It is our second day in Miyagi, Kesennuma, and it has been an adventure full of stories already. Today we spent time at Seiryoin Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple, where we were delighted with the Monk ceremony which opened us to another perspective of traditions in Japan. Obon is a season where it is said that the ancestor’s spirit might return to the earth to visit the relatives. The family members of the deceased were really kind and open to us, by letting us witness their “Hoji”, a ceremony to remember and pay respect to the family member who had passed away. “Hoji” is commonly held during the Obon season in August.

The Hoji ceremony reminded me so much of a Mexican tradition to honor our ancestors, in “el dia de los muertos.” What they both have in common is that the person is honored at an altar. Being immersed into another religion and belief exposed me to the ideology that each religion is full of different tradition. The only place I have ever heard about monks was in the animes that I used to watch, which were really different. Actually, meeting and practicing za-zen with a monk in a Buddhist temple in Japan was something I would never believe I would be doing, hearing their stories and how they managed their lives was very interesting to me and to everyone.

The head monk, Jushoku, talked to us briefly about how he contributed in 3.11 and how the temple was used actually as a shelter and how they evolved the concept of the temple which is now a place of hope for the community. After the ceremony, we shared food with them, which was pretty good, but I’m still not used to the green tea here. We thanked them for their kindness and we left that temple with a sense of hope, friendship, and deep feeling of happiness by the monks and their families.

Mr. Nishant Annu later gave us a presentation of who he is, and gave us a tour. He mentioned to us that he was in the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program, and we learned that after his experience here in Japan he wanted to move back after he went back to the States. What I found the most entertaining of his presentation was when he told us that since his first name is Nishant, and in Japan people have more of a struggle trying to pronounce it, he started to use another name, Nishia. We walked around the downtown area until the sun set. It was a great way to end his presentation, and with that we headed back.

The overall day has given me a new perspective about the Great East Japan Earthquake, and how through hope and perseverance we can continue.

Check out Mr. Annu’s blog. It has a lot of information about Kesennuma:

Jerusalen Elizaldi
Bell Multicultural HS

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.

LearnServe International

The week has flown by really quickly. We have gone to museums, walked around DC, met with many people, and really gotten to know each other. After meeting with journalist David Nakamura, and Mary Murakami, and Al Goshi, we met Mr. Scott Rechler from LearnServe International. When I first heard that we were going to do a workshop in social entrepreneurship, my initial thoughts were, “wow, this is really going to be boring, this really isn’t my thing.” When Mr. Rechler came, and he told us about social entrepreneurship, I was genuinely surprised. Social entrepreneurship is about organizations that help others.

I was placed in a group with Raquel, Fuka, and Shunsuke where we wrote a list about things that fire us up. We all had different things, but there was one thing we could agree fired us all up. Discrimination. Then when Mr. Rechler came to us and said, “let’s say this was Shark Tank and you guys were given a certain amount of money. I want you guys to form an organization that fights discrimination.” Now I’m all for challenges, but an organization that fights discrimination is preposterous. If someone could have ended discrimination or has figured out a solution, It would have been done, so we were getting kind of wary of the situation and wanted to choose an easier one where there can be a solution. Mr. Rechler told us to keep thinking, and we did.

We ended up with CATFA (Children are the Future). We take pride in helping kids from any race, gender, socioeconomic, and sexual preferences get to know each other with projects and community service. The official start day is January 2, called Unity Day. New year, New you. LearnServe has taught me that no matter how hard something is, to keep trying to look for a solution because you just might find it.

Jerusalen Elizaldi
Bell Multicultural HS

Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Saturday and Sunday had passed by so quickly. Spending time with the Japanese students in the dorms was quite exciting. I was really nervous the day before arriving in the dorms, that I was going to snore and keep everyone up and that I would eventually not make friends. It was quite the opposite. Even though I’m a very shy and nervous person naturally, seeing that they were nervous as well kind of made me feel reassured. We spent the days trying to get to know each other and DC!!

On Monday the 16th we woke up and had breakfast and headed to an orientation and a photography workshop by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. There we met up with Mr. Fareed Mostoufi who worked for the Pulitzer Center, and he talked to us about photography and journalism, how we can tell a story with an image. Now we talked about the different types of ways we could tell a story. There was portraits (which I am still deadly afraid of), and action shots, detail shots, and last but not least, landscape. We were asked if we could go out for a few minutes with a mixed group of DC and Japanese students and try to take at least one of each type of picture. My group consisted of Keiichiro, Shunsuke, Arjernae, Minori, and Chi the intern.

Above is a picture of a mixture of action, portraits, and landscape. We were really nervous to ask someone if we could please take their picture, so some of us decided to have each other as our models.

It was a great day overall. I learned that we can tell stories with photographs, no matter the quality. We later met up with them the next day, and met an actual journalist, who gave us an exercise to prepare us for asking politely how to ask somebody if we could take their picture. This has been a great experience and good information to learn. I am very grateful to Mr. Mostoufi for taking time out of his day to come speak to us.

Jerusalen Elizaldi
Bell Multicultural HS

Jerusalen: Cultural Lessons

Hello, my name is Jerusalen Elizaldi. I’m a rising 12th grader at Bell Multicultural High School. I’m 16 years old and I’m really excited that I got accepted into the TOMADACHI program. I’m really nervous to meet everyone this Saturday. Towards the end of the school year I have been learning Japanese, and when all of us went to go meet Ms. Mya, in the cultural orientation, it genuinely surprised me. The orientation focused around some of the cultures in Japan, what not to do and learning some useful phrases. The next day we learned how to use chopsticks, and we ate some Japanese food with our chopsticks!! There was udon noodles, miso soup, onigiri and some pickled vegetables. All the food I tried was completely different to what I usually eat. I was kind of nervous to eat it, but it was actually oishii desu.

Japan keeps surprising me, making me even more excited to meet all the Japanese students, and the country. For example, in the cultural orientation, we learned about Uchi (うち) and Soto (そと). We learned that Uchi (family, relatives, friends, country/nation) is the inner group and Soto is the outer group (classmates, coworkers, foreigners), so the formality and honorability is somewhat different. Learning about this just piqued my interest, because Japan is completely different. Ms. Mya mentioned to us that the Japanese are most likely not to be outspoken, like us Americans, and respect shared spaces. This made me think about the metro and parks, and how some Americans just don’t care about the people around them. I can walk down the street and see that there is a littering problem. Ms. Mya talked to us about the differences in the littering problems in Japan than here. I’m excited to see firsthand how they manage this. I can’t wait to find out more from the Japanese students and my fellow DC students in how we can make a change.

Jerusalen Elizaldi
Bell Multicultural HS