Atiya’s Homestay

Ever since the reception, where we, the American TOMODACHI participants, saw our Japanese counterparts for the very first time since their departure from Washington, DC, the anticipation for the home stay portion of the program had been at an all time high for everyone. When the time had finally come to go to our host families, we followed our host brother or sister to our host home.

When I first arrived to the house I would now call my home, I was extremely excited, but also very nervous in fear of making a careless mistake. I walked into an aroma of fried foods. My host mom greeted me as if I was her long lost child who had returned home. She gave me a tour of the house, showed me my private bathroom, and showed me to my rooms (I had two), which were both incredibly relaxing. After getting settled in, I washed up and prepared for dinner, which was fried pork cutlets with white rice of course, and miso soup. That night, we got to know each other and I was delighted to find that I had a family who appreciates music as much as I do. My host father arrived during dinner and embraced my presence just as my mom did. I figured that then was the perfect time to present my gifts, which were a framed picture of my host sister and I, and an engraved snow globe expressing my gratitude. They loved the gifts and displayed them on the living room mantel.

The moments shared upon my arrival to my host home shaped the unforgettable experience that was in store with my host family. We learned a lot about each other from their occupations and my aspirations to our favorite sodas. Over the short period of time that was spent together, we bonded enormously. Because of our bond, however, it made it almost impossible to say goodbye. This only goes to show that beyond the language difference between my host family and me, we were able to connect on a level that is ultimately unbreakable, regardless of the distance between us. This teaches me the importance of connection because with the connections formed in just 3 weeks, come friendships that last a lifetime.

Atiya Artis
Coolidge SHS

Keio and playing Shamisen

We spent a few days in the shadows of our hosts at their school, Keio Shonan Fujisawa Senior High School. We took classes with them for a few days, and our schedule included gym, one completely Japanese speaking class, and of course, English class. We even got the chance to enjoy some of the extra curricular activities they participate in. We openly compared not only a Japanese school to an American school but also a private school to a public school. I believe we all agreed and concluded that Japanese schools had a surplus of activities, probably due to the strong culture that Japan is built on.

We found it very important to embrace the different cultural activities they had to offer such as the Tea Ceremony Club and the Karuta Club (card playing), to name a few. We were additionally given the opportunity to take sessions that included a Yukata (traditional clothing) session and a Shamisen session. According to prior research, the “shamisen” is is a three-stringed, Japanese musical instrument played with a plectrum called a “bachi.” It is very similar to the American guitar or banjo. We had a shamisen player by the name of Ms. Tanabe grace us with lessons. Being the music lover that I am, I really enjoyed playing a Japanese musical instrument and was very good at it. I was amazed to find that I learned so much about the Japanese culture just through learning a skill.

IMG_1289 IMG_1278Atiya Artis
Coolidge SHS

November 11 – Listening to the Homeless

Today, we met at the Tokyo Voluntary Action Center and took action in the Japanese community. We sat down with Kohji Goto from the Soup Association, who emphasized the importance of helping the homeless community, just by simply reaching out to talk to them. We learned that even the smallest things counted, and that whether homeless or housed, we all are a part of society and are people. The purpose of Kohji’s organization was to make the homeless feel that way.

After getting background information about who we would be working beside that day, the Soup Association put us to work. We split into three different groups and went into what was said to be downtown Japan. There, we found scattered homeless people and our only job was to talk to them. We, as a whole, were truly impressed and somewhat amazed at some of the stories shared. We found that some had been living this way for the majority of their lives and some, chose to live this way in the pursuit to follow their passion. All in all, it was a great experience that truly embodies the main idea I took away from it: if you really want to know what the people want, go out there and listen.

Atiya Artis
Coolidge SHS

November 5, 2013

Today, the US Tomodachi students finally got to meet with the Keio students for the reception party, held at the JICA Corporate building. This was our first time seeing each other since the Keio students’ departure in July. When we arrived, they were already in the lobby of the building waiting for us. Everyone was so excited (and a bit emotional) to see each other again. When we went upstairs to the reception room, we sat together and began to prepare for the introductions and presentations we had to give, while listening to the speeches and motivational words of coordinators, spokespersons and funders of the Akira Foundation, The US-Japan Council, American Councils, the Tomodachi Program and many more organizations that contribute to our existence as a program.

When it was time for the introductions, the American students went first. The audience was surprised to know that we all knew how to introduce ourselves in Japanese. When the Keio students presented, they were so skilled, they introduced themselves in both English and Japanese. After the introductions, we took a break and I met my host mother, who was very excited to meet me. She was extremely nice and spoke English remarkably well. After the ceremony, the Keio students accompanied the DC students to Asakusa and we shopped and walked around for a few hours. Upon visiting a 7/11, I was surprised to see that Slurpees, which are famous in America, are not even heard of in Japan. When it was time for our departure, both sides of the Tomodachi group were sad, yet excited for the home stay portion of the program.

Atiya Artis
Coolidge SHS

Before Japan

This summer has been a wonderful experience for me. Following the summer portion of the two-way US-Japan exchange program, I had to begin preparing for the second portion: my voyage to Japan. I had to prepare both physically and mentally for everything that was in store for me.

