The awesomeness of Japan

We asked each of the nine DC students to tell us one thing that is surprising/interesting/unexpected/awesome about Japanese culture.

Kamashae: The one thing that definitely caught my eye was the amazing hospitality. No matter your age, or their age. Respect plays a huge part in everyday life here in Japan. From when our group goes to restaurants, the plate setting. To when we go to gift shops, how they wrap and bag the gifts. To in hotels how they leave damp wash towels so customers could have access to a cool rag after a hot summer day in Japan. Japanese culture also even stands outside as guests are leaving their businesses or homes and wave us goodbye until the vehicle has left their view, which I think is very polite.

Jeffrey: The community in Minamisanriku was really surprising to me, because it allows everyone in the community to have a chance to be famous kind of like a small town celebrity, which was really cool to me. And I loved their mascot octopus-kun, who was a great addition to community because he isn’t owned by anyone but the community, so everyone can love him without any higher up being involved. Also I really liked how everyone in town was accepting and willing to help each other in times of needs while putting their own needs before themselves, which to me is what a community is meant to be.

Maxx: Something that really I like about Japan is its connection with nature. The people of Minamisanriku depend on the water and its life in order to survive using its water for drinking, cleaning, and other uses, and the fish to of course eat. The main reason this impresses me is because the waves of the ocean are beautiful and just to breath the air of wild life is extraordinary. But the people of the town have seen nature at its most horrifying and even though being scared, they forgave and loved the sea wholeheartedly and that I feel is amazing.

Yeysi: “Food” was a word that at first scared me because I learned that Japanese people have different food than the ones that I am used to eating. There are some types of food that I still don’t like although I try everything I can. So far my favorite food is Tempura. Tempura is a Japanese dish of seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep fried. This dish makes me feel in home.

Tempestt: Japan’s hospitality is the best by far. Getting greeted every time you walk in to a place; they show much respect. It feels good to be welcomed in a place where there aren’t many people of your color or looks. There have been some times where I walk around and I see Japanese people staring at me. I stare back and greet them with a smile. I keep in my mind and remember that Japan isn’t really a diverse country and that’s why many look at me as if I am someone different. It actually makes me feel special because I feel like all eyes are on me.

Chris: My best moments in Japan were going outside experiencing the nature. I’m an addict when it comes to scenery. I love embracing myself into the wilderness or looking at the architecture of the buildings. I feel inspired to bring out my drawing pad and taking a quick drawing.

Elijah: The Japanese style futon was interesting. The Japanese futon is a 3 folded bed!!! It is very comfortable and for the first time in a long time I actually slept like a baby. The bed was the best because I didn’t want to get up. The bed was the best thing so far.

Kiara: What’s so interesting about Japanese culture, mainly in Minamisanriku, is the friendliness and “at home” feeling I have whenever we go anywhere. Seeing so many smiling faces in a place highly affected by the tsunami lifts my spirits up and lets me see the strength that this town has. With every person that I meet, whether they be one of our speakers or passersby taking a picture of people enjoying the summer festival, my heart warms up.

Clinard: The thing that I enjoy the most while being here is the calm and quiet atmosphere that exists here. It’s so much different from what I’m used to. Where I am from, the streets are loud and the places are busy. There is a lot of commotion when people are travelling in groups. But here, it’s considered to be “controlled chaos”. For a place with many people, it seems to be regulated pretty well.

The 8th wonder

I really have to reflect on how this day has affected the contemplation of my mind. In the early morning, we did traditional kiriko (paper cut) making. This is an art that the Japanese used to give to the gods when they had nothing left. They use it to show appreciation for what they have and to keep the tradition going. Also we learned about how the top of the shrine means heaven and earth, the two sides mean man and woman. So the earlier morning was basically an art class.

In the afternoon, we actually went to Mr. Sosha’s house!!! His house was fun and he has a dog. His dog’s name is Chuck and his house is like a traditional Japanese house. We had a workshop with a non-profit organization called Sokoage. They help youth with ideas on how to improve their communities and start NPOs (non-profit organizations). Then after the innovation session we had a Barbecue!!! The whole day was the best, because I bonded with my Japanese friends and I took a great picture of the pattern on Mr. Sosha’s carpet. I really enjoyed today with all my friends. I think the number one thing I need to remember is time is so precious in Japan. Also Japan is so beautiful in all aspects. So I’m going to end it like this….

