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

Future Sessions

Today was our second official day in Tokyo! Even though we are still jet-lagged and tired, we all are filled with energy, excited to be here, and burning to try all new things! This morning we were lucky enough to meet with Mr. Takahiko Nomura. He created and works for the Future Sessions Inc. Future Sessions focused on Social Innovation by way of sharing ideas with those of different backgrounds and working together to bring them to life, in order to better the community. Future Sessions encourages the ideas of people with different resources and mindsets to inspire each other and create something new. Often times, regular people don’t have the power or resources to bring their own ideas to life, so Future Sessions was created.

Mr. Nomura inspired us, he told us that we could change society by ourselves. After the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident, non-profit organizations, companies, and governments worked together to rebuild the community and it was very successful. Mr. Nomura invited us to participate in one of his sessions, where we walked around Shibuya for a couple hours and visited a beautiful, and ultimately peaceful park. The problem is…not many tourists are attracted to it. We split up into groups and evaluated the area and thought of ways we could make it more interesting and fun, without completely transforming the neighborhood.

After our walk, we gathered our thoughts, and each group prepared a presentation on how to improve this lovely park. From murals to greenhouses to shopping kiosks, we all expressed unique, yet great ideas! We learned that we can all be inspiring human beings and that asking questions on how to improve something will take you very far in the process of change-making. Most importantly we learned that looking at things from different perspectives will expand your horizons and take you a very long way in life.

Racquel Jones
Wilson SHS

Do you know of a Place?

The spirit of the people flowed from the Buddhist temple/
Spirituality, peace, grace, love, and activity coexisted in a path less than a mile/
A great author, Paulo Coehlo, told me about the language of the World/
And I hadn’t been able to experience it until I reached Asakusa/

Worldwide, people love/
Worldwide, people are grateful/
Worldwide, humans are on the constant search for personal betterment as it ties to that of their future lineage/

Fujin and Rajin granted my entrance/
Internal thunder enlightening me and lighting my way/
The wind pushed me along the path, whistling the energy of life past my ears/

History embraced this place like no other/
Distinctive and beautiful/
Open to all no matter race or lifestyle/
Because all humans experience spirituality, peace, grace, love, and activity in their lives/

Miles Peterson
Banneker Academic HS

Without haste, but without rest

As today was the second day of arrival in Japan, the jet lag remained in the body. Although jet lag remained in my body, a firm intention of spending my time to my advantage pushed me to have a will to sleep as quick as possible. Nevertheless, I wasn’t able to sleep till 3:00 am, and I woke up at 6:00 am. I arrived at Nogata station before 12:00 pm. Nogata is located in Nakano-Ku, in the metropolis Tokyo, and it was far from my house, because my house is located in Kanagawa Prefecture. It was uncomfortable riding on the metro in Tokyo for me because the time was the commuter rush hour. However, this view changed after perceiving that it will be a great opportunity to teach one of the Japanese typical livelihood cultures to the students who will homestay at my house, Carlos and Miles, from Washington D.C.

I had a rendezvous with other students at Nogata station and I was able to arrive on time. After meeting with everyone, we headed to share house which was a 10 minute walk from the station. I’ve never walked around the residential area in Nakano. Therefore, I was interested in what kind of the place which isn’t generally known in Tokyo by looking at it objectively. There weren’t the major differences between my neighborhood and Nogata. If anything, I found that the area of Nogata was the place where it is more densely built-up than my neighborhood. The share house was called the smart house in Japan and it was the place it aggregated the latest technology for the house.

We first started with the Japan Program Orientation by discussing the cultural difference between Japan and Washington D.C. It was very interesting to learn about the different cultural observation from the same generation with a different background. A student from Washington D.C had given a list of new findings in Japan and it increased my curiosity toward their views. There were many things in their discoveries which I was so familiar with, so it was refreshing to learn how they felt. There is a word, “caution is the eldest son of wisdom” (Victor Marie Hugo) and it was the word which suited me. It means, there isn’t anything more frightening than something you are used to. Through my own experience, I was able to realize the importance to take precautions to the thing all around me.

After having fulfilled discussion, we went to the Edo Tokyo Museum near Ryogoku station. Around this area, there is Ryogoku Kokugikan, which Japanese sumo wrestler takes the match at it. We weren’t able to get inside but it was a great experience to get near to the Holy Land of sumo. Passing the building of sumo, we saw an unusual structure which it was Edo Tokyo museum. We used escalator which it was rarely seen from my life experience. 150 years passed since the end of the Edo period and it seemed fresh for me to look inside the museum. There were many things which I couldn’t learn at the school textbook and it was the valuable experience for me to see the history of Edo.

Riding on the Toei Asakusa line, we arrived at Asakusa which it is one of the famous sightseeing spots in Japan. We walked under Kaminari gate and went to Asakusa Shinto shrine. We enjoyed browsing around the shop and eating Japanese confectionery.

For dinner, we ate Okonomiyaki which it is a Japanese savory pancake and astonishment of students from Washington D.C made me enjoy watching it. I believe that they would be able to find many new discoveries through the rest of the journey in Japan and I would like to carefully support them with the heart of Omotenasi.

Shunsuke Watando
Keio Shonan Fujisawa SHS