Battle Strategies

The battles have been rough, it’s being a full time job 24/7, battles which our heroes have overcome successfully. After exploring the Tokyo land, they were transported to Tohoku, an undiscovered and magnificent place to be, where a long time ago the Namitsu, an ancient and furious dragon, whipped the earth, creating big waves destroying one of the most beautiful places on earth. The region was devastated but their spirit of warriors stuck with them.

Our heroes were gathered together to discuss many battle strategies in the Sustainability Center-Dojo in Minamisanriku, with Dazai Sensei, to confront Ivda, the life demon. They were divided in three different factions: Nature (Earth), Tourism (Air), and Education (Fire). Each faction came with a Vision and Mission, a goal to reach within the groups. Their ideas were varied.

Four of them wanted to save the nature by challenges and funny ideas. The Air group wanted to use commercials to bring tourists to Tohoku. And Fire wanted to work with kids and seek for a better future. They spent the day discussing and evolving their ideas, to present to the commanders, so they could make the plan a reality if our heroes wanted to. Their last day in Tohoku spent planning and gathering ideas to their bright future seemed really special. The next generation seems to be very bright.

Carlos Daniel Ramirez
Roosevelt SHS

The future starts today, not tomorrow

Five days passed after our arrival at Tohoku. Today was one of the most inspired programs – Fishery and Forestry. Although there are many things which I would like to write about it, I preface first talking about the Japanese guest house, the Minshuku. I had a prejudice about the Minshuku in Japan, and I presumed that all of the Minshuku were an old Japanese house. However, everything overturned after staying at the Minshuku Tsujiken and Sitamiti in Kesennuma and Minamisanriku. It was a satisfactory stay for me, and I hadn’t any inconvenience during my sojourn there. It was like the Japanese-style hotel. I was astounded and felt chastened for having such discourteous misapprehension about the Minshuku. Every day was a new and eye opening experience, and I was bewildered toward food and culture which I couldn’t encounter in the Kanto region.

Meanwhile, about my day, I woke at 6:00 am and walked around the refreshing waterfront street with the other exchange students who were awake. Comparing to the Kanto region, the temperature was more than five degrees lower, and I had the comfortable stay in Tohoku. We walked and ran for an hour and headed back to our room and took morning bathing which invigorated my brain to participate in today’s program.

We ate nutritious Japanese breakfast; white rice, hijiki, mackerel, seaweed, and steamed fish paste. I hadn’t eaten healthy food for succession, so my body felt different from a month ago. After having delicious food, we had a brief dialogue about today’s plan and started to get ready for it.

We headed to Shizugawa Bay and met with Mr. Kenichi Muraoka, and his wife Mrs. Kinuko, who work in fishery in Minamisanriku. He talked to us about the industry of wakame, a brown seaweed native to the coasts of Japan. Shizugawa was one of the places which were influenced by the great earthquake and tsunami on March 11th, 2011. They almost lost everything by the calamity. Notwithstanding, without ceasing, they recovered to how things used to be. It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop (Confucius, Founder of the Confucianism). Hearing their life experience, I have learned the importance of never giving up, even if I face difficulty. Furthermore, it made me think about the way to live magnificently without ambiguity.

Subsequently, having fresh seafood cuisine with Muraoka-san, we moved to the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council), authorized forest managed by Sakyu corporation, taking the bus. For the plan, we were told to walk around the forest and feel the nature.  Unfortunately, the weather was rainy, and the schedule was almost canceled. Nevertheless, we stated our real intention to walk in nature, and they accepted our exploration of the forest. For the guide, we met with Mr. Taichi Sato. He was a unique person, and I had the strong impression left inside me. Through his activity, I realized the importance of the existence of the forest to circulate and sustain the community.

Saving nature correlates to saving our lives. This word strongly left behind inside my solicitude. I would like to reflect intensely on the community and take measures to revitalize my society to generate the immeasurable globe.

Shunsuke Watando
Keio Shonan Fujisawa SHS

Feelings about 3.11

Today was a day I thought about the Great East Japan Earthquake of 3.11 a lot.

First, in Kesennuma, we went to the memorial monument along the coast to pray for the people who have lost their lives, and to Iwaisaki Cape to make salt from the ocean of Kesennuma. We also saw the statue of the sumo wrestler who is from Kesennuma and a dragon pine (a branch broke due to the tsunami and it looks like a dragon). These endured the tsunami.

I also thought about the many people who experienced the earthquake. This place in which I am standing now may have been a home or a person at that time. I could not say anything.

