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

Travel Days

You know the saying “scratch it off your bucket list,” that people say after someone experiences a once-in-a-lifetime event. . . That’s what everyone has been telling me since I first began applying for this program. Every time someone mentioned me and my bucket list I told them, “Oh, I don’t have one.” I don’t have a bucket list because I never believed in being able to do these extravagant things, such as going to Tokyo, better yet Japan.

July 28, 2018 was my first time on a train that isnt’t the subway. I had the excitement of a toddler riding a bike for the first time. On the outside I was playing it cool. “It’s just a train to Baltimore,” I told myself. On the inside I was riding the Tea Cup ride like they have at Disney World, and jumping in circles.

We spent the night in a hotel, my roommates and I basically counting down the hours until we set foot on a plane. But first we had to get to BWI Airport and those moments alone were very theatrical. I worried that my suitcase was over 50 pounds. I was in the back of the line once again, playing it cool while I panicked at how many of us had to take out clothes and gadgets and put them in other people’s suitcases and bags. I was really scared when someone’s suitcase weighted 49 pounds! In the end, I came up way less than I thought, and before I knew it we were stepping off the plane to Chicago.

I had my snack bag ready to eat as soon as I got on the plane to Narita Airport. Unfortunately, our adventure came to a quick stop when were were told that our flight was being delayed until 2:00 pm. When two o’clock came, there was another delay and at least 3 more after. We felt like the flight attendants were playing tricks on us. We slept on uncomfortable seats, talked about what we’d want to see when we got to Tokyo. When we saw the pilot and flight attendants walking towards our gate, we were relieved. Our next activity would’ve been playing I Spy just so we wouldn’t be bored.

When I first stepped on the plane I was astonished. The inside was very big and spacious. There were also TVs on the back of the seats and many of my friends know how much I love movies. Much to my dismay, my earbuds didn’t really work. I felt like I was in a movie theater where the movie is in black and white, except I had subtitles. Even with not being able to hear the actors, I was still able to enjoy the movies I watched and found myself laughing way too loud for comfort. I got a few discerned and concerned looks from other passengers. Which I also laughed at. I had 12 hours of sleeping, counting down and laughing (lol), and when we landed I was too tired to wake up and finish my video, while the pilot looked for parking. That was my first real plane ride and I enjoyed every minute I had.

Earlier I said I don’t have a bucket list and sticking to that seems like the best thing when I am confidently accepting all the things thrown my way. Buckets come with a bottom, an end. Experience is not something to end.

Arjernae Miller
Phelps ACE High School

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum

On Friday, July 20, at the end of Week 1, the TOMODACHI USJYEP group spent the morning visiting the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The experience was powerful, as always, and for many of the students (both from DC and Japan) this was new information, so particularly shocking. We asked each student to share a moment of maximum impact or significance.

Racquel: The Holocaust Museum as a whole was a lot to take in all at once. It was very moving, and really helped me understand what that time period was like. One exhibit that specifically caught my eye, and touched my heart, was called “Daniel’s Story.” It walked me through the life of a young Jewish boy before, during, and after the Holocaust. I had the ability to attempt to understand many of the struggles he went through, and all the pain he endured. I watched as his life went from peace and happiness, to disaster, devastation, and hopelessness. This exhibit really allowed for me to see what it was like to live under Hitler’s reign, as a Jew during the Holocaust era.

* discrimination
* prejudice
All terrible things start from discrimination and prejudice (black, white, Jewish, man, woman)

Arjernae: The survivors who spoke out after the Jews were freed from the camps was one of the many things that shook me. Also, the fact that people who were hospitalized were being murdered by hospital staff without the families’ knowledge. That they were experimenting and taking people who weren’t really sick hostage, just to burn their bodies and come up with a cover story about how people’s loved ones died, because of “sickness,” is sickening itself.

Noa: I Iooked at the exhibit on children’s shoes. I can imagine the view of the many children.

Jerusalen: “You are my witness” (Isaiah 43:10). I think when I saw the biblical quote on the wall, it hit me that the quotes said in the bible can relate to so many problems in the world, the people affected being Jews. The quote from a bible has a great impact on their relationship with religion. That stuck with me while seeing all the other exhibits. I think the other thing that impacted me was the room where you could light a candle for the Jews and soldiers. The tranquillity in the room made me feel peace.

Minori: About 8 people slept in a tiny space together. When one of them died, others used his things, such as shoes, clothes. Also, when they wanted to pee, they just peed while lying in bed, so others experienced the bad smell. I realized how important storytelling is through this experience.

