Micah’s Reflection on Peace

In my entire trip to Japan, I believe that I took back a sense of how peace can be accomplished. Ever since I’ve discovered that to accomplish peace I can give hope, I’ve been asking others what they think of peace. It has inspired me to look more into world and national problems. When I look back I believe what touched me most was when we met United Nations official Mr. Shibuya. I asked him his idea of peace, which I’ve started to do with many people now, and his answer gave me new hope. In short he said that peace may not be realistic to him, but at the least he could give hope. This stood out to me most because it gave me a reason to fight for peace. I struggled with knowing why I wanted to do it, why it was MY responsibility. Mr. Shibuya gave me a reason. Even if I myself can’t accomplish anything in the long run, giving hope to those who don’t believe peace is possible like I did can have a new strive for it. It continues a cycle of dreamers that want something better than war and hate. It continues generations of peace seeking civilians. In my culture around my friends and family I see more people working for peace. It makes me very happy to know I’ll have people who support me and that I can join a lot of people for a purpose of peace if I try. It’s great realizing my communities are so open to peace.

Gabby’s Reflection

Traveling to Japan is one of the biggest culture shocks that I have ever experienced. Everything we encountered during our travels was a new and wonderful surprise, and something that I learned a lot from. This trip truly helped me to recognize and understand both American and Japanese culture better, and was a huge learning experience for me. I have so many memories and experiences from the trip that I will continue to look back on and learn from in the future. One of my biggest and best memories from the trip was my five day stay with my host family in Tokyo. My host mother M. and my host sister M. taught me a lot about Japanese culture and life. From simple things such as eating dinner with them at night, or walking around Tokyo with them on the weekend and looking at different shops and restaurants taught me a lot about how Japanese people live and the similarities and differences with that of Americans. As we walked around the city, or sat in their home and watched T.V. together, they often offered many different insights and observations concerning their own culture. As they tried to explain their culture to me I also found them reflecting and trying to understand their culture for themselves. My questions often prompted long conversations between the three of us about different manners and customs from both of our countries and helped us all learn a lot. Their insights on their own culture aided my own quest to better understand the Japanese way of life, and living in their home was, I feel, the best way to see Japanese culture and learn from it.

Traveling to Japan also helped me to see a lot of things that occur in American culture differently. In large cities in America the culture is a lot different, and lacks the idea of social responsibility and accountability that are so present in Tokyo. In America I feel that these qualities are often lost when it comes to big cities, because we see them as organisms that could not run efficiently if focused on these types of moral and cultural ideas. After seeing Tokyo and simple things that occur in the workings of the city such as how train conductors are so apologetic if a train is even two minutes late, or how a six year old girl can ride the train home by herself late at night, I think that a lot of work can be done to make American cities a lot safer and better. Looking at even this small piece of Japanese culture is something that really made me think and reflect on American ideas and culture. This trip was a truly eye opening experience for me and I learned a lot from many different people and places around the country,

Gabrielle Towson
School Without Walls

Malaika’s Reflection

Looking back at the experience, I can better see how valuable the home-stay element of the program was. You receive a completely different experience than you would receive staying in hostels or hotels. When you live with someone you are integrated into their everyday lives and schedules. This allowed us to be fully immersed in the culture and gain a different outlook on how they live. We gained insight on the cultural norms, dispelled stereotypes between our cultures and shared stories that helped us bond. For the reasons aforementioned and many others I feel this made it a great highlight of our trip. Also, the home-stay experience was highly anticipated, because we were staying with our buddies that came to Washington, DC the summer before. We all bonded over the summer and it felt like we picked up where we left off when we saw them again. Knowing people in a foreign country miles away from my home made me feel more comfortable and unknowingly more susceptible to the culture of Japan. It was very exciting seeing them again and being able to explore their country, more specifically their city, as they did ours when they visited us. Overall, I can look back and say that the home-stay experience stood out for all the right reasons and was a definite highlight of the trip.