After moving to Minamisanriku and having lunch, we went to hear the stories about the town from Mayor Sato of Minamisanriku. He has been mayor for 17 years, and he experienced the earthquake as mayor as well. We heard about the experiences of the disaster and how a change in the way of thinking before and after the earthquake occurred.

Through his words, what remained in my impression is “the most important thing is life,” the meaning of volunteers, and the significance of telling the story.

The mayor’s words were heavy as a person who survived from the disaster. In addition, I sympathized very much regarding the mayor’s view on the meaning of volunteers, that it was not the work that was actually important at the time, but the hope they gave the local people. Furthermore, to tell the story is very important to save lives of next generations.

I was ten years old at the time of the earthquake, but now I can think of it finally. I will continue to think about it and tell the story to future generations.

Keiichiro Tamara
Miyagiken Sendai Nika High School

Tohoku Love

If I ever had the chance to come back to Japan, I would definitely come to Tohoku first. Don’t get me wrong! Tokyo is awesome, especially the thrift stores, but that’s not the greatest memory so far. The most impactful experience I’ve experienced so far in Japan has been what I’d call the “Tohoku love.” While in Tohoku we visited Kesennuma and Minamisanriku. There was immediate kindness upon arrival into the city. Where I am from, people don’t feel the urge to just greet each other, more specifically people they don’t know. Meanwhile in Kesennuma we were always greeted by strangers on the street involved in their everyday lives.

On the day of the Kesennuma “Minato Matsuri” Summer Festival, August 5, there was much excitement. Everywhere we went, the mention of the festival did not go unnoticed. Even the owners of the minshuku (traditional Japanese inn) where we stayed were excited about the festival. In fact, we saw the owner’s mother there too. We watched the drummers with her.

One of my favorite moments during the festival was being able to walk around freely and without worry. I got to taste yakitori for the first time. I didn’t bother to ask what it was, but it tasted like chicken on a stick. I also got to eat a chocolate gyro with my eight yakitoris. . . . Even though it constantly poured down on us and many of us lost an umbrella, that didn’t stop us all from having fun.

By the time we got to the fireworks, my shoes and socks were long gone. However, my umbrella was still standing. We sat for what felt like hours before the fireworks finally came. In that time I sat under a gas station watching entertainers such as the drummers who were well enough to drum through the storm and a woman hula hooping a ring of fire. Meaning her hula hoop was on fire around her waist!

In DC we only get to light fireworks on the fourth of July, independence Day, just like Japan. However, some fireworks are banned from being used, all the good ones. Imagine my surprise when all the fireworks being lit in Kesennuma are the ones that are the biggest! I’ve never seen so many colors and designs in one event. I’m pretty sure I saw a willow tree being created out of fireworks, or maybe I was just tired. . . . I’ve always wanted to see a good fireworks show and that day I got the chance.

If I ever got the chance, I would see it all over again. I hope in the future I can come back to my new second home, Kesennuma!

Arjernae Miller
Phelps ACE High School


It is our second day in Miyagi, Kesennuma, and it has been an adventure full of stories already. Today we spent time at Seiryoin Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple, where we were delighted with the Monk ceremony which opened us to another perspective of traditions in Japan. Obon is a season where it is said that the ancestor’s spirit might return to the earth to visit the relatives. The family members of the deceased were really kind and open to us, by letting us witness their “Hoji”, a ceremony to remember and pay respect to the family member who had passed away. “Hoji” is commonly held during the Obon season in August.

The Hoji ceremony reminded me so much of a Mexican tradition to honor our ancestors, in “el dia de los muertos.” What they both have in common is that the person is honored at an altar. Being immersed into another religion and belief exposed me to the ideology that each religion is full of different tradition. The only place I have ever heard about monks was in the animes that I used to watch, which were really different. Actually, meeting and practicing za-zen with a monk in a Buddhist temple in Japan was something I would never believe I would be doing, hearing their stories and how they managed their lives was very interesting to me and to everyone.

The head monk, Jushoku, talked to us briefly about how he contributed in 3.11 and how the temple was used actually as a shelter and how they evolved the concept of the temple which is now a place of hope for the community. After the ceremony, we shared food with them, which was pretty good, but I’m still not used to the green tea here. We thanked them for their kindness and we left that temple with a sense of hope, friendship, and deep feeling of happiness by the monks and their families.

Mr. Nishant Annu later gave us a presentation of who he is, and gave us a tour. He mentioned to us that he was in the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program, and we learned that after his experience here in Japan he wanted to move back after he went back to the States. What I found the most entertaining of his presentation was when he told us that since his first name is Nishant, and in Japan people have more of a struggle trying to pronounce it, he started to use another name, Nishia. We walked around the downtown area until the sun set. It was a great way to end his presentation, and with that we headed back.

