Dusan: Reflections from across the ocean

“Ichi-go, Ichi-e”

As I graduated from a simple observer into a storyteller from these experiences in this program, every moment was a reflection. Each metro journey was a new realization, with a different perspective on common issues, ideas, and thoughts. Each place visited offered an insight that dared to break stereotypes and misconceptions on Japan that we had, and that helped us discover more about ourselves. Each story heard was like a new light in our night skies, fireworks that made our minds that much wider, and that unified us. I want to talk about some of my realizations, now that this life-changing book is on its final few pages.

I realized, first, and funny enough, that what I think I know of the world and its people is NOTHING, because I’ve actually experienced so little of it. Watching world events unfold on, say, CNN or the Internet, will never match actually being in those places. As Dan Davidson once said to me, “You can’t really understand someone until you can live a day in their life”, and that empathetic saying is the perfect cover to describe my experience in Japan. Living in a homestay in the suburbs of Tokyo, going to a triple-disaster affected region and talking to its people to hear their stories – ALL of their stories, not just the disaster-ones – eating good food and laughing with friends, as songs filled with happiness and a joyful future flutter into the night sky of a community fractured still in a town still rebuilding…I reiterate: You know nothing about the world until you can actually experience it, with all of its people, acknowledging your biases and putting them in a backseat. Once I realized that, the experience really became something special.

I realized what it takes to be a true leader, a wolf at the head of its pack. There are three main factors: Incredible inner strength and faith, grit in the face of disaster, and the ability to sacrifice for what you believe in. One can say all they want they have what it takes to be a leader, that they could start their own business and write their own story, that they could easily recover from a disaster. I know I used to put on that false front, ‘till we met three figures that tore down what I thought of as leadership: Jin Sato, Rock Newman, and Andy Shallal. These three, coming from three different walks of life, all define it. Jin Sato becoming a mayor of a town newly destroyed, Rock Newman constantly fighting racial adversity in America as a Black man with the appearance of a white man, and Andy Shallal coming from Iraq to America & founding Busboys and poets. They embodied inner strength, the grit it takes to lead your own story, and the ability to sacrifice for what you believe, and I know I never would have gotten their experiences had I not done TOMODACHI.

I realized that out of every disaster can come opportunity, with the effort of a diligent mind. When I visited the city of Ishinomaki and walked through the “scenic route” – where we saw firsthand destroyed homes, empty foundations, piles of garbage and lost possessions intertwined with an air of defeat – it reminded me of the apathy that is seen in the ghettos and impoverished parts of America, especially in D.C. Yet, the comparisons became hopeful, after we were introduced to two local groups doing what they could to bring beauty back to their homes: Ishinomaki 2.0 and Kagikakko Café (Kagikakko was started by High Schoolers, and is successful. I was taken aback.) These groups realized that as the old days were gone, taken away, so came a new day where they could appreciate what they took for granted and, as such, reimagine their lives and work to create a new opportunity for themselves. That spirit to always move forward caused a tremendous shift in my cynical worldview. Even the people at the lowest of times can make opportunity for themselves, so what’s my excuse? Why couldn’t I make a change?

But my final realization began to form after our visit to IDEO Tokyo and our last days together in D.C., and that is this: It takes little steps in your community first to make a big change in your world. Now, this sounds almost far-fetched, but think: If every ghetto, every disaster-destroyed community, every part of a bad area, could take or were given the little steps needed to persevere and climb above their negative circumstances, a world where we could all live close to true happiness could be a possibility. It all starts with the little steps though. For me, that little step is education, but I am not just talking a school education. I’m talking about educating people about different ideas, about different perspectives, about different experiences outside of the norm or the comfort zone. I’m talking about fostering creativity in the youth of our communities so that they can grow up to make the changes we couldn’t make happen, happen. I sure know I wouldn’t be saying any of this if it weren’t for me being able to escape America for some time, and many others like me hold the same sentiment, such as my now close friends K.Y. and S.M. For me, I realized that community is the key, but the community must first be educated on how it can be a unified force of positive change. Without the community, there is no tree. With the community though, a thousand cherry blossoms can bloom. It all starts with the little steps of watering and nurturing the community to become something great, by actively being a part of it and working for not just your own, but for its greater good.