Who ever said that it was only 7 wonders in the world….didn’t see Japan.

Elijah blog carpetElijah Davis
Eastern SHS

Our Week One Highlights

PROGRAM NOTE: We asked all our TOMODACHI students this morning – “What was the most important or impactful activity from the first week?” Check out the amazing answers.

Ayane: My favorite thing was a story which Ms. Ayako told us at TOYOTA. She told us how she made “Kizuna across Culture.” I’ve joined the program which she made before so the story was really interesting and I was impressed by her life story because she made the company by herself to connect Japan and America.

Yeysi: My favorite thing from last week was when we went to the Washington Post and we met David Nakamura. I liked that part because he said inspirational stories that can get me out of my comfort zone like “Be curious in what you have passion on because it can be the key for your next door.” It made me feel that every time that I am feeling pressure can be another step to the change that I want to make.

R.M.: I liked a quote by Heinrich Heine, “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings,” which I encountered in the US Holocaust Museum, because it made me realize the danger of the actions without enough knowledge.

Jeffrey: My favorite part of last week had to be when we stayed in the dorms with the Japanese students. Because it felt really nice just bonding with them over that two day time span without any electronics – just words and actual communications through little mini games we played and especially when we did the Harlem Shake. I also enjoyed the times me, Ryoto and Clinard had in our dorm with the tea bottle beat we had going on.

Kan: The most impactful thing for me in the last week was DC students’ passion. They spoke freely and actively. I think I also should talk actively like them. And I was helped by them a lot, and also taught a lot by them. I think I was impressed by them.

Christefer: My favorite part of last week was talking about stereotypes. It opened up my eyes to know how many stereotypes and generalizations the whole group and I knew. It helped me as a person to become more accepting of others and not assume how they act. It also helped me realize that I shouldn’t get in the way of learning who a person is.

Elijah: My favorite event from last week was eating soul food and listening to Rock Newman talk. Mr. Rock Newman was really inspirational because he told me “race is a man-made concept” and that made me realize that humans are the only natural race and people love to be separated. Finally, the soul food was wonderful and it filled my stomach.

Kiara: My favorite thing from last week was visiting Mulebone. I enjoyed myself because I love the atmosphere of the restaurant and the fact that it’s a combination of a vintage clothing store made the experience even better. I can imagine myself doing a lot of open mic events there as well as doing most of my shopping there. Since I have a love for vintage clothing. I also love the fact that they allow students to work and study and don’t charge them for sitting for long periods of time. The amount of sunlight that comes in through the windows gives the place a beautiful shine as the hanging lights and racks of beautiful dresses create a pleasing image of simplicity.

Rio: My favorite part in last week was visiting the Mall. I was surprised that there are a lot of trees around there; nevertheless, it is in the capital city of the U.S. I could also feel the warm atmosphere of people who live in D.C. there.

Kamashae: The activity I enjoyed the most was the Holocaust Museum. The Holocaust Museum stood out to me because seeing the circumstances and the pain these humans were put through will never erase from my memory. Knowing that there are people who are experts at this time through history; wanting to ensure that this horrific event never repeats itself in the future, is wonderful and comforting to know, as an African American living in America. I also learned that day that every ethnic race has its own history of troubles and most importantly, endurance.

H.K.: My most favorite part of the last week’s program was Mr. Rock Newman’s speech. His speech was something impacting and catchy which you don’t see as much in Japanese speakers talking towards teens. The thoughts he brings in, the impacting and inspirational words to make you re-think about how you keep confidence in yourself, the amazing experiences and examples he shared with us, his techniques he used to make the speech significant . . . everything was inspiring and meaningful to me.

E.N.: What stood out during last week to me were the rainbow flags, flapping beautifully under the blazing sun. They symbolize gay pride. I really liked these because they show America’s culture of being open and showing what one believes to another in a way that is pleasing to the eye. Also, I think it represents America having diversity and people from different ethnic backgrounds.

