Dear Readers,

Although the past two days did center around the GLA (Global Leadership Academy), which was both fun and slightly terrifying, I also had some wonderful experiences outside of the more professional side!

The second day in Japan, and the first of the GLA, I was expecting to spend the day with Serena again, but instead I was surprised with another friend of mine, Nina! It was a lovely surprise, as I had also not seen her since the program ended. We agreed to be back by 5, and then proceeded to spend the day together!

We spent most of the day in Yokohama, where last summer we met with Baye McNeil. This is ironic because actually that day, my chaperone Sally went to meet with Baye!

The first thing Nina and I did was visit a museum she had been interested in going to for a while, and one that sounded pretty cool to me. It was the Cupnoodles museum! The fact that Japan even has a museum dedicated to the creating of instant ramen is honestly pretty much the coolest thing. Sadly, I couldn’t eat said cupnoodles, because all of them had meat. But the experience was still wonderful.

CupnoodlesAfter the museum, it took us a while to find food, but we ended up getting some delicious fish with rice!! It’s quite funny because the last time I was in Japan, all I ate was rice, and this was my first time having rice since I had arrived. And then, we went on one of the amusement park rides near the metro! It was a little expensive, but super fun, and it spun a lot and went really fast which was great!!

RideThen, later that night, Serena joined Nina and I at our hotel room before we left for the first GLA dinner. It was honestly super wonderful to get to see both of them, and just have a bit of relaxed fun like I would do at home with my other friends.

Smile VegeThe next day was mostly spent at the GLA presentation, but later that night Serena, Sally, Sosha, Shinobu, and I went out to coffee then dinner as a way to end the trip. We also tried out this AMAZING vegan ramen place, because most ramen dishes use pork in their broth, and so for my final dinner I had a delicious peanut ramen with curry as a side dish. It was delicious, and I wish I could have taken more home to the states with me!

Ramen dinnerOver the last trip I had grown extremely close to both Shinobu and Sosha, and so getting to have dinner with them, as well as Serena (who I had grown even closer to the past couple of days) and just relax and chat was one of the best parts of the trip. We caught up on all the things we had been doing since we last saw each other, from other programs we had been doing, to our school lives, to simply casual small talk. Even though both Shinobu and Sosha were my chaperones and mentors, I also see them as friends, and even parents in a sense. They care about me the way a parent does, and unconditionally love me and are proud of me, and I feel the same way. I am so grateful to have such wonderful and inspiring people supporting me in everything I have done, especially relating to this program. I don’t want to get too cheesy about it, but I definitely cried when we had to part ways at the end of the night. They truly are my family across the sea, and I was so thankful I got to spend time with them.

The final part of the night was a wonderful surprise from Serena, who had me meet up with N.M, my host sister from the last trip!! Originally she had been taking her final exams when I was here, so I really didn’t think we would get to see each other, but luckily the stars somehow aligned and we got to talk for a bit! It was short, but I was still so happy to see her again, as she was easily the person I was closest to in the program. It was an amazing surprise and a great way to end the trip.

Caitie and FriendsArriving back at my hotel and saying goodbye to Serena for the last time was incredibly bittersweet. I think it was the moment I realized that soon I would be back in the U.S. I love my hometown, and I missed my friends, but this trip was a wonderful experience I wont forget.

-Caitlin McDermott

I Pray for Tohoku

Kanji Tohoku PrayerThe birds were singing peacefully and the scent of blue bonnets hung in the air. It was unlike any other day, the playful voices of the neighbors next door were not to be heard; the old woman was not sitting on her porch knitting the colorful yarn. The humming TV in the humid living room showed burning houses, upside-down trucks, and a great wall of the roaring tsunami: the scene enveloping inside the scratchy TV was absolute hell— I can perfectly recall five years ago, when I was gazing dauntingly at the screen in front of me on a typical Texan day. 11,000 kilometers away, there were people suffering severely, with scarcely little hope of being spared by God or any other evangelical figure. March 11, 2011. It dawned on me how mystical and yet horrifying a deadly catastrophe could trigger the utmost casualties.

People believe that they are invincible, that they are the most powerful creatures on the face of the whole planet. People are disillusioned that they are somewhat immune to disasters; they are obsolete-minded to the point that they are indifferent to the idea of even suffering for a natural cause. But I believe, sadly, that this is how intrinsic human nature works. It feels like a wretched and inevitable aspect.

March 11. This date brings back so many memories; from the rustling trees outside my yard to the crackling voices of reporters who were struggling to get a glimpse of what human life was left in Tohoku.

Far away, people were praying. The vengeance of the tsunami and earthquake was conspicuously felt and considered when the little screen played the scene where a dark, opaque wall of water crashed down on the villages and towns.