So now, it’s time to close this book and place it on my forever growing mental bookshelf. I do not know what the future holds for me, except that it is something great, and I wholeheartedly thank everyone and everything that was part of this experience for me. Each of these realizations, and the ones not mentioned, are only the leaves stemming from the roots this program has grown in me, and as the future goes on, I look back leaving a message to two. For the TOMODACHI family I have now: Though we may walk many different paths, we still walk side by side in our shared hopes, dreams, and experiences, and where that path leads…well, it’s a victory no matter how far we have to walk. Thank you for making me believe I can become something great again, that I can do something to make the future well. For all future participants: I know not of what your experience may do for you, but just remember: Ichi-go, Ichi-e – One life, one meeting. Whatever you make of your experience is up to you, but don’t forget the lessons you’ll learn and the amazing people you’ll meet from this. I know that I won’t. So, until the next book…

Dusan Murray-Rawlings
Washington Latin Public Charter School

DC: A City of Inspiring Words

Quote-Yuki-Darkness smY.A. – This is a quote I picked up from Martin Luther King JR. Memorial. I was simply amazed how he expressed this thought. Actually I knew there are these kind of thoughts such as non-violent protesting, but now I totally understand what it meant. And as he said in his quote, his way of fighting against stereotypes, racism and the discrimination was talking and telling the story to the others. His quote let me recognize the way how “we” solve these problems as global leaders.

Quotes-Nina-ComfortN.Y. – “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”


I like this quote because these words show us how to live. Living in comfortable and convenient place is easy. People’s mind wont be restricted and we can be what we want to be. On the other hand, when we are challenging something or having a controversy with people, it is not easy time. We have to live in pressure. However, I believe that people can grow much more in hard time because we have to think so many things and take an action. I have kind of experience of this. I was belonging to tennis club, which was said that is a most hard girls’ club in junior and senior high school. That rumor was true and I had spent hard time in both physical and mental side. However it was enrich time. I trained my body and mental.

Because of this experience, I believe that people should put themselves in to hard situations, and I think this thinking is not wrong. So, I could connect my thinking to this quote.

Today, life is becoming easier because of the technology development. We have to find hard way to make ourselves strong. The ultimate measure of a man is where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

N.M. – “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience. But where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

The second I read this quote, I realized how it perfectly fits our whole group. As participants of an exchange program, we need to do our best to step out of our ‘comfort’ zones and ‘challenge’ new things in order to learn about new cultures and perspectives.

Quote-Korey-Love PeaceKorey – This quote speaks to me because it talks about how we should focus more on peace and not entirely on war. I want to live in a peaceful world where I don’t have any fears of war or destruction.

Quote-I Have A DreamK.Y. – “I have a dream…” The sensational words of the great Martin Luther King blows through the metropolitan city of Washington D.C. even today. Powerful and inspirational, those first lines of King`s speech made me think deeply; for, what my next goal is to pursue my dreams and accomplish my goals.

Quotes-Injustice AnywhereDusan – Upon seeing this quote at the MLK memorial, I stopped to think about its significance. In the past week, a theme came up along the lines of being an ally to justice, such as helping to stop police brutality when it happens by watching. This same quote applies to that same notion, and that is no coincidence. Everything that happens to one does affect another indirectly if we take the time to look at our lives and the lives around us. For example, if I ignored a police brutality incident before my eyes, that would not help the situation for anyone that police brutality applies to in the future, including myself. In fact, I could end up being brutalized because I never tried to take any initiative to stop that injustice from occurring. I’ll end with this: Buddha once said something along this line before, and if MLK said it as well, then someone before MLK and after Buddha most likely said it as well. If it is oft repeated throughout history, then it would be wise to take heed of it. So, ‘till next time….

August 6: A Day of Teaching and Learning


Being a positive force in your community was a powerful takeaway for today, in how we participated in and led a program in the community in the same day. People always say, “it all begins with the little steps,” but that philosophy is not reflected in most community affairs and the way we conduct things and ourselves. If so, there’d be a lot more caring. However, there are people who are working with that philosophy.

In our teaching experience at the Petworth Boys & Girls Club, we were given the chance to teach kids in middle school all about our Japan experience, and in that we passed down simple themes of perseverance, seeking knowledge and the truth, and being active in your community. Seeing how interested these kids were, and how they were really taking in what we were saying and describing was just such a joy. I loved the teaching experience.

Aug6 Blog Dusan B&GOn the flipside, in our experience at Words, Beats & Life, we were able to see how a community organization that seeks to provide a creative space and uplift can do just as it says with focus and persistence. Moving through five classes in the afternoon, we got a first-hand account of how WB&L creates an atmosphere of creativity, fun, and positivity through teacher-student interaction, openness, and listening; really, some of the basic principles of Hip-Hop.

