked. Although sometimes shy, students were very welcoming and wanted to learn more about the U.S. and practice their English. I had a great time trying to give them a sense of my life back in D.C. while learning about theirs in Japan.

Besides meeting and hanging out with students my own age, I enjoyed experiencing Japanese high school. In terms of how classes are run in Japan, there are a few major differences from how they are run in the U.S. First off, each grade is separated into different groups, 6A, 6B, 6C, and so on. Each group has about 30 students and has its own classroom. Instead of the students moving from class to class, with different students in each class, like it is in the U.S., the group of 30 students remain in their classroom for the entire day, with teachers coming to this particular classroom to teach. I found this very interesting because this is typically how an American elementary school is run. Once in middle school, and especially in high school, classes are more divided by skill level, and students are given more freedom to select their courses. Because of this, different students will be in different classes and students must move from class to class, with teachers having their fixed rooms.

I also noticed that many of the classes in Japan consist of a teacher lecturing with a powerpoint. I know that in the U.S. we have really come to value hands-on projects and a more engaging classroom environment. I had never really thought much of this until experiencing class in Japan. There, the teacher stands up and lectures for the entire period, at times referring to a powerpoint, but rarely asking questions to make the experience very engaging.

I can’t really say that the American high school “style” is better, nor that the Japanese is either, but merely noticed these differences while at Keio. Because school is such a big part of our lives as students, we are very used to school being run the way it is, in my case, the American way. While experiencing Keio, it was refreshing to get to see a different high school experience, one that although different, I am sure would be fun as well.

Delmar Tarrago
School Without Walls

Keio and Wearing Yukata

Throughout our visits at Keio Fujisawa Junior and Senior High School, we actually had a chance to actually go to classes with our host brothers and sisters to see what school is like in Japan. Through this experience we found out that the way school worked in Japan was very different from what we expected. For example, there were almost no classes that were taken outside of homeroom and that there was recess. While over there, we also got to see and experience traditional customs. One of those customs was wearing Yukata, a traditional robe-like garment that was worn in everyday life (most that are made today are made to be worn during the spring, for a day). For this we first met with a yukata and kimono-making master who first told us that the kimono is worn by women while the yukata is for men. Afterwards we were given options to choose from and helped us put them on one by one. After that we walked around the school for four hours where we met with very excited students that took pictures of us with us.

This was another day that I really liked because I had a really great experience wearing traditional clothing and had a chance to learn more about how they were worn. In fact because of this experience, I question how traditional Japanese garments are sold. I also question how they are worn and shown in the media, because of the many different, and inaccurate, versions of them for costume. Though I get that costumes aren’t supposed to be accurate, it really diminishes the true purposes behind traditional clothing and accessories. Along with that point, because of the media, people think that the famous shinobi (ninja) had an actual uniform that they used for their missions, which is not true. But besides that, I really had a good time just wearing traditional clothing and having an experience that was similar to the experiences I usually have at anime conventions.

Joel Bernola
Ellington School of the Arts

Big Bang/Tohoku!

After school today, I spent some time with C.T and his American counterpart Joel. We went to a 100 yen shop which was fun because they had everything imaginable inside. It was bigger than dollar stores here in D.C, having two full floors, so we spent quite some time inside. There was free time planned in the schedule for today and everyone in the group did their own thing whether it was going to the Cup Noodle Museum or just spending time with their families and having fun.

While I was in America I planned everything out with my host sister and we were able to get tickets to a Big Bang concert. Big Bang is a popular South Korean boy group of five members and is one of the leading groups in the industry. After shopping for a while, I met back up with my host sister, H.I, and we rode the train for about an hour or so to go see the concert. The concert lasted a little over two hours and my host sister and I had an amazing time.

The next day, we slept in but sadly I had to part with my host family to travel to Tohoku. Traveling to Tohoku required catching the Shinkansen, the bullet train, which was very comfortable and definitely less crowded than the normal Japanese subway trains.

Jatalia Wilson
Eastern SHS

November 15th – UN Global Compact

Friday, November 15th was a packed day for us as we rushed around Tokyo hearing from different organizations and companies.  We first heard about the United Nations Global Compact Network and its involvement in Japan. The United Nations Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles. These ten principles deal with a respect for human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption. By agreeing to this compact, business can help ensure that markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere.

We also heard from a representative of the Kirin Group, a company best known for its beverages, especially its beers. Now one may ask why it was that our group, all underage, was hearing from a representative from this company, but of course there is a reason. The Kirin Group has been committed to the recovery in the Tohoku area and so we heard about its efforts in that regard. The representative, Mr. Shiraishi, is the General Manager of the Kirin Group’s “Corporate Shared Value” department, which looks to improve the competitiveness of the company while simultaneously creating value for society by addressing social issues.