I urge people not to forget the day our families and friends suffered, and urge strongly for people to reflect upon the circumstances and risks that are prevalent. It comes so fast, and doesn`t go away any quicker. The shadows of memories linger inside everybody`s heart. But we must remember: we are not alone.

We must never forget, and we must not forget to move on.

I pray for Tohoku.

Kanji Yamamoto

TOMODACHI Global Leadership Academy

Hey guys!!

So much has happened the past 2 days, so I am going to turn this into 2 blog posts. This one is about the GLA conference, and the more presentation side of the 2 days.

The first day was a dinner and discussion with people who are part of the GLA, or Global Leadership Academy. The GLA was basically a TOMODACHI program for kids from Tohoku who had already participated in other TOMODACHI programs, and they work together and learn about important topics such as education, entrepreneurship, and engineering, and create projects around those topics. Even though most of the program was in Japanese, I was still invited to be able to learn and experience the energy and passion of these kids, so I was pretty excited regardless.

GLA groupAt this first dinner I got to be reunited with Sosha and Shinobu, two of the chaperones from my program last summer, who happened to be running the night. They did not know I would be there that night, so it was an extremely exciting moment for all of us. Then, I went and sat down at the table I was assigned.

I was the only kid at the table who spoke English, but because the table I sat at consisted of the group leaders, their English skills were slightly better. We learned to use hand gestures to figure out words we couldn’t understand, and even though the communication was not always perfect, it was nice to make a couple friends.

Then the dinner started, and we had conversations with the mentors at our tables. I was lucky enough to have the President of the U.S-Japan Council, Irene Hirano Inouye, at my table. I listened to everyone discuss their projects, and the obstacles they had to overcome to work together. It is truly amazing how even though these people spoke a different language, and lived in a different environment, I could still connect and understand them.

Then, because Ms. Inouye lives in America, we discussed politics, specifically Donald Trump. It was interesting getting everyone’s opinions, and being able to speak on it.

The next day was the second time I had to present my poem, which was honestly almost more terrifying because it was in front of some very impressive kids. I think it went pretty well, and many of the kids came up to me later and complimented my poem. One of the girls who I had talked to the day before at the dinner actually came up to me, and said she was so inspired by my poem and started to tear up. It really touched me to know that I can have such an effect on someone, especially through a medium I am particularly proud of.

Overall, the program was really fascinating, and I loved experiencing the passion of these people from across the world.

Caitlin McDermott

Presentation Day

5 years laterWell…. I did it!! Last night was the big TOMODACHI event reflecting on the past 5 years! It was super nerve-racking, but I think I did pretty well!

Serena and CaitieBefore the presentation, I got to see Serena!! Serena and I were both a part of the TOMODACHI US-Japan Youth Exchange Program this summer, and we got to meet up and explore Tokyo before the big event that night! We had not seen each other in 8 months, since the program ended, and I was so excited to spend the day with her catching up and exploring the city! During the program I was able to explore Tokyo, but this time it was for a much longer period, and with just Serena and I, meaning it was a bit more relaxed.

The first thing we did was take the train to Omotesando, which was a fancy shopping area around Shibuya. We wandered the streets for a while, and ended up in a cute store called KiddyLand in Harajuku! The store was full of cute cartoon characters, which Serena knew I would like, being a small child at heart, and I purchased a gift for a friend.

Next, we went to Takeshita Street, a popular place for teenage girls. We went to a couple clothing stores, a 390 yen store (kind of like an American dollar store), wandered into a cute candy shop, and then stopped for bubble tea and crepes!! I had been craving bubble tea for the past 2 months, so it was a moment of pure bliss. We then did those funny photo booths that enlarge your eyes, which look extremely creepy on me considering I already have very large eyes. Then we went to Loft, one of my favorite stores in Japan that is full of stationary, highlighters, notebooks, and tape. It just might have been my favorite part of yesterday…. well, almost. Pretty much everything was amazing.

Bubble Tea IMG_5330After a bit more shopping, we went to a sushi place near the hotel. Because Sushi is typically food eaten on special occasions in Japan, I had not had authentic sushi the last time I was here. Well this time was different! The sushi was beautifully presented, and tasted soooo good! It was also technically my first authentic Japanese meal, as I had only eaten Western themed food yesterday.

SushiAfter that, Serena came back to our hotel, and we relaxed for another hour, and then… time for the presentation! I was very nervous to perform, but overall I knew I had worked really hard and I really wanted to do well, so I was also excited!

We went to the venue, and then I saw my friend Fumiya!! I also had not seen him in 8 months, and originally I did not even know he was going to be there! But it turned out he was performing his speech at the same event as my poem! It was wonderful seeing him again, and having someone I was super close with to support me and rehearse with me.