IMG_2057 IMG_2052 IMG_2046Being a positive force in your community is the stepping stone to doing great things. Though you can build yourself all day, your accomplishments are measured by those around you. The true investments are they, and they’re worthwhile, the community I mean. Why? With a strong community comes strong people, and with strong people comes a strong world. So, until next time…


This week has been really packed, and today was no different. We met with a lot of people in international affairs, such as the African Affairs office and Latino Affairs office of the DC Mayor. We also went to the Washington Post, and Words Beats and Life (WBL). A lot of moving around occurred, which was nice. I really loved WBL because it showed that you can make a passion into a career, which is something I worry about as a singer. I also loved meeting Mr. Nakamura, because hearing about the journalist’s side is really fascinating. Overall, today was one of my favorite days this week. I learned a lot of really exciting things, and got to take a hip hop class! And I think everyone felt the same way.

IMG_2050Nakamura TalkingY.A.

B&G Chopsticks YukiTeaching in Boys and Girls club was one of the fun events we have in our schedule. The day was well planned and seems every kid was in to what we taught. We divided in four groups to teach Origami, Tohoku lessons, usage of chopsticks, and writing their name in Japanese characters. I was in the group teaching how to use chopsticks. Actually, it was super hard to teach how the chopsticks work to children even though they were really passionate about learning Japanese culture. However, I also felt myself being satisfied and was glad to teach them. Today, I was really told by those small children to be passionate toward learning to show respect and make the ones teach us happy. I will meet many more organizations and groups during this program and it was great for me to recognize the attitude towards learning again.

B&G Group

August 5: Reflections on the 70th Anniversary

PROGRAM NOTE: Day Three of the program began with two panels: the first on the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II and the second, a career panel focused on professionals involved in the US-Japan relationship. The afternoon was devoted to topics related to the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima – with the screening of a film, Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard, and an evening visit to an exhibit on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at American University.


Terry ShimaToday was the longest and the most intense day in my life. We met many people, each having their own stories of their lives surrounding life as a Japanese-American and heard stories about the impact nuclear weapons had on Hiroshima and the world. I was surprised to hear Terry Shima’s story, because even though he wasn’t treated right by the Americans during the war, he still believed America was his only homeland, and had loyalty.


Today brought our focus back to Japan, and we met with people who are and were involved with both the US and Japan though good and bad. Often I find it really difficult to feel patriotic, as I look at the news or online and see all the terrible things my country has done. Today has made it both easier and harder to feel this way. Harder because I learned more in depth about Hiroshima through a film and an exhibit, and how can I feel proud of a country that hurt innocent people and made their lives so much harder. And easier because when talking to people who were involved in World War II and the career panel, I got to hear how America leaves us with wonderful opportunities to become better and make our nation better. Honestly I don’t know if I am proud or revolted by my country. But I think that is okay, and I think that that opinion will keep developing.


It was really opening-eye day for me. I have two reasons for that.

Firstly, the short film that was telling the story of drawings created by elementary students. All the colorful works drawn by color pens from the U.S. I didn’t know that story at all even when I visited Hiroshima last year.

Secondly, just hearing the stories of Japanese Americans was moving. I did know about the existence of discrimination toward Japanese Americans however, it was first time for me to hear the stories directly.

So, today, I thought these issues through from different perspectives as a person not only who had been discriminated but also as a person who dropped the A-bomb. I think that we have to pass down these stories from various perspectives at the same time.

Terry Shima TalkingDusan

Loyalty! That thing that I wish I could wholeheartedly say I have for America. Terry Shima and Mary Murakami’s experiences were hellish, in a word, but through it they kept a loyalty to a country that actively seeked to disown them in their times. As a black teenage male in America, I identify with them. However, I can’t find the same loyalty in America yet as they can. Looking inward, I guess I still hold resentment towards America for treating me the way it does, to having to have the extended coming of age talk for Black children growing up in America. The thing is, a hope spot is appearing for me because of hearing these stories. Mary basically grew up in a POW camp, and had to start her whole life over; She held loyalty, and became the change she wished to see in America. The same theme goes for Terry Shima. My loyalty may evolve to be different, but I think I can begin to find some in America, if only because I seek a change. I don’t want to have to give my child the “because you’re black” talk.


Today was a rich day again. We talked with so many people. Yesterday’s theme was issues facing African American people but today’s theme was about World War II and life of Japanese American people. We also saw the movie Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard about a school in Hiroshima and the All Souls Church in DC.