I found this presentation to be especially interesting. The Kirin Group makes about 2,186.1 billion yen a year, which roughly equals 21 billion U.S. dollars, so having the opportunity to meet with someone who works with such a large corporation was special to me. The Kirin Group is also one of the largest sponsors of the Japanese soccer league, and of course, I like soccer. Because of the Kirin Group’s large involvement in the Japanese soccer community, one of the ways through which the corporation gives back to the Tohoku region is by running soccer camps and workshops in the area. However, what I found most interesting was their support of Tohoku through their “Hyoketsu Wanash” alcoholic beverage. This RTD (ready to drink) alcoholic product is special in that it uses the Japanese pear (Wanashi), a product of Fukushima.  According to the Kirin Group, due to misinformation, Fukushima’s agricultural products have suffered from falling prices and declining sales. By selling this drink, Kirin hopes to portray the Fukushima area, and its products, as not only delicious, but safe, thus revitalizing the area’s economy.

Delmar Tarrago
School Without Walls

Keio and playing Shamisen

We spent a few days in the shadows of our hosts at their school, Keio Shonan Fujisawa Senior High School. We took classes with them for a few days, and our schedule included gym, one completely Japanese speaking class, and of course, English class. We even got the chance to enjoy some of the extra curricular activities they participate in. We openly compared not only a Japanese school to an American school but also a private school to a public school. I believe we all agreed and concluded that Japanese schools had a surplus of activities, probably due to the strong culture that Japan is built on.

We found it very important to embrace the different cultural activities they had to offer such as the Tea Ceremony Club and the Karuta Club (card playing), to name a few. We were additionally given the opportunity to take sessions that included a Yukata (traditional clothing) session and a Shamisen session. According to prior research, the “shamisen” is is a three-stringed, Japanese musical instrument played with a plectrum called a “bachi.” It is very similar to the American guitar or banjo. We had a shamisen player by the name of Ms. Tanabe grace us with lessons. Being the music lover that I am, I really enjoyed playing a Japanese musical instrument and was very good at it. I was amazed to find that I learned so much about the Japanese culture just through learning a skill.

IMG_1289 IMG_1278Atiya Artis
Coolidge SHS

Keio’s Tea Ceremony

I really enjoyed my visit to Keio SFC even though it was short lived. I made many friends that I will hopefully be able to meet again in the future. My first day at Keio was during their school festival and it was interesting to see how the different classes decorated and organized their classrooms. Each classroom had a different feel to it and was very lively. My Japanese counterpart’s classroom put on a play and even though I wasn’t able to see it, I’m sure it was very good. I wish we were able to have these types of festivals in DCPS schools because not only are they fun, they give students the chance to work together on something that the whole school can enjoy.

The day I attended classes at Keio was a nice opportunity to see how classes were run and how the students interacted with each other and their teachers. When sitting in the back of an 11th grade I.T. class taught in all Japanese, I noticed how studious and hardworking the students were and how they never once interrupted the teacher. That’s not the case in my school; typically throughout one lesson there are multiple interruptions and times where students get off task, which is what I saw in another class. While sitting in on a 12th grade English class, the students were constantly talking and making jokes with the teacher during the lesson but after all the funny business was sorted out, the class ran smoothly.

One thing I really loved about Keio was the campus itself. It was big, spacious and beautiful with a gorgeous pond. While at Keio we experienced many things, like a traditional tea ceremony, something you don’t normally have at school. At Keio they have a tea ceremony club and I was able to take part in a ceremony and drink green tea. During the tea ceremony I sat and watched one person make the tea while I was served sugar candies and some type of bean based snacks. The sugar candies were very delicious and everything, from how to get in and out of the door to how the tea had to be made, was very specific and precise. Even though the tea club only had four members they knew what they were doing and it was a great experience.

Jatalia Wilson
Eastern SHS

Our Keio Class Presentations

Being at Keio was a great experience. I had an awesome time getting to know the other students. I made a great friend. His name is J. and he asked me so many questions about politics in Washington, DC which I thought was different at first. Then he explained that he wanted to be the Prime Minister of Japan. Then it all came together. We really had great conversation and I really miss them all.

While learning about Keio we also had to present to different classes, so they could learn some things about Washington, DC. Presenting to the classes in Japan was awesome, especially with the older students. We could relate more and understand each other better. I presented with Jatalia aka Talia; we were like the super pair. We helped each other out when needed, finished each other’s sentences, and also had a great time with the students. Talia talked about music. She talked about J Pop and the students weren’t expecting it at all. They were so surprised. The looks on their faces were priceless. She also talked about Rock, Heavy Metal, and Gogo. She played a video, “Welcome to DC,” which is a gogo song very popular in DC, and the students seemed to like the song. They were bopping their heads.

I talked about my friends and some of the popular schools in DC. I talk about my school, friends, and family. The students couldn’t believe how big my school is and that I have two friends and both of their names are China. I enjoyed myself and Jatalia also had fun as well. We talked about the presentations all the time.

Tenaj Gueory
McKinley Technology HS