Miles: I viewed a short film within the first exhibit. Firstly, the ambiance of the theater was fitting for the rest of the museum, was extremely dark with industrial features. The film was about the religious persecution Jews faced throughout history well before the Holocaust. Starting during the Crusades, thousands of Jews were killed by the hands of Christians. Jews were also painted as devilish/demonic figures with art pieces depicting them drinking children’s blood. The film also touched on how Martin Luther expected Jews to convert to Christianity during the Protestant Reformation. So when Jews decided to keep their faith, he called for the burning of synagogues and Jewish people’s homes. I found the film extremely interesting because I wasn’t aware of the long history of violence and persecution towards Jews prior to the Holocaust.

Anika: An image of babies piled up in the ground of the camp because they’re dead (dead babies).

Carlos: There’s a billboard in the “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibit which is a question to the public at the time:

What impacted me was the response:

“Yes 93%” and “No 1%” and “Don’t Know 6%.” I was impacted by the level of racism and discrimination that used to be, because they used to get scared that I’m related to.

Keiichiro: I was affected by the “Smile Photo” in the Holocaust Museum. I felt discomfort for it. Why? Why do they smile? The Holocaust is said to be so terrible. But at that time, people who live in Germany (not Jews) are smiling.

Shunsuke: “Amcho” is a word that was used by Jews to identify themselves as Jewish when they weren’t allowed to name themselves as Jewish during World War II. It’s kind of a secret word in Jewish. Jewish is human. They all have names, born, personality, and others like us. However, they didn’t have any rights or opportunity to name Jewish. They were discriminated against as aliens. As they were heading to their death by inhumane ways.

Noa: I looked at this – children’s shoes. I can imagine the view of the many children.

Naoki: When war has happened, human beings can do that.

Visiting the Smithsonian NMAAHC

As a DC long-time resident, it’s surprising to others to hear that I’ve never been to the African American Museum. I have always wanted to go and when I planned to officially go, I was shocked to see that tickets were all “sold out” (they’re actually free). Before the visit, I thought it would be best if I asked for advice on how to “handle” the museum. On one occasion, I had the opportunity to ask my Uber driver questions like “where should I start?” She told me the bottom was the best place and that the museum takes hours to get through because of its importance. Of course I didn’t believe her, and it wasn’t until I was actually standing outside the Museum’s elevator doors that I welcomed the truth.

That this would take not hours but days.

Even as a first timer, I was still able to explain some of the exhibits to my partner Fuka. I also learned many things I didn’t get to learn from personal research and school. The most impactful exhibit I got to see was the Musical one. I asked a visitor if he could say anything about music and its relationship to African Americans. His words were that “without African Americans, there would be no music. Every aspect of music starting with drums was inherited from African culture.” Much of the music we had the chance to enjoy, such as Go Go, Rap, R&B, and Blues brought back many memories to the DC students, and the Japanese students also enjoyed many of the songs, especially Michael Jackson or the Jackson 5.

I also was stunned by the Emmett Till exhibit. There was much to explain about what happened to him at only 14 years old to the Japanese students who never heard of him, or the dehumanizing or discrimination against African Americans in America. Because of this, I found it very crucial to explain the significance of knowing this information especially as an African American myself. The most imperative information to show on such short time was the meaning of segregation and important African American figures and groups who fought for change over the centuries to today. Such as Malcolm X, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, the NAACP, the Black Panther Party, and many more. Fuka and I got the chance to learn more about slavery (things I hadn’t already told her) and the rebellions involved, such as the Maroons, who fought back against the oppression of their people, Bacon’s Rebellion, The Stono Rebellion, and Nat Turner’s Rebellion. As well as many women who stood up for civil rights and women’s rights.

There were many things I wish I had a chance to see and explain. I do plan on going back to endure every aspect of the museum in the future.

Arjernae Miller
Phelps ACE High School

Arjernae: I Can’t Wait

It is not everyday someone gets the opportunity to go to Japan, especially not at my age. Though I may not particularly show it, I am ecstatic at the fact that I was chosen. At first I was in denial about the idea, but as the days begin to count down realization sinks in. I am still shocked at the fact that in a couple of days or less I’ll be learning firsthand about Japanese culture instead of reading about it in a book.

When we met with American Councils and I found myself eating Japanese food for the first time, I nearly froze. I found myself continuously repeating “this is happening, this is not a dream” to myself. Since then I’ve been practicing using chopsticks and table manners as well as speech, just so I can be somewhat prepared for the V.I.P. guests. I was most impressed by the table manners and food. In America there are certain things that are absolutely rude to do at the table, like slurping. Then I find out in Japan slurping is appreciated and encouraged, who would’ve thought! The display of foods is especially intriguing to me, plastic never looked so delicious!

In all honesty, I can’t wait to meet the rest of the TOMODACHI members and I can’t wait to set foot in Japan, ready to take pictures.

Arjernae Miller
Phelps ACE High School