Hiroshima is my mother’s hometown and my grandfather and grand-grandparents were A-bomb victims. So I know a lot of information about Hiroshima, however the movie today showed me some stories I had never heard. The stories of school children in Japan and the church in DC. It was very important time to me to learn these new stories and I was so glad to watch the movie.

Also we went to a museum and saw some articles, pictures, and drawings from Hiroshima. I knew some of the situations but I felt the visual information was so strong. There were some shocking things for me. I felt A-bomb is a horrible weapon once more.


Today we mainly focused on discussing the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II. I think today allowed me to delve deeper and gain greater understanding for a topic that I had learned about during my 10th grade world history class.

While discussing the whole historical occurrence, my interest was piqued by a comment one of my fellow Americans made. He said that in school Americans are taught that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrible, but at the same time necessary. He then goes on to say that, that narrative led him to his own personal research of the topic.

This statement stood out to me the most because I didn’t fully agree with it, or maybe I couldn’t relate to his statement. I was never taught that the use of the atomic bomb was necessary. In fact, I was taught along the lines that the use of the atomic bomb was excessive on America’s part. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk as if the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was something that had to be done. Even though we are both Americans getting an education in the same city, we were taught about the same topic in completely different ways! This was quite eye opening.


The big idea from today was the devastation the A-bomb caused in Hiroshima. What I saw was something I couldn’t have ever imagined in my wildest dreams. People’s bodies deformed and changed beyond all recognition, some were swollen in different areas of their body, and others were burned to the point their skin was black. Those people didn’t deserve any of this, I understand that we needed to end the war but feel we should have found another way.


Today is 8/6, the day Hiroshima was blown away by a nuclear bomb America had dropped, so we had a session about it and also had a chance to go to an exhibit in American University yesterday. I visited Hiroshima last year for a school trip so I knew most of the basic facts about it and wasn’t shocked like how most people were. But from everyone’s reactions, I realized the difference of knowledge between the American students and the Japanese students and the perspectives on how this historical even is taught. I strongly believe this gap of education shouldn’t exist and students should all have equal opportunities to learn about this world event.


Hiroshima TalkThe film that Shizumi and Bryan made gave me completely different perspective towards the atomic bombing. The film was really focusing on how people in Hiroshima felt after the bombing. The image I had toward Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bombing was bad, sad, and horrible. Actually, the atomic bomb itself was tragic, but what people in Hiroshima who lost their friends and maybe even family felt was appreciation toward America which is the country that dropped the bomb but also supported its enemy after the war. I didn’t know at all about how Americans supported children in Hiroshima, and I didn’t know at all about how those children feel towards America. It was so new to me and surprised me the most. This film gave me a new perspective of the children in Hiroshima who actually experienced the Bombing.


We learned about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. The film we watched about the lost lives of an Elementary school and honestly it was new news to me and eye opening. The impact of the bomb on the people, their skin literally melting off and their eyes burnt. In light of the darkness I never knew about the typhoon that came after and cleansed the land so it could be habitable. Had that not happened, reconstruction would have begun many decades later and redevelopment would have taken much longer.

The Hiroshima children who drew pictures and sent them to Washington DC as a thank you for the gifts they received were reunited after many decades apart. Their colorful pictures look like they were made yesterday. A very dark story became a bright and colorful one in the end. Most importantly, a takeaway for me is forgiveness is key and can fully end a bad past with a new start.


An atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and thousands died, lost their loved ones or lost their houses.

In remembrance of this day, today’s program focused on the U.S.-Japan relationship. As a Japanese student who has heard World War 2 stories from the Japanese perspective, it was eye opening to hear the story from the U.S. side.

The World War 2 story that I know has always been a bitter one. It was the tale of the outbreak of excessive nationalism and losses of life. Therefore, I expected America’s side of story to be a story of honor, pride and glory. This was in fact partially true, and partially not.

Americans do celebrate their victory in the war, however, as far as the A-bombing goes, they consider it as a shameful part of their history. Even 70 years after this, the reality of the world is that we live in constant fear of the A-bomb. If any superpowers clash, wars will occur, and there is no guarantee that another A-bomb will not be dropped somewhere, harming thousands of civilians.

I do not know if it is possible, however nuclear disarmament is essential for world peace. I hope we can see progress and the building of consensus within my lifetime.

Terry and Mary Group1Career Panel Group 3IMG_2026

August 4: Our Most Vivid Impressions

PROGRAM NOTE: On August 4th, the day started with a workshop presented by Operation Understanding DC (OUDC) to better understand prejudice and stereotypes.The day continued at the Thurgood Marshall Center in the historic Shaw community of Washington with a closer examination of historic and current issues affecting the African American community. Speakers included Rock Newman, Ronald Hampton, and the Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop.