This trip has altered my views in a very positive way. Because of this trip, I have been able to see how important it is to educate yourself. Many of the problems we face today are rooted in ignorance. It is up to us to enlighten ourselves for the betterment of ourselves and our society. Throughout my community, I have encountered many misconceptions about Japan and its people. Some are, that they are all either tech moguls or anime fanatics. Some don’t even try to distinguish Japan and China and use them interchangeably when they ask where I visited. I’ve been able to learn that there is more to Japan and its inhabitants. They are a complex people with a strong culture and lasting traditions. I have often compared the principles that hold the most influence between American culture and Japanese culture. I have come to the realization that respect for others in general is far more valued in Japan. In a community of “joaning” or name-calling, it was a stark contrast to see how peers treat each other in Japan and how we treat each other. There is more work to do on Japan’s behalf to expose its youth to the world. However, I think we can definitely follow Japan’s example and respect each other more.

Malaika Coleman
McKinley Technology High School

Luke’s Reflection

Going to Japan was amazing. There is no questioning that. It is something that very few Americans, and even fewer teenage Americans, get to do. From the inundated streets of Tokyo, to the loud stillness of Minamisanriku, every step we took in the land of the rising sun seemed to make an impact on me, and it is beyond difficult to pick something that stands out to me the most, but not impossible.

Cities have always been my interest. I sometimes spend long periods of time exploring the cities I would like to visit on Google Maps, examining each winding street and each building, and how they all come together in the vivid harmony. Cities are alive. My hometown of DC is an example of this, and living here has made me quite familiar with its nooks and crannies. Tokyo is a city that perfects what it means to be a city. The people and places keep it grounded and alive while the sheer size of it dominates your senses. I found myself sometimes just looking up at the skyscrapers, admiring the utopian appearance of them, wrapped up in the artistry that is Tokyo. Being in Tokyo felt like being taken in by a foster family, after just a few days there it already felt like a home away from home. Out of everything we saw in Japan, Tokyo as a whole is what left the biggest impression on me.

Japan is very homogenous. An immensely large percentage of their population is ethnic Japanese. In my opinion this gives the country a bind that America will not have for centuries. It is similar to the feeling I get whenever I visit Portugal because, as a Portuguese-American, I know that all the people around me there were raised on the same foods and music and have a closer genetic makeup to me than anyone else. The difference is I only experience this when leaving my home country, but the people of Japan have this experience whenever they walk out of their house. Growing up in the United States, this is never prevalent, which has its pros and cons. The pros are the American idea of having our country presented as a mixing pot, with all the wonderful and contrasting cultures of all the wonderful and contrasting people creating the American spirit, allowing a Latino kid to have Ethiopian food for dinner, something not seen in Japan. The con of this is that there will never be a true American people, which ultimately leads to the segregation and separation of the American people that has plagued our nation since 1776. The Japanese people have a bond that Americans will never achieve.

Japan was arguably the greatest experience of my life and not only did I make global friends, I also became closer to local ones.

Luke Nogueira
Duke Ellington School of the Arts

Sierra’s Reflection

Looking back at the experience now, there are a lot of things that stand out to me. One that stands out to me are the mannerisms and behavior. The Japanese are very considerate and respectful, but also conservative and traditional. Coming from a community where a lot of people don’t care about what people think and do whatever they want, it is very interesting and also conflicting. It is interesting because it’s nice to experience it and you can also see how it affects people. However this can cause it to be conflicting because I don’t know what system is better. They both have their pros and cons. With the Japanese mannerisms it is very respectful and polite but I feel that they can’t express how they truly feel. With American mannerisms it is very bold, intimate, but can be rude. Pondering these differences I now know that neither one is better but it depends on which one is more comfortable for a person.

There are many things in my community that I see differently now. Like our mannerisms. The mannerisms of my neighborhood can seem very vulgar and ghetto and I despised it. However now I think of it more fondly. It still is rude and ghetto but it is also fun and chill, it also a part of my home and I wouldn’t change it. There are too many fond memories that I have that were caused by them. Another aspect of my community that I see differently is the flaw of it. Such as homelessness and teenagers not taking their education seriously. I used to see them as aspects of my community that were permanent and a part of life that couldn’t be changed. Now I see them as problems that can be changed, They don’t have to be a part of life. They can be changed by people like me, I can make a change to my community like the teens in Minamisanriku are doing. I just have to stop complaining and do something. Like volunteering and starting awareness. I am soon going to start volunteering to change my community for the better.

Sierra Queen
Hospitality High School