Keep Your Head Held High

Today was a more special day than usual. I was wearing my formal clothes as today we will go visit the mayor of Minamisanriku. That was later in the afternoon however. First stop was Oikawa Denim. We were talking about how the company used wasted resources to make some of their high end clothes. They were able to use sugar cane and swordfish noses to make some of the jeans and jackets. They actually have their own fashion line called “Studio Zero”. We also learned that their factory was registered as an official safety area following the Great East Japan Earthquake. They did this because they were missing essential resources but the nearest safe zone that would have shared them was more than 4 km away. Minamisanriku is also very mountain like with a thick cedar forest and with all the rubble in the town, it would have been very difficult to make the trip. The company had the people in mind and chose to let people stay there for some months until temporary housing could be set up.

Once we finished talking to them, we moved on to YES factory. They make many products with a little humor behind the naming. The reason for this was actually quite touching. The CEO believed that to keep everyone in good spirits, humor was needed. Humor according to him was a good sign that people are okay and ready to get back on the path to a normal life. We got to hear two of them while we were there and as it turns out, the man who makes the jokes is actually the CEO himself. His group sometimes asks if certain things will sell but he remains unmoved, stating that if they keep telling the bad jokes, then that will be the companies punchline. I’d certainly love to see how that plays out in the future. Maybe I’ll get to understand the jokes in Japanese next time.

Last stop was the reason why I dressed so formal, it was time to meet Mayor Sato of Minamisanriku. Contrary to my expectations, he was a very easygoing man. Not in a bad way, but in a way that made it very easy to talk to him. He told us how he had escaped the tsunami and the different aspects of his job, but the thing that struck me the most was his wisdom. What had caught my attention is that as the leader, you must never have your head down. The people look for a leader with his head held high and won’t follow someone who looks like he’s given up. Even if the days are hard and you feel like giving up, when you are a leader you must think of the people and keep your head held high. I don’t think I’ll be able to forget those words. I’ll keep that in mind when I go back to DC and as I keep walking the trail of life. I’m sure it will come in handy. A quote of inspiration to end the day.

Daniel Ruiz
Capital City PCS

Daniel’s First Day in Japan

You know what’s cool to see? The window view when the plane you’re on descends. It works as a sort of preview such as the spacious rural areas and more dense urban areas. The green fields and narrow gray streets. They look different but both somehow smell fresh, like the ozone before a heavy rain. We had touched down to Narita airport in Japan and it felt great except my legs were weak and lifeless from sitting too long.

Even the discomfort of prolonged sitting was no match however for the Japanese train experience. On the way to Komagome station I noticed that each train is rather colorful with many advertisements. I hope I’m not the only one who thought that television inside the train was absolutely amazing! Not only this but the train is far more quiet than those of DC. You’d still hear it coming but DC metro rails sort of scream their own presence. The Japanese rails also move pretty smoothly. My rolling luggage barely moved from its spot, which surprised me because I was very sure that we were going very fast.

The street market called “Shimofuri” behind the Ninja House.

After our arrival at Komagome station we took the east exit down a road to the left until we reached our Tokyo home. It has such an awesome name, it’s called “Ninja House”. Unsurprisingly I learned a lot about ninjas. There was a convenience store around the corner but I was interested in the large street market I found when heading down the road beyond Ninja House. I had visited a snack store there and bought many snacks that would have cost me more at the conbini (convenience store).

Then my main man Ko had pointed me to a shoe shop. They had everything from dress shoes, sneakers and traditional straw-like sandals. Ko himself wears a pair of these on the regular and they certainly suit him. He reminds me of a sumo wrestler. There were so many shops and even more vending machines that I thought surely there is not a single need that hasn’t been met. This strange new land I’m in has surprised me in so many ways. There are many things any Japanese would do that I would never have done in the US, like the taking off of shoes at the entrance of a home. I even find myself more surprised at the opening of doors with a button than a toilet with buttons and a water spray.

But while we are here in Japan, everyone should hopefully polish up their storytelling skills so that we can bring more attention to the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. We must document and help those who live in places like this because I have felt such happiness from my short time so far in Japan and we should make sure that our time here can be spent helping those who were affected. There are stories to be told and action to be taken and the TOMODACHI group will hopefully be a good step in the right direction to help our friends, our tomodachi.

Daniel Ruiz
Capital City PCS

Daniel’s Day 5

On Friday the 21st  the TOMODACHI group went to a place called Busboys and Poets at 14th and V St NW. Immediately upon entering I saw a whole lot of books towards the back side. It was a very spacious place and we were sent to a large room with a nice looking stage in it. It looked like a talk show stage. There we met with the owner of the establishment, Andy Shallal. He gave us some of the restaurant’s’ history as well as his own which led to the inspiration and eventual establishment of the business. The store’s name was inspired by an African American poet, Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy before he was recognized as poet. I don’t think I see many restaurants with that kind of idea for its name here in DC so I personally find it welcoming.

Andy explained to us that he did not fit in well with either the black or white community so he had always felt unwelcomed. With this in mind, I can understand his ideas and aspirations for his business. The idea of Busboys and Poets was to create a safe space for anyone to come and read a book, or read and listen to some poetry by some creative minds. Better yet you can eat as well, and you can never go wrong with some food on the table. People could talk about almost anything they wanted and discuss that with people with no fear of being criticized for any reason whether it be culture or politics, you name it. A good experience all around and I could definitely see myself coming here at some point.

After that we returned to CHEC where we had prepared to teach some elementary students some Japanese culture. There was a good selection of stuff to do. We had a station for origami which looked pretty cool and a sumo demonstration with some volunteers to give these kids a bit of energy and excitement. I had a simple job at my station, help the kids count to ten. They would already know how to do that, but not in Japanese, We decided it would be simple and easy to grasp if we used words that were really similar in sound. One example was number one, which in Japanese is “ichi.” We told them that “ichi” could easily be remembered as “itchy”. It sounds very similar and we had more words for the rest of the numbers up until ten. Them seemed pretty excited to show us that they knew them, so we even quizzed them on it. They almost had a 100% score, but not far from it. Should they choose to learn, which some were asking about, they would do well.

After all the teaching we decided to take a step back and learn from a nice lady called Jacqueline Armstrong. She was telling us about the telling of stories through quilts. Instead of writing something down, we make some kind of picture to represent a message. I chose to do a small depiction of the game dominoes. I chose it because when all the guys started living together, it was admittedly very awkward, but I had some games in my small bag so I thought “If we can laugh and have fun together it won’t be this tense in the room.” We ended up playing for quite a while and we did have lots of fun so for our quilt that was meant to represent the TOMODACHI program, I thought it would be very fitting. Ms. Armstrong was also kind enough to provide the cloth tiles and fabric markers to make our designs. Sitting back and drawing something with meaning was oddly refreshing, I was in my zone. I haven’t concentrated that hard since I last took the ACTs. Only difference is that quilting was fun.

Daniel Ruiz
Capital City PCS

Daniel’s First Day

So now it’s July the 15th and the other half of the TOMODACHI group will be arriving in a few hours. I have spent more time preparing my luggage to meet them more than I spend time organizing my own clothes. Very unusual for me, but I believe it will be worth it. I’m sort of hoping that the Japanese students will have enough energy to socialize with us DC students before they crash. I’m also bringing some dominoes and a deck of poker cards to play with. I wonder if the Japanese know how to play with them. If not, that’s a good opportunity for the DC students to interact with our counterparts assuming they’re fine with it. I hope I’ll be able to keep up the positive energy I’ve got going right now. I’m not feeling particularly nervous, so I think it’ll be fine.

Daniel Ruiz
Capital City PCS