Rock and Ron GroupAndres

Today we spoke about prejudice and racism here in the United States. It was very powerful being in front of Rock Newman during his speech. He told the truth behind how the Police today even have bias for whites and blacks. Mr. Newman also treated us to soul food which was delicious. We had macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, collard greens, and BBQ meatballs. It was very delicious and at the same time while eating I consumed this knowledge of truth that prejudice still exists in America.

Soul Food9K.Y.

Out of all the talks, people and workshops we had interacted with today, what stood out most was Rock Newman`s discussion. The reason for this was the way he influenced the audience, his strong and magical words surged into each of us like a gush of wind. Because the words and his tone were full of determination and powerful legitimacy, I was initially moved and awe-stricken just by his presence. What he had expressed was the corrupt nation of the United States, which ‘everyone is equal and that people regardless of their skin color or size are treated equal’. He told stories of his past where he dealt with racial discrimination that proved opposite. He said everyone should be treated with mutual respect and dignity. I hope to pass on his courageous story to other people.

Rock Newman1Shigetatsu

I’d like to write about the Free Minds Book Club. I was impressed by them strongly because of their ways and thought and operation.

There are a lot of people who are in prison because they did something illegal. Most people, including me, tend to avoid communicating with the criminals. It’s a very natural thing but also a serious issue we need to tackle. Usually, we only see issues that are broadcasted widely like 3/11 tsunami or 9/11 terrorists attack. However there are various issues that are needed to be solved in our society.

FM Tara and MajorFree Minds Book Club is an organization which focuses on such issues and is now helping lots of people. We met Major who was a participant in Free Minds when he was in prison. He was not so sensitive and talkable but his stories he did share were very powerful. He also shared his poem on how he appreciates woman. Books also have significant meanings to help people get other perspectives and knowledge especially while they’re in prison.

I recognized that there are issues we are expected to consider that are surrounding us. Also we have to try to solve them in an effective way. Probably the whole procedure and solution to many of these problems is the social entrepreneurship. Free Minds is a really good example.

Free Minds Gift to Major SmilingY.A.

Things are busy and were kind of overwhelming for me today, though we are just starting the DC part of this program. In the morning, I have got two biographies and pictures two men we were to meet. One was a white man and the other one was a black man. Later it turned out my hypothesis and assumptions were not correct, but at that time, that is what I really thought. As I read the biographies I even thought “isn’t it hard for a white man to criticize the discrimination made by white man even though he knows it was a terrible thing?” In conclusion, both men I read about were black man and I was surprised.

One of them was Rock Newman who doesn’t seem like a black man at all. He had white skin, and also blue eyes. Even if I was not Asian, I would think even Americans would see Mr. Newman and think he was white. He told us his story of struggle of looking white although he is actually considered and categorized as a black man. Even though Barack Obama has been a president and there seems to be no discrimination or prejudice that exists between black and white persons, there are still some in people’s minds. Before Obama and earlier in time there was more discrimination between blacks and white as one could easily guess. And I think Mr. Newman had experienced what he didn’t need to experience. For example, he said a lot of whites talked to him making fun of black people or criticize black people since they thought he was a white man which would never happen if he looked like a black man. Since he is a black man, and since he chooses to live as a black man, and since he decided to fight for black men, he had to face these criticisms he didn’t have to face. As I just mentioned he didn’t use his “advantage” of looking like a white man at all in the time of segregation and prejudice. I was just surprised and amazed by his courage and power which makes this United States keeps succeeding with DIVERSE SOCIETY.

Ron Hampton2Caitie

Today was a lot of work on defying and understanding stereotypes and their power. The main lesson I took from OUDC, Free Minds, and the Rock and Ron conversations was that you cannot let stereotypes define you or anyone else. Stereotypes, whether positive or negative, leave you never able to understand the person for who they are. We cannot get rid of stereotypes, and we cannot just pretend they don’t exist. But instead, we can know they exist, and get to know the person for who they really are rather than your first impression. And I think that’s a really powerful lesson.


Thurgood Marshall4Today was very interesting, especially because we met in the Thurgood Marshall building in the U St neighborhood. I didn’t know this building even exists and I live in the same neighborhood! It proves that many young people don’t value the historical landmarks in our city or are just ignorant to their existence. During our meeting we got the privilege to meet and listen to Rock Newman. He made so many strong points about prejudices and racism back in the day. But the passion in Newman’s voice made his words even powerful. He was my favorite speaker of the day.