Three TomodachisThen, the big event! Everyone was so nice to me, helping me prepare to talk to these high up officials. We first did a round table discussion with people such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, people from the U.S. Embassy, and the President of the U.S-Japan Council! I talked a bit about my experience with the program, and how I became interested in it, etc. I think it went well, and everyone was very attentive.

Next, my poem!! I was second to last, and so for most of the night I was shaking and worrying about how I would do. Fumiya went first, and gave a wonderful thank you speech, and then it was my turn!

I was honestly surprised that I did not fumble, but with all the practicing I have done I am glad that I didn’t!! Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and they clapped very loudly! I got lots of compliments and business cards, and I am really excited to have all these connections! Then, after the long day, we headed home ready to sleep.

I could go on and on about the event, but I think it would end up being a 20 page paper! It was an amazing experience and I am so thankful I got to be a part of it!

Until later,

Caitlin McDermott

Here We Are!

Welcome to JapanHey guys! So… I am in Japan!! I’m so excited to finally be here! The flight was very smooth, no one sat next to me so I could lie down on the plane, which was truly a blessing. We flew ANA – All Nippon Airways. The flight attendants were very nice and took very good care of us. I am always truly amazed by the wonderful hospitality of the people here.

Once we got to Japan, it took us 3 times to get through customs because we kept forgetting papers! We went the same path to get through the airport as we did my first time here, so it was like being thrown back to 8 months ago. It is just such a different experience from the last time, and I was a very different person. I had never traveled before, and was with a group of people my age I was very close with. This time it is just me and Sally, and so I’m interested in what it will be like.

After arriving in the airport, we caught a limo bus to our hotel. The ride was about an hour and a half, but I got to see the sun set upon Tokyo, which was truly beautiful. After that we arrived at our hotel, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

Imperial HotelIn case you didn’t know, this is one of the nicest hotels in Japan, as I have been told by many of my friends here in Japan, as well as through some research. Stepping into the hotel both felt like royalty, and also quite overshadowed, and a little (well a lot) underdressed. Once again, the staff here was extremely kind. We had a man E. lead us to our room (we had to switch elevators twice), and we arrived in our room with the most beautiful view over the city! It’s truly beautiful here, and I’m super thrilled to explore.

View from our roomNext we decided we were starving, and we headed to the most informal of the many restaurants in the building, Parkside Diner. I had a delicious crab croquette and a chocolate milkshake, the first real meal in over 24 hours. And, finally with the free wifi of the hotel, I was able to go on my phone and receive all of the texts and emails I had missed in the past day. You really do not realize how dependent you are on technology until you are without it. It is crazy how I can keep in contact with all of my American friends, with a 14 hour time difference.

Then we collapsed in our beds around 8 and fell asleep. Sadly I was awakened by jet lag at 1:30, so I talked to a couple of my American friends (it was the middle of their day) and then I went back to sleep and woke up again at 5. Figuring that sleep was no longer an option, I took a shower (they have really wonderful bath facilities and provided shampoo, conditioner, even shaving cream and razors!), and then made plans with a friend of mine for today! We will be eating breakfast here at the hotel, and will be meeting her at 10 (it’s about 9). And tonight is my poem! I will write a blog post later about how that goes.

Wish me luck!

Caitie McDermott

Strawberry drink

Now I know I’m definitely in Japan

My crab croquette

My crab coquette

Sunset in Tokyo

A Great Development

Caitie at airportHello guys!! So, I have been blessed with the amazing chance to return to Japan this week!

In Tokyo on the 4th, the U.S.-Japan Council is holding a memorial for the 5th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, and I have been invited to share my poem! It is such a wonderful opportunity that I am ready to face head on!

Currently my chaperone, Sally Schwartz, and I are waiting in the airport to catch our direct flight to Narita Airport, and then we will head to the Imperial Hotel where we will be staying until the 7th. It is apparently one of the best hotels in Tokyo, so I am really looking forward to seeing what it’s like, as well as simply being back in the country.

I have missed Japan since I came back to DC, the TOMODACHI experience was such an amazing one that I jumped on the chance to come back! I will be able to eat the delicious foods (especially Inari sushi which I have been craving for the past 2 months), the beautiful sights, and the amazing people I met! I will get to see some of my friends from the program, which I am so excited about! We have been communicating on how to meet up in my free time, as well as at the GLA (Global Leadership Academy), where some will be volunteering and presenting!

Overall I am so thankful for this chance, and will be sure not to waste it. We leave in about an hour, and will arrive in Japan around 3:20 in Japan time. Keep checking the blog to stay updated on my travels!

Caitie McDermott
School Without Walls