The overall day has given me a new perspective about the Great East Japan Earthquake, and how through hope and perseverance we can continue.

Check out Mr. Annu’s blog. It has a lot of information about Kesennuma:

Jerusalen Elizaldi
Bell Multicultural HS

Real People, Real Issues

Our heroes have arrived to the war zone, after 12 hours in the air. After they say the last goodbye to their families because It might be the last time that they see them, they finally get to their final destination. Days have passed and many battles had occurred, one with the demon “Jetlago,” which drains their energy and makes them 90% sleepy, but with the traditional medicine called “resto,” they were ready to start battling again.

They are located in a Share House in which some of them are residing to plan the battle strategies, but our protagonist is going to Shunsuke-san’s house where another mission has to be completed by these two brave heroes. But they had to combat every day to the main mission, which now it will involve a social issue in Japan called “Hikikomori.”

The term of “Hikikomori” was explained by two Samurai (Mr. Kuramitsu and Ms. Tezuka), where their job is to provide support to Hikikomori, help them find jobs, and reunite them to the society. Hikikomori are persons who isolate themselves from the society itself, they never leave home, they don’t work, don’t do school, they are the maximum expression of living in a comfort zone, but in some cases, a real particular case of mental health issues. In the majority of the part they are conscious in their position, and they strongly believe that people see them as the dark part of the society, they hate themselves to the point that they see themselves that they are less than everyone.

This problem is being around Japan since the beginning of the new century. I strongly believe that the technology is being big part of this issue, where the comfort zone is more accessible to everyone that possesses the world in a screen. After all, Japan isn’t the only place where Hikikomoris reside, they are all over the world. But Mr. Kuramitsu gave different evidence about the influence of the internet. My position is uncertain. I admire them in ways that they don’t follow standards of the society, but there are certain cases of pure depression and isolation, where they don’t provide, just take a small square of the world and lock it.

Carlos Daniel Ramirez
Roosevelt SHS

Save your life by yourself

Today, we headed to Tohoku where I’d been wanting to go. Before that, we gathered at the Share House and we learned about what we are going to do in Tohoku and about the Great East Japan Earthquake, and also watched tsunami videos. It has been a long time since I watched those videos last time, so it reminded me of what happened that day and I was filled with great sadness and fear again. At the same time, I was curious how people in Tohoku have gotten over so many heartbreaks.

We left the Share House around 10am and got on the train and shinkansen (bullet train). For DC students, this was the first time to get on the shinkansen, so they were surprised at startling speed. On the train, I ate one of the most famous bentos in Japan, Makunouchi Bento. Everything inside it was my favorite food such as Japanese omelet, salmon and fried prawn, so I wanted to eat one or two more.

After we arrived in Kesennuma, we headed to Uminoichi and met Masae-san, a storyteller of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Masae-san explained about her own experience and how Kesennuma has changed. She claimed that the most important thing when a disaster occurs is “Tendenko,” which means running away alone. The earthquake took the lives of people who tried to help others, so we need to keep in mind that it is the highest priority to save your life by yourself.

After that, we walked around Kesennuma. It was a beautiful place, but there were still lots of places under the construction showing the deep scars of the tsunami.

During the walk, we met some residents in Kesennuma. They were friendly, kind and full of smiles. I respect the people in Kesennuma for their strong mind never to give up even though they lost family, friends, houses or motivation because of the tsunami. I fell in love with this beautiful and powerful city in just one day.

Minori Kon
Keio Shonan Fujisawa Senior High School

August 2nd Adventures

So last night was the first night of my homestay with Minori. So I started the morning with her and her family. I woke up around 6, and at 6:30 Minori to came to get me for breakfast. We had scrambled eggs sandwiches and bacon and ketchup on the side. It was very delicious. After breakfast we got ready for a long day. On our way to the share house we kind of got lost for a second, but managed to make it there on time. Goshi Ally and his assistant, who also happened to be a high school counselor, has been a part of the Myogandi Club. The Myogandi Club is an organization that tackles the issue regarding “Hikikomori,” which is social withdrawal.