Today we met a lot of new people who were so powerful that I had to form new perspectives inside me. We met Rock, who told us about his past, how black people have been treated, and how they are still treated now. His stories of prejudice against him were painful and powerful to hear. If I am to change the world somehow, I think I would have to be like Rock, to be able to even sacrifice yourself to save someone.


Today we went to Thurgood Marshall Center and listened to many stories. First story was from Rock Newman, who looks like a white person but is an African American. He told us his experience and it was very fearful. Also he talked about media. When news told about some crime, those criminals are mostly black people. News doesn’t report about white criminals as much a black criminal. This is why people’s image of black is bad. I thought mass media is fearful. Mass media can create people’s mind. Media have to report untold news. And we have to think of information we receive and question it.

Also, this is not related to today’s meetings but I want to share about some things I observed while walking in DC. In DC, there are many garbage cans on the street and we can dump trash easily. Actually, Dusan told me that this is one of his favorite points of DC. I think so too. In Japan, we cannot find garbage cans easily outside so usually we have to find stores and parks, which have garbage cans, or bring the trash back to our homes after carrying it all day. Maybe this is a reason that there is so much trash on the streets of Japan. I don’t understand why Japan doesn’t do the same system of DC or how DC can set garbage cans in so many place. I can’t grasp this as just “difference” and thought this is one of worse point of Japan. I wish I could change Japanese garbage system.


Dealing with stereotypes is a way of life for many of the people on Earth, but so rarely do I hear it brought up in a serious fashion by those around me. Yet when it is, it’s something worth listening to, and today was no different. We heard a variety of narratives, but the one that truly stuck with me was the narrative of Major, a man who had recently been free from jail after six years confined. His style of talking held a lifetime of pain and conflict in it, talking that took thought to communicate effectively, talking that began in his growth.

Free Minds BookSome of the common stereotypes of a black man are that he is uneducated, lazy, and destined for prison. For Major, some of these stereotypes, it seemed, were a cruel way of life created by people simply not caring enough to stop this cycle. He was most definitely not lazy, but he was illiterate for a time and committed crimes out of simple necessity. After all, what would you do if you were hungry — no, starving — and out of options? Exactly. To sum it up in short, this was a way of life for a time, because no one cared. No one was there to redirect Major down a good path in his childhood, no one was there to help him grow, no one was there to allow him to not turn to that life — not until he reached Free Minds, people who cared, people who were consistent.

Nobody was trying to help, and stereotypes were only bars that kept him locked in. In society, we cannot understand anyone until we go beyond their face value. It’s easy to stop at someone’s face and define them off that alone, but that opens the floodgates for more misconceptions to grow, more bigotry to grow, more people to just disregard it. Because we took the time to understand Major, we’ve begun to acknowledge and break down our stereotypes, in turn breaking down ignorance. As Global citizens, that is a coming skill needed. As citizens of our community though? I believe now, more than ever, that the capacity to truly understand another, to empathize, is an obligation. It all starts with little steps, after all. So, until next broadcast.


Today we were able to learn many stories about how the color of your skin could completely change your life. Major, who was taught to steal to live, told us about his eight years he spent in jail and his thoughts about what he did in the past. I was surprised when he said he didn’t regret what he did. He felt in a way thankful for his experiences because he was able to learn many things from them and is currently writing strong, powerful poems to express his thoughts and feelings.


I felt like the discussions we had with Rock Newman today was one the most outstanding moments of the day. Newman talked about his experiences during his childhood dealing with being racially defined as black yet not exactly physically appearing it to others. I think that was a really important topic to bring up because a lot of the time people tend to write off the narratives of multiracial people in this country.

Today, we talked about stereotypes and the African-American experience in the United States. I think this is the first time that I felt invested in because I completely understood it. It feels nice being able to hear the experiences of people directly from their own mouths and not through an interpreter. No offense to interpreters, but having to hear someone else’s words reiterated back through a different language and a different person kind of depreciates the experience of listening to others’ stories for me…

August 3: Back in DC Again


Today I got to see DC from a completely new eye. I’ve lived in this city for years, but it’s so different being here now after going to Japan and seeing what their culture is like. Now I’m noticing all these differences in my city I had previously never second guessed, things that had just became part of my everyday life. Like how dark our metro trains are, or the amount of socialization just on the streets. The colorful buildings, the history, the inequality, all of these things I knew before. But after Japan, it’s like noticing it all over again. And it’s really given me a new look at my city.