Maxx: My favorite part of last week was eating Ethiopian food because the beef, colors and heat of the food was outstanding. Apparently, they don’t eat pork and all the food they have is bathed in different sauces and a big rule to remember is the darker the spicier. I personally think this stood out because I’ve never tried it before and nor did the Japanese, so their faces like mine were surprised. The even crazier point is that the fierce food wasn’t even as hot as it would have been in Ethiopia.

Hiroto: My favorite piece of the program in last week was the program at the Holocaust Museum 21.7. Because as I said to everyone at the time, I think Japan was killing people like Holocaust during World War II in China. So I felt the connection between these and appreciated German history and also Japanese history. I thought it’s important to look back to the history of each other, and know and thinking about each others’ histories will become the first step to develop relations between countries.

Tempestt: My favorite activity from last week was traveling to Cardozo High School to talk to the students who are in the International Academy. I enjoyed talking to those students because I learned where they were from, and how it was to transition to the American culture. We were also able to participate in a kickball game, which was very cool and fun. All of the students were fully engaged as a whole in everything we did.

Clinard: Today is the first day of the second week. As I look back and reflect, I have realized that the trip to the Holocaust Museum had the largest impact on me. I enjoyed learning more about what happened during the Holocaust. The Holocaust only remained continuous because people were unknowledgeable. Meaning that it could have been stopped or even prevented if people knew what was going on. By knowing that, I have been inspired to extend my knowledge in order to educate others so that I may benefit someone else’s life or community.

A.O.: Going to the Washington Post. This is because it was very exciting knowing that a Japanese American was in the press pool – people from the media accompanying Obama – in America, which also made me very proud. I never thought “journalist” as my future dream, but I realized that it looked like a wonderful job for me.

R.H.: A moment that had a big impact for me is when Amanda gave me “snaps” to a question that I asked to Mr. David Nakamura, a White House reporter, at the Washington Post office. It was a 5th day in DC and I was still a little nervous to ask questions or say opinions in front of the class, but a question popped in my head – Why do politicians take the reporters with them even though I sometimes see them keeping quiet to the reporters? I spoke up with courage, so I was very happy when Amanda snapped for my question. This gave me a confidence, and now I’m able to speak up with no hesitation.

Elijah – Day 2

Our agenda for today consisted of our OUDC workshop on stereotyping, and learning from Ms. Katherine Burgess about construction to help buildings prepare for natural disaster.

Rock speakingThen we went to the Thurgood Marshall Center to hear from two men about their experiences as African American men. Mr. Rock Newman stood out to me. He stuck by the idea that we are the generation of change. He told us “Race is a man made concept.” This really stuck out to me, showing me more about how I am the change the world is hoping for and how I can’t wait for anyone to start it. I have to be the one to start it. So in all, Mr. Rock Newman stood out to me.

Elijah blog braceletToday was a great day as well. I ate soul food which was great. I took a tour around the first African American YMCA in D.C. I saw the Japanese kids ride Metro for the first time and I bonded with my partner Ayaka. I actually packed the night before we left the dorms so all I had to do was put my clothes on and go. Now I believe the best part of the day was the soul food. The macaroni and cheese was the best with the accessory of the fried chicken. Plus, Rock Newman’s idea on race and how we as young people can change the world. It really took me a long time to process how I can really be an inspiration and eventually change the world. My first goal is to change Washington DC. Mr. Rock Newman gave me some ideas on how race is one barrier I have to cross. So, today was a great day for ideas to change the world.

Elijah Davis
Eastern SHS

Soul Food1

Soul Food 2

Group with Rock

Facing 3/11

PROGRAM NOTE: Our nine (9) 2016 TOMODACHI USJYEP DC students spent July 11-14 preparing for the start of this summer’s program through a variety of educational activities – a kind of “boot camp.” In one session, we focused on the Great East Japan Earthquake, using video and to help convey the enormous impact of the historic 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011. The event and its aftermath are the reason the TOMODACHI program was created – and it’s important for our students to try to understand what happened that day. These are their reactions:


After watching the tsunami and earthquake hit Japan, I was devastated. I was not only devastated because of the damage, also because of the fact that I could’ve been there, and if I was there, how unprepared I would’ve been. People watching their homes, with valuable things inside being swept away with the waves. Boats being swept deep into Japan from the sea. Seeing people in fear for their lives, including small children and animals. Seeing people trying to flee the area to save their lives and the lives of loved ones. Seeing this heart-wrenching event take place is almost unbelievable and unreal. That one tsunami could kill, rip apart, devastate, ruin, and destroy an entire country. I am glad there was footage, this footage in particular, to prevent such unreadiness from happening again, maybe to save more lives and more buildings by taking extra precaution to ensure safety for more citizens. My condolences go out to families that have been lost or broken by these horrific events that occurred on 3/11. I could never imagine the feelings you have toward these events.


Everything has left me speechless and emotional from what I saw. It felt as though I could feel the heartache everyone had experienced. The photos and videos had made me rewind my life back to the day Katrina had struck. The flooding of water and fire seemed almost too similar to the situation I had been in. I’ve always refused to remember the details that had happened, but seeing this has unlocked the door I had wanted to keep closed. I have empathy for the people that went through the earthquake and tsunami.


In Japan 3/11-3/12/11 was a catastrophic time period. There was a total of 226 earthquakes in a matter of two days. Knowing that DC does not have a lot of earthquakes, meaning that the number count is minimal, there are an abundance of mixed emotions going on inside of me. My city is fortunate enough to not experience these things and it makes me depressed and solemn to know that Japanese personnel have no choice but to experience them.


Words can’t describe this. Seeing the video and visual representation made me think about how fast situations change us. 148 earthquakes back to back. It’s heartbreaking to think about the aftermath. All the devastation. All the families missing loved ones or mourning the losses of friends and family. I can’t imagine pain and fear in their hearts from that day. I don’t know how to fully process this. Right after the tsunami was a huge fire. Picking up every piece that was broken, physically and/or emotionally takes time in events such as these. This makes me realize that some of us have a tendency to complain about certain things or possessions. When you look at the big picture, you realize that life is the best thing you can possess, as well as a sense of calm and security. If you don’t have that, everything is in shambles.


I gotta say just wow! Watching the actual video of the tsunami wasn’t that bad because although it showed the destruction of the towns at various times I couldn’t really get a feel of how bad it really was. But after looking at the Japan quake map, it really gave me a full view on how monstrous this event was and the little breathing time the people had in between these attacks. And it really allows you to grasp how lucky some countries are to avoid events such as this, especially on a large scale such as this.


Imagining many earthquakes from one day to the next is devastating. Hearing about one every now and then and deep hurricanes over in America and we think wow, oh my god and so on. But when you compare American disasters to Japan we have it trillions of times easier and that makes us lucky. To think of how scared people were at first and then to lose hope more and more as earthquakes keep happening for two days. It pushes fear to new heights. The man on the video who tried to boat away from the tsunami said he was ready to die at any time. That’s only one person. One brave person at that, and as a man he had to survive but others are petrified or could have been worse. It’s sad.


I saw that on March 11th that Japan suffered unexplainable damage from earthquakes. It seemed to me that after 2:46 pm JST (Japan Standard Time), Japan had suffered what I would call the domino effect from earthquakes. After one major earthquake, a series of earthquakes started to occur. Some were inside one another and I could only imagine if that was D.C. Also, to talk to survivors of the earthquake is very honorable. I would like to know if they remember the earthquake, how did they feel to survive. Did they feel sorrow for those who died, but also felt a sense of relief for surviving? Just that day from my perspective was so horrific.


I have never thought how big was the impact of the earthquake and the tsunami in Japan. It feels like the pain will never have a cure, the terrible magnitude of those disasters can’t be explained in words. The words are less when you watch the stories that people passed through. The days will not be the same however. I think that the communities will have to be together and receive extra support of each other. It’s sad that just a quick action of the earth can destroy years of effort from families to construct their homes and their lives.


I feel very distraught about Japan’s 3/11. I give my condolences to all the families that lost a loved one during that tragic time. I could have never imagined myself in the situation/predicament that Japan went through but it takes a strong society with a phenomenal backbone to be where you all are today. Just by seeing the quake map and seeing how the earthquakes hit drives my passion to study more about why Japan gets earthquakes more often.