Hikikomori is rooted in Japan, with about 1 million hikikomoris here, or roughly 1.57% of the population. I’ve heard of the epidemic before but when i learned more about it, I was very intrigued. Hikikomoris are easily spotted within society. For a hikikomori that is 30 years old, they may have been shut in for about 10 years. Some parents of hikikomoris often seek help, and some sort of enable this habit, in my opinion. Parents play an enabler role in this situation, because they would be embarrassed of their children so they hide them from the world. People become hikikomoris due to bullying in the past, being afraid of rejection, or their parents might have a wealthy paying job so they’re not around that much. The entire session was such a learning moment. People often joke about how they’re so anti-social they never go outside, and there are people who are actually suffering and seek help.

Today we also went to IDEO. IDEO is a global design company and the interior was very cool. One of the gentlemen we met was named Evin Dempsey. Evin told us about all the different things that IDEO designed and all their many projects along with answering any questions we had. Not to mention the fun little activity we did in which we had to create a job for ourselves, based on these crazy circumstances the world is in and what we are going to do about it. Evin elaborated on the fact that all different types of people in all different professions are a part of IDEO, which was very intriguing for me because walking into this session, I was under the impression I wouldn’t really be “taken away,” because graphic design is not my field of interest. However I was wrong.

At the end of the day we got to explore the Harajuku area and then for me it was off to Minori’s house . . . and tonight we’re doing karaoke!

Heavenly Anderson
Friendship Collegiate Academy

Busy Day and Food

Morning in the sharehouse is a special time for me. Today AJ and Jeru and Kei and Noa made breakfast. It was so good! The songs that Miles were singing while taking shower were enhancing mood.

First of all, we were discussing about “Hikikomori” with two people of Myogadani club. There are about 1 million “Hikikomori” people. In 2000, there was an incident and people became prejudice against “Hikikomori.” The power of the media is large. Many people do not doubt the information of the media. Many of them want to live well and connect with people. They need support. One of my classmates is a “Hikikomori.” He is not coming to school for a half year. I was thinking about what I could do for him. I want to understand him. Acceptance, empathy, congruence (being genuine); I value this and I want to make a fun class and wait for him to come.

And we ate soba. It was cold and the best. Heavenly was eating deliciously next to me.

Secondly, we visited IDEO. IDEO is a global design company committed to creating positive impact. They will design the future to create innovative products and services and create new business aiming for overseas expansion. The office was a space I’ve never seen before. I felt like a place where a worker could freely be theirself. And we shared about the world in 2040. I would like to share my opinion. I will be a photographer. This job is to communicate the unknown. I will solve lack of empathy for many travelers. It was very difficult to think of the future but it was fun.

In Harajuku we went to Meiji shrine and Takeshita street. We paid a visit to a Shinto shrine. Takeshita street looked like a jungle. I went shopping with Carlos and Heavenly. Why is Harajuku always so crowded?

After that I went shopping with AJ and Jeru in “Urahara”. It was so fun!

We went to “Bio ojiyan café.” I was happy to have delicious meal with a nice atmosphere.

I am looking forward to seeing what we can see and what we can eat tomorrow.

Fuka Matsumoto
Iwaki Koyo High School

Starting innovation around you

Today, we had a session and workshop by Mr. Takahiko Nomura, CEO and Founder, Future Sessions, Inc., Professor, MBA Program, Kanazawa Institute of Technology and Future Designer, Shibuya Future Design.

In the morning, he taught us about Future Sessions and social innovation through cross-sector dialogue, and about Project 30, their town development project through the collaboration of corporations, government and non-profit organizations.

When the private sector, public sector and social sector are separated mostly, what if three sectors collaborated like just after the Great East Japan Earthquake on 3.11?

I think that there will be strong innovation there. And actually that is Project 30. Three sectors gather, talk about local issues and create innovation. It was very exciting to think about.

We also learned how to ask powerful questions, build a trustful team and backcasting, to create our futures.

After eating lunch, we actually practiced town development. We went out to the Sasa-Hata-Hatsu area (new concept name of Sasazuka, Hatagaya and Hatsudai of Shibuya City), and walked around the green parkway there, exploring how to develop and vitalize the place through thinking how to inspire foreign travelers to come to the area. Lastly, we made a presentation about that.

Our group suggested the idea to making the parkway colorful. In our imagination, we planted flowers, built a birdhouse and a tree house, built a small shrine, and presented a place where people who like Japanese culture and nature gather.

It is a daily landscape for the Japanese, but how does this view look like from DC students? It is difficult for us to imagine, but I thought that viewpoint was very important to create innovation.

I want to be able to have a viewpoint from the outside, a viewpoint from the inside, and the user’s point of view. It is difficult, but I would like to be able to do it to understand the issues as well as positive points, and develop new perspectives and creative ideas.

Keiichiro Tamara
Miyagiken Sendai Nika High School