Yesterday we took the Japanese students on a tour of our picture of Washington D.C. Not just the picture perfect D.C that everybody seems to see. This was important to me to show the Japanese students this part of D.C. because it’s important to see the difference of social classes in our city. I also learned something new as we traveled across the bridge to Anacostia. Clarence told us that Anacostia had the highest unemployment rate in the country in 2011. This was a huge shock to me because I knew there were seamy parts of D.C but I didn’t know exactly how bad it really was. This tour really opened my eyes even more to the socioeconomic problems of D.C. and the disparities that exist in my city.


Today we toured the nation’s capital and my home with our Japanese friends. I saw quite a lot of usual and new things I have never seen. One of my favorite spots visited was Hains Point, where you can have a full view of Reagan National Airport and see the airplanes take off and land. As a lover of planes and aeronautics, I fell in love with this spot! Another interesting place was Anacostia in southeast DC. I had never seen a drastic change in socioeconomic levels like this before, especially not in Washington. I now hope to get a better understanding of current issues of my hometown before going off to other countries and understanding theirs.


After returning to DC and being able to walk around the city for a period of time, I noticed a number of differences between it and the areas we visited in Japan. For example, both the areas we visited in Japan and DC have a number of historical landmarks and sites; however, Washington DC landmarks do not include religious symbols like shrines or religious art. Despite Japan and DC both having a metro system, personally I believe that DC’s metro system is easier to maneuver due to the fact that we only have a few lines, versus Japan which has an array of lines ranging from private to public, express, and even gender specific!


Being back in DC after being abroad for the first time in my life was like seeing home again at an undiscovered angle, and touring through DC today only augmented that. One thing that I noticed was the general disdain for the “have-nots” in DC and places they live. The lack of tour buses in places like Anacostia or on Benning Road to the ongoing gentrification that I recognized across the city during our tour. Gentrification is especially concerning, because as we drove down Benning road and up H street, NE, I could literally see the change from low-income to “Hip & Fashionable” places, or in other words, more pale-skinned people the further we traveled up H st. It was two parts depressing and infuriating and I’m actually beginning to know why: the people being gentrified and displaced are people too, people with goals and dreams and families to feed. We can’t sweep this disparity under a rug forever. The disparity will eventually consume any rug we sweep it under.

Favorite Foods!

As the DC team’s time in Japan comes to a close, they each wanted to share their favorite Japanese dishes that they enjoyed and will miss.


My favorite food was the Japanese pancake. It was different from American pancakes because they were fluffier and had a different taste.   What surprised me most was it came from the convenience store 7-11! If only I could get good food from American 7-11’s …


My favorite Japanese food, which was very difficult to pick because all of it is pretty delicious, is also very simple. It’s called Inari, or Inarizushi, and it’s basically a “casual sushi” that is sweet tofu around rice and sesame seeds. It’s often enjoyed by children, which explains why I like it so much. The picture quality also isn’t my best work because I was devouring it at the time.


There were several delicious foods in Japan, but my favorite came on the 2nd to last day stay. Omuhayashi with rice and beef and curry was the victor in the competition of foods, with Yakitori & Sukiyaki tied for second. I’ll be remaking it in America for sure.

Dusan- foodJarid

My favorite food while in Japan was curry! No matter where we ate it or when we ate it, it was always good! It was full of spice and heartiness.


My favorite food in Japan was Karage. Karage is basically the Japanese version of fried chicken in America. The thing about karage is that you can use any sauce with it – whether it’d be soy sauce, mayonnaise or something else … The great thing about Karage that I’ve heard is that it’s really easy to make, so even I can make it back home! I definitely plan to try.


My favorite food in Japan by far was ramen. It was nice and spicy which made it delicious.  It is way better than any ramen I have back home.


Our Final Presentation in Japan

On Wednesday July 29, the TOMODACHI participants presented all they learned throughout the Japan side of the program to donors, sponsors, families and friends.  They were split into two groups of seven and given the task to communicate their big takeaways in 20 minutes per group.  The participants decided the overarching themes of the two weeks were: Community United and New Generation.  Each student exhibited a photo they took to showcase their own big idea and big takeaway from the visit to Tohoku.