As a group, the DC Tomodachi students met with several people to help us prepare for the trip. The person who stood out most to me was the spoken word artist, George Yamazawa, known as “G.” He met with us in the Martin Luther King Memorial Library and opened our eyes and minds to a whole new thinking process through poetry. After sharing some of his personal poetry, he challenged us to write poetry about important chapters of our lives, using metaphors from random topics. At first, it was really challenging to think of what to write, but he encouraged us to just write how we feel, and the metaphors came pouring out. When we shared our personal poems, i was surprised to hear some of the things other students wrote. They were all amazing. I even surprised myself with my own poem. This was a great experience for me and has influenced the way I write to this day.

After meeting with him, I was ten times more excited to go to Japan and document my experiences than I was before. I also felt really anxious to experience first hand what I had been hearing about and researching for quite some time. As the days drew closer to November 1, I could do nothing but anticipate.

Atiya Artis
Coolidge Senior High School

IMG_1026 IMG_1024 IMG_1019

Atiya’s Summer Reflection

This summer has been an eye opening, life changing, and unforgettable one for me. I had the pleasure of not only meeting, but also forming personal bonds with eleven teenagers. I saw my own city in a way that I had never seen before. My mind expanded to great measures as I learned to question everything. I also learned a lot from the mentors I met this summer. Overall, the TOMODACHI program opened the door to the inquiring, open minded, daring, alert person I am today.

When the program first began, I trembled with both fear and excitement because I could do nothing else but anticipate what was in store for me. During the first few days, I, along with some of the other TOMODACHI participants, shared some of the stereotypes that we unknowingly had about each other and our backgrounds. This was a pivotal moment in my way of thinking because it was then that I realized that in order to conclude anything about anyone, I first have to step out of my comfortable way of thinking and enter a more complex one. As soon as I changed my thought process, I began to see things from multiple perspectives.

Throughout the summer, we, the TOMODACHI participants, had the pleasure of meeting many mentor-like people associated with Japanese-American relations. These speakers each taught us something different but in my opinion, Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets, stood out the most. He was extremely opinionated and very serious about exercising the freedom that the American constitution grants us. What intrigued me most about this was the response from the Japanese students because I understand that in Japan, they are not as outspoken, especially when it comes to an opinion about their government.

Aside from gaining lessons from mentors, we also visited many places in Washington DC, being sure not to only visit popular tourist attractions. Although I am a Washington DC native, I retained a lot from each place we visited. Seeing things I barely notice on a regular basis with peers who are visiting for the first time is an interesting experience. It not only allows you to see things from another point of view, but it also makes you continuously ask yourself why you’ve never noticed it before. While visiting the urban areas of the city, I smiled knowing that the Japanese are getting a view of the entire city, and not just the attractions because those parts of the city are always forgotten when it comes to tourists.

One of my favorite places that we visited was the Holocaust Museum. While visiting, I was flabbergasted at the fact that the Holocaust is rarely, if ever talked about in Japan. I later learned that this is because during these times, the Japanese had an alliance with the Germans. As the Japanese began to understand the hardships endured during the Holocaust, they felt emotional about the crimes that took place. Seeing the emotions overwhelm the hearts of the Japanese students was an amazing sight for me. It made me believe that this world will unite as the TOMODACHI students have. This summer required a lot of dedication, hard work, and sleep, but the experience was a fantastic one and I appreciated every moment of it.

Atiya Artis
Coolidge SHS
Washington, DC

DC Day 4: July 25, 2013

On Thursday, we took a look into important pieces of American history. We first visited the Holocaust Museum located downtown near the Smithsonian and the National Mall. This wasn’t my first time visiting the museum; however, I took great interest in watching the reactions of my Japanese peers. I was surprised to find that they knew little to nothing about the genocide committed by the Nazi Germans, because of how big of a deal it was to America. Then I understood, during the time of the Holocaust, Japan had an alliance with Germany, so they never saw the impact from the point of view we, as Americans see it from. Going through the journey, I could see the shock on their faces. Although I had visited the museum previously, I always notice something new each time I go. The content in the museum touched me emotionally even though I’m not personally connected to this tragic, yet historic event.

After the museum, we sat and ate lunch in the park, looking out at the wonderful view, and fed ducks. Following our relaxing lunch break, we walked toward Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which was built to be a statue of him, surrounded by some of his most impactful quotes. We spent a moment to talk about the struggle of African Americans in society over the years. We talked about the civil rights movement, the late yet unforgettable Ms. Rosa Parks, the memorial’s position in the city and why it was chosen, and we compared the segregation between blacks and whites in the 20th century to the infamous case of Trayvon Martin, and the newly proclaimed verdict on his killer, George Zimmerman. By the end of this day, the Japanese students had a clear insight on some of the flaws in our American community, which was important for them to see in order to have a full understanding of our history and culture.

The lesson of this day would be to look beyond the surface, whether it is the surface of the skin, or the surface of an unfamiliar culture. Like Bo from American Councils said, foreign cultures are like icebergs, you can only see the surface, which never amount to much. But by asking questions and stepping outside of your own culture to understand another, you will find yourself digging deeper into the iceberg, thus unlocking a world of wonders.

Atiya Artis
Coolidge SHS
Washington, DC