Well, we’re here. In our final day together as a group of 14 students in Japan together, we culminated all that we learned, all of the experiences we shared together, and all that we felt in this Iliad in an hour of presentations we gave before the sponsors of TOMODACHI, our (host) families, and ourselves. I don’t believe I do enough justice in saying that we did great. Each group’s presentations were some of the best presentations I’ve seen in my life, and I think I know why: Passion in friendship. Naming this program TOMODACHI was a smart move, because that is exactly what everyone in our group has become: friends, true friends, almost as if we grew up together (which we did). Call us the musketeers, if you may. What TOMODACHI did for us is open up our minds and hearts more than ever, and taught us the importance of storytelling, and we all wanted to convey that as best as we could to the people we presented to and anyone else who would see our presentations. Our presentations flourished because our bonds in wanting and achieving the same things together translated across boundaries.

I sometimes feel as if I am becoming long-winded in my explanations, so I’ll end it with this: Enrolling in this program is hands-down one of the best choices I’ve ever made, and not just for the food. Even though we are not finished, as the D.C. portion is just beginning, the feeling of leaving behind all that we have done in Japan (what I can now call a second home for various reasons) is heavy. Our presentations here in Japan were only a culmination of everything we’ve gained from here though, and so I wonder now what our presentations in D.C. will hold. Chances are, something even greater. So, until next time, stay tuned.

Dusan Murray-Rawlings
Washington Latin Public Charter School

Onward to Minamisanriku

Today, we saw Ishinomaki for the last time as we went back on the road to head to Minamisanriku. As the Futaba Inn owners waved us off, we waved back to them until they were in the distance, out of our sight. Driving out of Ishinomaki took some time, as Ishinomaki is a very large city (despite a declining population), and we made a stop to an emotionally heavy spot: Okawa Elementary School. There, we were told a story of how 70% of the people there died because the faculty did not decide fast enough to evacuate or not, despite the escape route taking only 5 minutes, and the tsunami coming in fast. I had heard of the human-made disaster that happened here before, dubbing it “The Great Indecision” in scornful sarcasm, but seeing the spot in person, just like in Ishinomaki, was eye-opening, and, unlike Ishinomaki, reawakened a latent anger in me towards this indecision…

This latent anger soon changed into a steady fascination when we arrived at Minamisanriku at around lunchtime. Minamisanriku is an interesting spot because of how easily stricken it can be by disaster, like a Japanese New Orleans or something. The fishing town is close to the bay and has a river running through. It’s also a very tight-knit hospitable community, a common theme in the Tohoku areas we’ve visited. Last night we all got to complete a farm stay with a host family. Even our rural home stay last night, which was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far, thanks to our adventurous Okasan (mother in Japanese), was very…intimate. I’m curious then as to what makes this community so close. What stories can we find that have congregated into a much larger narrative for the Minamisanriku citizen we listen to now? That, I’ll presume, will be answered by the Mayor of Minamisanriku who we meet tomorrow. ‘Till next time…

Dusan Murray-Rawlings
Washington Latin Public Charter School

Arrival in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Tohoku, Japan

Blog Ishinomaki watch Dusan.7.21.15And so the program truly begins. We ventured by Shinkansen, or bullet train (137 MPH!) then by local train to Ishinomaki. After putting our bags down, we marched through Ishinomaki, and then hiked up to the top of Mount Hiyoriyama to view the entire city from Hiyoriyama park, where there happened to be a bench that looked like the inspiration for My Neighbor Totoro. You could see all of Ishinomaki from the mount. Seeing the big picture of the city was beautiful, but from there one could not see the smaller details that make up a recovering city.

It was only when we returned from our hike to pick up trash per Fumiya’s honorable request, that I was able to see Ishinomaki in its true light. As we walked by and I saw more and more garbage, lost artifacts and destroyed foundations, a deep melancholy washed over me, and left me feeling like a halfway full cup of water. I had then realized that this is the real deal. This is where the Tsunami hit. I was marching over the sounds of thousands of souls screaming and crying for help, over homes being washed away into a void, over bodies and trinkets washed into an oceanic grave. Who even knows how the families of those who never found their loved one’s body are right now. I certainly don’t, and I’m not sure I ever will get to know just how they feel, as I was not in Tohoku or even Japan when 3/11 occurred. I was in my comfy room in D.C., watching the news of these events unfold. I was in a science class analyzing how the earthquake happened and why it had such a devastating effect. I was playing soccer at recess. I was always a bystander by default, but now it seems as my role is changing.

This is Ishinomaki, and I’m now beginning to understand just why we’re here, and not in Tokyo. Tokyo was the distraction, it seems, the easing introduction; Tohoku is the true beginning.

Dusan Murray-Rawlings
Washington Latin PCS